In part IV, having looked at religious liberty in parts II and III, we considered the separation of powers, federalism, and the rule of law. Here in part V, we’ll conclude by reviewing the topics of democracy and liberty.
Democracy and Liberty
We should also remember the importance of democracy and liberty. The founders sought to achieve the best balance between a democracy and a republic. So they established America as a democratic republic. Authority is exercised by representatives of the people.
The Constitution begins, “We the people.” Although America isn’t a direct democracy, it’s a representative democracy. And we have an important role to play. By protecting democracy, we preserve liberty. On the other hand, when democracy is attacked, liberty for all suffers.
As with previous topics, though, democracy is falling on hard times. We see this when government leaders assume control over some issue that properly belongs to the citizens. This is what happened, for example, with the Obergefell majority.
Chief Justice Roberts points out, “The Court’s accumulation of power does[n’t] occur in a vacuum. It comes at the expense of the people. And they know it.” Or as Justice Scalia put it, “Today’s decree says that my Ruler, and the Ruler of 320 million Americans coast-to-coast, is a majority of the nine lawyers on the Supreme Court.”
As with democracy, so goes liberty. Justice Scalia explained: “This practice of constitutional revision by an unelected committee of nine, always accompanied (as it is today) by extravagant praise of liberty, robs the People of the most important liberty they asserted in the Declaration of Independence and won in the Revolution of 1776: the freedom to govern themselves.”
So, just as the Court’s majority didn’t actually appeal to law, it also didn’t actually appeal to liberty. It just said it did.
What should we think about liberty? What did it mean for the American founders? At the founding, liberty didn’t amount simply to a right for people to do as they please. Yet this is how it’s often interpreted today.
Instead, liberty had a nobler meaning. Founder James Wilson said this, “Without liberty, law loses its nature and its name, and becomes oppression. Without law, liberty also loses its nature and its name, and becomes licentiousness.”
This is an important statement. To understand what liberty is, we must understand it in relation to law. For many today, liberty is the freedom to pursue licentiousness, or immorality.
For Wilson and the founders though, true liberty is contrasted from immorality, which is bad for a well-ordered society. Liberty without law to temper it, or the freedom to pursue immorality in the name of liberty, isn’t actually liberty.
As Wilson put it, it’s just “licentiousness.” Instead, law protects liberty from becoming immorality. Liberty needs law to be truly liberty. On the other hand, law without any liberty is just oppression.
This is a much higher view of liberty, and it’s one we need to reclaim. As we find ourselves talking with others, mentoring people, and voting, let’s remember this:
Don’t let people guilt you, in the name of “liberty,” into believing that you have to let people live however they want. As if you can’t support laws and policies that makes immorality illegal.
Don’t feel bad about believing that abortion, marijuana, physician-assisted suicide, same-sex marriage, and other topics should be illegal.
To believe that certain actions should be illegal doesn’t mean you don’t believe in liberty. It means you’re trying to keep liberty from becoming licentiousness. True liberty needs law to protect it from itself.
No, America isn’t perfect, nor is its government flawless. Yet it represents some of the best ideas of political theology and political philosophy from world history.
These are the very principles we’ve considered. We must not take these principles for granted. We need to recognize and reassert their importance for well-ordered societies.
We live in difficult times. Our culture chips away at this heritage to society’s own destruction. What do we do? We don’t regret the age we live in. We recognize that God has put us here for a reason. We don’t “hunker down” and wait for the storm to pass.
We go forth as light to a dark world, extending the influence of Christ in our spheres of influence (Matthew 5:16), including society. This means thinking about law and politics at the local, state, and national levels. It means recognizing the importance of the principles we’ve considered in this presentation. And it means thinking about what candidates and nominees believe about the role of these principles in government and society.
We regret the direction that certain cultural developments steer us in. But we take seriously our vocation as citizens. We commit ourselves to doing our part to contribute positively to American culture, society, and government. And we look to God ultimately for our identity and mission as He guides us for such a time as this.
Bruce Ashford, One Nation Under God: A Christian Hope for American Politics (Nashville: B&H, 2015).
Hunter Baker, Political Thought: A Student’s Guide (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
Wayne A. Grudem, Politics According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).
Russell D. Moore, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel (Nashville: B&H, 2015).
Matthew Pinson, Matthew Steven Bracey, Matthew McAffee, and Michael A. Oliver, Sexuality, Gender, and the Church: A Christian Response in the New Cultural Landscape (Nashville: Welch College Press, 2016).
Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester: Crossway, 1981).
Acton Institute: For the Study of Religion and Liberty, http://www.acton.org/
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, http://www.erlc.com/
The Colson Center for Christian Worldview, http://www.colsoncenter.org/wfp-home/
 Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (Roberts, dissenting), at 26.
 Obergefell, 576 U.S ___ (Scalia, dissenting), at 2.