Free speech and the state of American culture
In just the past few days I have been bombarded, as I am sure many of you have, by negative reports and studies about the state of American society. There are clearly causes for great concern for our nation’s future.
We have legions of college students who have evidently drunk the woke Kool-Aid and believe that any opinion that does not coincide with their liberal, “woke” agenda is hate speech and is a legitimate target for being censored, silenced, or shut down by woke mobs exercising a “heckler’s veto.”
There is nothing “liberal” about such philosophies or the behaviors they generate. In fact, they are far more similar to, and reminiscent of, fascist mobs and McCarthyite red-scare tactics.
As I have read these reports and watched them online, I have become increasingly resolved that we must exercise our freedom of speech despite the possible consequences, or we will lose the right to that very freedom of speech.
For example, two publications I have been reading since the age of 12 (Decision, a publication of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association) and the age of 18 (The New York Times) presented me with information that both thoroughly alarmed me and helped to explain our current cultural malaise at the same time.
First, the New York Times informs us that "Most Teenagers Have Seen Online Porn, Report Says." The report explained how social media transformed adolescents’ access to hard-core pornography.
Seventy-five percent of America’s teenagers had now viewed pornography online “by the age of 17 with the average of first exposure at age 12, according to the report by Common Cause Media.” Many of the young people surveyed did not seek out pornography, it sought them out on the internet. Many of them reported that they were at first disturbed by the images they viewed although less than 50% had discussed the issue with a parent or trusted adult. One measure of the growth of this cancer on society is the fact that in 2012 the porn business was earning $5 billion a year and today it is estimated to be a $15 billion a year blight on society.
Why such a rapid increase? The moral laxity of the culture brought on by the decline in moral clarity and intestinal fortitude of the American pulpit is one leading contributor.
This became more clear to me as I read my copy of Decision magazine, which I first remember reading as a boy of 12 when it came to our home on a regular basis (my father had been saved at a Billy Graham Crusade in Houston in 1952 when I was 6 years old).
The issue which arrived in my mailbox earlier this week (the January 2023 issue) contained an article, “What’s Wrong with America’s Pulpits?” by Lee Weeks.
The article was based on “The American Worldview Inventory, 2022,” researched and published by George Barna, the director of research with the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. Barna and his team surveyed and analyzed bedrock doctrines of the Christian faith to measure the doctrinal orthodoxy of America’s Protestant Clergy, as well as the general population.
The result of Barna’s research makes for devastating reading for Americans who are traditionally orthodox Christians. For example, Barna’s seven bedrock biblical beliefs constituting a biblical worldview were:
- God is the eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, and just Creator.
- Humans are sinful by nature.
- Jesus Christ grants forgiveness of sin and eternal life when sinners repent and profess their faith in Him alone.
- The Bible is true, reliable, and always relevant.
- Absolute moral truth exists.
- Success is defined as consistent obedience to God.
- Life’s purpose is to know, love, and serve God with all one’s heart, mind, strength, and soul.
When Barna had sifted through the results, the portrait that emerged was chilling, and this was nowhere more true than among the clergy — the shepherds of the flock.
According to Barna’s results, only 37% of pastors of churches of all Protestant denominations have a biblical worldview.
If the pastors, the shepherds of the flock, have sub-biblical doctrinal beliefs, who is going to lead the people and “teach them all things whatsoever I have commanded you?” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Barna’s research reveals that among Evangelical pastors 30% reject salvation by faith alone and 39% reject belief in absolute truth (some things are always right and some things are always wrong).
If people are not hearing a sure, certain, and uncompromising word from the pulpits, where will they find truth in this increasingly secular milieu in which Americans live and breath? When the pulpits are sounding forth an uncertain sound, the people are increasingly at the mercy of the roving packs of spiritual wolves on the prowl for new sheep to apostatize.
I have experienced this doctrinal confusion and spiritual apostasy in my own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). I have had perhaps a half dozen former seminary classmates and ministry brethren who have said to me in one form or another, “I’ve decided that God permits monogamous, same-sex relationships” or “I believe a loving God won’t send anyone to hell.”
My response has been, and will continue to be, “You’ve decided! When did you become God?”
In His Holy Word. God has answered these questions! In the Gospel of John Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.” (John 14::6). In the original Greek the article the is implied or assumed. When it appears it is for emphasis as it is here in the Greek New Testament text.
Similarly, in Romans (11:24-28) and 1 Corinthians (6:9-11) God made it clear that a same-sex sexual lifestyle was rejected utterly.
As Evangelical Christians, we must face the unpleasant fact that while there has been an Evangelical revival in the last half of the 20th and the first fifth of the 21st centuries, the secularizing society has influenced Evangelicals more than the other way around. Instead of being salt and light (Mtt. 5:13-16), we have been salted and lit by society at large.
For America to experience the great spiritual awakening we must have, we will need a deep and lasting spiritual recommitment to the eternal truths of the Gospel.
As George Barna himself puts it,
“to see American culture transformed will require a time of Christians and
pastors devoted to repentance and the Scriptures unlike anything we have
seen in more than a century.”
May God give us the strength, devotion, and wisdom to commence that journey and to never flag or surrender until we have let God make us the salt and light Jesus commanded each of us to be.
Dr. Richard Land, BA (Princeton, magna cum laude); D.Phil. (Oxford); Th.M (New Orleans Seminary). Dr. Land served as President of Southern Evangelical Seminary from July 2013 until July 2021. Upon his retirement, he was honored as President Emeritus and he continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor of Theology & Ethics. Dr. Land previously served as President of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (1988-2013) where he was also honored as President Emeritus upon his retirement. Dr. Land has also served as an Executive Editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011.
Dr. Land explores many timely and critical topics in his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” and in his weekly column for CP.