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One of my students recently told me she had come to realize that legislating morality is not the solution and that Christians should avoid political positions on matters such as abortion and gay marriage. “We have to operate within the framework we’re in,” she said. “The answer is love, not legislation.”

I guess the simplest way for me to respond to this is to ask a few questions:

  • Was it unloving when William Wilberforce worked for decades on the floor of the British Parliament for the abolition of the slave trade? Was his political involvement misguided, inappropriate, and un-Christian?
  • Should Martin Luther King, Jr. have just accepted the given framework of his day and not sought any legislative solutions to injustices of his time? Was it unloving for him to ask our nation to awake from its moral slumber and acknowledge his dream of equality?
  • How about Abraham Lincoln? Was the Emancipation Proclamation unloving? Was he getting too political and trying to legislate morality when he declared that all men should enjoy the legally protected rights and freedoms that come with equality?
  • What about Susan B. Anthony? Was she too involved in politics? Was she unloving? Was she stepping outside of her framework by leading the fight for women’s suffrage?

I could go on and on but I think I’ve made my point. The history of social justice is replete with stories of leaders rising up against unjust laws and, with moral indignation, working to change such laws through legislative action. The argument that you can’t legislate morality is frankly a bit empty, for all legislation assumes some common moral standard. Otherwise, the entire process would be as meaningless as the false dichotomy of claiming that love and legislation are somehow mutually exclusive.