Libertarianism is a collection of political philosophies that view individual liberty as a core value. Subscribers of libertarianism--known as libertarians--adhere to virtues and principles centered around sovereignty, autonomy, and the recognition of inalienable (sometimes called "God-given") rights and natural law.
Are they compatible?
The short answer is yes, but there is a caveat. Answering yes to the question relies on how the two are practiced together.
First and foremost, Christians are called to hold the Kingdom of God above all worldly matters. The apostle Paul writes to the Roman church, "Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." ~Romans 12:1-2
In Christian theology, the world and all worldly things are second to God. Christians are warned not to be subsumed in it. We observe in 1 John 2:15-16: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world."
The apostles' words are confirmed when Jesus says, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." ~John 18:36
Christians must understand that their loyalty is to God above all worldly things, including their political affiliation, country, possessions, wealth, legacy and even family and loved ones. While these things do have importance, the Christian must profess that the Kingdom of God matters most.
Scholar David Koyzis argues in his award-winning book Political Visions and Illusions that modern political ideologies have idolatrous tendencies. Swept up in election day fervor, Christians risk their political heroes becoming idols.
Theologian Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), sharply criticized some evangelical Christians for their unconditional support of Donald Trump. For Christians, political allegiance should never supersede loyalty to Jesus Christ. Christ is their true king, while the president is their servant.
Though Christians are called to be "otherworldly," they are undoubtedly still a part of the world we all live in. A famous Christian adage is, "be in the world, but not of the world."
Christians are meant to be a blessing to all people. Christianity is the largest religion with churches and ministries all over the world. God does not command Christians to be absent in the world. To the contrary, the apostle Paul--a Jew--was called upon to go out into the world among the Gentiles:
"But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus." ~Galatians 1:15-17
Inevitably, Christians will develop worldly hobbies, interests, thoughts, ideas, and political affiliations. If Christians observe God as the highest authority, these are not deviations from Christianity when practiced according to their faith.
For example, in the Gospels, Jesus commands His followers to love their neighbor. He warns you not to store up treasures on earth and that if wealth causes you to sin, you should rid yourself of your possessions. In Christianity, charity and love are divine commands.
Though widely encouraged, charity is not a libertarian principle. A libertarian can choose to be charitable or greedy and not deviate from the philosophy of libertarianism. Objectivist Ayn Rand even wrote a book entitled, The Virtue of Selfishness, praised among libertarian circles.
In this way, Christianity and Libertarianism seem to clash. Christianity commands love and charity, while libertarianism often celebrates individualism, capitalism, greed, and selfishness.
The vital element to remember here is that libertarianism gives a person moral choice; it does not command greed or charity. The libertarian, by their own virtue, makes this determination. Therefore, the Christian Libertarian would need only to invoke their charitable and loving morality, never deviating from the philosophy of libertarianism while simultaneously observing Jesus's commands.
God, according to Christian theology, has given free will to humans. That is revealed early in the Christian Bible in Genesis 3, where Adam and Eve eat the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden. Were humans just marionettes on autopilot, they would not have disobeyed God's command.
Throughout the Christian Bible, there are many examples of God's anger concerning human disobedience. The wayward Israelites constantly disobey Him, yet God continues to give humankind grace, passage, and free will.
Though God declares "vengeance is mine" (Deuteronomy 32:35), one could argue that God ultimately takes a libertarian stance in the overarching epoch of human existence--when observing all 66 books of the Bible as one continuous story.
Christianity and Libertarianism step on common ground when it comes to choice. Humans are given free will and must decide for themselves if they will "follow a path of righteousness" or "be consumed by the world's evil." Christ invites, "follow me", but does not force you to follow. Similarly, libertarianism espouses voluntaryism, free exchange, mutual consent, peaceful existence, non-aggression and a firm rejection of force.
Christianity and Libertarianism can coexist because humans are granted freedom by God, according to Christianity. Therefore, endorsing the principles of liberty and propagating the libertarian message of freedom is congruent with God's will, not a deviation from it.
"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love." ~Galatians 5:13
Few ideologies, theologies or philosophies can overlap in perfect harmony. Nuance is a critical thought factor, and there will always be shades of grey. Making slight revisions or holding one principle in higher regard does not necessarily spell contradiction. Christianity and Libertarianism can coexist when observed with integrity and practiced earnestly.
For the ardent Christian who worries what their pastor or congregation may think, remember Proverbs 29:25: "The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe."
For more articles like this, please visit our Knowledge Bank.