Blayne Bennett from Students for Liberty asked me to write a short article describing what it means to be a Christian libertarian, and this piece was the result. It was featured on the SFL blog this past Wednesday. Enjoy, share, and comment!

What do Representative Ron Paul, Doug Bandow from the Cato Institute, Isaac Morehouse from the Institute for Humane Studies, Larry Reed from FEE, Thomas Woods from the Mises Institute, David Thoreaux from the Independent Institute, and Leo Tolstoy all have in common? They all hate statism, and they are all Christians.

Christianity sometimes gets a bad rap in libertarian circles. Certain fundamentalist Christians have a history of using the State to enforce their particular moral values upon others. The so-called “social gospel” proponents wish to dismantle the free market and have the State redistribute wealth the way they think is right. And of course, those significantly influenced by Ayn Rand have a very negative view of religion in general.

Yet, surely it doesn’t have to be this way. Christianity has historically been on the side of liberty. Classical liberalism developed from an understanding of the Christian worldview which placed a high value on man’s freedom to choose. In fact, in my opinion Christians ought to be among the greatest proponents of libertarianism on the planet. But first, we should very briefly discuss some of the misconceptions about Christianity that turn off some libertarians. Then, we need to clarify how exactly Christianity and libertarianism support each other, and describe what “Christian libertarianism” actually is.

Four Misconceptions about Christianity and Politics

Christianity does not advocate socialism. Some scholars think that Jesus essentially taught wealth redistribution, and that the early Christian community in Acts 4 was a form of socialistic organizational structure. Yet, one cannot deny that Jesus emphasized voluntary assistance, not coercion. The early Christians did not force people to be charitable, and in fact did respect private property. That old saying you’ve probably heard, “Money is the root of all evil,” is actually a misquote of the Bible. In reality, it reads, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil,” and teaches us that greed often leads to sin.

Christianity does not glorify violence and war. It is truly unfortunate that modern American churches have abandoned the peaceful message of the Christian Gospel for the State’s means of “spreading democracy.” Jesus came to bring “peace on earth, good will to men,” and by extension the Christian’s goal ought to be the same.

Christianity does not advocate a theocratic state. While God did give the Israelites in the Old Testament a series of civil laws for their community’s well-being, there is absolutely no mandate in the New Testament for Christians to establish a new kind of state governed by Biblical law. It is not the Christian’s place to lord power over others. God rules within the hearts of his people now, not via a human ruler. As many early American revolutionaries stated, “We have no king but King Jesus.”

Christianity is not a theory to legitimize the state. Governments play a prominent role in the Bible, but in no way can one extend their presence to their rightness in the world. Even Romans 13 and the famous “Render unto Caesar” passages, which many take as the classic proof-texts in Scripture for the necessity of government, are more logically understood as prudential arguments for how to deal with the presence of government than as justifications for government.

Four Connections between Christianity and Libertarianism

Christianity supports a libertarian theory of property rights. Self-ownership with respect to other human beings is assumed in the Bible. Contrary to how many view the Old Testament, forced slavery was a capital offense. While all economic systems of organization have systems of ownership, Christianity in particular agrees with libertarians on the homestead principle, that the first user is the determiner of how a resource may be used. Those who misappropriate others property are considered aggressors and lawbreakers.

Christianity loves the free market and peaceful interaction. The Bible is full of examples showing clearly how voluntary interaction, that is, the free market, is far preferable to coercion. Besides showing the way to salvation, God’s message to men everywhere is that loving your neighbor as you love yourself ultimately results in peace and prosperity. Of course, this principle does not imply that bad things will not happen to us, but it does transcend momentary suffering and we can strive toward it.

Christianity affirms that no one should receive special privileges of position. God does not show favoritism, and therefore we are to do the same. All men are equal under God’s law. No one gets special moral permission to do what others cannot because they wear a uniform or because 51% of a population says they should.

Christianity says that the State is a rebellion against man’s true nature and purpose. Man was not intended to live under the constant threat of aggression from involuntary, arbitrary authority of other men. On the contrary, we are meant to live in peaceful, loving relationships with God and our neighbor. However, when one does not accept the rule of God, the tyranny of men through the evil of statism is likely to develop.  The State invariably sets itself up in opposition to God and pits men against each other.

These explanations are by necessity brief, and of course there are many additional theological topics and Scripture references that could be discussed. Nevertheless, we can clearly see here that Christianity and libertarianism have much in common. More and more Christians around the world are realizing that their previous way of understanding politics neither benefits others nor honors God. Christian libertarians have the answer: stop giving the government special theological and moral status and withdraw your consent. The State is not the Kingdom of God, and it never will be.

Dr. Norman Horn

Norman founded LibertarianChristians.com and the Libertarian Christian Institute, and currently serves as its President and Editor-in-Chief. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from the Austin Graduate School of Theology. He currently is a Postdoctoral researcher in Chemical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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  • Very interesting! Thanks for writing this. I’m not sure I’m 100% libertarian, but I do agree with most of what you’ve said in this article. Keep on!

  • Thanks Emily, very encouraging!

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  • TonyStiles

    Yeah… You and I have got to get together. This is good stuff. Good work brother.

  • We should, Tony, we should!

  • Richard Cromwell

    Norman, I just discovered your site. It is very well laid out and compelling. I have been a Christian Libertarian for at least 7 years now (I am 54 years old), and haven’t found a lot of resources to reinforce what I know in my heart is true. I was raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home in the 1960s, and went to a Fundamentalist Christian college. My family was very conservative (think Barry Goldwater 1964 – my dad had a plaque on the top of his car during the election year) but we didn’t frequently talk about the rationale of why we held these beliefs. As years went on, we, like so many other well-intentioned Christians began to accept the “neoconservative” views of American policy. As I got older, I began to feel very uncomfortable in my gut about what was happening in the name of American greatness. It wasn’t until after GWB was elected the second time in 2004 (and for whom I voted grudgingly but now regret immensely) that I actually began reading and researching what I had lost over the years (and what many conservative Evangelical Christians have lost) in reference to the TRUE principles of conservatism, best described in libertarianism. It’s about time that Christians stop associating American greatness (as defined in military prowess and aggression) with their Christian worldview. I think many are waking up. I am glad to see that you make the distinction and set your ideas apart from Jim Wallis and from the Establishment GOP. You can bet I’ll be reading your blog often! Thank You for your efforts.

  • Thanks Richard!

  • Kevin

    I recently got my right to vote this past year. Just in time for the upcoming elections. Of course, this being my first year, I didn’t really have a clue who to vote for, that would represent our country the way in which I’d approve. A close friend showed me this site, told me to read through it a little. I’m glad that I did so. It most definitely narrowed my views on politics, and it helped me decide who I wanted to vote for this upcoming November.
    Thanks a bunch, and very nice article Norman!

  • Thank you, Kevin! I’m glad to hear you have benefited from this article and the site overall. Remember that electoral politics is only part of the mission, though, and that what we are really after is changing the hearts and minds of people everywhere to liberty!

  • Peter

    But how libertarian christians deal with adultery and simple fornication, for example? Because the Old Testament prescribes stoning for adultery and simple fornication.

  • Peter

    How the libertarian christians deal with the promiscuity? The Old Testament prescribes capital punishment for adultery and simple fornication.

  • A Christian libertarian does not presume to apply all manners of laws
    and punishments from the Old Testament to governments today. Those laws
    were given to the Israelite people during that particular time, not any modern state today, existing or not yet existing.

  • Trutherator

    Note that the laws of Moses, even with those prescriptions, made no provision for anything resembling a “state” at all. No police force, no king, no conscription, no taxes. The tithes were a devotional requirement, and lives today as we see completely outside the state.

    You left the congregation if you didn’t want to abide by these norms, and obviously many did. The first two commandments are the synthesis of the rest of them and supersede them. In those days, an adulterer was a vector for diseases that were much more dangerous than they are today, for example, putting everyone in danger. Ergo, punishment fit the crime. With Jesus’ sacrifice, as believers, we now have more freedom to apply the two greatest commandments with our neighbors, BUT it also demands more of us. (The rich man followed the check boxes but fell short of the Law of Love).

    There were disputes and there were judges that generally (IMO) emerged by being people already respected among the parties. Settled in the new land, the priests generally served as judges.

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  • Jola

    Sorry it’s longish… To an extent, I agree, but I am very new to the idea of Christian libertarianism (2 days!)… I’m a (very) fundamentalist Christian, and I’m a thoroughly anti-post-modernist! The Word is my authority and I know what the Scriptures say. In fact, as regards free will, I believe the Scriptures clearly teach that the only free will mankind has, is to choose which evil to do (Rom 3:10-12), that redemption is solely the work of God and the only thing we contribute is the need for it (2 Tim 1:9; Heb 12:2), and that the only real liberty anyone has, is in redemption (Rom 8:21). I know Yahshua’s mission was not to cure the ills of the world in an earthly manner, but by his resurrection. I agree coercion is wrong and unchristian. I know that His Kingdom is not on this earth, and I thoroughly object to the mission of the dominionists and the kingdom-nowists… they’ve got it very wrong.
    At the same time I’m dubious about a marriage between the tenets of true Christianity and philosophy, and very reluctant about having a free-for-all of “do what thou wilt” in my community. I have a young family whom I wish to protect, and in my work, I see the tragedy of worldliness in my community every day. Of course loving thy neighbour would eliminate many of these ills, but most people disdain the Word, and prefer to live as selfists: in fact we all do, more than we’d care to admit.
    While we are not here to take over in Christian earthly rule… What is your position on standing up for what the Bible states is immoral? I know that when immoral people do as they wish, it absolutely DOES impact/harm/effect others, even though they are under a wholesale delusion that it does not. For example, while I’m no activist, I am getting involved in a Christian organisation that counsels and supports unwittingly pregnant women, so that they are able to make the decision not to abort their children (without coercion)… I’m certain that God would have us save these innocent lives, surely, but would having that influence be considered anti-libertarian?
    I’m interested to discover more about CL. Does CL differ in its libertarian nuances to worldly libertarianism? I always thought that libertarians were ignorant in their total under-appreciation of the significant impact that the practice of the liberties of the immoral has on others… whether it be fornication or drug use or free-range parenting ;-)
    I’m very interested in your thoughts, or in being directed toward some online resources.
    Regards!

  • Jola, all of your questions have been addressed in detail on this website. Here’s a way to get started…
    http://libertarianchristians.com/get-started-here/