“This country is in moral decline. I just wish we would return to our Christian values and turn back to God.”
I came across this comment on a social media thread tonight, and as a Christian it made me more than a bit nauseous. I hear this sentiment from fellow believers often, and whenever I do I always wonder just what “Christian values” they’d like America to return to:
To women not being able to vote?
To people owning slaves?
To street pistol duels and packs of vigilantes meting out justice in the town square?
To organized crime running urban police forces?
To women being marital property?
Are these the “ol’ time religion” days these folks openly pine for; the days when America was apparently so much more reverent, so much more righteous, so much more Godly than it is today?
This idea of our country’s present moral decay has become a go-to Evangelical Christian trope for decades; an attempt at a literal self-fulfilling prophecy, where the world is falling hopelessly apart and the Church is the lone, faithful remnant standing in the face of the heathen culture’s rebellion. Much like Noah, these religious people imagine themselves sole builders of the only safe place from God’s coming wrath; the waters of dread surely and swiftly rising.
But the truth is America is not in decline any more than at any time in its history. This is just lazy religious-speak that seeks to paint the picture of everything being terrible so it can name drop the “Last Days” and leverage the ensuing fear such language invariably creates in suggestible God-fearing folk.
Only everything isn’t terrible—at least not more terrible:
People have always been bigoted, petty, and ignorant, they just all didn’t have free, 24-hour self-promotion machines where they could advertise as much on a regular basis.
There have always been corrupt governments, contemptible politicians, and hypocritical religious leaders, only now we have more people armed with the resources to unearth and expose them.
Gross injustices against the poor, the LGBTQ community, women, immigrants, and people of color have existed since America was a newborn. We just didn’t have phone cameras to broadcast it to the world and to make it commonplace.
Teenagers have always followed the rush of their raging hormones into all sorts of regrettable messes, they just didn’t have Snapchat to preserve it for posterity.
In other words, there really is nothing new under the sun.
It’s reckless for Christians to keep playing the Decay card with such regularity, and irresponsible for the Church to wring its hands and shout doom and damnation from a distance, instead of looking for the beautiful, loving, redemptive work already happening in the world, and joining in.
We may indeed be a fairly substantial mess right now in America — just no more so than we’ve ever been. It’s a sad indictment of our religion that we need to perpetuate the narrative of an ever-deteriorating Humanity to ratchet-up urgency and to galvanize the shrinking faithful into movement. Worse still is when our Christian witness in the world is marked by contempt for so much of the world.
I don’t believe we’re all slowing sliding off into the abyss, despite what some religious people say. I’m out here every day and I see heroic, compassionate, reckless acts of beauty all the time. I see and speak to lots of inherently good people doing their best; slipping and then getting back up again. We’re all flying and failing simultaneously; gaining and losing ground and doing it again and again. I reject the myth of our downward spiral because I know how hard I and so many others are working to get this life right and to love well. I don’t believe I am in personal moral decay and I imagine the same is true for you, which is the point.
There have always been people who will do horrible, despicable things. There still are.
There have always been people who live with unthinkable kindness. This is still true.
And almost always, they are the very same people.
American Christians need to stop pretending that the “good ol’ days” were so darn wonderful and that everything’s gone to Hell now. That sunny-in-the-rear-view narrative simply doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, to History, or to reality, and it cheapens how far we’ve actually come together. It also discounts what God is doing in this place and time that is so very worthy of celebrating.
These are not perfect days, but they are good days.
America is not yet the thing it could be—but that has always been true.
Yes, the world has its darkness but Light is still our default setting.
Friend, there will always be reason for despair and reason for hope. Lean hard into the hope and you’ll discover that there is more there than you’d realized. You may find that Love is trending here.
Look up, the sky is not falling.