The Legislation of MoralityBlog — By Jordan Green on May 21, 2007 at 12:00 am
An email from my friend John to my friend Steve and I broke the news of Jerry Falwell’s death. My first response was “That’s strange…it seemed like that guy would live forever,” to which Steve replied wryly, “He will live forever. In my heart.”
The thing with Jerry Falwell is, he was probably a great guy if you knew him. Most accounts of the people who knew him back this up: he was kind and gracious to everyone he met. Unfortunately, that grace didn’t seem to extend to people whom he didn’t know. Very simply, it’s difficult to think of Jerry Falwell and not believe he did more harm than good.
On NPR the other day, Michele Norris interviewed Paul Weyrich. Weyrich was a close associate with Reverend Falwell. Weyrich mentions how the organization “Moral Majority” was formed as a way to unite denominational and political beliefs under one banner. The goal, the uniting of Christianity, seems noble, but the goal wasn’t theological. It was to build a political power base.
In some ways, Falwell accomplished what he set out to do. Republicans, on the back of their religious base, gained control of the House and Senate. Later, they elected a President, and it finally seemed that the US would become the Christian Nation Falwell dreamed of. Of course, things didn’t work out too well. Now that Democrats have regained control of Congress what really was gained for the Christian Right beyond two Supreme Court Justices?
The third season of HBO’s “The Wire” follows the story of a Baltimore police major named Bunny Colvin on the verge of retirement. One of the primary themes of “The Wire” is the death of a city. As the murder rate skyrockets and pressure to curb the violence grows, Bunny comes up with a unique plan.
Drug dealers are offered amnesty if they move their trade to three safe zones, minimizing their impact on the public as a whole.
The effect of this plan, since the show is fictional, must be taken with a grain of salt. The majority of Bunny’s West Baltimore district sees a steep decline in crime rate, and Bunny’s superiors, unaware that Bunny has effectively legalized drugs, are wary. While the corners and neighborhoods previously inhabited by drug dealers thrive, the safe zones are depicted, almost literally, as hell. After Bunny’s plan is discovered, he takes a city councilman on a tour of the zones, a scene almost directly lifted from Dante’s Inferno.
The ministers and charity workers in West Baltimore support the plan, however. By limiting drug use to certain areas, aid workers can easily provide clean needles, condoms and, in some cases, get users into treatment. An older former drug dealer named Cutty builds a boxing gym and recruits some of the younger dealers into joining, drawing their energy into a positive goal.
In the end, once the public catches wind that Baltimore has turned into Amsterdam, all hell breaks loose and the safe zones are raided, the tenuous pact between drug dealer and police destroyed, and everything returns to the way it was: a city one step closer to death.
From Prohibition to overturning Roe v Wade to banning gay marriage, Christians in this country, as a large and powerful voting bloc, have frequently confronted the question of legislating morality. The reasoning goes like this: if we make sin illegal, or if we, as a nation, support Judeo-Christian laws, the problem will be solved. Or, if not solved, at least a stand is made against sin.
The legislation of morality, the fight for which Jerry Falwell was so suited, was dealt a hefty blow in recent weeks by a study on abstinence-only education which found teaching abstinence does nothing to prevent teenagers having sex. The study found, in fact, that half of the children, by the time they were 17, already had sex and more than a third had sexual intercourse with multiple partners. On average, participants lost their virginity around the age of 15.
Sexual activity at such a young age is certainly disturbing. Beyond the dangers of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, the emotional impact of being sexually active so young is frightening enough. Teens receive mixed messages: a teacher may tell them abstaining is the only answer, but commercials of Axe and Tag Body Spray say the opposite.
There is no easy answer to the war on drugs or to keeping teens from engaging in sexual activity, but by advocating abstinence-only education, Christian Conservatives have fallen into the trap of using a cultural tool to handle the problems a culture creates. If young people are to avoid the temptations and perils of sex, drugs and violence, they need men and women who are willing to be involved in their lives at any cost. In essence, they need counter-culture: they need parents, mentors…anyone…to step outside of themselves and help.
The political realm isn’t the only arena where Christians are missing the point, trusting cultural tools to change the world. A debate between Kirk Cameron, Ray Comfort and two members of the atheist Radical Response Squad aired on Nightline a few weeks ago with predictable results. Cameron and Comfort promised to prove the existence of God scientifically, as if the Enlightenment had all the sudden answered every question of faith. I’m going to spoil the ending and tell you it didn’t work out as planned. After all, if C.S. Lewis couldn’t prove God’s existence beyond a reasonable doubt, then what chance does Mike Seaver have? As the Radical Response Squad stammered their way through an equally lame response, I wondered why this was the best we had to offer.
These days, it seems that the true ways for dealing with a broken world can be found more on HBO than on TBN.
Cutty, the former dealer who opened the boxing gym in “The Wire”, is first faced with rebellion when he recruits some young dealers into his class. But he goes back time and time again, even when the kids insult him and head back to the corners to make an easy buck. He tells them, probably for the first time in their lives, that he’s not giving up on them. He does not tell them over and over they are sinning. He does not lobby Congress for stricter drug laws. He does not tell them drugs do not exist. Isn’t this how we understand God in our own lives? Patient and unwilling to let us go even when so many others are.