WalletHub.com just published its 2016 list of “Most Sinful Cities in America.” Tampa ranked #12.
The list compares the 150 most populated cities in the U.S., using 27 key indicators grouped under seven major headings: “Anger/hatred” (includes rates of violent crime, sexual assault, and suicide); “Jealousy” (includes rates of theft and fraud); “Excess/vices” (includes excessive drinking, drug overdoses, and high debt); “Avarice” (includes number of casinos per capita, levels of gambling disorders, and lack of charitable giving); “Lust” (includes teen pregnancy rate and number of “adult establishments” relative to the population); “Vanity” (includes number of beauty salons, tanning salons, and plastic surgeons per capita); and “Laziness” (includes average hours worked, average time spent watching TV, percentage of people who don’t exercise, and high school dropout rates).
It will come as a surprise to no one that Las Vegas ranked #1 as America’s most sinful city. But let’s talk about our own neighborhood. While Tampa ranked twelfth overall, it was #5 in the Lust category, including having the fourth highest number of adult entertainment establishments per capita.
Other Florida cities also finished high on this list of lows. Miami placed sixth overall, coming in at #3 in both Jealousy and Lust. Orlando placed fourth overall, ranking #5 in Jealousy, #4 in Vanity, and #1 in Lust. Also getting high slots in the Jealousy category were Ft. Lauderdale (1st) and St. Petersburg (4th).
Now, if you find the proximity to so much wickedness unsettling, you could always move somewhere else. Like Scottsdale, Arizona, or Boise, Idaho, or Salt Lake City, Utah…Maybe Baton Rouge, Louisiana, or Huntsville, Alabama, or Knoxville, Tennessee…Perhaps Anchorage, Alaska, or Jackson, Mississippi, or Worcester, Massachusetts. Then again, you might find yourself disappointed; every one of those cities ranked in the top 10 in one category of sin or another.
Of course, WalletHub’s list is an imperfect construction. But here’s the point: sin is all around us. Certain varieties of it may be more highly concentrated in this community or that one, or their effects may be more highly visible. But, like the air we breathe, it is everywhere. As the apostle John put it, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). This is why Scripture often uses the expression “the world” to refer to all that is opposed to God’s purposes and His people. Whether you stand in Times Square in New York City or the courthouse square in a Midwestern farming town, you will see lost people all around you.
In the first century, the city of Corinth was an open sewer of wickedness (even many of the ancients thought so). There’s no evidence that Rome or Ephesus or Thessalonica was very much better. All the evils that define the WalletHub list could be found in abundance in those places (with heaping doses of pagan idolatry to boot). But in each of those cities, the gospel found ready hearts. And those who were converted found a way to continue serving God as they lived there.
Those facts have implications for us.
In evangelism. Are lost people in Las Vegas (first on the “sinful cities” list) any more lost than those in San Jose, California (last on the list)? Are lost souls in a conservative country town any less lost than those in a giant city? No. And that means that our efforts to share the gospel are no less needed in one than in the other. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel…” (Mark 16:15).
In discipleship. When Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth, he didn’t say that they must pack up and move away from such a wicked place. In fact, he observed that the only way to get away from all the immoral people in this world would be to leave the world (1 Corinthians 5:10)! Instead, Paul reminded those saints that they had left their sinful lives behind (cf. 6:9-11). They must flee godless conduct and pursue holiness (6:18; 10:14; 2 Corinthians 7:1). “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (16:13). If they could do that while living in Corinth, then we can serve God wherever we may be. Our calling is to “prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16).