I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s. Then, the nation was still superficially Christian, even though the foundations had already shifted without our awareness. Eisenhower was right, the nation was growing secular at the top, even if the grass-roots were still deeply Christian. In those days, one kept a ‘public’ record of decency, consistent with generally accepted Christian values. But, private lives would be, over the next few decades, increasingly shrouded by a legal ‘right to privacy’ shield. What was happening was the construction of a moral immunity, a fence to shield the exploding off-the-record immorality of the culture. Decency laws collapsed across the nation. We developed a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that privatized values. Somehow we believed, and now this is an established social doctrine, that what one does and believes privately has no effect outside that private world.
This is a kind of bifurcation of the soul, as if that were possible – between the public and the personal selves. The invention theoretically justified personal choices and behaviors that one didn’t want known, at least publicly, for a season, for fear of disapproval. It worked as a shield, to conceal values and practices that the culture, at least in the past, might have condemned. It got people elected to office and kept public knowledge at bay from private activities of the rich and famous. And it provided time to shift the entire culture. That is no longer necessary. The moral revolution is over. What public figures have to hide now is the opposite – conservative Christian values and a serious commitment to Biblical ideas and ideals.
This dual life, public and private, created a clandestine culture, an after-dark persona then radically different than the public persona. The publicly stated values were still superficially Christian. People worked nice, but danced dirty. Solidly married, officially, they were a part of the swinging set, unofficially. What was then a culture issue – is now a church issue. Duplicity is acceptable. We lack congruent integrity in our lives. As a spiritual matter, duplicity doesn’t work. You can’t hide the toxic leakage of sin – its actions or its attitude. With a lack of authenticity, the entire culture finally breaks down.
As immorality spread in our society, the moral values of the nation shifted, first privately, undercover, after dark. In the sixties, the youth generation broke out in open rebellion against the old values. When hundreds, then tens of thousands, adopted the clandestine values, inevitably, public values completely and radically shifted. For example, in the 1950’s, half of the US population was in church on Sunday. Today, the number is less than 20 percent. And the number of decided non-Christians, anti-Christians, or those of other faiths, is now about 30 percent nationwide. Barely half the population now identifies as a Protestant Christian – half. Nine states now meet the criteria of Unreached Peoples, meaning less than five percent attend church and less than two-percent are evangelical.
Today’s churches don’t resemble the churches of the 1950’s. They resist Bible preaching, have ceased revivals, increasingly are led by gay pastors, and hold few traditional moral standards. They are pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, hold no position on family stability or structure, have ceased discipleship efforts aimed at exposing hearts to Biblical principles. These so-called churches are not anchored to a serious view of Scripture. Christ’s virgin birth and resurrection are not believed and not important. We have fallen quickly as a culture, and precipitously. We are not the same nation. And in many cases, clergy scandals, the ‘spirit of the leader’ has polluted the church.
What was private and shameful fifty years ago is now public and proud, and there is no one left to oppose the old taboos. There are now more mischief-makers than rule keepers. Everyone knows one another from some stealth night-life, so no hiding is any longer necessary.
What is the private life of those on the ballot really like? Whatever they are, alone, out of the spotlight, is who and what defines them. “As a man thinks in his heart.” Proverbs 14:34, “Righteousness [justice; moral uprightness] exalts [elevates] a nation [people; community; family], but sin is a reproach to any people.”
Pray for a profound spiritual awakening. God is our only hope.
Personal Note: It is not my intent to be political, here. I want to humbly offer the rumblings of my troubled heart. I am deeply concerned about where we are as a nation. Perhaps, this is an element you have not considered. I hope you will hear my heart. As someone has said, “Words are the tools we use to carry the cargo of our hearts,” and sometimes, we use the wrong words. If I do, if the concept is not clear, forgive me. Wesley’s first rule was, “Do no harm!” Augustine counseled, “You owe your conscience to God; and to one another you owe nothing but mutual love.” Balancing conscience, and speaking love, is delicate and difficult.
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P. Douglas Small is founder and president of Alive Ministries: PROJECT PRAY and he serves in conjunction with a number of other organizations. He is also the creator of the Praying Church Movement and the Prayer Trainer’s Network. However, all views expressed are his own and not the official position of any organization.