Culture, Laws and Morals
The Barna Group recently released a study of a number of questions surrounding marijuana. The most important comment was not about a specific question. Rather, it established the environment of an era. The comment said, “Research points to the continuing ascendancy of personal and individual rights over legislating a shared sense of morality.”
This comment is an important expression of a cultural trend. Facts reveal that US culture has changed dramatically since the era from which Norman Rockwell pulled his images. US culture during colonial and revolutionary times, through civil war and two world wars, has been dominated by the shared morals of Christian teaching. The culture hotly debated what those values were, but the culture in general behaved and spoke with a common intent to do “the right thing,” the thing God would approve. There was little argument about the existence of God, and there was little argument that his way was the right way. Even people who never paid any attention to God behaved as if his opinion mattered.
The whole idea of law as an outgrowth of common morality is an element of civilization. In fact, in most ancient civilizations, common morality grew out of common religion, which often automatically considered the religious law governing behavior to be the law of the community. There was no necessity for a conversation about whether to have a law that agreed with religion. It was understood that the religious law was the law. The Revolutionary War which separated the colonies from Britain also separated them from Britain’s state church. This war introduced to the world a state with no state religion. The law could be anything. Yet the Founders and Framers generally agreed that the nation needed to have moral values embodied in law. Because Christians constituted the majority of the population, Christian moral teaching dominated US law.
In the twentieth century, coinciding in time with the beginning of the civil rights movement, citizens who claimed either that no god existed or that they themselves were not subject to any god began to express a sense of the rightness of a set of behaviors that were in direct conflict with Christian teaching. It certainly was true that some of these behaviors had become popular earlier, some were even timeless, but community agreement considered many of them as things that could be tolerated as long as they did not attract attention to themselves. The turmoil of the civil rights era stirred up other turmoils that had simply been awaiting the opportunity. Drugs and sex were at the center of a whirlwind of change. During and immediately after World War II, it was normal for an adult to consider marriage with someone of the opposite gender. Words like family and parents had quite specific meanings, but all those meanings have been tinkered with in the intervening years. Today it is considered well within normality to ask what those words actually mean. In 1964, the idea of legalizing marijuana would have been unthinkable, but in 2014 two states have already done it.
Individual rights trump common morality, even though community values are believed to trump individual freedom of religion
Today, the most fractious discussion of public morality surrounds the issue of same-sex marriage, an issue that would be a non-issue if not for public perception that homosexuality is normal, rather than an aberration, and a public perception that religion is out of touch with reality rather than the most powerful and important source of guidance for human behavior. If everyone actually agreed that individual rights trump common morality, then individual religious values would trump the culture shift that considers homomsexuality to be normal. There would be no question of the right of a Christian businessperson to reject participation in same-sex marriage.
However, the culture increasingly considers religion to be a power that intrudes rather than a power that sustains. As a consequence, when an individual chooses to submit his behavior to a religious standard, that choice is not respected. If the religious standard conflicts with the community standard, the community attitude is that the individual has looked to the wrong authority. The community can respect a person for looking within himself or for looking to the community for standards, but the community resents a person who looks to God for authority. The community does not so much try to hijack a God-given right to exercise religious faith as the community rejects the very possibility that a God exists who can grant that right. Hence, a choice that is constitutionally viewed as a personal right is seen as the unjustified expression of religious authority on non-believers. That individual has dragged into the community an unwanted authority, and the community rejects it. This is the basis for the allegation that there is no room in a civilized community for people who do not consider homosexuality to be normal.
The Barna Group says that increasingly, Americans are comfortable with both recreational and medicinal use of marijuana. The culture wants laws surrounding the use of marijuana to be relaxed. Likewise, the whole concept of human sexuality has been redefined, and the culture is pressing for changes in the law, changes with no reference whatsoever to religious values and religious authority.
The discussion is not over, but the terms of the conversation have changed dramatically. How does a Christian live faithfully in a culture that operates on these new terms?
5 thoughts on “Culture, Morals and Laws”
I hope you found a Bible believing church. So far the pastor in my new church has preached the gospel and is a apologist about the inerrancy of the Bible.
Did you hear about this? Tony Campolo was the subject of an informal heresy hearing in 1985 brought about by several assertions in his 1983 book A Reasonable Faith, particularly his claim that, “Jesus is actually present in each other person.” The book became a hot button issue, and the controversy caused Campus Crusade for Christ and Youth for Christ to block a planned speaking engagement by Campolo. The Christian Legal Society empowered a “reconciliation panel”, led by noted theologian J. I. Packer, to examine the issue and resolve the controversy. The panel examined the book and questioned Campolo. The panel later issued a statement saying that although it found Campolo’s statements “methodologically naïve.
So was Compolo a borderline heretic or a heretic? I don’t know. There are many like him who are going in the wrong direction in the United States and around the world. I think God wants us to tell the truth and if people won’t listen we have to give them over to Satan. It is God’s business to convict them. God is winnowing out the tares and soon the remnant will be raptured out of here!
So what is a Christian to do? I would say do this:
I Timothy 2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
2nd, study the Bible,
II Timothy 2: 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
Ephesians 6:17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
3rd, Confess your sins,
Psalm 51:3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge.
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
4th, forgive as God has forgiven you,
Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
5th, Live life:
Jeremiah 29:5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
We know that God wins in the end. We can “Cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us.” Don’t worry –be happy! God is in control!
These are very solid principles for staying grounded in Christ through good times and bad. Thank you for this clear and concise exposition. I recommend one more thing. I believe that we must be the voice for absolute morality in the culture. That is a tough stance, but I think we must. If nobody says a word, then nothing changes. We may be hushed or suppressed when we speak, but we must speak. As you point out, we must be centered in Christ and our comments must be Christ-like, but it is completely Christ-like to differ with evil agendas.
I agree. Ephesians 4: 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
. I believe we can do this in several ways. One way is to vote for candidates who support life and traditional marriage. Another way is to have conversations with those who have the opposite view even though they say they follow Jesus. But if they will not listen then I Corinthians 5:5 says “5 I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
I left a church because even though the pastor does not condone homosexual behavior he believes that we can vote for candidates who support homosexual rights. He believes that the woman is more important than the unborn baby. I told him that James Dobson believes that people who support these issues are borderline heretics. The pastor told me then that up to half the congregation of the church would be considered borderline heretics then.
I left the church and I pray for them.
It is my opinion that “borderline heresy” is a contradiction in terms. Either we believe that God gave us the Bible as a guide for faith and life or we don’t.
My husband and I changed churches over the Bible itself. Progressive Christians (their term, not mine) claim that the Bible is a precious record of sacred experience written by ancient people but not binding as instruction for people today. When our church chose to go down that path, we chose to find a different church.
Comments are closed.