Mike Huckabee and Christian Duty

Mike Huckabee said last Sunday on Meet the Press  that his faith was important to him and that it drove his views on everything from the environment to poverty to disease and to hunger.  Huckabee then went on to say that he thought the Republican Party needed to take a greater leadership role on these sorts of issues and that, as a Christian, he wanted to make sure that Republicans spoke out more on these issues

Excellent.  As a Christian Republican myself, I will express support for protecting God's Creation, fighting sickness, and ending hunger.  All are profoundly Christian ideals.  But Mike Huckabee, as a Christian, is not really talking about protecting Creation, fighting sickness or ending hunger.  Mike is talking about using the coercive power of government to force other people to pay taxes and to comply with onerous and arbitrary laws to do what Mike thinks, as a Christian, he should be doing.

That is the salient fact:  as a Christian, Huckabee can be a witness to Christian behavior; he can exhort others to themselves become a witness to Christian behavior; but he cannot demand the enslavement of others to do those things which, as a Christian, he feels that he should do.  The term "enslavement," of course, is relative.  Americans are comparatively free.  But everything that Huckabee feels government should do requires a loss of freedom for every American.  Moreover, Huckabee is not just asking for the greater enslavement of Christian Americans, but he is asking for the greater enslavement of all Americans.  This is most un-Christian.  Does my verdict sound extreme?  Substitute "Rome" for "America" and substitute "publican" for "tax dollars."   

Did Christ ever say his followers should ask Rome to do more for the welfare of its subjects?  Or did Christ ask each individual Christian to personally do more to feed the hungry, to comfort the sick, to care for the widows and orphans, and to seek justice and mercy?  Rome was a welfare state.  The urban masses of Rome lived on bread and circuses.  Roman power, outside Rome, build good roads, aqueducts, baths, bridges, libraries and undertook many other public works projects.  Pax Romana was a very real blessing to nations who had fought wars around Mare Nostrum for centuries.

Despite the ways in which Roman power could be used to improve the world, Christ never looked to Rome to bring paradise or earth or even to be the agent of doing good in this world.  Christ, rather, enjoined his followers to personally sacrifice and work for the rest of the world.  He did not want Christians running for Roman offices to use the hated Roman taxes to "do good."  His message was personal.

Christians have heeded that call.  Newt Gingrich, for example, does care about the environment and ecology, but as a private citizen.  Rush Limbaugh quietly and privately helps many charities.  Each Christmas the Salvation Army has hosts of volunteers who raise money to directly help the poor. Christians throughout America have healed the sick, comforted the distressed, and preserved the glory of Creation - but they act personally, and not through the enslavement of other Americans.   

Mike should want to be a disciple of Christ and not a consul of Rome.  At the time of Christ, everyone knew just how much good Rome did, but they also knew the price of Roman benefits.  It was by no means clear whether Rome, on balance, did more good or bad.  But it was always clear that the Christian who gave of us own purse to feed the hungry did pure good.  That is the distinction between using Rome (or any government) to try to do good and using one's own Christian conscience and will to do good.

But there are other problems with Huckabee's pining for more government intervention.  Not only is the enslavement of others to do what one thinks is right fundamentally unchristian, but it is also horribly inefficient and produces much wickedness disguised as goodness.  Creating bureaucracies of government employees to "care" for the poor, the environment, the sick and so forth has proven the least cost-effective way of helping people, but worse, these bureaucrats are not acting out of Christian love: they are just doing their job.  These "dependency" bureaucracies actually coarsen the consciences of both recipients and administrators.

Huckabee also misses the theological fact that caring for Creation, curing the sick and feeding the hungry is not just a Christian injunction, but a Judeo-Christian injunction.  The Blessed Creator spoke clearly to the Jewish people about their duties in this area as well.  If Huckabee is speaking as a Christian, perhaps he might do well to note that the Jewish people have the same moral imperative.  And, of course, Jews have done much to relieve human misery, to research cures for diseases, to help preserve nature, and to do the other things Huckabee wants government to do - and these actions, like the actions of good Christians, have been done privately, without the help of enslaved taxpayers. 

 Often this service to the poor and the frightened in America by Jews has been dramatic.  My father-in-law spent six tortured years as a slave laborer in Auschwitz, but he spent the last seventeen years of his life as an unpaid volunteer to keep Henry Hudson Park in New York free from gangs and other unhealthy influences so that families and children could have a safe, happy place to recreate themselves in the middle of Riverdale.  No one asked him to do this:  he did it.

Mike Huckabee is quite right to enjoin all Christians and Jews to help the poor, comfort the sick, preserve the beauty of our Blessed Creation, to give jobs to the unemployed and all the other moral commands of the Judeo-Christian religious and moral tradition.  Mike Huckabee is quite wrong in perceiving this duty as a function of an impersonal, ineffective and unaccountable government.  What Mike says we should do, we should all do individually, as our conscience commands us to do.  We cannot replace our hands and our wallets with the hands of slaves or the federal treasury.
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