What We Believe

Decoding a Secular Creed

Jonathan Landry Cruse

New Horizons: March 2021

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They began appearing in front yards across the country this past summer. Suddenly. Overwhelmingly. I thought it would be a passing fad, but it looks like I was wrong. They persisted through the change of seasons, standing stalwartly next to campaign signs in the fall, and, as I write this, next to Santa and Rudolph. I imagine that by the time you are reading this, the signs will be greeting the spring blossoms in the gardens of your neighborhood.

I am speaking of the ubiquitous “In this house, we believe …” yard signs. First seen in 2016 but surging in 2020, they are the latest of our culture’s virtue signals and apparently encapsulate the main tenets of a new and powerfully popular secular creed. Among the various versions of this sign, you will find some or all of the following declarations:

Black lives matter.
Women’s rights are human rights.
No human is illegal.
News isn’t fake.
Water is life.
Science is real.
Love is love.
Kindness is everything.

Some of these statements Christians would affirm, others we must patently deny (or at least deny the underlying meaning), and others still are simply baffling. Nevertheless, this formulation has by and large gripped the heart of our society, and it’s important to understand why. My aim in this article is not to address each individual statement but rather to explore why the creed exists in the first place. In doing so, my hope is that we would better understand our neighbors and be better equipped to love and serve them.

The Impulse of Religion

A main purpose of these signs seems to be a protest and rejection of traditional religion. The language is intentionally reminiscent of the creedal formulae of Christianity, and the concept of belief is employed, yet there is no mention of God, Christ, or Scripture. Apparently, these things are unnecessary for living a morally upright and meaningful life in the world. Secularism has triumphed over religion.

But has it? I would posit that this secular creed has served to underscore the main thing it was trying to disprove: that we are an extremely religious people. True enough, God may have been pushed out of this recent confession, but the need for a god remains. In Romans 1, Paul describes the nature of fallen humanity by saying that they “suppress the truth … they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” (vv. 18, 25). Notice what Paul is saying: the truth of God is suppressed, but worship is not. We will worship whether we like it or not because this is how we were made. The least “religious” people in the world are still worshipers.

The problem is that, after the Fall, we innately worship the wrong thing. This is made abundantly clear today in the yards of many American homes. Belief is no longer in the Creator, but in what he has made. There is a problem when we think “water is life” and not that Jesus is the Water of Life (John 4:14). All of this serves to underscore a point made by Terry Eagleton, professor of literary and cultural theory at Lancaster University, in his book Culture and the Death of God: “The history of the modern age is among other things the search for a viceroy for God.”

Even so, the arrival of these signs has opened up an apologetic window for us that perhaps we didn’t realize was there. Religion and worship are alive and well in the heart of the average twenty-first-century American, so perhaps an invitation to church might not be so bizarre to your neighbors as you might have assumed. Why not give them a chance to experience the proper religion? They want to worship; why not welcome them to a right worship?

The Exhaustion of Virtue Signaling

Why are people putting these signs out in the first place? Why do so many feel the need to tell their neighborhood their stance on these particular issues? What is happening here is commonly called virtue signaling—the act of expressing one’s opinions openly to demonstrate good character or moral correctness. Society has deemed this set of views to be morally right, and by displaying them in your yard, you are showing the world that you “get” it. You are on the right side. It’s a way of accruing moral capital in society. We have a term for it theologically, too: works righteousness.

This is seen in the final line of the creed: “Kindness is everything.” In today’s world, the transcendent imperative upon all moral creatures is to be kind to one another. I am not disputing that kindness is important. Just the other day, I forgot to set the trash can out at night to be emptied in the morning, but my neighbor (who has one of these signs in his yard) noticed and, very early in the morning, put my trash out for me so I didn’t miss the pickup. That was kind.

But is kindness everything? I certainly don’t want everything—my life, my soul, my eternity—riding on my acts of kindness or lack thereof. That’s a terrifying way to live. And yet, it’s the controlling worldview of many of our neighbors. They need to hear the very same thing you and I need to hear: kindness isn’t everything; Christ is everything. His kindness is everything. “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us” (Titus 3:4–5). Furthermore, when we recognize that our salvation is secured by what Christ has done, and not by what we do, then the allure of virtue signaling fades, and we may practice our righteousness in secret (see Matt. 6:1).

The Absurdity of the Moral Revolution

If you take the time to look, you’ll notice that the stanzas of this creed differ from house to house. Unlike our Nicene Creed or Westminster Confession, there was no council or assembly that convened to produce this formulation. The yard signs are very much a grassroots movement, and one that is continually evolving. But think about what that says about the tenuous nature of the current moral revolution.

One of the factors in play here is something called “intersectionality”—a theoretical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s identity shape their privilege. The more minority categories one falls into, the theory claims, the more one is societally disadvantaged and underprivileged. The creed is one attempt of many to overturn for these groups the societal oppression that they have experienced in the past. The problem with this worldview is that it is never satisfied. You can never keep up with the demands of this moral revolution, because who is undervalued, who is oppressed, who is underrepresented, is always changing. The first iteration of this creed stated that “women’s rights are human rights” but subsequently it has been changed by some to “trans rights are human rights.” What will be next? If you don’t keep changing, you’ll eventually brandish a sign that excludes a group, and you’ll seem to be part of the problem, not the solution. You’ll seem like the out-of-touch bigot, not the woke activist that society applauds. It’s an exhausting—and, in reality, impossible—exercise to try to keep up being morally conscious in a world that keeps morphing the definition of morality.

Your secular neighbor is drowning in a sea of uncertainty. What our neighbors need is a firm foothold, something they can trust. They need the truth, found ultimately in the authoritative Word of God. As Christians, we can offer a moral order that transcends human opinion and outlasts cultural crazes. We can also present an unwavering stance on nature that is rooted in the unconflicted and wise character of God. We may share a Savior who presents himself as the answer to that critical question, “What is truth?” (John 18:37–38). Though daunting, we must recognize that it’s an ultimate mercy for us to share this reality with those who for now reject it.

Knowing What We Believe

As you witnessed the proliferation of the “In this house …” signs over the past months, perhaps you were tempted to roll your eyes or get angry at the world. As I hope you have seen, however, there is a wonderful evangelical invitation here. But to take full advantage of it, we need to know our position on these matters and to prepare our winsome responses. We must recommit ourselves to an understanding of the whole counsel of God, especially Scripture’s teaching on sexuality, gender, and the gospel of free grace. And to witness well, we must worship well. We must place ourselves and our families under the preaching of the Word, partake regularly of the sacraments, and earnestly seek the face of our Father in public and private prayer.

Before we can address the errors of the house across the street, we must first be able to say with conviction and clarity, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

The author is pastor of Community Presbyterian in Kalamazoo, Michigan. New Horizons, March 2021.

New Horizons: March 2021

Caring for Your Pastor

Also in this issue

Caring for Your Pastor

The Why and How of a Sabbatical for Your Pastor

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