Overall the trend is alarming for most. According to the Gallup organization's annual Values and Beliefs survey, 73 percent of the nation's citizens believe moral values are getting worse (up from 69 percent in 2011). This sense of moral malaise is generalized rather than specific with no one issue reaching even 25 percent as the number one issue. Lack of "compassion" or "caring" etc., reached first at 18 percent, followed by "lack of family structure" and "lack of faith/religion" at 10 percent, with many other individual issues gaining single digits.
When Gallup focused on the specifics however, sexual behavior became the battleground.
Biblically speaking, the best news coming from the values survey is that a majority of Americans still have tremendous respect for marriage. Not only do Americans overwhelmingly reject adulterous behavior in married spouses, they reject polygamy by an 81-7 percent margin.
And "pro-life" Americans should be encouraged from Gallup's findings that 41 percent of Americans identify as "pro-choice," down six percent from last year and one percent lower than Gallup has ever recorded. Similarly, 50 percent identify as "pro-life," one point below the previous record of 51 percent. The "pro-choice" decline is evident in all three major American political groupings -- Republican, Independent and Democrat. Republicans lead the way (72 percent) followed by Independents where "pro-life" (47 percent) now outnumbers "pro-choice" (41 percent). Among Democrats, "pro-choice" has declined (68 percent to 58 percent) in the past year while "pro-life" has increased (27 percent to 34 percent).
Just when champions of traditional biblical values may begin to feel good about the positive movement on the "pro-life" issue, the impact of the sexual revolution of the early 1970s shows another picture 40 years later.
Fifty-four percent of Americans find "having a baby outside marriage" "morally acceptable," compared to 42 percent who find it "morally wrong."
When sex between an unmarried man and woman is "morally acceptable" by a 59 percent to 38 percent margin, but married men and women having an affair is "morally unacceptable" by a whopping 89 percent to seven percent, you have a morally confused culture, but one that still somewhat respects marital vows.
And then there is pornography. Given the tremendous growth of the pornography industry with the rise of the Internet and its negative impact on our mainstream entertainment, the low numbers on approval of pornography are, for the moment, encouraging. As destructive as pornography is to individuals and to relationships, it is comforting to hear that only 31 percent of Americans find viewing pornography "morally acceptable" and twice as many (64 percent) do not. But some would say that it is a sign of moral decline itself when people view "only" 31 percent finding pornography "morally acceptable" as a "good" sign.
It is true that the rampant presence of ever more explicit pornography has severely impacted the nation's morals and led to ever greater acceptance of ever more deviant material (i.e. Fifty Shades of Grey, a sadomasochistic-themed No. 1 best seller.) But, at the most, acceptance of pornography at least lags behind unmarried sex and gay/lesbian relations (59 percent and 54 percent, respectively, calling each "morally acceptable") on the nation's moral compass.
If pornography ever reaches these levels of moral acceptability in American society, then all the other non-traditional behaviors will increase to much higher levels. Hard-core pornography's ability to redefine moral deviance down to an ever-lower new "normal" is truly as dangerous as it is impressive.
Americans who want to see moral reformation or "re-formation" in their culture should do all they can to confront and minimize pornography's impact on the nation's citizens, especially its young people. Pornography is the propaganda for a paganized sexual morality which will submerge our culture in a tidal wave of sexual deviance if uncontested and uncontrolled.
Every church, temple, mosque and synagogue in America should consciously seek to be part of a pornography-free counter culture which attempts to inoculate its membership in age-applicable ways against pornography's seductive blandishments. In so doing, religious Americans of all persuasions can help insure that the 31 percent "morally acceptable" rate on pornography goes down rather than up in the future.
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
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