Religion and politics are said not to mix well.
Speaking strictly as a Presbyterian, I might agree, except those who say this are often hypocritical and disingenuous. They criticize individuals who oppose, say, abortion for religious reasons. Yet they have no qualms using a religion to shamelessly promote a government policy or program that involves confiscating wealth from one and giving it to another and calling it “generosity.”
How often is the “Good Samaritan” parable used as a justification for the welfare state – despite the fact that the Good Samaritan used his own money and time to care for his neighbor? Or the saying “you are your brother’s keeper” – which is found nowhere in the Bible and is a misquote?
John W. Whitehead at the Rutherford Institute paints a separate picture when it comes to Jesus Christ in an article published several days ago, depicting him as a political revolutionary and quasi-anarchist who opposed the authority of the Roman Empire and was crucified for it.
Although I appreciate Whitehead’s efforts to wash away the socialist facade that has been sacrilegiously placed on Christ’s image for too long, as well as accurately describe the totalitarian nature of Roman law at the time, he also inaccurately describes the meaning behind Christ’s message, which was spiritual, not political.
Christ was not concerned with the political environment in which he lived in, in spite of the fact that all his followers hoped he would drive the Romans out. Whether or not you believe he was the Son of God, which is who he claimed to be and as a Presbyterian I believe, he was not crucified by the Romans due to accusations that he told people not to pay taxes. He was executed by Pilate to avoid a riot by the crowds that had gathered demanding he be killed for claiming to be the Son of God. Pilate, knowing he was innocent, repeatedly tried to have him freed, but gave in after the crowd chose to free a convicted murderer over Christ – not exactly the finest example of the democratic process.
Indeed, throughout the Gospels, Christ does not voice his opinion so much about the political atmosphere as he simply ignores it – which is just as infuriating to an authoritative government. Following God’s law is the highest priority, and if it happens to not violate man’s law, good. But if it does, man’s law is to be ignored.
This is not an attempt to preach a sermon, – notwithstanding Easter is right around the corner. I’m merely trying to point out what I consider to be an inaccurate depiction of Christ and what he stood for. Whether one believes Christ was God or not has nothing to do with libertarianism. But when it comes to comparing Christ’s teachings and libertarianism, the Bible is very clear on what he said and claimed to be, and it is extremely difficult to argue that the worldly politics of men was of any concern of his, since he declared his kingdom was not of this world. If it were, he would have not allowed himself to be arrested.
Yet, despite this, there is an underlying current of resistance to tyranny and abuse of authority throughout Scripture. Anyone who is interested is free to read stories about the Old Testament prophets, particularly Amos, Elijah and Elisha, none of whom had any compunction about railing against their king and pronouncing judgment on them despite assassination attempts and death threats.
Elisha, when called by his king to prophesy during an invasion by a foreign country, informed his ruler that if it weren’t for the righteousness of the other king sitting next to him, he wouldn’t even acknowledge him.
Or, you can read about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three Jews taken into exile in Babylon who directly defied King Nebuchadnezzar to his face when ordered to say the pledge of allegiance – er, I mean worship a golden image.
From a political perspective, here are a few facts about Christ based on the Gospels
- He never gave a political speech
- He never described his politics or his opinion of the current law, unless it was to bring up a spiritual truth
- Every time he called a disciple, he simple said “Follow me.” No gun. No badge. No threats of violence or coercion. Some did so. Others refused. No one was forced to do anything.
- None of his disciples were politicians or trained in politics, though one of his disciples was a former zealot – a group of militant Jews opposed to Roman rule. However, one was also a former tax collector, so their backgrounds do not infer Christ’s endorsement, as the point below shows
- Every disciple later went on to be martyred, often in horrific ways, or persecuted by their respective governments
- He told his followers to treat unrepentant church members as “you would a tax collector.”
- He never sought an audience with a political body – every time he appeared in front of one he was forced at the point of a spear
- He never proposed a law enforceable by a government as a solution to any problem he saw in society
- He considered visiting people in prison who had been wrongfully convicted to be an act of righteousness and predicted they would be persecuted by the State for their faith
- Whenever he was in the presence of a political leader, whether it was King Herod or Pontius Pilate, he exercised his right to remain silent, except to inform them that they had no authority except that which was given to them
- Jesus’ statement to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s” was not a validation of taxation. It was a rhetorical answer in response to a trick question in which neither answer was feasible.
- When Jesus chased out the money-lenders and overthrew their tables in the temple, he was claiming a government-owned and funded religious structure as private property that belonged to his father, not to the State.
- John the Baptist, whom Christ described as the greatest man who ever lived (since Christ said he was the Son of God) was imprisoned and later beheaded by King Herod after criticizing his personal life including his marriage to his brother’s wife.
Christ’s teachings were spiritual, not political, in nature, intended to be applicable to all under any all circumstances, whether one was free or a slave. But it is impossible to read the Gospels and end up with the belief that using government to force people to do what Jesus said is how he would have wanted it.
Indeed, the most profound thing Jesus said about the State was how he did not want his disciples or followers to behave as it did. According to the Gospel of Matthew, a dispute arose about who was the greatest among the disciples.
The story goes as follows:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Government requires pure force and coercion. Jesus taught his disciples that they were not to rule over each other, but to serve one another. This is in total contradiction to what the State teaches. Christ taught that virtue, righteousness, and generosity do not come from coercion, but from individuals voluntarily choosing to give their wealth or possessions to others and love one another of their own free will.
Jesus was not an anarchist, as some claim or would like to believe. But he certainly did not teach that the State had any role in his teachings or that it was a solution to any problem.
True leaders do not force people to obey their orders, but are followed voluntarily because they act as servants. The term “I’d follow him to the Gates of Hell” is not said of leaders who require coercion to maintain their followers.
This is what libertarians, particularly Christian libertarians, should focus on when debating the issue of religion and the State when pro-government individuals attempt to exploit the message of Christ or Christianity for their own use. The statement I quoted alone should be sufficient enough. Chances are, they will not be literate enough to argue further.
How many leaders today could we accurately describe as servants? Certainly almost no political leaders, because without the use of the gun and the badge, who would obey them or follow them? And how many leaders who are followed voluntarily act as servants?