Summary: The erosion of values always runs downhill.
I think I need to begin by explaining the title of today’s sermon. Back in 1992 William Jefferson Clinton’s campaign slogan was, “It’s the economy, stupid.” His campaign manager, James Carville, formulated the saying to keep the Clinton campaign focused on an issue that was sure to beat George H.W. Bush. It worked. The economy apparently did matter more than the former president’s numerous accomplishments.
During Clinton’s second term, the president was embroiled in an ugly scandal. He had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, lied about it under oath so as not to have to turn over evidence in another case, then went on national TV, looked us right in the eye and said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Later he admitted to the affair with the lame excuse that he didn’t consider their actions as constituting sexual relations. There’s reason he was nicknamed Slick Willy.
When the Clinton scandal broke, the country was divided into two camps: those who thought he’d broken the law, violated our trust, and should be impeached and removed from office; and those who said, that what the president does in his private life is no concern to us as long as the country is running well and the economy is good. In other words, the character of the leader doesn’t matter. It’s the economy, stupid! Remember?
This morning I want to tell you, it’s not the economy, stupid. The character of people in high places matters. Whether it’s a politician, movie star, sports hero, singer, author, civic leader, university professor or even a public school teacher – the example of those who are looked up to matters. Why? The erosion of values always runs downhill. The bad character of people at the top of any society inevitably dulls the conscience of those below them. Just as water follows gravity downward, the morality of any culture flows from top to bottom.
Let’s think about the effect of President Clinton. Yes, the economy was robust during his tenure. Never mind the fact that the president has little effect on the economy and that Congress was majority Republican at the time. What happens in the minds of young people watching? Hey, if the president doesn’t consider it to be sexual relations neither will I. Some have cited statistics that certain types of sexual behavior actually increased during the Clinton era. I know a church member who thought it was quite appropriate that her daughter have her hair styled just like Monica Lewinski. What kind of message does that send?
Even worse, look at the bigger message that was communicated: It doesn’t matter how you live your life as long as the results are positive. That line of thinking is right out of one of the most hellish books ever written called The Prince by a Renaissance Italian named Niccolo Machiavelli. He’s the guy who came up with the idea that the ends justify the means. His idea was a bit more provocative. He said that rulers should feel free to throw morality aside and do whatever it takes for the good of the state.
That sounds reasonable until you consider the residual effects or in military terms collateral damage. The people under you are watching your behavior. They are being influenced to follow your pattern. The erosion of values always runs downhill. Leaders with bad character dull the consciences of those they lead. What’s demonstrated at the top becomes the norm all the way to the bottom.
This is what happened in the years leading up to the Genesis flood. Society was so completely corrupt that God decided to wipe humanity from the face of the earth. Genesis says God was actually sorry that He’d created people. His heart was broken at the depravity and violence taking place in the land. Most versions inadequately express God’s response as grief. He probably was sad that humanity had drifted so far from Him, but God could also be described as enraged and indignant at the sin happening before His eyes.
How did this happen? What perverted society to the point that God had no alternative but to wipe the slate clean and start over again? It was an issue of leadership. The people who were supposed to be administering justice were instead abusing their power and oppressing the people over whom they ruled.
The “sons of God” were most likely kings who claimed to be descended from the gods. In other words, they purported to be semi-divine beings or demigods. The earliest written records indicate this tendency among ancient kings. The Mesopotamian city-state rulers as well as the early Pharaohs all considered themselves to be gods. They were the elite with unquestioned authority.
Genesis tells us that these god kings abused their authority and power. Rather than look after the interests of their people, they spent time building harems of the most beautiful women in the land. They may have even exercised the ancient practice of the right of first night where the king is allowed to sleep with the bride before the groom. To enforce their will, the god kings appear to have employed the might of warriors called Nephilim. Get the picture in mind: oppressive god kings who lived hundreds of years took advantage of their subjects through the use of mercenary muscle.