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We Cannot Be Silent
Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, and the Very Meaning of Right & Wrong
By R. Albert Mohler Jr.
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2015 Fidelitas Corporation, R. Albert Mohler Jr., LLC
All rights reserved.
IN THE WAKE OF A REVOLUTION
The prophetic writer Flannery O'Connor rightly warned us years ago that we must "push as hard as the age that pushes against you." This book is an attempt to do just that.
We are living in the midst of a revolution. The Christian church in the West now faces a set of challenges that exceeds anything it has experienced in the past. The revolution that has transformed most of Western Europe and much of North America is a revolution more subtle and more dangerous than revolutions faced in previous generations. This is a revolution of ideas — one that is transforming the entire moral structure of meaning and life that human beings have recognized for millennia.
This new revolution presents a particular challenge to Christianity, for a commitment to the authority of Scripture and to revealed truths runs into direct conflict with the central thrust of this revolution. Christians are not facing an isolated set of issues that cause us to be merely perplexed and, at times, at odds with the larger culture. We are instead facing a redefinition of marriage and transformation of the family. We are facing a complete transformation of the way human beings relate to one another in the most intimate contexts of life. We are facing nothing less than a comprehensive redefinition of life, love, liberty, and the very meaning of right and wrong.
This massive revolution is taking place across the entire cultural landscape, affecting virtually every dimension of life and demanding total acceptance of its claims and affirmation of its aims. Christians who are committed to faithfulness to the Bible as the Word of God and to the gospel as the only message of salvation must face this unavoidable challenge.
A Comprehensive Revolution
British theologian Theo Hobson has argued that the scale and scope of this challenge are unprecedented. According to critics of Hobson's argument, the challenge of the sexual revolution and the normalization of homosexuality is nothing new or unusual. Churches have always shown the ability to plod their way through hard moral issues before, and so they will again with homosexuality. Hobson himself confessed that he would have agreed with this line of reasoning at one point, but not anymore. For Hobson, the issue of homosexuality presents the church with a challenge it has never faced before.
Why is this such a challenge to Christianity? Hobson has suggested that the first factor is the either-or quality of the new morality. There is no middle ground in the church's engagement with homosexuality. Either churches will affirm the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and behaviors or they will not.
Hobson's second factor is the new morality's rapid rate of success. The normalization of homosexuality — something regarded as "unspeakably immoral" for centuries — has happened at breakneck speed. It has happened so fast that homosexuality is now considered as a legitimate lifestyle, and one that deserves legal protection. Moreover, as Hobson argued, the speed of the new morality's success "has basically ousted traditionalist sexual morality from the moral high ground."
In other words, the sexual revolution has actually turned the tables on Christianity. The Christian church has long been understood by the culture at large to be the guardian of what is right and righteous. But now the situation is fundamentally reversed. The culture generally identifies Christians as on the wrong side of morality. Those who hold to biblical teachings concerning human sexuality are now deposed from the position of high moral ground. This change is not simply "the waning of the taboo." As Hobson explained:
The case for homosexual equality takes the form of a moral crusade. Those who want to uphold the old attitude are not just dated moralists (as is the case with those who want to uphold the old attitude to premarital sex or illegitimacy). They are accused of moral deficiency. The old taboo surrounding this practice does not disappear but "bounces back" at those who seek to uphold it. Such a sharp turn-around is, I think, without parallel in moral history.
The moral revolution is now so complete that those who will not join it are understood to be deficient, intolerant, and harmful to society. What was previously understood to be immoral is now celebrated as a moral good. The church's historic teaching on homosexuality — shared by the vast majority of the culture until very recently — is now seen as a relic of the past and a repressive force that must be eradicated.
This explains why the challenge of the moral revolution poses such a threat to the whole of Christianity and to its position in modern societies. And yet even as we understand this revolution to be a new thing, its roots are not recent. As a matter of fact, the church has seen the sexual revolution taking place turn by turn for virtually all of the last century. What now becomes clear is that most Christians vastly underestimated the challenge the sexual revolution represents.
The Source of the Sexual Revolution: The Secularization of the Western Worldview
The background to this revolution is a great intellectual shift that occurred in concert with the secularization of Western societies. The modern age has brought many cultural benefits, but it has also brought a radical change in the way citizens of today's societies think, feel, relate, and make moral judgments. The Enlightenment's elevation of reason at the expense of revelation was followed by a radical anti-supernaturalism. From looking at Europe, it is clear that the modern age has alienated an entire civilization from its Christian roots, along with Christian moral and intellectual commitments. Scandinavian nations, for example, now register almost imperceptible levels of Christian belief. Increasingly, the same is true of both the Netherlands and Great Britain. Sociologists now speak openly of the death of Christian Britain — and the evidence of Christian decline is abundant throughout most of Europe. That same Christian decline has now come to America.
In 1983, Carl F. H. Henry described the future possibilities for Western societies:
If modern culture is to escape the oblivion that has engulfed the earlier civilizations of man, the recovery of the will of the self-revealed God in the realm of justice and law is crucially imperative. Return to pagan misconceptions of divinized rulers, or a divinized cosmos, or to quasi-Christian conceptions of natural law or natural justice, will bring inevitable disillusionment. Not all pleas for transcendent authority truly serve God or man. By aggrandizing law and human rights and welfare to their sovereignty all manner of earthly leaders eagerly preempt the role of the divine and obscure the living God of scriptural revelation. The alternatives are clear: either we return to the God of the Bible or we perish in the pit of lawlessness.
Regrettably, Henry's warning has gone unheeded and the path of American culture has become more and more secularized. Secular refers to the absence of any binding divine authority or belief. Secularization is a sociological process whereby societies become less theistic as they become more modern. As societies move into conditions of deeper and more progressive modernity, they move away from a binding force of religious belief, and theistic belief in particular.
Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has compellingly portrayed the story of Western society's transition into secularism. In his book A Secular Age, Taylor described the pre-modern age as a time when it was impossible not to believe. In other words, belief in God had no intellectual alternatives in the West. There was no alternative set of explanations for the world and its operations, or for moral order. All that changed with the arrival of modernity. In the modern age, a secular alternative to Christian theism emerged and it became possible not to believe. But during this time theism was still intellectually and culturally viable. But, as Taylor noted, those days are behind us. In our own postmodern age it is now considered impossible to believe.
Significantly, Taylor pinpoints this unbelief as a lack of cognitive commitment to a self-existent, self-revealing God. Secularization is not about rejecting all religion. In fact, even hyper-secularized Americans often consider themselves to be religious or spiritual. Secularization, according to Taylor, is about the rejection of a belief in a personal God, one who holds and exerts authority.
The implications of this worldview shift are massive. For example, in light of these current intellectual conditions, sociologist Mary Eberstadt has noted that "it is surely the case in large stretches of the advanced West today, many sophisticated people do not believe that the churches have any authority whatsoever to dictate constraints on individual freedom."
This may be true, but the church cannot abdicate its responsibility for Christian truth-telling in a postmodern age. The secular conditions make it more challenging and difficult, even seemingly impossible at times. Our culture is growing more and more resistant to a God — any god — who would speak to us with words such as "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not." The fact that Christians enter every conversation as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who are bound by biblical revelation means that society will label us as the intellectual outlaws — breaking the rules of engagement by appealing to a personal Creator and divine authority.
Yet explicit Christian truth-telling is the church's reason for being. As Peter wrote, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). The God of the Bible has sent his church into the world to tell the truth about himself — about his laws and commands, about his grace and love, and most important, about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The American Sex Revolution
Today we are witnessing nothing less than a total revolution in sexual morality. And a moral revolution is dramatically more important than mere moral shift. Moral shifts happen all around us and can regularly result in positive cultural transitions. For example, as someone who grew up in the 1960s, I can remember positive, comedic depictions of drunken behavior on television. But Otis the benevolent drunk on The Andy Griffith Show would be impossible to present in the mainstream media today. This is due to the important shift in moral judgment concerning alcohol and drunk driving. A successful anti–drunk driving campaign has turned what was thought in the 1950s to be a minor indiscretion to what is now understood, quite properly, to be a major crime. The eventual heightened criminalization and moral sanction against drunk driving was the result of a society coming face-to-face with horrible damages caused by drunk driving.
This kind of moral change happens on any number of issues, but in a way that can be absorbed within the general moral trajectory of a culture. In other words, moral change generally takes a rather long period of time, and in a way that is consistent with a culture's moral commitments.
A moral revolution represents the exact opposite of that pattern. What we are now experiencing is not the logical outworking of the West's Christian-influenced teachings on human sexuality, but the repudiation of them. This is a fundamentally different type of moral change and represents a challenge that is leaving many Christians confused and befuddled, some angry and anxious, and others asking hard questions about how the church should respond in such a time of crisis.
All this has to be put into the larger context of changes that have transformed the way most people in Western societies think. The moral revolution is part of a seismic shift in Western culture that has occurred during the last two centuries. In that span of time vast social changes have transformed the way people in advanced industrialized economies live, relate to one another, and engage the larger world. If that sounds like an overstatement, just consider the fact that at the beginning of the twentieth century most Americans lived in a rural context as part of an extended family and with a range of geographic mobility that was generally confined to a very small area. The idea that human beings would be flung coast to coast in an advanced economy and that work would be transformed from the tilling of the soil to what is now described as "knowledge work" is something that would have been inconceivable. These cultural transformations have uniquely impacted the family, which has been stripped of many of its defenses and separated from the larger context of kinship and the extended family.
An article in Bloomberg Businessweek about changing patterns in the American diet also demonstrates how moral revolutions can take place so quickly. As the authors explained, "cultural shifts don't happen overnight. They build slowly — a sip of coconut water here, a quinoa purchase there, and suddenly the American diet looks drastically different than it did 10 years ago." Indeed, most of us can recognize this just by looking at our own dinner tables.
But now imagine that same process expanded into the realm of morality and the major issues of life. In truth, the same kind of process has taken place. Just as changes in the diet take place without often being perceived, the same is true of the vast shift in morality that is taking place all around us — and we cannot say we were not warned.
Writing back in 1956, Pitirim Sorokin sounded an alarm about what he called "the American Sex Revolution." Sorokin, the first professor of sociology and later head of that department at Harvard University, was a moral prophet. As a member of the intellectual elite at Harvard, Sorokin represented the mainstream moral understanding of America at the time, and he was profoundly alarmed at the sexual revolution he saw taking place all around him.
Among the many changes of the last few decades a peculiar revolution has been taking place in the lives of millions of American men and women. Quite different from the better-known political and economic revolutions, it goes almost unnoticed. Devoid of noisy public explosions, its stormy scenes are confined to the privacy of the bedroom and involve only individuals. Unmarked by dramatic events on a large scale, it is free from civil war, class struggle, and bloodshed. It has no revolutionary army to fight its enemies. It does not try to overthrow governments. It has no great leader; no hero plans it and no polit bureau directs it. Without plan or organization, it is carried on by millions of individuals, each acting on his own. As a revolution, it has not been featured on the front pages of our press, or on radio or television. Its name is the sex revolution.
There is a particular power to Sorokin's use of the word revolution. In a way most of us cannot even conceive, Sorokin knew how revolutions happened and the carnage they often left in their wake. Born in Russia, Sorokin was condemned to death by the last emperor, Czar Nicholas II. Escaping that death sentence, he later served as private secretary to the interim government that was in place after the death of the czar. Sentenced to death once again, he was eventually exiled by Vladimir Lenin — an event that prompted his move to the United States and eventually to Harvard University. In other words, Sorokin used the word revolution to make a point that no other word would convey. Even in 1956, he saw the world being turned upside down; he saw the sexual revolution coming in full force.
Excerpted from We Cannot Be Silent by R. Albert Mohler Jr.. Copyright © 2015 Fidelitas Corporation, R. Albert Mohler Jr., LLC. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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