I’ve had several potential blog posts running through my head this week. Unfortunately, I can’t quite seem to get them to coalesce when I sit down to write. So, I’m going to give up and go do something distracting for a while. It’ll probably include drinking a lot of tea and possibly sampling from the McDonald’s late-night menu. (Sausage biscuits *and* french fries? Sign me up!)
Before I do that, though, I want to get one thing down on virtual paper – why, do we as Christians, have this bizarre belief that we can legislate morality?
It seems to me that lately, whenever some behavior we disagree with begins to become mainstream, our first reaction is to demand that someone make it illegal. First, as a country, we have examples from our own history of how this doesn’t work. Let’s consider Prohibition. People are getting drunk, and the Bible condemns drunkenness, right? So, what did we do?
Instead of focusing our energies on helping those people who were addicted to alcohol, instead of trying to lovingly rescue the “drunkard”, we demanded that alcohol be outlawed. Let’s make it illegal to drink! That’ll stop this behavior!
Guess what. It didn’t. According to the Cato Institute:
Although consumption of alcohol fell at the beginning of Prohibition, it subsequently increased. Alcohol became more dangerous to consume; crime increased and became “organized”; the court and prison systems were stretched to the breaking point; and corruption of public officials was rampant. No measurable gains were made in productivity or reduced absenteeism. Prohibition removed a significant source of tax revenue and greatly increased government spending. It led many drinkers to switch to opium, marijuana, patent medicines, cocaine, and other dangerous substances that they would have been unlikely to encounter in the absence of Prohibition. Those results are documented from a variety of sources, most of which, ironically, are the work of supporters of Prohibition–most economists and social scientists supported it. Their findings make the case against Prohibition that much stronger.
Prohibition was a huge, miserable failure in many different ways – and most notably, it didn’t do anything to stop drunkenness. Yet we’re still using that same ignorant logic.
Women want access to abortions? Should we try to reach out and love these people who are suffering from shame, guilt, and often rejection from their families – all while they’re wrestling with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives? Nah, that won’t help. Let’s go make some protest signs! Maybe we can find an abortion clinic and scream “murderer” at the women heading inside.
The gay community wants equal marriage rights? Should we approach these people with the same self-sacrificing love that Jesus showed? Nope, let’s just make gay marriage illegal! And let’s try and be hateful about it, too! That’ll surely convince them that our position is correct!
But there’s another reason we, as Christians, should know we can’t legislate morality. Consider the Old Testament law. It was designed to protect and secure Israel as a nation, as a people. However, it was also impossible for anyone to actually keep all of it. Why? Because we’re human. We’re going to screw up. We’re going to fall short of the mark. And, it turns out, that’s the whole beautiful point of the law. It was a picture, a teacher, designed to help us understand that we just can’t do it on our own. We need God’s grace.
We’ve turned into Pharisees.
Matt 23:4 – They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.
We’ve become bitter, partisan, political bullies, instead of the agents of grace and love we’re supposed to be. We’ve let politicians and televangelists hijack our faith to boost their power and fill their pockets, and all the while we’ve become more and more marginalized in American culture. We’ve become that crazy uncle that everyone avoids at the family reunion.
Listen, I’m not arguing that everything society wants to do is great, or that we should never speak out and say what we believe. I am, however, arguing that the best way to change our world isn’t through the legal system. Imagine what our country would look like if all the Christians carrying protest signs, drafting new laws, or arguing for constitutional amendments just stopped for a day or two and actually loved people the way Jesus did. Imagine what kind of change we’d see.
What does America need from Christians? Not more laws, but more grace.