In a post that is up today at The Huffington Post’s religion site, David Gushee argues that the Tea Party movement, and the libertarianism that informs it, “stands in sharp contrast with the most recognizable Christian traditions of social thought.“
Here is the crux of his argument:
I said in a recent interview that libertarianism is not an intrinsically Christian worldview and that Christian embrace of it makes for an uneasy marriage. My friendly Christian “tea party” correspondents beg to differ, but any review of the great traditions of Christian social and political thought bears out my claim.
The options are so rich. We could begin with the social thought of the pre-liberal “Christendom” era, in which the state was generally understood to be partner to the church in advancing a Christian social order that included care of both bodies and souls. Or if you don’t like Christendom, we could look at the way Protestant social ethics responded to the urban squalor and workplace sufferings of Gilded Age capitalism with insistent demands not just for the factory-owners to soften their hearts but also for the government to pass laws to limit their depredations.
If you don’t like Protestant “Social Christianity,” there is the very rich Catholic social teaching tradition, which began with Pope Leo XIII’s analysis of these same problems in 1891 and has continued unabated to this day. Catholic social teaching has constantly called for a more organic understanding of society and a vision of the well-being of the national (and international) community as a whole rather than merely its atomized individuals. The Catechism today teaches that the proper role of the state is to “defend and promote the common good of civil society.”
Or if you don’t like the Catholic social teaching, there is a great deal of historic and contemporary evangelical social engagement that calls for the state to join with others, each in their proper role, to advance public justice and the common good. Evangelicals were involved in most of the great social reform efforts of the 19th and 20th centuries, most of which called for government intervention — whether in restricting workplace racial segregation or the market’s role in providing abortions.
These kinds of Christian traditions certainly understand that individuals matter, but that if so, it is especially those individuals whose needs go unmet and whose rights are routinely violated that matter most. These traditions also affirm that humans are social beings, and therefore the well-being of the communities we have created also matters. They understand that we were made by our Creator not just to claim rights for ourselves but to serve one another, and that a society governed by raw libertarian individualism cannot be the best we can do. Today’s libertarian resurgence is at best an uneasy fit with Christian principles. I will never back down from that claim.
While I may be a bit more open to having my mind changed, I find myself leaning toward Gushee on this issue. I have not yet found a compelling “Christian” argument for Tea Party libertarianism. See my posts on the issue here and here and here.