Change the Culture

Some years ago, there was a social media phenomenon that was centered on people holding up signs that were responses to the question, short-handed as “WDYDWYD?” Why do you do what you do? People responded by putting a few words on a signboard and holding the board. Signs such as, “Because I beat cancer and I’m not wasting a moment,” or, “Because everything changed when I became a dad,” or, “Because I am the one I’ve been looking for.”

WDYDWYD is a great question to ask oneself. Digging deep to find the well-spring of the answer is worth a person’s or an organization’s time.

The following is my answer, specifically thinking of the work of the Center I am privileged to direct. The answer would not fit on a signboard, but it is not far off.

I believe:

The U.S. is one of the nations of the earth, not God’s chosen people.

The nation is “we the people,” not a church.

The nation’s heart is morally complex, ambiguous, and messy—not simply all good or all bad.

There is great beauty and profound ugliness in our history and in our present.

The president is an elected leader, not a messiah or savior who can deliver us from ourselves

Elected leaders are neither angels nor demons but are influenced by and can amplify the nation’s angels and demons.

The Constitution is an evolving document, neither eternal dogma nor inerrant scripture

Laws and policies permit, forbid, and channel behavior but do not form or change hearts.

Culture is the womb from which purpose, morals, leaders, policies and practices are born and selected.

Hearts are formed, broken, corrupted, healed, and changed at the level of culture.

If you want to change hearts, change the culture.

Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend is president emeritus at Phillips Theological Seminary and is the executive director of the seminary’s Center for Religion in Public Life. The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. Learn more about the Center’s work here and about Gary here.

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