This post is Part Three of a modified form of the talk I gave at Christians for Liberty 2015. Read Part One and Part Two. 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.
As discussed in Part Two, Christians live as “resident aliens” in a world dominated by empire. A central component of our mission to announce the gospel to all the world is serving as a prophetic voice as we speak truth to power. Libertarians know all-too well that the State is an empire which deserves our critique.
What do we do? Let me quote Brian Zahnd again (Beauty, p 150):
In the midst of a hateful, violent, and idolatrous world, the church is to be an enclave of love, peace, and holiness. To be a faithful church, the church must be distinguished by holiness. Not holiness as puritanical moralism, but holiness as otherness — we are to be other to the values of this present darkness.
In the world of politics in America, libertarians know all-too well what it means to be considered as “other.” As Christians, it is beginning to feel that way as our society becomes more pluralistic. But being “other” is part of our identity, and it means being a light-bearer, a peacemaker, a truth-teller. What exactly does this look like?
We libertarians spend a lot of time trying to abolish the institutions and programs the state has decided are “good for us.” We spend a lot of time advocating for deregulation, privatization, and restricting the state in any way possible. That’s fine, and I have no quarrel with these endeavors. But since we are from the future, and because we know shalom has no room for empire, we can expect the state to become obsolete. Let’s plan on it!
Put yourselves in the place of Jesus’ followers, thoroughly Jewish for the most part, where religion and politics were woven together. Rome was occupying your land, and Jesus comes along, promises a new politic, but is then killed by the very empire you want to be rescued from. You’re disappointed, but then – resurrection! Everything changed. It was an exciting time. Can you wonder why they didn’t seem to be very concerned with what happened to the Roman Empire?
In other words, the early Christians simply went on living joyfully in this new reality, calling people out of empire, speaking truth to power, and serving as ministers of reconciliation. They were wholly unconcerned with the usefulness of the state. They didn’t need it.
An important aside: it’s remarkable that the early Christians were able to enjoy the freedom of living in Christ whether they were oppressed or free. Paul said he was content in all circumstances, free or in bondage. Whatever empire is oppressing us, we can and should live as free people.
Let’s end with how libertarian Christians can be a prophetic voice against empire.
Speak Truth to Power
Libertarians have been keen on identifying the nature of the State, calling it out on both overt evils and innocuous inefficiencies. As Christians we are to awaken others to a reality which they are unable to see. This takes prayer, of course, because only the Spirit of God can cause the blind to see. But they must have something to see.
Empires project a sense of all-embracing normality. Not only do empires want us to think that reality is totally composed of the structures, symbols and systems that have been imperially constructed, they also want us to believe that the future holds no more than a heightened realization of imperial hopes and dreams . . . If all the maps are provided by the empire, if all the reality we can see is what the empire has constructed as reality for us, then our praxis will never be creative, and it will never be subversive to that empire. (Walsh and Keesmaat, 155-156)
A prophetic imagination is required for us to take this task seriously.
Reliance upon the state must decrease, and reliance upon peaceful means of social progress must increase. Libertarian Christians are poised to offer a beautiful alternative to the limited options from which the church and the world are used to selecting.
- We believe a free society is the best framework for diffused power so that people are genuinely free.
- We believe that stable property rights are the best framework within which free humans can cooperate and resolve conflict.
- We embrace the intrinsic value and worth of every human being.
- We believe in peace and are against all forms of initiation of aggression.
- We pray for and actively work toward a world where the will of God is done “on earth as in heaven.”
I often engage with progressives who tend to focus on the societal issues they deem problematic. I do my best to focus on areas of agreement and propose changes I believe would result in their preferred outcomes. For instance, ending the banking cartel we know as the Federal Reserve System would eliminate many of their worries about wealth disparity. Probably not all, but it’s a good start, and most progressives are at least willing to entertain this option. Another area of common ground is imperialism: bring our troops home, no more wars, and dramatically reduce military spending. A third is mass incarceration. I’m not well-educated regarding non-violent offenders, but it seems to be a bipartisan effort to at least evaluate this. To be quite honest, I’d die a happier man if we only made those three changes, and none others. Well, okay, I’d add a fourth: I’d like to see something relatively close to open borders.
We as libertarians believe in the autonomy of the individual, but as Christians we believe in the necessity of community. We enjoy the fruits of fellowship and the camaraderie that comes from a sense of belonging. We do not have to pick between individualism and collectivism.
“Communities which are genuinely voluntary can affirm individual dignity… without enshrining individualism. They can likewise realize community without authorizing lordship or establishment.” (John Howard Yoder, The Priestly Kingdom)
This life is founded upon a message of peace and carried out through the practice of love toward our neighbors. When individuals choose peace over conflict, they embody God’s Kingdom. When individuals die to self in efforts to reconcile differences, they embody true Kingdom power. This doesn’t mean bringing together only those who are fighting. Embodying real community means bringing that which is broken into wholeness, and this can be done in various ways, both in the local church and in the marketplace. Providing a job, if you’re a business owner. Turning natural resources into usable energy, technology, or sustenance is a powerful way to move toward prosperity for more people and is far more creative than confiscating already-existing wealth from the people who have done such work.
What works against reconciliation?
In an earlier post, I gave two examples of two popular opinions. Here they are, evaluated in light of reconciliation.
- “We should tax the wealthy.”
- How does this incline our heart toward love?
- Does this attitude reflect our love for people or our lust for what they have that we wish to use?
- If we accept this as a legitimate role for government, do we diminish our ability to see the rich as individuals made in God’s image?
- Christian libertarians suggest that, in fact, taxation undermines human dignity and reflects a lack of respect for those taxed and even for those receiving the state benefit.
- “We should secure the borders.”
- However we define “secure,” this statement is fraught with disheartening attitudes toward other human beings.
- What is it about those living on the other side of a geopolitical border that makes them a threat?
- Perhaps those most adamant should stand at the border and face a hungry child and say to her, “If I say yes to you, I will have to say yes to potential terrorists.” Is that too subjective an idea on which to base policy? Perhaps. However, if we are committed to reconciliation, a certain element of subjectivity is involved in all decisions, try as we might to be as objective as possible.
The gospel is the announcement that God’s new movement to rescue creation has begun in Jesus. Christ on the cross and God’s raising him to life is the final defeat of the violent Roman empire, and by implication all empires and their violence. New creation means empire is ending. When Christians declare that Jesus frees us from sin, that means Jesus frees us from the consequences of our own sin as well as the consequences of the damaging effects of sin.
Lastly, let me issue a word of caution, because we can easily become sloppy in our thinking regarding works like “freedom” or “liberty,” equivocating on their usage in Scripture. We can also become over-zealous in defending ourselves using the Bible. Libertarians should use wisdom in using the Bible to defend freedom. Freedom from empire is certainly part of the good news of the gospel, but it is not the whole gospel. Liberation theology, for all its contributions to the theological conversation, seems to miss this point. Liberation from empire is part of the gospel because Jesus came to liberate us from sin and the manifestations of sin. The satan was defeated, and hence the satan’s greatest achievement in institutionalizing violence (the state) is defeated.
To not be misunderstood, let me be clear: advocating for liberty is not the whole endeavor of working for God’s peace on earth. Libertarian peace is not identical to shalom.
The peace found in a free society is a healthy starting point and can serve as stage one in recognizing the things that make for peace by discerning that which works against it. That’s our aim as libertarians. As Christians, we take it one step further. We embody the reign of God in the world as a counter-script to the narrative empire gives us. We love from the bottom up and not the top down.
Embracing a dual identity – libertarian and Christian – means to go beyond fighting against things worth fighting against, and begin striving for that which is worth striving for.