While listening to the news the other day I heard a leader in the Democratic Party ask the most recent Supreme Court nominee if he took the extreme position that abortion is murder. Then I heard a report about a legal case in California involving two folks who exposed the officials of Planned Parenthood on video discussing the harvesting and sale of aborted baby parts. The story was not about Planned Parenthood violating federal law but about the violation of their free speech rights because they were recorded secretly. I don’t see how taking the actual words of people and disseminating them widely without commentary can be considered a violation of free speech. To me it seems more like amplification of free speech. There was a third item about a county in Maryland that was taking action to protect the rights of two illegal immigrants who had violently raped and sodomized a fourteen year old girl in a school bathroom. The fourth report was an update on the overturn of a piece of legislation in North Carolina that would have protected the privacy of women and children from members of the opposite sex who want to share their bathrooms in public places.
There was a day when these kinds of views would have been considered extreme. But today those who condemn them are called extremists. When I was young, homosexual behavior was not accepted by society. Gay people were referred to as “queers” and “faggots.” In those days, these were not complementary terms. Although there were effeminate men and female “Tomboys,” no one would have suggested that the men should be allowed to use the women’s bathroom and the girls to use the men’s facilities. In fact, all the Tomboys eventually outgrew their boyish ways and many turned into beautiful, very feminine women. And most of the effeminate boys later developed masculine identities.
Don’t Force Your Morals on Me
But I think I know where all this began and how it all came about. When I was a child, there was a running debate about whose morals were right. Although no one advocated the kind of perversion that passes for evolving morality today, people did rebel against the idea that the Ten Commandments should be the moral standard for everyone. The argument “Who are you Christians to shove your moral standards down my throat” was often heard. Nevertheless, people in those days would have been abhorred at the idea of ripping babies out of their mother’s wombs and selling their body parts for medical research. Almost everyone would have considered such actions abominable and tantamount to murder. Becoming pregnant outside of marriage was looked upon askance. The high school girls who were sexually active were considered “loose” and easy targets for sexual predators. They were in the minority and generally such behavior was frowned upon. The notion of “consensual sex” was not considered a justification for extra-marital affairs. And if some guy were to suddenly come to school dressed “in drag,” as they said in those days, he would have been scorned by every self-respecting male. All of these values are expressed in one form or another in the Ten Commandments.
So even though people objected to the Ten Commandments as a universal moral code, biblical morality was nonetheless deeply embedded in the social order. But even back then the foundation was being laid for the day when an anti-moral minority would hijack the media, academia and the courts and use them to impose their own upside-down view of morality on the rest of society. So today, what used to be considered good conduct necessary to the flourishing of a healthy and prosperous society has come to be called extreme, right-wing and dangerous to the rights of people who insist on undermining the common good.
So, for example, while prayer, the Bible, the cross, the creche and other symbols of Christianity have been removed from the classroom and other public places, prayer rooms have been provided for Muslims, adherents of a pagan religion that oppresses women and brutally murders people of other faiths. While the left-wing zealots insist on rights for practitioners of sexual perversion, they deny the rights of Christians to practice and share their faith in public. They oppose censorship when it comes to pornography, but attack advocates of conservative ideas and values when they speak on college campuses. While touting “tolerance” they have imposed their own oppressive moral code of “Political Correctness” in place of the Ten Commandments.
The result has been a very mixed bag of morals that has no coherence or consistency because it is based on the dictates of a few radical extremists rather than an objective moral order. For example, the proponents of these extreme views insist upon the right of people suffering from gender dysphoria to use whatever public restroom they like, whether male or female, violating the right of normal men and women to take care of personal business in private. On the other hand, they insist on the privacy of women who choose to abort their own offspring, denying unborn babies their right to life. So in their moral order, or lack thereof, the right to privacy trumps the right to life but not the right to use whatever bathroom one chooses. By extension, the right to use the bathroom of one’s choice trumps the right to life. This is the kind of moral chaos we live in today.
In today’s moral universe, the top rungs of the moral order are “tolerance,” “inclusion” and “diversity.” Every viewpoint must be respected including the viewpoint of those who are the most intolerant. In this scheme, right and wrong is evolving with changing moral standards and should therefore be decided in the public arena. However, it is not majority rule. A small, but very vocal group of political and social elites has set the agenda by virtue of an aggressive strategy to take control of those levers of power that are least susceptible to public persuasion, like the courts, academia, and the media. This view is called “Secularism.” According to this view, those who insist on an unchanging moral order are “on the wrong side of the arc of moral history.”
The Tyranny of the Left
As long as these folks get their way, everything goes along fairly peacefully. There was comparatively little social unrest during the Obama years. But when Trump got into office, things rapidly went south. Rather than using the legitimate means of dissent provided by our system of government to express their opposition, they immediately took to the streets in violent protests. They have employed the media and courts to intimidate those who used the lawful means of a popular election to promote their views. These self-styled champions of tolerance will use whatever means they deem necessary to silence their opponents.
That is why those who stand for traditional values are loathe to openly express their political and religious views publicly. The left, on the other hand, doesn’t share the same fear because their opponents are law-abiding, peaceful citizens. It is not unusual to see liberals emblazon their cars with all kinds of stickers protesting everything from global warming to the right to life. But I didn’t see a single Trump bumper sticker during the last election cycle. People don’t want some angry leftist to “key” their car.
How We Got Here
I still remember when our side warned that gay rights would eventually lead to gay marriage. Back then, the left said we were over-reacting. Since then the courts have not only affirmed the right to gay marriage but the right of one gender to use the public bathrooms of the other. And the idea that traditional morals are in retreat is openly embraced as inevitable. No one on the left accuses the right of over-reacting to their radical moral agenda anymore. They just consign them to the “basket of deplorables” who are on the wrong side of the “arc of moral history.” They don’t have to hide their agenda anymore because they have so thoroughly intimidated conservatives.
There is no single cause for this moral collapse. But there were significant mileposts on the way. Many people cite the removal of prayer from the public schools. Back in the early 1960s when that happened, America had the best schools in the world. Now they rank below some former third world countries in math and science.
Another significant milepost was the opening of stores and other businesses on Sundays. There is a very memorable line from a recent popular movie that captures the importance of this development for the rise of secularism. It is based on the true story of a doctor who established the relationship between serious brain trauma among professional football players and collisions on the football field. When he tried to publish his research, he was met by fierce opposition from the National Football League. In a meeting with one of the officials, he was asked, “Do you really think you can win this battle? Do you know who you are up against? Why we’re so powerful we actually own a day of the week. The one that used to belong to God!“
The Importance of a Sabbath Rest
God set aside the last day of the week as a day of rest from the very beginning of creation. He told the Israelites, “Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; anyone who does work on the Sabbath day must surely be put to death ...for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:15-17). This was so important that refusal to obey carried a death sentence. Not only did God command his people to refrain from work on the Sabbath, but he also commanded them to give their land a rest from cultivation every seventh year. Their failure to do so was one of the reasons they were eventually banished from the land he had given them (Lev 26:34).
Why is keeping the Sabbath so important? By setting aside their daily tasks and coming together as a people to worship the Lord, God’s people not only honor him but identify with him publicly. For the Jew, the importance of the Sabbath was to honor God as Creator, the giver of every good thing. For the Christian believer, the reason is to honor Jesus Christ for saving us from our sins. We keep the first day of the week as our Sabbath because that is the day on which Christ arose from the dead.
When merchants began opening their stores on Sundays many years ago, Christians stayed home. But over the years as the practice became more widespread, they eventually began shopping on Sundays too. Now there is no longer any one day of the week dedicated solely to the worship of God. Life goes on at the same pace as it does the rest of the week. There is no opportunity to completely rest from our labors and withdraw from worldly pursuits. Because there is no break in the rhythm of daily life, people come to church distracted by all the things that occupy their minds during the week. The family has no opportunity to set aside its normal activities to spend time together in worship and quiet reflection. Instead, it is pulled apart as adults pursue their pastimes and children participate in sports and other activities after church. The only quiet time left is Sunday evening when everyone is preparing to go back to work and school. Instead of spending this time in evening worship like so many people used to do, now many spend it watching Sunday night football.
So What is the Remedy?
It is probably too late in the game to turn things around on a societal scale. We will never be able to get stores to close their doors on Sundays again. Nor will we ever persuade people to give up their Sunday sports and shopping. But one small thing we can do. We can begin coming to church early, making a beeline for the sanctuary and spending ten or fifteen minutes going over the order of worship. I like to read all the scripture passages and the lyrics to the hymns. This quiets my heart for worship and gets me thinking about the content of the message.
I don’t know about you, but I am terribly weary of people coming into church on a Sunday morning at the last minute, spending time talking noisily with their friends in the lobby, and making their way to the sanctuary to take their seat at the very last minute. We all have enough control over our own behaviors to at least change the way we approach worship on a Sunday morning. Maybe if enough of us get seated early, others will take notice and follow suit. At least that way we can change the church worship culture to make it a little bit more reverent and respectful of the One who deserves our adoration. It may seem like a very small thing given the overwhelming secularization of our society, but it might be a small first step in combating the secularization of the church.