Why Liberty Needs Justice: A Response to the Tea Party-Occupy Film
Christianity Today's newest film is provocative because of its gritty, grounded honesty. This is not a film about political pundits bantering back and forth exchanging policy talking points. Instead, it's about two very ordinary people, their deep faith in Jesus, and how that faith is leading them to engage two of the most consequential grassroots movements of our time. These movements have one beautiful thing in common: they are groundswells of ordinary citizens reengaging their democratic civic duty, letting their messages be heard and considered in the public square.
Last week, my coauthor, D. C. Innes, rightly pointed out that the film's title, "Liberty or Justice for All," and its structure seem to pit the virtues of liberty and justice against one another. Within the first minute of the film, liberty is clearly identified as the motivation for Emmett Bailey's Virginia Tea Party involvement, while justice is revealed as the motivation for Pam Hogeweide's Occupy Portland involvement. Both subjects say their involvement arises from their faith.
Bailey articulates his understanding of liberty and law this way: "The Founders' vision (and God's vision), was that we would be self-regulated. When God is being honored, people are regulating themselves, not regulated from the outside with laws." We see Bailey at a Tea Party rally where machine-gun-toting "patriots" listen to a woman remind the crowd of something they are "very familiar with." She launches into the Declaration of Independence ("We hold these truths to be self-evident …"). Then she twists history and identifies "tyrannical government" as the entity Americans must protect their rights from.
There's much to say in response. First, Bailey's interpretation of the Founders' (and God's) vision is idealistic. The Founders were not against regulation. They were not against law. Their first act was to create the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights—a set of regulations and laws. They understood regulation and law as necessary tools for preserving liberty. As for God's vision, Bailey's read of Scripture seems rooted in dispensationalist soil. How else can one read the whole counsel of Scripture and think God's vision is the abolition of law? Consider the Ten Commandments, all of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, David's Psalm 119 love letter to the law, all the prophets who called the Israelites back to the law, and the words of Jesus, who declared, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill" (Matt. 5:17)?