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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.