Some evangelicals suggest that Christians can or should avoid questions of political philosophy, but Left, Right & Christ, a just-published book from Russell Media, recognizes reality. Co-authors Lisa Sharon Harper and David Innes boldly state their dueling positions, issue by issue.
Their divide is perhaps sharpest on abortion. Innes notes that "when people deny God, they deny life"-so a spiritual vacuum leads some women to have a doctor vacuum their tiny babies. Harper focuses on the material: "Lives are saved when we address abortion for what it is, a poverty issue." But if Harper is right, we would have had in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when Americans on average were much poorer than we are now, many more abortions in proportion to the population than we currently do. We did not.
On medical needs, Innes (also a contributor at worldmag.com) argues for a market system in which healthcare providers compete for our patronage. Harper, though, ends her essay with a "call for universal care that protects and cultivates the image of God in all Americans." A good sentiment, but why not also call for government to provide universal food and shelter?
We haven't done that because we know the market system works best for at least 90 percent of the people; we can then concentrate on providing food and shelter only for those unable to provide for themselves. The same approach would work in healthcare: Instead of messing with a system that, with occasional exceptions, serves reasonably well (given this fallen world) at least 90 percent of Americans, we should expand and bulwark the network of free or low-cost community clinics that already exists.
The Innes-Harper debate illuminates a decisive difference between the political left and the political right: The left emphasizes equality of result, the right emphasizes liberty and opportunity. Either position taken too far becomes an idol. The problem with an equality emphasis that may look good abstractly is that in practice it requires a big government. Centers of power attract power-seekers who then attract money-seekers, and the result is a new ruling class: In a fallen world, equality of result is an ever-receding horizon.
I'll say it forthrightly: I'm for liberty and opportunity. I do not want government to enforce equality of result. Most evangelicals also favor limited government and political decentralization, because we know both from the Bible and from history that concentrations of political power lead to oppression.
Richard Mouw's Abraham Kuyper (Eerdmans, 2011) is a useful introduction to the great Dutch theologian/editor/politician and his theory of "sphere sovereignty," the idea that neither church nor state should lord it over business, family, science, the arts, and so forth, but each has its own sphere of authority under God.
Mouw tries to advance Kuyperianism by suggesting a doctrine of "sphere compensation"-when one sphere loses strength, others can be "compensating for that-at least on a temporary basis-by building the lost or weakened function into some other sphere, so that another sphere can compensate for the loss." Mouw notes that the family sphere is shrinking, and we can certainly see how other spheres abhor a vacuum: Schools now provide breakfasts and sometimes dinners, government has grabbed from parents control of education, and some hyper-active church youth groups have taken over evening, weekend, and vacation space that was family-bonding time.
The problem is that "the temporary basis" expands-once these other spheres move in, families weaken further. Over time sphere sovereignty can become spear sovereignty, with government using force to extend its control.
Note: Some Christian thinkers today view denominations as a problem, but Kuyper said the true church "can reveal itself in many forms, in different countries; nay, even in the same country, in a multiplicity of institutions." Instead of criticizing the Reformation because it "ruptured the unity of the church," Kuyper praised "a rich variety of all manner of church formations."