Should Bible-believing Christians be politically conservative?
One of the surprises of my online interactions over the last few years has been the discovery that some who take the Bible very seriously are, nonetheless, leery of political conservatism, especially in its American form.
But I believe this antipathy toward conservatism is due to a combination of factors, none of which have to do with what the Bible teaches. Rather, it stems from confusion about what conservatism is, lack of awareness of relevant biblical principles and more than a little influence from popular liberal stereotyping.
To chip away a little at the definitional and biblical misunderstandings, I offer five reasons why Bible believing Christians ought to be politically conservative.
1. The Bible is an ancient book revealing timeless truths
Many have pointed out that conservatism is about conserving. More specifically, conservatism is about preserving old solutions to problems it sees as old problems. In the conservative way of thinking, human nature has not changed over the millennia nor have the problems that arise from human beings living together with limited resources.
Conservatism holds that we are not only dealing with the same old problems we’ve always had to deal with (though in new forms), but the best solutions are also ones discovered long ago. Since we are not wiser than our predecessors, it follows that the wisdom of the ages will not be improved upon much by us.
Christians who take the Bible seriously ought to have a very similar outlook. In Christianity nearly all of the great events happened long ago, and even those that are yet to come are built on the foundation of what has already happened. Believers are redeemed through a price paid thousands of years ago and are being transformed into the likeness of One who is, Himself, ancient beyond calculation (since He has no beginning).
In Christianity we see the present as part of God’s working of “all things according to the counsel of His will”—a counsel (plan) formed before the foundation of the world. And the glorious future that awaits us is, likewise, the completion of that same old, old, plan.
Plus, Christians who strive to live according to Scripture are in the habit of constantly looking back to an ancient text for timeless principles that we believe are just as relevant today as they were when God inspired them.
2. The Bible upholds the value of personal property
In various ways and to varying degrees, the alternatives to conservatism take a dimmer view of personal (i.e., individual and family) property. But the Bible does not encourage us to think that communities sharing property is a better idea than families and individuals owning property. The fact that the Mosaic law everywhere assumes personal property is significant.
Some might argue that the Mosaic law assumes slavery as well, but the covenant stipulations include some noteworthy efforts to mitigate slavery as well as some noteworthy efforts to strengthen the idea of personal property.
One example is the law of the Year of Jubilee. Every fifty years, dramatic events were supposed to occur under the covenant. Debts were canceled, Israelite indentured servants were freed, and land was returned to the families who originally owned it (Lev. 25:39-41).
Ezekiel 46:16-18 also refers to the Year of Jubilee and further emphasizes the importance of private property. Some see the passage as referring to the Millennium, but regardless of the time of fulfillment of Ezekiel 46, the Lord emphasizes the propriety of land being truly owned by families.
Thus says the Lord GOD: “If the prince gives a gift of some of his inheritance to any of his sons, it shall belong to his sons; it is their possession by inheritance. 17 But if he gives a gift of some of his inheritance to one of his servants, it shall be his until the year of liberty, after which it shall return to the prince. But his inheritance shall belong to his sons; it shall become theirs. 18 Moreover the prince shall not take any of the people’s inheritance by evicting them from their property; he shall provide an inheritance for his sons from his own property, so that none of My people may be scattered from his property.” (NKJV)
3. The Bible commends a strong relationship between work and prosperity
Though Scripture assumes the wisdom of private property more often than it states it, this is not the case when it comes to the relationship between our work and prosperity. Proverbs 14:23 tells us that “in all labor there is profit.” Proverbs 6:6-11 challenges the “sluggard” to “consider the ant” and imitate her habit of working diligently to lay up for the future. And Proverbs 24:30-34 points out that being a slacker is the path to poverty. All of these passages (and many more) are predicated on the principle that people ought to see their material prosperity as directly related to their own work.
But the New Testament is explicit on this point. The Roman Empire wasn’t exactly a welfare state, but even in that environment, a significant number of people were interested in getting as much as possible from those around them without doing honest labor to earn it.
As Paul was bidding farewell to the Elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17 and following), he saw the need to warn them about “wolves” who would come in the future to harm the church. As part of his warning, Paul simultaneously emphasized both the need for Christian charity and the importance of working to produce what was needed.
I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (20:33-35)
Speaking to the Thessalonians the apostle was even more direct.
For even when we were with you, we commanded you this: If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some who walk among you in a disorderly manner, not working at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now those who are such we command and exhort through our Lord Jesus Christ that they work in quietness and eat their own bread. (2 Thess. 3:10–12)
Conservatism has long emphasized that a healthy society is one in which people do their work with a strong sense that they will benefit in proportion to their diligence. Accordingly, conservatism rejects policies that result in people seeing less and less relationship between how hard they work and how well off they are. Liberal and progressive policies tend to erode the correlation between hard work and prosperity.
Though the Bible calls us to care for the poor and needy, it discourages us from approaching the problem of poverty in ways that discourage personal labor and resulting personal profit.
4. The Bible refutes popular notions about greed
I doubt there has ever been a time in history when more people were more confused about the nature of greed than today in western civilization. First, many confuse self-interest with greed and accept the stereotype that conservatism is pro-greed. But in reality, conservatism assumes greed (as one of the constants of human nature) and respects its close cousin, self-interest. Conservatism understands that people are interested in their own well being and that they are most productive when their labor will advance that well being.
Similarly, the Bible assumes self-interest. Jesus said “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) and Paul wrote that “no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it” (Eph. 5:29). The Bible not only assumes this kind of self-interest, but roots it in the principle of stewardship. “To whom much is given, from him much shall be required” (Luke 12:48) and we will all give an account for what we did with our lives (2 Cor. 5:10).
Liberals (and evangelicals influenced by them) also reveal greed-confusion when question the desire of individuals to keep more of the money they earn rather than giving more of it to the government. “We shouldn’t be so greedy,” they opine. “We should think more of the common good.” But if citizens’ desire to keep more of their earnings is greed, what is it when government agencies and officials want more of those same earnings? Why should we believe that it’s greed when we want our money but virtue when the government wants our money? We both want the same thing!
Confusion abounds regarding the relationship between greed and persons’ or businesses’ efforts to increase their wealth. Non-conservatives frequently identify some arbitrary level of wealth as “enough” and label effort to obtain more as “greed.” But how is the “enough” cut-off point determined?
More importantly, how does this way of thinking harmonize with what the Bible teaches about labor and profit? If it’s true that diligence and productivity increased wealth, should extremely productive people stop being productive at some point so that they avoid getting richer? Is it biblical to tell a man he must stop working because he has enough?
Of course, many do pursue wealth with a greed motive. But what about the low-income guy who goes to the corner store and buys a lottery ticket in hopes of gaining a few million dollars he didn’t work for? Greed is not a problem that only plagues the rich. Conservatives understand this. And the Bible reveals it as well.
5. The Bible is clear that human society will not save itself
For now, we’ll forgo an in-depth look at Herbert Spencer (and many others) and the modern concept of progressivism. Suffice it to say that conservatives understand that human beings acting collectively will never usher in a Utopia. Human civilization has progressed about as much as it ever will by human means (and in many places it is now in decline).
By rejecting the idea that collectivism (especially socialism) has the potential to establish a new order that eliminates crime, poverty, war and a host of other ills, political conservatism once again finds a friend in the Bible. Some non-premillennialists may lean toward the view that Christians will slowly bring about a better world until, eventually, Christ returns to receive the Kingdom. But a better reading of Scripture is one that focuses on the narrative of human failure. In the end, Christ Himself cleans up the successive, messy failures of human beings to achieve a perfect society—and He shows us all what a perfect society looks like.
Conservatives are sinners like everyone else. And they often fail to consistently discern the implications of their own principles. Worse, many leaders are classed as “conservative” simply because they hold to a few of the same conclusions (regardless of how profoundly non-conservative their thought processes may be). But conservatism itself, rightly understood, is far more compatible with biblical thinking than any of the alternatives.
Aaron Blumer, SI’s site publisher, is a native of lower Michigan and a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia and worked in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software development.