Is morality in America dead? Two recent events may suggest that it is time to write the epitaph for a shared understanding of morality. Major General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which makes him the highest ranking military officer in the country said in an interview with the Chicago Tribune "I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts." He went on to explain that it isn't just homosexuality that he finds immoral but he also considers adultery to be immoral. Pace said, "As an individual, I would not want acceptance of gay behavior to be our policy, just like I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else's wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not. We prosecute that kind of immoral behavior."
General Pace made these comments in the context of a discussion about whether or not he supported the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy which bans open displays of homosexual behavior but does not disqualify homosexuals who keep their behavior to themselves. His comments caused a fire storm because apparently the word "immoral" has been relegated to the politically correct closet by our morally relativistic society.
Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council appeared on The Factor with Bill O'Reilly to defend the General's comments. He was told by O'Reilly that the General went way off the reservation when he injected his personal views into the debate. According to O'Reilly, it is fine for the military to ban homosexual behavior but we cannot ban the behavior because it is immoral. We have to come up with some kind of practical reason which relates to military discipline but we can't refer to adultery and homosexuality as immoral because that requires making a judgment based on an agreed upon standard. Since absolute truth was the first casualty of the culture war, many believe we cannot consider anything to be simply immoral.
But the fact is adultery and open homosexuality lead to a breakdown in morale and discipline precisely because it is immoral behavior. You can't divorce the moral standard from the action and the results of an action. Part of what defines immoral behavior is the havoc it causes when the moral standard is abandoned. Perkins tried to point out the fact that the military code of justice has long recognized certain acts as either moral or immoral but he was waved off by O'Reilly who believers the question of morality cannot be raised when we are talking about policies we all have to live under. While it is true not everyone considers homosexuality or adultery to be immoral it is also true that for most of recorded history (up until about the last 40 years) our collective culture has considered both adultery and homosexuality to be wrong because both violate the cultures shared understanding of what is right and wrong. Without this shared understanding of right and wrong we have no basis for upholding laws apart from our need to survive. If we are ever reduced to a culture that is concerned only with its own survival and unconcerned about what standard of life our survival leads to we will be a culture that is on the level of the animal kingdom where survival is the only reason for behavior.
Later, on another edition of the O'Reilly Factor, Bill interviewed a mom and a daughter about the behavior of college students during spring break. The segment featured film footage of college students engaging in dangerous drinking games and open displays of sexual behavior. After talking about how these acts had progressed downward over the years, O'Reilly asked the mom what she would do if she discovered that her daughter was taking part in the kind of things she was seeing displayed on the screen. The mom said she would certainly get on a plane or in the car and have a face to face encounter with her daughter letting her know how displeased she was in her actions. O'Reilly then posed the million dollar question to the mother. Why would you be upset with your daughter? The mother seemed stunned at the question. She stammered out an answer saying it was hurting her daughter's self-esteem. O'Reilly was not satisfied and asked why she thought it would hurt her daughter's self-esteem. The mother couldn't bring herself to condemn the actions as immoral. The best she could do was to say that as a mother she would pass judgment on the actions. Excuse me….you have to be a mother to know that drunkenness and lesbian behavior deserves a judgment call? When a mother sees open displays of immoral behavior and can't find it in her heart to call it what it is, we are well on our way to seeing the death of morality.
God has certainly not left us in the dark concerning the days in which we live. Paul told Timothy "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boaster, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God…"(2 Tim. 3:1-4 NASV emphasis mine).
Our culture can't survive without a shared understanding of the difference between right and wrong and the will to stand for what is right.
Dr. Tony Beam is Director of the Christian Worldview Center at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina.