When you hear the word “villain,” you may think of movie bad guy, like a moustache twirling man tying a helpless damsel in distress to the train tracks.
More than likely, it does not bring a positive image to mind. For us, villains are bad guys who do bad things. But that’s not always been the case.
Originally, the Latin term described a farmhand, someone who worked on a villa. As it moved to English, it became associated with individuals in lower socioeconomic classes and from there linked to criminal activity.
Recognizing that villain has not always carried the connotation it has today, we should also acknowledge that a person is a villain often based only on the perspective of the storyteller.
Historically, those in power have frequently cast the disenfranchised and those who stood up for them as the villains. In their day, the abolitionists who fought against slavery were seen as villains. Civil Rights leaders were villains of the status quo.
In this excellent TEDx talk, Lecrae discusses the societal role of hip-hop and whether it is a villain or not. While he was speaking specifically about the history of rap, his talk carried significance far beyond the music industry. In fact, I think it is a needed reminder for Christians seeking to understand their place in our current culture.
Explaining the difference between heroes and villains, Lecrae said: “When society creates subjective standards, anyone who upholds these standards, represents these standards, fights for these standards, is looked upon as a hero. Anyone who fights against these standards or opposes them is looked upon as a villain.”
Look at the subjective standards of our society. Then look at the values of Christianity. Are we not the clear villains?
Think of the mindset behind the sexual revolution. Sex became simultaneously elevated as the most important aspect of our lives and devalued as just another commodity to share with as many others as you’d like.
Today, people are defined by their sexual partner preference. Abortion has become further enshrined into our laws to protect the myth that promiscuous sex can be had without consequence. Most young adults see not recycling as morally worse than viewing pornography. Rape has become a “culture.”
And because the world is so gluttonous for sex and cannot satisfy its perversions, human sex trafficking has skyrocketed as children are sold into sex slavery to meet the growing demand.
Culture has decided many of those changes are positive. And those not accepted yet aren’t blamed on the sexual revolution. Rather, they argue, fault lies with repression due to holdovers from a biblical view of sex.
Not only is the Christian perspective on sex to be rejected, it should be blamed for any negative outcomes.
We are the villains.
Look at our culture’s obsession with radical personal autonomy. Society encourages us to be completely self-absorbed—look out for “number 1,” take care of you and yours.
While everything around us is saying your personal preference should be the deciding factor for every important decision, Christianity is asking us to put that aside for the sake of others.
Instead of getting our way and living how we want to live, we are asked to pick up our cross and die to ourselves. Following Christ means you should be interdependent with others. You should use your gifts to serve the church, working with others who are doing the same.
When others see this lifestyle, it—like our sexual ethic—seems odd and out of place in modern culture. In one sense, it seems too traditional. In another, too extreme.
We are the villains.
In virtually every area of culture, Christians will be viewed as the ones out of sync with the rest of society. We will be cast as those standing in the way of progress. When the culturally powerful tell the story of the modern day, they will tell it with us as the bad guys.
But this is not a new place for the people of God. This is a constant refrain of our history.
Like Daniel, we live in a nation hostile to our faith, but we are called to remain faithful. Like the Jewish exiles in Jeremiah’s day, we find ourselves in a place that doesn’t feel like home, but we should strive to put down roots and work to make it better.
Like the early church, the surrounding culture views us as strange (at best) or openly hostile, but we must live as cheerful villains challenging the cultural norms while loving those who disagree.
Think about Jesus Himself. He was constantly misunderstood. Ultimately, He was rejected and murdered because, from the perspective of the Jewish and Roman leaders, Jesus was the villain of the story.
When we recognize that, like Jesus, we will be culture’s villain, it should free us to act in a culturally subversive, but positive way. We live to subvert the things of this world that are in opposition to Christ, but do so because it is for the good of the society—the very society that is casting us as the bad guy.
Yes, culture changed. Christians used to be the heroes of Western Civilization, but that time has passed. Understanding this fact can save us from chasing after the wrong goal.
If we assume we are the heroes and we will always be the heroes, our primary objective will be to chase cultural acceptance. After all, people love and cheer for the heroes.
If we recognize that we are villains of this culture, we will see our goal as cultural transformation through sacrificial love that will be constantly misunderstood. After all, the villains are booed and jeered.
We aren’t trying to win approval. We are trying to follow the footsteps of our Savior who loved radically and, through His ultimate act of sacrifice, conquered an entire empire from the inside out.
That’s our goal. We are the villains.