If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll know that I’m a Libertarian and a Christian. You’ll also know that I’ve been struggling to articulate just why I think Libertarianism is more consistent with the Scriptures than what is typically espoused by Christians. That’s not a very precise way to put it. There are many different political philosophies that can be found within the church. Some Christians are pretty “liberal”. But what I’m speaking to would be closer to the more stereotypical “right wing” “moral majority” type position. Most Christians I know personally fall into the “legislate morality” camp to one degree or another, which is a bit of a broad brush. I don’t know that any are hardcore Theonomists, but some I know definitely lean that way. Almost all of them have the same stances on the big social issues. I can think of three key issues off the top of my head. They are pro-life. They are against gay marriage. They are anti-drugs. Many are also anti-alcohol, which I’ll lump into the drug category for convenience. On these three issues, I agree with them on only one – abortion. And I feel firm in my conviction that my positions do not violate the Scriptures. For while I agree with them that the Scriptures teach very clear moral principals in these areas, I whole-heartedly disagree that that necessarily means that the law of the United States must reflect that Biblical morality. This series of articles is my attempt to articulate why I believe that to be.
Matthew 22:37-40 ESV And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. (38) This is the great and first commandment. (39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
This is my first stop because I think it sets up the backbone of my whole philosophy on the relationship between morality and legality. I have long held that Legality is concerned with maintaining a peaceful society, while morality is concerned with living virtuously in order to honor the Lord – at least from a Christian perspective. There are other moral codes and various reasons one might feel compelled to live virtuously, by as I am a Christian and whereas Christians believe our moral code to be the correct one, we’ll assume so for the time being. Such is not the point of this text. What is the point is that distinction of purpose. Legality is concerned with peace. Morality is concerned with virtue. There can be some overlap, but to what extent? What does the Word of God say?
Two Parts to Morality
It would seem from Matthew 22 that there are two parts of morality. Love the Lord and love your neighbor. Loving your neighbor is pretty straight forward and is summed up in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Loving your neighbor involves things such as do not steal, do not kill, do not bear false witness. Libertarians express it in slightly different terms: Thou shalt not forcefully or fraudulently deprive another of his life liberty or property in violation of his voluntary consent. I think that if you got down into the nitty gritty between Libertarianism and Biblically loving your neighbor as yourself, you will find a very close correlation. These matters, while moral, also overlap into legal matters since the initiation of force on another is the very antithesis of peace.
Loving the Lord, however, is a different animal. It deals primarily with issues of faith and heart attitudes toward the Lord that manifest themselves in worship, devotion, sacrifice, etc. Loving the Lord is something that can only come from within and can never be forced by external pressures of any kind. Lacking such internal devotion to the Lord does not break the peace unless it manifests itself in some form of failure to love one’s neighbor, which would be a crime in itself and should be prosecuted as such.
Government cannot and should not police loving the Lord. It cannot because it would involve prosecuting thought crime which, aside from being a can of worms of due process difficulties, is logistically impossible until mind reading technology is invented. The closest that can be achieved would be a 1984-big-brother-like surveillance network.
Even if it could, there are reasons why Government should not police loving the Lord. Even with, and especially without, mind reading technology, proving thought crime beyond a shadow of a doubt is a near impossible task. How can we determine the difference between a thought which passes through someone’s mind and is dismissed by the person, a thought which the person toys with and rolls around in his brain for a bit before finally dismissing it, and a thought which a person accepts. We all know that chewing on ideas, even terrible ones, is an important process for understanding. It is the mark of an intelligent man to entertain a thought without accepting it. Only by thoroughly considering a thought from all angles can we be truly certain that it should be rejected and be confident why. Our walk of faith often takes us down many internal conflicts where we are tempted to doubt the Lord or question something of his nature. How are we to differentiate between doubt and unbelief? Thus the risk of wrongful convictions is far too high. We must protect freedom of thought! Additionally, it is helpful to note that every time throughout history that Government has regulated religion and vice versa, it has resulted in tyranny, with one possible exception: Israel. We’ll get to them in a minute.
In my analysis, these social issues that conservatives take such a hard stance on are matters of loving the Lord rather than loving your neighbor. I’ve put it this way before: Libertarians do not believe in anarchy, as they are often accused. We still hold that things like theft and murder should be illegal. Why? Because there’s a victim. If there is no victim other than self, there is no crime. Smoking pot hurts no one but the pot smoker. It should not be illegal. Rather, let me put it this way. If the only victim of a sin is the Lord and the sinner himself, then this is not an issue of loving your neighbor as yourself. Smoking pot is an issue of stewardship of the body. Homosexuality is an issue of respecting God’s design and keeping sacred the ways in which marriage is to be a reflection of his nature. However, when a person has no regard for the Lord, it makes no sense to expect him to have any regard for his stewardship responsibility toward the Lord. It makes no sense to expect him to care at all about God’s design or about the ways in which he is supposed to represent the Lord. Therefore regulating these things would be to force someone to conform externally to something he does not believe in. This is Pharisaical!
The only way to say that a sin like homosexuality harms a neighbor would be to begin speaking in vague, generalities like “it offends the family”. Unfortunately, these are just words. Abstract concepts cannot be victims. “The family” is not a person that has rights to life liberty and property. However, real families made up of real people can be harmed in real ways. How many real, actual families are actually torn apart by homosexuality? How many real, actual families are torn apart by adultery, divorce, dysfunctional marriages and absentee fathers? When the statistics show that there is no noticeable difference between the World and between Christians in these problems, is it any wonder that the World scoffs at us when we try to speak about the sanctity of marriage? We need to get our house in order! Let’s take the log out of our own eye, shall we?
The only actual harm done to others in these contexts is when some initiation of force or fraud is committed. As mentioned earlier, the force or fraud is itself a loving your neighbor type issue and a crime in itself. It should be handled on its own. A pot smoker who steals to be able to afford his habit is a thief before the law. Smoking pot is irrelevant. An alcoholic who abuses his family is an abuser before the law. Drinking is irrelevant. It doesn’t need to go any further than that.
But What About Israel?
Didn’t Israel have laws related to Loving the Lord? Isn’t that the Biblical model for how we should operate? If it’s in the Bible shouldn’t we do it that way? I’m going to keep my response to this short and simply say you have to be very careful with this. This is one of the trickiest hermaneutical challenges in the Bible: the relationship of Israel to the Church; the relationship of the Law to the Church. Without showing the math, I’ll simply give my answer. I hope to defend it in upcoming posts.
The only reason Israel had laws regarding loving the Lord is because Israel was not only a civil and political nation, it was also a religious congregation. Israel was a unique situation that will never be repeated until the second coming of the Lord. On the day when no one will need to warn his neighbor saying, “Know the Lord”, that day will see a perfect harmony of the law reflecting the perfect will of the Lord with a perfect Judge who sees the heart and knows all, and with people who inwardly regard the Lord and are careful to obey his laws and are perfectly self-governed. In the meantime, unless someone has that inward conviction, it is not right to force him to change externally.
Israel was God’s kingdom entity on earth. Since the coming of Christ, God’s kingdom entity on earth has been the church, which has, for the most part, held itself separate from government (except perhaps for the period between Constantine and Luther.). Matters relating to loving the Lord should be left to the church. Matters relating to loving your neighbor can be policed by the government, as long as there is the rule of law and due process, and punishment of crime is oriented toward restitution as much as possible rather than revenge or rehabilitation. This is the Libertarian state. This is the only just society.
You can’t disagree with this unless you want to completely throw out the first amendment and say that somehow the USA is God’s special people now the same way Israel was. I know there are people who think that way. They do some sort of mental gymnastics starting with the assumption that Israel, nationally, remains the people of God presently and since we are their ally, we too are the people of God by extension and thus we have this special privilege. Despite the Biblical and historical inaccuracy of such a position, there are people who believe this way. I generally think that they are few and far between, but there are plenty of people I rub shoulders with who would not go that far willingly, yet the social positions they espouse seem to be consistent with such a position.
Getting our Priorities Straight
When I began to understand this distinction between loving the Lord and loving your neighbor and the relationship between legality and morality, it became clear that we are focusing on the wrong things. I suddenly realized that the political philosophy most typically espoused by Christians is not only misguided, but is morally reprehensible! It is not consistent with the Scriptures at all! Consider Jesus who ate with the tax collectors and sinners and spoke harshly to the Pharisees who judged. He didn’t chide or scold the sinners. He simply had compassion on them. It was only when they expressed faith that he told them “go and sin no more.” It was as though he did not have an unrealistic expectation that sinners would not sin.
Back in August, I ate at Chick-Fil-A because I support Dan Cathy’s right to Free Speech. But while I was there, I noticed there were a group of picketers out front. You can probably guess what sort of people they were. And as I was standing there watching my children play in the ball pit, I was struck by a two by four of conviction. I wondered how many of the customers at Chick-Fil-A that day consider themselves to be Christians. I wondered how many of those walked in and out of the restaurant and looked down at the picket line in contempt. I shuddered as I made a guess at the percentage. Then I confronted mysel with the classic cliché, “What would Jesus do?” Then I did what I believe Jesus would have done. I left the ball pit. I walked out the door. I walked down the grassy hill and across the sidewalk and shook hands with the picketers. I told them point blank, “I don’t agree with you morally, but I don’t think that we should stop you from being who you are. We are all sinners who need God’s grace. I have nothing against you.” My words were not very eloquent. I think I stuttered a bit. I probably could have had a more well thought out statement that more clearly and pithily encapsulated the gospel and a non judgmental expression of the grace of God. But I do believe I gave them what they needed most in that moment. They needed the Jesus who ate with the tax collectors and sinners. Christian Republicans don’t do that. Tea Partiers don’t do that. Libertarians do that. Oh that Christians would overwhelm the gates of Libertarianism and would take it up as our banner. Oh that we would become the mature ones in this nation to say, “look we don’t believe what you’re doing is right, and we won’t stop warning you of the danger you’re putting yourself into by doing it, but we’re going to treat you like adults and let you make your own decisions.”
Don’t get me wrong, sin is sin and will be judged one day by the Lord, but it is the Lord’s to judge sin, not ours. It is ours to love our enemies; to do good to those who persecute us; to pray for our enemies; to not return evil for evil, but return evil with good. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay” says the Lord. Jesus’ harshest words in his earthly ministry were for the Pharisees who should have been nurturing inward faith in the people but instead heaped onerous burdens of external regulation upon them. Which work should we be about? Using the power of the state to try to force sinners to change their behavior with the threat of prosecution OR going to our neighbors in love with the gospel. Believe me when I say the two are mutually exclusive, for this world grants no credibility to Christians.
Yes, we should expect to be persecuted. Yes we should expect that the world will hate us. But when there is a stumbling block, we must be absolutely careful that the stumbling block is the Gospel and not us! Our stance on social issues has been a stumbling block. It makes us look bigoted and hateful. Guess what. I don’t think that’s entirely unfair. We can’t preach the gospel while we behave this way. The World is entirely convinced that being gay is the same as being black or white. And until they have a change of heart in which they begin to fear the Lord, they will not relinquish this position. While they hold the position, any attempt to treat people differently on the basis of “sexual orientation” is considered bigoted on the same level as racism. The way to counter this is not to dig our heals in and insist that we’re right and they’re just suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. They are, but being right isn’t the point. Making disciples is. The way to do that is to reach people one at a time. If there is to be a revival in this country it will only come through the Holy Spirit awakening one heart at a time until the overwhelming majority have turned to him once again. Unless and until that happens, it is a futile and bigoted proposition to attempt to force those who have no regard for the Lord into our mold. If Moses could issue certificates of divorce because of the hardness of people’s hearts; if God could give people over to the passions of their flesh; can’t we go the extra mile and turn the other cheek on this issue?
But while we dig our heels in, the world remains entirely incapable of differentiating between us and the Westboro Baptist Church. Let’s end this nonsense and start being a beacon of compassion and love. This does not mean that we stop calling a spade a spade. This does not mean compromise on our moral position that homosexuality is a sin. This does not mean that we change our preaching or our church discipline. It simply means that we stop pretending that this sin is somehow worse than any other sin, and stop being surprised when the world behaves like the world. It simply means that we stop seeking to use the power of the state to force external conformity to our moral code upon those who do not believe in the Lord in their hearts.
The gospel has never been successfully spread in a real life changing way through the power of the state. Our TSLD class just studied early Church History up through Constantine. There was persecution upon persecution until Constantine. Then when Christianity was made legal and became wide spread, and later when it became the official religion, a funny thing happened. More people identified as Christian, but Christianity became less about a devotion to Christ and more about the proper performance of prescribed ritual. Are we promoting heart devotion to Christ, or are we promoting outward conformity to a standard of prescribed ritual? I fear that we have been doing the latter by default for far too long. I challenge you to consider what I have said. Consider whether there is any truth or wisdom in this.
Thank you for your time. Please understand that I do not mean to cause division with this. If you have a problem with anything I have said, I will be more than happy to discuss it with you, but please let us not bicker openly about this. My heart’s desire about this is not to judge or to cause strife or division. I simply seek to open your eyes to the things I see. I pray that my words will be taken seriously, will be taken to heart and will be impactful in a positive way for the cause of Christ.