Archive for guest posts
This guest article is reprinted by permission from Kris Wampler, who writes for the Charlotte Libertarian Examiner.
If a stranger told you he’s an evangelical Christian who believes homosexuality is a sin and that the Holy Bible is the inerrant word of God, which political label would you ascribe to him? Odds are good you’d assume he’s a conservative, because, well, those seem like the calling cards of a right-winger.
On the other hand, if he told you he believes government should get out of marriage (or at least allow gay marriage), decriminalize drugs, and stay out of the morality business, you’d probably assume he was a liberal. Because, well, those seem like the calling cards of a left-winger.
And if the stranger told you he subscribes to both statements above, you might just assume he was severely confused. But is there not a third way?
It’s all too common these days to link political and religious convictions, as if a particular theological worldview necessarily denotes a particular political ideology. If one is a conservative Christian, how could one also be a social liberal? And why in the world would an evangelical advocate the legalization of pot?
I am a conservative Southern Baptist (yes, one of those Baptists). For years, I believed in using government to bring about certain social policies. The change came for me not because I compromised or watered down my religious beliefs, but because I began to appreciate both the Christian doctrine of free will and the destructive nature of government.
Free will is often overlooked by Christians, but is absolutely integral to our faith. Nothing in the Bible justifies the use of force to convert or punish non-Christians. Forget all you know about the Inquisitions and Crusades. Christ said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20 NIV). Note that Jesus did not say He would knock the door down if you don’t open it. The lesson here is that nothing in the Bible supports the notion that force should be used to spread the Gospel.
Besides, if a man is compelled to confess faith in the Lord, then he is acting only out of fear rather than genuine conviction. He may speak one way with his mouth, but feel completely different in his heart. This sort of “faith” is meaningless, and the Christian who accomplished it via force has wasted his time.
Free will also has significant implications for policy questions. On all matters, social and economic, it is simply wrong to use government to compel individuals to behave a particular way. The only obvious exception is if the person’s behavior would violate another’s negative rights. Punishing individuals for acting or not acting a certain way disrespects the innate value of the individual.
The battle between liberals and conservatives only obscures the matter while hampering liberty. The left and right are thought of as polar opposites, when in reality they are ideological cousins. The only difference between the two, for the most part, is the area of society in which they desire to use force. Liberals usually seek to regulate the boardroom, and conservatives often want to control the bedroom. Few realize the inconsistency of letting people love whomever they want while telling them how to spend their money (and vice versa).
Clifford Thies, professor of economics and finance at Shenandoah University, once wrote: “Because we are commanded to love one another, we cannot be morally neutral. But because we respect the limits on our authority, and we trust in God’s plan of salvation, we do not violently intervene into the lives of others.”
He makes a good point. And while the purpose of government should be to protect individual rights, the purpose of church and community is to improve individual lives. Real political freedom is recognizing that everyone owns their own life and destiny, and should be free to do as they please – provided they afford others the same respect.
For this Christian libertarian, that’s a long overdue message.
Make sure to check out the Charlotte Libertarian Examiner and the Christian Libertarian Facebook Group! Please encourage Kris with your comments: how do you view the relationship between libertarianism and Christianity?
This guest post is by LCC reader Jonathan Boatwright. Thank you for your submission, Jonathan! The views expressed in any guest article should not be construed as an official position paper of LibertarianChristians.com and are the work of the guest author alone.
There is a grand question before Christendom today. Many conservative pundits and television talking heads rail against the evil they find in the world. They condemn, denounce and otherwise opine with feverish rhetoric, against the evils of radical Islam and the terror begotten by such unscrupulous curs, and whoever they deem in need of a good verbal volley from their moral and religious cannons. They remind us of their Christianity, their religiosity and all that accompanies such beliefs. Likewise unwitting individuals who legitimately call themselves Christians sit up and unfortunately listen. An issue that many Christians get their marching orders from conservative pundits on is the issue of torture, specifically water boarding. Many individuals out of a belief that conservatism encompasses the all-knowing Mecca of right and wrong, and that such pundits are naturally right, swallow the vomitous codswallop that comes out of their television. What they hear are explanations of how water boarding isn’t torture, and how we gain information by it. But what many forget, while buying into such odious tripe, is their moral obligations as Christians. Ladies and gentlemen, as a Christian I grew up understanding that the Bible was not a hard book to understand. That application of its principles were simple. While there are indeed deep theological issues that encompass the Scriptures, this is not the principle topic at hand.
As we examine the debate from a Biblical standpoint, let us consider what Biblical precedent is lain down for us to follow. If we cannot follow the simple principles of Christianity, how can we follow those which may not be simple? I Thessalonians 5:15 states, “See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men. Plain, simple, yet profound in the area of Biblical precedent(s) against torture. Let us go on.
Former S.E.R.E. instructor and Navy officer Malcolm Nance, in writing for the website “Small Wars Journal,” made a short but profound statement on torture. He said, and I quote, “ We, as a nation, are having a crisis of honor.” A crisis of honor that not only extends to the very fabric of what America was founded on, but to the very Christian soul of America. So I ask you Christian America, how can we defend torture. We cannot! We Must Not!
The typical rejoinder heard from not only Christian conservatives, but all conservatives, is a brief blurb about how they do not afford us the same courtesy. That can simply be answered by quoting Luke 6:31, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And can further be qualified by adding, “even if the person doing unspeakable things to you does not afford you the same courtesy.” If Christ turned the other cheek, shouldn’t we, in our imperfect humanity, do the same? Outside of glorifying God, isn’t our aim to be as much like HIM as we can? I recently heard it asserted that Christ would have approved of torture. First, I cannot believe that with such blatant principles staring them in the face that someone would make such a completely baseless assertion! By virtue of Christ turning the other cheek, and admonishments of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and “Render not evil for evil,” I can see no reason why Christ would approve of torture.
That theologically conservative Christians alike approve of, abide by and defend torture, makes me wonder if my country is no longer a country of law, but of men. A nation of men abides by torture and the usurpation of their rights, out of fear. A government politico, television pundit or even the President himself defend measures that usurp rights and explain away all moral decency as measures necessary to protect us. A nation of law falls back on the established precedent of the law, and the morality of its religious based heritage. As Christians we fall back on the moral principles and heritage of our upbringing. To deny this is to deny our nations religious heritage. It is to deny that free men are compelled by morality and just law. For a Christian to defend torture is to deny their Christian heritage and the very Biblical morality which emanates from the pages of Scripture. As I once heard it said, it is not about the terrorist, it is about our very soul. As Americans and as Christians if we approve of torture, what is next? Are we going to sacrifice what little remains of our sense of morality, and the few rights that we have after the next disastrous attack? Are we going to sacrifice our rights when the next politician, pastor, priest or minister says so? God forbid! For the surrendering and usurping of our rights should be viewed as though it were no different than the sin we cry out against. Let us be vigilant to defend the gift of liberty God has given us.
Jonathan Boatwright was raised in Central South Carolina before moving to the Philippines. His father is a former Independent Baptist Pastor, and is now a missionary in the Republic of the Philippines. He has been married for almost 2 years to his Filipina wife. He is continuing to aid his father from the United States by conducting ministry business on his father’s behalf. He also wants to be involved in Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty once he returns to the U.S. Follow him on Twitter, and go check out his new blog: the Liberty Light.
LibertarianChristians.com is pleased to welcome Christopher Bevis in our next guest post, originally published on LewRockwell.com, entitled “Caesar and God in Context.” Christopher Bevis is a newly licensed Reader in the Church of England, an avid LRC reader, and a member of the Libertarian Alliance. He writes in a purely personal capacity, and wants to help Christians and libertarians see that they have much to offer each other. The views expressed in the any guest article should not be construed as the official position of LibertarianChristians.com and are the work of the guest author alone.
Professor Walter Block’s article on Religion and Libertarianism was a timely wake up call to theistic and atheistic libertarians alike. As a Reader (a licensed lay minister) in the Church of England, I welcome Professor Block’s call to unite in the face of the growing state menace to us all – but I took exception to his phrase “But what of the fact that most if not all religions support the state. ‘Render unto Caesar… etc.’”.
You might wonder why I object to this biblical quotation. It seems peripheral to Professor Block’s argument, it’s accurate as far as it goes, and many of my fellow Christians do quote this passage to either endorse (or at least resign themselves to) the latest government proposals on almost anything and everything. My answer is that as a Christian minister, it’s part of my calling to make sure that other people understand the Bible as well as possible when they use and quote it – regardless of whether they agree with what they’re quoting.
I’m tired of seeing Matthew 22:15-22 (or its equivalents in Mark 12:13-17 and Luke 20:20-26) used by Christians to support the modern nation-state. So in fairness to Professor Block, I take issue with the way some of my fellow Christians interpret this story, rather than with the Professor for referring to their views. Have a look at the Matthew passage from the New International Version of the Bible with me, and I’ll try to explain what I mean:
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”
The usual interpretation of this passage says something like this: Here Jesus endorses paying taxes to the state, even a pagan state, and says that such obedience to civil government is not incompatible with obedience to God. But apart from leading directly to an often uncritical rubber stamping of the state’s tax demands, the standard interpretation also ignores several vital aspects of the context in which Jesus spoke.
Let’s start by looking at the political and religious context of the story. Jesus lived and taught in Roman-occupied Judea in the first century A.D. The Roman Empire, although powerful, held only a fraction of the information on its citizens that modern nation-states do on theirs, and offered nothing like the array of social welfare programs we find in a typical western-style social democracy. The incident in question seems to have taken place in or near the Temple, while Jesus was speaking to the crowds during the final Passover week of his earthly ministry. Matthew, Mark and Luke (sometimes called the Synoptists) all place the story shortly after Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers.
In Matthew 21:13, Jesus explained his attack on the tables of the money changers by quoting Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 (“‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers'”). In other words, he was offended by the location of the money changers in the court of the Gentiles, the only area in the Temple complex where non-Jews were allowed to pray to God; he was further angered by the extortionate exchange rates the agents were charging. The money changers converted Roman coinage into special Temple coins for reasons we’ll examine later. For now, let’s just say it wasn’t surprising that Jesus’ opponents saw the opportunity to ask what sort of money he found acceptable.
The economic and fiscal aspects of the story are also important. According to Dr. John MacArthur, Jesus’ questioners had a particular imperial tax in mind: the poll tax, which was levied at a flat rate of one denarius and helped to pay for the Roman legions which occupied Judea. The legions were more than just a security force – they were also responsible for the construction and maintenance of the roads, for example, and were the closest thing Rome had to a civil service. Nevertheless, MacArthur describes the poll tax as “the most hated tax of all because it suggested that Rome owned even the people, while they viewed themselves and their nation as possessions of God” (MacArthur: 1434n).
The denarius was probably equivalent to a day’s wage for a labourer. Each denarius struck at that time bore the face and inscription of Tiberius Caesar on one side, and an image of Tiberius seated on his imperial throne in priestly robes on the other. Caesar’s inscription included the title “Son of God” (Carson: 933), and the emperor was worshipped as a god in many parts of the Empire. Not surprisingly, Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries thought the coin to be blasphemous, and therefore unfit for offering to God in the Temple in Jerusalem. Hence the need for “money changers” to convert the idolatrous denarii into special Temple coinage before worshippers purchased sacrificial animals in the Temple precincts and proceeded into the court of the Jews.
The idolatrous denarius would soon become impure in another important respect: the coin Jesus held and affirmed as payable to Tiberius Caesar was 99 per cent pure silver, but this would not be the case for long. Nero (54 – 68 A.D.) is the first Roman emperor known to have debased the denarius, while Trajan (98 – 117 A.D.) subsequently added copper to the coin. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the denarius of Septimius Severus (193 – 211 A.D.) was only 40 per cent pure. By the time the western Roman Empire fell into Christianized hands under Constantine in 312 A.D., the denarius was no longer in circulation. The labourer’s daily wage had been inflated away, stolen by a pagan state whose leaders thought they could create and recreate economic realities by decree – much as their deluded central banking descendants believe today.
But what of the security situation in which Jesus uttered his words on giving to Caesar and God? The Temple complex was directly overlooked by a Roman garrison stationed in the nearby fortress of Antonia. The garrison would have been in a high state of alert during the Passover week, as thousands of strangers flooded into Jerusalem from all parts of the Roman Empire. From a security standpoint, Passover was perhaps the worst time of year for Roman troops stationed in Jerusalem, which helps to explain part of what we might call the logical context of this story.
You may by now have concluded that the tax question was meant to be a (very dangerous) trick question, and that Jesus’ opponents deliberately asked it in a closed form. You’d be right on both counts. Jesus’ enemies wanted a simple “yes” or “no” answer to their question because they knew they could use either response to destroy him. A “yes” would have alienated many devout Jews in his audience and could have been used to incite the crowd to lynch him; a “no” would have let Jesus’ opponents bring him before the Roman governor on a charge of sedition. The penalty for sedition was death, and Pilate wouldn’t have hesitated to pass sentence, especially given the role of a Galilean named Judas in leading a tax revolt against Rome in 6 A.D. (Chilton: 426).
Jesus refused to give his enemies what they wanted, and his answer should be seen for what it is: a tricky answer to a trick question. What’s more, the context in which Jesus uttered his words on Caesar and God should remind us to be careful about using the story as a ringing endorsement of the nation-state. But does this mean Jesus lied? No, he simply took care to present the truth in a form his enemies couldn’t use against him.
For example, by having his opponents produce a denarius marked with Caesar’s image and inscription, Jesus avoided publicly associating himself with either Rome’s currency or the religious beliefs it embodied. His words can in fact be seen as confirmation that the denarius was unfit to offer to God; this left Caesar and the might of Rome firmly outside the Temple and with little or no Divine sanction from Jesus. Finally, Jesus may also have used his enemies’ actions to suggest to the crowd that his opponents paid the poll tax. Thus, the spies were tactically unable to ask the question Jesus’ reply begs even today “What, exactly, is Caesar’s?”.
This was perhaps fortunate for Jesus, but arguably less so for modern Christians, who frequently assume that Jesus offered no answer in the passage to this vital question. They often leave it to their current local Caesar to answer it for them, with the result that each would-be Caesar is allowed to make up his own rules, provided he doesn’t blatantly demand worship of himself or another rival god. Small wonder that few state leaders object to Christians quoting this passage. But I think Jesus did identify Caesar’s property, and offer in evidence the denarius displayed to the crowd at the behest of Jesus.
So, what does Jesus here imply belongs to a Caesar who tried to rival God for worship and loyalty? Financially speaking, the most that statist Christians can get from this story is an endorsement of a flat tax limited to a single digit percentage of a manual labourer’s annual income. Furthermore, this money was used to finance local government, local security and road construction. It was never sufficient to prop up bloated international government agencies, failing businesses or indebted home buyers. But since Jesus implicitly shut Caesar out of the Temple with his answer, even this conclusion is debatable at best.
Morally speaking, though, Jesus was refusing much more than a coin for himself or his Father. His answer was a rejection of the blasphemous power of state-controlled money, issued by thieving moneyers at the behest of false gods. Even today, such money is backed by the ability to threaten and use state-sanctioned violence on a massive scale. Those who give such orders today shelter beneath the doctrine of “sovereign immunity”, and those who carry out the orders try to absolve themselves by pointing to “the chain of command”.
Caesar’s “power” (such as it is) entails appearing to reap without sowing, promoting or unmaking just weights and measures on a whim of public policy, taking or preserving the lives of others in the name of the “big picture” or the “greater good” – and reaping personal and national disaster in due course. No wonder Jesus, the Prince of Peace, rejected such power whenever it was offered to him.
(c) 2009 Golden Siesta Limited. Used by the permission of the author.
Bible quotations (unless otherwise stated) are taken from the New International Version, (c) 1978 New York International Bible Society and may be checked on-line at www.biblegateway.com.
Carson, D.A., R.T. France, J.A. Motyer and G.J. Wenham (eds.) (Third Edition 1994, rep. 2008) – New Bible Commentary (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press)
Chilton, B (ed.) (Second Edition) 2008 – The Cambridge Companion to the Bible (University Press)
MacArthur, J (ed.) 1997 – The MacArthur Study Bible New King James Version (Word Publishing)
“coin.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD 23 Aug. 2008.
It Could Be Dawn (Time magazine, March 29th 1968)