Can a Christian be a Libertarian?
Christians in American politics have argued for years that God endorses the political agenda of Republicans or Democrats, but is there a third way to think about the relationship between God and government?
Christians from the left and the right are increasingly turning to libertarianism not because it is a “middle ground,” but because it is an entirely different way of thinking about government and power.
The core of libertarianism is the non-aggression principle: that the initiation of force against person and property is immoral, and it is in many respects a kind of political corollary to the Golden Rule. Thus, Christian libertarians think that government power should be limited, sound money and truly free markets should return, aggressive war must cease and civil liberties must be preserved. Despite objections raised by other Christians, many Christian libertarians have found a friend in Texas congressional representative, presidential candidate, and lifelong Christian Dr. Ron Paul, because he also believes in these important principles.
Libertarianism treats man’s sinful nature realistically. James Madison famously quipped that if men were angels no government would be necessary. Christian libertarians take this a step further, saying that it is precisely because men are not angels that government must have extraordinarily limited powers. God does not show favoritism nor does he give special privileges of position. Everyone is accountable to the moral law in the same way. When governments and politicians extend their power so that they can abridge people’s natural rights with impunity, they have crossed the line into immorality. Rep. Paul’s message is that the United States government has been far across this line for decades and the remedy is to follow the Constitution. The Founders created the boldest attempt in history to limit state power, yet presidents and congresses, both Republican and Democratic, have repeatedly refused to adhere to their own rules. True, lasting change can only be found in reducing the power of the federal government.
Libertarians talk a lot about economics, and rightfully so. Money is central to a healthy economy. Christians are also concerned about money; in fact God talks frequently about money in the Bible. God’s warning against unjust “weights and measures” in Leviticus 19 is a warning not to tamper with the market ecosystem of money and trade. Rep. Paul acknowledges the Bible’s concern for honest money as well in End the Fed: “The Bible is clear that altering the quality of money is an immoral act… It is dishonesty in money that has been a major source of evil throughout history.” If the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, as 1 Timothy 6:10 says, how much more seriously ought we to take how our society views the control over the supply of money? If it is true, as many libertarians contend, that the Federal Reserve is the primary cause of the economic crisis we have today, then the only solution is to restore honest, sound commodity money, free from political machinations and special interests.
It is truly unfortunate that modern American churches seem to think the state’s means of “spreading democracy” through aggressive war is more important than spreading the peaceful message of the Gospel of Christ. Jesus came to bring “peace on earth, good will to men,” and by extension the Christian’s goal ought to be the same. Rep. Paul wrote in Liberty Defined: “It’s a far stretch and a great distortion to use Christianity in any way to justify aggression and violence.” War kills the innocent, destroys property, and bankrupts nations. Christian libertarians believe that a non-interventionist foreign policy of peace, commerce, and honest friendship is more consistent with how God expects us to interact with world neighbors.
Libertarians think that everyone should be free to do as they will provided they do not infringe upon the rights of others. Christians can recognize the importance of this principle by simply observing history, recognizing how often that other Christians have been prevented from practicing their religion as their conscience requires of them. If we do not afford others the freedom to live their lives as they choose, how can we expect to receive the same freedom to do as we choose? Rep. Paul explains that government does not make people good in The Revolution: “The law cannot make a wicked person virtuous… God’s grace alone can accomplish such a thing.” God created us to be free to carry out the dictates of conscience. We cannot continue to demand state control to restrict people’s personal activity and yet assume our liberty is safe.
Through libertarianism, many Christians have found a way to move past their previous beliefs about politics and embrace a more consistent, more biblical political philosophy. The message of abolishing government power is powerful on its own. In Ron Paul, many Christian libertarians see a leader who points to principles that conservatives and liberals have long forgotten: “A system of government without limit, if unchecked, will destroy production and impoverish the nation. The only answer is to better understand economics and monetary systems, as well as social and foreign policies, with the hope that they will change once it becomes clear that government policies are a threat to all of us.” Libertarianism is not going away, and it surely will take an increasingly prominent place in the political discussion of Christians for years to come.
Norman Horn wrote this article for the Washington Post in December 2011, and it became one of the most widely disseminated pieces of Christian libertarian literature in existence today.