The Debate Rages on
Editor: The kind of society in which we and our children must live is determined, among other things, by behaviours and relationships formed privately by others than ourselves. This in itself does not give legislators the right to prohibit visiting relationships and divorce. As Christians we recognise that all norms and values can be conserved by legislation but that is not always desirable.
Martin Luther King Jr. puts it more precisely in another context:
“Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless… the habits, if not the hearts of people, have been and are being altered everyday by legislative acts, judicial decisions and executive orders.
What this does mean is that our legislators must inevitable decide on some moral issues.”
Wassertrom had this to say:
“They must decide whether the institutions which seem threatened are sufficiently valuable to protect at the cost of human freedom. And they must decide whether the practices which threaten that institution are immoral, for if they are then the freedom of an individual to pursue them counts for less.”
This in no way claims that immorality or offending Christian sensitivity is sufficient to make conduct illegal; it argues, rather, that on occasion it is necessary to deem it thus.
But how shall a legislator decide whether an act is moral or immoral in our community? At present, some 89% of our population claim allegiance to a Christian denomination. Some of the legislators are non-Christians. Furthermore, liberal notions fueled by individualism inform the thinking and actions of some of our more educated people in parliament. Consequently, the Bible and religious principles lack force in shaping judicial decisions and statutes. If it happens, however, that the majority of our population is agreed upon a course of action, even though a small minority may dissent, the legislator has a duty to act on the consensus. For in the final analysis our laws must rest on some principle, whether Christian or utilitarianism or some other alternative. The community must take the moral responsibility, and it must therefore act on its own rights – that is, on the moral beliefs of its members.
As Christians our theology and history make it clear that persons can resist adopting ‘un-Christian’ legislations even when there is very great social or political pressure to do so. But the crucial issues for Christians will always be whether and how people are being hurt or will be hurt by a piece of legislation.
Rev. Samuel O Nichols