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“You can’t legislate morality” – REALLY?

A few weeks ago in response to the Newtown shootings, Wayne LaPierre, the vice-president of the National Rifle Association (NRA) went before the nation on Meet the Press and said this about gun control, “You can’t legislate morality.”  Really? Regardless of how you feel about gun control, Mr. LaPierre is wrong.

A few months ago, I was with a group of very bright college seniors and one of them made a similar statement about same-sex marriage, “You can’t legislate morality.”

“Of course, you can!” I said. “We legislate morality all the time and I think you’re happy we do and here’s why.”

Legislating Morality

Every single law in the U.S., in every state and every city, from laws against murder to leash laws for dogs is an attempt to legislate behavior. Every law is the result of a moral judgment by  the voters, a government body, a court or someone and dictates what you may not do, or must do and sets penalties for disobeying them. Therefore, every law is a moral law.

We’re actually glad there are laws against breaking into our homes, rape and defrauding us of our investments. We’re safer because there are traffic laws, property rights and the rights enshrined in the Constitution. The belief that you can’t legislate morality is an urban legend and a myth. It would be more accurate to say, “You can’t legislate morality perfectly or enforce it uniformly, or stop people from violating a law. And, it’s also fair to say that humans can’t legislate anyone’s attitudes or inner morality.

But, what about God? Can he “legislate” morality?

God’s attempt to legislate morality

As a result of the fall, sin came in the world and God, out of his love for us, gave us his moral law – his expectations for both our attitude and behavior toward him and others. Every moral law in scripture is an attempt by God to legislate the morality of humans, in general, and Jews and Christians, in particular. God’s moral laws are one of his gifts to humans to help us avoid much of the pain of sinful choices.

However, even God has this problem; God has decided that he won’t make people obey him perfectly, any more than man-made laws can always make people do the right thing. We have freewill. But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences in this life or the next for our failure to obey God. Someday he will judge us for how we lived on earth, including our inner-most thoughts and attitudes. That’s what makes him perfectly just, unlike human civil laws and courts. Even believers, who have been forgiven of all our sins through faith in Jesus, will answer to him.

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” II Corinthians 5:10

Why is it even Christians have come to believe the urban legend that we can’t legislate morality?

Sin is the short answer. In all of us there is this secret, independent streak that wants an occasional exemption from both man’s laws and God’s. Business people think there’s too much regulation – environmentalists, not enough. We know what the law says about speeding, but we’re late for church. Christians believe divorce is wrong, until they find themselves in a really tough marriage. The Bible clearly prohibits sex outside of marriage and same sex sex but many younger Christians are beginning to question if those prohibitions apply to loving, committed relationships. For 2,000 years Christians have always believed there is only one way to salvation and that is through faith in Jesus Christ. Now even that core belief of the Christian faith is being questioned. And, so we have the rise of the super-virtues!

Tolerance, fairness and love – the new super-virtues

I’m sure you’ve noticed, as I have, the rise of the new super-virtues – tolerance, fairness and love. While love has always been the pre-imminent virtue for Christians, younger people, even some older Christians have a different understanding of just what it means to love one another. In their understanding, to love someone is to not judge them. It also means not putting any barriers in front of them that might cause them to be unhappy, feel unloved, guilty, or inferior in any way.

They actually end up testing God himself and his moral laws against this standard. “If God is really a God of love, he would accept us the way we are or forgive us unconditionally when we sin or fail.” This is the central idea behind Rob Bell’s Love Wins. I’m confident Rob loves God deeply. I know him personally. However, because he believes God is a God of love, he can’t imagine God would never send people to hell forever; therefore, we Christians must not be reading the Bible correctly. So, he presents a theory of salvation after death that fits his definition of a loving God. He represents a generation of Christians who are loath to ascribe to God any teaching that makes him appear to be unfair, intolerant or unloving.

I think we should worry less about second guessing God and the core doctrines of our faith,  and be far more serious about simply obeying him.

Here’s the truth; in subtle ways, all of us have shaped God’s truth to fit our understanding of fairness and love. However, the real danger is that younger Christians have made these super-virtues into a new theology and trust me, your children are hearing these ideas. Whether they’ve expressed them to you or not, they need to hear from you, loud and clear not simply what God says, but why what he says is wise- what the Bible calls, “the wisdom of righteousness.” So next week, January 14, I’m going to explore some ideas for teaching your children (even adult children) greater appreciation for the wisdom of God’s laws.

Question: How have you seen these super-virtues show up in your children or grandchildren?

Following Jesus in Real Life

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