The Expository Files

"You Cannot Legislate Morality"


"You cannot legislate morality." Of course, the first question is "Why not?" Who made up that rule? All human behavior can be a matter of legislation. Morality is a pretty broad word. Lots of things are said to be "immoral" and legislation has been passed to limit such behavior. Slavery is called a moral evil, and laws were passed making such illegal in this country. Murder is thought by most of us to be immoral, and again, laws were passed against committing murder. I have to really wonder about a person who would lamely parrot the silly statement that "morality cannot be legislated." I do not know who ever dreamed that up, but whoever it was, his brain was not in gear at the time.

Well, O.K... some kinds of morality can be legislated, but not the sexual kind. That's nobody else's business. Those right wing religious kooks would like it legislate what goes on in peoples' private times, based on their ancient, worn out belief system. They need to catch up with societal evolution and modern thought, and put away the obsolete religious beliefs of old.

Interestingly enough, there is a place where you could go and find a utopia where religious thought was driven underground. In 1949, atheists took power in mainland China and built a social system without any influence of Christian beliefs at all. In fact, being a Christian very likely meant prison and work camps. Finally, a place one could go without all the religious kooks spoiling the fun!

But wait; Chairman Mao imposed strict moral codes (telling Mao "one cannot legislate morality" could get you shot). Everyone dressed alike. Adulterers were jailed. There were strict laws on marriage. Recently, restrictions have been relaxed in China, and consequently the problems caused by moral disregard in our own nation have appeared in China. Chinese lawmakers are now considering new laws which would ban divorce except for adultery, punish adulterers by forced labor, make it a crime to have a child out of wedlock, and other similar laws. The reason is because the costs that societies pay for liberal moral codes are overwhelming, and even crippling in effect. It is staggering to think about the economical costs, not to mention the human costs, of our own nation's moral dilemma.

Well, the bottom line is this. Morality can be legislated, and must be. Even sexual morality needs to be legislated, and almost everyone will agree that some aspects of sexual activity must be restrained by law. Few (though, sadly, some do) would attempt to say that there ought to be no child pornography laws, for example. What cannot be legislated is are the hearts of a people. A government could pass 10,000 laws against adultery, but that would not change the heart of an adulterer. The goal of the gospel is for men and women to willingly submit themselves to the moral laws of God because they have come to love and revere Him in their lives, and trust Him to know what is best for them. This kind of faith comes from hearing His word, and His word is heard when His people speak it and live it. Whether our legal system lends support to Biblical morality or not, it is my responsibility to live boldly for Jesus Christ.


By Jon W. Quinn
The Front Page
From Expository Files 6.2; February 1999