In the wake of looting, my fellow conservatives take to social media to complain about the destruction of personal property. I have paid careful attention to the counter argument. These well-meaning individuals argue that it is ludicrous to be moved by the destruction of property, but not injustices to black lives. I can understand why the conservative outcry invokes this response. It does appear heartless. More needs to be said than what a meme can hold.
Without the proper space for real discourse we tend to emotively argue based on memes and click bait articles instead of wrestling with the substance of these topics.
Inanimate objects, stuff, things, personal effects, and buildings are not, and will never be, on par with a human life of any age, color, ethnicity, or nationality, born or unborn. However, to take issue with destruction of personal property is to take issue with the destruction of the value system of liberty. Personal property is tied to the dignity and liberty of free people. This is where it is indeed a matter of lives and livelihood and not only a matter of stuff.
Personal Property is a Right of Man
When Jefferson wrote in The Declaration of Independence that, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . .” he borrowed the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” from John Locke that was well known in that era to mean “personal property.” Liberty meant you could own the fruit of your labor. You had a right to what you earned or purchased. No one can take your business, your house, your income, or your land. You are the rightful owner and not your neighbor or your local or national government. We cannot continue as a free nation if this indelible right of man were to be disregarded.
Looting or burning property, undermines the very fabric of freedom which supports all Americans. Even when that liberty has not been equitable to all lives as it should be, to disregard the very tenants of that liberty is to lose it for all Americans. It is not to gain it for black lives, it is to undermine it for everyone.
Government Protects Rights, it does not Grant them
It is not our founding documents that gives Americans these rights. Nor does the government grant us these rights. God does. Jefferson astutely wrote that “that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men . . .” Man creates government to protect what God said should be protected.
These documents are inscribed with what God has given as the rights of man. It is the Ten Commandments which informs us that stealing is forbidden. The outworking of that commandment is ownership of personal property. Stealing includes destroying what belongs to another. One cannot steal if another does not own something exclusively. A person or a corporation owns a business and all the material affects of its operation. When glass is broken, and the business is looted, that owner is violated. His (or her) freedom is intruded upon. His (or her) dignity is infringed upon. The attack on property is an attack on liberty.
The same structure of government designed to protect the liberty of persons including their property ownership is the same as that which protects our right to assemble and protest if that protest is not harmful to people and their property. It is from that same source, the Bible, which provided the worldview for our founding documents that we learn that equality is for all men and women, not just for those with power, wealth, or a certain skin color. To disregard one part of the principled foundation of this nation is to undermine the entire package and uproot liberty from this land.
Putting it into Perspective
That being said, please know that my first response to the civil unrest is published on this website with the title “American Reform for Black Lives.” I do not make an argument for property over and above or before an argument for black lives. I see that there is a problem in this nation where we have such division and inequality due, in part, to long term wrong policies designed to create a difference where there should have been none. I aim to never be one who contributes to the tensions through careless words or through assuming I understand what I have never lived. But what I do know well is the principles of liberty that must be guarded to ensure the well-being of the nation as we work through these divisions, inequalities, and clashing worldviews.
To hear white conservative evangelicals largely focus on how the protesting is being done wrong, giving little to no credence to that which has been peaceful or to those suffering silent anguish waiting for change that always seems out of reach is understandably abominable. If we boil down what is going on in our nation to looting and rioting, we are blind to the plight of black lives and the health of this nation. But if we do not understand the importance of property and its ties to liberty, we may very well be sawing away at the limb of the tree we are sitting on.
Perhaps it would be better not to frame the argument as a contrast between lives and property. Instead, agree that looting and property damage is an injustice as well. It is not a tolerable one. We also understand that those who are engaging in this behavior either have a diabolical agenda or are so full of pain from their own suffering of injustice that they believe these violent and destructive acts achieve the relief they need. There are still others, I am sure, that have no thoughtful agenda and are simply taking the opportunity to steal goods and participate in damaging property. It is not fair to lump all of these into the agenda for social justice and consider it to be what real reformers want for America.
Listen to Understand
We cannot participate in classifying the unrest as indicative of what the whole wants and then ignore the cry of the whole because of the offending remnant. There are huge worldview issues at play in all that is going on in our nation right now. But to engage these issues properly we must lay down our dueling swords and listen longer. We must listen, not until we agree, but until we understand. Understanding means not simply the philosophical argument being made, but the actual root issue of why that argument is being made. We may disagree with the argument and yet find a real root that requires a solution. Love does not dismantle a bad solution and abandon the one struggling without providing a good solution.
Lessons Learned from Ravi Zacharias
One crucial thing I learned from the late Ravi Zacharias is that one must listen past the argument to the arguer. What is the real pain point of their question? Who is standing there crying for help? What is the heart cry that the philosophies of this world have obscured? Ravi looked beyond the argument to the person, to the people, to the heart of the questioner. Then he delivered a response that answered the voiced and unvoiced questions.
We certainly need robust responses to cultural Marxism. But if we feel compelled to launch into a rebuttal to Marxism whenever we hear the cry “black lives matter”, we may be overlooking black lives while we are busy fighting Karl Marx. We do not have to speak out all of our reactions to looting every time a news article or meme crosses our eyes. Let us look beyond to the heart of the division in our nation and where we may possibly be contributing to the divide which gives Marxism a voice. We are to respond, not react.
What Road will we Travel?
Our nation is at a crossroads. The elections can take us down one road or another. Nationalism v. Globalism. Conversative values v. liberal values. Capitalism v. Socialism. I am not sure it has ever been so clearly divided and most of the voters do not understand the difference between these roads. Part of that is because we are too busy swapping memes to disciple a nation.
We assume much and know little. As Christians it is our responsibility to disciple America. If a nation is not discipled in the principles of liberty, of nationhood, of citizenship, then its people do not know how to vote. (for more on this topic see my September Worldview Bulletin – A Perspective for Politics) We give un-discipled people too much credit when we blame them for the state of our nation. You cannot condemn the world for its darkness. They are already in condemnation which is precisely why they do not have the light. We are the light of the world because the light of Jesus shines through us. The problem is not that the Church has not sufficiently fought the world, but that it has failed to disciple the world. When we fail in discipleship, the world disciples the Church. The reason we are at this crossroads is that the world has been discipling America and the American Church for generations.
No matter who is elected come November, the Church has its work cut out for it. Discipleship in all areas of society is key to reformation. We cannot sit back and let a President do all the work. It is not possible for a President to provide the much-needed reformation. But he can provide us better conditions for our mission. Or perhaps this election goes the other way and we are awakened and on our toes for the need for discipleship of our nation. I refuse to be pessimistic about our future. I will always proceed with hope, as I work for the reformation of America.
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