From the point of view of the average businessman, the New Deal launched America on the path of “creeping socialism.” By the mid-1950’s over one hundred “business sponsored” organizations opposing the New Deal’s political philosophy of interventionism began to appear. Many welcomed the name “libertarian” to distinguish themselves from the political liberals who accepted Big Government as a necessary instrument of social progress.

Although differing on many points, libertarians have, since their beginning, shared one common apprehension: the steady growth of government and the corresponding decline of individual responsibility and freedom. They have been driven by a very real fear, the fear that a government which controls the economic life of its citizens today will control their thoughts and souls tomorrow. To the libertarians, the “democratic process,” which many trust as an adequate safeguard against tyranny, supplies no sufficient guarantee against a tyrannical majority. They have read American history and know that the architects of our Constitutional system, who were aware of the danger of tyranny by the majority, tried to prevent it by specific checks which later political developments either weakened or destroyed.

Libertarianism And Religion

Three libertarian organizations that have had the most to do with the religious community have been the Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York; Spiritual Mobilization, Los Angeles; and the Christian Freedom Foundation, New York City.

All three organizations have been anti-statist but hardly anarchistic. (Professor Russell Kirk, author of The Conservative Mind, is the leader of another faction which prefers to call itself “conservative” rather than libertarian and tolerates more government authority. Thus, the age-old tension between freedom and authority divides the anti-statists.) All three are indebted for much of their economic thought to the Austrian school of economics mediated by Professor Ludwig von Mises and Professor Friederich Hayek and their disciples. Beyond that, these three organizations have followed different paths.

Foundation For Economic Education

Although sometimes mentioning God in its publications, the Foundation for Economic Education has not consistently risen above a humanistic basis, often implying that man is self-sufficient and capable of ordering his world by reason alone without guidance from other sources, especially government. This Foundation has championed an autonomous man and argued for freedom on the materialistic grounds that man in a free society produces more things and enjoys a higher standard of living than he would were government to interfere. The Foundation for Economic Education belongs to a wing of the anti-statist movement which champions a minimum of government. Occasionally, however, its antipathy toward government has been mistaken as a brand of philosophical anarchism.

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Although the Foundation for Economic Education has included clergymen with teachers and other molders of public opinion in its activities, it has not concentrated upon influencing church organizations. Moreover, its policy has been to send literature only to those who request it. In short, it has had much less contact with churches than the two following organizations.

Spiritual Mobilization

Spiritual Mobilization, under the leadership of Dr. James W. Fifield, Jr., minister of the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, with the aid of Dr. Donald Cowling, former president of Carleton College, has ventured a more religious approach than the Foundation for Economic Education. Spiritual Mobilization has published a monthly journal, Faith and Freedom, which has centered on the natural rights philosophy of the Declaration of Independence and has turned attention to the inalienable rights of man as a creature of God. Spiritual Mobilization has been thoroughly American in its accent, but less evangelical in emphasis than Christian Freedom Foundation. The full name of the movement significantly, is Mobilization for Spiritual Ideals, Inc.

Christian Freedom Foundation

Dr. Howard E. Kershner, a Quaker humanitarian who has served around the world in relief work, together with other religious leaders including Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, launched the Christian Freedom Foundation, which publishes the fortnightly, Christian Economics. This Foundation has as directors a large body of clergymen who account, along with the native pietism of Dr. Kershner, for the biblical and evangelical tone of the paper. This characteristic has distinguished it from the Foundation for Economic Education and Spiritual Mobilization. With the exception of Christian Economics there is very little consciousness of sin in libertarian writing.

Economics And Religion

Since the loss of secular freedom usually appears in the realm of economics, the concentration of libertarian movements has been upon economics. Increasingly, however, the intuition of many businessmen who are concerned about freedom has been that they must strike deeper than economics if they are to preserve economic freedom. Mr. Leonard Read, founder and president of the Foundation for Economic Education, may have been reflecting this trend when he stated that today a more descriptive name for his organization should be the Foundation for the Study of Freedom. One executive of a major industry recently made the statement: “All economic problems find their answer in the area of religious faith.”

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This growing awareness of the need to search more deeply into the origin and nature of freedom is in contrast to much of the material sent out by the National Association of Manufacturers and the United States Chamber of Commerce which is often content to contrast the large number of work hours required in Russia to purchase shoes, clothing and other consumer goods with the very few work hours required in America. It is important to recognize that free men produce more, and a free system results in higher standard of living; but is this the essential difference between Communism and private enterprise? Suppose men get bored with two cars in every garage?

The Gospel And Society

Nevertheless, libertarian exploration of freedom has posed some questions evangelicals should consider. The advice that ministers “preach the gospel” and ignore political and economic issues is palpably absurd. Christianity cannot exist in a vacuum. It exists in relationship to men in society and has implications regarding the actions of men in their economic, political and social situations.

What are the implications of the gospel regarding society? Many theological liberals have been sure that the gospel implies Socialism. Does it? Is the Bible on the side of private property or of community of goods? What is the function of government in the light of the New Testament? Should we try to do by government what God refused to do in the Garden of Eden: prevent man from making mistakes? What about the Robin Hood morality of taking from one group in society in order to give to another? Is this Christian?

Evangelicals who think about these problems will have some questions to ask libertarians. Is the purpose of freedom the pleasure of man or the glory of God? Is statism evil because it generates poverty or because it enslaves man and inevitably becomes idolatry? Can we stop on the level of moral and spiritual ideals in our search for the foundations of freedom? Can the dilemma between freedom and authority, which so plagues libertarians, be resolved without Christ who sets men free through the discipline of commitment?

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In this dialogue, evangelicals have a ministry that goes beyond raising questions. They have a witness to bear to the Saviourhood and Lordship of Jesus Christ. They must share the libertarian concern about the political and economic crisis which threatens our nation, but they must also be uneasy about the note that is missing from most libertarian publications.

The need of government is usually discounted by libertarians because men are good. This was the same kind of reasoning that was followed by the social gospel of former years to a conclusion far removed from that of Spiritual Mobilization. The social gospel argued that men are so good that they can be trusted to be altruistic and to live co-operatively once the “wicked,” competitive strife for profit is eliminated from society. The social gospel found sin in the environment rather than in the heart of man. Consequently, it was easy for the social gospelers to believe that mankind could bring the Kingdom of God to earth by means of legislation. Social action comes out in about the same place, but for different reasons. Through the impact of neo-orthodox theology, social action has become more realistic about sin, but its hope of redemption is still government action and not divine intervention. Consequently, although some social action leaders have retracted their more extreme pro-Marxian statements, they are still committed to a policy of legislating Christianity into “the structure of society.”

Evangelicals know that there is but one solution to the problem of sin—the Saviourhood and Lordship of Jesus Christ. Evangelicals know that this is a disease that can be remedied only on an individualistic basis. Individuals cannot be changed by changing society, but society can be changed by changing the hearts of individuals. In their individualism, evangelicals and libertarians are in agreement. It does not take much imagination to see the possibility of that agreement widening to include many other fronts as libertarians become conscious of the terrible lostness of modern society, and as evangelicals become aware of the political implications of their gospel.

It is inevitable that whoever takes the quest for freedom seriously must eventually be led to Christ. When Jesus said: “If the Son shall make you free ye shall be free indeed,” he was speaking of freedom from sin, but this is a freedom which is a source of all other freedom and which acts as a leaven in any society. Without this grace no society can long enjoy political or economic freedom. Witness the failure of South American and Asiatic countries when they have tried to build political freedom on some other foundation. Weber and Tawney drew near to the truth when they developed the thesis that capitalism was a by-product of Protestantism, especially of the Calvinistic variety.

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Freedom A Divine Gift

It may be heretical to try to use Christianity to save a politico-economic system, but it is not heresy to point to the fact that political and economic freedom are a gift of Christ and that unless men turn to Christ they will certainly lose both.

Dr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, Rector of Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, and a director of the Christian Freedom Foundation, relates a relevant experience in his book By the Power of God.

He found a delightful group of young married couples in Pittsburgh whose support of private enterprise far outran their interest in Christianity. The husbands were all executives and junior executives in the Pittsburgh area. When first introduced to them, Dr. Shoemaker asked them the question: “Have you ever stopped to think where America got her freedom? There is a Greek element in it, but by far the preponderant factor in freedom as we know it is our inherited Christianity.”

Dr. Shoemaker developed this theme at his first informal meeting with the group. The first meeting led to a second, third, fourth and a fifth, and then the Rector had to leave for vacation. In the fall, the couples reconvened, but not merely to study. By now they were ready to win others to a new way of thinking, and they did. This group of businessmen, with their wives, became the core of an evangelistic enterprise later known as “the Pittsburgh experiment.”

An evangelical who does not compromise with socialism has a greater opportunity to reach business communities today with the gospel than he has had for generations. But he must have some understanding of the economic crisis we face, as well as know the Christ who came “to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Preacher In The Red


While in school I was no different from any other student minister—I wanted a church that I could call my own charge. Finally a small church many miles beyond the city limits invited me to come one Sunday in view of a call. Filled with excitement and expectation I went, and gave them my student best. They set the next Sunday to call, and I was the only one being considered. The week which followed was a long, anxious one. The months fell away but no news from them. A few years later I was preaching in a town not many miles from that country church. After the service a lady came by and asked if I remembered her. I didn’t. She reminded me that she had been a member of that church and was there the Sunday I preached for them. I remarked, “Well, that was a strange experience. I felt sure the church would call me.”

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“They did call you,” she replied.

“But I never heard a word from them,” I said.

“I know. I was the church clerk and they instructed me to write you, but I got to wondering what my husband would think of me writing to a strange man, so never did let you know.”

—The Rev. J. LOWELL PONDER, Karnes City, Texas.

For each report by a minister of the Gospel of an embarrassing moment in his life, CHRISTIANITY TODAY will pay $5 (upon publication). To be acceptable, anecdotes must narrate factually a personal experience, and must be previously unpublished. Contributions should not exceed 250 words, should be typed double-spaced, and bear the writer’s name and address. Upon acceptance, such contributions become the property of CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Address letters to: Preacher in the Red, CHRISTIANITY TODAY Suite 1014 Washington Building, Washington, D.C.

Irving E. Howard is associated with Christian Freedom Foundation. An ordained Congregational clergyman, he holds the Th.B. degree from Gordon Divinity School, S.T.B. from Harvard Divinity School, M.A. from Clark University, and is studying Business Administration at New York University.

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