The Story: According to a new Gallup survey, more Americans consider consider behaviors “morally acceptable” that the Bible condemns.
The Background: Beginning in the early early 2000s, Gallup started tracking the views of Americans on the moral acceptability of various issues and behaviors. The overall trend clearly points toward a higher acceptance of behaviors that the Bible clearly condemns. In fact, as Gallup notes, the moral acceptability ratings on abortion, sex between unmarried men and women, having a baby outside of marriage, and gay/lesbian relations are at record highs.
The first number in each category lists the percentage of Americans who consider the behavior “morally acceptable,” while the second number is the percentage that consider it “morally wrong.” An asterisk indicates an issue at a record high level of acceptance since Gallup began surveying the issue.
- Sex between an unmarried man and woman*—73 percent/26 percent
- Gay or lesbian relations*—69 percent/30 percent
- Gambling—68 percent/30 percent
- Having a baby outside of marriage*—67 percent/32 percent
- Medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos—64 percent/34 percent
- Doctor-assisted suicide—54 percent/43 percent
- Abortion*—47 percent/46 percent
- Changing one’s gender identity—46 percent/51 percent
- Pornography—40 percent/58 percent
- Sex between teenagers—43 percent/52 percent
- Suicide—19 percent/77 percent
- Polygamy—20 percent/78 percent
- Married men and women having an affair—10 percent/89 percent
What It Means: On every single issue—from abortion to suicide—the shift has been in a more permissive direction. None of the issues polled shows a meaningful change toward a more biblical position compared with when Gallup first measured them in the early 2000s.
A bare majority (51 percent) say that changing one’s gender identity is morally wrong. But that statistic is skewed by the older generations. Of those 65 and older, 64 percent say it is morally wrong, as do 52 percent of those 50–64. In contrast, a majority of Americans ages 30–49 (51 percent) and 18–29 (55 percent) say it is morally acceptable.
If we lived in a completely irreligious nation these results wouldn’t be surprising. But 65 percent of American adults still describe themselves as Christians, meaning there is significant overlap between those who claim to be followers of Christ and those who condone immoral behavior.
What then does it mean for Christians to claim that immorality is morally acceptable? Does it mean they are not saved? Does it mean they are not Christian?
Much confusion about this issue arises from a misunderstanding of the gospel’s dividing line. If we say that holding a particular position about what is morally acceptable is a precondition for justification, then we would be in error. But if we imply that we can still hold the same view after we have repented and turned to Christ, we would also be wrong.
Believing the gospel makes demands on our life. If we truly recognize that we are sinners, we will see the obvious need to change. As David Powlison has said, the way God accepts us is “just as I am, despite who I am, intending to change who I am.”
When we become a follower of Christ, our view of morality must change. For the Christian, the standard of what is “morally acceptable” is based on the standard God provides for us in the Bible. Therefore, if we want to correct our understanding of what is moral behavior, we must turn to Scripture for guidance (2 Tim. 3:16).
Since 7 of the 13 issues included in the survey fall under the category of “sexual immorality,” we’ll use that as our example of a moral issue on which we must change our view. The Bible makes it clear that sexual immorality is not morally acceptable, and Paul even includes it in a list of behaviors that prevent us from inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–11).
We can become a disciple of Christ without any knowledge of what God says about sexual morality. But when we are made aware of the biblical command to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18), and how that includes engaging in any form of sex outside marriage (Matt. 19:4–5), we have an obligation as followers of Christ to obey God’s Word.
As Jesus says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). The implication is that if we do not obey, then we do not truly believe. Indeed, Jesus makes it clear that if you do not obey his commands, you do not even love him (John 14:15).
Based on Jesus’s words, we cannot love him and say it is “morally acceptable” to commit sexual immorality. We cannot love Jesus and say committing adultery, consuming pornography, engaging in homosexual relations, or engaging in sex as an unmarried person (whether adult or teen) is “morally acceptable.”
Jesus doesn’t give us the option of loving him while disagreeing with him about sexual morality. That means we all have a choice to make: we can either choose to obey him or admit we don’t truly love him.