A Speech Delivered During the 2010 Annual Convention of the American Council on Alcohol Problems
By Fred Jones
Since our conference theme is “Prevention – The Answer”, I thought I would discuss the best means of prevention … and that is by attempting to live by Christian ideals, both as individuals and as a society.
As a retained lobbyist for the California Council on Alcohol Problems, I have to daily ask myself the following question: How should we strive to legislate Christian ideals?
This topic requires discussing two subjects that never should be discussed among a “mixed” group: religion and politics. So, there is no doubt that I may step on a few toes during my remarks.
The American Experiment is much more than the Athenian democracy experience. Our nation guaranteed its citizenry individual liberties and inalienable rights that no authority could take away. Therefore, for freedom of self-governance to be sustaining, we must have moral individuals and shared, community ethics. Without such individual restraints and community standards, chaos would reign — since the natural state is “poor, brutish, nasty and short” (Thomas Hobbes)
Public Policy Maker’s Perspective
I still believe that most (if not all) politicians share the same interest: a productive, cohesive society. Those on the opposite sides of the “political aisles” just approach it from differing perspectives and priorities:
Liberals look to community standards and goals first.
Conservatives look to the individual, first.
BUT both desire the same end-result:
Responsible and Productive Citizens
Cohesive, crime-free Communities
Christian Ideals are the sufficient ingredient. Some of our agnostic and non-Christian brothers-and-sisters may argue whether Christian ideals are necessary ingredients to such a free and organized society, but I doubt they could argue that such ideals, if voluntarily accepted by all, would be sufficient to preserve a free, prosperous and organized people.
A nation’s political trends are governed by several factors–the state of the economy, the vested interests of politicians and bureaucrats, the attitudes of the media, Special Interest largesse, and many others.
But the fundamental factor is moral: the beliefs people have about right and wrong, good and bad; their aspirations for their lives; the virtues they practice and vices they denounce; the responsibilities and obligations they accept; the things they feel entitled to; the standards that govern their sense of fair play; the ideals that shape their sense of what is worthy.
Let me provide you a story to illustrate this simple, yet profoundly important principle:
There was an old man who was a great admirer of democracy and public education. So close to his heart did he hold both institutions that he tried to bring them together into one grand experiment, a public college where students would practice self-governance. There would be no regulations; the goodwill and judgment of the students would suffice. After years of planning, the school was finally opened. The old man was overjoyed.
But as the months went by, students proved time and time again that they were not the models of discipline and discernment the old man envisioned. They skipped classes, drank to excess, and wasted hours in frivolous pursuits. One night, 14 students, disguised by masks and “animated with wine,” went on a rampage that ended in a brawl. One struck a professor with a brick, and another used a cane on his victim.
In response, the college’s trustees convened a special meeting. The old man, now 82 years old and very frail, was asked to address the student body. In his remarks, he recalled the lofty principles upon which the college had been founded. He said he had expected more – much more – from the students. He even confessed that this was the most painful event of his life. Suddenly, he stopped speaking. Tears welled up in his failing eyes. He was so overcome with grief that he sat down, unable to go on.
His audience was so touched that at the conclusion of the meeting the 14 offenders stepped forward to admit their guilt. But they could not undo the damage already done. A strict code of conduct and numerous onerous regulations were instituted at the college. The old man’s experiment had failed. Why? Because he took for granted the one essential ingredient necessary for success: virtue. Only a virtuous people can secure and maintain their freedom.
A short time later, on the Fourth of July – 50 years to the day of the signing of the Declaration of Independence – the old man passed away. Engraved on his tombstone were the simple words that reflected the success and failure of his most important experiments: “Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and father of the University of Virginia.” (This story came from “The Rest of the Story” – the late Paul Harvey, radio commentator).
Jefferson’s setback at the University of Virginia in the 1820s reflects today’s threat to our own larger experiment in self-governance – a national experiment in which success or failure will ultimately be determined by our virtue. Virtue is indeed the oxygen of a free society. As it fills our lungs, we become a people of strength, capable of vigorously exercising the kind of self-governance that our founding fathers expected of us.
Each of us would benefit from more intra-personal reflection of what truly matters in life. By seeking virtue in our personal lives, we learn what things we ought to be doing. This is the essence of a moral life.
Edgar A. Guest’s poem “Sermons We See,” drives home the urgency of being a Christ-like role model for others to follow … here are some pertinent excerpts:
I’d rather see a sermon
than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me
than merely tell the way.
And the best of all the preachers
are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action
is what everybody needs.
And the lecture you deliver
may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons
by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you
and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding
how you act and how you live.
Though an able speaker charms me
with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon
than to hear one, any day.
By raising and maintaining our personal standards, we will doubtlessly be contributing to the benefit of our surrounding communities. By strengthening our own destinies, we are more able — and often inclined — to reach-out to assist others, as a rising tide lifts all ships.
Our Founding Fathers established the American Experiment on the inter-connected pillars of Individual Responsibility and Communal Cooperation, but the foundation must be the sure ground of morality.
From the Mayflower to the Declaration of Independence and Revolutionary War, America’s freedom rested on the citizenry’s capability to remain vigilant to Christian principles.
In our Constitutional system of governance, not only should we expect much of ourselves, as individuals, and of our neighbors, as the public, but we can and must demand much of our elected representatives.
We should hold them to the highest standards, expecting them to uphold virtue, and holding them accountable when they do not. We should do what we can to work with and support our local, state and national leaders.
1 Timothy 2:1-3: “I exhort therefore that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions and giving of thanks be made for all men: for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.”
We should pray that our leaders are inspired of God, that they may have the wisdom and fortitude to defend moral principles in their public policy deliberations. And, we should not shirk in our responsibility to redress our government when its policies fail to maintain our nation’s moral standards.
How many times have you heard that worn-out phrase? Incredibly, though one of the most employed refrain of public officials to any effort to assert “right/wrong” into the public discourse, this defense is totally without logical merit and contrary to our nation’s history.
As the Apostle Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 10:5, Christians must “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” It’s time we demolish the pretension, “You can’t legislate morality.”
Morality is about right and wrong, and that’s what laws put into legal form. Can you think of one law which doesn’t declare one behavior right and its opposite wrong? The truth is all laws legislate morality (even speed and traffic laws imply a moral right to life). And everyone in politics — conservatives, libertarians, liberals, special interests — is trying to legislate morality. The only question is: “Whose morality should be legislated?”
You say, “But what about the separation of church and state?” What about it? The First Amendment says nothing about the separation of church and state. The oft-quoted phrase: “a wall of separation between church and state” is nowhere in our founding documents … it is from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson. And, yet, many argue this position as if it’s an explicitly Constitutional provision. The Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
But even if we agreed with the incorrect assertion that our Constitution prohibits any mixing of government and religion, such a position and that of the explicit provisions of the First Amendment would still not prohibit legislating morality.
In fact, the First Amendment itself legislates morality: it clearly implies it would be wrong for Congress to legislate a national religion or prohibit the free exercise of religion; it also implies any congressional attempt to abridge freedom of speech, the press, or assembly would be morally wrong.
However, when lobbying for moral legislation in the public square, people of faith must learn to cite documented evidence and appeal to the common ground of reason. This is exactly the strategy employed by the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill before the Greek Philosophers. He did not quote Bible verses to them, because they did not believe in the Hebrew Scriptures! Instead, he reasoned with them. We must do the same in our non-Christian (often hostile) public square.
One such reasonable distinction we must draw is the distinction between religion and morality. While it is true that morality comes from God, there’s a big difference between religion and morality: for purposes of legislation religion involves our duty to God while morality is concerned with our duty to one another. Laws against murder, child abuse, rape and theft are moral (not just religious) issues, because they are needed to restrain evil and protect the innocent.
We can and should avoid legislating religion, but we can’t avoid legislating morality — that’s what laws inevitably do! We don’t want to make a law to tell people how to worship, where to worship, or if to worship; that would be legislating religion. But we can’t avoid making laws that tell people how we should treat one another; that’s legislating morality. In short, legislating religion is unconstitutional, but legislating morality is unavoidable. All laws are merely a reflection of community ethics.
Here are some concrete and explicit examples of legislating morality into California’s legal structure:
In ARTICLE 9 of the California State Constitution, dealing with EDUCATION, it reads:
SECTION 1. A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being
essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the
people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the
promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural
And in the CA BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONS CODE, it reads:
23000. This division shall be known and may be cited as the
“Alcoholic Beverage Control Act.”
23001. This division is an exercise of the police powers of the
State for the protection of the safety, welfare, health, peace, and
morals of the people of the State, to eliminate the evils of
unlicensed and unlawful manufacture, selling, and disposing of
alcoholic beverages, and to promote temperance in the use and
consumption of alcoholic beverages. It is hereby declared that the
subject matter of this division involves in the highest degree the
economic, social, and moral well-being and the safety of the State
and of all its people. All provisions of this division shall be
liberally construed for the accomplishment of these purposes.
So, the question becomes Whose Morality Should Prevail?
Thomas Jefferson had the answer: the morality that should be legislated is the one Jefferson declared is “self-evident” (the Apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of his letter to the Romans that such morality was “written on [our] hearts”). Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” In other words, true morality comes from God who bestows on His creatures certain moral rights, independent of and transcendent over any governmental authority.
You may be thinking: “If this Moral Law is indeed ‘self-evident’ as Jefferson declared, then why doesn’t everyone agree with our efforts to advance alcohol prevention policies?” We all don’t agree about the proper limits to the marketing and consumption of alcohol because some of us suppress the truth about right and wrong, and, as is invariably the case with the efforts to regulate the alcohol industry, those setting policy are often swayed not by reason or moral consideration, but money. The greed displayed by Public Officials mirror that of the addict.
They are ignorant of the facts, or consciously avoiding the truth, to which Paul’s warning to the Romans applies:
Rom. 1:18: Public Policymakers: “For the wrath of God is … against … [those] who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
It is incumbent upon us – our organizations, congregations and fellow brothers and sisters in the faith – to figure-out effective means of participating in the body politic, so that policies and regulations will be approach conformity to truth and reality.
Why Christians Should Be Involved In Politics
Some Christians believe we should not be involved in law-making and politics. They believe we should stay out of politics and concentrate only on evangelism. After all, laws can’t change people, only a commitment to Christ can. I believe this thinking overlooks three very important facts which support Christian involvement in politics.
First, the evangelism-instead-of-politics plea presents a false dilemma. There is no good reason why evangelicals cannot both win souls and participate in politics. Indeed, we are commanded to do both! When Jesus instructed believers to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-17), He did not qualify that command by excluding politics. Moreover, why would it be wise for Christians to stay out of politics? Would the nation be better off if only atheists were allowed to provide the government with moral leadership?
You say, “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Indeed, Caesar cannot provide salvation, nor can any form of man-made government. But, bad public policy – laced with libertine license and a lack of moral guidance — will foster an environment that seriously threatens an individual’s salvation.
Second, since many people believe whatever is legal is moral and vice versa, the law is a great teacher. It helps teach people right from wrong. The Apostle Paul wrote “Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law” (Rom. 7:7) .
Third, the law actually does help implement changed attitudes and behaviors. A major moral issue in our nation’s history proves the powerful effect of the law on attitudes and behaviors. That issue was slavery.
One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, there was so much controversy over the question of slavery that many people thought it better to divide the nation and fight their own relatives rather than agree on a legislative solution. Today, outside of a tiny fraction of racist extremists, everybody believes that slavery is morally wrong. Did attitudes change overnight because we outlawed slavery?
No — behavior changed immediately because slave owners did not want to go to jail — but the law did help change pro-slavery attitudes over time. Legislating against slavery helped change attitudes over the long run because many people have always believed that whatever is illegal must also be immoral and vice versa. Before the Civil War, slave owners could rationalize the obvious immorality of slavery under the cover of “it is legal.” Afterwards, the law did not provide that convenient excuse, and attitudes slowly changed.
And another example, this time to illustrate that the color of law can undermine morality, is California’s own Prop 19 (legalization of marijuana initiative). If this passes, you will see the blurring of moral standards, possibly reestablishing community norms vis-à-vis mind-altering drugs. This will have a direct impact on our efforts to rein-in alcohol marketing and consumption, and certainly divert resources away from prevention programs.
For these reasons Christians must work to pass and protect moral laws. If Christians do not get involved in politics, then the libertine and amoral side will continue to legislate policies that will bring our State and country pain, suffering and even death.
As Edmund Burke declared over 200 years ago,
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
In the 6th Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read:
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might … For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of the world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness. And [pray] for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
It is my hope and prayer that we, as conscientious citizens and leaders in the faith, will understand and accept our democratic duty to advocate and defend Christian Ideals in the public arena.
Fred Jones is a lobbyist for the California Council on Alcohol Problems