A couple of days ago I read an article from the noted libertarian political philosopher and Arminian theologian Lawrence Vance. Mr. Vance is a frequent contributor to LewRockwell.com, one of my favorite websites for extremist right-wing propaganda. I get a lot of my ideas there, as you probably would have guessed if I hadn't told you. I generally find myself nodding my head in agreement with Mr. Vance as he writes about a wide variety of topics of interest to me. He does an especially good job skewering Evangelicals who are in love with the abominable warfare state found in this imperialistic empire. The instances in which I take exception to his views are those times he switches his hat from libertarian to theologian. As an Arminian I find that we have nothing in common whatsoever. That is what happened as I was reading a piece he has recently written in which he presented his argument for why the government of the Socialist Democracy of Amerika should abolish all laws that criminalize and punish the act of adultery. Let's consider that for a bit here today.
The standard libertarian argument for the abolition of all laws related to what they refer to as victim-less crimes is the same. The civil government, they say, should exist for the purpose of punishing those who use aggression against others, and nothing else. The non-aggression principle is fundamental for all libertarian political and legal philosophy. If a person does not commit an aggressive act against the life, freedom or property of another person then that person, according to the non-aggression principle, has done nothing wrong or immoral. The application of the principle of non-aggression explains why most libertarians believe prostitution, adultery and fornication to be either morally neutral or morally good behaviors. In each of those actions the folks who are participating in the act are doing so voluntarily. If aggression is not used in the commission of an act, then that act, by definition, is moral or morally neutral and outside the realm of civil punishment.
Mr. Vance cited several examples, from various states, of laws that are still on the books that criminalize and punish adultery. In several of his examples there have been movements by career politicians in those districts to remove the laws against adultery from the legal code. In the situations cited by Mr. Vance, all of those efforts have failed and the extant laws against adultery are still on the books, although everyone admits they are rarely applied. Lawrence, if I may call him that, believes that since the two parties to an adulterous relationship are acting voluntarily there is no crime being committed. Ironically from my perspective, I believe Lawrence would label adultery as a sin, but not a crime. I believe, without putting words into his mouth I hope, that he would argue that a sin is an improper action that is committed in the eyes of God exclusively. Since no human being is aware of or harmed by the act, there is no basis for the state to interject itself into the situation by applying a civil punishment. God, I believe Lawrence would declare, can deal with the matter Himself.
The problem with Mr. Vance's position has nothing to do with his libertarian philosophy, which I believe he has applied with logical consistency in the case of adultery. The problem that he has has everything to do with his Arminian theology. I do not believe that Mr. Vance will ever change his Arminian theological views so this critique of his position will fall upon deaf ears, both for him and other followers of Arminius. Nevertheless, bad theology creates bad practice and the belief that the civil government should be uninvolved in cases of adultery is very bad practice. That belief has lead to the widespread practice of no-fault divorce and no-fault divorce has lead to the financial and emotional ruin of many an innocent spouse. There are several arguments all Arminians must, by won't, consider. I present three of them here.
God has revealed His will about adultery. He has clearly stated that adultery is a sin/crime worthy of the death penalty. Any person who commits adultery should be put to death by the civil government. When God declares an act to be worthy of death He is stating His opinion that the act in question is one of the most pernicious and heinous of all sins. God commands the death penalty because any penalty enforced by men is not sufficient to meet the gravity of the sin. By executing the sinner/criminal the state ushers him into the presence of God where He can, just as Mr. Vance believes, deal with him appropriately.
The problem for Mr. Vance is that he no longer believes the laws of the Old Testament apply. All Arminians are also antinomians. They have all adopted the heresy of Marcion and believe that either God has changed His nature and no longer feels the same way about adultery or He has simply ceased to exist. Arminians are proud to speak of the "Old Testament God" as if He is somehow different than the God found in the New Testament. That, of course, means they believe in the mutability of God and that is a heresy. God has not changed. His moral nature has not changed. His opinion about adultery has not changed. Of great importance to this issue is the fact that God's requirement for the civil magistrate to carry out His law has not changed. The civil government would do well to enforce the law of God and execute adulterers. Those career politicians and members of the judicial system who refuse to do so are endangering their eternal souls.
That brings me to the second argument in favor of the death penalty for adulterers. Arminians, and most Reformed theologians as well, have adopted the functional position during their interactions with the civil government that postulates the reality of a morally neutral ground where we can meet to discuss issues. Certain Dutch Reformed theologians have called this the "myth of neutrality." There is no morally neutral arena in which Christians and non-Christians can hammer out positions on civil issues that will satisfy both camps. All non-Christians are, according to the Bible, haters of God and His people, the Church. When a Christian agrees to allow a non-Christian to set the terms of the debate he has already lost because the non-Christian begins by declaring the Word of God to be obsolete. The one thing that is constantly forced upon Christians in the public square, and the one thing they consistently agree to submit to, is the idea that the Word of God will never be used to frame any of the discussion or the policy that might come from the discussion. In that way God is quite effectively removed from the public square forever.
The third problem for Mr. Vance has to do with the doctrine of sola scriptura. I don't know if Lawrence believes and adheres to the doctrine or not. The doctrine of sola scriptura asserts that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is sufficient to determine all matters of both theology and life, including the civil arena. All reformers during the time of the Reformation held to this doctrine. They believed that all mankind, both believers and non-believers, needed nothing more than the Bible to order their lives properly. If the Bible is truly "suitable for all matters of faith and practice," as so many Christian confessions profess, then there is no need for additional laws about adultery. God has already told us what to do and now it is our job to do it.
I said I would present three arguments but please allow me to present one more that cuts to the heart of the libertarian view of adultery. Despite what Mr. Vance says, adultery does create a victim. The innocent spouse is always a victim of adultery. The Christian doctrine of "one flesh," which I believe Lawrence would believe in, declares that when a marriage covenant is formed the two parties to that covenant become "one flesh." As one flesh they both give up authority and control over their own bodies. The basis of this teaching can be found in the book of I Corinthians, which happens to be a New Testament book. When one member of a marriage covenant decides to join his flesh to someone other than his/her spouse, a gross violation of the sanctity of that marriage covenant takes place. Although there is no physical violence perpetrated upon the innocent spouse, there is most certainly a serious dose of spiritual and emotional violence employed. Anyone who has ever been a victim of adultery knows exactly what I mean. So I believe that Mr. Vance, to be truly consistent with his non-aggression principle, needs to acknowledge that adultery is an aggressive act that must be punished by the state. Furthermore, God has told us that an adulterer must die. I see no reason why that principle has changed.