Most people think of politics as electoral politics: elections, politicians, and voting. A more robust understanding is that politics is more like a subset of the ways in which human beings choose to relate, specifically with regard to the appropriate use of physical force and power.
“Culture” is another means of how we relate to each other, and while part of that is political, much of it is not. In this sense, the saying “politics is life” is true. When we advocate anything that affects the lives of others, we are doing politics in this very broad sense. Most Christians believe that the Gospel has implications for the real world, which makes the Gospel relevant to politics.
This also means that Christians are political, whether they realize it or not.
Christians care about how people in the world relate to one another in ways that align with the ethic and message of the Kingdom of God. Not only do we want Christians to be aware of the human relationships that are part of what it means to be human, but also at the forefront of pushing human relationships toward mutual benefit and interacting peacefully.
Jesus said his Kingdom was not of this world. Isn’t political engagement being concerned with “this world”?
As Jesus announced the coming of God’s Kingdom, throughout the Gospels we see that his Kingdom did not operate upon the principles of worldly kingdoms (“not of this world”). This doesn’t mean that the Kingdom of God is not for this world. The very word “kingdom” is inherently political, meaning “the king’s domain.”
Modern Christians often miss the explicitly political language of the New Testament. The phrases “Jesus is Lord” and “Son of God” were, in Jesus’ day, an affront to Caesar. It was Caesar who rode into cities on a war horse demanding people’s allegiance, promising an age of peace won by violence, and demanding submission. In contrast, Jesus came promising the life of the ages (“eternal life”) through allegiance to him, a peace that was not won through violence, but through the forgiveness of sins and submission to him.
To give allegiance to Jesus Christ is to strip Rome of its power and authority. In part, when Christians invite others to believe the Gospel, they are inviting them to declare allegiance to God, not to any particular government or political affiliation.
Shouldn’t human flourishing be the goal of good government?
Human flourishing should be the goal of any human-based institution, both private and public, so long as it is done within its sphere of capacity and ability.
Christians who believe the government should guide or lead us to human flourishing usually have in mind initiatives and programs that force individuals and businesses to behave in certain ways they view as conducive to human flourishing. Yet they fail to recognize that governments are particularly bad at guiding free human beings in ways that yield certain results. When governments try to pick winners and losers through subsidies and special privileges, they almost always fail.
As an institution, the government’s narrow role should be to enable human flourishing through means that actually achieve human flourishing. That is, if the government’s role is to protect private property by enabling free exchange, not only would the economy grow, individuals and communities would flourish not because of the government but because the government was in its proper role in society.
Private charity can’t cover everyone’s needs, so don’t we need government?
Most people compare what the government spends on welfare for the poor to the private charity dollars spent on the poor, arriving at the conclusion that private charity organizations could not bear the burden of providing for the poor if the welfare state were simply removed. However, this comparison is unfair for two reasons. First, it does not account for the fact that private charity organizations, on average, have far less bureaucratic overhead than government-run ones. Money spent through private charities is often more effective than government-run welfare programs.
Second, and more importantly, it ignores a third but very prominent anti-poverty measure that doesn’t require government at all: free-market capitalism. People achieved prosperity in the past 200 years not through welfare programs but through free markets. Oftentimes, governments have regulated the market in such a way that it creates the conditions for higher unemployment, increased prices for goods and services, and other factors that burden the poor.
Charity is only a short-term solution to the direct symptoms of poverty, not its causes. A robust society addresses the root problems of poverty by looking at a variety of issues. As Christians, we believe that because work is essential to our life and our well-being, being recipients of the fruit of other people’s labor (whether private or public) can only go so far. What those in poverty want and need is the fruit of their own labor.
Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from the book, Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers to Tough Questions, written by the Libertarian Christian Institute, and is available for pre-order here.