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.