As a culture we are at a strange place, we seem to be headed toward a precipice at breakneck speed. From the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, to the recent release of the undercover videos showing the management of Planned Parenthood haggling over the price of the its tiny murder victims, and the mindless defense of PP on the part of many and the complete ignoring of the story by the mainstream media (while there was widespread outrage over and wall to wall media coverage of the legal killing of a lion in Zimbabwe) I have heard many believers asking has America abandoned God?
To be clear we are in a strange cultural place for us, but what is actually happening is that our culture (in the U.S.) is coming into alignment with what is normal in the rest of the western world, both Western Europe and Canada, and has been for many years. More than that our culture is becoming a mirror image of the culture in which the New Testament was written. Consider he words of Paul in Romans 1:18-32 and ask yourself if this sounds at all familiar:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
I think we are clearly living in a Romans 1 world in the U.S.A. But did we get here by abandoning our formerly godly past and turning our back, as a nation, on God? It might be shocking to you, but I would say no. And I would say no for one reason, and it is a reason you may have never considered. We were never a godly nation.
While that may be a little jarring to read, and truth be told, it is a little jarring to write, I believe that is the absolute truth for a number of reasons.
The American Revolution Was Sinful
As much as I hate to say it, it is absolutely true. Although God often times uses the sinful actions of men to accomplish His purposes (Gen 50:20), all political rebellions and revolutions are inherently sinful. Paul made this abundantly clear in Romans 13:1-2:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
And Peter wholeheartedly concurs in 1 Peter 2:13-17:
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
The text is absolutely clear, taking up arms against the government is a sin, one for which God promises judgment. There is no circumstance in which armed rebellion is not sinful. What about when the government is profoundly wicked you might ask? Well when Paul and Peter wrote to submit to the governing authorities, the governing authorities were embodied in the person of Nero, one of the greatest villains of the ancient world, who would shortly unleash the most vicious persecution the church has ever known, a persecution that would claim the lives of both Peter And Paul, and who claimed to be a living God. Yet Peter says not only to submit to him, he says to honor him. And if Nero’s excesses and evils didn’t justify rebellion, neither did George III’s. There is no way around it, according to scripture the American Revolution was sinful.
The Constitution Codified Sin
After the Revolutionary war, the question of how to govern the former colonies naturally arose. And it became clear that unity among the colonies was essential for the survival of the burgeoning nation. And after a few years under the Articles of Confederation, it was becoming obvious that the Articles were not going to provide the basis for unity that the former colonies needed. So on May 25, 1787 a constitutional convention was convened in Philadelphia. And immediately one point of contention came to the fore; how to count slaves for the purpose of taxation and representation. (That chattel/man stealing slavery which is inherently sinful and markedly different from the slavery of Old Testament Israel and New Testament Rome was commonplace is itself enough to put to flight the notion that early America was a Christian nation.)
After much wrangling a compromise was reached that representatives of both the low slave population and the high slave population states could live with (I don’t use the free state slave state terminology, because in 1787 slavery was legal and practiced in all 13 states). Fior the purpose fo taxation and representation slaves would be counted as 3/5 of a person. Article 1, section 2 paragraph 3 of the constitution reads:
Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
While the intentions, motives, the political wisdom of the 3/5 compromise might be debated, what is beyond debate is that it is positively sub-Christian to say one human who is an image bearer of God should have a lower value than another because of social status (putting aside the question of race). As Paul wrote to the Galatians:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus
And while Paul is writing specifically about the ontological worth of believers, the principle can be extended to all people, believers and unbelievers alike; a person’s worth is not based on their ethnicity, sex or social status.
The Nation Tolerated The Sin of Slavery
According to the 1860 census, the final census before the Civil war, there were 3.9 million slaves in the United States. That was well over 10% of the total population. And while there were certainly abolitionists working to end slavery (and abolitionism was almost exclusively a work of the church) for the most part slavery was viewed with cool indifference in the North as well as the South.
The Civil War Trust summarizes the typical northern attitude toward the race based slavery of the American South simply; “Most Northerners did not doubt that black people were inferior to whites.” Not only was the sin of slavery tolerated with indifference, the sin of racism was commonplace and socially acceptable.
And don’t forget, then as now, The Supreme Court of the United States often ratified sinful attitudes. In the Dred Scott decision the SCOTUS ruled that slaves were subhuman property, ineligible for citizenship, and had no rights of redress when they were subjected to criminal abuse.
The Post-Civil War Era Was Marked By Profound Immorality
Have you ever watched a movie about the Old West and noticed how prostitutes, even if they are not characters in the story are as much a part of the background scenery as swinging saloon doors? Or perhaps how the brothels of Storyville in New Orleans or Chicago are often portrayed as happy places with a great sense of nostalgia?
Prostitution was woven into the fabric of post-civil war America. It has been estimated that as many as 65,000 women were forced into prostitution against their will, and many more entered into prostitution out of desperation or ambition.
One of the most remarkable tidbits of history I have ever learned, drives home the ubiquity of prostitution in society at that time. The first successfully marketed celebrity endorsed product in American History was the Mattie Silks dagger. Mattie Silks was a prostitute who rose to fame as a madam running brothels in Dodge City Kansas and gold rush era Denver. Her “girls” earned a national reputation not only for pleasing paying customers, but also for defending themselves against abusive ones.
And so some enterprising proto-marketer in the late 19th century decided that a great way to charge more for a boot knife was to attach the name of the country’s most famous prostitute to it. A century before you could get a pair of Air Jordans, you could get a stabby Mattie. That is hardly a sign of a God fearing society.
Americans Embrace of Spiritualism
Not only was the post-civil war period one where prostitution was commonplace, it also saw an explosion of interest in necromancy and the occult. You may never have thought of it this way, but that is exactly what séances were (and are), occultic necromancy, and they were extremely popular in the waning decades of the 19th century and early 20th century.
Séances were so common that the most famous American entertainer of the early 20th century, the magician Harry Houdini, dedicated himself to exposing the trickery of the mediums that were spreading across the nation and leading countless people astray.
And you also may not have thought of how profoundly vile these practices are in the eyes of Lord. It is as offensive to God as child sacrifice. Consider the words of Deuteronomy 18:10-12:
There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord.
Godly societies don’t embrace or even tolerate what scripture identifies as an abomination to the Lord.
The Roaring 20’s
The 1920’s were a time of great economic prosperity, and following the horrors of World War I and the ravages of the Spanish flu epidemic the country was flush with cash, acutely aware of the human mortality and ran headlong into a period of the normalization of indulging the passions of the flesh.
Despite prohibition, this was an era of unprecedented drunkenness. This was the era of Al Capone and the celebrity gangster. And this was also an era of sexual permissiveness. Mae West one of the biggest stars of the era, who famously said when forced to choose between two evils, she’ll always pick the one she hasn’t tried before, set Broadway alight in 1926 with her one woman show Sex. This show was a runaway commercial success and largely consisted of her saying sexually provocative things while wearing just enough clothing not to face criminal charges for public indecency.
And by the way this was also an era when homosexuality was normalized in the media. One of the biggest box office draws of the 20’s, William “Billy” Haines was openly homosexual. Joan Crawford is in fact quoted in Eve Golden’s “41 Essays on Silent Film” as describing Haines and his lover as “the happiest married couple in Hollywood” One hit record of this era featured the following lyrics:
Masculine women, Feminine men
Which is the rooster, which is the hen?
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today! And, say!
Sister is busy learning to shave,
Brother just loves his permanent wave,
It’s hard to tell ’em apart today! Hey, hey!
Girls were girls and boys were boys when I was a tot,
Now we don’t know who is who, or even what’s what!
Knickers and trousers, baggy and wide,
Nobody knows who’s walking inside,
Those masculine women and feminine men
The 20’s were certainly not a golden age of godliness in America.
The Jim Crow South
Up until the early 60’s racial segregation was the law of the land in much of the United States, and those laws were brutally enforced. And what’s more up until the mid 50’s no one in non-legally segregated states much cared. Racism was largely endemic and socially acceptable.
The 1960s saw the beginnings of the sexual revolution, and by the end of the decade “free love” had entered the popular lexicon. And don’t forget the 60’s weren’t all flower power and hippy-drippy happiness. By the end of the decade the counterculture of the sixties had turned dark. Hells Angels, who were hired to provide concert security, stabbed a Rolling Stone fan to Death at Altamont, the anti-war movement had morphed into the violent terrorism of the weather underground, and the Charles Manson murders though shocking were largely seen as symptomatic of what the counter culture had become.
Roe v Wade
The 70’s saw child murder legalized across all fifty states. And while that case is viewed now as a watershed, legal abortion was already widely available in the United States. Many states including the very populous states of New York, California and Massachusetts essentially allowed for abortion on demand.
Add to that that the 80’s were the decade of greed, the 1990’s are now regularly referred to as the noughties in popular culture, that the aughts saw the rise of the hook up culture and the present decade has seen unprecedented attacks on the family and the normalization of all manner of sin.
And as I reflect on all of these things and I ask myself has America has abandoned God? I have to answer no. America was never concerned with God in the first place. The idea of America as a Christian nation isn’t even a myth, it is a mirage.
So what is the church to do? What we have always done. Be in the world but not of it; love others as ourselves; see the lost not as our enemies but as the mission field. And most of all we must be steadfast, living quiet godly lives while longing for the return of Christ.