Sex is everywhere. It permeates the movies and the television programs we watch, the music we hear, the magazines and books we read, the talk shows we listen to. Society, it seems, is obsessed with sex.
Perhaps never has society had access to so much knowledge about sex but understood so little about it. Seldom have people suffered so much through sexual ignorance. Recently in the U.S. it was reported that the sexually transmissible diseases, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and AIDS, were the three most commonly reported infectious disorders in 1995.
And now even herpes is back with a vengeance. The British newspaper, The Independent, recently reported that "genital herpes, the incurable sexually transmitted disease that was lost from sight in the shadow of AIDS, is infecting record numbers of people in Britain" (Feb. 2). Experts estimate that "about one in ten women in London carry the virus," and in America "it is estimated that 500,000 people contract genital herpes each year." Nancy Herndon of the American Health Association commented that herpes is much more contagious than the HIV.
Of course, sexual behavior is only one measure of a nation's moral standard, but it is a crucial one.
After the revolution
The sexual revolution has been with us for three decades. Newsweek magazine documented the sweeping change that began as far back as 1967: "The old taboos are dying. A new, more permissive society is taking shape . . . And, behind this expanding permissiveness is . . . a society that has lost its consensus on such crucial issues as premarital sex, . . . marriage, birth control and sex education . . ." (November 13, 1967, p. 74).
After three decades of the sexual revolution society has lost sight of right and wrong when it comes to sex.
We need to understand what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in the eyes of God. The Bible instructs that men and women should abstain from premarital sexual involvement and practice monogamy in marriage. Any sexual conduct apart from the marital union is biblically defined as immoral and sinful (1 John 3:4).
Clearly, many modern nations have fallen far short of this godly ideal.
Statistics show that adulterous behavior is out of control. The Kinsey Institute estimates that, during their married lives, 37 percent of American males will prove sexually unfaithful to their wives and 29 percent of American wives will commit adultery (June M. Reinisch, St. Martins Press, New York, 1990, p. 7, 73).
Adultery is family-obliterating behavior that destroys the very heart of society, with devastating consequences for children. According to social critic William Kirkpatrick, divorce is "up 700 percent in this century, with most of the rise occurring in recent decades" (Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong, Touchstone, New York, 1993, p. 249).
He also notes that "the pain of parental divorce is more difficult for a child to overcome than the death of a parent" (ibid., p. 250). An astonishing three in five American children born in 1986 will live with a single parent by age 18.
Teen sexual behavior
Equally disturbing developments are the levels of premarital sexual activity and pregnancy in Western nations.
How many American teens are engaging in sex? "Data on teenage sexual activity are inexact . . . But most experts in the field agree that somewhere over 60 percent of American teenagers have had sexual intercourse by the time they finish high school" (Lillian B. Rubin, Erotic Wars, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1990, p. 61, emphasis added).
In Britain, "one in five [teenagers] report having intercourse before their 16th birthday." Also, in a 1996 poll, "31 percent of female respondents said they had been [pressured] to have sex before they were ready" (The Independent, September 16, 1996).
What does this mean in terms of premarital pregnancy? In the United States estimates are that "nationally 11 percent of unmarried teenage girls become pregnant each year" (Rubin, p. 75). To put it another way, "every 64 seconds . . . a baby is born to a teenage mother . . ." (Children's Defense Fund, The Adolescent & Young Adult Fact Book, Washington, 1991).
According to William J. Bennett, former U.S. secretary of education, illegitimate births increased in the U.S. 400 percent from 1960 to 1990 (The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, March 1993). Based on current trends, U.S. News & World Report reports that "early in the next century, unless we change, 1 out of every 2 American children will be born out of wedlock" (October 2, 1995, p. 88, emphasis added).
Troubling trends, frightening future
The costs and implications of these trends are truly alarming: "In 1997 almost 1 m[illion] American teenagers will become pregnant, nearly 75% of them out of wedlock. About 80% of these new mothers will end up in poverty, dependent on welfare payments. The problem costs the American taxpayer $7 billion a year . . . Every day in America there are 1,300 teenage births and 1,100 teenage abortions. Last year 3 m[illion] teenagers had sexually transmitted diseases" (The Sunday Times, January 12, 1997).
This epidemic of illegitimacy has spread to other Western nations. Reports the January 20, 1997, European edition of Newsweek: "In Sweden, more than half of all babies are born to unmarried parents; in France and England, it's about one in three." As a result, "Something frighteningly like the American underclass is beginning to develop in Britain's inner cities: stubborn pockets of drugs, poverty and hopelessness, with teenage moms who drop out of high school and never get a job."
In a recent British poll, findings showed that "first intercourse is often unplanned and therefore unprotected. Among the 16-24 group, only 37 percent had used contraception if they had sex on the spur of the moment" (The Independent, September 16, 1996). This behavior no doubt contributed to the teenage statistics for pregnancy and abortion.
What do these trends portend? Not only have moral standards for many of the current youthful generation been deconstructed, seeds have been planted that threaten to sprout into a harvest of much greater evil and suffering.
One of the greatest concerns of law-enforcement officials in America is the rise of a new breed of criminals. They are generally males in their teens or early 20s, and are violent far beyond the criminal classes of past decades. They are often driven by explosive anger and marked by callous indifference to human life. Such people, sociologists note, are almost always from single-parent homes.
Can any objective person doubt that permissiveness is engendering a problem of major proportions? The words of the ancient Hebrew prophet Hosea aptly describe such cause and effect: "They sow the wind, and reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7, emphasis added throughout). The hurricane-force winds of violence, cruelty and crime batter modern society. When large portions of a nation behave irresponsibly, its social structure must deal with the inevitable serious—and sometimes catastrophic—consequences.
Many Americans are concerned about the future of their nation. In a Newsweek poll, 76 percent of Americans said that they believe the United States is in a moral and spiritual decline (Newsweek, June 13, 1994, p. 31).
Will the United States do anything nationally to stop the slide? God's counsel to all people is clear. He "commands all men everywhere to repent"(Acts 17:30). God's Word shows that unchecked moral decline leads to eventual national destruction. Those familiar with the Bible realize that it predicts dire consequences for any person or country that persists in immoral behavior(Proverbs 29:1).
An overlooked sex survey
Other sources also warn of the devastating effects of moral turpitude. The record of history is clear. English anthropologist J.D. Unwin extensively studied 86 societies through 5,000 years of history. After his death in 1936 the results of his research were published under the title "Hopousia: The Sexual and Economic Foundations of a New Society."
Unwin studied cultures and empires from the standpoint of their sexual behavior. In particular he was interested in their prenuptial and post-nuptial behavior. He noticed a correlation between such behavior and what he termed a nation's "expansive energy." We might refer to this as the capability to remain productive and maintain a position of influence and leadership among other nations.
He stated that "expansive energy has never been displayed by a society that inherited a modified monogamy or a form of polygamy . . ." (J.D. Unwin, Hopousia, George Allen & Unwin, London, 1940, p. 82, emphasis added throughout).
Self-control or chaos
Unwin discovered that "in human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence" (ibid., p. 84-85).
He concluded that "the evidence is that in the past a class has risen to a position of political dominance because of its great energy and that at the period of its rising, its sexual regulations have always been strict. It has retained its energy and dominated the society so long as its sexual regulations have demanded both pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence . . . I know of no exception to these rules" (ibid., p. 89).
Bluntly speaking, Unwin's point was that nations gain prominence when they keep their sexual drives in check both before and after marriage. They remain strong as long as societal and marital bonds are strong. When those barriers fall, a society's days are numbered. As Unwin put it, he knew of "no exception to these rules."
Awareness of God's sovereignty
Can any permissive society successfully defy the record of history? Are any nations exempt from the same sins—and their consequences?
American culture has dominated the last 50 years. Many nations have wanted to follow America's example of prosperity and progress. Tragically, too many of them follow the U.S. example of immorality as well.
The United States leads the world in many categories of sexual excess. In premarital pregnancies its pace is at "a figure that's almost twice that of other Western countries" (Rubin, p. 75). But that difference does not necessarily reflect a higher standard of morality in the other countries. It reflects America's ambivalence about contraception and abortion. In other Western countries, "their rates of sexual activity and the age at which it begins match our [America's] own" (ibid.).
Does any nation truly live by a moral standard that pleases God? Consider the observation of Psalm 14:2-3: "The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one."
History shows that wayward nations have suffered punishment for their conduct. God often allows the natural consequences of sin to overtake a people. "Your own wickedness will correct you, and your backslidings will reprove you," He warns (Jeremiah 2:19).
Most people believe it anachronistic to think of God as intervening in world affairs and correcting nations. Yet the living God does at times intervene according to His purpose. Ultimately He alone determines the fate of nations. God has the power to deal with empires and emperors. The Roman governor Pontius Pilate spoke to Jesus of his power to crucify or release Him. But Christ informed Pilate: "You could have no power at all against me unless it had been given you from above" (John 19:11).
In times past nations and their leaders were generally more aware of God's sovereignty over their affairs and freely acknowledged that truth. Often they viewed God as their benefactor. For instance, America's founding fathers recognized God, mentioning Him four times in the Declaration of Independence.
Those same men were convicted that a nation's laws and standards should be generally based upon the Bible. James Madison, the chief architect of the U.S. Constitution, said: "We have staked the whole future of the American civilization . . . upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves . . . according to the Ten Commandments of God" (Benjamin Hart, Faith & Freedom—The Christian Roots Of American Liberty, Lewis and Stanley, Dallas, TX, 1988, p. 18).
Abraham Lincoln, while calling for a national day of fasting and prayer during the American Civil War, said: "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God . . . And we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own . . . It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness" (William J. Federer,America's God And Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, Fame Publishing, Coppell, Tex., pp. 383-384).
That same American president mentioned in a personal letter to an elderly lady in September of 1862. "Yet we cannot but believe that he who made the world still governs it" (The Life and Writings of Abraham Lincoln, Random House, New York, 1940, pp. 727-728).
Lincoln's words ring true today. God is the great giver of national blessings (James 1:17). Lincoln also said in 1838 that "if destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author . . ." (David Barton, The Myth of Separation, WallBuilder Press, Aledo, TX, 1989, p. 70). He knew that nations can self-destruct.
God and morality
The paths of history are strewn with the ruins of empires and nations that ignored God's principles, especially in the areas of sex, marriage and family.
Historians Will and Ariel Durant quoted Joseph de Maistre in their book The Lessons of History: "There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion" (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1968, p. 51, emphasis added).
Syndicated columnist and author Georgie Ann Geyer wrote: "I have come to the conclusion that it is impossible to have a moral community or nations without faith in God, because without it everything comes down to 'me,' and 'me' alone is meaningless."
She further warned: "Today Americans have stopped acting in terms of their own moral, ethical religious beliefs and principles. They stopped acting on what they knew was right—and the 'me' has become the measure of everything. However, moral societies are the only ones that work. If anyone thinks there is not a direct and inviolable relationship between personal integrity in a society and that society's prosperity, that person has simply not studied history . . . Great moral societies, built upon faith in God, honor, trust and the law blossom . . ." (ibid.)
Some 160 years ago the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that "America is great because America is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great" (Federer, p. 205).
De Tocqueville saw strengths in the United States of the early 19th century. But what would he say about the America of today? Could he single out any nation on earth today for its goodness?
Is there any country on the globe that God could commend? "Those who honor Me I will honor," God said, "and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed" (1 Samuel 2:30). Which modern nation has a way of living that honors God? Do not our mounting troubles testify to our dishonor of the God who made us?
The message of the prophets
The message of the biblical prophets was similar to the warnings of more recent social critics: Societies that cast aside their moral underpinnings will ultimately end up on the scrap heap of history. This is true of any and every nation, even of a powerful country with enormous national resilience like the United States.
We need only look at the collapse of such great powers as Assyria, and Babylon to see that a nation's pre-eminence can vanish into history.
The prophets of old warned the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, along with many other nations of their period, that oblivion would befall those countries that sought their own agenda rather than God's, and that refused to allow their Creator to fashion and shape their national life. A national obsession with sex, leading to a searing of moral consciousness, would lead to decline and fall.
God told Jeremiah the prophet to "go down to the potter's house" (Jeremiah 18:2). He wanted him to learn a lesson that he was to pass on. "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter? says the Lord. Look, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel" (verse 6).
Nations are like clay in the hands of God. He calls on people everywhere in all countries to repent (Acts 17:30-31), to radically alter their conduct.
God's message to the young, still virtuous King Solomon of Israel, before his appetites led him away from God, remains the greatest hope of nations in need of mending their ways of life.
"If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chronicles 7:14).