Legislate civility, not morality

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[EXTRACTED FROM JAMAICA GLEANER with Colin Gyles contributing author: Published: Friday | February 24, 2006 – Jamaica Gleaner]

Colin Gyles, Contributor


CHURCH LEADERS and a group of Christian lawyers flexed their political muscles recently (February 16, 2006) by turning out in their numbers at a meeting of the parliamentary committee that is charged with reviewing proposals contained in the Charter of Rights Bill. Before hearing the exact concern of those whose profession would identify them as champions of the downtrodden and oppressed, one might have hazarded a guess that they were seeking to ensure protection for persons who might have been overlooked. It turned out that, to the contrary, they were concerned that privacy in one’s home might provide cover for immoral activity [not civility]. Or were they misunderstood?

ANTHEA McGIBBON PHOTO: Church in Portland

ANTHEA McGIBBON PHOTO: Church in Portland


It is the purpose of the Christian gospel to elevate people by linking them with the divine source of power that transforms and renews the mind. Success in the mission of the Church should see people living harmoniously, productively and above all forms of immorality. It has been a phenomenon of history that advocates of morality, not meeting the levels of success that they desire in persuading people according to their standards, have at times appealed to the arm of the state. Invariably, this has led to witch-hunts and persecution. Religious zealots have been known to instigate more of this than secular politicians.

There is oftentimes a deep-seated fear expressed by religious folk that God might punish the whole nation because of the immorality of some of the people. Fear that one might be punished by God for the private immoral actions of another does not only create a selfish motivation for trying to eliminate that immorality and gives a rather disparaging view of God’s justice, but it also sets the stage for witch-hunts and persecution.


Morality is beyond the scope of civil government to legislate, as morality goes beyond outward action and includes what goes on in the mind. The scope of morality is highlighted in the words of Jesus Christ: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time. Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27, 28).

God is no less concerned with what people think than with what they do. Therefore, if people fear that God might punish a nation because of the private immorality of the people, appealing to the state to control what the people do in their bedrooms will not solve that problem. The people would be just as immoral in God’s eyes, and therefore, by that argument, just as deserving of the punishment if they have the immorality only in their hearts. To rid the society of immorality would mean eliminating it from people’s hearts, which the state is powerless to do.

The state should therefore concern itself with prohibiting or allowing particular actions, not on the basis of morality, but rather on the basis of civility. Civility is not about what is right or wrong in God’s eyes, but it has to do with people’s actions and how these affect others. Civility is within the scope of civil government to regulate but morality is not. Therefore, if church representatives want to see a moral society, let them not appeal to the state to do that which is beyond the capability of the state to do, but rather stick to their calling and persuade people to accept spiritual values, which come only from a Divine, rather than a political connection.

Dr. Colin Gyles is a lecturer at the University of Technology, Jamaica.


Notwithstanding the need for the church to focus on moral issues by using a persuasive approach to reach the heart of individuals rather than trying to get governments to enforce their brand of morality, the church is strongly encouraged, however, to be relentless in seeking to have the rights of free speech preserved, that allow citizens the right and freedom to preach the gospel of their faith and to convey their support or rejection of particular lifestyles in accordance with the tenets of their faith.  This right to speak and convey one’s views should never be compromised, even as they allow others their right to be immoral if they so choose, leaving the judgment of such individuals to God, provided that the perceived immoral behaviour is not allowed by government to be imposed on others beyond their will or made to infringe other people’s rights.  – CG