Why Limited Government Is Integral to Biblical Flourishing

"[E]conomic freedom requires limited government, and limited government is supported by a strong, biblical foundation." - IFWE

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm involved in enforcing public policy at the State level. I've gone from being a first responder to running an investigations unit with a State agency. I've dealt with "the system" for my entire adult life, both at the criminal and civil level. Most people don't realize it, but administrative law shapes far more of their lives than criminal law does. I have two concerns about the state of discussion about religious liberty among Christians:

  • Abstractions, not reality

What I see missing from a lot of these discussions, and this article, is that Christians like to talk in abstractions about religious liberty. They are reluctant to speak in specifics, to translate this passion into public policy in a contemporary context. In other words, when you try to pivot from academic abstractions to practical reality, there is little substance. I am well aware there are likely many Christians who can speak intelligently about how to implement Christian principles in public policy in a realistic, practical way, but I haven't found them, yet. 

  • Demonizing "the system"

There is a rush to demonize the courts and the civil servants who make up "the system." This happens for a whole host of reasons; (1) social media operates on soundbites and memes, not constructive thought, (2) people are generally unfamiliar with how "the system" works and the exhaustive due process a person is entitled to, and (3) political polarization encourages people to think the worst about others and their motives.

I began a short series here on SI about the Arlene's Flowers court case, which is headed back to the WA Supreme Court soon, for a second round. I encourage folks who are interested to watch the oral arguments before the WA Supreme Court from the last go-round. The florist's counsel goes first. Watch the questions the justices ask her. They're good questions. They're reasonable questions. They're the same questions you'd have. I think that some context to understand the system may go a long way to restore some faith in public service. These are not evil people, in the simplistic way conservative media likes to portray them. 

Each side has its fair chance to make a case. Consider the justice's questions about the practical aspect of public policy regarding religious freedom, and consider how you'd answer. Consider, beginning at about 35:00, the very, very tough questions they put to the WA Attorney General. 

This is where the rubber meets the road. This is why I find superficial articles like this one, from an academic, less than moving. All the theory in the world is useless unless you can convert it into policy in the real world. This is where Christians are falling short in their thinking. This is where the article falls short, too. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Bert Perry's picture

...was that the church seemed to do just fine with Chinese Communism, growing by about a factor of 100 since 1949.  I appreciate liberty and the benefits it brings, but spiritually speaking, there is something to be said for persecution.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

That and the 1st century. 16th Century government was a bit constricting as well.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Many of the heresies we still battle with today arose during the Roman persecution of the church. Many problems arise from leadership being concentrated in fewer and fewer men as persecution confines or kills those best trained and equipped to lead. It's easy to think persecution does all sorts of good when you ate not in the midst of it. 

But in any case, wrong doesn't become right just because God graciously brings a few good things out of it.

To Tyler's point, ideas have consequences. I am persuaded that much of the worst policy we have as a nation has arisen from reacting sentimentally to individual cases vs. enacting policies that make sense for whole societies over decades. Good policy has some weird outcomes occasionally at the margins. Bad policy creates good feelings about the latest special case but harms many quietly out of the spotlight...and is often wrong on principle.

To put it another way, you can have the right principles and apply them foolishly and harmfully, but if you have foolish and harmful principles, your chances of helpfully solving problems are far, far smaller.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

Keep in mind, though, that a lot of the good theology came out at the same time.  It was a mix.  In the same way, a great portion of the New Testament epistles were written from prison by men who would die in Roman custody, no?  

Plus, remember that the nasty heresies of the early period somehow all seemed to be recycled during one of the great times of peace for the church--the 19th Century, giving us Mor(m)onism, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unitarian takeover of academia, liberal theology, etc..

Or, put another way, post hoc, ergo propter hoc is a fallacy.  The hypothesis of trouble bringing about good things for the Church is rescued from that, however, because Jesus and the Prophets predicted it, and noted that discipline is paradoxically a sign of God's favor.  

And for that matter, since we mention leaders, I think the ugly fact of the matter is that church leaders do tend to start doing stupid things when they receive a steady diet of blessings.  Or, perhaps, that "steady diet of blessings" is actually God withdrawing His disciplining hand from them.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There are four prison epistles. Combined, they're about the size of Romans.

The post hoc fallacy is when one argues that because something came after something else it is it's result. It offers no evidence of causation other than sequence. The phenomenon of leadership shrinkage and doctrinal weakness during severe persecution doesn't rely on that kind of reasoning though. The reasoning is that when you have five leaders and two are executed for the faith, you then have only three, and the three now have to try to do what the five were previously doing. Add to the mix six other leaders who are jailed instead being executed, and you still have "available leadership minus six."

Of course, there would have been some bad leaders that were removed along with the good ones, but unless the church was already doing an extremely poor job of choosing leaders, these killed, exiled and jailed were mean of significant influence over the belief and practice of the church. Their absence could not fail to be felt in negative ways.

... and then you have the well attested problem of the Lapsi and the Donetist controversy.

My point is not that no good comes from persecution but that it's highly debatable whether the good outweighs the bad.

As for what the apostles predicted, they didn't say what was coming was better than the alternative. What they taught was that the fiery trial would prove the genuineness of faith. And we do have have the clear biblical principle as well that God uses suffering to shape our character. This doesn't make the suffering itself a good thing. It's a thing that is part of the brokenness of the world but that God graciously puts to some good use in our lives.

The "what we need today is persecution" rhetoric I hear from folks now and then is, at best, overly optimistic about the likely outcomes.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Andrew R.'s picture

. . . which virtually extinguished the church in North Africa and reduced it to a remnant in many other places. Nor (historically speaking) has that remnant been particularly pure theologically. I can only conclude that sometimes God in His providence makes the blood of the martyrs the seed of the church, but sometimes for His purposes He allows anti-Christian forces to prevail temporarily--perhaps as a prelude to what is prophesied in Rev. 13:7.

I'm not sure why the Muslim persecutions have been so much more effective than the pagan or Communist persecutions--perhaps because Islam mobilizes the entire structure of society? Perhaps that's also why persecution stopped the Reformation in its tracks in Spain and Italy, but not in England.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Good pt. While recognizing that cultural and political Christianity isn't the same thing as "the church," in that era the two mostly went together... So the defeat of Christendom by Islam in those territories nearly wiped out the church there as well as the "Christian" political structure.

As for the linked article, there isn't any "demonizing of the system" or caricaturing of the courts or anything like that in it. Agree with Tyler that overheated, over-personal and just generally underthought rhetoric from the right isn't helpful. But "abstractions" of the right sort are something we actually need alot more of in public discourse.

In general, principles--and coherence in a system of principles--have never been so undervalued in politics in my lifetime. 

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TylerR's picture

Editor

You wrote:

But "abstractions" of the right sort are something we actually need a lot more of in public discourse.

How so? This article offers nothing but rhetoric! There's a time and place for theory, but is anything in this article really revolutionary? That is; is there really a need to lay a foundation for this theory before we shift into practical implementation? 

My point is that I see her article as useless. It's an article that lives in the clouds and has no connection to practical life. I wish she had made some concrete proposals, rather than sticking with bland, sweeping statements. Her Scriptural citations are very bad, too. For the most part, they're individual sentences divorced from context and the intent of the author. 1 Peter 2:13-14 intends to present a view of limited government? Oh, my!

I don't believe many people really understand what they're asking when they demand "limited government." What, exactly, does that mean? What does the article mean? This is why I am less than moved by her pleas for limited government. 

She says we're "called to serve the poor." I'd be interested to see her Scriptural arguments for that one. I'm willing to bet they're lifted from passages that describe loving your neighbor in an OT, theocratic context, or the New Covenant equivalent. Of course, Christian love should be manifest in many, many ways. But, I'm willing to bet she's reaching for inappropriate texts to justify her view, here.

She writes:

A representative government is defined as an institution that possesses the use of force by the “consent” of the governed. It’s important to note, however, that many representative and constitutional governments, including the United States, act in ways that are not consented to and often violate their constitutional arrangements

How so? Please explain. Would she rather Congressmen and Senators come back to their constituents for a public referendum on every single they do? This is why we're a representative democracy. I have no idea what she's talking about. I also don't know why she seems to be unsatisfied with the one very simple recourse the public has - don't reelect your representative! This seems like so much "rah, rah!" rhetoric for the choir. 

She concludes:

A free market and a limited government that upholds the rule of law provides each individual with the liberty and stability to use his gifts to support himself, serve others, and promote a flourishing society.

Ok. I ask:

  1. How is that in danger, today? The author implies that it is ("[t]he United States dropped from the second most economically free country in the world to the eighteenth in the past ten to twenty years. We are currently ranked sixth"), but doesn't spell out what the danger is, why it happened, and what you can do about it. She says nothing of substance. This is a puff piece. 
  2. What kind of free market are you looking for, and why is the current American market in such danger so as to lead you to pen this warning? 
  3. What does "limited government" look like, and how does it differ from what we have or where we're going?
  4. Please explain what you mean by "uphold the rule of law." For example, the State of WA says you cannot discriminate in a public accommodation setting on the basis of sexual orientation. Should this law be upheld in a public accommodation context? If not, why not? If not, please spell out what classes of people ought to be protected in a public accommodation context, and provide justification as to why these classes ought to be protected and sexual orientation must not be. 
  5. Please describe a "flourishing society," and explain why our current society is not meeting this ideal. 

My point is that the author deals in abstractions. I am firmly convinced most Christians who are passionate about religious liberty and limited government can only deal in abstractions; they cannot translate this into public policy in a realistic way. Unless and until that happens, we're not getting anywhere in this discussion. And, I might add, the folks who make, interpret and enforce public policy at the local, state and federal level, will continue to laugh at this kind of naivete! 

I think her idea is sound. But, I don't think she knows how the real world works, at a policy level. If she does, then this article shows no evidence of it. She has a PhD in economics, but she sounds like an academic with little practical experience crafting and implementing public policy. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Joeb's picture

If one lived in NJ as I did in the past one can see the result of Corporate Operations.  NJ has 22% of all Super Fund sites.

 I remember in my good old Government days I was riding down to the shore to assist the United States Secret Service in guarding George Senior when he was running for President.  George was down at the Northern Central  NJ Shore to do a photo op for cleaning up the ocean due to spent syringes and needles washing up on the beach.  

On my way down I passed the Cyber Gigey manufacturing plant in Toms River NJ and their world famous 6 acre lake of very toxic goo. Very thrilling and beautiful.  At that time it was the most polluted site in the US.  

Now after the protection detail and on my way to my G Rod I ran into a young lady putting a flier on my G Rod.  I asked what it was about.  She  answered  that they were there to show the Hypocrisy of George Bush.  I asked why she would say that.  She answered that after George Bush was done with his photo op he was attending a Fund Raiser and cook out put on by Cyber Gigey’s Lead Corporate Attorney.  I think this young lady had a good point if you consider the below   

Just a little history for you  the people of Toms River’s children had a breakout of 50 incidents of a certain type of brain cancer in population where there should have been none.  Usually if a group of people all have the same cancer in a small area it is indicative of an environmental cause. So to say the least the people of Toms River NJ were non to happy with that toxic lake and it’s affect on the water table.  

Also for information purposes back in those days all of the public water in central and south NJ came from artesian wells.  Jim you used to drink well water when you were in NJ.  The well for Haddon Heights was over by the ball fields on the other side of the railroad tracks   Every one drew from an aquifer that covered almost the whole state of NJ   Even today 50% of the public water comes from artesian wells  

Needless to say small non government involvement in these issues like this was killing and crippling children.  So trusting the big corporations to do the right thing is quite foolish. So like Tyler I have a problem with Christians criticizing and demonizing local state and federal government employees and institutions. Above should give one restraint in wholesale destroying certain gov institutions.  Unlike Trump who said the asbestos problem is just a myth I have met people who died of asbestosis and It’s a terrible way to die. 

So how far does one go dissolving the EPA or other regulatory entities at the local state and federal level.  The anti gov Christians in this country take things for granted.  Even when one goes out to eat it’s the Health Inspectors that limit the incidents of rat poop in your food.  Yet Christians bad mouth government employees and demonize them.

 I had a Christian family member basically in so many words call me a Leach and being part of the swamp when I disagreed with him about certain issues regarding President Trump and Fox News.  This Man was self employed and his business to a certain extent was being damaged by technology and the internet.  Kind of like a Typewriter Repair Man.  So I believe his anger was being directed by Trump against the big bad Federal government when in reality the government had nothing to do with the decline of his business.  

I guess the moral to the story is balance  which may mean smaller gov in certain areas.  The reason the Federal Government got involved in at the local level in the first place with health and environmental issues was because the state and local governments were corrupt and being bribed by BUSINESS OWNERS TO OVERLOOK THE RULES.  

 

 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

You wrote:

But "abstractions" of the right sort are something we actually need a lot more of in public discourse.

How so? This article offers nothing but rhetoric! There's a time and place for theory, but is anything in this article really revolutionary? That is; is there really a need to lay a foundation for this theory before we shift into practical implementation? 

I really don't understand the reaction. All preaching teaching and writing is "nothing but rhetoric." And the article makes no claim to offering anything revolutionary. I don't know the author's work well, but given her point of view, revolutionary is probably the last thing she wants to be.

Isn't the Christian way to try to arrive at right beliefs, and actions that flow out of them? Right now, there are a huge number of evangelicals who fall into one of three categories: (a) do not know the difference between political philosophy and "politics" (the tactics of getting people and policies in place) and believe that "politics" has no relationship to the Christian faith; (b) believe that leftist ideas are more Christian than conservative ones; or (c) have no coherent political philosophy or theology of society and government.

To me, it's pretty clear that the social landscape is one of vast ignorance, with most of the allegedly "conservative" energy (and leftist energy as well) coming from fear and loathing, impulse, reactionism, and "us vs. them" tribalism. ... because there is no coherent belief system at either end, or in the moderate middle either. Without that belief system, positions and policies are contradictory, self defeating, and arbitrary. And they can't possibly be winsome and persuasive.

In short, where action isn't driven by principle, it will be driven by something inferior instead, and all the alternatives a really big step down.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I have little appreciation for the article because it doesn't deal with real life. I read it, and am left asking, "Great idea. Yay! What do you mean in concrete terms and what does this look like in real life?" She doesn't answer. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Needless to say small non government involvement in these issues like this was killing and crippling children.  So trusting the big corporations to do the right thing is quite foolish. So like Tyler I have a problem with Christians criticizing and demonizing local state and federal government employees and institutions. Above should give one restraint in wholesale destroying certain gov institutions.  Unlike Trump who said the asbestos problem is just a myth I have met people who died of asbestosis and It’s a terrible way to die. 

I'm definitely not of the school of thought that turning corporations loose is some kind of panacea. The philosophy of "limited" government can also be described as "focused" government, and part of the thinking is that when gov. stays focused on matters of justice and protection and restraining criminals, it's also most effective. So when corporations are poisoning water or whatever the scenario is, it's both biblically and historically (looking at how the best governments have operated) the government's job to fix that.

I also agree w/Tyler insofar as saying that Christians who are passionate about liberty and limited gov. are not doing a great job of implementing. But my understand of why this is the case is opposite of Tyler's view. I believe they are ineffective in implementation precisely because they do not have well developed principles/coherent political belief system. What they have are a few cliches and these don't translate into anything more than a lot of shouting and random reactionary Tweets... from POTUS on down.

What I think I want to do now is get ahold of one of Dr. Bradley's books (maybe she only has one: https://amzn.to/2DVuQq8) and she what sort of parts and whole she has in mind. It seems fair. What's clear is that she is very interested in worldview and looking at social problem in the context of a comprehensively Christian way of looking at the world. This is nothing at all like the shouting matches on Fox News, most of "conservative" talk radio, or the overheated tribalism that now dominates the GOP.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

josh p's picture

The unfortunate problem in this discussion is that it ends up being an argument of degrees, unless one is advocating an entirely different form of government (Common Law for example). That being said, I think most would agree that government programs like Obama care, SS, etc. make the government much larger. I say get rid of those for a start.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Josh, this is why I think we need to be realistic, or we're just wasting our time. Social Security and the ACA will never be repealed; let's be honest with each other. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

G. N. Barkman's picture

What form of government it "Common Law?"

G. N. Barkman

josh p's picture

Sorry about that. I meant “Private Law Society” as advocated by people like Hans Herman Hoppe.

josh p's picture

TylerR wrote:

Josh, this is why I think we need to be realistic, or we're just wasting our time. Social Security and the ACA will never be repealed; let's be honest with each other. 

You are probably right but I see value in talking about ideology as well as the practical. After all the former supports the latter. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Well, we aren't interested in the same things. I personally find the implementation stuff kind of tedious and boring... but there is certainly plenty of it out there. National Review, Weekly Standard, Washington Examiner and others have articles on specific policies, rules, and court cases every day. The Heritage Foundation does studies all the time on ways to implement their principles.

A few that may be of interest...

Pension Reform: https://www.heritage.org/budget-and-spending/report/congresss-multiemplo...

Healthcare Policy: https://www.heritage.org/health-care-reform/commentary/the-path-forward-...

Some very specific education reform ideas: Micro-Schools Offer Kids a Customized, Hands-On Education https://www.heritage.org/education/commentary/micro-schools-offer-kids-c...

Disability Benefits: How a Bold New Disability Insurance Proposal Would Benefit Individuals With Disabilities and Taxpayers https://www.heritage.org/welfare/commentary/how-bold-new-disability-insu...

A kind of hot policy question right now is criminal justice system reform, First Step Act in particular. This is only a "statement," but again there are plenty of articles about it: https://www.heritage.org/press/heritage-foundation-presidents-statement-...

I could do this for hours...

When I agreed earlier that I also thought many conservatives were not doing a good job of implementation, I was talking mostly about the problem of contradictory and reactionary "policy" efforts that don't have much principle or research behind them... and the consequent inability to gain the sort of widespread support needed to get much done in a democratic government. But there are actually lots of conservatives working on all sorts of policy implementation all over the place... and thankfully, they are not all just going with their gut. We just need a whole lot more of the thoughtful kind.

She writes:

A representative government is defined as an institution that possesses the use of force by the “consent” of the governed. It’s important to note, however, that many representative and constitutional governments, including the United States, act in ways that are not consented to and often violate their constitutional arrangements

How so? Please explain. Would she rather Congressmen and Senators come back to their constituents for a public referendum on every single they do? This is why we're a representative democracy. I have no idea what she's talking about. I also don't know why she seems to be unsatisfied with the one very simple recourse the public has - don't reelect your representative! This seems like so much "rah, rah!" rhetoric for the choir. 

When you write a short essay you have make some assumptions about what your readers already know.... otherwise, your essay has to be a textbook instead. There is a pretty long history of thought on the ideas of social contract, natural law, and so forth.

I think I misunderstood what you meant in that section initially, but it's probably enough to say that the writer is assuming that her readers are aware of examples of failures of our government to limit itself to the consent of governed and its own constitution, but that they are not as aware of how biblical principles tie in to aspects of these problems. So that's the part she aims in this piece to address.

I don't know where it's in writing, but given the author's credentials, it's likely that there are thousands of pages from her hand in various places on specific policies and implementations.

From the Amazon page bio... 

Dr. Anne Rathbone Bradley is the vice president of economic initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE), where she develops and commissions research toward a systematic biblical theology of economic freedom. She is a visiting professor at Georgetown University, and she also teaches at The Institute for World Politics and George Mason University. Additionally, she is a visiting scholar at the Bernard Center for Women, Politics, and Public Policy. Previously, she has taught at Charles University, Prague, and she has served as the Associate Director for the Program in Economics, Politics, and the Law at the James M. Buchanan Center at George Mason University.

She is an editor of and contributing author to IFWE’s, For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty. In her chapter, Dr. Rathbone Bradley examines income inequality from both an economic and biblical perspective and provides guidance to Christians on how to respond, particularly through our vocations.

Dr. Rathbone Bradley’s other academic work has focused on the political economy of terrorism with specific emphasis on the industrial organization of al-Qaeda. Her research has been published in scholarly journals and edited volumes. Based on her academic research she also worked as an economic analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency’s Office of Terrorism Analysis.

Dr. Rathbone Bradley received her Ph.D. in Economics from George Mason University in 2006, during which time she was a James M. Buchanan Scholar.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.