The Yarn in the Public Sweater

Our presenting issue currently is same-sex mirage, but the central issues involved in that extend into everything. What is the proper role of civil government, and who does the civil government answer to?

I have been meaning to address the temptations presented by libertarianism for a while, and here is the occasion for it. But before beginning the critique, I want to say something else I have argued before. I am writing as a theocratic libertarian, but libertarianism by itself, pure and simple, is not a Christian political theory. This is an excellent reason for Christians not to adopt it. At the center, it is a civic form of unbelief.

So that which is a distinctively Christian political theory (i.e. a theocratic approach) resembles libertarianism in a number of striking ways. In practice, under consistent Christian rule, quite a few libertarian proposals would in fact be adopted, and a Christian society would leave you alone in ways that many libertarians have wished to be left alone. The horrendous tax burden would be an example of that. So would responses to the surveillance state. So would detestation of torture — and current indications are that I will be writing about that someday soon.

But marriage and divorce law would not be an example of anything like a libertarian approach.

In other words, a consistent Christian political theory is not libertarian, but it will in fact be accused by statists (including those Christians compromised by the idolatries of statism) of being libertarian. Just as a preacher who preaches free grace will never be antinomian, so a Christian political theorist will never be an anarchist or a libertarian. But it is equally true that any preacher worth his salt who preaches free grace will be accused of antinomianism (Rom. 6:1). It is the same kind of thing here.

So for the Christian political theorist, the integration point of all things is Jesus Christ Himself (Col. 1:18). Christ is the center, and must be the center. He cannot be the one before whom every knee bows and every tongue confesses, while at the same time being kept in the shadows. He is the integration point of all things, and cannot be the secret integration point. We must confess Christ, and we must do so in our collective capacity as a civil order. The Great Commission said to disciple all the nations, and this includes the Americans.

Liberty is not the center. Liberty is a political fruit that comes from honoring Christ, and cannot cause anything worthwhile to solidify or bond wherever He is not present. Whenever Christ is not honored, liberty is not liberty but rather licentiousness. No gathering of slaves to sin will ever be the vanguard of political and civil liberty. And whenever pot-smoking and porn-watching libertarians march, you can just hear the chains clanking. If that is the future of liberty, we are all going to political hell.

And yes, I know that there are libertarians who are not libertines. But the energy of the movement generally, the attractiveness of the movement to millennials, comes from the freedom it grants to sinning. Responsible libertarians see this as a problem, and I see it as a crippling problem. As John Adams once put it, our form of government requires a moral and religious people. It is, he said, “wholly unfit for any other.” An essential ingredient of political liberty is personal virtue.

And all these issues have come to a head in our marriage debates. Because of a number of factors, even though the advocates of exclusive heterosexual marriage greatly outnumber the homosexual activists, over the last several decades we have nevertheless been consistently outmaneuvered. Under pressure, many Christians have retreated to what might be called “appeasement federalism,” which is quite a different thing than principled federalism. “Why not let the states decide?” But our adversaries understand, far better than we do, that on issues like this, a house divided cannot stand.

And outmaneuvered Christians have also retreated to appeasement libertarianism (“why should the magistrate have anything to do with marriage anyway?”), and this brings us to the point of this discussion. Took a while, but we got here.

I want to address two aspects of this issue here. The first has to do with the magistrate as the biblical authority for dealing with marriage issues. The second seeks to answer an objection that came up in the comments of my previous post on this.

In my argument, I have said that marriage necessarily results in issues of property, inheritance, and custody, and that the magistrate is the one appointed by God to sort such things out. This is because the sorting of such issues frequently requires force, physical force. I do not want the elders of the church bearing the sword to collect child support. I do not want the minister of the church to have the authority to evict someone from his home to enforce the terms of the divorce settlement. The weapons wielded by the church are not weapons of that sort, and must never become weapons of that sort (2 Cor. 10:4).

This question is entirely independent of how government is funded. Assume that the civil magistrate has been fully funded with monies that were not pillaged, not stolen. That’s a big suppose, I know, but just assume it for a moment. In such a society, a divorce occurs and a settlement is reached. One of the parties objects violently to the settlement, but all avenues of appeal are exhausted. He still objects, and refuses to vacate the house. Who goes and fetches him out?

The answer ought not to be friends and family of the ex-wife, because that would be spiraling downward into tribalism. He has friends and family also, and they have guns too. The answer ought not to be the church, because the church is not authorized by Christ to use force. When force is necessary, the civil magistrate is the one who bears the sword, and he bears the sword so that recalcitrant ex-husbands will agree to leave the house (Rom. 13:4).

So even if all taxes were voluntary, even when all social agreements were agreed upon fairly and beforehand, even though that particular man stood up in front of a church and promised that he would be a loving and true husband come hell or high water, in the grip of sin he changed his mind. He made a covenant that he no longer desires to keep. Someone has to make him do what is right. When we get to that point, we have come to the point of coercion.

But coercion is always a big deal, and those who are entrusted with coercive powers must always be required to use those powers of coercion sparingly and justly. In order to be able to do both, it is necessary for the magistrate to have an orderly and consistent way of sorting out who is the wife, who is the mistress, and who is the meth addict pole dancer from downtown. With which woman was the public covenant made? Which cases should be heard, and which thrown out of court?

You cannot make the magistrate the referee in the great basketball game of life, and then outlaw uniforms and have all the players wear masks. The refs still have the power to blow the whistle, but not intelligently. That kind of blind justice is not justice at all.

The second issue has to do with a proposed libertarian solution to the problem of funding government. We should note at the top that funding government in less obnoxious ways does not remove the central questions of coercion when it comes to marriage and divorce. I am talking about problems at the back  end, not the front end. The man in question promised to love his bride “forever and a day,” and the magistrate should be there to remind him that it is not “forever and a day” yet.

But having pointed this out, let me make one passing observation about voluntary taxation. We have a pilot program for that now — they are called campaign contributions. Anybody who knows anything about privately funded enterprises knows how easy it is for big donors to call the shots.

A free republic, with every man under his own fig tree, is not going to come until a free republic arises in the hearts of the citizenry. And that means Jesus. A free society will be one where the populace streams to churches every Lord’s Day in order to worship the Father, through Jesus, in the power of the Spirit. In big cities, there will be extra traffic helicopters out, telling the Presbyterians that they had better take Exit 28A if they want to make it on time.

Without that kind of transformation among the people, the removal of the Army will just get you a gaggle of war lords. The guns don’t disappear just because the Army did. In a similar way, the arbitrary removal of coercive taxation will just have the effect of putting the civil government up for sale. You haven’t solved anything with voluntary donations — I don’t want to live in a republic that has just been “purchased” by Jeff Bezos and Google. Biblical taxation is not a source of unlimited funding for the state — it is as much a ceiling (and a very low one) as it is a source of revenue. But voluntary donations could be a very real threat.

More discussion is needed on this last point, I understand, but I trust the marriage issue is settled (at least for Christians). The coercion that is necessary to enforce the terms of marital covenants is not related to the issues of taxation, and will be with us regardless. Unless a people require men and women to keep their promises to one another, it is not possible to be a people.

And this means that marriage and its definition is the yarn in the public sweater. It is not possible to opt out of this one.

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kyle sEric StampherBenJBrighamkatecho Recent comment authors

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kyle s
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kyle s

This is about the first issue above and not the second. When you trotted this argument out last month I wrote this: “Doug, I think your argument is incomplete. For it to go through, you’d have to do at least three more things: 1) show that the sort of public recognition necessary for securing and maintaining the social benefits associated with marriage covenants requires that it be the state doing the recognizing; 2) show that the sort of public recognition necessary for securing and maintaining the social benefits associated with these covenants requires an official, one-size-fits-all legal definition of marriage;… Read more »

David Moberly
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I don’t agree that you’ve settled the question for Christian Libertarians on this issue. You make valid points about the role of government in marriage oversight, but the question remains (for me at least), did Christ call us to enact social change through restrictive legislation? I see discipleship as wholly-other than legislative mandates, rather a change in the heart inspired by the teachings of Christ inspired by the Holy Spirit. To deny same-sex marriage is to enforce a Christian world-view of marriage on worldlings in society, which I do not see as a mandate in Matthew 28. While the role… Read more »

Drew
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Drew

david Moberly

It seems to me that if you “do not believe that the law should be our refuge in standing for our beliefs,” then you have excused yourself from saying what the law SHOULD be.

I realize that you were not saying what the law should be, but my question is this: are you suggesting that Christians should not get involved with law, economics, and politics? It seems to be the outcome of your premise.

Ben
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Ben

Doug, thank you for addressing these issues. Obviously I don’t consider the marriage issue settled. Here’s why: On one of your other posts, I brought up a hypothetical scenario similar to yours about the husband who wouldn’t leave the house, and I argued that the use of violence by voluntarily-funded officials (say, private police hired by the marriage contract company) to enforce such a contract would not necessarily be immoral, since they are simply protecting the wife against theft on the part of the husband. Remember, libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle, not the “non-coercion principle,” which is just… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

A “public covenant” occurs without church or magistrate affirmation.

A couple living together in view of us all = a public covenant.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Ben — what if said private company doesn’t do it’s job?

Shall the state then send it its own police force to make said company comply?

David R
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David R

david – ” To deny same-sex marriage is to enforce a Christian world-view of marriage on worldlings in society” First, marriage as the union of a man and a woman is not a Christian world-view, at least as used here. It is the view of all societies throughout history. No society has ever decreed that a marriage can consist of a man and a man. There have been polygamous societies and societies with other marital arrangements, but those arrangements have always included a man and a woman. Gay mirage is something new on the scene. So to claim that denying… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Hi kyle!

You question the necessity for “an official, one-size-fits-all legal definition of marriage” to gain the “social benefits” that “public recognition” can secure & maintain?

Isn’t any definition by virtue of it being a definition both official and one size?
If you pronounce recognition of the union of father and son to be a marriage (for example) along with husband & wife, to be marriages — ain’t that official and one size?
I think you need to clarify your question.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Hi David R!

Just because nonChristians have held Christian worldviews for ages does not make those worldview nonChristian.

David R
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David R

eric – which is why I couched it with “at least as used here”. Marriage as the union of a man and woman is definitely part of a Christian worldview, but not exclusive to it.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

David — we claim they borrow our stuff.
We claim they have no stuff of their own.
We’re glad they like our stuff.
We don’t claim we’re the only ones with our stuff.
But we do say the stuff they have is ours, and ours alone.

Ben
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Ben

Eric, couldn’t that same question be applied to gov’t police? A private police company would go out of business for not performing the very service it exists to provide. Gov’t police don’t answer to the market, and therefore are under no incentive to actually do what they’re paid to do.

In a true free society, there would be no state police to force the private police to carry out that contract. Tell me, what do YOU think would happen in that situation?

kyle s
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kyle s

Well, no, Eric. The point was that the state can secure the relevant social benefit — a way to settle a variety of property disputes — without making any official (i.e., legal) determination about what marriage is. I’ll allow that the state has an interest in settling such disputes and that citizens have an interest in the state settling them, but it’s unclear why the state needs to have any (or the correct) definition of marriage to do that.

Katecho
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Ben wrote: On one of your other posts, I brought up a hypothetical scenario similar to yours about the husband who wouldn’t leave the house, and I argued that the use of violence by voluntarily-funded officials (say, private police hired by the marriage contract company) to enforce such a contract would not necessarily be immoral, since they are simply protecting the wife against theft on the part of the husband. Ben seems quite sincere in wanting to sort out these issues. I don’t think he is a heretic for pondering the possibility of a purely voluntary government. But I do… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Ben — “true free society” — could you define that?

Do you mean folks free to do whatever they like? — is that what true freedom is in your dictionary?

Katecho
Member

In regard to my previous post, some have argued in favor of legalized access to fully automatic weapons for the people. They argue that balance is assisted by providing lawful access to the same technology that the government uses (as was the case at the time of the Second Amendment). Others counter that the government has nuclear weapons, and ask if that means the people should have nukes too. Of course we don’t want an individual to have that much destructive power at their individual discretion. The principle is to maximize accountability in both private and public spheres, not minimize… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

kyle — aren’t the terms of the settlements in those property disputes the de factor official (i.e., legal) determination of what the state takes to be marriage?

Ben
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Ben

eric

“Do you mean folks free to do whatever they like? — is that what true freedom is in your dictionary?”

Of course not. Do you really think I’d advocate for the freedom of one person to steal from another, or kill them for that matter? Libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle, which simply states that the initiation of force is immoral. Be careful not to confuse libertarianism with libertinism. They are two very different things, as Doug pointed out.

jeers1215
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jeers1215

‘You haven’t solved anything with voluntary donations — I don’t want to live in a republic that has just been “purchased” by Jeff Bezos and Google.’
Ummm…
You don’t want to be forced to live under a corporately owned state, and that’s why it shouldn’t be voluntary?

Katecho
Member

Ben wrote: Libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle, which simply states that the initiation of force is immoral. This is a very revealing statement. It suggests that force (coercion) is something that can never be initiated by the righteous. It suggests that force (coercion) can only be valid as a response to prior force (coercion). I realize that Ben is speaking in the context of civil authority, but I wonder if he holds the same position with regard to other authorities, such as parental authority, or God’s own authority when dealing with mankind. For example, is it ever righteous… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Bender — Do you mean folks free to do whatever they like, as long as they don’t physically hurt another?

What if they spiritually damage another? — is that ok?

Katecho
Member

jeers1215 wrote: You don’t want to be forced to live under a corporately owned state, and that’s why it shouldn’t be voluntary? That’s clever, but Wilson is first distinguishing rightful authority from usurped authority. The question of that rightful authority’s use of force comes later. Whether a child submits to parental authority voluntarily, or by force, you still don’t want the parents to be owned and controlled by a corporation. This is because the authority for children was given by God to parents, not to corporations. Likewise, God gave the sword to the civic magistrate as the deacon of His… Read more »

kyle s
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kyle s

Eric, no. I can’t imagine why you’d think so. Maybe you’re thinking this: the state could use a definition of marriage (whether that definition be affirmed by the relevant parties or not) to settle a variety of property disputes.Of course, that’s true. But it doesn’t show that some definition (let alone a distinctively Christian one) is necessary to settle those disputes.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

kyle – shouldn’t we demand fairness in the form of consistency that arise from a standard?

kyle s
Guest
kyle s

Alternatively, Eric, maybe yes: if the state would settle those disputes in accordance with the terms the relevant parties actually affirmed in the agreement that brought them together. In that case, though, the definition of ‘marriage’ in this civil sense would be whatever these individuals together determined it to be. This, of course, wouldn’t be an official one-size-fits-all definition, but he state could still mitigate conflicts between these parties without that.

kyle s
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kyle s

Eric, usually it seems fair to me to hold people accountable to the terms of agreements that they make and unfair to hold them accountable to the terms of agreements that they do not make.

JBrigham
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JBrigham

Ben writes:
…libertarianism is based on the non-aggression principle, not the “non-coercion principle,” …

BUT, there is an unspoken principle of libertarianism that is un-christian and even more primary: “I own myself”. This is where they go off the track, and it should be changed to “I am responsible for myself”.

Ben
Guest
Ben

@JBrigham
“BUT, there is an unspoken principle of libertarianism that is un-christian and even more primary: ‘I own myself’. This is where they go off the track, and it should be changed to ‘I am responsible for myself’.”

It’s not unspoken, it’s often proclaimed very loudly by certain libertarians. They’re right and wrong: In a legal, practical sense, we do own ourselves, but in a cosmic, theological, and fundamentally far more important sense, we are owned by God. Being a libertarian does not require believing that statement in both senses.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

kyle

It may seem fair to hold folks to their private agreements — except when those agreements reek of destruction.
(examples = adultery, homosexuality, assisted suicide)

So you need to define what you’ll enforce, do you not?

kyle s
Guest
kyle s

Eric, are you suggesting that a definition of marriage — indeed, a distinctively Christian one — is a necessary condition for having a body of law governing what will count as an enforceable contract? Because that’s the issue in the first part of Doug’s post. If that’s what you’re suggesting, I can only shrug and remark how odd that position is.