Protecting the liberties of citizens necessarily entails protecting the liberties of people with little to no social influence or power. A civilization protects them so that the liberties of the least among us can be secured. If we become soft on or unequal in the protection of liberties, those who lose theirs first will be those who do not have the money or influence to protect them. As a result, only the powerful and wealthy among us will have rights and liberties.
Take, for example, the enforcement of property rights. Property rights protect those with less money and power from those with more. Imagine a situation where there are no private property rights, or they are unevenly enforced. If a young couple buys their first townhome and a neighbor with more money, or who knows the right people, wants their townhome, all they need to do is bribe the right officials and throw the couple out. No recourse, no day in court, no police report. But if property rights are evenly enforced, then the young couple with very little money can own property in exactly the same way as the multi-millionaire across town.
In fact, I think one of the moral requirements of a society is protecting the rights and liberties of those who have the least amount of social capital. If rights and liberties are unevenly distributed, only the wealthy and powerful will have them.
If this is true, why are so many people so ready to strip most people of their liberties right now? And, as a particular concern of mine, why are so many Christians so ready to do the same? The tension that drives much of our public discourse right now is the debate over mask and vaccine mandates. Some people have decided that the only way to curb the pandemic is for more people to be forced to wear masks and get vaccinated.
But a funny thing happens when people demand large-scale solutions like this – they are unevenly enforced. Forcing people to wear masks or get vaccinated ends up coercing people who have no other options and does not apply to those who have the means to make other choices. For example, do you need to attend public school, do not have the money for private schools, and your local public school mandates masks or vaccines? You are out of luck. But the politician who supports mandates sends their children to private schools where the same mandates do not apply.
We have two very public examples of unevenly distributed liberties at hand. In one, President Obama threw a 60th birthday party at which nobody wore masks. Good for them! But how many examples do we have of petty mayors and governors breaking up children’s birthday parties and fining parents because not enough people were masked? Or churches who were fined because not enough people were masked? Power becomes the only access to liberty if liberty does not check power.
And now we have learned from the White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, that the White House staff is not required to get vaccinated. Yet, the US military just mandated them. How many college students are getting vaccinated simply to go back on campus and finish their degree? How many hospital systems are demanding their employees get vaccinated or get fired?
Christians have fought for the poor and marginalized for 2000 years and should be at the front lines of defending equally distributed liberties. More than that, Christians have been at the vanguard of public reason and public reasoning, creating the foundation for our modern understanding of equally distributed liberties. But, plenty of Christians are arguing for restrictions on these liberties.
I recently tweeted:
The response came back:
The responder is someone I knew in graduate school and did me a real kindness there. He presents a vision of some liberties that should be limited on behalf of the “right to life”. Many others are not as circumspect in their treatment of the issue, however. Skye Jethani, whose work I have benefited from in the past, has chosen broad generalizations and mockery.
My thoughts in response, are basically twofold. As presented above, to restrict liberties and force a medical treatment on people is to force it only on those who lack the social power to evade them. It is a classic case of the powerful preying on the weak. In an extreme, but real example, Mayor DeBlasio of New York City has mandated vaccines for literally every building in the city. Given who is not vaccinated in his city, he has done inordinate harm to minority populations. This is, given the definition of the political left, a text-book case of systemic racism.
My second response will need to be shorter than it deserves –the medical and scientific case against making most people get the current vaccines is growing and compelling. Even if you are not aware of them, there are scientific cases against vaccine mandates for COVID. Therefore, we cannot assume that vaccines (or masks) are the “pro-life” choice. In fact, if some of the data continue to play out as they are right now, the anti-vax position (in this case given these vaccines) may be a better contender for the pro-life position.
There are harmful, and in some cases, life-altering side-effects. The CDC even lists severe problems among young people who receive the vax. The vaccines seem to have worse side effects if you have recovered from COVID in the past. And the data is growing that the Delta variant is resistant to the vaccines. Given the way the vaccinations work, and how powerful the natural immune system is, combined with the immunity gained from previous infection, few people really need to consider the vaccine. The fact that most people are not aware of this position is telling, but that is another matter altogether. The point is that medically speaking, most people do not even need the vaccine.
So, why the push for a universal mandate? I do not think there are any good answers to that question.
What I’m Reading
Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices, by Thomas Brooks
A pastoral work by the Puritan, Thomas Brooks, Precious Remedies is written to a congregation with the hope that it will help them learn how the enemy tempts us to sin or tempts us against God’s way of life and repentance. Brooks wrote in his Introduction that he wrote this so his flock would stay faithful long after he is gone. So far, his prayer has been met.
The whole text is a list of the devices of the enemy that separate us from Christ and ways to counter act each of those lies. It is a phenomenal work that gives us both practical and theological insight, and it of immense value to the follower of Jesus today.
“I don’t need your approval.”
John 5:41-42, 44 NLT “Your approval means nothing to me, because I know you don’t have God’s love within you...No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.”
In John chapter 5 we learn that the Jewish leaders have decided to try and kill Jesus (vs. 18). He has gone from an unapproved Rabbi to a threat, and he needs to be done away with. In the context of that decision, John records a teaching in which Jesus speaks of his relationship with the Father, his role as Judge, and the many ways God has born witness to the truth of Jesus the Messiah.
Speaking to the Jewish leaders, Jesus says they have multiple witnesses they should understand. But they did not, and now that the Truth stands before them, they reject him. And one reason they reject him is that they have been busy seeking the glory of other people instead of the glory, or honor, that comes from God. In other words, they have sought the approval of other people instead of seeking to live a life for the approval of God.
Make sure you see this point: Jesus rejects them because they have sought the approval of other people over the approval of God.
What a distressing truth, but what a common reality. The church in the West faces another significant schism, but this time it is not about Papal authority, Pentecost, or the nuances of ecclesiology. It is about pleasing a world that eventually seeks the demise of the church, or pleasing God who seeks her glorification. How many pastors and churches have changed the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture on things like human sexuality, the sanctity of life, racism, and the uniqueness of Christ, to falsehoods that make the outside world happy? Too many to count.
It will take courage but accommodating the vision of the world and the enemy is always the Devil’s Deal. Empty church buildings are often the evidence of making exactly that deal. Jesus is greater than the world and our enemy, even if we have trials in this world.
Seek the approval of the God who created you, loves you, and secured your salvation. Do not seek the honor of a worldly system that seeks to end you.