For the purposes of this post, a bootlegger is anyone involved in a commercial activity of questionable moral value, e.g., commercial gambling, sex, or mind-altering substances. A Baptist is anyone who wants to use “the sword” of Romans 13:1–7 to prevent the bootlegger from bootlegging.
“That ought to be a crime! There should be a law against it!”
One of the consequences—Or was it a cause?—of Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil is the human tendency to believe in salvation by law: if we just make a law against bad things, we can muster our forces against the evil and it will go away.
Armed with Romans 13, Christians, especially since the Progressive era of the mid-nineteenth century, have tried to use political power to wipe out social evils. In doing so they have inadvertently attempted to do God one better: the evils they are attempting to wipe out are evils that God has nowhere said he wants us to eradicate by force.
This is not to say that social evils are not evil. Gambling is a zero-sum perversion of mutually beneficial investment in businesses that offer evidence, but no guarantee, of success. Intoxication is a perversion of the pleasure that accompanies a stomach full of nutritious food. Prostitution is a perversion of marital love.
But God has nowhere commanded his people to use force to eradicate these evils. The Bible speaks to menstruation, wet dreams, and defecation, so it’s not as if he was shy about telling what to do about gambling and prostitution and intoxication. And in fact he does tell us what to do: “Preach the gospel to all creation.”
We are to do our best to convince our neighbors to abandon evil practices. And while “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” is not in the Bible, at least not in as many words, if two and two make four, we will be most likely to convince people to make the right decision from the heart if they know we don’t threaten them.
So sometimes less is more. “Vengeance is mine. I will repay. Let the dead bury their own dead. You follow me.”
There’s another, a “two and two make four,” reason to avoid taking the sword against bootleggers. By doing so we play into the hands of the most ruthless among them.
By arresting the Fantines (i.e., desperate women) and the Xaviera Hollanders (i.e., those who do it for fun) among the sex workers, we eliminate the competition for those who kidnap women and enslave them. By arresting the people who grow pot in their basements and sell it on the streets, we eliminate the competition for the cartels, who are not averse to using their profits to set up political entities: can you say warlord?
And by outlawing penny-ante card games and online poker, we eliminate the competition for brick-and-mortar gambling establishments, which are also not averse to setting up political entities. Hmm, gambling and politics. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—do you suppose they have any connection to legal, cartelized gambling money?
When God said, “Do not steal,” he meant it. What people do with their property is their business until they put their neighbors’ lives and property in credible danger. We may wish that they did something better with it than what they’re doing, but God has not called us to confiscate their property for some “higher purpose.”
We are to do for them what we want them to do for us: first, leave us and our property alone, and only in that context, help us when we ask for it.