You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
– Matthew 5:14-16
During the 2008 election, then presidential candidate Barack Obama was heard saying the American working class is clinging bitterly to guns and religion.
Charles Murray, in his new book Coming Apart: The State of White America, suggests that President Obama was only half right.
Murray, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, contends that before the 1960s, Americans of all classes participated in a traditional common culture of civic and social engagement that valued marriage, industriousness, honesty and religiosity.
Based on Murray’s research, a growing number of the working class are functionally secular—never attending church, and having only token remnants of Christian beliefs. This functional secularism must account, in part, for the staggering decline in what Murray, following the Founders, calls “virtue.”
Family commitment, honesty, sobriety, and industriousness have all fallen off a statistical cliff among America’s working class, leading to disastrous results. Murray concludes his chapter on religion with the following:
Such a small figure (only 12% of the working class) leaves the religious core not as a substantial minority that is still large enough to be a major force in the community, but as a one-out-of-eight group of people who are increasingly seen as oddballs.
As I read Murray’s book I could not help thinking about a quote written by my friend Daniel Dreisbach, professor of law, justice and American society at American University:
There was a consensus among the Founders that religion was indispensable to a system of republican self-government.
Dreisbach goes on to say that in order to sustain self-government,
The Founders looked to religion (and morality informed by religious faith) to provide the internal moral compass that would prompt citizens to behave in a disciplined manner and thereby promote social order and political stability.
We have to ask ourselves what responsibility we as Christians bear for the apparent lack of moral virtues in our current culture.
It is easy to place the blame on the media, government, and other factors. But have we neglected our responsibility to be salt and light in our communities, contributing to the social collapse that Murray describes?
We have written on this blog about how the truncating of the four-chapter gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration) into a two-chapter gospel (Fall, Redemption) has made the gospel all about us.
As a result, we have withdrawn from our culture, putting the light of the gospel under a bushel.
Our call as Christians is not only to evangelize, but to work for the flourishing of all our neighbors – even those who will never know Christ. If we seek the peace and prosperity of our communities, if we involve ourselves in the life of our cities, the values we believe and exhibit can have a positive impact on our neighbors, especially those less fortunate.
As Ross Douthat writes in the New York Times,
…it is still the case that if you marry the mother or father of your children, take work when you can find it and take pride in what you do, attend church and participate as much as possible in the life of your community, and strive to conduct yourself with honesty and integrity, you are very likely to not only escape material poverty, but more importantly to find happiness in life.
These are biblical values, and we should be perpetuating them to the next generation.
It is imperative that Christians understand their call to community. When we understand this call and live it out, we positively impact the culture in which we live, and we glorify our Father in heaven.
Do you think Christians have neglected the call to be salt and light in our communities and our culture? Leave your comments here.