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Friday, December 4, 2009

The Religious Libertarian

Last week I plugged an article I saw entitled "10 Reasons I Am A Libertarian Christian" and got some great responses, among them:

Many Christians that describe themselves as "Libertarian" are actually theonomic reconstructionists, and believe that such things as blasphemy and idolatry should be illegal. They, in short, do not believe in free speech.

So I just wanted to state clearly for the benefit of other libertarians who may not be religious or Christian, and especially for the benefit of any Christians reading this, that...

I, Wesley Messamore, am a devout, confessing, theologically conservative Christian and it is because of this, not in spite of it that I believe:

-In a strict separation of Church and State

-That government cannot and must not attempt to regulate aspects of individual morality, but should restrict its role to maintaining a civil society by preventing aggressive acts of force

-That Prostitution, Homosexuality, and any other sexual acts between consenting adults should be legal

-That government properly has nothing to say in definition of marriage and has no legitimate power to license people ("straight" or "gay") to wed

-That the private, responsible use (e.g. no driving under the influence) of any and all drugs by adults with or without a prescription should be legal

-That gambling of any kind by adults should be legal

-That faith-based initiatives of any kind should not receive government funding

-That wars of aggression, the use of torture, and indefinite detainment without trial or charges are immoral, hateful to liberty, and abhorrent to Christian ethics

-That the Patriot Act is unpatriotic, unconstitutional, and should be repealed immediately

-That the US Federal government's insatiable thirst for power and tax revenue is a greater threat to Americans than militant Islam

-That Carrie Prejean's freedom of speech has not been violated by anyone

-That George W. Bush is one of the worst presidents America has ever had

-That our society needs to show more true compassion for the plight of young women who feel that they have no option left but to have an abortion

-That clergymen should refrain from partisan or even political statements to protect the Church from being infected by politics as much or more than to protect government from being infected by religious sectarianism

-That Jesus Christ is not a Republican or a Democrat and transcended the partisan politics of His own day as well

-That Latino immigrants to America aren't destroying our culture; they are enriching, fortifying, and improving it (they are largely devout Christians with strong family values- pay attention, conservatives!)

-That America should end its strategic military alliance with Israel, withdraw troops from the Middle East, and not allow sectarian theological views to inform its foreign policy


  1. Agreed. I am as conservative of an evangelical as one can be--a Calvinistic/Reformed Southern Baptist. Because of my reformed views (NOT IN SPITE) I hold to the traditional evangelical position on politics--that the preaching of the gospel, not the passing of legislation, brings true change and should be the focus of a Christian. Remember, it was Baptists (who were reformed) who got the non-believer Jefferson elected. Why? Because they understood his anti-statist views were the only way to have true religious liberty.

  2. I like Luther's comments on the matter.

    “Certainly it is true that Christians, so far as they themselves are concerned, are subject neither to law nor sword, and have need of neither. But take heed and first fill the world with real Christians before you attempt to rule it in a Christian and evangelical manner. This you will never accomplish; for the world and the masses are and always will be unchristian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name. Christians are few and far between (as the saying is). Therefore, it is out of the question that there should be a common Christian government over the whole world, or indeed over a single country or any considerable body of people, for the wicked always outnumber the good. Hence, a man who would venture to govern an entire country or the world with the gospel would be like a shepherd who should put together in one fold wolves, lions, eagles, and sheep, and let them mingle freely with one another, saying, ‘Help yourselves, and be good and peaceful toward one another. The fold is open, there is plenty of food. You need have no fear of dogs and clubs.’ The sheep would doubtless keep the peace and allow themselves to be fed and governed peacefully, but they would not live long, nor would one beast survive another.For this reason one must carefully distinguish between these two governments. Both must be permitted to remain; the one to produce righteousness, the other to bring about external peace and prevent evil deeds.” –Martin Luther

  3. It's a great list, although I might also add that a strict interpretation of the non-aggression principle is consistent with Christian theology and that, perhaps most of all, that the state is NOT the kingdom of God.

    Lots of these demand articles of their own, I hope to address many of these issues in detail on at some point. Trouble is, I just have had ZERO time to write recently, but once my immense flurry of research begins to die down over the holidays I think I'll begin to find more time.

  4. Excellent points, Daryl!

    And right, Norman, all of these side issues are simply the result of those two important principles.

  5. Dear Humble,

    I am glad to "meet" a fellow Christian Libertarian! I had several friends who incorrectly equated "libertarian" with hostility towards religion and/or atheists. That really opened our discussions on "religion" versus belief in God.

    I too believe that "clergymen should refrain from partisan or even political statements to protect the Church from being infected by politics." The merge of religious groups with the Federal government (via funding) during the Bush era was of great concern.

    Thank you for your posts ... keep up the great work!

    B Leland Baker, Tea Party Revival

  6. Hey no problem! Thanks for your kind words. I hope to accomplish two things over the next few months at this website (among other things): 1) convince statist or statist-leaning (or libertarians deep down who don't know that's what they really are) Christians that their ethics cannot allow them to be statists and that libertarians are not necessarily "godless libertines," and 2) convince libertarians that Christianity is compatible with limited government.

  7. Interesting. As the author of the above-mentioned article, "10 Reasons I am a Libertarian Christian", I should mention that I also consider myself a theonomist. Coincidentally, most theonomists may not consider me to be one, but I would disagree.

    Having said that, I agree with the above list with the exception of one:

    "-That clergymen should refrain from partisan or even political statements to protect the Church from being infected by politics as much or more than to protect government from being infected by religious sectarianism"

    As a theonomist and a Christian Libertarian, I believe the two views are almost completely compatible (otherwise I wouldn't be one!) And, as one of these seemingly paradoxical creatures, I preach Christian libertarianism to my congregation. I preach against war, against government involvement in the family institution of marriage, against taxation, against inflation, against fiat money. I believe it is my duty to do so, and I believe that failure to do so has put us in the position we are in.

    My two cents.

  8. I've never really encountered "theonomy" before. Please tell me what you mean by that term and if you don't mind, why others wouldn't consider you one.

  9. Generally, when one thinks of theonomy (or a theocracy) they see the implementation of God's Law (OT Law) exactly as it is written, in today's government. These people usually identify themselves with R.J. Rushdoony.

    When the media and/or the left refer to a theocracy, they are usually referring to the Christian Right - who generally oppose Rushdoony. They simply want to legislate NT morality.

    When I refer to myself as a theonomist, I mean that I am more in line with guys like James Jordan. You'll have to google these guys if you aren't familiar with them.

    I believe the OT law is good and holy and just. I just don't implement it the same way they do. One important distinction is that I separate the Law as that which regulates our relationship with God and that which regulates our relationship with man. The only laws we could enforce are those that affect our relationship with man: theft, murder, etc. The others are judged by God himself.

  10. Not lying or committing adultery might fall into the category of "that which regulates our relationship with man." Ought those to be regulated by law?

    If so, then I would be reticent to call you a libertarian. If not, then what particular aspect of our relationship with other humans is it that ought to be regulated?

    Is it not aggression? Is not aggression the one and only thing that legal force can properly address? If you agree, then what sets you apart as a "theonomist?" How aren't you simply a classical liberal?

  11. Lying and committing adultery are violations of contract that any libertarian should willing enforce, and thus fits both with theonomy and libertarianism.

    Aggression is the only thing legal force can address. What sets me apart as a "theonomist" is that I believe theonomy and classical liberalism are, for all practical purposes, one and the same. Modern theonomists would disagree with me--and, hence, reject that I am a theonomist. And, classical liberals would disagree with me--and, hence, reject that I am a liberal.

    The purpose of my blog,, is to show that they are compatible--you might find that I am in much agreement with the likes of Gary North, also a theonomist.

  12. When and if marriage is a legal contract (which should not be mandated by law, would you agree?) involving property and specific sanctions, courts should uphold that contract.

    When it is a private commitment and the parties choose not to make it a legal contract or to agree to the state's imposition of blanket, one-size-fits all sanctions for violators, (which should be their right, would you agree?) then it's none of the state's business. Agreed?

    And violating a contract is always a form of lying, but not all lies are contractual violations. If I lie about my age out of vanity to someone at the supermarket, I'm violating many systems of ethics including the Christian one, but the government shouldn't punish me for that, right?

    Granted if I lie about my age under oath on a contract, that's another story. But telling you the fish I caught last week was "this big!" isn't a crime or a violation of someone's rights, and therefore outside the purview of government, right?

    If you can agree to all the above, then you may be a libertarian after all- it would ease some of my skepticism.

  13. Interesting that in light of my blog posts you are skeptical about my libertarianism...

    The state plays no role in marriage at all ( except to enforce it as a contract, but what the terms of the contract are (or whether it is even a legal contract or not) are not imposed by the government, only enforced as the participants bring charge.

    Lying, contrary to what you have said, is not a violation of Christian ethics. Bearing false witness is. And bearing false witness is something that is done in a contractual/legal setting. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus himself deceived the two men on the road to Emmaus regarding his identity, what he knew about the events of the day, and what his travel intentions were. I would not say that Jesus violated the ethics of Christianity.

    That is a larger conversation to be had, but suffice it to say that I do not believe the government should enforce laws regarding lying (and the Bible doesn't either) except in the case of a contractual/legal setting: as in bearing false witness.

  14. Re: Theonomy --- Think of it: Christians by definition believe in God. God by definition is omniscient and omnipotent, and therefore sovereign. God's law therefore reigns supreme over all. Theonomy is by definition the state of being governed by God. Therefore, all humans are theonomists in fact, even if they don't admit it, and all true Christians admit it.

    As a Christian I believe this line of reasoning is true. I also believe it neglects the fact that most strains of Christian theonomy over the last 50 years have failed to properly show how God's reign over humanity should be translated into human law, i.e., into laws that humans impose on other humans. Theonomic reconstructionists have thereby earned their reputation as people who “do not believe in free speech”, and who are not genuine libertarians, no matter what they may claim to the contrary. So even though I am a theonomist in the general sense of the word, I don't generally advertise it under that particular label, to avoid being identified with all these failed theologies.

  15. Re: "strict separation of Church and State" --- Whether it's acceptable for one person to murder, defraud, or damage another person is ultimately a moral and religious question. (The rationally consistent Darwinian says it's acceptable, and is therefore a eugenicist.) If the state does not have a mandate from religious people to curb bloodshed, then the state ultimately has no good reason to exist. The visible Church existed before the state was formed, and it will exist after the state collapses. The visible Church has a duty under Genesis 9:6 to set up the state specifically for the purpose of curbing damage that people cause to other people. Under such circumstances it's difficult to see how strict separation is an option. --- Nevertheless, the visible Church and the state have radically different jurisdictions. Rules within the visible Church apply to those who volunteer to abide by those rules. Such rules are strictly consensual, in the contractual sense of the word. On the other hand, rules that apply under the state, i.e., under secular government, i.e., under the set of human laws that apply to all people regardless of whether they like it or not, are narrowly defined by Genesis 9:6. The latter subject matter jurisdiction is loosely delineated by the traditional libertarian mandate to avoid initiating force, fraud, or theft against someone else. For the sake of keeping these two radically different jurisdictions distinct, once the visible Church has established the state – perhaps with the help of non-Christians who agree with the Genesis 9:6 mandate – it's advisable for the visible Church, qua church, to forbear further involvement in secular government. It's also advisable for every church to have an oversight committee of some kind to make sure that the state is operating within its biblical guidelines, and if it isn't, to effect a remedy.

    Conclusion: IMHO, strict distinction between church and state? Absolutely! Separation? Sort of.

    Re: Sex acts, marriage, drugs, gambling, etc. --- It's difficult to see how any real libertarian could disagree with what Wesley Messamore is saying, assuming that when he speaks of government and laws, he's speaking of secular government and laws. If a clear distinction between church and state is maintained, then it's clear that his claims are true for a secular jurisdiction. But they aren't necessarily true for a church's jurisdiction.

    Re: The “Federal government's insatiable thirst for ... tax revenue” --- I need to say this even at the risk of being tracked down by revenuers. --- Given that a secular government's subject-matter jurisdiction is limited to the subject matter described above (i.e., to delicts, damages) – which I'm convinced is a limitation that's established by Scripture – lawful taxation must also be limited in the same manner. In other words, it's unlawful for any secular government to tax for any purpose other than to spend the revenues on the prosecution of delictual behavior. Any other kind of secular taxation is theft. So genuine libertarian Christians have a duty under their religion to refuse to pay the tax. That's a scary thing to do, so Christians who don't have the wherewithal to become such conscientious objectors deserve a lot of slack. But those of us who can't avoid the obvious need to also take the next step, to make sure the color-of-law revenue thieves are also prosecuted.

  16. Re: Clergymen preaching libertarian Christianity --- Clergymen need to preach the gospel, the whole gospel, which necessarily includes the Bible-based knowledge about the relative subject-matter jurisdictions of church and state. This country has deteriorated to the point where we are essentially a fascist nation. This is largely the fault of the visible Church. Every church should have a committee – what I call a "jural society" - which is dedicated to overseeing the relationship between church and state, and to making sure the state is operating within biblical guidelines. If this aspect of the gospel had been kept from the War for Independence up to the present, we wouldn't be in the shape we're in. So the necessity for preaching libertarian Christianity these days is extreme.

    Re: Faith-based initiatives, wars of aggression, torture, violations of the writ of habeas corpus, and the Patriot Act --- These are all unconstitutional violations of natural rights and violations of the authorized jurisdiction of secular government.

    Re: Contracts --- According to both reliable covenant theology and English common law, people can damage other people in either of two ways. The damage could come out of a contract (in which case the ensuing legal action would be ex contractu), or the damage could come without a contract (in which case the ensuing legal action would be ex delicto, out of a delict). A secular social compact (i.e., a secular government) needs to be able to execute justice in all secular actions ex contractu and all secular actions ex delicto. This is because bloodshed in Genesis 9:6 is metaphorical and pertains to damage to human life, regardless of whether such damages arise ex contractu or ex delicto.

  17. I think the principles which underlie (classically) liberal government are not the sole purview of Biblical or Christian teaching, but are a shared and common tradition that most people at most times have accepted as true and right- that we should not murder, that we should not rape, that we should not steal.

  18. Hi!
    After reading all these very interesting and well-thought-out comments, I realize I'm way out of my league here as a Libertarian-newbie. Could you please help me understand how Libertarian philosophy addresses the following situations?

    #1: Nudity/profanity/etc. I have two children and believe they shouldn't be exposed to explicit sexual acts until they are older. I also try to minimize the amount of profanity all of us hear. So, if I have a neighbor who likes to curse loudly while nude sunbathing in his backyard, whose rights prevail? I suppose he has a right to do what he's doing, but don't I have a right to let my kids play in the backyard? That's why I bought the house I did.

    #2: Similar thoughts relate to having the FCC allocate spectrum and enforce standards of decency for broadcast programming. Given that frequency spectrum is a limited resource which pervades all our lives equally, doesn't ownership and management by "we the people" make sense in this case? (Granted, even with the FCC there seems to be a race to the bottom in terms of programming quality...)

    If society includes at least a certain critical threshold of morally virtuous people, I think these situations take care of themselves. My neighbor and I can work out a deal where he does his sunbathing while my kids are at the park. There will be a sufficient number of people demanding decent programming that the broadcasters will take notice.

    But if the percentage of people trying to game the system is high, and every time I turn around I'm having to request assistance from the state in preventing my rights from being trespassed, I'll spend more time in court than anywhere else.

    One of my favorite lines from David Brin's The Kiln People was after the lead character had someone bump into him as he as walking down the street and "so I assigned my assistant to file a micro-tort suit."

    Thanks for the awesome blog. Congratulations on 1 year. I just started reading a few weeks ago so I have a lot to catch up on but it's all been great reading.

  19. Regarding W.E. Messamore's thought that "the principles that underlie (classically) liberal government are not the sole purview of Biblical or Christian teaching ...", I agree, and IMHO, the Bible agrees as well. Under classical apologetics - a much neglected but elegant aspect of traditional theology - the Bible posits natural law and natural rights that apply to all people, and that are knowable by all people.

    Regarding Wurzel's concerns about "#1: Nudity/profanity/etc." and "#2: Similar thoughts" about the FCC: IMHO, both #1 and #2 are problematical because the jurisdictional boundary between "Church and State" is blurred in our organic documents, and almost non-existent in current supreme Court jurisprudence. Because the de facto government is fascist, none of our institutions - including the existence of the Federal Reserve, banks, and mortgages; the current distribution of real property; the accepted legal definitions of "religion" and "church"; the existence of the unconstitutional fourth branch of government, the "administrative branch", which includes the FCC; etc. - should be accepted as anything more than serious problems that need to be solved. Under the de jure government, the underlying problems in #1 and #2 would not be solved automatically, but there would at least be an approach to solutions that recognizes that all people have natural rights, and natural rights should not be abused.

    #1: Your neighbor has a right to sun bathe in the nude and cuss, as long as it's on his own property, and as long as he's not violating a covenant that encumbers his property. On the other hand, you have a right to buy land within a community of like-minded people who agree that all land within the community is governed by a covenant that stipulates that cursing and adult nudity in front of children must be eschewed.

    #2: The FCC is illegal because it's unconstitutional, and it's unlawful because it inherently violates property rights. Under a free, libertarian market, frequencies would be bought and sold, not allocated by government bureaucrats. I hope that people with family values and concerns about child-rearing would be able to work with like-minded people to purchase frequencies and ensure their kind of content is broadcast.

    Under the de facto government, majority rule inherently violates the natural rights of people who believe that majority rule always leads to a kakistocracy. IMHO, libertarianism inherently demands government by consent or no government at all. People who refuse to consent to majority rule should not have their rights violated by people who do consent to it.

    For more about such issues: "The Emperor's Parade of Horribles" at this website: "Basic Jurisdictional Principles: A Theological Inventory of American Jurisprudence".

  20. Wes,

    I just found this earlier article from you. It was an interesting read, to be sure.

    However, in the tried and true example of the greatest Teacher of all time, may I simply ask you a question?

    You have said above: "I, Wesley Messamore, am a devout, confessing, theologically conservative Christian and it is because of this, not in spite of it that I believe:"

    My question is this:
    Where in the Scriptures do you find teachings to affirm what you have said are your beliefs?

    Take your time. It was a big question. I believe you are a "theological-book-only-Christian", meaning it is not a relationship you have with Jesus but a belief therein, based on a misplaced sense of knowledge from reading some theological books here and there, yet living a life devoid of a real, meaningful relationship with Jesus.

    Please believe me when I say I do not say this to you in a hateful or mocking manner! I do not think any less or any more of you based on my perception of your "faith" given the list above to measure it by. I would be a severely dick-headed jerk to level such judgments at you if I did not really discern them.

    This is an older article, so I am not sure if you even visit it any longer. If you do, aces! And if you would choose to respond, that would be most excellent!

    Thanks for reading, Wes.

  21. Hey Donald. No offense taken at all. No worries.

    I think it's a mistake to extrapolate about my conception of Christianity from the list above, because it's a list of political statements that I believe derive necessarily from that conception, not an explanation or even a statement of my conception of Christianity.

    In fact, I am just the opposite of what you guessed. I believe that Christianity is not merely a college of like-minded individuals who happen to share the same beliefs about historical and divine realities, but a living, theanthropic organism.

    I also believe that properly understood, true theology is not a science, not "words about God," but instead it is a relationship, as you would seem to agree, it is when "The Word of God dwells inside you and transforms you into a being of pure love and divine energy."

    As for Biblical injunctions to advocate for the kind of society whose government abides by the restrictions I've listed above, I would refer you simply to the Beatitudes. Blessed are the peacemakers... Blessed are the meek...


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