Ask a Christian Libertarian...(Response)

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

At the beginning of the year, when I asked what sort of people you would like to talk to via our interview series, one of the most popular suggestions was to interview Christians who identified with various political parties. 

Well, today I’m pleased to launch a series of political interviews with Caryn Rivadeneira, a Christian libertarian. You asked some tough, heartfelt questions last week, and Caryn has risen to the challenge. 

Caryn has been a Libertarian for more than ten years, and recently wrote an article for Relevant entitled “The Rise of Christian Libertarians” in which she noted that “the surprising surge of support Ron Paul enjoys from young Americans—and young Christians—suggests that perhaps the Libertarian-leaning aren’t so far off in right field after all.” Caryn is a writer, speaker, and co-founder of Redbud Writers Guild. She’s the author of Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Life When It Lets You Down (Tyndale House, 2011) and Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All that Mom (Waterbrook, 2009), as well as hundreds of blog posts and magazine articles. Caryn lives outside of Chicago with her husband, three kids and one pit bull. 

Now on to your questions....

From Brittany: There's a tendency among critics of libertarianism (myself included) to flatten libertarianism into Ayn Randian pro-selfishness conspiracy theory types. Given your knowledge of and experiences with Christian libertarianism, could you give us an idea of what types or categories of libertarians are out there? Are Christian libertarians significantly different in any way from other libertarians, and if so, how?

I think most of us tend to flatten (great image, by the way!) most –isms into stereotypes, don’t we? In many ways, this is why I hate identifying myself as any label. My whole first book was my rejection of the labels that accompany Christian moms. It’s way easier to just lump each other into categories and leave it at that than to get to know one another. 

All this to say, I love this question—and appreciate your honesty.

I’d say there are as many “types” of Libertarians as there are Libertarians, just as there are many “types” of Republicans, Democrats, Communists, Fascists, whatever. Each of us is drawn to the philosophy for our own reasons. I’m drawn to Libertarianism because I want a limited government that stays out of our bank accounts and bedrooms. Certainly, some are drawn to Libertarianism because they want to smoke dope without fear of arrest or because of their pacifist natures or any other number of reasons. I suspect Christians fall into all of these categories—even the dope-smoking ones.

That said, I’d hope that Christians within any political party rely on their Christian faith to shape their views. I hope that we all can recognize that no political party perfectly reflects what, say, a government in “Eden” would’ve looked like, but that our love of Jesus and wanting to follow him should affect our everyday lives within that political framework.

For example, the story goes that although Ron Paul wouldn’t accept Medicare patients, he did treat many women for free or at reduced costs if they couldn’t pay. That’s a good example of living Jesusy as a Libertarian, I’d say. 

From Brooke: Are you pro-choice (like standard libertarians) or pro-life (more like Ron Paul's "brand" of libertarian?)  How does your Christian faith effect this view?

This is an area where I do disagree with many Libertarians. I am “pro-life”—though I confess the term grates on me, as does “pro-choice.” I believe life begins at conception—if not then, when?—and that life should end naturally, meaning I’m also anti-capital punishment. I don’t believe the government has the right to end lives any more than a murderer does, though, of course, I find exceptions in each of these (life of mother for abortion, a police officer defending herself, etc.). 

In general, I guess, my Libertarian take on abortion is that the freedom to live should extend to the unborn. And while I am pro-life because I try to take the Ten Commandments seriously, my feminism has probably shaped my view on this issue more than anything else. Which is always weird to say—since my views run very counter to many feminists. Basically, I believe that abortions exist because this is still a man’s world. But that’s another tangent I’ll write about somewhere else another time. 

I do believe, however, that my being “pro-life” means more than simply opposing abortion. As my friendAngie Weszley—who’s the executive director of Caris Pregnancy Counseling Services—says, I “value the welfare of both the woman and the child” during a pregnancy and well beyond that.  And that means we do more than simply “vote pro-life.”

From Paula: Ron Paul, the poster child of Libertarianism in the current election cycle is also deeply influenced by Ayn Rand.  Does the thinking of Ayn Rand go hand in hand with your understanding of Libertarianism?  And if so, how does her hostile views towards Christianity, doing acts of charity, caring for the least of these and individualism intersect with your understanding as a follower of Jesus?

Confession: when I was a junior in college, a friend gave me a copy of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. And I hated it. I thought it was obscure and boring. Even the cover—ugh! I probably stopped reading 50 or so pages in and got back to other good Russian writer,s or maybe Virginia Woolf (whose writings, for what it’s worth, are a huge influence on my life—if not my politics). I’ve tried to reread that copy throughout the (20!) years, but can never get into it. So, Rand’s thinking doesn’t have much to do directly with my own, although, certainly I appreciate some of her sentiments that I’ve read elsewhere.

Honestly, my being a Libertarian is less about me following the tenets of any one famous Libertarian and more about me finding a philosophy that I feel most accurately reflects my personality and my passions—the way God made me. And I believe libertarianism allows the most room to live out God’s call to seek justice, to live mercy, to walk humbly, to give cheerfully, to care for the least of these, and to love our neighbors.

Whenever the government gets too involved, it gets in the way of a lot of these things, making it harder to live out Jesus’ calling. Obviously this is true in places like Cuba or China, but it’s also true here. Take, for instance, last summer the State of Illinois revoked Catholic Charity’s adoption and foster care licensebecause Catholic Charities didn’t comply with the “Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act,” which says gay couples must be treated the same way as heterosexual couples. 

The Catholic Church sees this differently and because of their view of Scripture, the State of Illinois has taken away their ability (their religious freedom!) to live out God’s call to love our neighbors and to take care of the “least of these” in Illinois. This makes me sick. It should for all of us—even those of us who disagree with the Catholic Church’s stance.

Ouisi asked: My question is less philosophical and more personal. I grew up on food stamps and TennCare (the state version of Medicaid). My parents both had mental issues. After my father left us we were treated badly by the laity and the leaders of our church. I remember times when someone in the community reached out to help with things like yard work or child care, but it was never done on behalf of the church. My observation was that the church ignored our needs not because they thought that helping the poor was the government's role, but because they thought that we were too sinful to deserve help. So I'm pretty cynical about the idea of the Church caring for the poor, or of any plan for shifting the burden of poverty relief away from state/federal regulation. Here's my question: does Libertarianism offer a plan for the Least of These that doesn't require a complete change in human nature?

Thank you for sharing this. How horrible! So heartbreaking. I want to apologize to you on behalf of all church-goers everywhere. The way your church acted was disgraceful, shameful. Unfortunately, “too sinful to deserve help”—the exact opposite of Jesus’ message—is something so many Christians have gotten good at spreading. Ugh. Of course, this is the reason why so many have problems with Christian Libertarians. And I get that. 

But, to answer your question: Here’s where I become even weirder: I’m libertarian, but I’m also a Calvinist. I hold pretty tight to the “T” in T.U.L.I.P., i.e. Total Depravity. So, yes, I believe we are all rather sinful, selfish creatures left to our own devices, to our own “human nature.” (The upside of this otherwise seemingly depressing view is that in a Calvinist church like Christian Reformed Church—of which I’m a member—we’d never consider anyone “too sinful to help” because that would mean all of us….).

So how can I look so dimly on humanity and STILL be libertarian? Couple reasons: 1. While I keep using the term “government” like it’s a pulse-less machine, the government is made up of humans. With that same nature.  Even politicians who aim to serve the “least of this” don’t always have the purest motives. Unless re-election is considered a pure motive. 2. Because the government is made up of fallen humans, plenty of people (especially children) are still falling through the government cracks. The church fails, but so does government. We can’t just leave it up to others. 3. Because God’s grace (“Irresistible Grace” is the “I” in T.U.L.I.P.) changes everything. This common and specific grace touches us and changes us, allows us to think beyond our selfish natures and long to transform this world for Jesus. THAT is the church’s purpose. At least, this is how us Reformed folk see it. I have greater hope that the church folk can recognize our fallen-ness and seek this world-changing grace than, say, those who’ve never experienced this grace.

So while I get that the church has hurt plenty of people and acted way out of step and out of line with how Jesus would have it, we don’t have to simply accept that that is how everyone in the church is—or can be. I think of my friend Arloa Sutter, who founded Breakthrough Urban Ministries, on the west side of Chicago.

This huge ministry—which offers housing for the homeless, food for the hungry, preschool for kids whose families couldn’t afford it otherwise, green groceries in a food desert, and a community to belong to—started out with Arloa scooping out spaghetti to a couple of homeless guys in her church’s side office. There are a lot of examples of this—today and throughout history. I’d love to see more.

While I’m not proposing that Christians lobby for the government to stop all social services, I am proposing that Christians step up and live out our calling. The biggest hurdles are when government gets in the way (i.e. Illinois and Catholic Charities) and, of course, our selfish human natures. But God’s grace is sufficient. It covers those things. God is good. He is able. That’s what I’ve been repeating to myself lately.

From Bradm: I can see how the Church can help poor people.  What's less obvious to me is how the Church can succeed in preventing mountaintop removal or things of that nature.  How do you see the Church taking on issues like mountaintop removal or preventing employee abuse or food safety or highway maintenance or any number of other things the government currently does?

Good news! I actually believe that the government should be in the business of highway maintenance, (Although, of course, I have a few issues here…) And I’m not a complete anarchist. I do believe we need to have workplace and some public health laws, among others. I don’t suggest we give churches jurisdiction to raid restaurant kitchens (although, honestly, I could probably be talked into it! Ha!).

But your other questions are excellent—especially since these are areas we assume that government has to take over. But we forget how powerful we are as consumers. The good thing about corporations being “greedy” and “only caring about profits” or whatever else we say is that it gives the people who give them money through our consumption tremendous power. If we are mindful and willing to take some stands, say, against restaurants with gross kitchens or companies that treat employees badly (though, this is often in the eye of the beholder) or chocolate companies that use slave labor or companies that abuse God’s creation, change can happen. It has happened.

The truth is, it’s much easier to just leave everything up to others—in this case, the government. While not every church or every Christian can take on every issue, I do believe Christians have a responsibility to pay attention to the things that are firing up each others’ hearts. We have to believe that God is sparking passion in one other over the concerns of this world for good reason. And be willing to step out and speak up.

From Kari: I have voted for the libertarian candidate before, when I didn't like either of the two big party candidates. Do you usually vote libertarian in elections? How do you deal with the people who say you are "wasting your vote"?

I almost never vote Libertarian in primaries. In Illinois, we have to pull one party’s ballot for primaries. And I’ve never pulled a Libertarian ballot then. Honestly, not sure if there even is one. This year, my husband is actually running for a spot on the County Board, as a Republican. So I’ll be pulling that ballot so I can vote for him. 

Generally I’ll vote for the most libertarian-leaning on the ballot. (Or, as is often the case in Illinois, I just try to vote for the person who seems less corrupt. Sad, but true. Voting character here is really more important than anything else.) However, I’ve often voted Libertarian in general elections.

And we all hear about the “wasting your vote,” don’t we? Frankly, it drives me nuts. I don’t believe it’s possible to waste a vote. People who say that are the sorts who probably care less about policy and character and issues and simply care more about picking the winner. Our local, state, and federal governments would be much better run if we didn’t worry about picking “winners” and wasting votes. 

From Vrob125: As a person of color, I have a very real problem with people like Rand Paul, who believes that racial discrimination is a person's right. This would even infringe against my right to enter a business establishment because of the color of my skin--and skin color, as we all know, is something that I did not earn or merit.  (Rand Paul believes that private businesses should be able to discriminate by race.) How would this racist behavior be justifiable? 

I don’t believe racist behavior is ever justifiable—at least not morally. But the truth is, while we can put all sorts of laws into place, we cannot legislate away racism or sexism or homophobia or any other ignorance.  And because I believe in free speech and free thought, I do believe that being racist or sexist or homophobic or otherwise ignorant is someone’s right. What I don’t believe is that we have the right to infringe on other people’s rights no matter what we believe.

I believe that public entities should be open to the public—all the public. Private clubs or organizations can exclude whomever they want. 

That said, one of my first big disappointment with church was when I learned that members of my church belonged to a country club that excluded African Americans, Jews and Hispanics. White women couldn’t golf there—although they were welcome in the club itself. My dad still brings up the stories of a 12-year-old me going out of my mind about this, wondering how “Christians” could support something so evil. I still don’t understand.

Again, the best scenario is when Christians (or decent people anywhere) are the driving force against racism and racist policies—by refusing to patron racists places. If white Christians folks in the South—for instance—would’ve refused to eat at restaurants with “No Coloreds Allowed” signs hanging in the window, those restaurants would’ve changed their tune pretty quick. I’m glad the government stepped in there. But again, I wish it didn’t have to get to that point. Can you imagine how different things would be if folks just embraced the whole “love your neighbor as yourself” thing? 


To learn more about Caryn, visit her  Web site at, find her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.  You can read the rest of the entries in our interview series here. Tomorrow I’ll be introducing our Christian conservative, so get your questions ready!

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