Wednesday, July 9, 2014

“Legislating Morality”

Note: This was originally written about a year ago as a way for me to simply sort out my thoughts on the matter. I had no intention then of publishing it to my blog, but after polishing it up a wee bit I've decided to make my rantings/musing public.

I don’t care for this term. It is far too vague and can be interpreted too many ways for me to find it helpful. I've found four possible definitions, in fact.

First: Is legislation either moral or immoral? Yes, and we need to get our definition of ethics from a Biblical worldview. Should we legislate immorality? Of course not! Is this the definition of legislating morality? If so, then why would any Christian protest?

Second: Should we legislate something just because it is moral? Should we make laws against everything which is immoral? No – this would rapidly lead to an utterly tyrannical civil government.

This is where the issue of jurisdiction comes in. The civil government should be viewed as the safety net of all governments (family, self, church, etc) and is only to act when there is actually an injured party.

Take, for instance, the issue of drinking alcohol to the point of excess.  Is it wise to go get drunk? Is it moral? Of course not! But if I were to injure no one but myself while inebriated, there is no reason for the civil government to step in and punish me for this lack of morality. Instead, such morality should be enforced by self-government, and actively encouraged by church and family governments.

Thus, morality is not the only basis to determine what legislation ought to be passed by the civil government. Jurisdiction also MUST be a determining factor if we are to be free.

As a side note, I find it interesting that, every form of human government follows a pattern: the more people affected by it, the less amount of jurisdiction it has.
Self-government is the most powerful, as God grants salvation on a person by person basis (the names written in the book of life are not family names, nor are they town or country names.), and we are all to answer indiviudally to God on judgement day.
Family government is next, as parents have the ability to control almost every aspect of their children’s lives up until their adulthood, and it is the responsibilty of the parents to bring their children up in the fear and admonission of the LORD.
Then comes the governance of the (local) church, which instructs, guides, encourages and disciplines obvious and ongoing sins in the various families which make it up.
The various forms of civil government – town, county, state, and federal – also follow this same pattern.
God is the only governing authority with unlimited jurisdiction and power.

Third: Does legislation define morality? Is something which is technically illegal necessarily immoral? Absolutely not. The Ten Boom family was violating Nazi law when they saved Jewish lives, yet their doing so was not in any way immoral, and was the correct course of action for them to take in every way.
God is the only one to ultimately determine what is right or wrong, and if we say that any other government determines morality through their decisions, we are guilty of attempting to usurp God’s role in the universe. This is why Hitler’s regime was wrong, even though it was technically “legal”.

Fourth: Furthermore, should we seek to change society’s view of morality (be it a correct or false view) through civil legislation? Is this the job of civil government? No. The gospel is the only way to truly redeem people – civil government can never save us, and must stick to its God-given role — that of defending life and liberty from those who seek to harm them.

History shows us that state-established religion leads to chaos, corruption, and confusion in both the church and the culture. Whether we look at Constantine’s establishing Christianity as state religion and the rash of false conversions which followed, or the Church of England, which answers to the king before the Bible, there is no good which comes of this muddling of rulers.  All governments are answerable to God, but they are not to usurp each others roles and “force” them to do what is right.
When Joshua was to lead the Israelites into the land of Canaan, he was ordered by God to destroy the Canaanites and their property.

Now, Biblical scholars and Christians have for centuries stated that the only proper use of force and war is in self-defense. We do not attack countries without provocation, neither do we attack them merely because they are attacking another (who appointed us to be police of the world?). Rather, we are only to keep ourselves safe from harm.

The Israelites conquest of Canaan, however, was really not one of self-defense. They were entitled to the land, it is true, but it is likely that the Canaanites who originally settled there we unaware of God’s promise to Abraham, and indeed, they may have even been there before Abraham’s time. However, because God is above the law, he choose in this instance to order the Israelites to conquer the land through bloodshed and force.

Does this, however, set a precedent? Are we to go into foreign lands without provocation and slaughter the inhabitants? Were the crusades Godly and Biblical? Are wars not related to self-defense okay? Of course not! Just because God chose in one instance to allow his people this remedy does not mean that we are to presume that a precedent has been set for all time.

Likewise, I would argue that, in laws where God is the only “injured party”, we should not take the sword of the civil government to punish the evildoer, even when we see that God once ordered it in one case in the Old Testament.

First, we must take into account the fact that there was only a tiny amount of time in the Old Testament where a proper form of civil government was upheld – from Moses to Samuel. After that, Israel rejected God’s governance and appointed for themselves a human king. Throughout the rest of their history, they were ruled either by a king of Israel/Judah or by foreign kings who had conquered them.
These years of Israel’s history are mainly covered in Deuteronomy (and other books of the Torah), Joshua, and Judges, and 1 Samuel.

In Deuteronomy, Moses was the main judge over Israel. He had other, lesser, judges under him, and they judged small matters, but I think it safe to say that matters were a person’s life or a significant amount of property were at risk were brought before Moses himself. We also know that Moses was a prophet, and heard directly from God in a way most people did not – and even to this day, do not.

Numbers 15:35 and 27:5,6; show that Moses heard directly from God in regards to specific civil matters – Joshua 7 shows that the same was true for Joshua – Joshua 9:14 would indicate that their custom was to ask counsel of God, yet in this instance they did not and thus suffered.

Judges 2:18,19 would seem to indicate that God spoke to the other judges of Israel in like manner.
We know that Deborah was a prophetess (a fact which is highlighted for us, perhaps because, although normally a woman would not be qualified for such a role, God chooses to make exceptions at times and made her a prophetess, thus qualifying her for such a role). We also have recorded for us the fact that Gideon was spoken to by the LORD, and Samson had the Spirit of the Lord upon him. Samuel definitely was able to hear the voice of the LORD.

Unfortunately, Israel was corrupt all too often throughout these years, and the people did not follow God. I would state that this is not the fault of improper civil government, but of families who did not pass on to their children a fear and love for the LORD. Judges speaks of a generation rising up which did not know the LORD, and even Samuel’s sons were wicked. This goes to show that even when God himself is speaking directly to the civil leaders, good civil government alone cannot make people righteous – you cannot legislate morality.

Today, we do not have leaders – not even church leaders, but certainly not civil leaders -who hear from God in such a direct, case by case, personal manner. Perhaps someday God will choose to speak to people this way again, but we don’t know that He will, and if that happened I would have to reconsider my conclusions here.

That being said, I do not believe that civil government should be able to punish people for sinning against God and thereby “injuring” Him (insofar as a mortal can harm the Almighty). Self, family, and church governments should address sins, obviously, but it should be noted that they do not hold the sword – they really can’t resort to physical force, at least not to the extent that the civil government can. As such, I would advocate putting the civil government on as short a leash as possible (without thoroughly making it useless).
Take, for instance, the matter of the sabbath – most Christians today observe it on the 1st day of the week. Others feel that this is a Catholic perversion of the command to celebrate it on the 7th day, and so celebrate on the last day of the week. Should civil government then step in and determine for us what God has said? Are they to then force everyone to ignore their conscience and observe the sabbath on "X" day? Does the Bible say that man is the head of women, the state is the head of man, and God the head of the state?

Unless I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is what God wants for us today I could not in good conscience support such laws. I would rather let a guilty man go unpunished until judgement day than to have a law punish people for things which are not crimes, and find on judgement day that I have blood guilt upon my hands.

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