The statistics indicate a moral change in our society that many of us have witnessed during our lifetime. The violent crime rate in the US was 160.9 per 100,000 population in 1960. In 2011, it was 386.3 per 100,000. The divorce rate in 1960 was 2.2 per 1,000 population. It reached its high point in 1981 with 5.3 per 1,000 and in 2009 was 3.5 per 1,000. If the divorce rate has dropped since the 1980s, cohabitation (“living together”) has increased. In 1960, there were 439,000 cohabiting couples. In 2005, 4.85 million cohabiting couples were reported by the Census Bureau — up more than 10 times the rate in 1960. In 1960, out of wedlock births were 5.3% of the total births. In 2007, they were 40% of the total births.
Elton Trueblood in his 1969 book, A Place to Stand, made an important observation on the moral decline of Western culture:
Always men have broken laws; that is nothing new. What is new is the acceptance of a creed to the effect that there really is not objective truth about what human conduct ought to be. The new position is not merely that the old laws do not apply, but rather that any moral law is limited to subjective reference. While this has been the position of a few individuals in various generations of the past, our time differs in that this has suddenly become the position of millions. Some of them still have a slight connection with the Judeo-Christian heritage, but the obvious conflict in convictions will, if it continues, finally dissolve even the mild connection that still appears to exist. If there is no objective right, then there is not even the possibility of error, and intellectual and moral confusion are bound to ensue.1
Trueblood calls ours “a cult-flower civilization.” His analogy means that when people first began to cut themselves off from Judeo-Christian ethics, they initially behaved in moral ways. Like the cut-flower exhibiting life though cut off from its roots. Such life though eventually withers, and in the same way, cut from the roots of Judeo-Christian ethics, our society undergoes a moral decline.
So what does this mean for Christians and the church today? It is easy to be a bit depressed, and certainly the cultural shift is lamentable. But it does not change our mission to share the good news. In fact it means that the difference between the lifestyle of a truly, biblical Christian is going to be even more distinct from the world around us. We face a culture much more like the one that Peter and Paul faced. They saw opportunity. The good news went out into that kind of world and turned the world upside down. When the flower withers, the good news is needed all the more.
1Elton Trueblood, A Place to Stand, p. 15.