Monday, November 13, 2006

Changing Hearts or Laws?

In late October, our school was blessed by a visit by Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., where he directs evangelicals in civic life, religion, and the media programs. He is also serving a term on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Cromartie was here to speak about the work of the president’s Commission on Religious Freedom. In doing so, he also discussed a variety of interesting side topics including the relationship between culture and law.

As Cromartie pointed out, there are people who insist that it is not possible to make society more moral through human laws but rather culture must be changed in order to obtain any improvement in public morality. By contrast, there are other people who seem to ignore culture and focus on legal means to maintain or change public morality. Cromartie indicated that there should be a balance between the two. It is true that it is necessary to change people’s hearts and minds for the law to be effective. But it is also true that legal changes can have a positive effect. Cromartie pointed out that the civil rights movement in the United States helped change the laws that allowed segregation even though the hearts and minds of many people throughout the nation were not yet ready for such a change. Some people tried to persuade Martin Luther King that he should not press for civil rights but should rather pray and work for people’s hearts to change. King rejected this idea. He was willing to work for a change in people’s hearts, but he recognized that the law should not allow recognition of segregation and the evils of racial discrimination. The civil rights movement helped bring about simultaneous change in both areas. The change in the law helped change people’s hearts and minds. The change in people’s hearts and minds made the change in the law enforceable.

I think that it is important to remember this two-tier approach to public morality and human law. It is especially important in battles over issues like embryonic stem cell research, abortion and the means of education for children. Christians are not going to succeed in maintaining or improving public morality if they alienate everyone in the culture through bad manners, through loveless attitudes or through a lack of care about those in need. But we will not succeed in ending the evils of abortion, etc. or promoting better education of children through vouchers, home schooling, etc. unless we also pay attention to the legal and political systems. It is not a case of either/or, but of two things that must proceed hand-in-hand. Christians for too long have tended to neglect one or the other.

Because of the inter relations between human law and cultural attitudes, it is of the utmost importance that we continue to emphasize preaching the Gospel, making disciples and teaching the full counsel of God as expressed in Scripture and as applied to the ethical and moral challenges we face in real life today. At the same time, Christians need an increased awareness that God is calling some of them to careers in law and government service and calling all of us who are citizens to vote properly and campaign properly in the service of our republic. While not every Christian should become a congressman or a congressional staff member or an attorney or a civil servant, all Christians that vote should acquaint themselves with the issues, discuss them with their neighbors, and support candidates whose character, ideas and principles will further effective government. We need to remember though too that though not every Christian is called to government and law, many more are called than are currently. Instead of encouraging the best and the brightest of our young people to become doctors and business executives, we need to encourage a few more of them to become law professors, journalists, civil servants and statesmen.

The world of political people is currently filled with many people who either have good intentions and terrible policies, or bad character and good policies, or desire for money, sex and power furthered by professing whatever policies they think will get them more of what they want. This is not a happy situation. While all people are sinful, and while people with defective characters will always be attracted to positions of power and authority, it is necessary for the good of our neighbors that we allow the Lord to sanctify us, purify us, improve our characters and also to put us in positions of service to our neighbors in law and government as well as in other fields and professions. We must not let service in law and government re-make us in the world’s image. We need to study law and government from a Christian worldview and learn to apply that worldview in practice. We need to work against both substantive and systemic injustices throughout our society. In a fallen world we will not succeed in getting rid of all the injustice in society. But we can have a better society than the one we have now. In order to improve society, we must never forget to work in both the realms of hearts and minds and human laws.

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