While I'm too young to know first-hand the cultural values and morals of the U.S. in the early 20th century, generations prior to mine tell me that these values were much different from today's. Indeed, they're almost breathless in shock at the speed with which U.S. culture has descended into the moral abyss. Rampant and easy access to pornography, legalized gay "marriage," apathy towards religious liberty, national celebration of moral filth—the manifestations of cultural rot accost us at every turn. What should Christians do? What can they do?
The answer might surprise you.
Since I'm a medical researcher by training, I'm used to viewing the world through the lens of symptoms and root causes. For example, in my graduate studies, I wanted to find a cure for cancer. Since the available data at the time (2004) suggested that a specific cell type (adult stem cell) was where cancer began, I threw myself into studying these cells. On the question of moral rot, I find myself looking for the same types of symptom-root cause relationships.
In the first chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, I found a set of moral symptoms that, despite being 2,000 years old, closely mirrored ours: "Even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another…being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful" (Romans 1:26-27, 29-31) (NKJV).
Paul clearly viewed these behaviors as symptoms, not causes. He traced their origin to something much deeper than political unrest or ecclesiastical disunity. Paul identified the root cause of moral anarchy as theological rebellion: "Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful…and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen." (v.21, 23, 25). The result (symptoms) of this theological mutiny? God punished them by giving them up to the visible sins that I just listed.
Paul is even more precise in identifying the ultimate cause of moral decline: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse" (v.20). The testimony of creation is a clear, unambiguous clarion call to the unbeliever. Yet the response of the unbeliever is to "suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (v.18). This root cause—suppression of the truth of God revealed in nature—produces the moral symptoms we see today.
At this stage, the solution to America's moral ills would seem simple: let's engage unbelievers with the truth about God as revealed in creation.
Yet this origins issue is precisely the one which generates some of the most heated controversy in the Church today. Why? The Pew Forum gives us the answer: The vast majority (97%) of the scientific community accepts evolution. Evolution contradicts the plain reading of Genesis 1—the order of evolution contradicts the order creation in Genesis 1, the timescale of evolution contradicts the timescale of Genesis 1, etc. Evolution is a cultural Goliath that keeps the people of God cowering in fear.
This fear is understandable. Who enjoys being in the minority when the majority—the vast majority—is openly hostile and condescending to your creationist views? Sadly, rather than face their fears, many Christians try to avoid Goliath and treat the symptoms. Others try to minimize the conflict and look for common ground between Genesis and Goliath, reinterpreting Genesis to harmonize with Goliath's accusations. But none of these options get rid of Goliath—or the fear that he induces. And they don't stop Philistines from running wild in America.
Yet Christians have good reason to take heart. First, the "scientific consensus" is a fluid concept. The current consensus accepts evolution; in 1858, they rejected it. Their opposition was so strong that Darwin was forced to answer it in the first edition of his book: "Why, it may be asked, have all the most eminent living naturalists and geologists rejected [my] view?" Within a decade, the consensus accepted evolution. Scientific revolutions are inevitable.
Second, scientific resources and other helps for believers on the issue of creation are more abundant than ever before. As science continues to make enormous leaps since 1859, they confirm the veracity of Genesis 1.
Third, Paul tells us in Romans 1 a transforming truth: Unbelievers know the truth about God. We're not trying to convince them of facts with which they are unfamiliar. Rather, we're trying to appeal to their preexisting knowledge—"they knew God."
Anyone in the Church ready to be a David?