Is the United States Still a Moral Nation?

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The recent election showed that almost half of the U.S. electorate is uncomfortable with a president who is open about his religious faith and has stated that Jesus Christ is the Person he most admires. What about the other half? They may claim to get their values from the Bible, but do they really?

When Americans celebrated Thanksgiving in November, some believed that two different "nations" took time out to commemorate what the Plymouth fathers were so thankful to God for in 1621. These early pioneers reaped a considerable harvest after a bleak period of great hardship and starvation.

But consider further the popular notion that America is a nation divided along the lines of those who uphold traditional biblical values and those who do not. The facts reveal a much more complex picture.

The role of moral values

The role of morality has been heavily debated as a result of the November presidential election. Many people jumped to erroneous conclusions based on exit polls showing that the single issue prompting most voters to cast their ballots the way they did was that of morality—concerning gay marriage, abortion and the like.

Journalists and columnists on both sides of the Atlantic bought into this simplistic picture. One British writer put it this way: "Half the people believe the government has no place in personal healthcare decisions, including abortion. The other half believe abortion to be murder. Half the people believe sexual orientation should not be of concern to government; half say homosexual unions will lead to the end of civilisation" ( The Guardian , Nov. 10, 2004).

In terms of the recent election, however, a number of American and British commentators would take issue with simple scenarios like this one. For instance, columnist Charles Krauthammer pointed out that "the exit poll is just a single poll. We had dozens of polls in the runup to the election that showed that the chief concerns were the war on terrorism, the war in Iraq and the economy" ( The Washington Post , Nov. 12, 2004).

Many attributed President George W. Bush's victory to the gay marriage referenda in a number of states, particularly the one in Ohio. Mr. Krauthammer showed this reasoning to be false. He wrote: "George Bush increased his vote in 2004 by an average of 3.1 percent nationwide. In Ohio the increase was 1 percent—less than a third of the national average. In the 11 states in which the gay marriage referendums were held, Bush increased his vote by less than he did in the 39 states that did not have the referendum. The great anti-gay surge was pure fiction" (emphasis added throughout article).

Furthermore the states with the highest divorce rates are, generally speaking, in the southern portion of the United States. Paradoxically, the states with the lowest divorce rates are on the more liberal upper east coast of the United States. Massachusetts voted for John Kerry to the tune of 62 to 37 percent. President Bush took Texas 61 to 38 percent. Yet the Lone Star State has a higher annual divorce rate with 4.1 per thousand inhabitants to Massachusetts' 2.4.

As British Sunday Times writer Andrew Sullivan summed up the situation: "Those parts of America that uphold traditional values are not those where traditional values are healthiest" (Nov. 28, 2004).

How could this be?

Christians and unbelievers: strikingly similar behavior

Surveys in the United States by religious pollster George Barna consistently reveal that there is not much difference between the moral actions of Christian believers and unbelievers. For instance, those professing to be "born again" Christians divorce just as often as nonbelievers.

A new study by his organization, the Barna Group, "shows that the likelihood of married adults getting divorced is identical among born again Christians and those who are not born again . . . Among married born again Christians, 35% have experienced a divorce. That figure is identical to the outcome among married adults who are not born again: 35%" (www.barna.org , Sept. 8, 2004). (For further information, see "Christians in Name Only.")

Another Sunday Times writer put her finger on the problem. She stated: "The moral values of America derive more from tradition than from dogma. From a sense of family and community rather than from Scripture or church" (Nov. 7, 2004).

What's the source of our beliefs?

What is American morality—and that of most of the Western world—based on? What is the source of our values and standards? It may come as a surprise to some that generally speaking, the Bible on the whole is not.

While it is true that many of our society's moral values originally came from the Bible, the real roots of what should be Christendom's beliefs have largely been rejected. The vast majority of mainstream Christians have cast aside about 75 percent of the Bible—the Old Testament. And even the grace of God (emphasized in the New Testament) has been turned into license to disobey His laws (Jude 3-4).

How does the Bible view our national conduct in the West? Ezekiel 20 is a pivotal chapter. It explains why God has hidden Himself from most of mankind—why He lets us go on our own way rather than intervening in our nation's affairs today.

In this account God would not allow the elders of ancient Israel to consult Him (Ezekiel:20:2-3). He explains why in the remainder of the chapter.

After God delivered the Israelites from their bondage in the land of Egypt, they chose to continue in disobedience rather than obey the laws He had revealed to them in the wilderness. Idolatry and Sabbath breaking consistently characterized their bad behavior (verses 13-21). (Observing the Sabbath may not be important to most modern people today, but the Bible repeatedly shows that it remains very important to God. To understand why, please request our free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God's Sabbath Rest .)

After a long period of patience and persistent right teaching, God finally " gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by" (verse 25, New International Version). Israel came under the tragic influence of the pagan religions of neighboring nations, even to the point of sacrificing their own children.

Then in the New Testament the apostle Paul picked up on this theme in explaining why the gentile nations also went badly astray. Their once-enlightened leaders not only turned to base wickedness themselves, but they also suppressed or held back the truth of God from others (Romans:1:18-20).

Finally "God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity . . . They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator . . ." (verses 24-25, NIV). In principle, this is what the prophet Ezekiel recorded ancient Israel as doing in chapter 20.

London Times correspondent Tim Reid observed this about American morals while reporting from Washington D.C. for The Times. "For a people accused of re-electing their President based on a zealous embrace of moral values, Americans have a funny way of showing it. The hottest new US television sensation is a suburban whodunnit dominated by adultery, murder and four voluptuous fortysomething housewives" (Nov. 24, 2004).

The show to which he referred, Desperate Housewives , has already attracted 25 million viewers and is rapidly becoming the number one TV program in the nation. Even Sex and the City took a while to catch on. But not this new prime-time soap, which taps into lesbian behavior in addition to the normal sexual vices afflicting mankind. (To understand the biblical laws and principles that ought to permeate our love lives, request or download our free Good News article reprint titled "Marriage and Family.")

Suppressing the truth of God

Our bodily network of nerve endings brings us pain and discomfort when something goes awry. It acts as an alarm system to help us ward off and cope with dangers to the human body.

God also gave us something similar to keep us out of harm's way spiritually—our consciences. When aberrant lifestyles result in pain and discomfort, you'd think we would heed the warning signals and take appropriate action to avoid problems.

Often this is not how it works out in practice. Instead we deceive ourselves by ignoring the principle of cause and effect and then allow ourselves to engage in even further rebellion against God and His laws. Finally He has no other alternative but to give us over to our lawless behavior as we drift further and further away from His truth, bringing more and more suffering on ourselves and others.

Throughout this process we either tend to ignore serious spiritual problems or attempt to cast them aside by deceptive explanations of our lawless conduct. Our formerly sensitive consciences gradually become hardened.

Since we do not wish to retain God in our knowledge (Romans:1:28), He gives us over to following our own sinful ways of life—a sure road to suffering and death (Romans:6:23). We find ourselves very far from God, cut off and in desperate need of someone to intercede for us.

Thankfully, the same God who is justifiably angered by our wayward national lifestyles (Romans:1:18) still loves us deeply and wants to guide us into a very different, law-abiding way of life. He desires Christians to realize that it is the height of futility to call Jesus Christ "Lord, Lord" and yet still persist in not doing what He plainly says (Matthew:7:21; Luke:6:46). God has unchanging standards of moral behavior. His spiritual law is eternal!

He wants all of us to deeply respect His Word (Isaiah:66:2) and to understand that the love of God is defined and expressed by the keeping of His commandments (1 John:5:3). (To understand why, request or download our free booklet The Ten Commandments .)

The Bible reveals that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ can deliver us from the very unpleasant consequences of our sinful behavior. Jesus came to save us from our sins—not in our sins (Matthew:1:21). The apostle Peter adds: "To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities [sins]" (Acts:3:26).

Our Creator is a compassionate and gracious Father who longs to forgive our transgressions of His law when we sincerely repent from the heart—and to set us firmly on the path of righteousness, which is defined by His laws (Psalm:119:172).

Readers of The Good News don't have to follow the crowd. The law plainly says: "You shall not follow a crowd to do evil" (Exodus:23:2). And Peter warned his listeners to "be saved from this perverse generation" (Acts:2:40).

You can take a decisive turn off the destructive national path so many are on and discover God's infinite mercy and forgiveness in a new way of life. A fresh start awaits you. A new and vibrant way can be yours. You can achieve what a previous generation rightly termed abundant living —a way of life based on the eternal moral principles of God's Word.

But you have to take the initiative. To learn much more, please request or download our free booklets Making Life Work , The Road to Eternal Life and Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion . Also please let us know if you would like to counsel with a United Church of God minister in your area. He would be glad to answer your questions and to help you embrace God's way of life. GN

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