Law without Morality

A man puts his arm around a female co-worker and gives her a quick hug. He's done it many times before--but now he stops himself. Is it OK?, he wonders. Did I offend her? Do something illegal?   Welcome to the American workplace after the Thomas hearings. Where the rules of conduct have suddenly become very murky. As Christians we have no quarrel with condemnations of sexual harassment. We have always trained our children to be pure in thought and action. But there's the crucial difference: What we have done by moral training, modern America is trying to do by law. And that just doesn't work. It used to be that parents, church, and school all spoke with a single voice, exhorting the young to follow accepted moral precepts. Social civility was woven into the very warp and woof of people's character. But today many reject those moral precepts. They've bought into the Enlightenment philosophy that says each individual is autonomous and makes up his own rules of conduct. Unfortunately, give people free reign like that and sin quickly takes over. People do whatever they want. Civility decays, gutter language increases, women are harassed. What should America do about it? Restore the old moral code? That seems to be the obvious answer. But don't even hope. Modern political activists shudder at the thought. After all, these are the same enlightened progressives who have always pushed for a free and easy social attitude toward sex: who fight legal restrictions on pornography; who plead a First Amendment right to produce smut for movies and TV; who support government funding for obscene art. No, it would be totally contrary to the progressive agenda to suggest that lewd language in the work place is morally wrong. And yet, at the same time, they do want to put a lid on offensive behavior. So they're trying to solve the problem by making the behavior illegal. Not wrong, just illegal. The distinction is clear in the literature on sexual harassment. Prohibitions are carefully worded not to suggest that the behavior in question ism orally wrong--only that certain people don't like it. For instance, the Capitol Hill Women's Political Caucus distributes a document listing several examples of sexual harassment. One example is--listen carefully--"unwelcome propositions." In other words, propositioning a woman is OK; is only becomes illegal when it's unwelcome. Another example of harassment is--get this--"ill-received dirty jokes." So dirty jokes are OK; it's only ill-received ones that become illegal. Language like this doesn't give anyone clear guidelines. A man can't know ahead of time whether his actions are going to be "unwelcome" or "ill-received". What one woman may like another may object to. To avoid committing a crime, the man has to be a mind-reader. This is ludicrous. The old moral law was wonderfully egalitarian. It applied equally to everyone; everyone played by the same rules; right and wrong depended on objective principles everyone could know. But modern sexual harassment laws hold men hostage to the fluctuating feelings of whoever happens to be in his presence at the moment. As Christians, we should be telling our feminist friends the real reason sexual harassment should be illegal: Not because it offends a particular woman but because it offends a holy God, whose very character demands purity in speech and in action. Second of three more commentaries on Clarence Thomas


Chuck Colson



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