Inalienable Morals

Two issues converged this week to get me thinking about a concept that I’m going to call “inalienable morals.”  First, one of the young adults in my congregation sent me an email with a question about “rights” for homosexuals and how many people think this is an issue that should be divorced from religious considerations (i.e. an individual might call themselves a Christian and while they disagree with homosexual marriage morally, they suggest that we shouldn’t take away the “rights” of a homosexual to marry).  The other issue this week is a general feeling of patriotism as we approach the 4th of July, and some reflection on the “inalienable rights” that are promoted in our country’s Declaration of Independence.  Here’s the final product of those two thoughts meeting head on…..

Late Friday night New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will legalize gay marriages in New York state, making it now the 6th state in our country to do so.  While not the first, New York is arguably the most influential state to adopt gay marriage, for a number of reasons.  Its population is quite large.  It has deep ties to the history of gay rights.  It also is A) a major tourist location, and B) has no state law requiring residency for obtaining a marriage license.  What that means is that New York City is likely to become the world’s epicenter of all gay marriage.

Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Pink, and Cyndi Lauper weighed in publicly with comments of rejoicing over the passing of the new law (no one with normal names, normal hair, or clean drug records could apparently be reached for comment).  Nonetheless, these individuals are reflecting more and more the public consensus and comfort in redefining marriage.

Whether we realize it or not, this law change is probably as impactful of legislation as we’ve seen in a while.  Coming off the relatively recent heels of Congress’ repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military, it has to be perceived as clear evidence that unless something drastic occurs, this is the direction that our country is likely moving in to define a “family unit.”  None of this should be that much of a surprise to anyone because all signs have pointed to this being the future norm in our country for quite some time now.  The reason: while our country proudly holds to the concept of inalienable rights, we’ve given up on the notion of inalienable morals.

Our founding fathers’ ideas of “life, liberty, and property” (what came to be called “natural” or “inalienable” rights) came largely from the writings of John Locke, a 17th century English philosopher who argued that these fundamental human rights could never be forfeited in the social contract, the relationship and responsibilities held between a government and its citizens.  These rights truly are a wonderful thing.  In a general way, it’s one of the reasons why we enjoy so many blessed freedoms in our country that citizens of other nations can’t begin to imagine.

However, while inalienable rights were explicitly stated in the Constitution, inalienable morals were merely implied.  Our country started, to a large degree, as an experiment in religious freedom by devout Christians.  Biblical morals were assumed.  No, not every founding father was a faithful Christian, but as much as we can tell without being able to look into their hearts, it appears that most were.  At the inauguration of George Washington, for instance, he got on his knees and kissed the Bible before leading the Senate and House of Representatives to an Episcopal church for worship.  According to the book What If Jesus Had Never Been Born? (by Dr. D James Kennedy and Jerry Newcombe), about 34% of all the founding fathers’ citations in their recorded works were from the Bible.   These men clearly had a decidedly biblical worldview.  The truth is that the majority of Americans for the first several hundred years of our country’s history had a decidedly biblical worldview.  From the time the Puritans landed and started schools in the early 1600s until 1837, almost all of American education was Christian and even largely funded by taxes.  Obviously this sort of general public embrace of biblical doctrine is nowhere near the case anymore.  We’re at a point where lots of people still like Jesus of Nazareth, maybe even consider him such a wonderful guy and, largely due to family history, they’ll label themselves as Christians, but exercising that faith on any sort of regular basis in any sort of day-to-day kind of way is all but gone save for about 20% of the American population.   Today, statistically speaking, the majority will not let many of their personal feelings be affected by Christian doctrine.  We’re predominantly a people who, quite ironically, recognize the Lordship of Jesus without buying all of what he taught.  (I’d encourage you to check out the research found in George Barna’s 7 Faith Tribes if you disagree).

Since a very, very large percentage of our citizenship no longer is familiar with Biblical text or acknowledges a desire to adhere to the teachings of the Bible, a biblical worldview is going away.  If a biblical worldview disappears in our country, then what expectations should we realistically have that any legislation is going to reflect God’s desire for mankind?  I would suggest very little.

The Apostle Paul, writing in Romans 2:14-15, teaches something called the Natural Knowledge of God.  He says, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”  What Paul is saying is that everyone inherently knows that some things are universally morally right or wrong.  And when we violate that internal code of ethics, we experience a feeling of trepidation and guilt laid upon us by our consciences – this is a feeling that points us to the justice and holiness of God.  According to the Bible, everyone has this.  I can even prove this – I could go down the street and ask people one after another if it’s wrong to murder someone or to steal something or to cheat on your spouse and almost invariably each person would say that it is.  Where do notions like “good” and “evil” come from except the fact that God has tattooed a distinction on each human heart.  The problem, however, arises when a conscience is lied to repeatedly by self, society, and Satan.  It can become so confused that it then has no clue what is right or wrong.

How does this pertain to gay marriage?  Human hearts also have been tattooed with God’s design for human sexuality – one man connected to one woman in a lifelong, faithful commitment is God’s blueprint for marriage.  It’s obvious.  It’s natural.  It’s biblical.  However, when Satan has woven into the fabric of our society the philosophy that truth (even inherent moral truth) is all relative and you couple that with a society that has lost its desire for biblical guidance, you have a nation that will undoubtedly move in a direction for marriage that isn’t what God designed.  And in a democracy, whatever society’s conscience suggests is right will eventually win.

You see, this isn’t all merely a human rights issue.  Since all worldviews are affected by religious beliefs (even from those who claim to be “non-religious”), then you can’t totally divorce religion and human rights.  Human rights issues are absolutely moral issues and therefore religious issues.

The state should not be allowed to define marriage since the state didn’t start marriage, it was merely given the power by God to manage marriage.  God alone reserves the right to define marriage.  However, if people are not united in a belief of God and the absolute truth of his Word, you run into a bit of a quandary.  Then, the basic premise in democracy is…….the majority rules.  As the majority of our country increasingly drifts from active Christianity, again, unless something drastic happens, I can’t see every state in our country not eventually adopting complete equality for homosexuals – marriage, adoption, tax breaks, etc.  Without recognizing inalienable morals, Constitutionally, I don’t know how we’d be able to withhold certain “rights” from some people.  Logically, you probably can’t.

While our country holds “inalienable rights” of humans for life, liberty, and property, the majority is no longer grounded with a moral base.  Collected wisdom from history, science, and religion would seem to indicate that gay marriage and parenting should not be legal.  BUT, if there is no true agreed upon basis for morality, then it’s merely whatever the majority says.  And as legislation like what we just saw in New York continues to pass, it becomes so abundantly apparent where our countries heart currently lies.

My goal here today is merely to take some of the surprise or the “what’s happening to our country?” debate away from Christians in all of this.  Personally, I’m almost surprised that this legislation is not happening faster.  While I don’t have an immediate or easy answer to the situation, I would offer that while this might appear to be a legislative issue, this is really a spiritual issue that’s been a problem for a long time.  Let’s not expect citizens to vote on the basis of morals that they no longer have.

Simple as it sounds from a Conservative Lutheran, about the only thing that would return a healthy respect for godly morals and biblical truth to our culture is Law and Gospel.  A return to the reality of sin against a holy and righteous God who indeed has standards and expectations.  A return to Jesus as a Savior and not merely or even primarily an exemplary do-gooder.  A return to the truth about sexuality that God offers in Genesis 2, Genesis 19:1-4, Leviticus 18:22 & 20:13, Matthew 19:4-6; Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:10.  If the Holy Spirit is afforded the chance to do his work and Bible teachers have the guts to proclaim biblical truth while knowing that some listeners are going to fight, scream, and leave, then maybe something as simple and beautiful as marriage, the first human relationship, will become much clearer .

Until then, people will vote whatever is currently in their hearts.  Encouraging people to get out and vote might be helpful, but they can only vote for the conviction of their heart.  In the long run for our country, encouraging people to get involved in a Bible-based, Jesus-centered church is much more helpful.  Introducing them to a God of love, mercy, and forgiveness without watering down his just, holy, and righteous plan for them is what alone can change their hearts and lives…….and our nation.

“Furthermore, every man is responsible for his own faith, and he must see it for himself that he believes rightly.  As little as another can go to hell or heaven for me, so little can he believe or disbelieve for me; and as little as he can open or shut heaven or hell for me, so little can he drive me to faith or unbelief.  Since, then, belief or unbelief is a matter of every one’s conscience, and since this is no lessening of the secular power, the latter should be content and attend to its own affairs and permit men to believe one thing or another, as they are able and willing, and constrain no one by force.” (Martin Luther, Concerning Secular Authority, 1523)

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5 thoughts on “Inalienable Morals

  1. Pastor Hein,
    I’m disappointed by this post, as I have been recently by numerous Lutheran bloggers, by a lack of separation of church and state.

    First of all, to point to our founding fathers as moral standards is outrageous. These are the men who enslaved peopl because of the color of their skin. no matter what you’d like to claim, their political philosophy derived from whatever view of God they had, not rom some Confessional Lutheran perspective.

    Still, whether we, as Confessional Lutherans, can claim the founding father as our own, is absolutely irrelevant. God has given his moral law to the human heart. Our job, as part of the church, is to preach that law to the heart of the sinner, to show him his need for a Savior. It is only this message: “You have sinned. You need a savior” that can prepare a person for the gospel message. The thought that gay marriage is illegal, so beeing gay must not be right can do no such thing. The law of the state onl reflects the moral law to a point. It does not accurately represent it to the point that it can prepare someone for the gospel. We should expect it to do no such thing.

    it is my opinion that we, in the church, should preach the law, not legislate it, to prepare the heart for the gospel. The law from the government causes rebellion, and does not convict beyond what the conscience does. Whether or not gay marriage is legal or not is irrelevant to us a ministers of the gospel. Let us preach God’s law and gospel. Let the state do what it will. Its sovereignty is clear; so is our mission.

    God bless America.

    • Hey Tyler,
      Thanks for your honest response. However, by your reply I think that the point I was making may have gotten lost by the way that I made it (i.e. including the biblical worldview of founding fathers).

      The gist of the post is this: gay marriage in our country shouldn’t surprise Christians because our country, including many Christians, have lost a biblical worldview and therefore, biblical morals with them. Legislation isn’t going to change that. Encouraging our country back into a biblical worldview is the only thing that is going to help with issues of gay marriage, abortion, violence, etc.

      I am not suggesting that the founding fathers were perfectly moral people (nor are Christians today). Nor am I suggesting that Christians should attempt any sort of hostile takeover of government to legislate Christianity (in fact, I’ve written numerous times on this in the past – concerning the dangers of government forced spirituality or culturally assumed spirituality). What I AM suggesting is that our country today is probably as far from a “biblical worldview” as we’ve been historically, including the time of the inauguration of our country. And that’s the problem that we see today. (SIDE NOTE: Misunderstanding of slavery or not, not too many are going to buy that a predominantly moralistic Puritan society was less overtly moral than our society today. Morals, almost to a fault, were their thing.).

      A biblical worldview typically (and expectedly) leads to a certain set of moral standards that a non-biblical worldview does not. Today’s majority non-biblical worldview has led many Americans to being okay with the idea of gay marriage. And here’s the misperception amongst many Christian Americans – that if we can get enough Christians voting to legislate against gay marriage, we can solve the problem. However, the problem is not a legislative one. The problem is a biblical authority one – many people, including “Christians” today, simply don’t have a biblical worldview any more. And it starts from the church down. If the Episcopalian Church, United Church of Christ, ELCA, and now Presbyterian Church all approve of homosexual ordination of clergy, we shouldn’t expect that Americans, even ones who label themselves as Christian, are going to vote in favor of morals that they themselves don’t have. Not only do Americans in general lack a biblical worldview, but many mainline churches today lack a biblical theology. And the trickle down into culture is fairly obvious.

      Thus, while FOX News sometimes seems to indicate that certain politicians are the problem, I’m suggesting that the current unbiblical spirit of America is the real issue. And that can only be remedied by connection to our Savior Jesus. (May that also be considered my official open debate challenge to Glenn Beck on the cause of the perils of modern society :))

      One final note: I guess I would also hesitate to label either the faith of our country’s founding fathers or the legalization of gay marriage as “irrelevant” to gospel ministry. Both are totally relevant to ministry. The first is relevant in understanding the general direction of culture in a historical context. The second is relevant in understanding the current worldview status of people within our culture, the very people we are trying to minister to. Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t be relevant. The general truth that the Holy Spirit working through God’s Word alone is what changes hearts is certainly true enough, but to suggest that historical and cultural considerations aren’t relevant is denying much of the reality of human nature that the Apostle Paul himself took to heart.

      Clear me up on this if I’m not totally grasping your point.

      • Pastor Hein,
        Thanks for your response. I definitely wrote too harshly last night, and I apologize for that. I have a growing frustration that well meaning Christians seem to think that the job of the government is to enforce God’s moral law. This sort of talking alienates political liberals, which is an inexcusable thing for the church to do. I don’t think you’ve done that. However, I think you are getting close to saying that a Bible believing Christian will support a ban of gay marriage. It wouldn’t be good for a pastor to place such a burden on the hearts of his people, since Christians come to different decisions about this after prayerfully using their God-given intellect. Again, I don’t think you’re guilty of placing such a burden, but this post did make me a little bit uncomfortable.

  2. Tyler, according to Romans 13:1-5, government is a God-established authority. Earlier in Romans, as I mentioned in the post, God also established a universal moral code on every human’s heart. This moral code is the natural ethical law of God. While I’d obviously agree that the government has no business trying to change people’s hearts through legislation (something only the Spirit can do through God’s Word), as a Christian, I’m not sure why I wouldn’t want the government to govern according to God’s moral law, which inherently includes the rights to life, liberty, and property. Likewise, as God recognizes that he’s put his law on every human’s heart, I don’t see anything biblically that suggests he wouldn’t desire for governments to rule according to it. The question is more at what point does a Christian disobey.

    While I included a quote from him in the post, I’m not sure that Luther’s Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms was his tightest Christian writing. I arrive at that conclusion, in part, because it was so ringingly endorsed by guys like Thomas Jefferson and John Locke, guys with all sorts of spiritual hang-ups.

    Part of the issue, I think, is that Luther was writing at the time of the single greatest church abuse of government in the history of the world. He reacted. None of us is immune to being overly reactionary (cf. his early comments on the book of James).

    Also, Luther wrote about how if government legislation invades the spiritual domain and constrains the conscience, which are God’s domain, we should not obey the government. Well….that gets tricky because, for instance, Christians who recognize that marriage was instituted by God (not government) are going to be struck by this issue as a conscience-binding situation. It tough, not unlike the abortion one. In 2010, taxpayers supplied $363 million to fund Planned Parenthood abortions. Does that become an issue where Christians, from a conscience standpoint, “must obey God rather than men”?

    Someone could suggest that “gay marriage isn’t hurting anyone though.” That, however, isn’t totally consistent with the way our government has legislatedly appropriately moral behavior. For instance, the government has outlawed certain things to be shown on network TV because the majority has said it was immoral and unhealthy for the masses (esp. children). It’s deemed as potentionally damaging to children and so it’s illegal. The exact same thing could be said about gay marriage – morally a bad influence on children and society.

    My main point here is that entirely divorcing the concepts of universally God-given morals from government legislation is not possible, nor do I think it’s biblically encouraged. I think we’ve got to be careful here not swallow whole “separation of church and state” as a concept that leads us to departmentalizing our faith and viewing some things as spiritual issues and other things (like opinions about government) as not, sacred vs. secular. For a Christian, everything is sacred, because everything is done to the glory of God.

    That said, again, the post was specifically about not merely trying to legislate morals, but touching people’s hearts with the one thing that can actually lead to a country filled with more loving people – God’s Word. I guess I want to be clear that we’re debating something that is slightly a different issue than the topic of the post.

  3. David Thiel says:

    Maybe I’m not understanding correctly, but why wouldn’t a true Christian support a ban on gay marriage? If you are a true Christian, you believe the Bible to be God breathed and errorless. That being said, how many times does the Bible speak against homosexuality? Is not a sin, a sin? Just because our society doesn’t agree with christians helping others by showing their sins so they can repent and be saved (what they erroneously call a judgement), doesn’t mean we christians should back down and roll over and let these sins rule the world. Even though we all sin, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a duty to help others with their sinful acts. They may in turn help us with ours. We have to stop being scared of ‘offending’ others to the point we become complacent and don’t do what we are asked to do.

    While I agree we have to seperate our government from our church, we should still pray for and support any effort by our government to enact laws that are moral and in line with what our beliefs are. I wouldn’t want our government to force a religion on it’s people, I definately support a government with inalienable morals. God gave us the government, so we should use it for his glory.

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