The Gospel in Secular America
Had I been given a choice of countries in which to be born, I would have chosen the United States. With all of the problems facing this nation, still I prefer living here to any other country in the world. Based on the problems of immigration faced along the southern border of the United States, I conclude that many citizens outside our country also would prefer to be U.S. citizens to residing in the country of their birth. America is a land of opportunity. It guarantees its citizens many liberties not found in other countries. I do not wish that what is said in the article that follows to leave an impression that I do not love these United States. There are some things wrong in our country. The country is changing its direction and that change is creating problems for Christians, but I want you to under-stand that I love the U.S.A.
America Has Become
A Secular Nation
America never was a Christian nation in the sense that all of its citizens were Christians. It has been a Christian nation only in the sense that the under girding of its judicial law has been the Christian ethic. Everest Carl Ladd wrote, "`America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a Creed,' G.K. Chesterton observed. Religious beliefs are interwoven in that creed and reflect its central values, including commitments to individualism, equality, and freedom" ("Secular and Religious America," Unsecular America, Richard John Neuhaus, editor, 19-20).
Ethical righteousness caused our nation to prosper. Solomon wrote, "Righteousness exalteth a nation:
but sin is a reproach to any people" (Prov. 14:34; cf. 11:10; 16:12; 20:26,28; 21:31; 25:4-5; 29:2,4,18; Jer. 18:1-10). Christian values have leavened the nation. But, as America moves toward the rejection of Christian religious values, our society becomes more and more like that described in Romans 1:21-32:
The Christian ethic is being rejected as the foundation on which this country is built; America is becoming pagan. Our public institutions are godless. Schools cannot post the Ten Commandments as a result of a 1978 Supreme Court ruling. The moral standards of by-gone years are being replaced by a new pagan ethic that advocates homosexual marriages, successive polygamy (under the guise of easy divorce and remarriage), abortion, euthanasia, and many other kinds of morally debased conduct.
John Whitehead wrote, "A key to understanding the declining influence of Christianity is to recognize that a shift has occurred in the way our thoughts move. In-stead of Christian ideas being expressed in the general culture, a secular pagan ideology now dominates the various cultural and professional outlets: literature, education, law, the media" (The Second American Revolution 20).
George M. Marsden observed The Gospel In Secular America how extensively the secularists have taken control of our society, "On the face of it, nontheistic secularists appear to have enormous influence in American society. Their philosophy seems to control a number of crucial opinion-forming centers. In the universities, nontheistic secularism is unquestionably the overwhelmingly dominant opinion. So also in the media. Many government agencies operate on the basis of these secularist assumptions.... American public education also reflects many of the secularist principles" ("Are Secularists the Threat?" Unsecular America, Richard John Neuhaus, editor, 32-33). America has become a pagan, secularist nation.
What The Secular State Has Produced
The cultural revolution began in the 1960s when free sex, drugs, and other forms of moral degeneration became an acceptable lifestyle to a significant segment of our population. This social revolution rejected the ethical value system predominant in the society. Enough years have passed under these secular influences to judge the kind of society this secularism has produced and to ask ourselves if this is the kind of nation we want. Mona Charen described modem culture saying,
Examining trends over 30 years, from 1960 to 1990, (William) Bennett finds that the U.S. population has increased 41%, and the gross domestic product has nearly tripled. At the same time, during those crucial years, violent crime increased 560%, illegitimate births (the origin of so many pathologies) increased by more than 400%, the divorce rate quadrupled, the teen suicide rate increased 200%, and SAT scores dropped by 80 points (Rocky Mountain News [April 1, 1993J, 53A).
Cal Thomas asked, "Is there anyone who seriously believes that we are better off today socially, morally, or economically than we were in 1960 when the breakdown from which we are now suffering took hold? Does anyone seriously suggest that a 40 percent divorce rate, one and one-half million abortions per year, a public school system that fails to teach the rudiments of literacy to many of its students, and an epidemic of venereal disease are reflections of anything but a nation which has run morally amok?" (Book Burning 15)
Charen described the legacy the 1960s social revolution left to the "have-nots" in our society:
The ideas of the '60s left some scars on society's Haves (such as the damage divorce has visited upon children), but for the most part, the Haves were able to enjoy their fling with sexual libertinism, "recreational" drugs and rejection of the bourgeois values such as work and family without suffering for it. If they heeded the advice of Timothy Leary to "tune in, turn on, drop out," they were almost always able to drop back in.
The same was not true of the Have-nots. The drug fad that temporarily captured so many of the Haves in their university days in the 1960s and 1970s was later rejected.
The Haves moved on to mineral water and Nautilus equipment. But not the Have-nots. Drugs have become a permanent feature of life in the inner city, with all of its attendant pathologies crack babies, crime, and joblessness.
But perhaps worse even than the drug scourge was another, deeper disservice the Haves did to the poor. By devaluing exactly the personal qualities and values necessary to escape poverty, indeed, by arguing that because of past discrimination and racism, the Haves owed the Have-nots reparations in the form of welfare, the poor were deprived of the inner resources they needed to escape poverty
Magnet makes a convincing case that three things are necessary to rise out of poverty in America: 1. finish high school; 2. work a steady job (any job); and 3. get married as an adult and stay married.... (The Indianapolis Star [May 6, 19931, A14).
By reshaping the value system, the Haves have taken away from the Have Nots the moral virtues needed to get out of poverty a work ethic, education, and a solid family. Look what this revolution has produced. Is this the kind of United States you want to live in? If not, the time to become alarmed is past. The time for action is now!
The Agents of Change
Until we can recognize the agents of change in our society, we may not know how to attack the problem in order to correct it. Here are some significant agents of social change working in the United States.
1. The Courts. In the early years of this republic, the Judaeo-Christian ethic was the under girding of jurisprudence. Its influence can be historically traced through the influence of William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England directly on United States jurisprudence. Significantly, the influence of evolution spilled over into the courts resulting in a shift in the interpretation of constitutional law. As this shift occurred the role of the court changed from that of interpreting the United States Constitution to become an activist court viewing its duty to be that of making laws to effect and hasten social changes. As a result, in our country the law has become what the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court say that it is. Francis Schaeffer and C. Everest Koop wrote, in describing this view (without approving it),
Law is only what most of the people think at that moment of history, and there is no higher law. It follows, of course, that the law can be changed at any moment to reflect what the majority currently think.
More accurately, the law becomes what a few people in some branch of the government think will promote the present sociological and economic good. In reality the will and moral judgment of the majority are now influenced by or even overruled by the opinions of a small group of men and women (quoted by Whitehead in The Second American Revolution 49-50).
Recognizing the state of law in the United States, The Commission on Religion in the Public Schools (1964) wrote, "The Constitution means what the Supreme Court says its mean it's as simple as that" (7).
As a result of this view of the law, the activist United States Supreme Court has become a primary agent of social change in our country. Here are some of its important contributions to the destruction of Christian values:
a. The 1973 decision on abortion (Roe v. Wade). This has been re-enforced in a number of rulings that gives minor girls the right to an abortion even without parental consent and women the right to abortion without the consent of the father of the unborn child.
b. Removal of religion from the public schools. In 1948, the McCollum Case ruled that released time pro-grams for religious instruction were unconstitutional; in 1952 the Zorach Case permitted released time programs so long as they were not on school property; in 1963 the Schempp Case ruled that Bible reading in public schools was unconstitutional. More recently prayer has been removed from public schools and the courts forbid the posting of the Ten Commandments (Stone V. Graham, Nov. 17, 1980).
c. Ruled that contraceptives can be given to children without parental notification (Doe v. Irwin, 1977).
d. Protection of pornography under freedom of speech.
We can now expect rulings guaranteeing a person's right to doctor-assisted euthanasia. Every time the Supreme Court meets a person dreads to hear what new decision has been made.
2. The Schools. Under the influence of humanists like John Dewey, the schools have become agents of social change. Dewey's influence was summarized by George M. Marsden as follows:
Humanity, Dewey recognized, was innately religious. But traditional religions, which posited scientifically dubious assertions about deities, were not the healthiest expressions of the human religious character. He urged humanity, and specifically Americans, to adopt `a common faith,' a public philosophy based on a morality that valued human growth in learning, knowledge, the arts, conscience, character, and the furtherance of mutual aid and affection. This moral philosophy was, of course, what Dewey hoped would be taught in the public schools, which (as is often observed) served in effect as the established church of his religion. Indeed, Dewey was more frank than most secularists in admitting the religious nature of his secular scheme. He correctly saw that secularization involved the replacement of one religion with another ("Are Secularists the Threat?" Unsecular America, Richard John Neuhaus, editor, 38).
In the January/February 1983 issue of the Humanist, John Dunphy called on public school teachers to lead the way in creating this social revolution:
I am convinced that the battle for humankind's future must be waged and won in the public school classrooms by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preacher, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level preschool day care or large state university. The classroom must and will become an area of conflict between the old and the new the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism, resplendent in its promise of a world in which the never-realized Christian idea of "love thy neighbor" will finally be achieved (26).
Cal Thomas described the situation in America's schools saying, "Our public schools operate in an environment of situation ethics and moral laxity. Books that convey the belief that there are no moral absolutes and one is not personally accountable for one's actions are often taught as if these ideas are the last word on the subject. Our schools often endorse a do-your-own-thing philosophy. They tell young people there is no right and wrong, no truth or falsehood, and that one choice is just as good as any other so long as one is `pursuing happiness"' (Book Burning 88).
The schools seem more interested in changing a person's social views than in guaranteeing that he can read, write and do arithmetic. As a consequence, our school system has fallen behind that provided in several other nations and is producing less qualified graduates in math and science. It has become an agent of social change.
The Gospel in Secular America .. .
3. Censorship of Christian values. Occasionally television news and newspapers will report a story of a fundamentalist preacher having a book burning or the radical protest of some book. What is ignored, however, is that a systematic censorship of Christian values has occurred through the courts, schools, and media. Christian values have been carefully censored from the curriculum of the schools, religion is removed from the textbooks, voluntary prayer is legislated by judicial decision out of the public square, all in the name of pluralism. This systematic censorship of Christianity has been used as a tool to effect social change.
The success of the schools as agents of change can be seen in the fact that the more schooling a person has, the less likely he is to have faith in God and believe in an absolute standard of right and wrong (Robert W Wuthnow, The Struggle for America's Soul 145). This is more especially true of the subjective sciences and less true of the natural sciences (147,157). The more educated a person becomes the more tolerant he is of divergent points of view on religion and moral issues.
Among those censoring our textbooks are feminists. Cal Thomas wrote, "It is considered perfectly acceptable, indeed, open-minded, to liberate women from the nasty stereotype of motherhood by making sure no textbooks include pictures of women holding babies" (Book Burning 21). He continued,
Another interesting group, the feminists, has indeed been successful in bringing so much pressure to bear on the textbook industry that Christian values, when they conflict with feminism, have been censored out of school curriculums. Purporting to represent the majority of the population, they have pressured textbook publishers and government agencies that produce educational materials to toe their political line. As a result, motherhood when it is discussed at all in textbooks is treated as an embarrassing option for women, marriage as a quaint social arrangement, and abortion as the salvation of mankind (58-59).
We have heard it argued that even voluntary school prayer would place an intolerable burden on a non-religious child who would be forced to pray, but the liberals believe it is perfectly acceptable, even desirable, for children to be forced to read the political doctrine of a divorced woman who wants to force her view of marriage, manhood, and divorce down the throats of everyone else (95).
Here are some other forms of censorship: (a) Creation science has been censored out of the textbooks and evolution force fed to our children, with its implications for psychology, sociology, history of religion, family life, etc. being axiomatically accepted in the various sciences. (b) Planned Parenthood representatives have an open door to teach our children about sexual conduct and abortion. Those teaching sexual abstinence until marriage have been censored from the discussion. (c) The Courts have been used to keep doctors from providing the information about the development of the child to would-be mothers who want an abortion.
The secular agenda in United States society is methodically censoring the Christian viewpoint on every front. This censorship is an effective tool used by social engineers to effect cultural change.
4. Television. The television has become an important agent of social change in our culture. One can survey the offering in any month and see how movies and sit-corns are used to shape our thinking on relevant social issues ranging from homosexuality, to euthanasia, fornication, divorce and remarriage, and religion.
TV appeals to the prurient interests of man. Sex and violence sell. Consequently, the movie producers are constantly pushing the limits that the FAA will allow. Cal Thomas observed, "Prime-time television is a contest to see which network can cram the most sex and violence into thirty-minute segments" (Book Burning 132).
Dick Dabney wrote in Harper's magazine, after watching four nights of prime-time TV, that the TV presents men as "twerps, singles-bar idiots, degraded hirelings, victims, whipees, female impersonators, and fools." The only positive male characters, even on "adultery epics" such as "Knot's Landing," "Dynasty," and "Flamingo Road" were homosexuals (Book Burning 130). The Gay Media Task Force regularly edits scripts for TV to be sure that the homosexual viewpoint is properly portrayed.
In his book The View from Sunset Boulevard, Ben Stein, a respected Hollywood writer and newspaper columnist, notes "that when clergymen or other religious people are portrayed on TV, they are irrelevant, impotent, or `religious fanatics' who are out to take over America" (Book Burning 128).
Michael Medved, co-host of PBS's Sneak Preview, has these criticisms of Hollywood: (a) "The only kind of sex that is forbidden on TV and in the movies is sex between husband and wife. On screen, sex occurs mostly among single people, usually teenagers. I point out in my book that, on TV, references to sex outside marriage are 14 times more common than sex inside marriage." (b) In answer to the charge that movies are only made to make money: "In my book, I show that if you look at the movies released since 1983, PG-rated movies did almost twice as well as R movies; in 1991, they did three times as well." (c) In answer to the charge that they mirror society: "All the surveys show that most Americans pray every week; 45 percent go to church or synagogue every week. This is never reflected in motion pictures or on TV." (d) Medved says about Christians, "No other group in America could be traduced with such breathtaking impunity" (quotes from Christianity Today [March 8, 1993], 23-25).
5. The News Media. The Christian perspective on current events (ranging from abortion, to homosexuality, to the morality of political candidates) is generally placed in a denigrating light. The TV news prefers one kind of religion story a scandal (preferably a sex scandal). It always gets front page (remember the coverage given Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart). Other religious stories are always section D coverage. The bias against religion is seen in the coverage given abortion protest (abortion protestors are portrayed as wild-eyed radicals or nuts who shoot doctors and destroy medical buildings), creation science (an uneducated radical is quoted), women's rights issues, and many other such like things. The bias slant of the news media has the effect of making it an agent of social change.
6. The Music Industry. The musicians have been elevated almost to god and goddess status in United States culture. The morals of these "gods" and "goddesses" become the morals of the teens in many cases. What kind of moral message is given when Madonna, the queen of rock music, produces a book entitled Sex that features her disgusting sexual fantasies, including having sex with a dog? The rock concerts are drug, alcohol, and sex orgies. The lyrics of songs praise fornication, lust, drugs, hatred, revenge, cop-killing, and other forms of godless behavior. Even non-religious politicians are calling for a rating system for records. They promote hedonism. If you doubt the influence of the music industry, watch how the children mimic the dress of the musicians. Indeed, the music industry is an agent of social change.
7. The Social Sciences. Robert Wuthnow assessed the influence of the social sciences when he wrote, "It is probably safe to say that the majority of social scientists regard Christianity as a rather quaint legacy from the oral tradition of a largely agrarian society that has been perpetuated by a combination of church bureaucrats and popular insecurity, one that is ultimately of little importance to the main intellectual and social currents of society" (The Struggle for America's Soul 160). Psychiatrists and psychologists have contributed to the concept of relativity in moral values.
8. Religion. Even religious leaders are employed to help change the value system of Americans. Rarely is a social issue faced but that a liberal theologian is brought in to affirm that a person can be a good Christian while practicing the sinful conduct under discussion. Most of the seminaries in our country are hotbeds of infidelity. Rather than giving a clarion call for Christian values, the pulpit of denominationalism has been used as an agent of change in the cultural wars.
The Rise of Anti-Christian Sentiment
There is no doubt about it. The anti-Christian sentiment in our country is growing. Under the guise of being "politically correct," a thought police mentality is growing. Samuel Frances wrote, "We see the trend in organized efforts to boycott states that don't vote the way the new cultural dictators demand. In Louisiana, there was talk last year of national boycotts of the state if its voters elected former Klansman David Duke governor. This year, there was similar chatter of boycotts against Oregon if it passed a referendum against homosexuality, and now there are actual official boycotts against Colorado because it did approve a much milder measure that merely repealed local laws banning discrimination against homosexuals" (The Tennessean [December 10, 1992], 17-A).
When we witness the public belittling of Christian beliefs, the systematic removal of God from our public institutions, pushing Christians outside the mainstream of political and educational thought, can persecution be that far behind?
Were you aware that more abortion protestors have spent time in jail than the number jailed during the civil rights conflicts of the 1960s despite the number of deaths, burned buildings, and riots that occurred as a result of the civil rights movement? Classifying certain actions as "hate crimes" (such as certain opposition to homosexuality) is another way of paving the way to prosecute those opposed to homosexuality.
The Wrong Christian Response
Witnessing these changes occur in our culture, the Christian asks, "What is the proper response?" There are some wrong answers being suggested.
1. A Non-Offensive Gospel. Some want to water down the gospel to make it more palatable to the baby boomers and baby busters. The denominations have followed this approach until many denominations stand for nothing and approve of practically every form of conduct. At the same time they have compromised their message, their member-ship has been dwindling. Trying to preach a non-offensive message is not the correct response to the paganism of America.
2. The Felt-Needs Ministry. Some are turning to a "felt-needs" approach in their preaching. The "market" is surveyed to find the felt needs of the community. Then the church addresses these felt-needs by conducting seminars on grief recovery, divorce recovery, facing cancer, and such like things. The felt needs approach to the church's ministry allows the world to set the agenda based on its felt, not actual, needs. A "bait and switch" approach to evangelism is encouraged lure the people with the felt-needs and slip in the gospel while they are there. This is the approach used by the Salvation Army give the indigents a free meal but make them listen to a lesson before they get it. How effective has this been in converting souls and changing conduct?
3. The Political Action Committee Church. Some think the correct solution is more involvement of the church in the political arena. The church should not hesitate to speak out on moral issues, regardless of how they are treated in the political arena. However, the church is not a political action committee. Jesse Jackson has used the church as a political tool of the "Rainbow Coalition." Pat Robertson (700 Club) and Jerry Falwell (The Moral Majority) have also used this approach to oppose the rising paganism in America. The church is not authorized to be involved in politics and the experiment with the Moral Majority shows how ineffective this is to effect long-term change.
The Correct Christian Response
Christians need to remember that this is not the first, nor will it be the last, time that the gospel has gone into a predominately non-Christian environment. The first century gospel was taken into a pagan world. We need to use the model of preaching from the first century as a pattern for the correct Christian response to a non-Christian environment. Here are some suggestions:
1. First century preaching was apologetic. The first century preachers relied on strong evidences to convince their audiences that their message was true. They relied on the testimony of eyewitnesses and prophecy to prove that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God (see Acts 2,3,8). They appealed to creation as evidence of the Creator (Rom. 1:20; Acts 14:15; 17:24). We need to be bold in our preaching, placing the gospel in the market-place of ideas and letting it confront head-on the false philosophies of men (Acts 6:7-7:60; 17:11). The first century gospel was bold and uncompromising in its message, stating that salvation was only available to mankind through the means provided by Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
2. First century preaching advertised its message by righteous living. One of the best evidences of the validity of the gospel was the impact it had on the lives of men. First century Christians adorned the gospel with righteous living (Tit. 2:10).
3. First century Christians accepted that they were pilgrims and sojourners (1 Pet. 2:11). More and more each of us must accept the fact that "this world is not my home." Increasingly we will feel what is expressed in the familiar song: "I don't feel at home in this world any more."
4. First century Christians evangelized the world. We can have the most impact on our nation by converting men to Christ. For want of ten righteous souls Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. How many Christians are needed to keep our nation from destruction? The greatest contribution that I can make to this country is to influence people to become Christians. If enough men are made Christians, then politicians openly practicing infidelity, confessing their homosexuality, and campaigning against God cannot be elected. The influence must come at the grassroots level and allow itself to work upward.
5. First century Christians lived separated lives. They learn to abstain from the worldly lusts that war against the soul (1 Pet. 2:11; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Rom. 12:1-2). The world thought they were different and spoke evil of them (1 Pet. 4:3-4).
6. First century Christians were ready to suffer for Christ. Godly men will always suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 4:4). We may have more to face in the future than we imagine.
The social revolution that began in the 1960s has won millions to accept a non-Christian value system. The United States is in a cultural war that threatens its existence as a nation. Gordon H. Clark, the world renown Calvinist philosopher whom I studied under at Butler University, observed, "A stable civilization, so it is plausibly argued, always rests on a substantial unanimity of thought. But when the ordinary differences of opinion multiply, widen, and deepen, when the educational systems have contradictory aims, when class consciousness divides the people, and when nations support irreconcilable ideals, the result is war, revolution, brutality, and chaos" (A Christian View of Men and Things 13). The erosion of that which has held us together portends trying times ahead for us. Let us strengthen our faith to prepare for them, militantly evangelize our community to convert the souls of lost men and to call us back to common agreement on ethical values.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 3, p. 1