No Conflict Between Christianity and Libertarianism
Submitted to Christianity Today by Steve Sawyer of Fountain Hills, AZ ,
January 24, 2000.


Thanks for the interesting January 10, 2000 issue. I'd like to respond to two articles.

Douglas LeBlanc wrote an informative piece (Crumbling Family Values, 1/10/00, p. 25) on the Hillsdale College scandal involving former president George Roche III. LeBlanc states that some students and faculty see as a factor in the scandal "long-simmering tensions between evangelical Christians and libertarians on the campus." LeBlanc later quotes John Reist, an ordained minister and English professor at the college, as saying "libertarianism is selfism without the brakes provided by the Christian faith." The article then quotes Hillsdale senior Jeff Evans; "you can't have a moral society - a proper, healthy society - without Christ being Lord."

I agree wholeheartedly with Evans' statement, but take issue with the article's dim view of libertarianism. There is no conflict between Christianity and libertarianism, nor can the latter be fairly characterized as "selfism." Libertarianism is very simply the political philosophy which favors maximum freedom for citizens, consistent with "no harm" done to others. It is upon this idea of government that America was founded, but has been eroding for some time in the face of ever-expanding government. It is extremely important that Christians remember, as our founders did, that it is only in an atmosphere of freedom and choice that morality has meaning and individuals and communities can most effectively respond to God's will for their lives.

In fact, any version of evangelical Christianity that rejects a basically libertarian political approach can be classified as statism and reverts to the tragic error of using physical force in place of voluntary persuasion and love to bring nonbelievers into submission. As always, this approach is illiberal, unjust, immoral and definitely un-Christian. In his editorial of the same issue (Beating the Odds, 1/10/00, p. 96), Charles Colson hails recent anti-gambling legislation in Alabama and South Carolina as "a great victory for good government and liberal values" and chastises the media for characterizing it as "repressive moralism of the Religious Right."

While I concede that sincere Christians can disagree on this issue, it is muddling the issue to claim this legislation as "liberal" which it is not, by definition (liberal values seek to grant maximum freedom to citizens, consistent with "no harm" to others). Promoters of Illiberal legislation have often sought justification by claiming that 'its for their own good.' Probably the premier American example is Prohibition, which was also illiberal and, in my view, misguided for the same reasons as antigambling laws. In addition to being intellectually and morally wrong-headed, in practice it created huge profits for criminal rackets willing to supply the demand and actually increased the undesirable activity. Christians need to remember that, in a free society, legalization does not imply moral approval.

I agree that abusing gambling, like abusing alcohol or most any other habit or substance, is immoral and Christians must beware of these sins in their own lives and help others avoid them as well. However, this help must be offered in the form of voluntary "moral suasion" rather than coercive force. Remember that if government wields power for "us", it will also wield power for "them" (our perceived adversaries).

>Steve Sawyer
Fountain Hills, AZ

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Also by Steve Sawyer: What Should Christians Fight For?

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