“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8)
Defining Deviance Down
The late Democratic Senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, coined the phrase, “defining deviance down” to describe the process by which the most abhorrent behaviors gradually become more acceptable as they become more commonplace. I recently watched a show called “The American Experience” on PBS about two wealthy college students named Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. They met at the University of Chicago where both had matriculated at the age of just fourteen. The two were drawn to each other since both were from privileged homes in the same neighborhood and exceptionally intelligent. They also shared a devious bent that led them into petty crime. Their escapades became progressively more daring until one day they decided to try murder just to see if they could get away with it.
So on May 22, 1924, they purchased a chisel and some acid from the local hardware store, hopped in a rental car and drove down the street looking for a victim. The first person they saw was Richard’s cousin, Bobby Franks. Richard invited him into the car and the two savagely attacked Bobby with the chisel, stuffed rags in his mouth, doused his face with acid to erase his features, and stuffed him in a drainage pipe near Lake Michigan.
The police soon found the body. Nearby was a pair of glasses they thought belonged to the victim. But a relative said Bobby did not wear glasses. Assuming they belonged to the killer, the police contacted the vendor. Fortunately for them, he had only sold three pairs of this particular type. The other two purchasers were quickly eliminated, leaving Nathan Leopold as the only suspect.
When confronted with the evidence, Leopold readily confessed and gave up his accomplice. The two enthusiastically proceeded to lead police step by step through the events of that day, showing them where they had purchased the chisel and acid, committed the murder, stripped the boy and burned the clothing, stashed his body and then stopped for hot dogs.
Chicago was aghast at the boys’ callous disregard for life and their cavalier attitude toward their crime. These were boys who had no reason to feel disenfranchised or abused. They had the benefit of every advantage society had to offer. They were smart with bright prospects for successful careers. There was seemingly no reason for them to commit such a heinous act.
The boys were so unabashed and forthcoming about their crime that it would be impossible to avoid a guilty verdict in court. Their fathers, who were together worth 14 million dollars, hired the best defense money could buy, the famous Scopes Monkey Trial lawyer Clarence Darrow.
Darrow entered a plea of guilty and then attempted a first-of-its-kind defense — a plea for leniency based on the presumption that the boys were psychologically unbalanced. He employed a host of ‘alienists,’ as psychiatrists were known in those days. They tried to prove that the boys had no ability to process guilt the way a normal conscience would. Indeed, the boys showed absolutely no remorse.
As the day for sentencing drew near, the nation waited with bated breath. In the end, the judge was not moved by either Darrow’s arguments or the prosecutor’s insistence that the boys should be sentenced to death by hanging. He decided that, based on their ages, they should be given clemency and sentenced to life in prison. Loeb was killed in prison some years later by another inmate. Leopold was released on probation in 1958.
The story rocked Chicago and the rest of the world because in those days of comparative innocence, society could not accept the fact that some people act out of purely evil instincts. The reaction of the world would be the same years later at the Nuremberg trials when Nazi leaders who, for all appearances, looked no different from any other human beings, were sentenced to death for killing millions of innocent Jews in German gas chambers.
Today few people believe in pure, unadulterated evil. The fickle dictates of a godless society constantly redefine morality by their ever declining moral standards. Increase in lawlessness has caused the love of many to grow cold, as the Bible says (Mt 24:12)
The rise of modern psychology attributes evil to psychoses, trauma, and biology rather than the operation of a sinful self and the influence of the powers of darkness. So even the most heinous crimes are no longer worthy of the death penalty.
Today those who uphold righteousness are attacked and even prosecuted for discriminating against those who practice sexual perversity. The perverse are granted special rights and privileges that trump the rights of law-abiding citizens to freedom of religion and speech.
The media undermines the family by placing gays in prominent roles on TV. More heroes are gay. More villains are straight. Homosexuals are portrayed as more loving and nurturing than heterosexuals. Television and movies frequently portray women as stronger than men by placing them in leadership roles on police, FBI, and military units. Women come to the rescue of their helpless male subordinates. They are the ones who repair the car and make the tough decisions. Prime time TV now features shows like “Supergirl” instead of “Superman.“
Authorities refuse to enforce legislation designed to protect our borders, defend our families, and uphold traditional morals. No-fault divorce enables adulterers and adulteresses to obtain favorable treatment in the courts. Children are removed from the homes of parents who try to enforce godly standards. Foreigners who enter the country illegally are granted all the legal protections of law-abiding citizens. Many are even exempted from our laws and given special rights and privileges. Innocent people are charged with crimes because they offended a member of some protected class. Others are absolved of criminal behavior based on legal technicalities. Those who hold positions of power and influence use it to advance their own political prospects.
My wife and I just watched a 60 minutes feature on forced confessions. It seems the prisons in America are full of innocent people who confessed to crimes under extreme duress. Police interrogate them for hours on end, telling them they have incriminating evidence that doesn’t exist and then feed them the details of the crime little by little until the suspect is able to construct a confession that matches the crime. In case you think our legal system is a shining example of justice, you should know that these kinds of interrogation techniques have been banned throughout most of the rest of the world.
So what are pastors and churches doing to combat these trends? Unfortunately, they too are in denial about the realities of evil in the modern world. Pastors have replaced preaching about sin, judgment, hell and repentance with a feel-good gospel that stresses the blessings of belief. Come to Christ and he will fill your deepest longings. You need not feel any remorse for your sin, or turn from a life of self-seeking to one of Christ-serving. You don’t have to abandon anything, just embrace Christ.
Few churches enforce standards of righteousness with church discipline. Many are so big that they have no idea what is even going on in the private lives of their members. Few pastors or leaders have ever even been in the homes of most of their congregation. They don’t know their names or who the members of their families are. So if someone is practicing a life of disobedience, it is unlikely anyone would even know about it, much less confront them.
Few preachers will defend those institutions that are under attack by society, either. Many feel free to admonish husbands to love their wives because that message is perfectly acceptable, but they are reluctant to support the role of the father and husband by upholding his authority. It is rare, for example, for a preacher to urge wives to support their husbands as they set limits for their children or to urge children to show respect for their fathers by being obedient to them.
Most pastors have completely abandoned the fight against civic authorities who attack religious freedoms. They have bought the lie of separation of church and state that forbids the church from speaking out on political issues while allowing the government to insert itself freely into the practices of the church. Neither will they address moral issues that have become politicized like abortion and gay marriage. And they won’t stand up for the right to share the gospel in public places, particularly on religious holidays.
In fact, preachers have simply given up fighting at all. Rather than stand up against the evils of society, they prefer to cultivate the image of polite, reasonable people who would never cause ripples or rock the boat. That just doesn’t fit the image of a pastor these days. But it did at one time. Back in the days of the American Revolution, pastors used to mobilize their congregations into fighting units. They would even take command of those units. During the Reformation, pastors were very active in politics, promoting people for office and often sitting on governing bodies. So the idea that pastors should be meek and mild is not a biblical concept. It is purely a reaction to the intimidation tactics society has employed against the church with its constant barrage of separation of church and state and vilification of Christians who boldly profess their faith in public.
The office of pastor is heavily invested with the respect and influence that come with ecclesiastical authority. There are very few pastors who are willing to surrender that for the kind of reproach and humiliation that the Apostle Paul described in 2 Corinthians 11:24-27:
“Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with a rod. Once I received a stoning. Three times I suffered shipwreck. A night and a day I spent adrift in the open sea. I have been on journeys many times, in dangers from rivers, in dangers from robbers, in dangers from my own countrymen, in dangers from Gentiles, in dangers in the city, in dangers in the wilderness, in dangers at sea, in dangers from false brothers, in hard work and toil, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, many times without food, in cold and without enough clothing.“
Today we are sorely in need of pastors and leaders who are willing to stand up and face the kind of pressure Paul endured for identifying openly and unashamedly with Jesus Christ.