Your Life or Your Liberty

With startling speed, crime has shot to the top of the nation's domestic agenda. Polls around the country show crime ahead of the economy, health, welfare, and all other issues. Politicians are responding in the way politicians usually do: with empty posturing. Congress is wrestling with a crime bill that pours more money into old, failed answers? more police, more prisons, tougher sentences? quick fixes to strike a pose of "getting tough" on crime. But few people seem willing to step back and look at the big picture, what the crime problem tells us about the nation's soul and the future of our liberties. What we are witnessing in America was foretold by Francis Schaeffer. When truth retreats, Schaeffer argued, tyranny advances to fill the vacuum. The process is completely predictable: The loss of a moral consensus weakens informal social controls and unleashes criminal impulses. Dostoyevsky put it succinctly: If there is no God, everything is permissible; crime becomes inevitable. And as crime soars, so does public fear, a cycle that ends with cries for greater government control to quell the chaos. This is the tyranny Schaeffer predicted. Shadows of that coming tyranny already darken the horizon. To curb crime, some cities are imposing curfews on young people, despite objections that the curfews are unconstitutional. "Curfews are basically martial law," says an ACLU lawyer. Still, they have almost uniform approval from frightened citizens. In another ominous sign, police in St. Petersburg, Florida, are stopping cars randomly and searching for drugs, despite the fact that it violates the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Residents support the roadblocks. As one inner-city resident told reporters, people who are "shell-shocked" by incessant crime welcome higher levels of police intrusion. The most dramatic evidence of the new power arrogated by government comes from Puerto Rico. In housing projects riddled with crime, the National Guard is making military-style raids. In the dead of night, with helicopters whirring and searchlights beaming, camouflaged troops toting M-16s are breaking down doors to confiscate arms and narcotics. Most Puerto Ricans support the action, hoping to walk safe streets again. In his novel When the Almond Tree Blossoms, journalist David Aikman portrays a fictional future when civic disorder infects society so deeply that Americans are willing to give up their freedom for tyranny, as long as the government restores order. But the scenario is not merely fictional. Aikman believes it's a plausible prediction of what could actually happen, and happen soon. Never before has the need been so urgent for a biblical approach to crime. The most effective strategy in fighting crime is to challenge offenders to change internally, through drug treatment, in-prison industries, and educational programs. But the deepest internal change is the transformation of men and women by the power of the Gospel, becoming new in Christ. Unless we adopt a moral approach to crime, unless we work for moral reformation not only in the criminal justice system but also across the whole society, we will surely see the strong arm of the state come crashing down on our liberties.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary