America has now become a “Culture of the Moral Negative.”
I am not talking about “negativity,” the bogie man of the new age. Actually, I am convinced negativity can be honorable. Of God’s ten laws, eight of them are stated in the negative. “Thou shalt not.” That is an 80% negativity rate – from God. Flawed human beings need limits to inhibit our sinful behavior. But that is another topic.
I am talking about the kind of negative we used to get when cameras had something called film inside. On the photographic negative, everything was reversed; dark colors appear as light and light looks dark. A moral negative exists when right and wrong, good and bad, moral light and dark, are reversed. There have always been people with morally negative consciences. The culture of the moral negative develops when this kind of conscience becomes prominent in a society.
In Isaiah 5:20, God spoke through the prophet and said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” Woe to the culture of the moral negative.
Is America such a culture?
A while back a young couple came to my office wanting me to officiate their wedding. They were pleasant until I brought up the fact that they were living together. I mentioned that God’s will was for couples to remain chaste before marriage and that I could not publicly bless a marriage when they couple was unwilling to live in obedience to God’s Word and his will. They bristled and left angry. It struck me as they left that righteousness is now on the defensive in America. They were doing nothing wrong but I was the bad guy because I was “judging” them.
If a presidential candidate or a Supreme Court nominee stated unequivocally that he (or she) viewed homosexuality as a sin or that they viewed Jesus as the only means of salvation, it would be viewed as a scandal and would likely end their candidacy. Things have certainly changed when opposing homosexuality is more of a scandal than practicing it.
It is debated among Christians as to whether America ever was, or was intended to be a Christian nation. What is hard to debate is that Christian morality was at the root of our culture. Light was light and the darkness was darkness. Sin was identified as sin and moral virtue was honored. In the sixties, our nation began to throw off the strictures of this cultural Christian morality and adopt a more libertine posture. In my observation, the Clinton administration of the 90s was a giant leap forward for libertine moral standards (something of an oxymoron, I guess). His shameful moral example opened a door that was difficult to close. Month by month, year by year we continue the process of reversing the moral polarity in our land.
Henry Blackaby observed (as others have) that it is silly to blame the darkness. The darkness is doing what it is supposed to do – spread darkness over the land. The problem is with the light in this world – the church of Jesus Christ. We have hidden the light of Christ and are not blazing brightly with the Savior’s brilliance. The salt has lost its saltiness. We have become so like the world that we cannot affect it and transform it as we should. We are allowing our values and convictions to be shaped by our culture instead of being shaped by the Word of God. Of course, these are generalizations that do not apply to everyone or every church, but sadly I am convinced that these are accurate observations in the whole.
Our denomination’s history gives a powerful example of this. In the 1840’s, Southern culture embraced slavery. Instead of confronting slavery, Southern Baptists conformed to the prevailing mindset of the day. They twisted scripture and justified slavery from the pulpit. We have taken steps to repent of the sin and to repair the hurt that our racist past has created. Whenever the church twists biblical teachings to conform to the ideas of popular culture, the moral negative develops.
Now other denominations are falling into the same trap. The biblical standard for morality and marriage – one man and one woman, pure before marriage and faithful after marriage until death parts them – was recognized universally as the right path. But as our culture has rejected this standard, churches and denominations have followed them down the path of compromise instead of setting the standard. Denominations today are mimicking the mistake ours made in its early years by reading the world’s views of sexual morality, of gender roles and of other issues into the Bible instead of upholding scriptures.
It is not a good thing when those who are supposed to proclaim truth no longer challenge culture’s sin, but become willing and enthusiastic enablers of it depravity instead.
“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” The culture of the moral negative is a symptom of a sick and depraved society, teetering on the brink of collapse. No society can prosper, or even survive, in a culture of the moral negative. How long can we stand without a moral backbone? We have a moral and spiritual sickness and the prognosis is not good.
Are things hopeless? Not at all. Israel, at the end of the period of the Judges, had embraced debauchery in a way that might have made Larry Flynt blush. They were a culture of the moral negative. But,Israel’s greatest days were only about 50 years in the future.
How did things change? One man, a prophet named Samuel, gave himself to God and his ways. He ledIsraeland proclaimed truth for many years. He anointed a king who was “a man after God’s own heart.” David ledIsraelto its greatest days of glory.
Perhaps there is a silver lining in all of this. The increasing hostility of our culture to our values can focus us on our task. Our job is to be fishers of men, to proclaim the transforming power of Christ to every man and woman in this sin-sick land. Our first job is not to save America, but to bring the salvation of Christ to this world through the proclamation of our Risen Lord.
We must never succumb to the moral negative, but must live in the brilliant light of Christ and reflect that light into this dark world. It is not hopeless. The power of God to save us and to conform us to the image of Christ is still active in this world.
As we approach this election, we must remember what the real issue in this land is. There are economic issues and defense issues. There is the marriage issue and abortion and healthcare and so many things that we are discussing. But the biggest issue is not one that can be solved at the ballot box or by the enacting of legislation. We must be the church God intends for us to be, the light of this world and its salt. We must reverse the moral negative with the light of Christ shining through us.
Whatever happens a week from today, may we remember our real job!