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Christian libertarianism describes the synthesis of Christian beliefs concerning free will, human nature, and God-given inalienable rights with libertarian political philosophy. It is also an ideology to the extent its supporters promote their cause to others and join together as a movement. In contrast to the Christian left and the Christian right respectively, they believe that charity and enforcement of personal-level morality should be the purview of the (voluntary) church and not the state. These responsibilities must not be abrogated, though any non-governmental organization (NGO) not publicly financed is free to pursue them as well.
As with secular libertarianism, socialism, fascism, and crony capitalism are strongly opposed, as is theocracy. The latter does not include merely being influenced by Christian concepts; whereas in a theocracy, government derives its powers from a divine or religious authority directly exercising governmental control. The use of force is never justified to achieve purely political, social, or religious goals, but is reserved solely to uphold natural rights.
Individual freedom of religion without state interference is absolutely supported regardless of one's beliefs. Nevertheless, a majority religion in a given locale could display its faith on government-owned property if it had the popular votes to do so. Public sector discrimination is strictly forbidden, while in the private sector, it is permitted, though discouraged (excepting bona fide associated costs, such as insurance rates).
Christian libertarians believe these principles are supported by the teachings of Jesus Christ, which are recorded in the Bible, and His criticism of the laws (Halakha) observed by the Pharisees. For example, in Jesus' day, it was prohibited to heal someone on the Sabbath, because this was considered doing actual work on the mandated day of rest and worship. He opposed the Pharisees due to their self-righteous, man-made regulations added to God's law, which they obeyed outwardly, but with the wrong inward motivation. Also, most Christians believe the ceremonial and civic laws found in the Old Testament have been superseded by the New Covenant. (The moral laws such as the Ten Commandments remain in place.) For these reasons, Christian libertarians may consider Jesus of Nazareth as the greatest libertarian in history.
According to Andrew Sandlin, an American theologian and author, Christian libertarianism is the view that mature individuals are permitted maximum freedom under God's law. Alex Barron, an American blogger and podcast host, states that Christian libertarianism can be summed up like this: "I am as libertarian as my Christian faith allows."
Christian (including Orthodox, Protestant, and Roman Catholic) libertarians are people who believe in maximum liberty for individuals, but recognize there are universal and objective moral truths, such as that murder is wrong. For Christian libertarians, an understanding and appreciation of these moral absolutes is formed in large part by their Christian faith. Christians in this school of political thought tend to describe such basic directives in terms of natural law or natural rights, or the law that "well formed" humans seem to come to on their own. The concept of maximum economic and political liberty under the limits of natural law as understood by theologically conservative Christianity is what forms the basis of Christian libertarian philosophy. The ideas of Christian faith and libertarian political and economic theory are somewhat in contention, but Christian libertarians are constantly trying to balance their desire for minimal involvement by the State in the affairs of individuals, and limits to behavior from Christian moral teaching.
In keeping with the fundamentals of libertarianism, laws of the state should be kept to the bare minimum. Acts that merely annoy others or slowly degrade their health might be dealt with at the local level, where the least amount of effort is needed to initiate or oppose change.
There is great concern that even in relatively free societies, laws and regulations are becoming increasingly numerous, irrelevant, and too complex for the average person to understand. While those on the Christian right may wish to outlaw what they see as immoral, this only makes the public more accustomed to having to deal with new laws. Thus, it "opens the floodgates" for social liberals, progressives, and non-libertarian secularists to pass their own laws when they are in control of the government, rather than having an aversion to all new laws.
Differences with Christian right
As Jesus did not call upon the political and legal authorities to enforce piety or discourage sinful behavior, Christian libertarians do not believe in a political mandate to Christianize culture. Behavior considered sinful by the Church—but which does not violate the lives, liberty, or property of others—must be disciplined within the Church itself. (This includes family discipline in the case of minor children.) Even if such behavior warrants cultural opposition amongst the general public, it must not be prohibited by the state. Only actions which legitimately constitute various forms of physical assault, tangible theft (including destruction/desecration), or fraudulent schemes may be criminalized and prosecuted, as these alone infringe upon the natural rights of others. Due to the large taxpayer expense to house nonviolent offenders, and immoral "prison culture," Christian libertarians generally maintain that only violent criminals and those who have demonstrated a willingness to transgress the natural rights of their neighbors should be quarantined from society and incarcerated. On an international scale, non-interventionism is promoted based upon the principles of state sovereignty and self-determination. The right of people to immigrate (without public assistance) is fully supported, as is free trade.
While there may be a need for police, prosecutors, and prisons to uphold natural rights, these should not be so numerous and costly to enforce laws beyond natural rights. This becomes a burden for taxpayers, and affects churchgoers ability to give to their local church and support missions. The prohibition of drugs, for example, takes away funds from the church and gives them to the state, while greatly increasing violence due to the illicit drug trade. While drug abuse is considered immoral, it is within the realm of the church, and not the state. In addition, libertarians do not support civil asset forfeiture, as it can easily affect the innocent with very limited due process and costly legal fees.
Advocating legalization of what is sinful can put Christians in a difficult position. There is always the concern non-believers may misinterpret that whatever is being legalized is now permissible. While many on the Christian right believe that God still judges nations, Christian libertarians find no basis for this in the New Testament. Both agree nations were judged in Old Testament times, but is a matter of contention whether it applies to the present day. Inevitably, the Christian right becomes alarmed when moral laws are abandoned, as they feel their nation will suffer. Christian libertarians, on the other hand, believe that under the New Covenant, God judges only individuals. Nations become prosperous when they uphold and enforce the natural rights of the people. Maximum freedom from state interference must be preserved, and laws for the sole sake of morality need not exist.
Differences with Christian left
Unlike the versions of welfare statism traditionally favored by the Christian left, libertarians generally see no need for government-provided social services. These activities are best entrusted to private nonprofit organizations, which include churches and faith-based charities. Voluntary giving is more just and efficient than forced redistribution of wealth through taxation – as whatever is taxed, less of it will be produced. Christian libertarians believe public welfare is an ineffective means to lift the financially struggling out of poverty. This carries with it negative unintended consequences, such as people being less willing to obtain higher education or employment, or having more children than they would otherwise. Saving money beyond token amounts is often prohibited for those on public assistance, often leading to unwise financial habits.
School choice including parochial schools for primary and secondary education is advocated over mandated government-run schools at taxpayer expense. The spontaneous order of the free marketplace is always preferable to central planning. Over-regulation of business reduces productivity and increases unemployment, while enabling new possible avenues of corruption. Similarly, minimum wage laws hurt younger, less qualified workers, and cause price hikes even on the poor. Free individuals are in a much better position to rationally pursue their own interests than those who are being dictated to by a strong-armed central government. The state should not prohibit unwise personal, financial, or medical decisions, nor prosecute those who encourage them (short of fraud), as this is within the realm of the church.
Other differences include the support of the individual right to keep and bear arms for defense. Being wealthy is not a problem for Christian libertarians. Only the love of money (not money in itself) is considered a sin.
With respect to environmental concerns, libertarians largely view regulatory policies and the politicization of Creation Care as only superficially "green" and essentially corporatist. Often, they cite the large-scale pollution and environmental degradation caused by governments as a reason to minimize the activities and role of the state in society (see also green libertarianism and free-market environmentalism).
Christian libertarians are generally opposed to relatively free countries relinquishing their sovereignty to international governing bodies such as the United Nations, as many in the movement believe this paves the way for authoritarian world government. Internationalism is perceived as a threat to free speech and expression, freedom of religion, self-defense rights, right to a fair trial, and the like. Among dispensationalist Protestants, this trend of political and economic centralization on a global scale tends to be cast in eschatological terms with connections being drawn to "the Beast" described in the Book of Revelation.
Differences with secular libertarianism
Arguably, the greatest difference between Christian and secular libertarians concerns those who are not only libertarian, but also libertine—that is, they want to do the very things in which Christianity forbids. For example, Christian libertarians believe it is immoral to engage in recreational drug use, but also immoral to forcibly prevent others from doing so. On the other hand, a non-believer may espouse libertarian ideals so they need not fear such laws Christians have no intention of violating. Christians have to uphold Jesus' command of "love your neighbor as yourself," while non-believers might not be so inclined.
Essentially, Christian and secular libertarians share common goals, but disagree on the underlying objective of government. Christian libertarians believe that government is only valid if it helps maintain and support Natural Law as understood through a traditional Christian moral code. Other significant differences lie with the nature and source of our rights. In the words of Thomas Jefferson:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. --United States Declaration of Independence as originally written by Thomas Jefferson, 1776
Without invoking the name of God, secularists can only promise "government-granted" rights. Christian libertarians view these precariously, as they could be revoked. A famous example of this is the liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic in 1920s Germany. As the Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler took power in the early 1930s during the Great Depression, the rights granted under Germany's constitution became irrelevant.
Christian libertarians agree with other libertarians on most issues. However, there are several issues that they often disagree to some extent:
Abortion. While many secular libertarians feel that the government must not have the power to compel a woman to maintain pregnancy and promote abortion as a human right, Christian libertarians often contend - on the basis of the belief that life begins at conception - that there are two lives involved in the decision. Thus, they argue that the government does have a role in protecting the life, liberty, and property of individuals, including unborn citizens. That said, there is still debate about who should be prosecuted, under what circumstances, and how to ensure safeguards against an unintentional miscarriage being confused with willful abortion.
Anarcho-capitalism. Another area, where Christian and secular libertarians disagree, is in restraining libertarian economic policies. Where many secular libertarians support few, if any, limits on economic activity or anarcho-capitalism, Christian libertarians often see the value in restraining anarcho-capitalism with agreed upon values that are Christian based. Values such as mandatory Christian holidays off from work including the Sabbath (Sunday), child labor laws, and utilizing God’s creation (the environment) in a responsible way are all valid community decisions.
Commercialized vices. Many secular libertarians would have a society where there would be no limit on vices such as pornography, prostitution, gambling and recreational drug use because these are open dealings between consenting adults. Often, Christian libertarians take the view that while secular governments tend to overreach, there could be reasonable limits if enacted at the local level, and aimed mainly at public (rather than private) settings. This includes restrictions on where it is available, attempting to separate its influence from young people, and allowing local communities to ban it from their jurisdiction. While viewed as being primarily in the realm of the Church to discourage these activities, nonetheless, government should not be promoting any such behavior that is self-destructing.
Same sex marriage. This can be a contentious issue among libertarians of all stripes, including Christian libertarians. Their decisions often come down to whether government is merely allowing this activity, or promoting something that is understood to be against moral norms from a traditional Christian viewpoint. Christian libertarians will often defend rights for same-sex couples to form contracts between each other (e.g. civil unions), have visitation rights in places such as hospitals, and the right to pass on property to each other. Nevertheless, many Christian libertarians stop short of support for same-sex marriage, and often contend that the state should have no authority to define the terms of marriage. In a Christian libertarian form of government, society as a whole may not have the ability to ban the vast majority of activities between consenting adults. However, it cannot advocate and promote anti-Christian morals either.
The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments have varying enforceability under Christian libertarianism. Note: Beliefs differ on whether to consolidate at the beginning or end to prevent forming more than ten commandments. This list consolidates coveting with the alternative numbering used by Catholics and most Lutherans in brackets.
- 1st [1a] Commandment (forbid other gods): Church only
- 2nd [1b] Commandment (forbid idols): Church only
- 3rd  Commandment (forbid God's name in vain): Church only
- 4th  Commandment (keeping Sabbath): Church only
- 5th  Commandment (honoring parents): Church only
- 6th  Commandment (forbid murder): Both church and state
- 7th  Commandment (forbid adultery): Church only (assuming full consent of those who committed the adultery; otherwise state prosecution for rape)
- 8th  Commandment (forbid theft): Both church and state
- 9th  Commandment (forbid false witness): Both church and state (but only civil enforcement for defamation unless perjury or fraud occurs)
- 10th [9/10] Commandment (forbid coveting neighbor's wife  and property ): Church only (unless it rises to the legal threshold of harassment)
Not all specific crimes that the state can enforce are addressed directly. For example, kidnapping would be part of the eighth [seventh] commandment.
The origins of Christian libertarianism in the United States can be traced back to the roots of libertarianism. According to Murray Rothbard, of the three libertarian (anarchist) experiments begun during the European colonization of the Americas in the mid 17th century, all three of them were begun by Christian groups.
Martin Luther, one of the authors of the Protestant Reformation, is referred to as libertarian In the introduction to "Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority." The term used here is something quite different than the political ideology of libertarianism. The book's editor, Harro Hopfl, says that libertarian, egalitarian, communal motifs were part of the texture of Luther's theology.
Lord Acton was a theoretician who posited that political liberty is the essential condition and guardian of religious liberty. The Acton Institute, an American Christian libertarian think tank, is named after him.
Christian Bible References
The quotes below come from the translation commonly referenced as the New King James Version.
From the last book of the Christian New Testament, called the Apocalypse or Revelation, chapter 22, verses 10-16; this passage references the principle of non-interference in the lives of others:
And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand. He who is unjust, let him be unjust still; he who is filthy, let him be filthy still; he who is righteous, let him be righteous still; he who is holy, let him be holy still.
And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.
The New Testament book, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, addresses this same principle:
I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people.
Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner — not even to eat with such a person.
For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.
From the first book of the Christian New Testament, called the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 15, verses 1-20; this passage references the simplicity of spiritual purity, and the non-necessity of a multitude of contradictory physical rules:
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,
Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.
He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.
Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
- ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
- And honor Me with their lips,
- But their heart is far from Me.
- And in vain they worship Me,
- Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.
Then His disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
Then Peter answered and said to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”
So Jesus said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.
- Andrew Napolitano
- Christian anarchism
- Christian democracy
- Christian ethics
- Christian existentialism
- Christianity and politics
- Christian pacifism
- Christian views on poverty and wealth
- Cultural mandate
- Golden and Silver Rules
- Image of God
- Jacques Ellul
- Libertarian Christianity
- Lord Acton
- Non-aggression principle
- Original and ancestral sin
- Political ethics
- Political theology
- Religious views on capitalism
- Ron Paul
- Stewardship (theology)
- Andrew Sandlin, The Christian Statesman, "The Christian Libertarian Idea", October 1996
- Barron, Alex. "The Bard". https://charlescarrollsociety.com. Charles Carroll Society. Retrieved January 2013.
- The Origins of Individualist Anarchism in the US, Murray N. Rothbard, February 1, 2006
- Hopfl, Harro. Luther and Calvin on Secular Authority, Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, September 27, 1991, p. xii
- "History of Acton Institute". Acton Institute. Retrieved July 12, 2012.