Originally published at Voices of LIberty
Roughly a year ago I wrote an article in response to a panel discussion of prominent Christian theologians who were discussing the question of libertarianism’s compatibility with Christianity. Unsurprisingly, the panel was opposed to the idea of libertarian Christianity. Libertarianism, they said, leads to declining morality and necessitates the support for a wide range of behavior that is at odds with Christian precepts.
I, myself a libertarian Christian, responded by contending that libertarianism is not inherently contradictory to Christianity and that condoning actions and saying that they should not be illegal are two distinct things. At the end of the article I attempted to explain why Christians should embrace libertarianism and, in fact, how they already do. I wrote,
“The fact is, Christians already are libertarians. We don’t want the state telling us how to worship, how to exercise church discipline, how to define our orthodoxy, who to marry in our churches, who to put in the pulpit, what we teach at seminary and a thousand other issues.”
Fast forward a year and recent developments have made this point better than my words ever could have. They also show why it is now more important than ever for Christians to embrace liberty, as the ongoing debate over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Preservation Act shows the trajectory of the dialogue in the country. What has become clear is that not only are social opinions trending away from the church and in favor of ideas like nontraditional definitions of marriage, but there is also an atmosphere that increasingly looks to government to force these opinions upon the rest of society.
Many who are in favor of gay marriage, for instance, have shown no tolerance for differences of opinion on this subject, nor do they seem have many scruples about using the force of government to ensure that no such differences can survive. Their concept of the greater good and their social preferences overrule any concern about forcing someone else to do things that might violate his conscience or code of morality.
In a recent podcast episode, Tom Woods predicted where these trends are heading. Woods said,
“We all know what’s coming. What’s coming is (that) churches are going to be forced to perform same-sex weddings. In fact, there is ample precedent for this elsewhere in the world and it seems quite likely that churches will be penalized and called discriminators even though they are not violating anybody’s rights. The churches will be standing up for their absolutely legitimate libertarian rights and we can easily see them being attacked on the grounds of discrimination.”
The problem for Christians is that many have spent the better part of a century arguing in favor of the state power that is quickly being turned against them. They have advocated for all kinds of government interference in personal decisions, including indulgences in alcohol, drugs, gambling and a plethora of other vices. The reality is quickly setting in that all of that work to give the state the power of regulating society has served only to put the state in the position to mandate a new set of regulations for the church.
Even Christians’ advocacy for laws against gay marriage is problematic because it rests on the assumption that the power of government can be harnessed in order to impose one group’s opinions on the rest of society. While Christians should have been defending their right to make their own determinations on these issues, they instead tried to leverage the strong arm of government to enforce their point of view.
Over this time, many Christians have essentially bet that societal opinions would always swing their way and that their constant appeals to government power would not come back to bite them. They’re about to lose that bet in a big way.
From a political standpoint, there’s only one solution for Christians who want to have the autonomy to make decisions like what kinds of marriage will be allowed in their churches: they must become libertarians – immediately. Clumsy, inarticulate pieces of legislation like that in Indiana will do nothing in the long run to achieve this goal. The only way for Christians to live in an environment in which their faith and doctrines, and not legislators or judges, guide their actions is to advocate a system of government that respects the rights of all individuals and groups to make their own choices.
In doing this, Christians will have to come to grips with the reality that this means they will no longer be able to use government to stop people from making poor moral decisions. They must realize that they cannot continue to try to use laws to control other people and then be surprised when the government decides to control them.
This is a lesson that everyone needs to learn. With liberty, there is no assurance that other people will always make decisions that we agree with. It does, however, mean that everyone will be free to choose their own actions. The two options we have are authoritarianism and freedom – and trading the illusion of control for liberty seems like a manifestly worthwhile choice.
As I wrote in that article a year ago, “Everyone is a libertarian about something, about what matters to them. Everybody wants to be free to do what they believe is right. The test of this belief in freedom, and the only security for its preservation, is in extending that liberty to everyone, even those who will make decisions with which we will disagree.”