Liberty in a nation is of utmost importance because it allows people to have freedom to choose to obey or disobey God and to serve Him or not serve Him, according to their best judgment. The Bible consistently places a high value on individual human freedom and responsibility to choose one’s actions. God gave people the freedom of choice starting in the Garden of Eden. [Gen. 2:16-17]. Such freedom to choose is one of the highest manifestations of excellence in the human beings that God created, and is one of the ways in which mankind is more like God than any of the animals or plants that God has made.
Several arguments from the Bible support the idea that governments should protect human liberty. The first consideration is the fact that slavery and oppression are always viewed negatively in Scripture, while freedom is viewed positively. When God gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel He began by reminding them that He had brought them “out of the house of slavery”. [Exod. 20:2]. When the people of Israel turned against the Lord, He gave them into the hand of oppressors who enslaved them and took away their freedom. [Deut. 28:28-29, 33; Judg. 2:16-23]. Loss of freedom was a judgment, not a blessing. One blessing promised by the Messianic prophecy in Isaiah 61 is that a deliverer would come who would free the people from such oppression, for he would come “to proclaim liberty to the captives”. [Isa. 61:1]. Individual liberty was also prized, for although people in Israel would sometimes sell themselves into slavery as a solution to severe poverty, the Jubilee year would come once every fifty years to set free those who had been enslaved. [Lev. 25:10]. Throughout the Bible, from the beginning of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, God honors and protects human freedom and human choice. [Deut. 30:19; Josh. 24:15; Matt. 11:28; Rev. 22:17 as examples]. Liberty is an essential component of our humanity. Any government that significantly denies people’s liberty exerts a terribly dehumanizing influence on its people.
So why is it so important that God’s churches get involved in an advisory capacity helping congregants sort out the many issues that will define the government that they and the church must live under? Even back in 1788 James Madison could see a need for well educated voters in ‘manning’ the government. In the “Federalists Papers” he states “…liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power…” He spoke of such a ‘revolution’ that could impact the liberties we have come to know and are supposedly protected by the Constitution. He went on further to say, “Before such a revolution can be effected, the Senate, must in the first place corrupt itself; must next corrupt the State legislatures; must then corrupt the House of Representatives; and must finally corrupt the people at large. It is evident that the Senate must be first corrupted before it can attempt the establishment of tyranny. Without corrupting the State legislatures, it cannot prosecute the attempt, because the periodic change of members would otherwise regenerate the whole body. Without exerting the means of corruption with equal success on the House of Representatives, the opposition of that co-equal branch of government would inevitably defeat the attempt; and without corrupting the people themselves, a succession of new representatives would speedily restore all things to their pristine order.” Over 200 years ago Madison could visualize what we can see happening in today’s halls of government. The importance of our government in maintaining our freedoms certainly could and should be discussed from the pulpits of God’s churches. It was at the beginning of our nation and nothing has changed.
God is pleased when governments protect basic human liberties, allowing people much freedom to decide how to use their time and their resources. What human freedoms should be protected by civil government? The basic freedoms protected in the US Constitution are freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition the government. Other freedoms mentioned in the Bill of Rights include the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom from self-incrimination, and a guarantee not to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Later amendments guaranteed freedom from slavery and involuntary servitude. This requirement to protect human liberty implies that citizens and governments should agree to restrictions on human freedom only reluctantly and only where there is significant need to do so. These are the kind of governments God endorses in Romans 13.
Governments too often attempt to restrict human liberty in ways that are much more extensive and intrusive and prohibit not only doing things that are clearly evil, but also doing things that are morally neutral or good but not favored by the government. The government will at times put its ‘seal of approval’ on actions that clearly are evil by God’s standards. Every incremental increase in governmental regulation of life is also an incremental removal of some form of human liberty. When small losses of liberty occur again and again over a period of years, people can become essentially slaves to a government without ever realizing what is happening. Controls over the kind of bags our groceries can be put in, playground equipment (many of the types we grew up with are now not allowed), long lines for security checks at the airports…many of which have proven to be ineffective, control of light bulbs, and government control of tax dollar spending…many expenditures of which are not authorized by the Constitution. These all represent a slow loss of liberty. [Philip Howard, The Death of Common Sense, New York: Random House, 1994]. I believe that it is important that citizens are made aware of these erosions of freedom. In many countries citizens have become like medieval serfs, bound not to a feudal lord but to the national government, living much of their life in servitude. Loss of liberty is a loss of life.[F.A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994]. Since it was politics that made them possible, you can bet that the government and its supported organizations…departments, schools…are not going to announce them. Today the best source of information as to what is going on around us is our churches and their comparing our loss of liberties with what the Bible has to say on the subject. I believe that a “Government Committee” in each church would be of benefit to the congregation and be the voice of the church in responding to government dictates that violate God’s Word. Today in many cases that voice is silent. As in the past, the church can play an important part in the politics of this nation.
Next week we will look at people placing too much hope in government and the fundamental changes in the human heart that is necessary for a transformed society…transformation back to the original founding principles.
– Bob Munsey