Losing the Moral High Ground


Now that we are in the thick of the political season, we are beginning to see the inevitable, and emotionally-charged, debates about the key moral issues of our day—homosexual marriage, abortion, etc.   But, as soon as any group speaks out against these practices, the mainstream media, right on cue, is quick to chide them for forcing their morality onto others.   The days of using morality as a political weapon are over, we are told.  The “moral majority” of the 1980’s (Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al.) has lost and we need to move beyond such self-righteous posturing.

But, is the age of the “moral majority” really over?   I would suggest that it is not.  Certainly the era of the Christian Coalition led by Falwell and Robertson is over.   But, something remarkable has happened since then.   A new morality majority has emerged—but this time it is on the left.   Now the very groups that once chided Falwell and Robertson for appealing to morality, are doing it themselves as they defend practices like homosexual marriage.   To deny same-sex couples the right to marry is now described as “wrong” and “evil” and “bigoted” and “mean” and “hateful.”   When you hear such language from advocates of homosexual marriage it is clear they are not just on a political crusade, they are on a moral crusade.   In their mind, they are overturning evil and injustice in the world.

The problem with this whole scenario is that Christians are slow to recognize what is happening.   It hasn’t dawned on us that we are losing more than a political argument.  We are losing a moral argument.   In this battle, we have lost the moral high ground.

But, there is a way forward.  Although it is ironic that those advocating sexual promiscuity are doing so on moral grounds (just think about that for a moment), it presents a clear opportunity for Christians to make their case for the truth of biblical Christianity.   Two considerations:

1. We need to point out the inconsistency of this new morality. For years, Christians have been critiqued for imposing their morality on others and for bringing their own moral proclivities into the public sphere.  Morals are private, we are told.  Keep them out of politics.  But, here is where the inconsistency of the left needs to be pointed out.  Contrary to their own rules of engagement, they have made moral arguments for practices like homosexual marriage time and time again.  Indeed, these are aggressive arguments that make sweeping condemnations of all who might disagree.  And often the condemnations are followed by lawsuits, boycotts, and protests against business or individuals who express a differing view.

Of course, this inconsistency has been routinely missed by the media and by cultural and political leaders.  This new moral majority is not called “self-righteous” (as was the old moral majority in the 1980’s).  But, this should come as no surprise.  The new morality gets a pass for one simple reason. It fits with what most people already believe.

2.We need to challenge the intellectual foundation for this new morality. Whenever issues like homosexual marriage are debated in the public sphere, Christians have made a bit of a tactical mistake.  We have focused our time on the merits of each moral position (whether such a practice helps or hurts a society), and have not asked where morals come from in the first place.  On what grounds does this new moral majority declare homosexual marriage to be “good”?  And where do they get concepts of “good” and “evil” and “right” and “wrong”?   On why should we even care about issues of “fairness” and “equality”?

Christians have answers to these questions.  We believe that moral absolutes are grounded in the very character of God himself and revealed in his Word.   Indeed, we would argue that without a theistic worldview, there would be no basis for any morals at all. One cannot make moral claims with just any old worldview.  One needs a worldview that can provide a coherent reason for why something is really wrong or really right.

It is here that the advocates of the new morality run into some problems.  Are they really willing to invoke God as the basis for their sweeping moral agenda?   Doubtful.  For one, the left has worked quite diligently to get God out of every public venue, from the pledge of allegiance to public prayer.  Moreover, the DNC has just taken “God” out of its 2012 platform.   So, it would be shocking, to say the least, if suddenly they invoked God as the basis for their new moral claims.

But, the problem is bigger than this.  Even if they did invoke God as a basis for supporting practices like homosexual marriage, where could they turn to show that God has declared his support for such a practice?  Certainly, the major theistic religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—all explicitly condemn such a practice.   One would almost have to create a new theistic religion out of nothing, in order to find a “god” who is willing to support this particular behavior.

I suppose the new moral majority could forge ahead with their moral crusade without any appeal to God.  But, an atheistic worldview provides no basis for moral norms.   If there is no God, then why does it matter what a person does to another person?  There is nothing “moral” about our actions under such circumstances.  They are just actions.  In fact, it was this realization that led C.S. Lewis to abandon his atheism: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?. . . Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning” (Mere Christianity, 42).

In the end, the new moral majority finds itself in an awkward, and intellectually indefensible position.  They need a transcendent God in order for moral norms to exist, yet they are working at every turn against God’s role in the public sphere.   Moreover, they are advocating a behavior (e.g., homosexual marriage) that is rejected by every major theistic religion.

In all of this, Paul’s description in Romans 1 rings true: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking” (Rom 1:21).


Losing the Moral High Ground — 9 Comments

  1. I would argue that we also need to reintroduce the concept of natural law and argue from that foundation, before bringing in divine revelation. What do you think about natural law?

    • Thanks, Devin. I think there is a place for discussions of natural law, as long as it is properly construed. My friend David Van Drunen has done some work in this area and is worth reading.

  2. Who are you to tell me what is wrong & what is right. God….there is no God, you have been duped. Dont you know where we really come from…the answers are in.

    I could go on, but enter the blogosphere & many an atheist is armed to the hilt with reasoned arguments that take a lot of time, effort & knowledge. In truth many of them have a knowledge of Christianity that could bamboozle some Christians. They also understand well the failings of the church over the centuries….but sadly they dont seem to understand GRACE.

    Some things they dont have is the Spirit & a reverence for God the maker & redeemer. Also a trust in His Word…so in many ways, regardless of the political situation the church is called to stand firm, to grow & mature in the knowledge of God…

    In many ways Atheism says we are just as good as you guys, if not better. At least we can think for ourselves. It reminds me of Moses in Egypt with the magicians & snakes.

    Many an argument will claim that religion is harmful to children, the parents should not be allowed to teach it, but rather let the children decide when they are old enough. America is presented as a bunch of religous wacko’s & I have to admit, its a prtetty easy picture to paint at times, not a true reflection in the scheme of things though…

    If I might add anything to Dr Kruger’s article it may be to remember it’s not just what you say but how you say it….

  3. There’s legislating morality and there’s legislating morality. Seeking to protect your neighbor from being oppressed, murdered, robbed, enslaved, abused, etc.? Generally speaking that’s fine. If not the particulars, at least the motivation, which is to create legal protection from harm. Mandating the particulars of your faith (e.g. “no pork”) on society as a whole, for no other reason than you want to make everyone follow the rules? Not so fine. This is how progressives see the opposition to same-sex marriage and, to a lesser extent, the fight against abortion. On the former, but not the latter, I have to agree.

    In order to effectively argue for the refusal to legally recognize same-sex marriages, believers will need to convince proponents that their opposition isn’t the moral equivalent of banning pork. IMO that’s going to be a hard to do.

  4. When legislation succeeds in changing the heart of man, get back to me. I suppose when Cain killed Abel, Adam and Eve sat down and had a long, intricate discussion about it, and what kind of new legislation they should impose? Maybe we should start looking where Christ looked, at the heart of each man, not a daggum piece of paper.

    • Thanks, Jon. Appreciate you joining the discussion. However, I’m not understanding the point of your post since I never said that legislation can change the hearts of men. I agree it cannot change the hearts of men. But, that does not make it irrelevant or unimportant. We legislate against murder because it is harmful to our society, not because it changes the heart of the murderer (or potential murderer). In addition, it should be noted that both sides of this debate legislate morality (which was the point of my article). The question isn’t whether someone legislates morality, but the question is which morality. I pointed out that a person has to have a coherent theistic worldview in order to have a foundation for morality in the first place. Thus, if someone rejects such a worldview, then they have no grounds for their moral claims, despite their own protests.