You can’t legislate morality! You’ve heard the argument that is often lobbed at conservative Christians who support laws that restrict evil in this fallen world—especially when it comes to laws against abortion. The argument that “we can’t legislate morality,” often touted by those on the left or self-proclaimed Christian centrists, is not just a misguided perspective, but a fundamentally flawed one.
Some proponents of this view will argue that moral values are subjective and that imposing them through legislation infringes upon individual freedoms. They assert that legal codes should be neutral, focusing solely on maintaining public order rather than promoting specific moral standards. In the context of abortion, they contend that while they may personally find it objectionable, it’s not the place of the law to impose this belief on others. This line of reasoning, however, is riddled with contradictions and lacks a robust understanding of the role of law in society.
But there are those who also believe that we, as Christians, shouldn’t waste our time supporting legislation against such things as abortion, not because they don’t believe it’s objectively wrong, but because they believe that it isn’t the place of the government to do so. Instead, they argue, we should be focused on changing their hearts, whether it be through preaching the gospel, charitable acts, or bribery with welfare. But, this too, is fundamentally flawed and unbiblical.
Firstly, it’s essential to recognize that the notion of legislating morality is not only biblical but foundational to the very concept of law and order. The Scriptures, spanning from the Old Testament laws given to the nation of Israel to the New Testament principles guiding the Church, affirm the role of civil government as an instrument of God’s justice. Romans 13:4 refers to the governing authority as “God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” This isn’t a suggestion—it’s a divine mandate.
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Now, let’s address the glaring inconsistency in the “can’t legislate morality” argument. Those who propagate this view against abortion laws paradoxically support laws against other moral atrocities such as murder, theft, or rape. Why is there a selective application of this principle? If we follow their logic, shouldn’t we also argue against laws prohibiting the murder of born individuals, or laws against theft and other crimes? Clearly, this selective moral legislation is contradictory.
This argument that we should focus solely, or even mostly, on changing hearts rather than legislating against abortion is naive at best and dangerously neglectful at worst. We live in a fallen world, marred by sin and rebellion against God. Not every heart will turn towards Christ and His teachings. Therefore, the civil government, ordained by God, serves as a necessary restraint against the evil actions of the unrepentant.
To say we can’t legislate morality in the context of abortion is to disregard the primary function of government as ordained by God: to protect the innocent and punish the wicked. The unborn child, the most vulnerable and innocent among us, deserves this protection, too. To argue otherwise is to neglect the biblical responsibility bestowed upon civil authorities.
Yes, as Christians, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation, to preach the gospel to the lost and to lead people to Christ. But this is certainly not a dichotomy by which we must choose between law and gospel. The law is for the wicked—the righteous do not need laws. Yet, as Christians, the laws we support should reflect the gospel and morality of the one who changed our hearts. These laws we support should point to Christ. We believe, as the Scriptures say, that God hates the hand that sheds innocent blood, so we should support laws that restrict such evil against innocent people.
Yet, we should remember this: that the civil government is designed to protect innocent people from wicked people—it is not for the purpose of protecting God from blasphemers or idolaters. But the claim that “we can’t legislate morality” is not only unbiblical but also logically inconsistent and morally negligent, particularly in the context of abortion. As Christians, it is our duty to support and advocate for laws that uphold the sanctity of life and the protection of innocent people. This isn’t just a matter of personal conviction, it’s a matter of biblical truth and divine mandate.