Norman Horn is the founder and chief editor of LibertarianChristians.com. To learn about the site, go to the About LCC page.
I frequently get questions from libertarians and Christians that basically amount to “How did you get involved in this?” Christian “conservatives” and “liberals” number far more than Christian libertarians, and so this curiosity is understandable even from another Christian libertarian. In fact, at general libertarian meetings it is not uncommon to introduce oneself to the group with the story of how you came to learn about liberty. So, I’d like to describe some of the elements of my religious heritage, personal history, and intellectual development that have brought me thus far. If you are reading this and are unsure of whether or not libertarianism is compatible with the Christian faith, well, this is how I got this way and I hope it explains what it means to me, personally, to be a libertarian and a Christian.
Christian Heritage, Family Values
One cannot describe his religious heritage without first examining his family’s history. My own family has long been involved in the Churches of Christ (of the Stone-Campbell Movement), and thus I grew up saturated with the Bible and the people of God. As a young boy, my parents emphasized the importance of our faith to me through regular (at least three times a week) church attendance and family Bible study. They taught me the Scriptures and they taught me morality. Their Christian example was my primary model. Helping further was the loving legacy of my grandparents as well. My mother’s parents displayed generosity, wisdom, and kindness from which I am still learning. Papa Dusty, one of the greatest lawyers in Texas history, was an excellent example of how perseverance and hard work set you on a straight path. (My mother says I take after him, and I sure hope so.) Grandma Horn was a beacon of virtue and character that I have never seen matched. I heard of my father’s father, also named Norman, who passed away the year before I was born; he was unilaterally admired by all around him and even now I find out new facets of his person that others loved. I never knew him, yet because of our simple connection of nomenclature I cannot help but be struck by how I desire to honor his legacy.
Much of the credit for my intellectual development is due to homeschooling, which my parents decided to try when we moved to St. Louis, Missouri in my pre-teen years. I was extremely skeptical at first, but became convinced very quickly that homeschooling was the best of all possible situation for me and my siblings. It drew us closer together as a family and gave us an even better opportunity to draw closer to Christ. The homeschool community in the St. Louis area, while sometimes extreme and stubborn, presented our family with a splendid opportunity to define ourselves as a family and set a course for the rest of our lives. We were able to focus on what mattered most to us – excellence in achievement, relentless pursuit of truth, and passionate faith in God.
Personal History, Personal Faith
I believe I experienced an “awakening” to God’s presence as a teenager. To some extent, at the time my religion was often based on simply “doing the right thing” and was not necessarily well-internalized. When I was fourteen, though, I began to realize that the public profession of my faith and the mark of baptism were of great importance to me, not because they were works that just needed to be done, but because they affirmed who I was in Christ and who I wanted to become. I cannot say the change was drastic, with a voice from heaven shouting down or anything like that, but it was significant to be sure. From then on, there was indeed a change in perspective and a focus that had heretofore not been present. My desire was to learn about God, to serve the church, and to love other people.
My father had always been active in serving the church throughout my young adult years. When we moved to Missouri this change made his service all the more visible to me and actually gave me the opportunity as I grew older to serve in similar functions, particularly in leading worship.
Music has always been an integral part of my family life, since both my parents are trained musicians and my mother’s profession is music education. But it was our move to Missouri, the decision to homeschool, and Mom’s founding of the Homeschool Choirs that firmly set in my mind the importance of music and worship. At fifteen, I joined a small acappella singing group sponsored by my church, called His Presence, that traveled around the nearby communities performing excellent music. This opportunity to perform and to serve greatly enhanced my confidence to assist congregations in worship. It also indirectly built my skills as a presenter, which would serve me in the future as well.
One more group of people stands out as having a dramatic effect on my spiritual life during my high school years: Teens for Christ. TFC was a non-denominational youth group dedicated to reaching high-school kids with the gospel. Many of my homeschool friends were involved in it, and it brought us closer together as friends with a common mission from the God we all served. What a joy it was to work and play with them and see people come to Christ! I will never forget the TFC ski trips with my Dad and brother as well.
Intellectual Development: My Discovery of Liberty
Around my sophomore year of high school, some of my friends and I decided to start a small group study of general philosophy and theology. Our so-called “Philosophy Discussion Group” started meeting once a week to, you guessed it, discuss philosophy. We watched videos from R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries that explained the fundamentals of philosophy, apologetics, theology, and history, and we discussed what we learned after each video. It was not uncommon for heated (but friendly!) arguments to arise unexpectedly. Exploring the fabric of reality with my friends was a wonderful opportunity to learn, and what it sparked in me was an intense desire to search out truth wherever it leads. The last vestiges of just living in my parents’ faith were thrown off and I began to internalize what I truly believed more deeply. The idea that “all truth is God’s truth” became my directorate. Theology became ever more important to me, and I studied harder than ever to understand the world around me. This would have major implications for my future as a Christian thinker.
After graduating high school, I attended the University of Missouri-Rolla (now called MST), double-majoring in chemical engineering and chemistry. I was exposed to many new ideas, namely the critical application of the methods of science (I say this deliberately, as I also learned that “the scientific method” is more diverse than one might initially think) and further topics in my independent study of theology. This was contrasted with what I perceived to be a student ministry that did not make theology a major priority – whether theology regarding science or anything else. I made it my aim never to neglect learning theology whenever possible. I also tried to encourage other students to take charge of their spiritual learning as well, leading studies in theology and apologetics. I found that if you challenged people, often they will rise to the occasion. Sometimes they just need a little prodding, a little leadership, and all the rest follows.
In 2004, a critical event changed the trajectory of my life – I became involved with Katelyn, the wonderful lady whom I would eventually marry. Besides the changes that come from getting married, this most incredible event affected my intellectual and spiritual development in two ways, one of which is rather obvious and the second not so obvious. You see, Katelyn’s family was Reformed Presbyterian – heavy on the Reformed. Since I grew up in the primarily Arminian-thinking Churches of Christ, some considerable effort was needed to smooth out the differences in theology. What we found was that we had far more in common than we initially realized, and that our differences were not nearly as important as our unity in Christ. I think both of our families learned a little more about proper Christian tolerance as a result.
The second not-so-obvious effect began as something many would actually call “not spiritual.” My future father-in-law sent me some articles about free market economics from the Ludwig von Mises Institute. The ideas in these articles fascinated me and I determined to learn more about this so-called “Austrian School of Economics.” I also studied the philosophy that accompanies many of these ideas, often called libertarianism. Now, many people are turned off by this term (even my father-in-law!), but let me explain how this resulted in a spiritual change.
Three principles are very important in libertarian philosophy that coincide with Christian ideals: individual responsibility, individual liberty, and the non-aggression axiom. Each principle is part of the natural law, which has a long history in Christian thought. Individuals are fully responsible for their own actions, and Christians believe specifically that we will ultimately answer to God for what we have done. Therefore, individual liberty is required for a person to live within the dictates of his conscience. This necessitates an ethic codified in the non-aggression principle, which states that the initiation of physical force (or the threat of such, or fraud) against a person and his property is inherently illegitimate. It is essentially the golden rule recast more specifically to reflect individual responsibility and liberty. By extension, no person or group has special moral license to be the initiator of aggression against others. These three radical principles (along with much more Scripture and philosophy, to be sure) form the basis of why I reject the necessity of the State, which is at its core the institutionalization of physical force, to preserve Christian morality or to maintain a stable and orderly society. As Proudhon said, liberty is the mother, not the daughter, of order. Rather, the Lord’s Church can and should be the primary influence in encouraging morality and in partnering with society, rather than the executor of enforcement, imposition, and inquisition.
This shift in philosophy happened gradually during our first years of marriage and graduate school, which have been marvelous times of learning and spiritual growth. My experiences at the University of Texas and the University Avenue Church of Christ have been instrumental in my walk with God. I feel more focused than ever in what my mission is as a Christian – to be a scientist, a theologian, a philosopher, and servant in the church. To that end, the Austin Graduate School of Theology has played an absolutely pivotal role in furthering my theological education, and I am eternally grateful for the opportunities I have had with them. Much of what I had learned came from self-teaching, but formalized study has been a great boon to my skills. Furthermore, I have the opportunity to bless many people through being the Music Minister at University Avenue. My spiritual life, while obviously not perfect, is growing in ways I could not have anticipated.
I pray that these few paragraphs can ignite your mind and stir you in some way. If you’d like to tell part of your story, either to me personally or to other readers, feel free to contact me or to comment below. I know many people will differ with me on many points, and that’s ok. We are unified in Christ, and ultimately our dedication to Christ’s Lordship is what this is about. May you continue to grow in faith day by day. Soli Deo Gloria!