26 February 2008

Church-backed Legislation

There's a bit of buzz, right now, regarding a couple who withdrew their membership from the church due to their opposition to the church's position on gay marriage and supposedly to how their situation was handled by church leadership. I don't know this couple. I would guess, though, that their vocal opposition to gay marriage was just the tip of a very large iceberg and that their final parting with the church is about a lot more than this one issue. I'd guess gay marriage is a red herring, and a convenient one for gay-activism sympathizers. But like I said, I just don't know that; I can only go from other similar situations I've seen more closely.

That said, I have never, never been fully comfortable with the active involvement of the church, as an institution, in moral legislation, or especially with the leadership--at any level--urging that members vote a certain way (implied or explicit) or support specific legislation, whether prohibition or same-sex marriage, regarding morality. I wasn't fully comfortable with it even when I more ardently opposed legalized same-sex marriage and argued that it was necessary to defend the rights of children to have fair opportunity to be raised by a mother and father.

I could never fully subscribe to the argument that it's OK for the church to get so involved because the "prophets may see more potential consequences that the rest of us don't see, should certain legislation pass or fail." That's not to say I don't believe that could be true. It probably is, if they are oracles of the Lord. Regardless of whatever human shortcomings they may have, in their wisdom and experience and calling, they probably are bestowed with ample vision and inspiration on such matters. But when we begin gathering the troops to legally enforce our perspective with "morality" as our banner, it just conjures unsettling images of small steps towards a potentially overly-restrictive theocracy which limits the joy of knowing you've exercised free agency as we supposedly believe we came here to do. I understand even a theocracy can seem ideal to many people, especially if you subscribe fully to the doctrines promulgated by the leaders of such a government. But it is, nonetheless, a rather uncomfortable notion for me, and always has been, even though my behavior needn't be different. But I like to know that I made the choice. I chose to obey. I chose to live this way and believe what I do. There is joy and motivation in knowing that. And there is joy in allowing others the same privilege.

If we are to oppose legislation, shouldn't it be guided by our understanding of gospel principles and in defense of the rights and freedom of ourselves and others? Am I missing something, here?

I guess I'm just an intellectually apostate sucka, though, so what do I know about it?


Felicity said...

I used to think this same thing. Then I read this article/quote and it really changed my mind:

[In response to those who say “Don’t legislate morality.”] “I suppose persons who mouth that familiar slogan think they are saying something profound. In fact, if that is an argument at all, it is so superficial that an educated person should be ashamed to use it. As should be evident to every thinking person, a high proportion of all legislation has a moral base. That is true of the criminal law, most of the laws regulating family relations, businesses, and commercial transactions, many of the laws governing property, and a host of others” (“Gambling—Morally Wrong and Politically Unwise,” transcript of an address given at Ricks College, 6 Jan. 1987, p. 20).

Anyway, you said you like comments. It makes sense to me, so there's mine.

The Impossible K said...

I read the article, along with his personal explanation (which, if you ask me, read more like a bio)... and you're right- his views on same-sex marriage were just the tipping point.
I'm glad you posted a response to this. What irked me most about the story in general was this subtext of "Church = restrictive theocracy".
Of course, there's more to this than differing points of view... Danzig published his opposition in a newspaper with anti-Mormon bias. If you look at church history, that move was all too similar to acts of some early apostates. Did you know William Smith (Joseph's brother) was excommunicated after publishing a statement to the Warsaw Signal-an anti-Mormon newspaper?
... I had a similar reaction to Danzig, I think, when the bishop announced that we, as church members, should support legislation against same-sex marriage. But I didn't get excommunicated. In hindsight, I was a bit too critical, I guess... Still, I never felt guilty for having my own opinions. Fortunately, a dash of humility with ample helpings of the Spirit will usually absolve not-so-Christlike views :)

A Girl You Know said...

The D&C section outlining the church's stance on political matters says they oppose matters that "bind the will and conscience of man." This was the scripture that help me decide my stance when Oregon had a voter initiative regarding same-sex marriages.

It seems like the church has changed its stance on such matters.

[kɹeɪ̯g̊] said...

The D&C section outlining the church's stance on political matters says they oppose matters that "bind the will and conscience of man." This was the scripture that help me decide my stance when Oregon had a voter initiative regarding same-sex marriages.

It seems like the church has changed its stance on such matters.

It sure does...

Original Mohomie said...

Felicity, I used to think the way the author of that speech seems to. :-)

Yes, our laws are based on a Judeo-Christian perspective and basically "moral" to the extent that we've determined what rights matter based on that foundation. But I've adopted another perspective that makes it harder to feel comfortable legislating my morals: to me, laws are made to protect the safety and rights of the people they are written for. I think we need to enforce the violation of others' rights and the deliberate risk of others' safety. If something is shown to be generally detrimental to the physical security of the population, it should be examined for legal prohibition. I can appreciate that. And when an action of one person actually diminishes the rights of others, such an action may merit legislation. But to me, the guiding principle should be: who will this law protect? What rights does it preserve? Are we allowing freedom of choice or forcing citizens to comply?

If moral legislation is acceptable, where does it stop? Shouldn't we be enforcing fornication laws? What is the fine for not paying tithing? What punishment is appropriate for those who say unkind words about others? How should we handle it when people greedily buy more possessions than they need while ignoring the poor?

Rich said...

I'm going to play devil's advocate for a moment and suggest that ALL legislation is moral legislation. Every law that is passed regulates morality. For example, when a speed limit is set at 35 miles per hour, the lawmakers have determined, whether correctly or not, that it is not safe to drive faster than 35 miles per hour and that driving faster than that is putting yourself and others at risk of harm. Safety and reducing the risk of loss-of-life or bodily harm to others is a moral issue and thus, the speed limit is a moral issue. This test can be used on other laws as well.

The reason I bring this up is that we often hear that the government should not legislate morality. I could not disagree more. Every decision that government makes to one-degree or another legislates morality. The question should be when does government cross-the-line and infringe upon one's right to make decisions for the direction of one's life? In other words, how much legislation is too much legislation? I don't know the answer to that but I think it is something that collectively as a society we must continually assess so that government does not become a too powerful or burdensome influence in our lives.

On the other hand, the Church as an institution who has legitimate interests in the promotion of the traditional family has every right to speak out and advocate for the support or opposition of a piece of legislation that furthers these interests just like you have the right to advocate to your representatives your interests as well. That's the beauty of a democracy. We all have a venue to try to make our voices heard.

Original Mohomie said...

Rich, thanks for the input. I think I understand the perspective you're expressing. And even though I think my previous arguments still stand, I'll throw out a few more thoughts, 'cause hey, it's what I do. :-)

I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea that our government should amount to a bunch of people saying, "well, hey, the majority is making the rules, so if you don't like them, find another country." That attitude takes my mind immediately to certain Islamic countries I'm very grateful I don't live in. I guess it's my libertarian streak coming through.

As for the speed limit example, there's quantifiable evidence for the need for a speed limit. Where to draw the line may be subjective, and if research shows that 35 mph does not reduce injuries and casualties any more than 50 mph, then raise the speed limit. Seriously, I can think of at least half a dozen places I'd change the speed limit. :-)

Law is not cut and dry, I'm aware. Trade-offs are always made. Very difficult decisions are always being made. But is that morality? Why should the law require me to wear a seat belt? Is there a financial impact on society if I decide to be stupid and not buckle up? These are decisions based on quantifiable measures and societal impact, not what I would call "morality".

Morality has, in fact, been legislated in the past. I'm not sure what grounds were used to legislate against sodomy or fornication, but those laws are largely ignored now, if not repealed. Should we enforce them again?

You see, I don't think it's as much about the majority deciding "how much is too much" as it is about deciding whose rights are at stake or who is being protected.

Traffic laws and regulations are for the safety and protection of the citizens. Government should steer very clear of trying to regulate its citizens' "spiritual" well-being.

We should elect righteous leaders, yes, but do we expect those righteous leaders to then force everyone else to be righteous? Is THAT the purpose of electing them? Or is it because they will not succumb to corruption and will not enslave the citizens and will be more inspired in their decisions and will be wise examples to look to?

Churches should be free to enforce what they will within their own organizations and defend their rights to worship and practice as they choose. That's a separate issue, in my mind, from moral legislation.

-L- said...

Your comments are great, and I appreciate them. I think you've hit on the difficult distinctions pretty well. I just don't know where I stand on how morality/religion should inform public policy.


I think this is where I was a few years ago.