Homelessness, as an issue, had a huge impact on my philosophical development. I once volunteered for a local coalition of churches working to solve homelessness in our city. As a conservative Christian, my heart wasn’t necessary cold, but I didn’t believe government had any place in altruism. Then the idea of permanent supportive housing was placed in front of me. There wasn’t much data on the issue yet, but what was clear was that we were spending far more on emergency and police services for the homeless than we ever would on housing. In fact, it was as much as triple the cost. Properties even increase in value more rapidly when near new permanent supportive housing construction. So even for a conservative, this policy was easy to support.
Then naturally, I started considering whether or not I would support the policy if it wasn’t cost effective. Most permanent supportive housing organizations report over a 90% retention rate for there residents. People generally end up healthier, cleaner, and happier. They are able to live out their lives in dignity. Still, should the taxpayer be on the hook for those costs? Isn’t that a form of robbery? As I of course came to realize, yes and no.
Democracy, Social Contract, and the Taxpayer
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. Matthew 22:15-22 NRSV
These verses from Matthew are a good place to start because 1) it’s one of the few bible verses explicitly on government, and 2)it’s usually the first verse conservatives cite when talking about the bible and government. In these verses, we see Jesus do something he does often. When speaking with “teachers of the law” he tends not to give direct answers so as not to be arrested. That coin, like everything else, is God’s and was made by God. That being said, Jesus does give us some direction here regarding obedience to the law. That direction, however, is practical and (like everything else) about the growth of his kingdom. Generally though, our approach in government mimics that of our approach life. To grow God’s loving kingdom.
In addition, Jesus is speaking specifically on the Roman Emperor. While Rome still had a Senate, it was clearly no Democracy. The Emperor had complete authority and sovereignty. Alternatively, the United States is a Representative Democracy. In a Democracy we are bound by social contract to work for the common good. I don’t intend on diving into social contract theory right now, but it’s most explicitly stated in the Declaration of Independence as “consent of the governed.” You could argue one way or another whether or not their was actually consent at various points in our history, but today every American Citizen (generally) has the right to vote. What that means is that that coin you have in your pocket is yours, not the Emperor’s. So just like David, the decisions you make with that vote can be loving or selfish. And also like David, your fellow citizens can either be blessed or cursed (figuratively) by those decisions.
The Devil is in the Details
Most of you, when seeing that I’m advocating for Love as a public policy principle, will write-it-off as for its fluffy misunderstanding of the “real world.” You might even call me a “snowflake.” Admittedly, it does seem that way on the surface. If your still reading you might also be thinking, “if we just give free stuff away, we’ll go broke as a country.” That’s true, but not deep enough. Let’s start with the basics, Paul’s definition of Love.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 14: 4-7 NRSV
I don’t intend to break these verses down section by section. I simply want to demonstrate how broad the direction of love is. There are many kinds of love, and it’s a word that is difficult to define. Love, however, is everything that God is and it’s what he wants for us. It is a guiding force for how to conduct our lives.
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Matthew 5:17 NRSV
Jesus gave us something truly amazing in Love. He gave us the ability to make progress, rather than just treading water which is the only thing the law is good for. In Christ we are now free. That means we can take what we learned from the law, and translate that into a loving path forward. We now have the ability, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to make progress.
That being said, we live in a world filled with selfishness and evil. On top of that, as the saying goes “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Love as Jesus tells us, however, is a summary of all of God’s commands. This includes commands to work diligently, and gain knowledge for the growth of the Kingdom. Love isn’t just a nice feeling, it’s the entirety of what we are supposed to strive for. Love as a guiding policy principle would have to include doing the work to ensure money is not wasted, and services are efficient. That’s all part of the package.
A Change in Thinking
The Republican Party prioritizes money, and the Democratic Party lacks forgiveness. Using love to guide our policy making is simply not how we are trained. But if used properly, it could bring the unity our country so desperately needs right now. Jesus gave us this incredible opportunity, let’s use it and leads as his followers.