I have said it before and will say it again: if you want to be a hard-core libertarian, fine; but then don’t claim to be a biblical Christian at the same time. The more radical the libertarians of the right get, the more indistinguishable they are from the anarchists of the left.
Both have almost a pathological hatred of the state, and want no government, or at least hardly any at all. Now, I happen to be a conservative, so I too am no fan of big government. Limited government and a constrained state are certainly what I do promote.
But as a biblical Christian, I have to be true to the biblical text ahead of any political ideology. And of course the Bible makes it perfectly clear that God created the institution of the state. It is vitally needed to keep order and punish wrong-doing in a fallen world.
So as someone who is both a Christian as well as a conservative, I must proclaim that government – on all levels – is God’s idea, and at the same time seek to keep state government down to a manageable – and biblical – level. (And of course one can debate just what those levels are – just what the size and scope of the state should be.)
So I am sympathetic with my libertarian friends, but I can never go as far as so many of them seek to go. And sometimes when I hear these libertarians who are also Christians make their case, I just cringe. They seem so beholden to their libertarianism that they walk roughshod over Scripture. Either that or they just do not know Scripture very well at all.
There was an example of this on a social media site lately. Respectfully, this person got things so wrong that I felt I had to reply – thus this article. He does a good job in many respects, and I often support what he does. And I will keep him nameless here. But when he starts going on in defence of his libertarianism, I have to ask if this guy really has a clear grasp of what the Bible actually teaches. He wrote:
“One of the hardest things I do is defending the right of individuals to do what I personally consider immoral and even despicable. It actually pains me to spend time campaigning for something that I know will allow people to do what I consider wrong.
“It would be so easy to just say ‘God wills this, so all should be forced to obey’. Yet as easy as it would be to do so, it would be the wrong thing to do.
“This mindset of forced obedience this mindset goes against every aspect of the Christian Faith, which is founded on the gift of free will God gave us – as St John of Chrysostom, one of the greatest of all Christian Fathers said, ‘Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force…it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion.’
“To use the coercive power of the state to prevent these stumblings is an anathema to the gift God gave us. And so – as much as at times it pains me, I continue. Not just because I believe in a free society, not just because I believe in individual rights, but because I know that the Christian Faith demands it – no matter how hard it may be.”
Sadly this is just a rather bad misunderstanding of biblical morality, the role of the state, and the place of coercion. Indeed, the biggest problem he has is to confuse several quite different things: the role of the individual, the role of the church, and the role of the state. Scripture clearly delineates separate roles for each, yet this fellow does not seem to be fully aware of this.
In other words, we most clearly have offered to us in Scripture both personal ethics and social ethics. Individual believers have certain moral constraints, responsibilities and allowances, while the state – ordained by God – has its own role, its own jurisdiction, and its own powers. And the church also has its own sphere of authority and responsibility.
And I find it hard to believe what he says here. He will go out of his way to actually defend baby killers, or those who want to destroy marriage and family? He is so into personal liberty that he will side with the enemies of faith, family – and in the end, freedom itself? Groups like the ACLU are into that sort of stuff – I sure won’t be.
Perhaps someone will not even lift a finger to defend his wife from being raped, because he values individual freedom so very highly – even the freedom of the rapist to do his thing. Of course if an individual wants to remain pacifist in all dealings with others, for whatever reasons, that is up to them.
But God had ordained the state to both punish evil and limit that which is wrong. It is given divine authority to use force and coercion. So he is rather confused when he speaks about “forced obedience”. And thus his quote from St John is quite amiss here – it has nothing to do with his plea for libertarianism as a social and political philosophy.
Of course I cannot force any sinner to become a saint. Whoever said one could? Even God does not and cannot do this. But that is not the issue at hand here. I cannot force anyone to be virtuous. But God can and does force people to submit to laws for the good of society in a fallen world.
Try reading Romans 13 again for starters. God has ordained the use of the sword by the state to enforce rules, and punish evil. So, does the state – under the command of God – have the right to force people to do things? Of course it does. And it happens all the time.
When governments set up traffic lights, they are forcing people to comply with traffic laws. Those who refuse will face the full sanction of the law. Will such laws turn sinners into saints? No, of course not. But that is not the purpose of such laws.
These laws merely deter harmful, dangerous and evil practices with threats of punishment. And whose idea was all that? God’s, of course. He set it up, and so Christians should have no problem whatsoever with state coercion. This is God’s design and plan for a fallen world.
Of course the problem is, the state too can overstep its bounds and go beyond what God has mandated. Runaway government, Big Brother Statism, and the like are all to be opposed, because God opposes them too. But the libertarians want to throw the baby out with the bath water here it seems.
Because government can get out of control and become tyrannical, many of these libertarians seem to think that all government is wrong all the time. Well, they can think that if they like, but then they cannot call themselves Christians. Christians believe what God has revealed to us, and he has revealed that the state, along with its use of the sword, is in fact his idea, and one which we need to accept – not reject.
No one here that I know of is talking about individual believers or churches forcing non-believers to do anything, certainly in terms of the faith. But the state can force by threat of punishment all of us to keep certain laws which are in the best interests of society at large.
So who cares if a red light is not turning a sinner into a saint? That is not its purpose; it is to keep in check people who would much rather do their own thing and put self ahead of all others. It is about using state power to protect lives and keep some semblance of order and sanity on our streets.
That has nothing to do with what St John was talking about of course. Why would it? And we also seem to have here a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of morality in the public arena. All laws are at root moral in nature. They all have to do with some sort of moral code or moral concern.
And there is nothing wrong with the Christian using the power of the state to enforce some cases of morality. There is nothing wrong with the state proscribing the murder of unborn children for example. While my friend may claim to be pro-life, if he is so committed to individuals freedom that he cannot see the need for an enforceable law like this, then we really are on different pages here.
I am glad we have laws on the books that keep evil in check. I am glad that the state can coerce people to at least outwardly do what they may not rather do inwardly if there was no coercion involved. We have laws against murder because murder is wrong.
Again, do such laws alter the murderous heart and thoughts? No. That is not what such laws are set up to do. They are set up to deter those with murderous thoughts and intent from carrying out their desires, primarily because of heavy sanctions for violating such laws.
The simple truth is this: freedom is a great good, but from a biblical point of view, it is not at all the highest good. If it were the highest good, then a prison would be the greatest evil. Clearly it is not. In the Bible law and liberty always go together.
In a fallen world complete freedom is neither possible nor desirable. Liberty under law is always the biblical prescription. Ordered liberty, bounded liberty, is what the Christian seeks. And as part of that, God ordained the state to maintain such order and such boundaries.
Can the state usurp its God-given role and responsibilities? Sure – happens all the time. And that is a very great danger. That is why my political allegiance is to the conservative side of politics. I know how dangerous unrestrained government power can be.
But I am not an anarchist, which is what far too many libertarians on the right end up sounding like, if not becoming. There is a place for force and coercion. God gave that role to the state. So I am certainly not going to rule out all coercion and force, in the name of some libertarian nirvana.
In a sinful world we all need laws, boundaries, and even the state. We must work to keep it in check, but seeking to dispense with it altogether, or cast it as the great Satan, is not helpful. It certainly is not biblical. So as a Christian I fully support the rationale for the state, but I also work very hard to keep it in check. Such tensions will always exist until Christ returns.