On Sunday my church considered Genesis 18:16-19:38, the story of the destruction of the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. A key character in the story is Lot, Abraham's nephew, who decided to go down into the fertile valley of the cities. Apparently, Lot found himself in the midst of a horrendously wicked group of people and his reaction to that situation in the unfolding of this passage of Scripture tells us a great deal about how Christians ought to interact with the culture surrounding them - namely that one must either actively confront the culture or retreat, passivity is not a good strategy.
When the two angels of the Lord in human form come to Lot, we find him mingling amongst the people of the city. He graciously takes in the two men, but soon the whole of the men of the city, both young and old, are banging at the door clamoring to rape the new guys. Lot steps outside his home in the middle of the city in an attempt to calm the crowd and calls them "brothers" or "friends" showing that he was intimately involved in the community.
He fails to appease the racous mob, even after going so far as to offer his two virgin daughters and let them do whatever they want with them. An offer like this leads us to believe that Lot had adopted Sodom and Gomorrah's twisted sense of sexuality instead of standing against it. The angels then step up, blind the mob, and offer Lot and his family a chance to escape the impending destruction of the city. Lot cannot convince his sons-in-law, who think he's joking. He, in fact, almost backs out until the angels of the Lord literally pull him, his wife, and his two unwed daughters out of the city.
Two indications from Lot's family then occur which lead us to believe that they had been absorbed by the culture. First, Lot's wife, probably a Sodomite (in the literal sense), looks longingly back at the city as they flee. For this, God turns her into a pile of salt. We see that despite the wickedness of that place, she nevertheless desired to be there. Later, Lot's daughters reveal that they have been consumed by their cultures perverted view of sexuality. They think that they'll never get husbands and have children so they get Lot drunk and sleep with him on consecutive nights. (Talk about an R-rated Bible story!) Their offspring begin the races of the Ammonites and Moabites, both of whom prove to be a thorn in the flesh for Abraham's decendents.
So from this twisted story we see the consequences Lot suffered for neither actively engaging the culture, nor from fleeing and going back to Abraham. The message is very true for many Christians in the West who live in societies becoming increasingly debauched. I fear many evangelicals are passively watching the sinfulness of our culture increase, perhaps even shaking a finger at it, but are not confronting it. They are content to watch Friends or Seinfield or Will and Grace because they are clever, well-made and funny as heck, laughing and joking their way to living their lives just like everyone else.
I think retreat is not the way to go. Even if you flee to the hills to avoid the wicked cities, the cities will eventually reach you and almost certainly will reach your children because of their curiosity. Since retreat and passivity aren't good options, we've got to fight. Where Christianity has had the most success it has stood against immorality, but at the same time has offered a better way to live life. It has presented the adventure and excitement of a life with Christ, being caught up into the divine life of the Trinity. It has offered human beings an opportunity to become fully human. Evangelicals seem to understand the mechanics of salvation and sanctification fairly well, but often leave off the simpler reason that we should avoid sin: it's bad for us. As Lewis writes, "We fool about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us." This message is the one we need to actively confront our culture with - either that or we will be consumed.
Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.