Imagine travelling down the expressway, sunroof open, XM dialed in to the “’60’s on 6,” and lost in reverie until you catch a whiff of something—a bouquet with that certain rubbery tang. You glance down and notice the “Temp” indicator is red; you glance back up to catch the first puffs of steam wafting from the hood. You pull over, get out of the car, and raise the hood to an engine belching coolant in gray billows. As you wait for the tow truck, head in hands, the significance of those small puddles of antifreeze on the carport you’ve noticed, but ignored, for the last several days, becomes clear.
Something like that has happened in our nation. The national conscience, which for the better part of 200 years had been informed by Christian principles, developed a leak decades ago. It started as a slow drip, scarcely noticed. Left largely unattended, it progressed from a trickle to a stream to a gush that has led to the de-Christianization of America.
That is not to say that most people don’t identity as “Christian.” They do, although their percentage hasdeclined nearly twenty points since 1960 to 74 percent. Nor is it to say that the transcendent perspective of our founding has been written out of our rule of law—the distinctly Judeo-Christian premises of the Declaration of Independence remain the bedrock of the Constitution. Rather, it is to acknowledge that Christian values no longer shape our moral consensus.
Gallup Politics, documenting the “evolution” of that consensus for over a decade, found that the majority of Americans age 35 to 55 years now consider the following behaviors “morally acceptable”: gay/lesbian relationships (54 percent), non-marital sex (63 percent), divorce (66 percent), out-of-wedlock birth (67 percent), and embryo-destructive research (59 percent) among others.
On the abortion issue, public attitudes are more nuanced. As I pointed out in “Pro-Life Inner Conflict,” although 48 percent of Americans poll “pro-life,” only about one-fourth believe that abortion is morally wrongand that government should pass restrictions on it.
It is a moral slide showing no signs of braking. With 18 to 34 year olds polling up to 20 percentage points higher in moral acceptance of homosexual relationships (74 percent) and non-martial sex (72 percent) than for their elders, and with nearly half having no moral qualms with pornography or sex between teenagers, our plunge is poised to continue apace.
It should come as no surprise, then, that only 44 percent of Americans believe that government should promote traditional values. That represents a drop of 15 percentage points over the last decade. However, the notion that traditional (read: Christian) values should have no role in governance would have been unthinkable to our nation’s founders.
Writes Bill Flax in (Forbes,) “All [the Framers] thought the Bible essential for [a] just and harmonious society.” Quoting historian Larry Schweikart, Flax continues, “The founding documents of every one of the original thirteen colonies reveal them to be awash in the concepts of Christianity and God.”
Even Thomas Jefferson, one of the least Christian among the Founding Fathers, is quoted as saying, “No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as Chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”
Fast-forward to 1992. Continue reading here.
Fox News political analyst Kirsten Powers is a Christian who supports same-sex “marriage.” In her moral imagination, the only thing fueling the opposition to “marriage equality” is anti-gay bigotry. She suggests that if Jesus was a baker today he’dbake a cake for the ceremony. Her reasoning? In part: “Christianity doesn't prohibit serving a gay couple getting married.” (My emphasis.) I’ll come back to the “argument from silence” in a moment.
Scarcely more than a decade ago, Christians who favored homosexual “marriage” were in the minority, at around 40 percent. No longer. Contrary to biblical teaching and historical church doctrine -- not to mention millennia of cultural tradition -- the support of same-sex “marriage” among Catholics and white mainline Protestants is the same as for the general public: 53 percent.
Strengthening the trend is the growing number of churches endorsing same-sex unions by way of consecrations or other solemnizing ceremonies. Among them: the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Over sixty percent of first-time marriages are preceded by cohabitation, according to the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project, which reports a 17-fold increase in the practice since 1960.
Cohabitation has become so accepted and commonplace that for many couples it is not the result of a conscious decision or even a conversation. Instead, notes clinical psychologist Meg Jay, more often it "just happens," as a couple slides, ever so surely, from dating, to having sex, to sleeping over, to sleeping over a lot, to moving in together without discussing goals or expectations.
Today, nearly 50 percent of women aged 25-39 admit to living, or having lived, with an unmarried partner. Most do so in hopes that the relationship will move to marriage. For most men, it is a "test drive" that allows them to postpone commitment while enjoying the benefits of available sex.
Predictably, women who acquiesce to an unbinding relationship set themselves up for frustration, disappointment, and objectification. Take "Jennifer," who told Dr. Jay she felt that her boyfriend was never committed to her and that she "was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife." Although they were eventually married, a year afterward Jennifer was seeking divorce.
Counting the costs
Contrary to the hopes of most women, cohabitation actually decreases their chance of getting married in their prime childbearing years, as a 2012 CDC survey reported. For those who do reach the altar, like Jennifer, there are increased risks of marital dissatisfaction, marital problems and divorce -- especially if they cohabited before engagement -- which carry emotional, psychological, and financial costs that far outweigh any economic benefits that might have used to rationalize their "decision."
And there are social costs as well.
As the incidence of cohabitation shot up, the marriage rate plummeted (and is now at a historic low) and the out-of-wedlock birth rate skyrocketed (now at a record high). So, no longer can one assume that a pregnant woman is married or will be married.
Instead, after pregnancy, more couples are choosing cohabitation over marriage according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And that exacts a cost on their children, who, the National Institutes of Health reports, fare worse academically, cognitively, socially, and behaviorally than children raised by married biological parents.
What's more, the cohabiters’ increased risk of divorce transfers the increased risks to children of fatherless homes, poverty, neglect, child abuse, and delinquency. And that's for children whose parents want them. For the rest, it's adoption or abortion.
How did we get here? Continue reading here
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is more than a bracing reminder about our duty to the poor; it is a cautionary tale about misjudging our spiritual condition.
In Jesus’ day, material wealth and well-being were commonly assumed to be divine blessings for personal righteousness: The rich were rich because of their moral virtue, and the poor, poor because of their sin. The rich man had bought that line, only to learn too late that he had been wrong—tragically so.
Sadly, it is a line selling well today, as evidenced by the popularity of the Prosperity Gospel and its various permutations.
Jesus told His disciples that there will be people at the threshold of heaven, claiming to have done great things in his name, only to be told, “I never knew you”—people like the rich man whose spiritual valuation was all wrong.
These warnings should prompt us to consider our own spiritual well-being. If pressed, would we say that we are spiritually healthy, sick, on life support, or, like the rich man, dead men walking? Based on what vital signs?
I can imagine many folks considering themselves to be “healthy” based on some combination of religious activities: church involvement, Bible reading, worship attendance, tithing, keeping the commandments . . . probably the very things the rich man relied on, which, in the end, didn’t serve him well. And it is not hard to understand why.
Since religious activity can be the product of either spiritual formation or behavior modification, it is not, taken by itself, a reliable indicator of our spiritual state. Basing our spiritual health solely on religious activity is like basing our physical health solely on physical activity. While diminished physical ability can be indicative of a serious medical condition, many times it isn’t. Lance Armstrong was competing in, and winning, world cycling championships while harboring a virulent, undetected cancer. In the same way, religious activity alone, despite fervor and effectiveness, may never reveal a moldering interior life.
Understanding our physical risks requires that we undergo intrusive procedures—blood tests, colonoscopies, pelvic exams, and mammograms—involving needles, X-rays, scopes, and probes that can be uncomfortable, painful, and embarrassing. Understanding our spiritual risks requires an equally intrusive and sometimes unpleasant procedure: probing beneath the surface of religiosity and moralism to the temper of our heart—the attitudes, affections, and motivations that shape what we are and what we do.
Spiritual formation is an inside-out process. It begins in the head, transforming our thoughts in how we view ourselves and the world; proceeds to the heart, transforming our character as manifested in “fruits of the Spirit”; and flows out to the hands, transforming our activities from works leading to death and works of righteousness to “fruits of the Kingdom.”