Today marks a couple of big 50th anniversary deaths, one that impacts American culture at large and one that impacts the Christian subculture. And nerds. For Christians (and nerds) we remember the death of C.S. Lewis. In America, that is overshadowed by the anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy and never more this year because it is the 50th anniversary.
50 years ago today, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. JFK was the first president to be President On Television, so the fact that this young, vibrant, attractive, and popular president was gunned down as he rode through the streets of Dallas with his wife and other officials had a big impact on the country. Similar to the death of FDR, his death came at a tenuous time in our history and, as FDR had been one of the earliest presidents to be seen on film, JFK was beamed into America’s living rooms on a daily basis.
I wasn’t alive then. I was -8.5 years old. My parents’, however, had just gotten married 13 days before and since they waited to take a honeymoon, they were at work in their home town of Enid, Oklahoma. The interesting thing about their jobs in those times was that my mom worked as an operator at the phone comany and my dad worked at the town newspaper. You can imagine how their work days were suddenly, massively impacted by the events that day. My mom said her board lit up instantly. You know that thing in older movies where they run in to the newspaper office and yell, “Stop the presses!” That totally happened.
The death of JFK kicked off a decade of turmoil in American culture and just a few years later, RFK and Martin Luther King, Jr., were also assassinated, further plunging American into a time of cultural unrest and moral uncertainty. If you weren’t alive then, you should watch Mad Men. From what I understand, it’s a pretty good picture of life in that decade. And even if it isn’t, you should watch Mad Men because it’s freaking brilliant. But I digres.
Many of the folks who were alive at that time mark it as a time when we began to see a decline in what they refer to as “traditional values” or “morality” or any combination of those words. There is a dramatic uptick in crime, drug use, violence, protests and definite change in the sexual moirees of the time. When the folks who bemoan those changes talk about the decline of “traditional morals” they are usually talking about the change in the behaviors of individuals. They are talking about people having sex outside of marriage, the LGBTQ community being more open about their identities, crime, violence, drug use, and even sometimes they are upset about greater racial equality. You have to take the good with the bad. The lessening of repression is good. The increase of behavior that devalues the life and properties of other people is bad.
I have a different definition of traditional values. I do agree that crime, violence and drugs are bad. I do think there is a proper context for sexual relationships, but it’s probably not as narrow a definiton as some. But all of my feelings about these things go deeper than just “because it’s not nice.” I’m going to explore in a few posts here what I think the values are that some folks are talking about here, the values I think are more important and what I think the church should be doing to bring us back to the “good old days.”