At the beginning of lesson nine of The Truth Project, Dr. Del Tackett predicted that many people would find themselves conflicted when contemplating his message. If we are conflicted, he concluded, it is because we have been taken captive by a lie. While Tackett claimed to expose liberal views as a lie, he proved to me how dangerous and hypocritical it is to conflate politics and religion as he selectively used scripture to support his conservative, neoliberal view of government.
This is because, as a result of the raging of the Cosmic Battle, many people in our day have been taken captive by the lie that the state, and not God, is to “go before us” as our savior and sustainer and the source of all good things. This discussion is calculated from beginning to end to expose and challenge this assumption. There are obvious implications here for the debate between proponents of “liberal” and “conservative” social policy (i.e., the “welfare state” and its opponents). The Truth Project, The State – Whose Law?
At the beginning of lesson nine of the Truth Project: The State – Whose Law?, Dr. Tackett told the story of James and Heidi, a couple who had a successful farm. Then they died in a car accident. A gang broke into their house and took half of their possessions. Tackett asks, is that stealing? Of course, everyone agrees that it is. Then he asks, what if the government came in and took half their property? Would that be stealing? Can the state steal? In presenting the estate tax as theft, Dr. Tackett made the argument that the government breaks God’s law by stealing.
Dr. Tackett used 1 Samuel 8 to support his belief that by taxing its citizens, the state takes what does not belong to it. When the people of Israel told Samuel they wanted a king to lead them, Samuel prayed about it. God told Samuel to listen to the people but to solemnly warn them about what the king will do. So Samuel told the people that the king will make you and your children his servants. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and give them to his people. He will take a tenth of your earnings and give it to his attendants. Dr. Tackett concludes that government takes the first fruits and tithes that are meant for God and redistributes them to others.
I don’t believe that the government steals by taxing my income or property. I willingly submit to the state’s authority to take a portion of my income to pay for public goods and services, fully aware that the government often misuses and wastes the public’s money. I believe in a government of the people, by the people, for the people.
As Adam Metz points out in Revisiting the Truth Project, Tackett conveniently leaves out scripture that doesn’t support this views on the redistribution of wealth, for example, the Year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25. Every fifty years, the people of Israel were to return property to its original owners or heirs and debts were to be forgiven.
It’s especially noteworthy that Tackett made no mention of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus made it very clear that we should not worry about money because God knows what we need. We shouldn’t be overly focused on accumulating earthly wealth. Jesus told a rich man, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me (Matthew 19:21).”
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”Matthew 6:19-21Matthew 6:19-20
Tackett asked whether the state can steal because “governments are capable of error and transgression and must be held accountable to a higher ethical law if they are to be prevented from wreaking havoc in the lives of the citizens entrusted to their oversight and care.” Tacket says that the purpose of government is “to punish evil and condone good.” He quoted Webster’s 1828 definition of the word politics and added emphasis to the words “preservation and improvement of their morals.”
The science of government; that part of ethics which consists in the regulation and government of a nation or state, for the preservation of its safety, peace and prosperity; comprehending the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strengths and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.Politics definition from Websters Dictionary, 1828
I agree that government should be held accountable to high ethical standards and that government has a role in enforcing laws based on morality (e.g. laws against murder or stealing) and laws that preserve the safety of its citizens. But obviously, not everyone accepts God’s law as law. In a democracy, laws should be based on the will of the people.
Many conservative Christians want the government to enforce Biblical moral values. But if government forces people to comply with moral laws that they have not internalized as their own moral values – if compliance with law is not an act of submission and obedience to God – what good does it do? As Jasmin Patterson writes, legislating Biblical morality doesn’t change people and it often turns people away from Christ.
As Christians we have to ask what we are really after. Do we want people to look like they are changed by Jesus or do we want people to actually be changed by Jesus? Do we want to encourage people—albeit unintentionally—to have a form of godliness but reject the power of Christ that actually transforms their lives? (2 Timothy 3:5)Jasmin Patterson, The Biblical Case Against ‘Legislating Morality’: Does it actually work?
Dr. Tackett warned about big government taking over other spheres of life – God, church, family, labor, education, etc. He said that God designed each social “sphere” for a particular purpose and each sphere has unique laws, roles, and responsibilities to fulfill its purpose.
Tackett warned that the “nanny state” or the “welfare state” causes people to look to the government as their “savior” and as the state tries to solve society’s problems, it substitutes itself for the family. In the study guide for lesson 7 (Sociology: The Divine Imprint), Dr. Tackett says as an aside, “by the way, I can find no biblical support for the position that the state has responsibility for the education of children.”
I find it baffling that Focus on the Family thinks the purpose of the government is the “preservation and improvement of the morals” of its citizens. What then is the purpose of the Church? What is the purpose of the family? If the Bible is silent on an issue such as public education, does that mean that it is against God’s will?
Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.Matthew 16:6
When I searched for commentary on TTP lesson nine, I found an honors thesis written in 2014 by Ben Jordan, a political science student at the University of Colorado: A Dangerous Conflation of Ideologies: the Nexus of Christianity and Neoliberalism. While the student who wrote the thesis was not a Christian, his conclusion is accurate. It is dangerous to conflate Christianity and politics.
On page 28 of the thesis, Jordan lists several themes that make up the neoliberal Christian theology: private property, decreased size or reach of government, decreased taxes and opposition to redistribution of wealth, individualism and self-reliance, and Manichaean theology or the “cosmic battle.” Jordan analyzed the The Truth Project as an example of religious dogma that is used to shape a “conservative political-social-economic ideology.”
Jordan notes that it does not make sense for Christians to hold the neoliberal worldview, a religious ideology based on economic ideology. Even a non-Christian knows that the Bible teaches about the dangers of greed and of the love of money, the importance of caring for one another (including foreigners and the poor), and of our stewardship of the earth. “If Christianity is framed the way Focus on the Family is framing it, then neoliberal policy preferences will follow.” Christians who embrace the neoliberal worldview want to rollback environmental and labor regulations, to eliminate social programs, and to promote the capitalist, free market system.
Jordan observes that masses of Christians must be ignorant of the “fundamental lessons outlined in their own scared text” because if the Bible says “the complete opposite of what it is being used to justify, what else can ideological shaping do?” To put it simply, when Christianity is shaped by those who have a political agenda, it makes Christianity look really bad. “The Christian ideology, when framed as TTP has, is based on a great deal of sexism, homophobia, militarism, xenophobia, nationalism or patriotism, imperialism, racism, and a general distaste for those different than them.”
Randal Rauser wrote an article called Learning in a Time of (Cultural) War: Indoctrination in Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project. He wrote about the dangers of binary thinking, which “secures an uncritical acceptance of certain assumptions while inhibiting subsequent critical reflection on those assumptions.” He notes that it is an enormous task to educate the Christian laity but TTP subverts the pursuit of truth for its own ideological ends.
The first thing we need in the midst of a perceived culture war is sober self-criticism to ensure that we truly are people living out the truth (1 John 1:6). In addition, we need to recognize that the battle is the Lord’s, so that we do not capitulate to the tempting pragmatism that seeks victory at the expense of truth. Randal Rauser
It only takes a small amount of yeast to transform a ball of dough. In the same way, it takes only a small amount of false teaching to spread and damage the Church. When Christians conflate politics and religion, they distort what it really means to follow Christ. That is dangerous because souls are at stake.