Thursday, July 29, 2010

Confusing Legality and Justice

One of the characteristics of the postmodern age in which we live is a great deal of confusion on the issues of morality, justice, right and wrong. This confusion has infiltrated the church, which is not surprising. And one facet of that larger confusion is a tendency to equate legality with justice (or right) and illegality with unjust (or wrong). It came up the other day--among Christians--in this way...

The issue was immigration reform, and the pastor was bringing our attention to the fact that God--in both the Old and New Testaments--seems to care about the alien, the stranger, the foreigner, the displaced person. The pastor shared several passages--and could have shared many more--in which God called/calls His people to speak up for and have compassion upon this group of people. The response by more than one Christian listener was, in effect,
But don't you see, these people are illegal aliens--they are breaking the law.
Now, there are a number of problems with this naive, insensitive, simplistic response, but my point in this post is to point out only one. And that one is that it is a mistake to equate legality with right (moral, or just) and likewise a mistake to equate illegality with wrong (immoral, or unjust).

With a Christian, my response to such a question might be to say, "Oh, so you are in favor of abortions, huh?" Now, most followers of Christ who rightly understand that issue find it morally reprehensible to kill human persons just because they are still in the womb and we're bigger than they are. So I would hope that the Christian to whom I am talking would be taken aback by my assuming that he favors abortion. But my assuming that is my way of granting him consistency in his approach to morality. Because if he deals with the issue of immigration simply by asking himself "What does the law say?" then why wouldn't he do the same with other moral issues, like abortion? In the latter case, the law says that abortion is okay.

No, the reason we think abortion is wrong is because morality, righteousness, and justice are grounded in a higher standard--an absolute standard residing in the mind of the Creator of the universe. As Christians, we speak out against Roe v. Wade because we believe that the resulting human law is at odds with God's law regarding the sanctity of every human life.

And whether one believes in a Creator or not, the fact is that the entire legislative process seems to assume that the law as now written may be inadequate, may be in need of tweaking or improving. The reason we elect legislators is because we believe that there need to be changes made to reflect more closely still what is really right. (Of course, this is one of those areas in which street-level postmodernism is most clearly seen to be absurd. If there is no transcendent standard--no absolute morality found in God or elsewhere--then one cannot carry out legal or moral reform. One can claim to have changed the law, but one cannot claim to have improved the law.)

Immigration is an extremely complex issue, and most Americans recognize that comprehensive reform is much-needed. What bothers me is that the "Christian" voices heard most loudly on this issue seem to be simplistic and unthinking, and not at all in line with the teachings of Christ and the Bible. If there is a uniquely Judeo-Christian perspective that needs to be insinuated into this discussion, it likely has little to do with a sort of political party-line of tightening the laws, and much to do with the image of God found in every human being, including the alien about whom God so clearly reveals His concern in His Word to us.

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