Judge Roy Moore first came to public attention in 2003 when he defied a federal judge’s order to remove a statue of the Ten Commandments from the lobby of the state judicial building. The Washington Post reported on his removal as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for defying the federal court order. (The voters re-elected him to that position in 2012.)
Many Christians in Alabama and the U.S. applauded Judge Moore’s position and determination to stand by his Christian principles and firm belief in the Bible’s standards of right and wrong. He was willing to risk his position in the state’s highest court by standing firm for his Christian beliefs. Unfortunately, as a judge and a citizen what he did was unconstitutional and illegal.
So can Christians not express their beliefs? Of course we can. Jesus in fact demonstrated how to live under the laws of the Roman Empire while retaining one’s faith (see Matt. 22:18; Mark 12:15; Luke 20:24).
We are hearing and reading reports of a lot of bad behavior lately. I suggest that rather than installing monuments to the Ten Commandments we would do well to simply live them. Criminologists refer primarily to these:
“You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet… your neighbor’s wife… or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:13-17).
Given reported incidents in the past few months I am inclined to add to God’s prohibition against “coveting” to include “thy neighbor’s daughter.” But that may be interpreted as unfairly singling out Judge Roy Moore.
A more important point is one on which criminologists focus: based on self-report surveys of criminal involvement the majority of persons have committed some crimes in their lifetime. Not just “bad behavior,” but crimes for which they could have been arrested, prosecuted, and sentenced.
Few of us are arrested and prosecuted, for a number of reasons: our criminal actions are infrequent, less serious, less visible to law enforcement, and race and social status are factors.
Criminologists and theologians have much in common. They agree on the universality of sin and wrong-doing among all persons, in every age and place throughout time.
More than four decades ago Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? His answer: the word “sin” is no longer used in society. Evil exists in the world, wrong things are being done, but few who engage in behaviors once considered “sins” take responsibility for their actions.
“What was the sin that no longer exists? I mean any kind of wrongdoing that we used to call sin. I have in mind behavior that violates the moral code or the individual conscience or both; behavior which pains or harms or destroys my neighbor—or me, myself.” –Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? p. 7.
The Ten Commandments are appropriate guidelines for a civil, safe, crime-free society. Most state and federal laws prohibit the same behaviors. We do not have to post the Ten Commandments in public places. We all know (yes, even criminals) what behaviors are illegal and punishable by law. We would all do well to live by them.
Sin and evil have always existed in the world, beginning with the fall of humankind as illustrated by the biblical story of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). We are reminded throughout Holy Scripture of the reality and universality of sin and evil: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
For the past several months we are learning that many persons, mainly girls and women, have been victims of the sin of “coveting your neighbor’s wife” (or daughter). In contrast to other instances of wrongdoing, we have not heard these actions referred to as either crimes or as sins.
This is not to suggest that we treat them as criminals and push for arrest, prosecution, and criminal punishment. But it is a recommendation that we all critically examine our behaviors, our sins, and our own brushes with crime that are not so different from those who’ve been arrested, prosecuted, and for which they’re serving a criminal sentence.