Are things turning around?

Depends on what things you’re talking about. I’ve read articles suggesting that our culture is headed in a more sexually restrained phase, against the “sexual revolution” in some ways. I’ve also seen some remarkably naggy articles against binge drinking, though to be candid, I think this one article was mostly against privileged New Englanders named “Kavanaugh” drinking to excess. No mention of Spring Break along the “Redneck Riviera.” Awash by the surging #metoo movement, I’ve had the thought that the sexual revolution is bearing bitter fruit for our nation as we come up against the consequences of hedonism, though some credit the revolution with new-found courage to challenge abusers.

Social movements mutate more often than they change though. We’ve always tended to be selective about the things we would ban from the public square. We formerly ran cigarette ads on TV; now movies get PG ratings if someone on the screen smokes. But since TV ads for cigarettes were banned in 1970 we’ve been doing just about everything else in crazy excess. Single parenthood, crudity in entertainment and other negative trends have flourished. Alongside these crazy makers our attitudes toward marriage and the nature of mankind (gender identity) flipped against the testimony of nearly all recorded human history. It’s likely we can corporately disapprove of sexual abuse without making a connection to our tolerance of bad behavior in general. The sexual revolution and the rise of moral chaos face no significant challenges from #metoo.

The unpredictable swerves of cultural mores should offer a caution to those of us who think the revolution has not been truly “progressive.” We too casually associate one cultural artifact with another to make a prophetic point. Here’s what I mean: In 1962 the U.S. Supreme Court banned state-sponsored prayer in public schools. We have associated all manner of terrible consequences with that decision. What if one of these consequences, maybe teen pregnancy, becomes less common while state-sponsored prayer remains banned? This is just an example. We’ve seen similar discussions in the fight against elective abortion or sexual orientation. If we make an uninformed case against negative social trends we risk our case (and credibility) being overtaken by events. We lament the outcomes of rising single parenthood (poverty, higher rates of boys going to prison) but those are not our main argument for the integrity of marriage and families. Don’t let our real point get lost. We know what God says about these things; we are preachers who should say what God says and let the Spirit apply it individually and timelessly.  

If our nation has another in a series of swerves into selective moral reform—say curtailing pornography or alcohol abuse—how might that undermine things we’ve said in our preaching? My point is that things like that happen, have happened, without any significant spiritual awakening taking place. Our temptation is to mistake two things that happen in sequence as being in a causal relationship when it fits our narrative. God’s Word makes quite a few correlations between sin and suffering that we can safely use without dabbling in amateur sociology. A preacher will never run out of biblical reasons for encouraging sexual purity, the integrity of marriage, self-control and a thoroughgoing love of our neighbors. Nothing will happen that undermines that message. And we frequently see the biblical message affirmed by the events, good and evil, that play out in the lives of those around us.

Like those who predict the dates of the Lord’s return, we can lose our ethos, our credibility, when grabbing too frantically at the headlines. The Bible is still true though our opinions about it blow in the wind. Knowing that we have sometimes got it wrong should inform our biblical application.  

A return to Victorian morality and modesty would have some positive results but it will not make men and women better in an ultimate sense. The #metoo movement in our general culture is not interested in sexual purity or marital integrity. Its point is to ensure the emotional and physical safety of women, while they go about the lives they choose to live. The movement and the moment are pretty narrow. Look at this article, also from The Atlantic, “7 Parenting Tips to Protect Your Kid’s Supreme Court Nomination.” These snarky “parenting tips” are in no way aimed at curbing underage drinking (just be safe) or any virtue, except don’t commit sexual assault. The writer believes, and our society believes, that we can do what we like and entertain ourselves in nearly any way imaginable but ban selected consequences associated with those actions.

Our message is more timeless than this ebb and flow of public morality. We are sinners and will not love goodness until their lives are transformed by the good Lord. Movements come and go—some are more positive than others—but our preaching should stand the test of time. 

Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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