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Why the Culture War isn’t won by power, but influence.
There is a reason that Jesus didn’t call his disciples hunters of men, but fishers. As the Catholic Church experiences increasing persecution in America and certain trendsetters and policy makers seek to marginalize us, it is important to know the difference between a hunter and a fisher — which is the difference between persuasion (or, power) and influence.
In his best-selling book The Art of Influence, Chris Widener uses hunting and fishing to explain the difference between persuasion and influence. When a person hunts, he says, he aggressively pursues his prey and subdues them by means of force — lethal force. In the same way, persuasion (or, power) is often about expressing aggression in order to subdue others. It is an attempt to secure other people’s actions and opinions through coercion. In contrast, a fisherman accomplishes his purpose, not by coercion, but by attraction. He attracts, lures, and “reels in” his catch. How does he do that? By having really great bait.
This is how influence works. And it is how the Church is supposed to operate.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus used two metaphors to define his disciples. They are metaphors of influence. “You are the light of the world:” light attracts attention and provides guidance. “You are the salt of the earth:” salt not only preserves food, but it draws out its taste — it makes the food more delicious. In the same way, the Church is meant to influence the nation and culture by drawing attention to Jesus Christ and demonstrating how his life provides guidance for ours. The Church is meant to influence the nation and culture by actions that not only preserve truth, goodness, and beauty, but also bring out their “taste” — so that others savor them as well.
Some may lament the loss of the Church’s persuasive power in America — in politics, education, or any area of civic life — as a sign that the darkest times are coming soon. But a Church that transforms the nation and culture in which it exists is not one of persuasive political power, but of spiritual influence. It is the church that lures and attracts others with the “really great bait” of the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus Christ — and the holiness of our own lives.
In the current culture war, we may very well lose the political battles over gay marriage, abortion, and religious liberty. We may be swept from positions of power, marginalized, ostracized, and alienated. We may have our rights and our freedoms taken from us.
But this does not mean we will lose our influence. In fact, it may well be the opposite.
Think about it: the early Church had no real power. But the early Christians led holy lives that influenced others. In a thoroughly pagan culture, the gospel spread like wildfire. Fewer and fewer people declared “Caesar is Lord!” More and more people proclaimed “Jesus is Lord!” Thousands of years later, the Roman Empire is gone. But the Church is alive and well — for the “gates of Hell cannot prevail against her.”
By all means, continue to be active in politics. Engage the democratic process. Cast votes for good candidates and legislation that is right and just — like H.R. 1179, the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act.
But if the ballot box and the Oval Office fail you, “be not afraid.” The hope of the Church to bring about change — in a nation, a culture, and in a human soul — has never been in her political power, but in her spiritual influence. It has been in her ability to shine her light on the Light of the World, and to help others savor the taste of the Bread of Heaven.
We are not called to be hunters, but fishers of men — not coercive power-brokers, but influential citizens. We are called to be saints who attract others to the life and love of the carpenter from Nazareth.