As the new Congress and administration begin their work, many are set to oppose the positions they take and the legislation they pass. We will be subjected to endless talking heads on both sides of the political equation arguing for their ideological commitments. The Republican-controlled House, Senate and White House will work diligently toward many of their ideological commitments. Similarly, Democrats will line up to oppose them like the Republicans did with President Obama.
In the coming days, it is likely that some will lob accusations of morals legislation or that they are imposing their morals on the American people. But let’s be intellectually honest enough to admit that legislating morality occurs on both sides of the aisle. Anytime a governing body takes a stand by way of legislation that either legalizes or criminalizes the moral actions of citizens; it legislates morality.
For example, murder is a moral act. We have laws against murder. Therefore, we have legislated a particular morality, i.e. that murder is wrong.
When we think about the moral actions of free people and the way that government acts legislatively we must always realize that legislation, or lack thereof, is a moral judgment. Even postmodernists who believe in moral relativism cannot avoid making moral judgments on issues like terrorism or murder.
Take Obergefell v Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage. It was Justice Kennedy’s “animus test,” which he applied in Romer v. Lawrence, that played a pivotal role in his swing vote. But notice, when he applied the animus test he was seeking to avoid the kind of morals legislation that led to the establishment of a different moral judgment, one in which animus was wrong. As one theologian wrote, “In condemning a moral judgment, he arrogantly made a moral judgment.”
The issue facing our country, and every civilization that has gone before and will follow after, is the defining moral standard. Those who make rants against legislating morality do so not because they disapprove of legislating morality (a prospect that would quickly lead to anarchy) but because their own moral vision has not prevailed. They don’t object to imposing their moral vision; they oppose the imposition of a contrary moral vision.
The necessary legislation of morality points to two Biblical truths, namely that we are moral beings and that we are fallen beings. We are moral because we know that good and evil exist. Christianity tells us that the good is that which inheres within the character and nature of God. Therefore, as bearers of the divine image, we are given a moral conscience with the desire to seek that which is good.
However, we are also fallen, and our moral conscience has been warped by the fall. Th fall explains the reality of competing moral visions. It also explains how a particular moral vision can be robust area A and deficient in area B, while another can be robust in area B but deficient in area A. Regardless of how we strive to be a more morally upright people, we are always a fallen people.
What then do we do with those who lob claims of morals legislation at their opponents? We recognize the claim as the red herring that it is and examine the moral components of the competing moral visions. Without this examination, we will be forever stuck debating peripheral concerns rather than getting to the heart of the issue.