I make no secret of the fact that I’m a libertarian. I’m also a recently-converted Christian. Some people (on both “sides”, as it were) see this as being something of a conflict. Libertarians are supposed to be free spirits – we’re not supposed to like authority, so we’d naturally hate church, and church people wouldn’t be accepting of us because we wouldn’t be as rigid and controlling as they are.
In reality, these two traits are totally compatible. For one thing, not all churches are stuffy and authoritarian. And part of being free to choose how you want to live your own life means that you are free to live in a “conservative” way, too. In fact, there’s quite a bit that libertarians and Christians have in common – one of those is on how we look at charity.
It’s well known that libertarians don’t look at government programs (or taxes that go toward them) as being charitable – they are even seen as forced theft to some of us. REAL charity we say, comes from giving of yourself because you want to, not because someone else is making you do it. Christians see it the same way. When the collection plate comes past, or when a friend or neighbor needs help, it’s not enough to say, “I already paid my taxes.” You’re supposed to have a giving spirit, and that means going above and beyond.
I was thinking about all this in church this morning. Last week, my pastor Mike approached me about leading a tour of Gettysburg when some of the men in our church head up there for a retreat this coming spring. He knows about my interest in Civil War history and especially Gettysburg. In fact, we went up there together a little over a year ago. One of the things that I mentioned to him on that visit was about how practically all the buildings in town became hospitals in some sense. Of course, there were major hospitals set up in big buildings in town: one was at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. There was an outdoor hospital - Camp Letterman - set up on the east side of town, too. But there were so many wounded that those hospitals weren’t enough, and many citizens took a few wounded men into their own homes to care for them. It was a point that resonated enough for Mike that he mentioned it in a sermon last fall.
The story I relayed to him was one I’d picked up from the diary of Sarah Broadhead. She was one of the 2,400 residents of Gettysburg left to deal with the 50,000+ casualties left over from the battle. Here’s what she wrote on July 9, 1863 – less than a week after the fighting ended:
Nearly every house is a hospital, besides the churches and warehouses and there are many field hospitals scattered over the country near the scene of the battle. A man called to-day and requested me to take into our house three wounded men from one of the field hospitals. I agreed to take them, for I can attend to them and not be compelled to leave my family so long every day as I have done.
You can see why Mike wanted to use this as part of a message about Christian charity. Sarah was “compelled” to leave her family for a long time each day to help these men. Indeed, having these sick, wounded, needy people in her own home was a convenience for her.
I think we’ve lost some of that spirit as a culture. What Sarah’s story embodies is true charity. When we see stories like hers on the news nowadays, we think, “what a remarkable person.” Actions like hers are special and noteworthy – even abnormal – in these times, but in the Gettysburg of 1863, she was just one of many (as she notes) who were doing the very same thing.
You have to remember – there was no FEMA (and you have to wonder how effective they’d be anyway), no PEMA, no CDC, not even a Red Cross (yet). There were no telethons to raise money for the victims. No “change your Facebook profile pic to support…” campaigns. All of these organizations that we have in our modern, so-called advanced society have come together to remove our individual responsibility to help others. And it’s not just that either – our culture is so litigious that if you try to help but fail, you may face legal consequences. Everything is set up to actively prevent us from helping each other. In 1863, people had no option but to help each other directly – person to person. Taking in people who need help, getting their entire family involved, altering their own routines, making sacrifices for their fellow man.
Isn’t that more like the kind of world we want?
As libertarians, as Christians, as humans – this is what we are “called” to do. To help each other, not to sub-contract that out to someone else, or some private or government organization who we make “responsible”. We’re ALL responsible.
It’s a message I believe in, and one you can be sure I’ll be talking about with our group in a few months.