Thursday, August 21, 2014

The State of American Culture by David R. Kenney

I was privileged to write an article for the 2014 August issue of the Gospel Advocate.  There are two other excellent article in this series:  "The State of the Churches of Christ in America" by Phil Sanders and "The State of American Religion" by Dewayne Bryant.  You will want to read these articles.  Gregory A. Tidwell, Editor, and Neil Anderson, Publisher, gave me permission to share my article with you here.  To subscribe to the Gospel Advocate, go to or call them at 1-800-251-8446.

by David R. Kenney

The president often states to Congress that “The State of the Union Address” is required by the Constitution, Article 2, Section 3. It would be a profitable exercise for churches to follow such an example (i.e., cite the New Testament for their authority). Often the president cites positives building to the climatic, “The state of our Union is strong!” Congress applauds, but is this an accurate assessment? Only 3 percent of Americans describe the state of the Union as “strong.”[1]  How can the Union be said to be “strong” when the gross federal debt is estimated to be $16.3 trillion (104.8 percent of GDP), and this does not include unfunded liabilities or public debt? [2]

The net interest to service the debt has increased from $184.3 billion in 1990 to $224.8 billion estimated for 2012.[3] Some may shrug these matters off as “economics,” but this debt has serious implications for our nation, the family, the church and the culture – “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7 NKJV). One can argue about the allocation, but it does not change the implications for the culture. Although the church is supposed to be impacting our culture, it would be a mistake to think that the culture of our country does not impact the culture of the church.

State of American Culture
Thomas Fuller said, “It is easier to ridicule than commend.” This came to mind when reading the headline “American Moral Values on the Rebound” in The New York Times of Dec. 22, 2013. The basis of this article was from research conducted by William J. Bennett who served as President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education. The article states: “The positive developments include falling crime rates, fewer abortions and a remarkable decline in teenage pregnancies. Less encouraging is the increasing number of single-parent families and the huge prison population. On health matters, cigarette smoking continues to drop, but drug use doesn’t.   Crime has been declining steadily, with rare exceptions, for the past couple of decades. Since 1995, the murder rate has been reduced almost by half, and violent crime is down more than 43 percent. Although the United States is plagued by an epidemic of gun violence compared with almost any other country, firearms related homicides – in keeping with other crime data – have declined sharply since the 1990s.” [4]

Although some trends are encouraging, others are not. The word “trends” indicates a practice that has been going on for some time. For example, although the number of abortions declined in 2008 from 1990, our nation still aborted some 1,212,000 children in 2008.[5]  The accumulating numbers of this holocaust is mind-boggling! For the class of 2014, the number of high school graduates is estimated to be 3,314,600.[6] over 3,891,000 births in 1996.[7]  Assuming all were born in 1996, then about 85.1 percent graduated, but this number does not include those aborted in 1996 which was about 1,360,000! If you combine the births and abortions in 1996, then divide by the graduating class, one realizes only 63.1 percent graduated from high school. In other words, our nation aborted 25.8 percent of lives conceived in 1996. Imagine what would happen if any one of our schools lost over 25 percent of its graduating class?

Another disturbing trend is the expansion of sin taxes. We may persuade ourselves that taxes on sin are good but forget that ruin is included. How ironic in our nonjudgmental era that we use the term “sin” in reference to taxes on behavior. As governments increase dependence on tax revenue, will this increase or decrease society’s acceptance of sin? 

Lottery sales tripled from over $20.1 million in 1990 to over $62.5 million in 2011.[8]  The trends of legalized gambling and nonmedical marijuana indicate that governments will both expand taxes on sinful behavior and legalize additional sinful behavior. Recall that governments have been collecting taxes on alcohol and tobacco sales for decades.

Does anyone seriously believe this trend to expand the legality of sin for tax revenue (or “the public good”) will not occur? The research is in to tell us what we already knew – sin taxes do nothing to discourage such sins or protect our children. In fact, the opposite is the case.  Taxing sinful activities legitimizes such to our youth.

There is a billboard in our neighborhood warning about drug overdose – not alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, but heroin! Total drug arrests for those under the age of 18 for sale, manufacturing and possession have increased from 86,685 in 1980 to 130,317 in 2009.[9]  When will these trends reverse?  When society turns away from sin regardless of its pleasure, tax revenue and profit!

The number of couples who have never married is up from 48.2 million in 2000 to 63.3 million in 2011.[10] Also, the number of divorced couples has increased from 19.8 million in 2000 to 24.4 million in 2011.[11] New trends are emerging that are discouraging, for example, statistics about same-sex marriages. Incidentally, the number of same-sex marriage ceremonies conducted in 2010 was 42,195 with some 593,324 same-sex couple households.[12] The fact that such a marital statistic exists shows both the state and trends of American culture. Statistics and examples could be stated ad nauseam to demonstrate what we know – the state of the American culture is anything but “strong”!

The Tipping Point?
There are positive things to cite, but it would be naive to think all is well as Bennett observed: “The nation we live in today is more violent and vulgar, coarse and cynical, rude and remorseless, deviant and depressed, than the one we once inhabited. A popular culture that is often brutal, gruesome,
and enamored with death robs many children of their innocence. People kill other people, and themselves, more easily. Men and women abandon each other, and their children, more readily.   Marriage and the American family are weaker, more unstable, less normative.” [13]

I am sometimes asked “Have we reached the tipping point?” It is a good question, but I do not know the answer. Regardless, the prescription remains – publish the gospel. The real danger is allowing statistics to paralyze the Lord’s church. We certainly need to hear the facts, but they should be a call to action, not points for surrender.

So what should Christians do? Here are a few suggestions. First, pray hard! Second, practice dual citizenship like Paul, a Roman citizen who used his rights for the spread of the gospel (Acts 22:25ff). Some resist the idea of Christians serving in government, yet we pray to God for more godly leaders. Exactly how is God going to answer that prayer? Government is an institution ordained to govern over civil affairs (cf. Romans 13:1-7). Third, we should vote with God’s priorities (Proverbs 16:17). What do you suspect God’s attitude is about shedding the most innocent blood through abortion? The results of the past presidential election showed the strategy, as summarized by the Head of Faith Outreach for the DNC, succeeded: “To him, he said, much of the Democratic platform is about ‘being our brother’s keeper [and] compassion.’ ” He added that the party “doesn’t revolve around one or two hot-button issues.”[14] You do not need me to tell you what those “one or two hot-buttons issues” were, do you?

When it comes to voting, I believe more people should adopt the advice given by Alexander Campbell: “In our country and government, every man is responsible for his vote. When, therefore, in his horizon, there is a question or a crisis involving, as he judges, any good, or the prevention of any evil, it is his duty to God, who gives him a vote, and it is his duty to man, to use, or to give that vote, to that person, or to that measure, which will, in his judgment, insure the most good, or of two evils to prevent the greater, by voting for the less” (Millennial Harbinger, 1857).

Fourth, take a public stand against sin. Are we so eager to accept sin taxes but we resist speaking out against sin? Fifth, remember we are still commissioned to spread the gospel (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

Sixth, do your best in teaching truth and refuting error. Reagan told the story of Martin Treptow who went to fight in France in 1917 and was killed. In Treptow’s diary was a section called “My Pledge” under which he wrote: “America must win this war. Therefore, I will work; I will save; I will sacrifice; I will endure; I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended upon me alone.”[15]  Finally, press on (cf. Philippians 3:12-14)! ❏

David R. Kenney preaches for the church of Christ in Wadsworth, Ohio.

1 Timothy Hill, “Poll: Only 3% of Americans Describe the State of Our Union as ‘Strong,’ ” CNS News, 28 Jan. 2014, <>.
2 ProQuest Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2013 (Bethesda: Bernan Press, 2013) 323.
3 Ibid 325.
4 Albert R. Hunt, “American Moral Values on the Rebound,” The New York Times, 22 Dec. 2013, <>.
5 Statistical Abstract 78.
6 “Projections of Education Statistics to 2021,” National Center for Educational Statistics, 2012, <>.
7 Statistical Abstract 67.
8 Ibid 298.
9 Ibid 218.
10 Ibid 51.
11 Ibid 51.
12 Ibid 60.
13 William J. Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators American Society at the End of the 20th Century – Updated and Expanded (New York, NY: Broadway Books and Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbook Press, 1999) 5.
14 Hamil R. Harris, “D.C. Pastor Tries to Balance Spiritual and Political Roles,” The Washington Post, 18 May 2012, <>.
15 Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address, 20 Jan 1981, <>.

No comments: