A White House adviser (Jim Wallis) compares the Tea Party to libertarian philosophy, proclaiming it “un-Christian” in support of his brand of “social justice”, even attempting to use Jesus’ words to support his opinion. His article raises many questions:
- Is the Tea Party libertarian?
- How should a Christian be involved in politics? Is one party or philosophy right or wrong?
- Does the Tea Party possess un-Christian values?
- What relationship should Christians have with government in light of Romans 13?
- If government performs acts against Biblical principles, must Christians support it?
First we’ll address libertarianism, with a focus on differences between conservatives, the Tea Party, and libertarians. Next time we’ll discuss Wallis’ use of Romans 13 to justify his view of government Christians should (must?) support.
Since the Tea Party is getting such national attention, our God’s Politics blog is going to begin a dialogue on this question: Just how Christian is the Tea Party Movement—and the Libertarian political philosophy that lies behind it?
Mr. Wallis begins the first sentence with an incorrect idea, forming an incorrect foundation for the remainder of his discussion. The Tea Party is not libertarian, it’s conservative. This error results from the idea libertarians are some kind of uber-conservative, but as we’ll see that’s not the case.
Groups like the Tea Party (and to a much lesser extent) libertarians exist as loosely coupled groups. It’s difficult to make exact statements as they don’t necessarily have a “platform position” in the same way Republicrats have (however, the Libertarian party itself does have a platform).
To understand Mr. Wallis’ error, we must have a sidebar on political philosophy.
Libertarianism is a political philosophy that holds individual rights as its supreme value and considers government the major obstacle.
Clumsy, but the first part is basically true. Libertarian’s place individual rights foremost. It’s why they support legalized drugs and prostitution for example, and frequently can be pro-abortion. It’s just a personal decision, and people should be free to do whatever they want, according to libertarian ideals.
Wallis’ bias already shows in the second part of his claim. Libertarians don’t view government as the major obstacle (to what? Wallis’ thought remains unfinished), rather (as the Founding Fathers stated in the Declaration of Independence), “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.
In other words, government should protect God-given rights; government becomes an obstacle only when it fails to protect those God-given rights, or worse, when it legislates the removal of those rights.
It [libertarian philosophy] tends to be liberal on cultural and moral issues and conservative on fiscal, economic, and foreign policy.
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Libertarians hold conservative fiscal policy only, while holding liberal positions on moral/social and foreign policy issues. Granted, they don’t agree for the same reasons with the left, but the policies of liberals and libertarians in practice create the same result.
Three legs exist in political discussion:
- Social/moral policy.
- Fiscal policy.
- Foreign policy.
In social policy, Libertarians believe in legalizing drugs and prostitution, both extreme far-left liberal positions (everyone does what is right in their own eyes). Libertarians and Liberals don’t hold the position for the same reasons, but in the end that doesn’t matter as the result to society is the same (Ron Paul stated to Judge Napolitano even abortion can be acceptable to libertarians).
Mr. Wallis is correct on fiscal policy—Libertarians generally accept conservative fiscal policy, though some in the libertarian group propose extreme fiscal viewpoints conservatives won’t hold.
But foreign policy Mr. Wallis goes off track. In general, you’ll find true Libertarians anti-military (some even would claim soldiers as victims of government brainwashing, but that’s a topic for later), generally anti-Israel, and more or less isolationist. (How many times does Ron Paul scream about the “empire” for example, or claim even the Civil War was “senseless”).
Those aren’t conservative positions, but liberal. Again, justifications for the policy differ between liberals and libertarians, but the actions and beliefs equate.
Have you seen Tea Party people proclaim we should not support Israel, become isolationist, or espouse anti-military views? How many promote drug legalization? Advocate for legalized prostitution? Pro-abortion? Those views exist on the far-left liberal side, not the conservative side.
Libertarians exist with liberal social and foreign policy, while fiscally conservative (think Dennis Kucinich with a balanced budget). In short, they’re more in common with the Code Pink wing of the Democratic party than Rush Limbaugh Conservatives.
Conservatism and Libertarianism compared
Ron Paul serves as the primary speaker for the disciples of libertarianism (few would disagree he’s the standard bearer for the philosophy). In contrast, Sarah Palin displays a major force in the Tea Party movement (along with Jim DeMint, Michele Bachmann, Rush Limbaugh, and a few others). Recently, Judge Napolitano interviewed both Palin and Paul on his program “Freedom Watch”, and the results illustrate the differences between Paul (libertarian) and Palin (conservative).
- Paul (libertarian) — Israel should be treated like “any other country”.
- Palin (conservative) — we should defend Israel.
And for social issues.
- Paul (libertarian) — “nullify” laws regarding drugs. Legalize drugs.
- Palin (conservative) — not for legalizing drugs.
On abortion conservatives and libertarians again differ—from the Libertarian party platform:
..we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.
Sounds pro-choice, does it not? At the least, it’s not a pro-life position. But that aligns with libertarian philosophy—let each person do as they wish, if they want to get an abortion, that’s fine with libertarian philosophy. Naturally, pro-abortion does not represent a conservative position.
Libertarian seems to be a popular buzzword today, but much confusion exists. As we’ve seen, libertarians are not uber-conservative, rather they’re a mixture of liberal social and foreign policy, with conservative fiscal policy splashed in. They’re neither left nor right, but a mixture of two parts liberal, one part conservative.
If you desire a good introduction to the differences between libertarians and conservatives, watch Freedom Watch for the full interview and notice where the two philosophies agree, and where they disagree.
Libertarianism and Christianity
In several major aspects of biblical ethics, I would suggest that Libertarianism falls short.
That’s generally true (libertarian Christians must justify promotion of prostitution and drugs, as well as the anti-Israel position many libertarians express, and a frequently pro-abortion position), but again, since the Tea Party is not libertarian those problems have no relevance to any critique of the Tea Party.
Christians and government
But with the preliminaries over, the real issue rears its ugly head: how should Christians relate to the government? Is big government Biblical? Or small government? Is charity private? Or a government function? Mr. Wallis rolls out Romans 13 to support his idea government should forcefully provide charity (forceful charity—an oxymoron).
An anti-government ideology just isn’t biblical. In Romans 13, the apostle Paul (not the Kentucky Senate candidate) describes the role and vocation of government; in addition to the church, government also plays a role in God’s plan and purposes.
First off, libertarians agree with conservatives government’s job is to protect citizens’ rights. That’s hardly anti-government. Those anti-government people have another name: anarchists; Wallis’ first point crashes and burns in a spectacular fireball.
Suffice it to state Romans 13 doesn’t proclaim any form of government right or wrong, only Christians should be lawful citizens and follow the law—up to the point it contradicts God’s law and the Bible (a point Mr. Wallis conveniently forgot to mention). Read it for yourself. We’ll wait.
Christians and “Social Justice”
As you have done to the least of these, says Jesus, “You have done to me.” And “Blessed are those who are just left alone” has still not made the list of Beatitudes. To anticipate the Libertarian response, let me just say that private charity is simply not enough to satisfy the demands of either fairness or justice, let alone compassion.
Mr. Wallis promotes government intervention via his brand of “social justice”. Notice he provides no Biblical references for this position, for the simple reason none exist; Biblical charity remains a private or church matter. In short, Christians should be charitable, but it’s the private persons job to be charitable. Jesus didn’t say “If people aren’t charitable, have the government take it and redistribute it as they see fit”.
Wallis painted the Tea Party with the libertarian brush, then proclaimed libertarian philosophy un-Christian (thus by extension so is the Tea Party). Since Wallis views it as a failure, he then takes the huge leap the private charity Jesus proclaimed is insufficient (in Wallis’ view), thus government should step in and seize assets and redistribute them as it sees fit, all in the name of Jesus. He proclaims that without any Biblical support, as none exists.
We can have a discussion on the question of whether government should perform charity and welfare functions, but for Mr. Wallis to attempt to associate that idea with Jesus is laughable and absurd.
Most sane people believe the poor and disadvantaged should be helped. The disagreement arises from who can be defined as needy, and where the support comes from; Wallis’ promotion of forceful government “charity” should better be called the anti-charity solution.
Libertarians do exist in the Tea Party movement, however, examining statements of the Tea Party reveals the libertarian section of Tea Party remains a small minority (as in the country as a whole), not the fundamental position Mr. Wallis makes it out to be.
Therefore Wallis’ conclusion the Tea Party is “un-Christian” rests on the false assumption it’s libertarian. Unfortunately, Wallis’ attempt (either through misinformation, an attempt at deliberate deception, or some other reason) to paint the Tea Party with the broad brush of libertarianism is in error.
Now that we’ve got a foundation on the definitions of political movements, next week we’ll tackle the thorny issue of the relationship of Christians and government in Romans 13.