This post is Part One of a modified form of the talk I gave at Christians for Liberty 2015. The purpose of the talk was to explore why valuing peace is a critical point of integration for being a Christian libertarian. I wanted to answer the question, “Who are we, as Christians and as libertarians.” If you were present at my talk, you’ll benefit from reading content left out due to limited time.
If you were to take inventory of what you see in the world around you, what do you think our world needs most? What grieves you when you watch or read the news? What makes your heart ache?
What is your reaction to hearing about yet another mass shooting or a devastating hurricane in a developing country? What is your reaction to the political responses to these tragedies? I’m deeply frustrated by what I see. I wish gun control advocates would avoid hasty actions and thoughtless proposals. I wish gun rights activists would humbly acknowledge that arming more people is not the easy solution to a deeper problem. I shudder when I read that climate change is causing hurricanes and therefore the poor are in danger if we don’t stop using fossil fuels instead of equipping them with the fossil fuel-based technology to protect them from climate danger.
When we get past our initial reactions and look deep inside to ask what we’re really looking for in this world, the answer is so profound it is often treated as cliché, and we don’t do cliche. So we look for another answer. In the movie Miss Congeniality, Sandra Bullock’s character, a no-BS undercover agent who needs to infiltrate the Miss United States pageant, is asked, like all the other candidates, what the most important thing our society needs. Every other candidate, who is caricatured as mindless, vain females wrapped up only in their appearance, says, “World peace!” After each of their answers, the crowd erupts with applause. The scene illustrates how far-fetched and idealistic the desire for world peace is. Bullock’s character, true to her authenticity, replies, “Harsher punishment for parole violators.” Crickets. It is not until she reluctantly adds, “And world peace!” that the crowd erupts in applause for her. The scene illustrates that the answers provided by all but Bullock’s character were of the same makeup as the characters themselves: plastic.
Libertarians Value Peace
As trite as it may sound, seeking peace is not something libertarians are against. We are certainly for peace. Just consider Larry Reed’s book title: Anything Peaceful. If it is not done in peace we are against it. We want to eliminate the use of coercion and force in our world, and we are highly critical of the state because force is its modus operandi. We believe that conflict can be resolved through conversation, cooperation, and collaboration, whether it be between individuals or institutions or nations.
This commitment to peace is most succinctly described as an outworking of the non-aggression principle. No aggression is permissible except in cases of self-defense. Offensive aggression is just that: offensive.
But for Christians, there’s more meaning to peace.
Christians Value Peace
Just like any word, “peace” may not adequately capture the biblical concept of peace. The Bible starts with the world being spoken into existence instead of appearing as a result of the warring gods of Babylon. The Israelites, both in slavery, in their own land, or in exile, were a people longing for shalom. And we see God actively working to get his people there, culminating in Incarnation – Jesus. That’s why Jesus is so important. The heart of the Christian message is that God in Christ has come to bring peace to the world. Not just the absence of violence, but the presence of Shalom, a thoroughly Jewish theme.
Let’s define shalom.
Cornelius Plantinga defines shalom as “…the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight…Shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be…the full flourishing of human life in all aspects, as God intended it to be.”
So, think Eden. Original goodness as declared in the beginning.
What results from shalom? Hugh Whelchel from TIFWE believes real shalom will produce the following:
- Prosperity (Psalms 72:1-7)
- Health (Isaiah 57:19)
- Reconciliation (Genesis 26:29)
- Contentment (Genesis 15:15; Psalms 4:8)
- Good relationships between the nations and peoples (1 Chronicles 12:17-18). This means that peace has a social as well as a personal dimension.
The specific outcomes and results of such a world does not imply that everyone makes a particular wage, that income inequality is nonexistent, or that nobody ever owns a weapon of any kind (what would we do with rocks?). Perhaps in such a world there is a “living wage,” though how that comes about is probably through a combination of market forces and generosity instead of State-issued mandate. Perhaps in such a society health care will be affordable, but not because of a single-payer system for 100 million people but because basic needs are affordable through market efficiencies. Perhaps in such a world income inequality will be minimal or unproblematic, but because of genuine prosperity and thriving of all in society, not because of redistribution.
That last point, “good relationships between nations and peoples,” is important to focus on for a few moments. In 2 Corinthians 5 Paul identifies Christians as “ministers of reconciliation.” What does that mean? What God did in Christ was reconcile the world to himself. Christians have inherited that ministry. I know most people think of this as a mission to convert individuals, but I think it goes further than that. The world needs the gospel because the world needs peace. I believe that Christians have a unique role to play in the world of politics if we are careful and deliberate.
If the gospel of Jesus were merely about personal spiritual awakening, Pilate and Caiaphas would not have colluded to crucify him. Yet Jesus was a threat to the Roman empire, and it was not because Jesus was a king like Caesar. It was because somehow what happened when people turned their allegiance to to King Jesus, it became a threat to the Roman empire. Identifying as Christian today poses little to no threat to the American Empire, but it should. Ron Paul, for instance, poses a serious threat with his prophetic admonitions to end the Federal Reserve System.
If allegiance to Jesus Christ does not in some way pose a threat to the empire, the gospel has been diluted to suit our consumeristic palates. Believing the gospel – being saved – is not a consumption good of eternal significance. It is a radical reorientation against empire and toward shalom.
Christian and Libertarian
The commitment to peace is a minimum commitment to qualify as a libertarian. Libertarianism is by and large a philosophy about what one may not do to others and the logic that unfolds from that premise. However, deciding on what is prohibited, even if based on the non-aggression principle, does not go far enough for the Christian. If we are going to couple the term “Christian” and “libertarian” together, there’s something about the term “Christian” that modifies the kind of libertarians we are to be in the world.
Think about the second greatest commandment according to Jesus: Love your neighbor. Certainly not harming your neighbor by advocating freedom is included, but it does not capture the essence of love. Likewise, the essence of shalom is not captured by non-aggression alone. There is more to life than making sure people are simply nice to each other, though that’s enough of a task as it is!
When we confess “Jesus is Lord,” we are not simply affirming a religious dogma. We are declaring the counter-truth against the empires of this world, which say, “We rule you, bow to our demands.” We are declaring that Jesus is the rightful ruler of the world, and we can stand against the empire and say, “No, you’ve got it backward. You’re really not in charge, no matter how many weapons you wield.”
The empire is not inclined toward peace, but toward violence. Yes, modern empires have become particularly cunning in promising peace, but only at the expense of unwavering commitment to its agenda. And many Christians, Left and Right, succumb to its alluring aroma of power, endorsing it under the guise of the common good, establishing a “Christian nation,” or serving the kingdom of God. The result is the nearly cult-like fashion many Christians look for a leader that will set the tone for the nation. They look for perfect regulation that will stave off evil. They glorify or even worship the military instead of treating its rightful role as a protecting institution. They enthusiastically embrace so-called rights bestowed by the state because they feel entitled to the property of others.
The Christian commitment to peace starts with allegiance to the Prince of Peace. Allegiance to Jesus Christ is a threat to empire. The message of liberty is a threat to empire. Christian libertarians are armed with both messages and are capable of speaking truth to power in a fresh way to a generation discontent with the current scope of allowable opinion. The world must be rescued from violent regimes.
How is the world rescued from violence? This is a big question, one that Christians have wrestled with for centuries. Part of the answer lies in reading our Bibles and finding our place in the ongoing narrative of history to see where God is taking us. That’s what we’ll get to in Part Two.