There are all sorts of good reasons why Christians should gravitate toward the more conservative side of politics, economics, and social thought. The case for the compatibility of the two I have tried to make elsewhere, as in these four articles:
Here I want to focus on just one major emphasis of conservatism, and show why it fits in with biblical Christianity. I refer to the importance of limited or small government. Entire libraries have been written on this, but a few remarks can be made here nonetheless.
We have all heard the saying of Lord Acton: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And we have recent history to show us unequivocally just how true this is. The thirst for power is unquenchable, and when the State is allowed to become increasingly powerful, we all suffer.
Of course none of this should surprise the biblical Christian. We know that sin corrupts, and the desire for power is one chief way in which sin manifests itself. But Christians are not anarchists, for we realise that it was God who ordained the use of government to keep evil in check.
So governments per se are not evil, but big governments with no checks and balances can always become grossly evil. God’s preferred means of governance begins with the individual. We are meant to exercise self-government over ourselves.
Then smaller units of governance, such as the family and the church, are also institutions in which authority is exercised. The state is another place of authority, but it must not usurp the other forms of authority. But that all too often happens, with expanding government subsuming and taking over the roles of authority God gave to the church, the family, and to individuals.
America’s Founding Fathers for example were fully aware of these truths, and worked very hard to ensure that the new republic was prevented from ceding too much power to a centralised government. They did all they could to ensure that power was diffused and kept from being concentrated in the hands of a few.
Just a handful of quotes from these men – almost all of whom were Christians – show how concerned they were about this and how dedicated they were to keeping government in check:
“When a people shall have become incapable of governing themselves, and fit for a master, it is of little consequence from what quarter he comes.” George Washington
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” George Washington
“Most bad government has grown out of too much government.” Thomas Jefferson
“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” Thomas Jefferson
“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government – lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.” Patrick Henry
“If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.” William Penn
“Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” Thomas Paine
“Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual. … Continue steadfast and, with a proper sense of your dependence on God, nobly defend those rights which heaven gave, and no man ought to take from us.” John Hancock
And the power of the unlimited State to do anything it wants is, as I already mentioned, the greatest source of evil in contemporary society. Millions were killed last century by big government – of which Communism was a specialist in. Indeed, as Daniel J. Mitchell reminds us in a recent article, “The Biggest Risk Factor Leading to Premature Death Is…?”
He writes, “Nope, the answer isn’t smoking. Or fatty food. Or 16 oz. sodas. And it’s not alcohol, driving too fast, or standing between politicians and a TV camera. . . . In the past 100 years or so, the biggest cause of premature death has been government.”
He continues, “This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I think all governments are equally evil. I wouldn’t even make the claim that there’s a link between big government and democide (though that’s probably true given the track record of National Socialists in Germany and Soviet Socialists in China and the Soviet Union).
“Instead, I’ll simply regurgitate some of what I wrote back in August: Be thankful that there are some libertarians willing to raise a stink about government even if the rest of the world thinks we’re a bit odd. As we’ve seen dozens of times, most recently with the IRS and NSA, bureaucrats and politicians have a compulsive tendency to grab more power and make government more intrusive.
“I’ll end today’s post by mentioning the fable of the frog that gets put in a pot of water and doesn’t jump out because the temperature feels comfortable. But then the heat is slowly raised and the frog no longer has the energy to escape when he finally figures out he’s being cooked. Well, libertarians are the ones who loudly complain when the government puts us into pots. In other words, governments are less likely to do really awful things if there are some of us fighting when they do mildly bad things.”
Big Government and unbridled Statism is a threat to all of us. It certainly is a threat to religious freedom. The bigger the state grows, the more it wants all other contenders to authority to be silenced. The Christian church is one of the greatest obstacles to this, which is why the church is usually the first to go when tyrannies emerge. Just think of how the faith fared under the Bolsheviks.
So Christians of all people should be greatly concerned about runaway state power. Believers recognise that there is a legitimate place for state power, but only a limited and constrained power. The freedom to worship, to evangelise, and to enjoy freedom of conscience are all tremendous goods which Christians should champion.
That means we should resist the moves by the state to take upon itself more and more power. Christians are not anarchists, but we should be fully supportive of those political systems which recognise the corrupting effects of state power.
As the State in the West gets more and more powerful, with more and more restrictions on Christianity, the conflict looks likely to worsen in days ahead. But better to take a stand now while we still have a voice, than to wait until it is too late.
Let me finish with a few more quotes, this time from some contemporary thinkers:
“For the Left, politics is the way to transform the world; for conservatives, politics is primarily the way to stop the Left from doing so.” Dennis Prager
“Individual liberty exists in inverse proportion to the size of the state. The bigger the government/state, the less liberty the individual has. The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.” Dennis Prager
“The bigger the Big Government, the smaller everything else.” Mark Steyn
“Americans face a choice; you can rediscover the animating principles of the American idea – limited government, a self-reliant citizenry, and the opportunities to exploit your talents to the fullest – or you can join most of the rest of the western world in terminal decline.” Mark Steyn
“In politics, the great non sequitur of our time is that (1) things are not right and that (2) the government should make them right.” Thomas Sowell
“The vision on which the all-encompassing and all-controlling welfare state was built is a vision of widespread helplessness, requiring ever more expanding big government.” Thomas Sowell
“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” Ronald Reagan
“The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.” Ronald Reagan