And no, that doesn’t mean I’m an anarchist.
Although you might be able to make that case about both libertarianism and possibly the man Jesus himself. The message of Jesus, and of the God Christians purport to follow in the New Testament, is one largely of freedom. There are rules Jesus lays out, and grave consequences, but no forcing and no coercion to follow those rules. Here is what you should do, here is what happens if you don’t, but the choice is yours.
In fact, when Jesus first showed up on the scene and claimed to be the One the Jewish people of the day were waiting for, one of the large reasons some did not believe is because he did not set up the political kingdom they had been waiting for. He didn’t legislate His words; He simply told it like it was, and then let people do with it what they would.
Why? Because that is the only way to change what really matters: the heart. Jesus was and is so much more concerned with the hearts and intentions and identities of people, rather than the outward appearance of a person, or a society. If you put someone in jail for theft, you still have a thief. Perhaps jail time will stop future thefts due to the adverse consequence, but you have done nothing to change them as a person…merely their actions. And Jesus wanted to change us as people, not just create a moralistic society. (And yes, Libertarians believe theft should be punished, because society functions by an individual being able to protect his or her property. In fact, Libertarians believe it so much that they’ll usually shoot you on the spot for stealing their stuff. Sorry, had to get the neo-con’s on board. 😉 )
Which is unfortunately what much of today’s evangelicalism has become. Jesus never lobbied to make prostitution illegal; He ate dinner in the homes of the prostitutes. And they had their lives changed. He valued them as people by not forcing them what to do, but showing them what to do. Which is why I am a libertarian. I have seen so much harm from doing things the opposite way of Jesus. We legislate non-intrusive immorality, and then rejoice when that immorality becomes illegal. But making it illegal has done nothing to change people’s hearts, or even to stop them from doing it! It’s only purpose is to make us feel better about our society, and meanwhile we are roadblocking every avenue we might have had to reach people’s hearts by being the taskmaster trying to tell them to do something that they don’t believe in and that doesn’t harm us. If a Muslim lawmaker tried to make a law that all American women had to cover their faces, we’d freak out! And then if that same lawmaker tried to tell us to become Muslim after forcing his or her morality on us, there’s zero way we would listen. But that’s exactly what Christians try to do in politics. I hate to break it to you, but telling people they can’t sleep with each outside of marriage doesn’t keep them from sleeping with each other. Punishing them for sleeping together doesn’t change their hearts. And even at the point of chains and shackles making them not sleep together does not get them any closer to Jesus. It just makes them hate us because it seems like we care more about controlling their lives than we do about letting them freely hand their lives into Jesus’ control.
The only role of government, from a libertarian standpoint, is to keep this selfish species from imploding in upon itself. Regulate violence and property so that each individual has a chance to make their own choices, and that’s about it. And if Christianity is as good as we claim it to be, and if we’re doing our job as an example of what Jesus actually said, taught, and did, I wholeheartedly believe that more people, when given the choice instead of legislated to make that choice on pain of consequence, would decide on their own to see what following Jesus is about. We’ve watched over decades upon decades now as forcing people into our morality has done little but turn them away, and rightly so. That’s a jerk move to force someone to do something they don’t believe in when it doesn’t harm us. And then we wonder why no one listens.
The inherent flaw in all of this? Libertarianism expects that either people will be intelligent enough to govern themselves, or they’ll die off and good riddance. One of those seems naive, while the other is just plain harsh. Which is why no one political ideal is the be all end all of life. Love is. Jesus’ love is. So that means that we have to actually do something. I have to actually do something. With morality legislated, we can stick our head in the sand, sit back and say, “See? No one’s sinning. Everyone’s a Christian. I can go about my day.” Meanwhile everyone has zero hearts changed, goes to hell in a handbasket, but we’re good because we made it illegal for them to sleep with each other. In the libertarian way, if people have the choice to do whatever they want (so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else), as Christians we actually have to live the choice we hope they make. And we are absolutely not doing that.
I fully believe it’s time to use Jesus’ example and stop trying to force people. Just show people. And start by respecting them enough to let them make their own choice, just like you were free to do when you chose to love Christ.