Lately I’ve been wrestling over the intersection of two groups of people to which I belong: Christians and libertarians. On fiscal policy, there’s a lot of agreement between the two groups (on the surface, at least), but the great divide usually comes on the social issues.
On the social issues, Christians typically want government to enforce what is right (i.e. legislate morality), while the libertarians don’t want to be the coerced recipient of anyone’s morality, whether it’s good for them or not. As a member of both of these groups, I understand each viewpoint.
If the Christians’ goal were just to worship God freely, to share Him with those who will listen, and to set an example for others in the life they live, they could easily get along with libertarians. And if they really just want to be free to worship how they choose, they could even be libertarians.
The problem comes when the scope of Christians’ efforts expands to impede the freedom of others. I think everyone should be in church on Sunday, but it would be wrong for me to force people to spend their Sundays as I choose to spend mine. The same logic applies to every socially conservative issue Christians champion.
There are Christians – good, well-intentioned people, I might add – who support political issues that they agree with personally. For example, they’d never vote for a tax increase unless it was a “sin tax” issue. They’d support bans on things ranging from foul language to homosexuality because it’s part of their personal moral code.
I’m reminded of the people I’ve seen on street corners screaming at people telling them they should give their lives to God. While it would be great to see those people turn to God, I’ve never found screaming at people to be a very effective means of communication.
Legislating morality is much like screaming at people on the street, except with a gun pointed at them. Convincing is much more effective than coercion, but how exactly would that work? It’s pretty straightforward, really:
Be an Example. Let people see how you’re different because of what you believe. “In the same way [as a city on a hill or a lamp on a lamp stand], let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
Stand by What You Believe. Be consistent; don’t compromise. Even when people disagree with you, they’ll respect the fact that you are consistent in what you do and say. “Be alert, stand firm in the faith, act like a man, be strong.” (1 Corinthians 16:13)
Love. Just love people and treat them how Jesus would treat them. “[Jesus] said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)
Of course, none of this means we have to endorse behavior we find objectionable. We don’t have to violate our conscience at all; in fact, we shouldn’t. We just have to set an example, stand on what we believe, love people like Jesus would love them, and treat people like He would treat them.
So what’s the answer? Are Christianity and libertarianism mutually exclusive? Because of the way many Christians choose to behave, yes, sometimes the two can be mutually exclusive.
But they shouldn’t be.