I just returned from England, where I enjoyed a time of holiday, teaching, and fellowship with friends from around the world. India, Malaysia, Canada, England, Romania, Albania, Sweden, Germany, Austria – leaders from the various Torchbearer Bible Schools gather every four years for fellowship, worship, planning.
If government regulations are a form of impingement on freedom, I was reminded this week that America, in this regard, is arguably the freest place on the planet. Regulations about government curricula control vary from country to country. One school that has an outdoor program, is in a country where you’re not free to sue the school if an injury occurs as a result of the program. That country will pay your medical bills and hold the the school accountable for reparations after a government investigation. In many countries you are not free to to NOT have medical insurance. In many countries you’re not free to own an assault rifle, and in some you can’t even own a handgun.
As I celebrate freedom today, I’m grateful that we don’t live in totalitarian dictatorship. I’m grateful for the privilege of living in a land filled with brave, generous, optimistic people. I’m grateful for the remarkable freedoms we have to both praise and critique our government. Most of all, I’m grateful for the profound ideals of our constitution, and the notion that all people should a shot at building a life of their own choosing.
The gathering of nations though, reminds me of several things are important to note this holiday weekend:
1. There’s a lot of space between libertarianism and totalitarianism. Ask my friends in Sweden how they like their socialist system, and they’ll shrug and say, “pluses and minuses”. They’re from America, now living in Sweden. They’re Christians. They love America. But they haven’t married their faith to libertarianism. I find the same thing in every country. I have lots of friends in the United States who lean towards libertarianism, and I get it. Many of us could surely argue that libertarianism has merits, and weighing it against other forms of democracy is a great discussion. There’s no need, though, to tie that discussion to faith, as if the constitution of the United States and following Jesus are somehow tied together. After all, if it’s God’s plan for a nation where God’s ways are taken seriously, you want a theocracy with an autocrat on the throne – like Old Testament Israel – or present day Iran. I love living in a country where we can have these debates without fear – and that’s the freedom that matters most to me; not whether I can own an assault rifle, or grenade launcher, or whether I may or may not have the freedom to pay into a health care system. They’re good debates – just not faith debates.
2. The far left and right look too much alike. On the right, total freedom, of course, means that companies are granted the freedom to trash the environment, placing toxic disposal sites in the midst of impoverished people who don’t have a voice. Real libertarians even go so far as to advocate for unrestricted abortion access. Companies are also free to offer no benefits and no living wage. All this, of course, leads to forms of oppression – lessening certain people’s chances for living safe and healthy lives.
But the far left takes us to the very same place. Not believing that people are able to care for themselves, the government presumes to care for them. In such an environment, many people lose the freedom to use their own private land in economically viable ways. Hospitals and schools can lose the freedom run their institutions from a value based posture, having values imposed on them, instead, from big brother. Privacy and freedom of expression might (and is, thanks to both parties, and the internet) slowly evaporate, until all our thoughts are known by the government. This too is oppressive.
This is why I’m baffled by both the Christian left and right. Both, it seems, want to baptize their ideologies in Jesus. But Jesus has something to say about that.
3. We belong, in the end, to a different kingdom. This got Christians into trouble ‘back in the day’, when the refusal to say the simple phrase “Caesar is Lord” was viewed as treasonous. When Mormonism was removed from the list of cults in one ministry during the last election, it made me wonder of the religious right really cares about the main kingdom – the kingdom of God. I have the same critic of those on the Christian left, who push and push regarding the glory of their party’s view, while ignoring both our loss of freedoms, and the moral atrocity of abortion.
Who has the moral high ground? Who offers dignity to all, including the elderly, the immigrant, the social outcast? Who declares that his reign will bring an end to war and restore our broken environment? And most significant of all, who offers a freedom so radical that it transforms the very core of our being, so that we find ourselves moving from the enslavement of greed to the liberty of service, the tyranny of lust to the freedom of love and intimacy, the total demands of greed, to the joy of generosity? The One who said “My kingdom is not of this world” And, of course, he was right. The good news is that, regardless of what party is in power, or what nation I live in, these freedoms are mine.