This primary season, evangelicals have been thrashing around in the political marketplace looking for a consistent conservative who can restrain the government, revive the economy, and, of course, defeat Barack Obama. Their support has moved from Tim Pawlenty to Michele Bachmann, then to Rick Perry, followed by Herman Cain. After Cain's departure, many evangelicals broke for Newt Gingrich, and many remain there. But that's where it gets really interesting. David French at Patheos.com marvels at this alliance. He asks, "If evangelicals choose to reject numerous alternatives and wrap both arms around a serial philandering, hopelessly grandiose politician, then what is our distinctive witness in this process?"
An equally unlikely beneficiary of evangelical backing (or what should be unlikely), but for different reasons, is Ron Paul. The Texas congressman and libertarian icon has been rising in the polls as some jaded Newt supporters have been joining his ardent base of devotees, many of whom are evangelical Christians.
One good reason for evangelicals to support Paul is that he unambiguously advocates a restrictive view of what government should do at a time when the growth and reach of government are out of control. The Bible tells us that God established government for a limited purpose-to punish evil and praise well-doing (Romans 13:1-10; 1 Peter 2:14)-giving other responsibilities to individuals, families, and churches. For two generations or so, beginning with the New Deal, evangelicals had been comfortable with government overstepping these boundaries. But they discovered the biblical beauty of small government when the New Left moved into power in the 1970s and government became aggressively secular and began championing immorality. Today, after the Bush-Obama government blowout, evangelicals are taking the limited role of government even more seriously.
Another strong evangelical case in favor of Ron Paul is his consistent stand in favor of a closely related good: the rule of law and, in particular, constitutionalism. God governs the universe by law. When He called one people from among the nations to be holy, He gave them a law that would have prospered them had they followed it. Christ died to fulfill every jot and tittle of that law. Christians' support for the rule of law flows from their love for God.
It flows also from their love for neighbor: Equality before the law follows from the Christian view of people as created equally in the image of God and is essential to political equality. The left talks a great deal about equality, but what they establish is the superiority of the governing class (especially unaccountable activist judges and government bureaucrats) and of government-favored groups, like unions and dependents of the welfare state. Ron Paul is a fierce defender of political equality under law.
But when it comes to substantive moral questions, a Ron Paul-directed government would be hands-off. So it is odd that Paul won the Oct. 8 Values Voter Summit straw poll. Perhaps this was on account of his laudable pro-life voting record, a substantive point of agreement between Dr. Paul and conservative evangelicals. Perhaps it is because his strong organization bussed in 600 of the 2,000 participants.
Paul's opposition to moral legislation betrays his failure to appreciate the government's divine mandate to punish evil and praise good. Domestically, that's a mandate to make moral distinctions between good and evil behavior. To restrict what government can punish simply to whatever limits the freedom of others to chart their personal courses has no basis in Scripture, and is more akin to the 17th century liberalism of John Locke or the 19th century utilitarianism of John Stuart Mill.
Biblical government not only secures us in our lives and property so that "we may lead a peaceful and quiet life." It also actively cultivates a moral environment that facilitates people's ability to live their lives "godly and dignified in every way" and pass such moral habits along to their children (1 Timothy 2:2). Libertarians like Ron Paul deny this fundamental biblical political principle. As a result, Ron Paul's America would look more like It's a Wonderful Life's Potterville than Bedford Falls. What is worst in us, unchecked and undiscountenanced, would flourish among us, freely chosen but encouraged by those who would exploit their neighbor's moral weakness for gain.
Internationally, Rep. Paul also underestimates people's capacity for evil and the government's responsibility to protect American citizens, as we see in the video clip below from the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucus. He is correct that war making should proceed only from a congressional declaration of war. But he appears to think naively that if we leave the world alone, the world will leave us alone. A biblical guard dog is more watchful than that.
Though Ron Paul is confessedly a believer in Christ, he views his faith as entirely private and unrelated to public policy (see video clip below). It is instead his libertarianism that drives his politics, and so he would withhold most of the substance of the good that God intends for us in government. But Christians are accountable to God to help elevate to office the person who will govern in the godliest manner for purposes that most fully conform to the functions that God has assigned to government.