Why Aren’t Neo-Anabaptists Libertarians?

on October 14, 2013

Neo-Anabaptists are the spiritual followers of pacifist absolutists John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, with Shane Claiborne representing the younger generation. (Here’s how they contrast with traditional Anabaptists.). They ferociously denounce the civil state as the wicked heir of Babylon and Rome that Christians must shun. Of course they especially reject the “violence” of the state’s police and military functions. But incongruently they often cheerlead for expansion of the federal welfare, entitlement and regulatory state without acknowledging that all state power is premised on the threat of coercive violence.

Recently a pro neo-Anabaptist (and United Methodist clergy) blogger for Huffington Post targeted Tea Party favorite Senator Ted Cruz’s militancy against big government. The blogger discerned the source of Cruz’s crusade against Obamacare in his preacher father’s “Christian dominionism.”

Interesting point. But why aren’t neo-Anabaptists and their kindred spirits who despise the armed state as Constantine’s legacy not enthusiastically aligned with Cruz, the Tea Party, and especially libertarians in combatting the encroaching tentacles of Babylon in Washington? If truly consistent in their witness against coercive violence, the neo-Anabaptists should mail checks to and preach sermons for the Cato Institute, the libertarian thinktank which which also shares their aversion to U.S. military adventures.

Shane Claiborne details the neo-Anabaptist view of the U.S. Government in his 2008 book JESUS FOR PRESIDENT. It describes the Whore of Babylon in Revelation as the Roman Empire, whose political whoredoms are replicated by modern America, which follows Rome in trying to “slaughter God’s love in the world.” Strong stuff! “Just as Caesar had his image on everything, America has its stamp,” Claiborne laments. “The world is branded with America.”

So why would neo-Anabaptists want the equivalent of the AntiChrist running health care, regulating food, trying to control the environment, micromanaging the economy and usurping the church and private charity with an unendingly expansive welfare and entitlement state? Who wants to receive food stamps from The Beast?!

The most influential of living neo-Anabaptists, Stanley Hauerwas, has indicated he voted for Barack Obama, supports nationalized health care, and favors a government imposed “living wage.” His views are typical for many if not most of his followers, especially as the lines blur among neo-Anabaptists, Religious Left and Evangelical Left.

Not all of the neo-Anabaptists have fully accepted that Caesar should direct every aspect of society except the police and military. Minnesota pastor Greg Boyd has warned “we have Christians on the right and on the left arguing over what Caesar should do about the poor – something Jesus never told us to do — instead of working together to serve the poor on our own – which is the very thing Jesus told us to do.” He added: “We’re too busy fighting over what Caesar should do about poverty,” which “will only change if we Christians stop thinking it’s our job to tell Caesar what to do and start to do what Jesus called us to do.”

At least Boyd clings to a somewhat more traditional Anabaptist separatist stance. The HuffPo clergy blogger accused Ted Cruz’s preacher father of the “hubris of thinking we don’t need a government at all to make our society run; our church can be the new government.” If Rev. Cruz actually has that view, which he surely would dispute, then maybe neo-Anabaptists could join his flock. Hauerwas likes to say, “I don’t have a foreign policy, I have the church.”

Neo-Anabaptists, at least rhetorically, like to pretend that government doesn’t matter, even while they still often demand much of it. Ardent Libertarians are similar, if at least politically more consistent.

In contrast, the state’s divine vocation to govern and protect without oppressing is central to historic Christian teaching, no matter what neo-Anabaptists or arch-libertarians might imagine or prefer.

  1. Comment by Dan Trabue on October 21, 2013 at 12:51 am

    Speaking as someone you’d probably classify as a neo-Anabapist, I’d offer a few points:

    1. We (I, and my faith community) are not anti-gov’t.

    2. Rather, we recognize the gov’t to be made up of fellow human beings with all the flaws and glory found therein.

    3. We are cautious about state power, especially/particularly when that state power might be used to cause harm or oppress anyone, especially the poor and marginalized.

    4. But that does not mean that we are opposed to all gov’t solutions. Indeed, we are pragmatists in thinking that good solutions should be supported wherever they can be found.

    5. Speaking only for myself and my particular faith community, we’d much rather see private, local enterprises step up and provide assistance to and with the least of these. We tend to think these are most effective.

    6. But, failing sufficient private and local support for the least of these, we have no problems in theory with gov’t assistance in these areas. Indeed, we recognize the very real, very rational and very consistent biblical condemnations of nations who have failed to find some way to look to the needs of the poor and to ensure justice for all, especially the poor.

    Why would we? That is, IF a gov’t offers a reasonable solution and one that can be demonstrated as effective, why would we choose to oppose it? For instance, certainly some church/non-profits help out with prisoner rehab. But nowhere near enough is being done. Given that for each dollar spent in rehabilitating convicts can save TWO dollars in housing and re-housing them, this is only a reasonable thing to support and, failing private groups stepping up, why would we oppose such efforts from a gov’t source?

    Speaking only for my particular faith community (but believing it would be true beyond that), I think your mistake is in presuming we are simply blindly anti-gov’t, without any concern for reason and morality. This is not the case and that is why we don’t tend to be libertarian.


  2. Comment by JNCU on December 9, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    “Why Aren’t Neo-Anabaptists Libertarians?”

    I am and sadly my brethren do not see the danger of the increase in government size. They are reacting more against the Religious/Nationalistic/Militaristic Right, (Cruz is a good prototype) not against government as they should react also.
    The issue is, they do not see that the root of militarism is society’s addiction to government. So all is needed for militarism to come back is that democrats loose the presidency and we would be back again to militarism, and probably in a worse situation. A federal government that is involve on every aspect of society, now willing to bomb the world for not being Americans.
    And the immense majority of Americans are going to have to support militarism because the never ending addiction to federal government resources.

  3. Comment by Rainer Moeller on December 29, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    For the record, Dan Trabue and his community don’t stand in the Anabaptist or Quaker Tradition – most Anabaptists and Quakers definitely did NOT vote in elections till the early 19th century. In those times, they were “quiet” – cautious not to meddle in other people’s affairs. With Quakers, it was the Evangelical turn (Guerney) which seduced them to leave their common practice. With Anabaptists, it may have been similar.

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