Individual Rights vs. The Public Good – How do you Draw the Line?

With all the news and political commentary I keep up with, I see one dichotomy which comes up often, and seems to summarize the ideological rift between Republicans and Democrats: “Individual Rights” vs. “The Public Good.”

In one corner, you have the Republicans, who champion individual rights. For example, one reason Republicans oppose the Affordable Care Act is because it takes away individuals’ rights to choose their own health care, and essentially takes away individuals’ money and distributes it to the public.

In the other corner, you have the Democrats, who fight for the public good. Keeping with the health-care example, Democrats support the Affordable Care Act, precisely because it is for the good of the broader public, even if it does take away some individual rights.

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive description, free of exceptions. Republicans like to talk about the public good when defending foreign wars (it’s for protecting the public), and Democrats like to espouse individual rights in their support for abortion (the woman’s right, that is). Both support an individual’s right to free speech, and both support taxes for building roads for the public good. But for the most part, I think this dichotomy sums it up.

So, here’s my question to all of  you: How do you draw the line between the two? Or, when faced with the choice of one or the other on a particular issue, how do you choose between supporting individual rights, or supporting the public good?  And if you’re coming at it from a Christian perspective, how does this influence your thinking?

I continue to wrestle with the Bible, church history, and the role of the church in society, and I have come to this simple conclusion: it’s complicated.  Policy is complicated.  History is complicated.  Matching religious belief with your take on either of these is even more complicated.  It’s way too complicated for one party to have the holistic, right answer.  The one thing I’m sure of is that Jesus has called us to do all of these things in love for our neighbors, even if it’s not politically expedient.

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