“For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17
As Chris Matthews observed, the day of reckoning has come. For Bill Clinton and Harvey Weinstein. For Bill Cosby, Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Bill O’Reilly, Mark Halperin, Ben Affleck. For Silicon Valley tech millionaires and Wall Street high flying financiers. For Catholic clergy and for Trinity Broadcast Network heirs. Some have suggested the recent Virginia gubernatorial results are Trump’s reckoning.
And I, for one, hope for Roy Moore’s reckoning.
In some ways, what we are reckoning with is a consequence of the sexual revolution, before which sexual intimacy was socially acceptable only in the confines of marriage.
With lines that are blurred and men with power in the drivers’ seats, the guardrails that had been there no longer are able to keep us from going over the cliff. One can only hope that out of the cultural car crash we are experiencing a re-norming will repaint the lines of healthy norms for sexual behavior and shame those with power from crossing them.
In his 1999 Atlantic Monthly essay, “The Great Disruption”, Francis Fukuyama observed that “since the 1960s the West has experienced a series of liberation movements that have sought to free individuals from the constraints of traditional social norms and moral rules… [however] as people soon discovered, there are serious problems with a culture of unbridled individualism, in which the breaking of rules becomes, in a sense the only remaining rule.”
Although he is skeptical that with “regard to sex and reproduction… the technological and economic conditions of our age make it extremely doubtful that anything like a return to Victorian values will take place,” Fukuyama does believe that one of the forces for a re-norming will be an increase in religious affiliation, although from his perspective it will be an attenuated one.
“A return to religiosity is far more likely to take a more benign form… instead of community arising as a byproduct of rigid belief, people will come to religion because of their desire for community. In other words, people will return to religion not necessarily because they accept the truth of revelation but precisely because the absence of community and the transience of social ties in the secular world make them hungry for ritual and cultural tradition… in this sense they will not be taking religion seriously on its own terms but will use religion as a language with which to express their moral beliefs.“
The role of religion as a mechanism for self-restraint is a long-standing belief, and singularly important for a free society. As Edmund Burke observed “men are qualified for civil liberty, in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites… Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”
The abuse of power is a serious factor in the recent revelations, and is a reminder that men still wield disproportionate control over decisions in most sectors of society. There are many contributing factors to loss of “internal controls,” but I believe one of them is a decline over the past several decades in religious affiliation.
If religion is a necessary guardrail, who sends the social cues to reconstruct it? Is religion left to its own defense, to its own marketing or is there a role for other institutions to affirm religion’s value to society; especially in the current context of freedom’s sexual free-for-all? The creative community has been particularly implicated in the moment we find ourselves in with its promotion of sex without consequence, the suggestion that “no” means “yes”, and (at least in the modern era) it’s generally cynical view of organized religion. For society to re-norm, creatives and the (pop) culture will need to draw bright lines for behavior, and affirm the role these faith communities play in setting up guard rails. Creatives are some of the most influential influences on today’s postmodern, narrative-driven, culturally saturated generation. They are, what Hannah More called, The Greats. “Reformation must begin with the Great,” she observed, “or it will never be effectual. Their example is the fountain whence the vulgar draw their habits, actions, and character. To expect to reform the poor while the opulent are corrupt is to throw odors into the stream while the springs are poisoned.
The burden rests most heavily, however, on the shoulders of the religious community itself. I was reminded that while Jesus was gentle with sinners like the woman at the well and the tax collector; he reserved his harshest words for the religious hypocrites. Why? They were meant to be God’s messengers, and when they didn’t practice what they preached, they undermined the message itself. This is why as Christians, we can’t brush off the sins of professed believers as if the ends justifying the means. For us, the means is an end in itself. I didn’t expect Donald Trump to have lived by Christian morals while he was building his gambling empire. However, I do expect Roy Moore to have lived by the Ten Commandments he so prominently exhibited on his courthouse wall.
As Bible teacher Beth Moore wrote last week, “This idea, that God puts up with secret sins from His servants for the greater good is a total crock. He waits, warns, waits, warns, then comes for us with a blazing bulldozer.”
“I know because Scripture says,” she continued. “I know because I’ve experienced it. God will not be mocked.”
When asked if she was referring specifically to Roy Moore, she replied: “I am referring to the colossal compromise of values in the church in America. It’s taking so many forms so quickly that mentioning names just makes it yesterday’s news.”
With many observers noting that enduring Evangelical support for Roy Moore is not just despite the allegations, but in some cases because of them; the next reckoning will likely be ours.