Laying Down the Law

Last week, I read a few posts on friends’ FB walls about the Supreme Court hearing arguments for and against legalization of same-sex marriage. Friends who lean left are delighted at the prospect of marriage equality. Friends who lean right lament what seems like a further shifting of moral standards away from Christian values. Some discussions popped up about whether pastors could be prosecuted for refusing to condone or conduct same-sex marriages in their churches.

My gay friends hope that one day the government might afford them the same rights as heterosexuals. 

On the other hand, religious friends fear that one day the government might punish the faithful for so-called hate speech and Orwellian “thoughtcrime.” And it makes them all the more adamant that they must stand up and stand firm on their beliefs in the face of the changing culture, no matter the odds stacked against them.

After all, that’s what devout people do.

I pondered the comments and posts I saw from my Christian peers last week, and one question came to mind: Why are we hoping in the law on this issue? What drives this all-consuming (and often failing) Right Wing push to stop same sex marriage? Since when did a law accomplish the kind of redemptive work of grace that we as Christians praise and proclaim?

Consider Paul’s words to the early church in Galatians 3. Did Christ die on the cross to put in place more laws, or to free us from them? Do we get right with God by strict adherence to the law or by grace through faith? If faith makes us right with God, then why would we set our hopes on establishing laws–a system that our holy book clearly shows could not and will not save a soul? And if the law doesn’t save a person, yet saving souls is the very mission Christ gave His church, then why are we putting laws in place to enforce Christian morals and beliefs on a secular nation?

And why limit our law-making to this one area? Why not fight for laws against greed? Pride? Gluttony? Laziness? We talk a lot about “America was founded on Christian values” and people fight to keep the Ten Commandments in front of the courtroom as though that’s the foundation for the American legal system or some kind of Bill of Rights. But where then are the laws against worshiping other gods (Commandment #1) or creating idols and symbols of worship (#2)? Why is our God’s name used in profanity with impunity (#3) and why do so many Americans work on Sunday (#4)? Where are the laws requiring honor and obedience toward parents (#5)? And why aren’t there laws making adultery illegal (#7)? Why can people get away with lying everywhere but when they’re under oath (#9), and why is it acceptable–even encouraged–to desire what belongs to others (#10)?

Admittedly, some of those were once laws on the books in various parts of the country. And over time, they’ve been removed. Not as an evil plot to draw America away from God and drag our nation down to hell, but out of respect for the idea that our government was never intended to legislate a religion, and our religion is founded on the idea that legislating morality is inherently doomed to failure.

Yet we’ll trot out our arguments once more, and claim this is the battleground of the day, the place where the line must be drawn in this culture war.

Well, I find myself waving the white flag. Not at the opposition, as if to say I give up my beliefs or my faith in God or my adherence to biblical principles. But at my own side, to say, “Cease fire, we’re shooting at the wrong target, doing more harm than any perceived good. Lay down the guns, lay down these attempts to use law as a weapon.”

I know most of my side is just going to keep firing away, convinced–in spite of our own doctrine to the contrary–that human nature can be fixed by a legal statute or amendment or court decision. And I’ll probably look to them like an enemy or at least a supporter of the opposition.

But I’ll keep making my own and waving that flag despite the odds. After all, that’s what devout people do, right?

White Flag, by Jan Jacobsen, available for use through Creative Commons.

One thought on “Laying Down the Law”

  1. “Since when did a law accomplish the kind of redemptive work of grace that we as Christians praise and proclaim?” A huge, “Amen,” to you today. I have had this discussion several times with other believers and don’t understand this going backward movement into slavery and the law. Jesus told us we must be more righteous than the Pharisees. That statement had to do with the hearts and minds of those who would believe, not the outward adherence to laws. We accomplish nothing through evangelizing and conversion. We must continue to move forward and make disciples who will be transformed by the heart of Jesus.

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