Legislating morality?


Specific issues, here we come.

As inadequate as it is, I think I’ve done the best I could to provide a preliminary foundation in order to optimally discuss several important current affairs.

In a circuitous route we’ve discussed the culture that forms us; what it means to have knowledge or know something; how we are driven to certain beliefs by wanting to belong to particular groups; what love actually is; and ideal methods of locating our identity.

The themes of these posts have all been intentional to get to this point, where we can adequately address the most difficult and contentious issues that face us as individuals and as a society.

There is no such thing as pure objectivity without bias, but I’m hopeful that the work to get to this point has us in a position where we can understand where our ideas and motivations are coming from; begin to recognize if they are coming from places of brokenness; and respectfully consider everyone’s opinions.

In all cases, the opinions I express are by no means intended to be oppressive, nor are they necessarily static – I’ve been convicted otherwise on several of them throughout my life. Please thoughtfully disagree with me if you do and we can talk about it – I’m not out to force anyone’s hand on any of this but instead to present what is in my view an ideal. Naturally, I may be wrong on any or all topics.

I think we have to start by asking whether anyone has the right to politically legislate moral opinions: am I my brother’s keeper?


Like it or not, law and legislation by definition ARE morality. A law is a moral position – i.e., murder, theft, and fraud are illegal because those who passed the laws found these acts to be immoral. Any law that is passed that either limits or delimits freedom is expressing some group’s moral views. The question we have to ask ourselves is: whose morality should we legislate?

Speaking from my own perspective, the Christian is in an incredibly awkward position here. We think our beliefs represent reality and thus are ideal for humanity to thrive. Yet the methods of the Kingdom of God are not supposed to be coercive – ours is a Kingdom that is intended to operate underneath the powers of worldly authority, not to impose authority in the same manner as the world.

Part of the intention of the Gospel – that God loves us unconditionally – is that we have to choose to love Him in return; it isn’t something that can be forced. And of course so many Christians don’t live this out in their lives, as those on both the Christian Right and the Christian Left (yes, there is such a thing) attempt in their own ways to operate like every other worldly power and control policy.

The quandry for a Christian is thus our call to spread the Gospel (which includes our morality) in a way that isn’t mandated, which would include being an influence on policy and legislation without explicitly forcing anything down anyone’s throats. That’s done by…uh…uh…

Suffice to say it’s not done easily. I’m really not sure if there is a black-and-white list of “do’s and dont’s.” The best thing for a Christian to do is live his or her life as an example for others regardless of what society’s laws are or aren’t. But I can’t say that necessarily entails a Christian ALWAYS remaining silent concerning political issues. I can think of several instances where I think Christians are called to enter the social discussion. I can also think of several instances where Christians should probably shut up.

That being said, let’s discuss!

5 thoughts on “Legislating morality?

  1. I agree…tricky waters.

    When one looks at how hard Jesus tried to change the Roman government he lived under (He didn’t) it makes one wonder why we feel compelled to act differently than Him….yet, it seems quite wrong to not speak up for the defenseless or to stand mute when things proposed are blatantly sinful. Certainly abuses of justice and perversion of morals could be found in the ancient Roman government-why didn’t any of the apostles ever weigh in on what was happening politically? On what defense do we believe the rules for our engagement with the world is different than our Lords? Than the apostles? Are our missions different? If we feel justified on these grounds to sit the political battles out, how do we get rid of the pervading sense of duty…and guilt….for not at least trying to influence the government?

    Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s….perhaps Jesus would also say let Caesar rule Caesar’s kingdom, but let God rule His.

    I look forward to reading more from you.

    1. Thanks, Kris! Absolutely. I like N.T. Wright’s understanding of Jesus’ political involvement – He didn’t try to directly change policy, but He consistently and in a variety of ways communicated to Caesar and the “powers that be” that God is King and they aren’t. The more I think about it, perhaps if we as Christians focus on reminding those in power of this fact, several policy issues will fall in line as a consequence (seems to me many of our bad policies have a root cause in our propensity to play God).

      We’re on the same wavelength regarding your rhetorical (or not) questions – exactly so: what are the answers? Thanks for reading!

      1. Hm, but how would we remind those in authority of that fact? Given that I don’t regularly brush shoulders with political authorities, it looks to me like I’d be making a political action simply by reminding those authorities that Jesus is king and they ain’t. For if I don’t act politically during my day, then I simply don’t interact with political authorities.

      2. Thanks for the comment, Jarrod! Great question. I’m not sure if this response will be satisfying at all. I’m in the same boat in that I basically am never in contact with actual political authorities. I don’t think we actually need to seek out specific persons to literally remind them they aren’t king. I think the way we live our lives every day is a political message in itself, and while it may not have a direct-line to elected officials, it can directly impact the overall perception of the people we interact with regarding a whole host of issues that are correlated to politics. Philosophy and politics go hand-in-hand, as what we believe about reality, humanity, etc. greatly influence our political views (because politics is a reflection of how we think society ought to be ordered). Thus every day with every action we take we are sending a variation of a political message to everyone we come in contact with. I hope that addresses your comment. Thanks for reading!

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