The Kuyperian Commentary

Politics, Economics, Culture, and Theology with a Biblical Viewpoint

Inconsistent Conservatism

by Adam McIntosh

As the presidential election approaches us, evangelical Christians are rallying behind the Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, as the conservative alternative to President Obama. Frequently, I’m told that Romney is better than Obama because he is against redistribution of wealth. Romney has recently criticized Obama for his redistributive policies and when conservatives call Obama a socialist, redistribution of wealth is generally what they have in mind. The two obvious assumptions at play here are 1) that redistribution of wealth is immoral and 2) that conservatives are staunchly opposed to it. But are these assumptions correct? The answer is yes and no, in that order.

Redistribution of wealth is a form of taxation whereby John Smith’s money is taken from him and then given to Jane Doe for a service that the government provides. He must pay the tax even if he never uses the service provided. Mr. Smith is forced to give his money while receiving nothing in return, violating the basics of economic trade. Put simply, this is theft. The principle of private property is clear throughout Scripture. The eighth commandment itself, “thou shall not steal,” presupposes private ownership. If there is no private ownership, there can be no such thing as theft. Redistributive taxation takes your property by threat of force and gives it to someone else, all in the name of charity. (Ironic, isn’t it? Charity is by definition a voluntary act. To force charity is to deny it.) Redistributing wealth is immoral, regardless of what service the government is providing. Christian conservatives – myself included – are correct in condemning the Obama administration and all groups that seek to preserve or extend redistributive taxation.

But as it turns out, Christian conservatives support redistribution of wealth just as much as anyone else. An overwhelming amount of evangelicals all over the country are perfectly fine with disability and unemployment benefits, Medicare, Social Security, public schools, foreign aid, and more. In many cases it is “conservative” Republican politicians who help enact these programs in the first place. And guess who was bragging about how much he wanted to improve Medicare, Social Security and public education during the first 2012 presidential debate? Surprise, surprise! It was Mitt Romney.

These programs are redistributive in the exact same way that government-run healthcare is. John Smith is forced to fund them with his tax dollars even if he refuses to use them. For example, if he never goes to public school, if he never sends his kids to public school, and if he never teaches in public school, he is still forced to pay for other people to attend and teach in public schools. This wouldn’t be a problem if each citizen was given a choice to fund these programs or not. Each citizen could choose which programs they want to use and fund them appropriately. No one would be forced to pay for something they do not want. But this scenario is pure fiction. If the government could not force redistribution of wealth it would be no different than a private agency, thereby defeating the entire purpose of these programs.

Conservatives condemn redistribution of wealth on one hand, but support and defend it on the other. We oppose it rightly when it is advocated by liberals, but turn a blind eye to it when it’s something we want to take advantage of. The inconsistency must stop. An inconsistent person has no credibility. The Republican Party – my party – will continue down the path of irrelevance as long as we refuse to acknowledge the planks in our own eyes. If we want to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and uphold his standards of private property, it must be applied across the board.

This article is not a condemnation of those who are dependent upon redistributive programs. People do the best they can with what is available to them. Many people in this country need charity where the Church has been absent. Ultimately, this is why socialistic policies are becoming the norm in America. When the Church becomes dormant in her duties, counterfeits always arise. Instead of pointing fingers, we should seek first the kingdom of God in our daily lives. We should be encouraging local churches to implement a presence of charity in their communities; to provide affordable schooling to low-income families; to help congregants find employment and assist in managing their finances if need be. We should work towards “opting out” of redistributive programs. Our purpose is to proclaim the lordship of Christ over every area of the political map and to live our lives in terms of that proclamation. Only then can we begin to end the welfare state. It starts with us – and our hypocrisy isn’t helping.

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5 thoughts on “Inconsistent Conservatism

  1. 1 Corinthians 11:23-34 is a good place for Christians to start in understanding the solution to this problem. Methinks that the majority of evangelical supporters of Romney (and the republican party in general) are not part of churches that practice weekly communion, much less understand the vast implications this has for the world.

    • agmcintosh on said:

      Amen, Brian! All of the charity or good works that the Church initiates will originate from being centered around the Word heard and the Word eaten.

  2. You make a good point about the responsibility of the Church to help the needy. I do not believe, however, that the state of poverty in the world can be blamed on a lack of Christian charity.

    I have been unemployed now for 18 months, where before in my working life I had never been unemployed for more than a few weeks. This is certainly not a result of the failure of the Church. This is the result of the failure of our government’s economic policies. And as more people become unemployed or take a pay cut or reduction of working hours, the ability of people to be charitable is reduced. I have been dependent on the local food bank for quite some time now, and as the economy has worsened, I have seen an acceleration of dwindling of contributions. I am pretty sure that many of the people who give to the food bank are stretched to the limits in their own budgets.

    My basic point is that increase in government redistribution/theft is not a result of the lack of charitable notions in people, it is that the ability of people to be charitable is reduced by the government theft and other economic policies. A far higher percentage of Americans go hungry today than did back in the 1920’s. What is different is not a reduction in people’s goodness and charitability, but rather that the basic soundness of the structure of the economy has been destroyed.

    • agmcintosh on said:

      mwstroberg, I certainly agree that fault lies on both sides. The tax burdens caused by redistributive programs and the regulations placed on private business do create financial stress that can hinder charitable giving. However, we cannot ignore our own failures. It’s easy to become complacent with government oppression and to shift our responsibilities onto them. We then prolong the problem by going along with the status-quo. If we want to see true progress in the political world, we have to get our own house in order first. The Church should lead the world by example, that’s our starting point.

  3. The government has slowly been usurping all of the church’s responsibilities because some tried to impose their values by way of government force, and once that happens, it’s a slippery slope.

    Asking for government (politicians!) to be moral leaders using force (the drug war; cigarrette taxes; light bulbs; marriage licenses) and to distribute “charity” only sounds like a good idea if you don’t think about how they’re going to do it (like making sausages). Moral and charitable activities need to be returned to the private sector where, I’m sure, we can probably get a better job done for 10% than the government does for 50%.

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