What is Lawful is Not Always Moral: Lessons for Christians on Politics from the Navy and PCUSA

As I was getting ready this morning, I was listening to Albert Mohler’s daily podcast, The Briefing.  He spent much time on the recent change that the PCUSA has made to their standards for ordination of clergy.  In the back of my mind, I was also thinking about the Navy’s recent decision (and, thankfully, reversal of it) to allow clergy to marry members of the same-gender.  Mohler touched on that story too.

Both stories have reminded me of the importance for Christians to be involved in politics and public policy.

Let’s take the PCUSA as an example first.  You may, initially, think that the debate was a purely internal, denominational debate.  Polity, not politics, governed the change, one might conclude.  You would, in part, be very correct.  As Mohler and others have done a fine job of pointing out, the change to the PCUSA standards have less to do with sexuality and more to do with theological liberalism.

But, the story has been promoted around a different story line also.  Most reports have indicated that this came, as the Washington Post said, “after a decade of debate.”  The USA Today reports on one pastor saying that the denomination “has talked about, prayed about, worked, discussed, discerned for 35 years.”  Indeed, previous attempts to strip sexual fidelity from clergy standards in the PCUSA failed in 1997, 2001, and 2008.  So, why now?

One of many reasons is the fact that the political discussion across the country has had something of a momentum change.  Likewise, it has become almost fashionable for Christians to retreat to the safe enclaves of their churches, buying in to the drum beat demands that we separate church from state.

Last December, Congress rushed through a repeal of the policy prohibiting homosexual behavior in the military.  Last year, Judge Vaughn Walker unilaterally declared in his 77th Finding of Fact, “Religious beliefs that gay and lesbian relationships are sinful or inferior to heterosexual relationships harm gays and lesbians.”  We could list many more examples of how the political discussion continues its almost frenzied demand to expand “rights” for same-sex relationships and other behavior contrary to Scripture.

It’s a point I raise only to demonstrate the influence that politics has upon the broader culture’s sense of morality.  For good or ill, many equate what is legal with what is morally correct.  If the political discussion is trending towards the legality of same-sex relationships as marriage, than a certain percentage of the population is going to conclude it might likely be moral as well.  For the PCUSA, that meant that many holding to Orthodox Christianity and tired of the ongoing fight simply gave up or left the denomination altogether.  Those who remained, in large measure, equated what is legal with what is moral.

That important lesson is illuminated by the recent decision by the U.S. Navy to allow it’s chaplains, on bases located in areas where same-sex ‘marriage’ is legal, to marry same-sex couples.

Amidst one recent report on how the Marines are being trained in anticipation of the final repeal of the so-called, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, was this statement:

If a Marine spots two men in his battalion kissing off-duty at a shopping mall, he should react as if he were seeing a man and woman, according to the training materials.

via Marines get trained on accepting gay recruits – Yahoo! News.

While not a tremendously flashy or an even controversial statement in our day, it has profound implications for religious liberty – especially when juxtaposed to the Navy’s action to permit same-sex marriages (even in face of a Federal statute explicitly barring such a move).

If Marines are to not flinch when they see homosexual behavior in the corps, then they are not to flinch when they see other immoral behavior occurring as well, right?  After all, the military is effectively saying that two men kissing is the moral equivalent of a man and woman kissing.  If what is legal is also what is moral, then it’s a mere extension of logic for the Navy to conclude that if  two men kissing is legal/moral, then so would be marriage.

This overstepping of government into the proper role of the church (what Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper delineated as clearly distinct “spheres” of God-ordained authority).  It is a government of limited authority destroying its limitations.

Along the way, it raise more questions for the future.  For instance, it would be a violation of the new military standards for a Marine to demonstrate concern to a comrade engaging in homosexual behavior, but would that concern be protected by the First Amendment if he then shared the Gospel with his buddy?  What if the soldier instead approaches a comrade he knows is having an adulterous, heterosexual affair and encourages him to live according to the sexual standards of Scripture?

The point, of course, is that the law is having a flattening effect on morality and a limiting effect on religious expression.  Core to the Christian faith is evangelism, which often finds itself expressed at the point where one has guilt feelings stemming from immoral behavior.  Now that the law has eliminated (by making it legal) the morality of a certain behavior, it will also limit those expression of religious belief (what we might call, “evangelism”) to silence.

After all, recall the words of Judge Walker: “religious beliefs . . . harm . . ..”

That leaves you with a couple of choices.  Either you throw your hands in the air and declare America to be lost, hopeless, and too big an immoral ship to be turned, or you remain faithful to the privilege God has given you to faithfully declare the everlasting principles that He has outlined in Scripture – and that remain a triumphing moral code regardless of how humans attempt to modify it through the law.

In the end, we may be unsuccessful.  Ultimately, God is sovereign over all things – legal and moral.  It is not my job to change minds (that’s well beyond my power).  My duty and joy is to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering. . .”

Still, it is a grand privilege we have been given as American Christians, to both actively participate in government and, in the process, ensure our human law convicts the evil heart of men by being slow to give legal approval to what is Biblically immoral.

About Jeremy Dys

Jeremy Dys is the FPCWV's President and General Counsel. In addition to his duties of providing strategic vision and leadership to the FPCWV, Dys is the chief lobbyist and spokesman. Dys is regularly featured in local, state, and national print, radio, and television outlets. He lives close to Charleston with his wife and growing family.

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