You can’t legislate morality. Or so goes the saying goes. As near as I can find, modern use of the phrase began in the 1920’s when R. M. MacIver, a Scottish sociologist, said “Law cannot prescribe morality, it can prescribe only external actions…” (R.M. MacIver, 1926) MacIver went on to echo Thomas Aquinas, arguing that the morality of any given law (and even it’s legitimacy) spawned from that law’s capacity to benefit the common good. (Summa Theologica)
The first time this phrase entered the public lexicon in any meaningful way occurred during the civil right’s era. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said “It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless.” (MLK Jr., 1963) I think Dr. King, in his own way, was also agreeing with Aquinas. Outlawing race-based discrimination was certainly in line with the common good of Americans. The drafters of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments agreed on that point almost a century prior. Dr. King apparently thought that since these Amendments weren’t changing the hearts of Americans, perhaps the Civil Rights Act would.
Ironically, Barry Goldwater agreed with Dr. King that one could not legislate morality, but unlike Dr. King, saw the Civil Rights Act as an attempt to do exactly that. In his 1988 autobiography, Goldwater said, “If either side insists on legislating morality in absolute terms, then the challenge to democratic society is too great.” (Goldwater, 1988) Goldwater held the ideologically consistent opinion regarding race relations, and like many arguing over immigration today, simply urged for enforcement of existing law rather than the creation of new ones.
The Dawn of Churchianity
Looking back a few decades, early 20th Century Christians found holding the line of societal morality increasingly difficult in the face of expanding religious pluralism pushed from the Social Justice Warriors of the time. Submission to the State has fundamentally altered the objectives of the Christian church in America. She has abandoned the task of moralizing the populace via the spread of the Gospel. In the Commission’s place, the church has pursued a morality based upon power acquired in the whitewashed halls of political authority. The effect of changing the mission of the church began to truly blossom as the progressive era dawned. The excessive materialism of the 1920’s, followed quickly by widespread depression in the 1930’s, finally convinced cultural Christians that government might be a better source of provision than community and God.
These cultural Christians, or Churchians, viewed the institution of the church as a veneer to uphold rather than a command to obey. Sacrificing the Trinity, they replaced it with the god of government: Congress the father, Executive the son, and courts the spirit. Churchians joined hands with progressives to bring about an unthinkingly large bureaucracy, that fourth branch of government, as a replacement for clergy and elders in this new religion of the state.
Sadly, the salvation of this government idol never delivers, but as with politicians, more promises are always around the corner. Dr. King promised salvation via government intervention, rather than a resurgence of morality in the churches of America. I think Dr. King realized how much easier it was to align himself with government rather than convicting Churchians. The message Dr. King delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was much different than the one he penned in the bowls of Birmingham.
Within Living Memory
President Carter terrified Churchians. Churchian’s weren’t scared because of Carter’s faith. They were scared because Carter represented the left’s ability to effectively co-opt the idol of government. Highlighting Carter’s baptist bonafides, SJW’s successfully cowed Churchian’s into a political corner. A corner that in many ways, Churchian’s built with their own hands after throwing their support to a newly fallen Nixon. In a fit of jealous adoration to the god of Capital Hill, the Religious Right emerged and responded with professions of the second coming: Ronald Reagan. All finally seemed in place to usher in the thousand year reign of prosperity under this new messiah, and Churchian’s finally abandoned any pretense of Gospel evangelism. In its place, they charged head long into the political fray, waving the banner of their new Davidic conquer.
It took the SJWs twenty years to step out from underneath the shadow of a messianic Reagan, but in 2008, they finally had their response with Barack Obama.
Still doubting my assertion that cultural Christianity was worshiping at the idol of government? Just take a look at Churchian response to President Obama. With the exception of conviction by the Holy Spirit, one is never more repulsed by one’s sin than when we see it practiced by those around us. Churchian’s saw the idolization of President Obama by the SJWs and were disgusted, freely accusing them of conflating Obama with Jesus. Projection, it seems, is not only limited to the left in American politics.
As with their response to Carter, Churchian’s of the Obama presidency weren’t angry at his policies, but at his consumption of the government idol’s blessings to the exclusion of themselves. President Obama completed the task progressives had been attempting since Woodrow Wilson, and which Churchians had joined in during the 1940’s. The systematic destruction of common law arising out of Christian morality, and wringing the Constitution of every trace of grounding within the true, the good, and the beautiful.
As the 2016 presidential campaign began, the Republican field was hilariously sad. So many of the candidates still believed there were scraps of a moral Republic worth fighting over. Trump saw that restoring morality was a losing argument, and promised a god that stopped oppressing, but never abandoned them. A god Churchian’s felt good worshiping, instead of one with hunger in its eyes and fundamental transformation in its soul.
Hillary, for her part, didn’t lose because of Trump, but because she wasn’t worthy of worship. She was so repulsive to so many because she attempted to become the idol. If she wanted to win, she should have simply brought the idol of government to the people like President Obama did.
Last week, Americans gasped in horror after the New York legislature further expanded the evil of infanticide. This week, another collective outcry arose when Virginia lawmakers tried their best to outdo their East Coast colleagues in evil. They attempted to extend infanticide practices beyond the birth canal.
Taking a beat to pray for these lost and blind souls is a must. If you, like I was, are at a loss for words, check out Doug Wilson’s prayer for Andrew Cuomo, here.
“How could this happen?” one may ask. This post has primarily been my attempt to show exactly how this kind of thing happens.
The State is not an idol, but a particular manifestation of earthly government, instituted by God. God commands us to worship the Creator, not the creation. The same command applies in the realm of politics. I pray God forgives me, my family, my friends, and my nation, of its worship of the State. I pray God forgives us all for our willingness to sacrifice the authority of the church for the ease of a law.
You see, you cannot legislate morality, but all legislation has a morality. The laws emerging from New York and Virginia are immoral. But those laws, like the supposed art of our culture, arise from the citizens that comprise it. Our nation is a collection of its people, and our nation is in desperate need of conviction, repentance, and the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In the words of John Adams (emphasis mine):
But should the People of America, once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another and towards foreign nations, which assumes the Language of Justice and moderation while it is practicing Iniquity and Extravagance; and displays in the most captivating manner the charming Pictures of Candour frankness & sincerity while it is rioting in rapine and Insolence: this Country will be the most miserable Habitation in the World. Because We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.John Adams, Letter to Massachusetts Militia, 11 October 1798
Relief from the horror rising out of the depravity and evil in this country will never come through the law. The right candidate or the right political stump speech won’t fix this problem. The message of the Gospel is the relief. Proclaiming His name, and believing in His ability to change hearts more than laws ever could. Relief may not even be possible at this point. In that case, I say Christ is also the answer for us in our sorrow and in our coming suffering.
No possible chance exists to change the trajectory of a nation apart from the gracious will of our Almighty God. So Churchian’s, stop trying. The halls of Congress do not hold the mythical Eden which Churchian’s seek. It isn’t behind an aged desk at the White House or upon the steps of the Supreme Court. Surrender the fantasy that such Eden’s exist. Repent with me for our desire to replace the work of Jesus with our work in politics. Start spreading the Gospel of Jesus instead of the false gospel of the state. Work within your sphere of influence. Family, community, city, state…in that order.