If this recent reference to God’s Ten Commandments were in the print news, you would not find it on the front page, nor in the religion section. It would have been the smallest of articles, buried in the back of the politics section. I would have missed it.1 The reference was published in the massive machine of self-publication we know as Twitter—just a few tweets. The author is worthy of note; her name is Dana Nessel, the Attorney General of the State of Michigan.

The background

Unlike Nessel’s tweets, the occasion for them was frontpage news. It begins with the Texas Heartbeat Act, which was passed by the Texas state legislature and signed into law by Texas Governor Greg Abbot. The law effectively outlaws abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected (usually around six weeks). In September, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an appeal to block the law. The whole matter is ongoing in the courts, and will be for some time.

The state of Michigan became part of the conversation because it (along with 25 other states) has a law banning abortion dating back to 1931.2 Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer regarded these developments as “devastating,” and promised her continued opposition to the law and the sentiments of it: “As long as I’m governor, any law to strip away fundamental reproductive rights, or weaken access to lifesaving health care, will not get my signature. And I’ve called on our Legislature to pass a bill and send it to my desk that repeals this 90-year-old ban on abortion.”3

What does this have to do with a few tweets by Michigan’s attorney general? The national, front-page news (the Texas Heartbeat Act, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court) occasioned a state-level conversation about a ninety-year-old abortion ban, and that conversation included the potential of that law being enforced. Enter AG Dana Nessel and her tweets. As Nessel herself will tell you, she is the top law enforcement official in the state of Michigan.

Nessel’s argument

Here is Nessel’s self-publication on Twitter:

Adultery is a felony in Michigan. The prohibition was passed the same year as MI’s abortion ban. Do those who support the Texas abortion law also support granting standing to private citizens when they violate the law? What say you Michigan legislators? Do MI residents want to see me, the top law enforcement official in the state, start to prosecute crimes of adultery? I have used my prosecutorial discretion not to do so, but do the 10 commandments dictate otherwise? Which legislators would like me to initiate such actions?4

 A high-ranking, elected state official making a reference to the Ten Commandments is not necessarily newsworthy, but Nessel’s argument should get our attention.

The first question, taken (charitably) at face-value, is fair enough; it is fair for an elected official to ask the mind of her constituents. One of her premises is sound enough; it is reasonable for a state attorney general to use “prosecutorial discretion” to decide which cases to pursue, and which to leave alone. Her basic argument is clear enough; clearly, there are laws on the books that are no longer enforced, and it is the attorney general’s prerogative to make those judgments.

But our interest is Nessel’s reference to the Ten Commandments. “I have used my prosecutorial discretion not to [prosecute crimes of adultery], but do the 10 commandments dictate otherwise?” Even judging charitably, it is difficult to read this as a genuine question looking for helpful direction. The question is rhetorical, and the vast majority of public responses to her tweets confirm that it was received as such. The masses of people heard Nessel’s questions, and agreed with her argument.

Nessel and the masses do not believe the Ten Commandments dictate (authoritatively prescribe) that she must enforce the adultery law. Likewise, Nessel and the masses do not believe the Ten Commandments dictate (authoritatively prescribe) that she must enforce the abortion ban.

Case closed. Or, at her discretion, cases never opened.

 Nessel’s ignorance

Nessel apparently does not and (apart from the grace of God) will not recognize that her rhetorical, even sarcastic reference to the authority of the Ten Commandments is sin against the sovereign God of heaven and earth. It is inexcusable ignorance.

Without question, there is liberty in the use of the powers of her office. No doubt, there are human limitations that make it impossible for her to enforce a particular law in every case (even those state laws that correspond directly to the Ten Commandments). But contrary to her argument, God’s law does dictate, with supreme authority, what is right for every man and woman in Michigan and around the world. And despite her claim to “prosecutorial discretion,” God’s law does dictate what is the responsibility of every man and woman, no matter what one’s office may be.

The dictates of God’s law are as authoritative as they are clear.

Thou shalt not kill. No, not even unborn children. It is every man’s and woman’s responsibility to love the neighbor and prevent their hurt. As much as possible, it would be the responsibility of the Michigan attorney general to enforce a state law that bans abortion.

Thou shalt not commit adultery. Not in Moses’ day. Not in Jesus’ day. Not in 1931. Not in 2021. It is every man’s and woman’s responsibility to keep this commandment and maintain the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. As much as possible, it is the responsibility of the Michigan attorney general to enforce a state law that makes adultery a crime.

The attorney general seems to recognize her responsibility to her constituents, but not her greater responsibility to God. Earthly rulers are ministers, or servants (Rom. 13:4). A servant does not do his own will, but must carry out the sovereign dictates of his master.

May all God’s servants be directed by the dictates of God’s law! This has always been the desire of the church with regard to the powers that be. We pray for them, “that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (I Tim. 2:2), and we sing to them in light of their weighty office:

Where’er His creatures gather
The unseen God is near;
Let rulers fear their Ruler,
Their Judge let judges fear….
Do justice for the helpless,
The orphan’s cause maintain;
Defend the poor and needy,
Oppressed and wronged for gain…
The Most High God has called you
And set you up on high
But ye to Him must answer,
For ye like men must die (Psalter #223).

The bigger picture

Nessel’s rhetorical question is a small skirmish in the great battle that encompasses all of history—the warfare between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. As it was from the beginning, the assault is against God and the authority of His Word. Nessel’s question is eerily similar to the question of the serpent to the woman: “Yea, hath God said?” “Do the Ten Commandments dictate otherwise?”

Contrary to Nessel’s rhetoric, the answer is a resounding “Yes,” though the world will never acknowledge it to be so. Whenever God is in the world’s news, He (or His Name, or His Word, or His law, or His Anointed One) will be portrayed as the enemy, belittled as irrelevant and powerless. Whenever the world speaks, writes, or even tweets, they will show themselves arrayed for battle against God.

Yet, we know that God reigns supreme, and we confess that His word regulates all our faith and all our life. The mocking insults and violent attacks against Him are in vain, and the outcome of this warfare is not in question. God’s victory is sealed in His eternal counsel, and on the last day it shall be fully manifest to all. Then, no one will be ignorant of the answer to the attorney general’s question, nor will any earthly rulers dare call into question the authority of God’s law. Until that day, we sing with hope:

Arise, O God Eternal,
Thou Judge of all the earth,
Through all Thy ransomed nations
Send now Thy justice forth (Psalter #223).

1 I did not miss this story thanks to The Heidelblog, where the
following article was reposted: E.J. Hutchinson, “Yes, Bring
Back the Decalogue,” The American Conservative, Oct. 5, 2021,
the-decalogue/. Hutchinson is an associate professor of
classics at Hillsdale College, and his article provides very insightful
commentary. It is highly recommended.
2 Dave Boucher, “Whitmer keeps bashing Michigan abortion law,
but has little power to change it,” Detroit Free Press, Oct. 1,
2021, https://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2021/10/01/
3 Boucher.