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As the 2022 Kamloops' Municipal Election approaches, Christian voters are wondering if there are any Biblical principles to guide them in how to cast their ballot. Indeed there are clear Biblical principles. Of course, before we say anything further about the Kamloops Municipal Election, we should remind ourselves where our ultimate hope lies.
Psalm 146:3–7 (ESV)
3 Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
We should always remember that, despite the campaign promises and political rhetoric, politicians are still human. They are prone to mistakes, and even the best intentions can end in futility when it comes to modern politics. Our hope is in God. We hope in Him, but we also play our part in our democracy. Christians should strive to steward their vote for the glory of God.
With that mind, there are three pressing issues that have faced our city in the recent months leading up to this election. They are (1) drug addiction and the drug crises on our streets, (2) the rise of crime within the city that is associated with the drug crises, and (3) the affordability of housing.
One of the issues that has been widely debated during the current election cycle has been the issue of recreational drugs and the drug overdose crises that is taking place on our city streets.
The term “drug” in English can be applied to a wide variety of substances, so it is important to define at the outset what I am discussing. I am not discussing chemical substances used for medicinal purposes (what are commonly called pharmaceutical drugs). Rather, I am talking about “recreational drugs”—drugs that are used not for medicinal purposes but because people think they will enjoy the mental and emotional effects the drugs cause.
The Policy of Harm Reduction is the policy whereby local hospitals or other non-profit, social welfare organizations, such as Ask Wellness, will provide a supervised location and sterile needles, as well as the other necessary paraphernalia, for drug abusers to inject their recreational drugs. The goal is to reduce harm to the drug abuser by providing them with safe, sterile and clean materials. This is done under the assumption that the drug abuser will ultimately seek these materials out from somewhere, and he or she will ultimately turn to harmful sources in order to obtain access to these materials. By providing “safe” drug paraphernalia, the assumption is that there is a net reduction of harm to the drug abuser. Interestingly, the policy of Harm Reduction now includes providing a safe, non-toxic supply of those drugs in order to keep the drug abuser from inadvertently injecting drugs that are laced with far more deadlier kinds of drugs, such as fentanyl.
How should the Christian think about this? From a Biblical perspective, the Christian Voter should never favor what is termed, “A Policy of Harm Reduction.” The Christian Voter should seek to vote for candidates to city council who will oppose organizations and institutions from implementing policies of Harm Reduction and should oppose the use of any harm reduction techniques. A Christian view towards drugs and intoxication should be one of abstinence and immediate detoxification.
There are two moral requirements found in Scripture which guide this conviction.
Many recreational drugs cause effects similar to drunkenness or intoxication, and therefore the biblical commands against being drunk, or intoxicated, also apply to the use of such drugs. If their use distorts a person’s good judgment, causes the loss of some measure of moral restraint, causes the loss of good physical coordination, or brings reproach on a person’s reputation, then the passages against “drunkenness” also forbid becoming “drunk” (or intoxicated) by means of these drugs. The command “Do not get drunk with wine” (Eph. 5:18) also can be rightly applied in the sense of “Do not get drunk with marijuana (or cocaine, heroin, or similar drugs).” (See also 1 Cor. 5:11; 6:9–11; Gal. 5:21; 1 Tim. 3:2, 8; Titus 1:7.)
Since the Word of God prohibits intoxication entirely, without exception, then it stands to reason that to enable others to become intoxicated with recreational drugs –even from the motivation of attempting to reduce harm resulting from drug-abuse and drug-seeking behavior – is a violation of the moral requirements of Scripture.
From these commandments it is wrong to conclude that God does not care about the well-being of a drug-abuser. It is most accurate to say that God does not favor a policy of enabling one kind of harm simply for the sake of trying to reduce another kind of harm. God commands believers to stop all harm, immediately. Therefore, intoxication is prohibited, and Christians are therefore prohibited from voting in favor of such policies as Harm Reduction policies.
Other Scripture passages encourage us to remain sober: “Be … sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (1 Pet. 4:7; see also 1 Thess. 5:6–8). Still others hold up self-control as a moral virtue for Christians to cultivate (see Gal. 5:23, where it is part of the fruit of the Spirit; also 1 Pet. 4:7; 2 Pet. 1:6). Whenever the use of a recreational drug results in a significant loss of self-control, its use is absolutely prohibited by these verses.
By extension, we can conclude that if the Christian is called to be sober-minded and to be capable of maintaining self-control, all of society is similarly called to these same moral standards. Policies of Harm Reduction enable drug-abusers to exult in a paralyzed physical state of being, marked by a total lapse of judgement and self-control. In establishing supervised-injection sites, society is encouraging behavior that runs contrary to the Word of God.
One of the major issues that has been debated among candidates for Kamloops’ city council is the sharp uptick in crime. Many candidates for city council have tied the increase in property crime to the number of homeless now living on the streets of Kamloops. Another connection has been drawn between the rise of crime and the prevalence of recreational drug addiction and the drug crises. As we think about who to vote for, we should first ask a couple of questions: What does the Bible teach about private property? And additionally, what does the Bible teach us about civil government in general? What should be the purpose of government?
Sometimes people think ownership of property is a kind of “greed” that is morally tainted. Other candidates operate from a clear Marxist-socialistic perspective. They imagine that in a perfect world we would not even own personal possessions. Some of the candidates for Kamloops City Council give the impression that those who live in the downtown core, who own property or manage businesses, are guilty of “white privilege” and should bear the responsibility for those who are living on the streets. As a result, it is implied that property owners should be forgiving of the damage and destruction which results from crime. But the Bible, unequivocally, does not support that idea. When God gave the command,
“You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15),
He affirmed the validity of personal ownership of possessions, including the “means of production” such as managing businesses. I should not steal your car, because it belongs to you, not to me. I should not damage your businesses establishment, because it belongs to you, not to me. Unless God intended for us to own personal possessions, including businesses, the command not to steal makes no sense.
I believe the reason God gave the command, “You shall not steal,” is that ownership of possessions is a fundamental way that we imitate God’s sovereignty over the universe by our exercising “sovereignty” over a tiny portion of the universe in the things we own. When we take care of our possessions, we imitate God in His taking care of the whole universe, and He delights to see us imitate Him in this way. In addition, when we care for our possessions, it gives us opportunity to imitate many other attributes of God, such as wisdom, knowledge, beauty, creativity, love for others, kindness, fairness, independence, freedom, joy, and so forth.
Now, sometimes Christians refer to ownership as “stewardship,” to remind us that what we “own” we do not own absolutely, but only as stewards taking care of what really belongs to God. This is because “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24:1) and so ultimately it all belongs to Him (see also Lev. 25:23; Ps. 50:10–12; Hag. 2:8; Luke 16:12; 1 Cor. 4:7).
The Scripture teaches that God establishes government to protect the rights of people, from the right of life to the right of personal property. Any government that abdicates the responsibility to protect the lives, livelihoods, or personal property of its citizens is a government that is operating in defiance of its divine mandate. God establishes civil government for the purposes of protecting citizens.
The first indication of God’s establishment of civil government in human society happened when Noah and his family came out of the ark after the flood. At this point God said that he would require payment (“a reckoning”) for the crime of murder, and that he would require this penalty to be carried out by other human beings:
And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.
Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed,
for God made man in his own image. (Gen. 9:5–6)
Here God indicated that the crime of murder (expressed by the biblical image of “shedding blood”) would be repaid by the forfeiture of the criminal’s own life: “by man shall his blood be shed”.
No further details are given here regarding civil government. But in speaking these words to Noah, God established the obligation for human beings to carry out the most severe punishment (the taking of a human life) in retribution for the most horrible crime (the murder of another human being). Once this principle was established, then the imposition of lesser penalties for lesser crimes was also validated, since a government that has the right to carry out the most severe punishment certainly has the right to carry out lesser punishments for lesser crimes as well.
The command to Noah in Genesis 9 was given at the beginning of the reestablishment of human society after God had destroyed all but Noah’s family in the waters of the flood. Therefore, we should not limit the principles in Genesis 9:5–6 to the Old Testament only or to the nation of Israel only, for the context implies that these principles have relevance for the whole human race for the flourishing of society for all time.
Another section of the Old Testament reinforces this need for government to restrain evil, for it shows that when there is no government or the government is so weak that it cannot enforce its laws, there are terribly destructive results. The stories in Judges 17–21 recount some of the most horrible sins recorded anywhere in the Bible. These passages teach us the dreadful results of anarchy, a situation that comes about when there is no effective government at all. This was the situation in Israel at that time, for “in those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 17:6; cf. 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).
Judges shows in gruesome detail why civil government is so badly needed among sinful human beings. Where there is no ruler, sinful people make up their own morality and soon begin to do terrible things to one another.
One of the comments that has been made by many candidates for Mayor and City Council is that both the drug problem and the crime problem are the responsibility of the Province and the Federal Government, not the Municipal Government. This sounds like a convenient way of side-stepping the issue according to our modern division of governmental authority and responsibility, but it is unacceptable in the eyes of God according to Scripture.
All civil government bears responsibility in God’s eyes for the protection of their citizens. The municipal government bears final responsibility to God for protecting the local citizens of Kamloops, not the Provincial Government and not the Federal Government. The Provincial Government shares responsibility with the municipalities for protecting the citizens of the entire Province, including Kamloops. The Federal Government shares responsibility with the Provincial Governments for protecting the citizens of the entire nation, including Kamloops. Nevertheless, anarchy will reign on our streets until we elect a Mayor who will stop passing the buck to the Provincial Government and determine to rectify the situation, himself together with council.
Many candidates running for city council have advocated that the City of Kamloops should provide a taxpayer-funded grant that subsidizes city residents’ purchase of a home because of how “unaffordable” homes have become. The question that we are asking, Biblically, is this: should it be the right of government to “take from the rich and give to the poor”? Should government try to equalize the possessions – or in this case, homes – that people have? Should government take actions that move in the direction of economic equality?
Before answering this question, I need to make clear that I think there is some need for government-supported welfare programs to help cases of urgent need (for example, to provide a “safety net” to keep people from going hungry or without clothing or some kind of shelter). With regard to some basic necessities of life (food, clothing, and shelter), I think it is right for government to take taxes in order to provide the basics of shelter and food in cases of urgent need. This becomes particularly apparent during wildfire season when the city must undertake the responsibility of sheltering evacuees who have suffered the devastating loss of property. The reason why I think this is correct is that God created life in His image, and every government given by God has also been given the responsibility to protect life and to uphold its dignity. Therefore, it is right for government to tax for the purposes of providing temporary shelter and emergency relief.
However, I cannot find any justification in Scripture for thinking that God has appointed government to take from the rich and give to the poor through taxation. This idea is completely missing from the Biblical text. As far as the purposes that have been clearly stated within Scripture for God’s will regarding the purposes of civil government, the government exists solely to protect the citizens from harm, to uphold the Law, and to punish those who break the Law. The government appears to have the blessing of God to tax its citizens for the pursuit of those goals. It is not the government’s prerogative to redistribute wealth or redistribute material possessions, including homes. According to the Bible, the Government is never granted the responsibility or the right to attempt to equalize the differences between rich and poor within a society. When it attempts to do so, significant harm is done to the economy and to the society.
Many of you may be thinking that there is a contradiction in my position. In the second paragraph I argued that government should provide for cases of urgent need, including providing shelter. Yet I argue that government should not redistribute wealth or property in the third paragraph. What is the difference? The difference lies in the ownership of the property and the economics of purchasing a home. I believe that Governments should provide shelter in order to protect its citizens from harm. Shelter is a temporary refuge, perhaps even a long-term refuge, from exposure to the elements. However, what several Kamloops city council candidates are calling for is substantially more than this. They are advocating for taking money from tax-payers in order to give that money to others for the purposes of purchasing and owning a home as a matter of private property. This is not the provision of shelter. This is the redistribution of wealth and material possessions.
In a free society, with no government confiscation of wealth, the amount of money that people earn will always vary widely. This is because people have different abilities, different interests, and different levels of economic ambition. Only a very few people are able to become skilled surgeons or highly paid professional athletes or start a small business. Therefore, if people are free from government intervention, some will become very wealthy, others will have a comfortable level of income, and some will remain relatively poor. This is simply going to happen.
And even if we adopted some sort of plan to tax the wealthy and give everyone in the city, who was below the poverty line, up to $100,000 in cash in order to purchase a home, after a few weeks some would have spent it all, some would have saved most of it, and some would have invested it in activities that would produce more income. After a few months there would be significant inequalities all over again. This is inevitable. Additionally, with the massive influx of cash into the housing market, homes would only have gone up in value. This would be a temporary inflation, and therefore no meaningful relief would have actually been provided through the tax-payer subsidy.
If such an experiment continued, how could any government insure that people have equal amounts of possessions? Only by continually redistributing money over and over again each year, taking from those who have been most frugal and most productive, and giving to those who have been least productive or even frivolous. In other words, equality of possessions could not be maintained apart from penalizing good habits (hard work, productivity, frugality) and rewarding bad habits (profligate spending, wastefulness, or frittering time on unproductive activities). The longer such “redistribution of wealth” continued in this hypothetical scenario, the more the productive people would just decide to give up and the society would spiral downward into poverty and despair.
Since (1) the Bible never gives the right to governments to redistribute wealth, including for the purposes of home ownership, and (2) history has shown the tragic results of all such attempts at wealth redistribution, the conclusion is that it should not be the role of Kamloops government to attempt to equalize home-ownership among people in the city of Kamloops through taxation.