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August 13, 2016 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

Morality and Good Government

  1. K. Chesterton (1874 – 1936) wrote, along with a vast literary output, “A Short History of England.” In discussing the Roman period of English history begun with the conquest of Julius Caesar he makes the remark that, “Even good government was not good enough to know God among the thieves.” It is a trenchant remark and displays Chesterton’s Christian orientation.  Rome brought law and order to early England, but they did not bring morality.  This was already there through the work of the primitive Church.

The statement refers, of course, to the crucifixion of Jesus.  Pilate’s one goal was to preserve order in an overcrowded city celebrating the Passover of the Jews.  He was responding to what he thought was a popular protest over a false Messiah.  The truth of the matter was that this was a rump mob.  It had been gathered in the early morning hours by the Temple establishment that was politically threatened by the popularity of Jesus.  Pilate had likely been roused out of bed to confront the mob.  The pilgrims to Passover and the general citizenry of Jerusalem were still in bed after a long night of celebrating the Passover meal with family and visiting friends from abroad.  Jesus was on the cross by nine o’clock in the morning so the events of his hearing before Pilate must have started somewhere around six o’clock of earlier.

The point Chesterton makes is that government is ill equipped at making moral decisions.  Even if they are efficient at keeping the peace the pressure of various political agendas drive their choices.  In the case of Jesus’ crucifixion a manufactured mob manipulated the governor into a moral choice which he knew was wrong but nevertheless made to satisfy the political agenda of a few.

I am, of course, aware that this perspective is temporal.  God’s plan is in another dimension and is another story.  However, the history speaks to our time as it speaks to all history.  The reason the Founding Fathers of our United States of America stated in the first amendment of our constitution that:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

is that they understood the state was not constituted to equip it to make moral and religious policy.  This was the place of the Church.  Morality cannot be legislated because it has already been fixed by the God of creation as surely as the law of gravity.  It can be protected.  It can be discovered through conscience, the written Word of God and sometimes through experience, although this is a dangerous approach.

When the state, like Pilate, seeks to legislate morality it will inevitably be wrong, and it will be wrong because it was manipulated by a small group of clever people with a political agenda contrary to the both personal and public welfare.

It is one thing to recognize an individual’s right to be wrong.  It is quite another thing to encourage immorality with enabling legislation.

We need to pray with the Chronicler (II Chron. 7:14) that God will forgive and heal our land.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at  END-whs