Thoughts on Public Policy
Paul Dean Dr. Paul J. Dean's Weblog
- 2005 Jul 19
On one of our "Calling for Truth" radio broadcasts recently, I made the comment that imposing Christian morality through the U.S. government is a complicated issue as America and ancient Israel are viewed in different ways by God. Ancient Israel was in covenant relationship with God as distinct from all the other nations. America would fall into the category of all the other nations. So too does Israel today. God is in covenant relationship with His church under the New Covenant. The church is not the same thing as national Israel nor is the church the same thing as America. Christian morality must be maintained and administered in the church. But to do such a thing through the government is to confuse the church with the state and/or Israel with America and/or Israel with the church.
The above does not mean that we don't influence our culture for Christ. Nor does it mean we don't work for a moral society through the preaching of the gospel and the propagation of the Christian worldview. Until fifty years ago, most Americans agreed about most moral issues regardless of whether or not one claimed to be a Christian or whether or not one was in fact a Christian. The reason for such wide spread agreement was not due to law or legislation of morality. The reason for such wide spread agreement was due to Christian cultural influence. People were persuaded about certain things, not legislated into certain things. The preponderance of our time should be spent on gossiping the gospel that people might be saved and that the unsaved might in some sense have a notion of what is right and what is wrong. This method is the only method sanctioned by Scripture under the New Covenant and it is the only method that works in terms of real heart change and indeed real societal change. No one can be legislated into the kingdom or into morality. These things are issues of the heart and God alone changes the heart.
In terms of legislating morality, persons often argue that we seek to outlaw abortion and therefore we are legislating and we must legislate morality. Certainly, abortion is a moral issue as it is murder and an attack on the image of God (Gen. 9:6). But, it is not only a moral issue. It is an issue of fundamental rights. Our founding fathers understood that God has granted us the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The state does not grant these things: God does. Unborn babies have a right to life. To say that they do not is to destroy fundamental, God-given rights. Government must protect its citizens from those who would do them harm. Law against murder, theft, rape, and so many other similar dynamics is a different thing than the legislation of morality.
On the mentioned program, I raised the question of banning movies. If Christians are going to legislate morality through the state, are we going to ban movies? If so, who decides which movies to ban as different Christians have differing opinions as to what movies are immoral and what movies are not? Some Christians view Star Wars as evil, others view it as the greatest movie ever made, and others view it as something that can be enjoyed as long as the New Age elements are pointed out and resisted. Will we ban Star Wars or not? The problem with legislating morality is that it becomes a subjective and arbitrary exercise.
Moreover, to ban Star Wars is to trample upon the liberty of others. New Testament Christians are not called upon to prohibit people from engaging in sin. They are called upon to preach the gospel that people might cease from and turn from sin and idolatry to the true and living God for salvation. To fight for the legislation of morality confuses the calling and purpose of the New Covenant Christian in the world. It confuses the gospel with the law. It confuses the church with the state. It promotes coercion and oppression. It promotes hatred, war, and bloodshed as people will not long be trampled upon by oppressors, even well meaning ones. The great Baptist preacher and defender of liberty, Roger Williams, said that the binding of the consciences of men naturally promotes war. Further, the bloodshed and deaths of thousands of Protestants and Catholics at the hands of one another over issues of conscience is not promoted nor is it approved of by Christ, the Prince of Peace.
Some would say that I argue from a pragmatic perspective regarding the banning of movies by saying that since no one can decide which movies to ban, let's ban none. I beg to differ as my statements flow out of the discussion of liberty, not mere pragmatism. In addition to the issue of liberty, and in particular the issue of the role of government being that of protecting its citizens from predators and preserving the rights of its citizens, an attempt is being made to demonstrate that making moral judgments on which movies to ban will ultimately be subjective and arbitrary. Even Christians would disagree on which ones to ban. We would therefore not ban any based upon a biblical liberty of conscience view and upon a biblical libertarian view of a pluralistic society in which we find ourselves. Moreover, the only principle that can be sustained consistently in a pluralistic society is liberty and not oppression. No one has the right to oppress another, not even a Christian. Indeed, especially Christians have no right to oppress others.
Our Lord Jesus said, "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." Perhaps the primary application of this verse can be made in the area of evangelism. At the same time, a principle lies beneath this command. Religion and/or morality are brought into contempt and those who profess such are attacked and abused when such is forced upon those who do not and cannot value it and refuse to have it. Let the gospel permeate a nation so that dogs may be turned into lovers of God. To force holy things upon dogs apart from the gospel is cause for social upheaval. Prohibition proves the point, as do a host of other activities though illegal, that have certainly not been curtailed.
[Part Two Tomorrow]