Legislating Morality

Posted on: June 2nd, 2013

Does anyone have the right to legislate morality on others?  Many would say “No”!  “The government needs to stay out of my life and you should mind your own business.”  “After all, I can believe and do as I please.”  I get why we may feel this way, but it is not consistent with Bible teaching.

To understand why people feel they can decide their own morality we need to look at the underlying causes.  I suggest it begins with wanting to do as one pleases rather than obeying another’s rightful authority.  It is much like Pharaoh when the Lord said “Let my people go.” (Exodus 5:1)  Pharaoh had a choice to obey or disobey God, but his decision did not change right and wrong.  The problem was, he did not want to let the people go nor did he accept God’s right to rule his life.  So he said, “I will not let Israel go.” (Exodus 5:2)  Pharaoh did what many of us do.  He confused his right to choose a response with a right to set his own morality.  You see, God had already set the benchmark for goodness and so Pharaoh’s answer changed nothing.

Sadly, Pharaoh did not know the Lord neither was he moved by the evidence of His power and existence.  Time and again God proved Himself to the ruler, but each time Pharaoh hardened his heart against God.  The Lord does not expect anyone to follow Him without proof and reason to do so.  When people reject God and set up their own moral code they do so to their own ruin. (Exodus 14:28)

Another point, if you don’t believe in God then there is no consistent and firm foundation for right and wrong. (John 14:6)  We have no reason to respect anyone’s authority because we are all equals. (Deut. 12:8)  It becomes a matter of just doing as you please, what feels good and right to you.  I see the effects of this thinking in our society all the time.  It has flowed down to the way some children view their parents and how some citizens look at government.

God gave parents and governments the right to set up laws about morality.  Notice what Paul says in Romans chapter thirteen.  “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (Rom. 13:1)  The context clearly addresses the duty citizens owe (especially Christians) to civil leaders and it gives officials the right to pass laws.  These laws become the standard of morality.  The same principle applies between parents and their children.  Parents set boundaries and children should respect their parents’ right to rule. (Eph. 6:1-4)

You might be wondering what this has to do with morality.  Well, morality deals with the principles of right and wrong behavior.  So when government or parents set laws those rules become the guidelines for morality.  That is why it is immoral to break the speed limit or ignore your parents’ curfew.  This is also the reason government and parents have authority to legislate morality.  To say otherwise denies their Divine purpose.

But wait a minute, government and some parents have proven themselves poor arbitrators of right and wrong.  Lawmakers care too often about their political ambitions or pass immoral laws.  Ungodly parents lead their children away from truth and virtue.  While all of this is true, it does not change God’s basic Will or intended purpose for those in leadership positions.  As corrupt as government may be or as imperfect as parents are, they still have a Divine appointment to rule.

Of course, if man’s laws contradict God’s Will then we must put God first.  The Jewish council commanded Peter and John “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:16-20)  So when a governing body rules contrary to Divine law, their policy becomes immoral.  Remember, morality first comes from God.

Should government even take an interest in what we call “moral” issues?  Many would say “no”!  Keep the President, Congress, and the courts out of our personal lives.  If I want to use drugs, have an abortion, or be gay then that is my business.  Besides, no one can control another’s morality.  And so all we do is spend many tax dollars trying to enforce something we cannot enforce.

Let me remind you, God expects governments and parents to uphold the principles of virtue, and there is penalty when they do not.  He destroyed nations of old when they became too corrupt and immoral. (Deut. 8:20)  God held leaders accountable for their part in leading people away from Him. (Ezekiel 22)  To say that government has no duty to uphold morality or that it should just legalize sin is wrong and dangerous.

Some will concede government’s place in legislating morality if the act outlawed harms another.  For example, I don’t know of many people who would suggest we should legalize murder or rape.  However, some argue that narcotics, abortion, or illicit sex harms no one outside the participants and so the government should stay out of these.  The problem with this is we limit harm by social definitions, and even then we are not always consistent in that.  Don’t scold your children because you might harm their psyche, but it is alright to curse in public or dress indecently.  What about the spiritual damage our sinful example can do to others, is that not important? (Isaiah 3:11-12)

Nations have and do regulate morality and to deny such is dishonest.  Even in our country there was a time when Sodomy and abortion were illegal.  Should parents and government regulate morality today?  Yes!  As long as it  based on Bible principles, legislating good and evil behavior is the right action to take.

Terry Starling