Would Paul be a liberal or conservative?

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Front Page Tough Questions

This question was posed to me on facebook recently, so I thought I’d share my answer here as well:

Thanks Jeff. Where would you place, say the apostle Paul on the political spectrum (or could you?):

That’s an interesting question. However, I don’t think it is answerable. Our modern day understanding of Politics is irrelevant in a society that predates Adam Smith, the Magna Carta, the US Constitution and the like. There was no such thing as conservative or liberal. There was no such thing as democracy like we know. Perhaps the ancient Greeks in Athens knew something of democracy like we do, but in Paul’s day, Rome was the be all and end all of all things governmental.

Paul certainly would not have known anything along the lines of “economics” either.

However, Paul clearly taught a few things of relevance to the modern day debate:

  • Everyone must submit to governing authority.
  • Everyone must have a heart for the poor.
  • Everyone must eliminate greed.

  • Within the church, the truly poor are to be distinguished from the lazy.

  • Within the church, the families should take care of their own before burdening the church.

If (and this is a big if) we can extrapolate from Paul’s teaching on the church to an understanding of society as a whole, then we can conclude that Paul advocates for personal responsibility and for a hierarchy of support structures. That is, the state should take care of their own who are not served by the church, the church should take care of their own who are not served by their families, the families should take care of their own who are not able to work. No one should take care of those who are unwilling to work.

Paul would be conservative with regard to the biblically relevant parts of our constitution, he would speak up for personal responsibility and for civil, moral and social justice. But he would likely let people languish if they were simply being lazy.

Therefore, I don’t think there is a place on that map for Paul.

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