How did we get here?
Jeff “Goldy” Goldberg hosts Good Morning Fayetteville on WFNC 640 AM. On a recent show, he was interviewing a police officer who works with the Crime Stoppers program in our area. They started the conversation by discussing a shooting at Lake Rim. Reportedly, two groups were arguing, guns were produced and a man was shot. In essence, Goldy wondered aloud and with genuine concern, “How did we get here?” He explained when he was young, at most, arguments were settled with fists … not guns. His tone was one of absolute amazement that what was being reported could happen. What follows are my thoughts in response to Goldy’s question that people America are asking: How did we get here?
In my estimation, our actions, for the most part, are the result of what we view as acceptable behavior. Regarding crime, Leonard A. Sipes Jr. clearly makes this point in an article titled “Top 10 Factors Contributing to Violent Crime-Updated,” in which he wrote: “Our criminological training is that governments do not control crime, communities or societies do; there is little the justice system can do if you decide to engage in violence, use drugs, participate in theft or buy stolen goods. We note that the criminological literature generally agrees that crime rises and falls over time at roughly the same rates in states and western countries, thus the explanations for crime seem to have a common, societal theme (i.e., drug use, universal agreements as to what is permissible).”
What I want to examine is what I consider to be the most relevant part of the quote above: “…universal agreements as to what is permissible.” This leads one to ask how agreement as to what is permissible is being determined and promoted in America. I contend the answer speaks to how we became a society riddled with crime and a multitude of other ills. That is, we have and are experiencing a dramatic shift in the forces that shape agreements as to what is permissible in society.
A major destructive shift is in the decline of church, especially Christian, influence on this process of defining what is permissible in society. I grew up in Camilla, Georgia, where the population was about 5,000. I remember walking over a mile to Union Baptist Church where my father was pastor.
Cheryl McCoy, her sister Brenda, Bobby Rosemond, Joe Grissom and I would make that walk to attend various youth activities. That was a time of foundation-building for us. The positive influence of all the good that happened in that church experience was a major factor in shaping our thinking regarding what is permissible in life. I am confident in saying not one of us in that group of walkers would see the crime, lawlessness or deafening irresponsible conduct of far too many Americans as permissible behavior. The very positive impact our Christian church had on my walking group was not unique to us; it was a widespread happening in that little town and across America.
The Christian Church has lost much of its capacity for, as was the case with my walking group, influencing what is viewed as permissible in America. Not only has that capacity declined, it is moving toward total collapse. Consider the following quotes from an article titled “The Decline of Christianity In America” that was posted June 30, 2009,
According to a stunning new survey by America’s Research Group, 95 percent of 20 to 29 year old evangelicals attended church regularly during their elementary and middle school years. However, only 55 percent of them attended church regularly during high school, and only 11 percent of them were still regularly attending church when in college.
The reality is that young Americans are deserting the Church in America in droves … 46 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 to 34 indicated they had no religion.
Given what I have said so far, the question is: Why has the Christian Church, for the most part, lost the ability to influence what is viewed as permissible in American society? I hold the primary reason is that, in general, Christians have turned away from modeling and calling others to live in accordance with the teachings of scripture and the example of Jesus. This has happened, and is happening, for the same reason it occurred in the time of Jesus. John 12:42-43 (NIV) says:
Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.
In these verses, Jesus is within days of going to the cross. Some people in positions of leadership believed he was the promised deliverer of the Jews. Because this belief was not widely held, and accepting it would cause rejection of believers, many who believed kept quiet. In our time, being Christian attracts rejection, verbal attacks and denial of religious liberty.
I am not aware of physical attacks on American Christians, but it is becoming more and more challenging to be Christian in America. Too often, the response of many Christians is to steer clear of the hard work of influencing for good what is seen as permissible. The result is those who are counter to the Christian faith fill the void and set the course.
Interestingly, many Christians explain or justify their failure to take a stand by going to what Jesus said about judging. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you will be judged.” Jesus goes further in the verses that follow. I contend He is not saying to never judge. Instead, Jesus explains how we should judge, how we should hold one another accountable. What He says should not be used as a reason for failing to, as Christians, be active in the process of determining what is permissible in society.
My hope and prayer is that Christians in America and around the world will find the wherewithal to stand and be the Godly influence we should be in defining what is permissible in society. I realize doing what we ought to comes with a high price. Be reminded that Jesus gave notice to those of us who stand with him (Matthew 5:11-12):
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.