This election cycle has forced a lot of Christians—myself included—to rethink their approach to politics from the ground up. While Hillary Clinton’s nomination by the Democratic Party didn’t come as much of a shock, this time last year I couldn’t have predicted that Donald Trump would emerge victorious from the Republican primaries. And yet here we are.
For many social and religious conservatives, the options are disappointing. Hillary’s platform opposes traditional values at nearly every turn, while Trump’s credentials as a conservative are dubious at best. Neither candidate seems interested in defending the rights and dignity of the most vulnerable members of our society—the unborn in Hillary’s case, and minorities and immigrants in Trump’s case.
Doubtlessly many Christians will simply bite the bullet, vote for the “lesser evil,” and hope for a better candidate next time around. Others of the #NeverTrump and #NeverHillary persuasion might abstain, vote third-party, or write in a candidate this time, while still remaining committed to one of the two main parties and working toward long-term reform from the inside.
Others, however, are calling for a more radical solution. They believe that the problem lies not simply in the current crop of candidates, but in the left-right binary itself. Claiming that neither major party fully reflects Christian values, they advocate an end to Democrat-Republican hegemony and the establishment of a multi-party system in its place. For example, in a recent blog post, Baptist theologian Bruce Ashford argues that embracing a multi-party system would lead to greater diversity, accountability, and representation in our government. Further, as the number of parties increases, so does the ability for Christians to vote in accordance with their convictions. More options, less compromise.
Of course, there are drawbacks to a multi-party system, and I’m not necessarily advocating it myself. But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that we were to go this route. What might the ideal third party look like for Christians?
One option that has drawn some attention is the American Solidarity Party (see recent articles at First Things and Mere Orthodoxy). They describe themselves as dedicated to the sanctity of human life, economic justice, and creation care. Representing a blend of pro-labor Republicans and pro-life Democrats, they are traditional on abortion and marriage, but progressive on healthcare and other social services. Religiously, they are more likely to resonate with Roman Catholic and African American churches than with mainline Protestant churches. Politically, they are more likely to resonate with John Kasich supporters than with Gary Johnson supporters. It’s also worth mentioning that they have put forward a presidential candidate of their own, Mike Maturen.
My interest here is not in endorsing the party, but in evaluating it in terms of the core tenets of neo-Calvinism, the theological tradition that derives from 19th-century Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper, and which affirms Christ’s redemptive lordship over every sphere of life. I want to consider the question, would Kuyper have felt at home in the American Solidarity Party?
The ASP sees itself as the American heir of the Christian Democratic parties of Europe, which were directly influenced by Kuyper’s thought. There are in fact many similarities between the ASP and Kuyper’s own Anti-Revolutionary Party (referring to Kuyper’s opposition to the radical ideals of the French Revolution). Both parties are socially conservative, opposing such evils as pornography, abortion, euthanasia, etc. Further, while the ASP promotes the principle of subsidiarity as derived from Catholic Social Teaching, Kuyper espoused the very similar principle of sphere sovereignty, which holds that each institution of society (the university, the church, the state, etc.) has its own God-ordained sphere of authority and ought not to encroach on the sovereignty of other institutions.
One possible difference between the ASP and neo-Calvinists is over the role of government welfare and social safety nets. Kuyper was known for his strong resistance to such a notion. Though he was certainly critical of unfettered capitalism, his preferred solution was to enact laws supporting the rights of workers and labor unions rather than redistributing wealth. He writes:
Is state welfare an adequate substitute for Christian charity? Never: “The holy art of ‘giving for Jesus’ sake’ ought to be much more strongly developed among us Christians. Never forget that all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior.” …Unless you wish to undermine the position of the laboring class and destroy its natural resilience, the material assistance of the state should be confined to an absolute minimum. The continuing welfare of people and nation, including labor, lies only in powerful individual initiative. (Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty)
Many modern-day neo-Calvinists have strong libertarian leanings when it comes to economic policy—the Reformed contributors to the Acton Institute come to mind. However, there are some disciples of Kuyper today who are more open to the idea of state welfare, provided that it remains limited, temporary, and a last resort (notice in the quote above that Kuyper supports a “minimum” of state assistance, not zero). David Koyzis, professor of political science at Redeemer University College, writes:
Of course government is itself limited by the divine calling to do justice, which means that it cannot, in totalitarian fashion, do everything people might wish it to do. It cannot by itself employ all those lacking work. It cannot eradicate poverty. It cannot in general create the good life for its citizens. It cannot play father or mother to its citizens. But given these limits, justice does require that the government (1) care for those things held in common by the body politic, (2) play at least a minimal redistributive role to temper the potential injustices engendered by the market or to compensate for other deficiencies in its operation, and (3) assume some responsibility for the economically disadvantaged. (Koyzis, Political Visions and Illusions, 179)
John Frame, professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, similarly argues:
I do not believe, however, that we should oppose government welfare in all circumstances. The state is the government of the family of Adam, just as the institutional church is the government of the family of Christ…. Families take care of their own. In general, I think that capitalism is the best system of economic organization for both rich and poor. But capitalism does not guarantee that all will succeed. People ‘fall through the cracks.’ Some cannot make it on their own, and churches often turn a blind eye. For such, often the poorest of the poor, there is a place for government support. But that support should be light-handed. It should, when possible, prepare recipients and their children to earn their own living. It should encourage them to find work when they are able. It should turn their care over to families and religious bodies whenever possible. It should not seek to monopolize or dominate the nation’s care-giving system, or place barriers in the way of others who have resources to help. (Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 825)
So it does seem that neo-Calvinism allows room for the idea of material assistance from the state, but only when the family and the church are unable or unwilling to meet this need. These lower-level institutions ought to be the first responders to the problem of poverty. But this is precisely what subsidiarity means and what the ASP advocates. There can of course be debate about when and how much government aid should be provided. And although some will doubtlessly cry “statism,” I suspect that a good number of neo-Calvinists today would feel quite at home in the ASP.
I would still caution Christians against identifying their faith with any particular political party. After all, we are first and foremost citizens of a heavenly kingdom. And considering that politics always involves the messy business of balancing personal values with achievable outcomes amidst society’s competing interests, I think it is better to say that voting is (almost) always a matter of prudence rather than of morality. I have no right to say that Christians are morally obligated to support any particular party or candidate, and we should be careful not to cast stones at other believers who come to different conclusions. But at the very least, I can say that the American Solidarity Party is worth a Christian’s consideration.
 One substantive point of difference is over the death penalty: the ASP opposes it (consistent with Catholic Social Teaching), while Kuyper and the Anti-Revolutionary Party supported it.
 It is also noteworthy that followers of Kuyper outside the United States—including his own Anti-Revolutionary Party from the 1960s onward—have generally been more supportive of the idea of a limited welfare state.