Whose Morality are We Willing to Legislate?


by Rob Lundberg

Introducing the Challenge

I am not sure if you are aware of it or not, but our culture is changing right before our eyes. Things that I have spoken to in my ethics papers in college and seminary that were nothing more than a whimper in the culture, have now become the battle cry for those who are seeking normalcy in lifestyles, behaviors, and decisions which were nothing more than a speculation of the past.

But the question, of which rule of morality we are looking to legislate, hits right at the heart of this issue. This question touches several areas, I wish to address in this post.

This question becomes an objection when a conversation on a moral position strikes up between a Christian and a non Christian over which  moral position should be the norm. The Christian holds to an absolute standard of morality, in most cases. The non-Christian takes issue with an absolute moral position and states, “Hey, you Christians should not be legislating morality!”   What I hope to demonstrate in this post, is that the objection coming at Christians breaks down logically, creating a slippery slope for possible moralities if we do not speak up and take a stand. Let’s look at how it breaks down shall we?

Our first look is from the practical side of the objection.  Someone says to you, “Hey, you Christians should not be legislating morality!” What do you do with this?

One of the first things that needs to be realized that the “Hey you. . .” approach, from your conversant, is actually a statement centered on morality. The person making the statement has a moral starting point that is, in their mind, being infringed upon.  So when the person makes the statement, like “you cannot legislate morality” or “that’s not right” or “what you did or said was wrong,” they are actually making a moral pronouncement based upon their moral starting points. This is the framework where they seek to live “morally” and make moral decisions or statements.

You do not have to lose heart, this can be answered, which takes me to the second look.

Our second look is that this objection can begin a conversation.

The problem with this statement, “you cannot legislate morality” is that you can turn the statement on itself.  Allow me to explain.

Supposed someone says to you that they cannot “speak a word of English,” we would have a problem and point out that what they just said was in English.  The same holds true categorically for this statement. In order to point that out to the person though, there are a couple things to take into consideration.

The first is that we need to listen to the person who is making the claim. I can guarantee you that they do not understand the statement they are making. This brings me to my second point.

Because they do not understand what they are claiming, we need to remember that the one making the objection is just like you and I, in that they are created in the image and likeness of God.

Bearing these two things in mind, someone says “you cannot legislate morality,” they are making a moral pronouncement toward you. The problem with this statement is that it can be refuted by turning the statement against itself. Let me speak a word to this for just a moment here.

Usually when this subject matter comes into a conversation it is because there is a moral issue that is couched in it. We need to keep in mind  that people are created in the image and likeness of their Creator and it is important that we incorporate the “gentleness and respect” that Peter brings in (1 Peter 3:15) to ensure that we are making a clear separation.

Another thought that comes to mind is that many people today, still think that their being is defined by what they do behaviorally.  That is not true. What people do and say is reflected by their character, but it is not who or what they are in essence.

So when we turn the statement, “you cannot legislate morality” over on itself, we can respond with something that might look like this quick two line dialog. For the sake of illustration, let’s imagine you are in a discussion on the marriage debate and the lifestyles that can go along with it.  For the purpose of keeping the illustration simple, you  say (rather bluntly) the following:

You: “I think there are people live in accordance to a certain lifestyle are living dangerously and it is wrong.”
Person 1: “Hey, you narrow minded fundamentalist bigot! You cannot legislate morality!”

You:  “Sir/Ma’am, do you realize that you just made a moral statement, so why are legislating your morality on me?”While this is a quick illustration, we want to make sure that our responses are with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). At the same time,  I am sure there are other ways of making the response, but this is just one example that can be given.

The one thing to remember is that while we are to “demolish the strongholds coming up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:3,4), we do not need to demolish the person we are conversing with in the process.

There is another look to bear in mind with reference to this objection and that is there is a political application to bring into the discussion.


A third look is this objection can be looked at politically.

How does the statement “you cannot legislate morality” work itself out politically?  The best way to answer this is to understand the nature of politics and what it does.  The best way to understand the political outworkings is the reminder to vote on election day.

Do you realize that each of the major political parties in this country have a moral understanding on how they see the economy, taxes, government spending, national defense, education and immigration?

Do we also realize for the one holding to a liberal view on the aforementioned categories, their vote will reflect on where they stand on the moral issues.  The same also holds true for those of us who embrace a more conservative stance on the moral issues. Each person going to the polls on election day are going to vote for the candidate that best reflects their moral underpinnings.

So if we have good laws in a particular pocket of the country, then the chances are good that the politics and the politicians moral underpinnings are good.  If their moral underpinnings are good, the chances are that the political pundits’ ethics and morals are going to follow toward the good.

It works the other way too. If the moral underpinnings are not moral, it is most likely because they the person holding those views has a bankrupt ethical starting point.  So when we have bad ethics, the one holding them will reflect their faulty ethical framework in their moral or immoral actions.  If the morals are bad, and they are a politician, you now have bad politics. And it only follows suit that if you have bad politics, you are bound to have bad laws.

Conclusion :  How does this objection work itself out?

Let me ask you a question: “Do you vote for your candidate in the regular and presidential, state, or  local elections?” Do you realize that when you do vote, you are voting for the candidate that best matches your views.

When I say views, I am referring to the views we embrace on economic issues, taxes and government spending, national security and education. If you are holding to a liberal view of morality, you are going to vote for the candidate that best fits your views. If you are holding to more of a conservative stances on the aforementioned issues, then you are going to vote for the candidate that best fits you conservative values.

So please do not say, “Don’t push your morality on me!”  Because when we do vote, we are voting for the candidate that best lines up with our moral underpinnings.  And when you cast your vote, guess what you have just done?

There is no escape hatch for not legislating morality. We do it all the time. And the flip side of the coin is that I still thank God for those who don’t hold to an absolute standard and yet act morally.



Version 3Do you like what you have read?  There is more!  Rob is a blogger, writer and public speaker on a mission to empower the believer to articulate what they believe and to communicate the message of the gospel in our post Christian culture.

He is available to come and speak to your church, college club, or group. Find out what people are saying.  If you would like to support this ministry with a one time or monthly gift, you can do that by clicking here

If you would like to book Rob for a speaking event, you can do so by emailing him at realissueapologetics@yahoo.com    If you have other questions about apologetics or doing apologetics, or if you are looking for apologetics resources, contact our ministry by email.


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