Donal’s Spirit of the age post actually coincides with this one that I’ve been thinking about writing for a few weeks now.
This article ran across my FB page a few weeks ago on the Christian Myth of America’s moral decay.
“This country is in moral decline. I just wish we would return to our Christian values and turn back to God.”
I came across this comment on a social media thread tonight, and as a Christian it made me more than a bit nauseous. I hear this sentiment from fellow believers often, and whenever I do I always wonder just what “Christian values” they’d like America to return to:
To women not being able to vote?
To people owning slaves?
To street pistol duels and packs of vigilantes meting out justice in the town square?
To organized crime running urban police forces?
To women being marital property?
Are these the “ol’ time religion” days these folks openly pine for; the days when America was apparently so much more reverent, so much more righteous, so much more Godly than it is today?
This idea of our country’s present moral decay has become a go-to Evangelical Christian trope for decades; an attempt at a literal self-fulfilling prophecy, where the world is falling hopelessly apart and the Church is the lone, faithful remnant standing in the face of the heathen culture’s rebellion. Much like Noah, these religious people imagine themselves sole builders of the only safe place from God’s coming wrath; the waters of dread surely and swiftly rising.
But the truth is America is not in decline any more than at any time in its history. This is just lazy religious-speak that seeks to paint the picture of everything being terrible so it can name drop the “Last Days” and leverage the ensuing fear such language invariably creates in suggestible God-fearing folk.
Only everything isn’t terrible—at least not more terrible:
People have always been bigoted, petty, and ignorant, they just all didn’t have free, 24-hour self-promotion machines where they could advertise as much on a regular basis.
There have always been corrupt governments, contemptible politicians, and hypocritical religious leaders, only now we have more people armed with the resources to unearth and expose them.
Gross injustices against the poor, the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, and people of color have existed since America was a newborn. We just didn’t have phone cameras to broadcast it to the world and to make it commonplace.
Teenagers have always followed the rush of their raging hormones into all sorts of regrettable messes, they just didn’t have Snapchat to preserve it for posterity.
In other words, there really is nothing new under the sun.
(Bolded by him, not me)
Unfortunately, the author falls into the typical trap of modernity. It’s old liberalism lie that things are improving as we eliminate more supposed injustices. As Donal notes, it’s the Spirit of the Age.
In reality, most of the things he mentions above are framed in a worldly terms not godly terms. In Israel and Christianity, the leadership of the Church, community, and families is/was composed of only elderly men. Jesus did nothing to change that, and both Paul and Peter affirmed it in the Church. Likewise, a husband’s headship is for love. However, rebellion is present all throughout America’s history lending to the unconscious or conscious assumption that authority is evil when it is good.
This assumption carries over into thinking authority makes women property just the same as slaves and things like segregation. Make no mistake. Everyone is under authority. Everyone is a slave to something. Some of us to Christ, some to money, some to hedonism, some to their jobs. This is specifically why the law had conditions for slaves to be permanently of their master (Ex 21, Deut 15), and why both Peter and Paul were more concerned about the hearts of masters and slaves rather than condemning slavery. Earthly positions are just that — not a big deal in the grand scheme of the gospel and changed lives.
There is the interesting nitpicking of ‘lawlessness’ to prove the point which is the exception rather than the rule. Indeed, if you look at the statistics which tell the general tale of the population, we know that America is in a time of decay. 50%+ of children are born out of wedlock. Divorce rates remain high. Many children don’t have fathers. Less people than ever claim to be Christians, and more people than ever do not go to Church. The lack of strong male (father) influence on children leads to increased suicide rates, poorer educational outcomes, drugs, alcoholism, risky and earlier sex, children out of wedlock, and many other negative outcomes.
Let’s be quite frank. America is in a time of serious moral decay. It’s pretty disingenuous to assume otherwise based on nitpicking examples to fit the narrative, which can even be done with passages of Scripture to shame men into liking strong women. The attack on husbands, fathers, marriage, families, and the Church — which are the core of Christian community — is quite clear. You don’t even have to look for it because it’s so obvious.
Thankfully, one of Jesus’ ubiquitous “I am” claims speaks directly to this.
John 15:1 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He [a]prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already [b]clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit [c]of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so [d]prove to be My disciples. 9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.
10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
Those who do not bear fruit are being pruned. The ‘falling away’ of many people from the Church and the faith is clear evidence of the pruning in action. Those that claim to be Christian and follow in a pattern of good works will be fruitful, and that fruit will stand out.
When there is decay, it is time for pruning.