Mike Huckabee, one of the front running Republican candidates for president, claims to base his political philosophy on his evangelical Christian beliefs. Many conservatives would say much the same thing about our own philosophy, but in most cases the result is political opinions that are directly opposite to Huckabee’s. How can this be? In a Time magazine article published last March, Huckabee himself ascribes the difference to his being a “grace Christian” rather than a “law Christian.”
“The Second Commandment – do unto others – is the basic tenet of my faith. And so I believe that life begins at conception, but I don’t believe it ends at birth. I believe we have a responsibility to feed the hungry, to provide a good education, a safe neighborhood, health care, … That’s why I talk so much about the need for music and art programs in our schools. I know some conservatives think it’s foolish, but I just believe it’s necessary to build whole, creative individuals.”
He might have added that his beliefs have also led him to support, as Arkansas governor, a wide range of tax increases, putting out a welcome mat for illegal aliens, and facilitating paroles to violent criminals. Either Huckabee is confused, or he is cynically trying to enlist Christians in his cause against their natural inclinations. First he tries to exploit the doctrinal controversy over legalism or works righteousness versus salvation by grace alone, for a political purpose.
The disagreement between evangelical and some other Christians over the roles of law and grace has to do only with the means of salvation, not political philosophy. If we were to get any political enlightenment from that doctrinal controversy, the “law Christians” would be more likely to come down on the side of enforced good works than the “grace Christians,” since the former might tend to believe their salvation depends on it. I think Huckabee uses this terminology because it has an evangelical sound and might be good for recruiting among Christians who are used to using this vocabulary.
More fundamentally wrong is his transference of individual Christian responsibilities to the state. Forcing our neighbor to pay taxes, at gunpoint if necessary, to feed the starving, or, worse yet, to build the bureaucracy that is charged with feeding the starving, is no part of Jesus’ command that we love our neighbors. This is how Huckabee derives his political philosophy from his faith.
The opposite approach is to keep separate the kingdom of the right hand (the church) and the kingdom of the left hand (the state). Christians and others influenced by them would fulfill our responsibilities to our neighbors. Government would interfere as little as possible with this, while refraining from Robin Hood activities. Taking from one person for another’s benefit is stealing as surely as if the needy person took for his own benefit.
Huckabee’s social gospel is no better than Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” or the Democrats’ outright socialism. Republicans would do better to look to Ron Paul’s limited government constitutionalism and policy of international non-interventionism for their 2008 platform and candidate.