EspañolThe first ever Christians for Liberty (CFL) Conference took place on Saturday, and it brought together over 100 varied individuals: men and women, young and old, united in their Christian faith and libertarian political philosophy. LibertarianChristians.com (LCC), sponsored in part by Students for Liberty, hosted the event at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.
According to Norman Horn, lead organizer and founder of LCC, people came from all over the country, along with at least one visitor from abroad: “For a year-one conference, this is pretty good, especially running on a shoestring budget and basically counting on word of mouth and the ability of just a single website to spread its ideas. This is how we did it.”
The conference hosted a wide range of speakers who reflected the diversity that exists across the libertarian spectrum. That included Michael Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center; David Theroux, founder and president of the Independent Institute; Jay Hall, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP); Texas State Representative David Simpson (R-Longview); and Alexander McCobin of Students for Liberty, among others.
What Are Libertarian Christians?
Many see libertarian political philosophy as a rejection of all forms of authority over the individual. LCC, both through its website and its first live gathering of like-minded people, has sought to demonstrate how the ideas of liberty and the Christian faith go hand in hand.
According to a statement on the group’s website, “Christian libertarians believe that libertarianism is the only political philosophy that is truly consistent, that makes any rational or moral sense at all, and that agrees with what we understand in the Bible and Christian history.”
Speaking with the PanAm Post, Norman Horn elaborated that the group’s fundamental message is that “statism is against the Kingdom of God, and is not in the natural order of things as God has planned.” On the question of whether libertarianism and Christianity are truly compatible, Horn added, “It’s been Christians for hundreds of years who have been some of the staunchest proponents of individual liberty and the restriction of governmental power.”
A large part of what the CFL conference attempted to accomplish, he explained, was to show libertarians that “Christianity can be, is, and has always been a great supporter of individual liberty and an opponent of state power.”
The Religion of Statism
Among the presenters, Jason Rink of the Foundation for a Free Society hosted a provocative talk titled “American Idol: How the State Attempts to Replace God.” Rink is a self-described born-again Christian who became interested in libertarianism following Ron Paul’s campaign for president in 2007. He said that while in his spiritual life he remains a disciple of Jesus, politically he has become a “disciple of Paul.”
“One of the issues that we have when trying to enter this discussion is understanding that many people are unaware of the kind of allegiance and the way that they look to the state as a replacement for God … [Government] seeks to embody and replace some of the characteristics of God and take them on for themselves,” Rink explained.
Rink specified that the state has taken on the role of provider and healer, through its many welfare and health-care programs. As such, most of the public view it as “omnipotent, omnipresent, good, just, and holy.”
“No matter how absurd laws may be, they are to be obeyed at all costs,” Rink decried. Too many people mistakenly view the state as “eternal,” and the notion that the state “has always existed and will always exist [makes] the idea that we can move towards a voluntary or stateless society inconceivable.… It’s as if they believe that John 1:1 says, ‘In the beginning was the State, and the State was with God, and the State was God.'”
Rink also made the case that in the United States, in particular, the government has taken on “all the trappings” of a modern, organized religion. He pointed to the sacred symbols and texts that have taken the form of flags and constitutions, former presidents looked upon as saints, congressional buildings as temples, government schools as “churches,” and the pledge of allegiance as a common prayer.
Jackson Trigg, who traveled from Albuquerque, New Mexico, agreed with Rink’s assessment. He believes the church itself is partly to blame for this phenomenon, as it feeds into the “religion of statism.” As a Canadian originally, he was disturbed to find how much the Christian church in the United States is wrapped up in nationalism.
“If you go to church on a Fourth of July service,” he said, “you know they’re going to talk about America and try and tie it back to God somehow.”
Trigg recounted the times he visited Christian youth camps and was troubled by the requirement to raise the US flag every morning and pledge allegiance. “What does America have to do with Christianity?” he questioned.
The event’s organizer, Norman Horn, who holds both a PhD in Chemical Engineering and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, said that the question Christians should be asking themselves is, “What does God have to say about power? What does God have to say about violence and the use of force against other people?”
He went on to say, “Everyone is judged by the same moral standard. If that is the case, then why do we give the state a free pass to do violent actions, those things that we say explicitly we are not permitted to do?”
Mixing Politics and Faith
As for the challenges in reconciling one’s political, social, and spiritual life, Trigg said this has been a journey several years in the making. “[For] the last two years of my life, I’ve been trying to look at all the different places where on the face it looks like your perspectives in life clash, but then realizing that they are and can be harmonized in your mind.” He added that he has learned that his libertarian political views and his Christian faith not only work together but also “in a sense, flow from each other.”
Trigg mentioned that while the cognitive dissonance between the political and the spiritual has met harmony in his own mind, the social component involved has itself been a challenge to overcome. “To the Christians, you’re this outsider, and to libertarians, you’re this religious geek… but you have something to give to both.”
Horn relayed similar thoughts when he discussed the intermingling of these two seemingly disparate, yet connected worlds: “I do feel, in many respects, that Christian libertarians are certainly an underrepresented voice, and I think in many cases they’re just too nervous to speak out … I felt that if I were to ‘out myself’ as a libertarian, that could come with social repercussions.”
Horn also recounted the time when he told his traditionally conservative parents that he was moving away from their conventional view of faith and politics: “You trained me to be this way.… I am taking the values that you have taught me … to their logical conclusion.”
As to the question of which philosophy may be leading the other for Christian libertarians, Horn firmly states, “We are Christians first.”
“To the Christian who accepts that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace and that he gave us a new and better way of life to follow, then where does violence and force fit into that? We begin to see that these things are incompatible with our beliefs.… This understanding of the use of force in society leads us to [libertarianism],” Horn continued.
The founder of LibertarianChristians.com concluded that he does not think it is proper to suggest “Jesus was a libertarian” or “God was a libertarian.” He does, however, believe it is proper to say “libertarianism is the most consistent expression of Christian political thought that we have.”
The Future for CFL
Regarding LCC and the potential for a second annual Christians for Liberty Conference, Horn remains hopeful that their numbers will grow. He says it is their intention to develop more of an organization over the course of the next few years and further connect with people from across the United States. “Our goal is to work within our [established] churches… [and] give a more consistent expression of what they already believe in the political realm.”
“We know there are a lot of Christian libertarians out there,” Horn said. “If we have some structures that allow us to network more easily through the internet, through social media, we will be able to have a greater multiplicative impact upon our communities and upon our churches.”