Four of my favorite words are uttered every night at 6:30PM Eastern in the U.S., “On the broadcast tonight….” Most of the time, these familiar words are uttered by Brian Williams, the news anchor for NBC Nightly News. Brian is a welcome guest in my home, distilling the big issues, breaking down the all too often “big world” of information to a thirty minute expose’ on the “must know” news. The coverage is diverse, relevant, balanced, and well-told. Recently, however, I raced to shield my children’s eyes from Brian’s expose’ on the new trend in Las Vegas as the coverage of a pool party at a well-known casino seemed more like an infomercial for a “Girls Gone Wild” video! The trend of Vegas pool parties has spawned hundreds of millions of dollars in spending to renovate and expand pools that can accommodate up to 5,000 people at a time, cabanas with day beds, and “swim up bars and black jack tables.” Vegas has hit it big once again, this time recapturing the wonder of the 22-35 aged demographic, a demographic that has eluded Vegas for some time now. Brian Williams’ coverage of 5,000 guests in the middle of a Sunday afternoon looked less like a pool party and more like what I imagine sex temple rituals in ancient Mesopotamia looked like. The preponderance of public displays of indecency in this news story evoked a unique feeling of shock. Taken individually, any one of the scenes of indecency shown would have been, unfortunately, quite commonplace by today’s standards. There was something particularly disturbing, however, about seeing this mass of oiled, pulsating, dripping wet flesh in beautiful high definition as Brian spoke of the recapturing of this elusive demographic. It was more than sexual brokenness, it was the equally elusive concept we’ve forgotten, ‘debauchery.’
To Google the word alone is a dangerous endeavor but researching the topic seriously is quite difficult as Western culture has lost the category altogether. Debauchery, however, is making a comeback in a big way. Increasingly, strip clubs, dance clubs with excessive public expressions of group sexuality, porn stars, and sex toy manufacturers are making their way into our mainstream understanding of entertainment and social connection. Both the porn industry and sex toy manufacturers have found ways into the dorms and public spaces of our college campuses under the auspices of sexual education. What is most distressing about this trend is that it seems to be accelerated by the burgeoning entertainment industry in its pursuit to identify new revenue streams in an age of digital piracy and the ever-expanding application of free speech laws. All this coupled with a Western Church in atrophy and a Judeo-Christian ethic on the decline, I believe we are in the beginning stages of societal decay. The late philosopher and historian, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, detailed this decline in the great world empires of Persia, Greece, Rome and others, always beginning with an expansion and acceptance of the practice of debauchery in the mainstream.
A simple (perhaps too simple) definition of debauchery is, “excessive indulgence of the appetites; especially, excessive indulgence of lust; intemperance; sensuality; habitual lewdness.” Debauchery is more than sexual sin, more than public indecency; it is a phenomenon, one that occurs in a people group when the rot of spiritual decay under the surface of familial and cultural institutions bleeds out into the public sphere. This is happening all around us. The ‘lubrication’ for an acceptance of debauchery at a societal level begins when those structures of culture erode-the family, academia, law, commerce, entertainment….Hypocrisy and collusion in the area of sexual brokenness in the Church is also a powerful component in legitimizing debauchery. Systemic pedophilia in the catholic church amongst ‘spiritual fathers’ has brought public outrage and distrust but also an open door in the home for ‘biological fathers’ to reconsider the boundaries of their own sexuality in the vacuum of moral authority. In the Black Church in the U.S., a once-strong tradition of theological conservatism around sexuality has been eroded by the allegations swirling around mega-church pastor, Bishop Eddie Long, accused of molesting young boys in the church. AME Bishop John Bryant recently reached a settlement for his involvement in allowing (the late) Rev. Sylvester Laudermill Jr. to molest multiple minors in both St. Louis and Los Angeles AME churches. For young men in the Black community, these expressions of perversion reinforce the centrality of sexual gratification in identity, again fueling ever-increasing expressions of brokenness.
There is no lack of illustrations of debauchery in the Scriptures. As soon as mankind began to “…increase in number on the earth…” (Gen. 6:1), we read, “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Gen. 6:5). How this wickedness and evil inclination expresses itself from this point on in the story of humanity is clear. Cyclically, debauchery resurfaces in every people group over time as societies rise and decline. The suffering generating by debauchery, particularly in the poor and amongst children, is also well documented in Scripture, evoking the anger and wrath of God, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you poured out your wealth and exposed your nakedness in your promiscuity with your lovers, and because of all your detestable idols, and because you gave them your children’s blood, therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you hated. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your nakedness. I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit adultery and who shed blood; I will bring upon you the blood vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger.” (Ez. 16:36-38).” Though this passage speaks figuratively of the Nation Israel and her corporate actions, God uses the common imagery of debauched practices to illustrate his point.
Debauchery in the Scriptures is a unique concept, not merely the preponderance of sinful practices, but rather a corporate expression of a constellation of sinful behavior revolving around sensuality. I Peter 4:3 calls the Christian to abandon debauchery and what I believe to be the subcomponents of debauchery, “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry.” Debauchery is the corporate expression of these practices.
Finally, debauchery presents a unique threat to Christian evangelization. Because mainstream debauchery “hollows out” the soul of a people group, it anesthetizes them to concerns outside of their own sensuality. Deadening the conscience of a people group paves the way for atrocity and exploitation. As the Christian message always incorporates a call to care for the poor, to provide for the hungry and sick, and to stand against injustices, the Christian message in a milieu of debauchery becomes the enemy of ‘a good time’ to some and our ‘personal freedom and identity’ to others. When this clash of worldview begins to happen, the Christian message begins to be seen as the enemy. The resources of intellectual and economic sophistication of those profiting politically, economically, and socially from debauched practices begins to be used against the Christian Church. This is much more than another expression of culture war but a life and death battle for the remnants of society. We see this clash when the gospel is brought to the Ephesians and the subsequent riot over the profits associated with temple worship of the God Artemis (Acts 19:23-41). The desensitization debauchery brings produces new economic and social structures that are inherently incompatible with Christ and His Kingdom. Where debauchery has become entrenched, there is strong resistance to the Christian message and often the only solution is the eradication of that people group by God.
We as American Christians ought to pray against this emerging spirit of debauchery and for God to bring revival and awakening to our culture before it is too late. Focusing on the family structures, on holiness in the church, on a redemptive presence in government, academia, entertainment, and commerce are all also things Christians should be dedicating themselves to. Running from the increasingly corrupt world around us will only allow the fire to spread more rapidly, increasing human ruin and allowing the widespread suffering that always comes with a people group given over to debauched living. We need God to bring a spirit of repentance and brokenness over what we see around us and in us before it is too late. As a precursor to the active wrath of God, God eventually “gives us over to” the desires of our heart societally. Once this happens, it is too late to turn back to God, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” May God bring us back from the brink.