What I learned from almost thirty years of seeking to advocate for righteous laws

Nov 17, 2023 by David Fowler

What I learned from almost thirty years of seeking to advocate for righteous laws
It has been brewing in me for the last few years, and this week it came to a head. I concluded that I pursued my public policy work for the better part of twenty years under a worldview that could not have been framed better had I been a strict materialist operating under an evolutionary framework. I had fallen into a trap. Check out my reasons and see if you agree. Better yet, make sure you are not like I was.
This is the verse of Scripture that served as the trap, and you most likely know it if you are either a Christian or track what certain Christians say in public: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
It was like a hidden reef in the waters in which I navigated my efforts to turn the ship of state toward righteousness. Seeking to turn that ship was the reason I tried to organize people to advocate with me for laws against abortion, same-sex marriage, sexual license being taught in public schools, and the like.
I still organize and advocate for such laws, but now it is with a different heart and mindset. The outward dissimilarity between the mechanics of what I once did and what I do now, or even between the issues I focus on compared to the past is small, but there has been a huge shift in my thinking that I can only describe as cosmological in nature and scope.
Why my thinking was like an evolutionary materialist.
Notice what the verse in Proverbs says and doesn’t say. It says righteousness, not righteous laws, exalts a nation. It is not that a righteous nation will not have righteous laws, but righteousness must precede righteous law.
I got the cart before the horse. How did I do that? It was because everyone knows law is a moral tutor, and the whole of the Bible explicitly teaches that. Therefore, I thought that if I could get righteous laws enacted we would wind up with a righteous nation.
Sounds logical, but thinking law could produce righteousness is what the Bible says law is powerless to do (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:21). Moreover, that kind of thinking is more evolutionary in character than Biblical. Here is why.
A strict materialist can best explain the diversity of the things we see and experience by analogy to a machine in which a thing-a-ma-jig produces or causes a thing-a-me-bob which in turn produces a what’s-you-call-it. This is how evolution works. Evolution says the supposed laws of nature shape things into what they are.
And that’s exactly how I thought righteousness could be produced in America—pass this righteous law, and then another and another and eventually you get righteousness as the “law of the land.” That will “exalt” America or, put another way, turn America around and back to God.

But that’s not how things work within the cosmos and cosmology taught in the Bible.
What the cosmos is really like.
In the real world that God created as distinct from the one we may think He created, our love for the righteous law of God varies inversely in relation to our love for God. The more one hates, distrusts, and doubts the goodness of God and all that is entailed in their thoughts about God, the more he or she will hate laws that God says are righteous.
On the other hand, the more a person loves God for mercifully showering on him or her life and breath throughout each day and all the things that he or she enjoys and finds pleasure in, the more that person loves His righteous laws. They see them as directional signs pointing toward the “fullness of joy” found “in His presence” and “pleasures evermore” (Psalm 16:11).
For example, notice the “law connections” made in the prophetic Psalm David writes of Jesus, “I delight to do Your will, O my God, and Your law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8). Similarly, we read in Psalm 119:97, “Oh, how I love Thy law; it is my meditation all the day.” 
The love for God’s righteous law comes from the inside out—"out of the heart” spring righteousness and unrighteousness (Matthew 15:19; see Proverbs 3:1, 4:21, 23). That’s why the Pharisees had such a problem; they kept certain parts of law outwardly and even scrupulously. Law was extremely important to them, but it was what was inside them that defiled them. Mark 7:20-23.[1]
Bad laws are not the problem; they are a symptom of the problem, which is our unrighteousness as a people.
What I do not mean by this.
Some might read the foregoing as justification for what I often hear: "We just need to preach the gospel” or “We need to bring people to the Lord” or other words to that effect, by which I know they mean “change people’s hearts.”  
That is a great first step in moving toward having more righteous people in our nation who will long for and want righteous laws, but I’ve come to recognize that much of the gospel I hear preached is either mystical or gnostic.
“Getting saved” doesn’t change the way one thinks, as evidence by my confession above. That’s mystical thinking. It is the transformation of the mind that follows the heart change that transforms a person (Romans 12:1). A mystical, magical kind of gospel won’t change anything.
Related to mysticism is the Gnosticism that infects what often passes as the gospel. Gnosticism disconnects people from the earth and history. Dislodgement from the present and from reality is a type of mysticism. Only now, instead of salvation being subjectively in one’s head and devoid of content, salvation is waiting to “fly away” to glory.
The gospel needs to tell people that the here and now and all the things that press in on them, including laws and civil government, serve as God’s training ground for growing glory in us. If we can’t find or see any glory here and now by faith, we won’t have any sight of it after death. Faith is the preparation for sight.
Escaping Mysticism and Gnosticism
The only way to escape the mysticism and Gnosticism that permeates evangelicalism in relation to law and civil government that would, in time, lead to righteous laws is for heads (minds) to be trained to steward well the civil authority God has entrusted to humankind regarding law.
Otherwise, we will not know what a righteous law looks like.
Moreover, we may not think much about what the law we support is really teaching. We may be using unrighteous reasoning such as the argument that empirical science tells us what it means to be human and whether sterilizing physically healthy minors should be considered “health care.” For goodness sakes, that’s the same line of thinking that ushered in transgenderism.
We also may be going about our advocacy in unrighteous ways. By this I not referring just to the tenor and tone of our rhetoric. I include teaching the principle that unrighteous reasoning should be employed if it increases the odds of getting a favored law enacted.
Like with evolution, we may be teaching others that God really isn’t needed for things to turn out the way they should. We may be teaching what the unrighteous already believe: more numbers and money than the other side are necessary because that is what makes us more powerful, and everything is strictly a power game. Seems to me the human pride that trusts in the sufficiency of our power needs to be pricked, not promoted.
In other words, I submit that being content with just stopping an unrighteous act by passing a law may not be all the righteousness God requires. I don’t think that’s the kind of righteousness that exalts a nation.
What is needed for the kind of righteousness that exalts a nation.
In sum, as great Christian thinkers have said over the ages, our loves must be trained, and they have not been in regard to law and civil government.
Until that love is there and our minds are trained in righteousness, we will not have the righteousness that exalts a nation. And until then, we won’t have a nation that will embrace laws that are righteous in every respect.
If you want to think more deeply about the relationship between God, righteousness, and law, I hope you will join me for my weekly podcast, God, Law & Liberty.

[1] “And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, and evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things from within and defile a man.”

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