Religion, Social Justice

Opportunities for Collaboration with Political Christians

Some Christians put their Christian faith ahead of their political ideology. These Christians know the basic teachings of the Christian faith and attempt to follow their conscience, church teachings, and the Bible in their political activities. I call these people “Political Christians” as opposed to “Christian conservatives” or “Christian socialists” because because Christianity is more important than the political label. Political Christians may lean left or right, and they count as Christian if they are members of any Trinitarian denomination—Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant, but not Mormon. I estimate that there are at least 500,000 people in the US, which is low. 83% of the country claims to be Christian, which means there are approximately 200 million self-identifying Christians. I’m supposing that .25% are political Christians.

I think political Christians rival the number of people in the US who both identify as libertarian and understand libertarianism. I think both groups are much smaller than they should be and would do well to consider one another as allies on some political issues.

Of course, there are many Christian libertarians and libertarian Christians, like Ron Paul, and many of the more radical libertarians like Tom Woods. BHL has four Christian bloggers, for what it’s worth. And there are several prominent libertarian Christian groups, like Libertarian Christians. But I suspect our numbers are quite small, perhaps 10% of libertarians who really understand libertarianism. So let’s focus on non-Christian libertarians.

In the interest of mutual understanding, here are a few issues where libertarians and political Christians can happily and easily work together.

  1. Immigration Reform – while many people who identify as Christian and conservative are anti-immigration, there are plenty of resources within Christian tradition to oppose immigration restrictions. Catholics in particular have often insisted on civil disobedience when it comes to sheltering undocumented immigrants. I’ve also seen a real divergence of opinion among evangelicals. Given Old Testament emphasis on hospitality and caring for the stranger, and similar exhortations in the New Testament, there is a very strong case for a significant reduction of immigration restrictions. Most immigration reformer Christians are on the left or are theologically conservative Hispanics.
  2. Police Reform – the black community in the US is overwhelmingly Christian and are typically much more active in church than any other ethnic group. Many politically Christian black pastors and congregations fight the good fight against abuses of police power. Libertarians have and should join them in protesting against racial profiling, excessive uses of force, stop-and-frisk, etc. I see a lot of potential for collaboration between libertarians and black Christians.
  3. Prison Reform – showing mercy to prisoners is key New Testament concern. As of late, left-wing and right-wing Christians have supported reductions in draconian prison sentences, along with opposing the death penalty. This tendency is probably most pronounced in the black Christian community.
  4. Poverty Relief – In my view, Christian social teaching is broadly and radically sufficientarian, but not egalitarian about income and wealth. Justice and love of the neighbor requires making sure that everyone have adequate access to the resources they need to live a minimally decent life. I’ve found that Biblical condemnation of the rich has little to do with inequality and everything to do with the poor going hungry, the rich distorting the law and the legal process to get away with crimes and oppression, and the dangers that wealth pose to the soul. So while Christians, especially those on the left, will support redistribution, their primary aim is to feed the poor, and so they should prove more amenable to supporting policies that effectively reduce poverty, with much less concern about what’s going on at the top of the income distribution. More importantly, Christians often run voluntary poverty relief programs, and that is something libertarians support, even if they seldom go out and do it (including me).
  5. Opposing Crony Capitalism – Christian concern about wealth is not primarily egalitarian, but there are many Biblical condemnations of giving the rich special legal privileges, unfair advantages, and letting them escape justice. The challenge here will be for libertarians to convince political Christians that cronyism is not an essential feature of the market.
  6. Opposing Foreign Intervention and Empire – Jesus’ teachings provide some justification for pacifism, and much for avoiding war and violence wherever possible. This is why when you hear Christians trying to justify war, they always talk about the Old Testament. Further, many Christians are committed to just war theory, and any fair application of just war theory will condemn many foreign interventions. Left-wing Christians are the better allies here, as are non-white Christians. It is important to recognize that they’re out there.
  7. Religious Liberty — religious liberty is becoming less popular, but libertarians and political Christians both have strong reasons to protect conscientious exemptions, and even extending them to non-religious people.

I think there are other areas of collaboration, but that this is a pretty good list to start. I’ve left out support for capitalism, because I’ve found political Christians tend to be ambivalent, as opposed to Christian conservatives who put their ideology ahead of the Gospel. These are the folks that loudly identify as Christians but who support unjust wars and inhumane immigration restrictions without blinking an eye. The same is true of Christian progressives who care more about the coercive redistribution of wealth than spreading the Gospel.

Obviously libertarians and political Christians will butt heads on lots of issues, especially abortion, cutting social insurance, total drug legalization, the dangers of political Islam, GLBT rights, and legal moralism (banning voluntary actions that Christians consider sinful).

So, in sum, libertarians and political Christians can work together on lots of issues, especially if libertarians spend more time with politically active non-white Christians and folks on the Christian left.

Published on:
Author: Kevin Vallier
  • c141nav

    The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics (tifwe.org) speaks directly to this issue.

  • Heathen

    When someone like Tom Woods identifies as a ‘Traditionalist Catholic’ does it signify support for Pope Pius X’s anti-modernism campaign? If so wouldn’t follow that there are Traditionalist Catholic dictates precluding adherence to libertarianism? In what way can Woods be called libertarian then? Can anybody with almost any personal values be considered a libertarian as long as they are more or less pro-market? Or do you qualify as long as you can fill at least one criterion; e.g. liberal-tolerant socially but communist economically = libertarian, too.

    • I’ve heard a lot of things, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard someone suggest that Tom Woods isn’t a libertarian.

      • Heathen

        I am sure he is libertarian to some degree. Maybe his religious and conservative values are abrogated just enough to avoid severe contradiction. But then what does it mean to be a traditionalist Catholic? Pope Pius X was no libertarian.

        • I won’t speak for him, but surely you could find a way to put that question to Tom Woods directly and find out from him what the answer is.

          As for being any sort of Catholic and avoiding contradiction with libertarianism, that’s a pretty high bar. Christianity is self-contradictory enough that pairing it with any other ideology is sure to produce even more contradictions. But when has that stopped any libertarian Christian from being a libertarian Christian? More importantly, why would it matter to you whether there is a contradiction in someone else’s ideology?

          • Libertymike

            Ryan, trust me, Tom Woods is an anarchist. I LOVE HIM.
            I don’t even hold his Harvard pedigree against him.

          • lol I know. That’s why it’s so surprising to hear someone suggest that he might not be a libertarian. I’m thinking, “If Tom Woods isn’t a libertarian, than who is?”

          • Heathen

            Woods is very genial and popular. No doubt. A libertarian of sorts too.But he also runs in racist circles.When you are a cultural conservative it comes with the territory. Sometimes cultural conservative and racist mean the same thing. Can you name a person at this conference who isn’t a racist jerk?Tom Woods was keynote speaker. http://hlmenckenclub.org/2009-conference/

            I am not saying that Woods is as hardcore as Peter Brimelow or Richard Spencer. But Woods loves Pat Buchanan, a notorious racist, sexist, and homophobe who what appears to espouse Traditionalist Catholic values (I have to confirm this last part). Buchanan shared the podium with Woods at the Mencken meeting.

            I did attempt a discussion on racialism with Woods. When I asked Woods if he had read The Bell Curve he denied it. When I asked him if he understood what the book was about– he would not answer. Yet earlier in the exchange he was using typical scientific racist apologetics like claiming that only his side recognizes “difference” while “egalitarians” (a la Rothbard)and hordes of politically correct ideologically blinded Marxists in mainstream science and anthropology believe people are only different because of social environment. Straw Man101.

            Rothbard, one of Woods’s heroes, loved the racialist insinuations of The Bell Curve.This is well known among libertarians that have been around awhile. And get this: Woods even had the surviving author Charles Murray on his radio show. So yes, Woods is a liar. (Perfect for a.m. style radio).

            Asking Woods about his neo-reactionary religious views will probably get the same bullshit evasiveness.

            Libertarianism can be a refuge for scoundrels–used as a device to disarm enemies and duck criticism. Woods in this sense is a great test for libertarianism as a ‘live and let live’ philosophy. But that is a two-way street. You may say ‘If Tom Woods isn’t a libertarian then who is?’ Then I reply, “If you can’t criticize Woods’s ideas then what is libertarianism really?”

          • Okay, but there’s a difference between criticizing his views on race and suggesting that he might not be a libertarian. I agree with you about the former, but think the latter is just weird. Of course he’s a libertarian, even if you disagree with him about race, as I do.

          • Heathen

            Got it. Thanks for listening Ryan.

          • Libertymike

            Ryan, he is not a racist. First and foremost, racism is defined by state action or policy predicated upon race.
            I defy Heathen or you to cite a single instance of Woods advocating that the state should make law based upon skin color.

          • Libertymike

            Woods is not a racist.
            That he spoke at the HL Mencken club conference does not mean that he is a racist.
            Moreover, it would appear that you are employing a guilt by association standard for defining racism.
            In addition, articulating the phrase, “typical scientific racist apologetics” while neither defining what the phrase means nor purveying an example and attributing it to Woods, is just sloppy and intellectually flaccid.

          • Heathen

            You obviously have a difficult time with reading and understanding qualification. You like Woods and anarchism so you become just another mindless parrot. “Guilt-by-association.Squawk! Guilt-by-association. Squawk!” It really is the same cultish defense mechanism that Woods himself uses. “PC! PC!”

            I can do a better job ‘defending’ Woods than you, actually. Let me help you. How could Woods’ hero Pat Buchanan be racist when he once had a black running mate (somebody named Foster I believe)? How can Woods be racist when he has deep admiration for the now deceased Steely Dan sax player ‘Bumpus’? I could go on.

            Hell, never mind Woods.

            Tom Jefferson had children with a black slave. Lincoln freed thousands of slaves. Are you going to argue that Jefferson and Lincoln were not white supremacists?

            You would do well to get a grasp of the history of paleo-libertarianism and its relationship with “race realism”. Maybe then, just maybe, you will gain enough reference to get beyond being a useful idiot.

          • Libertymike

            For whom do you think I am being a useful idiot?
            As for Woods, you asseverated that he “runs in racist circles.” You augmented that averment with the assertions that (1)”[w]hen you are a cultural conservative it comes with the territory” and (2) “[s]ometimes cultural conservative and racist mean the same thing.” In the ensuing sentence you ask, “[c]an you name a person at this conference who is not a racist jerk?” You conclude your first paragraph by noting that Woods was the keynote speaker at the conference.
            Thus, in the very first paragraph of your post, you employed a guilt by association fallacy with little, if any, qualification. Yet, in your response, you animadvert upon my recognition of your guilt by association ploy and chastise me for having difficulty reading and appreciating qualification.
            Perhaps I was not charitable; maybe you do not actually think that Woods is a racist but are troubled by his associations. If that is your position, okay, but you should at least acknowledge that I was not off base in adverting you to the associational angle.
            Next, how can you characterize my guilt by association concern with your post as “the same cultish defense mechanism that Woods himself uses,” ‘PC. PC.’?
            How can you conflate one person’s observation that another is employing a guilt by association fallacy with a third person’s defense mechanism of PC! PC!?
            Do you have evidence that one of my defense mechanisms is to rejoin, “guilt by association, guilt by association?”
            It appears that you think that racism inheres with being a cultural conservative. Why?
            Can you furnish an example of Woods advocating that the state make law based upon skin color?
            I agree that Abe Lincoln was a racist and a white supremacist.

  • ThaomasH

    Good list but you should not assume that Political Christians will necessarily disagree on drug legalization, LGBT interests, and Political Islam. By the same token, you should not assume that Political Christians will necessarily support all claims to “Religious Liberty.” I at least cannot see allowing employers to decide on the contraception coverage of the health insurance that the employees’ wages pay for is any kind of liberty, and surely not a “religious” liberty. And Political Christians who think abortion is wrong will not necessarily go along with many of the specific measures used to restrict it.

  • CFV
  • Counselor1

    A lot of progressives agree with this agenda as well.

  • I think #1 is a challenge. Many anti-immigration “dark enlightenment” people are staunch Christians and lean toward Eastern Orthodoxy, many denominations of which are overtly nationalist. I don’t have any good data on whether this segment is a majority or a minority, but they are certainly vocal, and my gut is telling me that any version of “immigration reform” that involves more immigration as opposed to less is something they would object to.

  • Joshua Holmes

    Trinitarian should also include the fourth branch of Big Four Christianity, the Oriental Orthodox (Coptic, Tewahedo, etc.). Obviously this is a tiny percentage of Americans.

    From a religious standpoint, I can see why a Big Four Christian would exclude non-Trinitarians such as the LDS and Oneness Pentecostals, but from a political standpoint, it’s unwise to exclude and/or offend Mormons. They have 6+ million members, are the fourth largest denomination in the United States, and form large percentages of low-population states (UT, MT, ID), which gives them disproportionate political power. Moreover, a Mormon “Political Christian” isn’t likely to be too different from a Catholic or Lutheran one.

    Also, from Pew’s 2014 survey, only 71% of Americans now identify as Christian. Excluding Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s 68%.

    • For that matter, there is a sizable libertarian community in Utah, for sure, and often multiple libertarian candidates for local offices there; or at least, that was the case when I lived there.

  • MM

    Kevin: What’s the point in restricting the argument to Trinitarian Christians? You do not provide any reasoning, and it does not seem necessary to your point. Being non-Trinitarian does not necessarily rule out the political stances you identify here.

    • Kevin Vallier

      Just to narrow the contrast class. Mormons are complicated. There are probably be more opportunities for libertarian collaboration with Mormons than with Trinitarians.

  • martinbrock

    Kevin can associate with any faction Christians he likes, to make common cause with libertarians, without offending my libertarian sensibilities, but in my experience, practically all Christians claim to put their faith before their politics, so defining “political Christian” this way excludes hardly anyone.

    Is Dorothy Day a “Christian socialist” while Pat Robertson is a “Christian conservative”, because they put their politics first? I doubt that either would agree, and I also doubt that Tom Woods would cop to putting his libertarian politics ahead of his Christian faith.

    Tolstoy rejected the Trinity along with the state while remaining a Christian, and I feel greater kinship with Christians of his sort than with “mainstream” Protestants and Catholics claiming to put their faith ahead of politics while remaining active participants in the political process rather than avoiding or withdrawing from it.

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