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Christians & Freedom: A Response to Stoker (Part 3)

This article was jointly written by Doug Stuart and Jessica Hooker.

In Stoker’s original article, she outlined three objections to the compatibility of Christianity and libertarianism, with subsequent expansions in later posts. Our previous posts addressed her first two points, and this article addresses her third point. Read our first post here, and our second post here. A substantial amount of time has passed since the aforementioned posts were originally written, so we encourage you to review them for additional context.

The first biblical story about humans is about human action and consequences. Whether one takes the story of Adam and Eve as historical-factual or non-literal, the narrative in Scripture functions as more than a mere explanation of why sin exists or where humans come from. This origin story frames the questions about divine-human relationship: “How shall we relate to God?” and “What are God’s expectations?” (among others). Far from playing the part of Divine Puppeteer,  God bestowed Adam and Eve with the dignity of choice.  God had spent six days creating the good world in which God placed God’s crowning creation—mankind—and from our perspective God would have been justified in thwarting any attempt to mar that world.  If God was willing to give them such a level of freedom that could—and ultimately did—result in cursing a perfect world, how much more freedom are we then given in the small things? We may even wonder why God placed a tree in the garden whose fruit could bring such sadness and destruction into the world.

3) Libertarians value freedom so heavily because we believe in non-aggression; that is, that peaceful action is the only permissible way to treat others. The common good can never be reached through violence or coercion. 

In the freedom to choose right or wrong, good or evil, humanity has a considerable amount of freedom in both big and small. Stoker is right in that the explicit freedom spoken of in Scripture is about freedom from sin and freedom to righteousness. But this far from negates libertarian free will! Throughout the Scriptures we see God imploring humanity to choose the way of life. Israel was beckoned at the beginning of Joshua, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” They were free to reject God’s covenant, free to reject God’s justice, and free to reject God’s blessings for doing it “God’s way.” It is here that we find an inherent integration of our Christianity and our libertarianism. God did not create us puppets on a string, controlling our every move, making us do right. Nor did Jesus implore us to preach the gospel, and—if people reject it—declare ourselves, by proxy through the state, masters of their morality. We are never called to make Jesus Lord of other people’s lives. One of the aspects of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower is that absent the story is the forceful “plowing under” of the seeds, a common and expected practice in his culture. Jesus was saying (in part) God’s Kingdom comes peacefully, not forcefully. We can not force it to happen!

This is where we believe Stoker ultimately misses the mark.  Throughout her series on Christianity and libertarianism, her arguments have hinged upon using force to coerce people to behave a certain way—her way.  She has stated that “Justice in the world actually occurs when people engage with others in a just way,” yet has failed to illustrate how it is just to forcibily take from those who have to give to those who have not.  Coerced charity is not charity at all.  Doing the right thing for the wrong reason is no better than doing the wrong thing for the right reason—it’s just the words that are reversed.

The prophet Micah tells the people of Israel, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NIV).  Challenging words, indeed.  But here again we see the same thread we’ve been following through our previous two posts: the freedom to fail, to mess up, to choose wrongly or irresponsibly.

It is nearly impossible to read the narrative of the New Testament without considering the backdrop of the Exodus narrative in the Old Testament. Being released from bondage in Egypt was more than just slavery per se, it was—and still is—imagery that characterized the whole of human existence: bondage to powers that enslave us. Most Christians consider sin that which enslaves all of us. In this sense, the meaning of the Exodus narrative is fully captured in the climactic event of the entire Christian story: resurrection of Jesus. God has freed humanity from the bondage of sin through a new exodus, a new creation. We are thus freed from sin and the effects of sin. The Truth—Jesus—will set us free. We are set free for freedom. Stoker would rightly point out that the biblical writers were probably not thinking of what we call “Enlightenment freedom,” but there is no escaping that the gospel according to Jesus is freedom from all that enslaves, not simply our sinful nature or eternal destination. While this connect far from “proves” libertarianism, it certainly demonstrates compatibility with it.

Stoker concluded her first post with explaining why the state is the best means by which our collectively pooled resources are able to render help to those in need. It’s truly ironic, because where the Bible describes those who need rescue from oppression and slavery, it is from oppressive empires, which is exactly the type of institution which enslaves those whom God cares most about! God heard the cries of God’s people in Egypt, and responded by mocking, shaming,  and ultimately demolishing the Egyptian gods as they knew it. Stoker herself even recognizes the inherent power-over nature of the State, giving further credence to the libertarian claim that power easily corrupts! She cannot have both the State monopolizing the distribution of resources while at the same time chastising the institution of private property as “participation in state power.”

Comments on Stoker’s website have been disabled, but she is reachable on Twitter or via email. Please be kind and respectful if you write to her.

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Doug Stuart

Doug Stuart holds a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Seminary and is a regular contributor to LibertarianChristians.com. He currently lives with his wife and three children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where he enjoys home brewing, coffee roasting, reading, and aviation. He is a life group leader and deacon at an evangelical church, where he has also taught classes on film and culture, evangelism, faith and economics, and non-violence.

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