In spite of our conflicting views on what’s best for the country, increasingly divisive politics, and any number of issues on which Americans just can’t seem to get on the same page, we’ve finally discovered a topic on which we can all agree: our morals stink. More than eighty percent of those who responded to Gallop’s latest poll on the subject claimed that the state of moral values in our country is either “only fair” or “poor.” Moreover, some seventy-seven percent believe that our moral state is getting worse.
While that may seem troubling, and it most likely should, it’s worth noting that the negative assessment is nothing new. Since Gallop started the polls in 2003, no more than twenty-six percent of Americans have ever said that morals were good or excellent. What’s more, the numbers are not that different between self-described liberals and conservatives. In fact, the moderates were actually the most pessimistic in the latest poll.
One reason for that similarity is, perhaps, that people on both sides of the aisle can be equally discontent on the same topic. After all, whether one feels that social changes have gone too far or not far enough, both can agree that the present situation needs improvement.
A more important reason, however, is that many of the issues about which we are most discouraged have little or nothing to do with abortion, marriage, gender, or the other topics that garner most of the headlines. Rather, “Polls in 2010 and 2012 that asked respondents to cite the most important problem with moral values found that the reason most often cited was lack of respect or tolerance for others.” In short, we can fight about the bigger topics, but it’s our inability to have quality, everyday interactions with others that resides at the heart of our moral problem as a nation.
That’s something we desperately need to remember. One of the chief dangers to a strong witness is overrating the big sins and underrating the smaller ones. It’s easy to feel good about ourselves when we aren’t getting drunk, cheating on a spouse, or acting violently towards others. But spend a day taking notice of every disrespectful comment, quick slip of the tongue, or judgmental glance you give those around you and I’m guessing you’ll be surprised at how often we fall short of the standard Christ set before us (Matthew 5:48).
As Christians, Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city on a hill (Matthew 5:13–16). Being that presence is not something we embody when we do right or an ideal to which we are to strive. The Greek is clear that the salt, light, and city of which Christ spoke are fundamental parts of our new identity in him. As such, we are the embodiment of our Lord’s presence in this life, whether we act like it or not. People will judge him by how they judge us, and that assessment is often based more on how we treat people on an everyday basis than on our ability to avoid the big mistakes.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, as it also means that every day presents us with new opportunities to show the world who Christ really is. In a culture that largely agrees that a lack of respect for others and a poor basic treatment of those around us are growing problems, it makes our witness stand out that much more when we embody the qualities they want to see most. Will others see the real Christ in you today?