Was Jesus a Socialist?

By Julie Roys
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Was Jesus a socialist? Obviously, the question is a bit anachronistic, seeing as socialism didn’t exist in the First Century. Yet, some have claimed that socialism is the political system that best embodies the virtues Jesus extolled, like the Golden Rule. Others say socialism and Jesus have nothing in common. After all, Jesus affirmed private property and would have nothing to do with coercive redistribution of wealth. This Saturday, I’ll discuss the issue on Up For Debate with Micah Conkling, a Christian teacher and writer who supports Bernie Sanders’ brand of socialism – and Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education, who supports capitalism.  In the meantime, here’s a preview of where both men stand on this important issue. 

 

Was Jesus a Socialist? Yes.

guest_Micah-ConklingBy Micah Conkling, writer and host of The Chalkboard Podcast

Christians are called to subdue the world and navigate culture according to Jesus’ words, philosophy, and, Gospel.

The Gospel is Good News. That Good News –salvation freely given in relationship with Jesus Christ – is ultimate restoration. The world and its people are reconciled through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The Christian story on earth is about helping bring about the coming of Jesus’ kingdom on and in this earth. The Christian mandate is to create organizational systems, establish leadership, and craft policies that best reflect Jesus’ Gospel Economy.

When a Pharisee in Matthew 22 asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, Jesus’ answer is the core of Christian ethics and inspiring “How To Guide” for the way Christians should live. Jesus says Christians should love God with all their heart, soul, and mind, and he says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What we believe determines what we value, and what we value determines the actions we take and decisions we make in organizing and governing this world.

If Christians take seriously their charge to love God and their neighbor, then Christians will value others, not self.

If Christians value others, then the tangible policies and systems they promote in this world must be movements, platforms, and programs that endorse the well-being and benefit of other humans.

A kind of socialism: not Marx’s Communist Utopia or “Red Scare” Soviet Communism, but a method of organizing production, distribution, and the exchange of goods in which more people have open access to, equality in, and ownership of wealth and capital much better reflects the beliefs and values of Jesus than America’s current capitalist system.

America’s current capitalism doesn’t thoroughly account for the “least of these,” and it neglects a history and present afflicted with systemic evils which lead to the rich staying rich and the poor remaining poor.

America is a country, but Americans – Christians included – often treat it as a company rather than a community. America’s current capitalism doesn’t thoroughly account for the “least of these,” and it neglects a history and present afflicted with systemic evils which lead to the rich staying rich and the poor remaining poor.

America’s capitalism consistently neglects our brothers and sisters. Christians are not called to make a profit, but to be good stewards of this world and to love and serve their fellow humans.

America’s capitalism doesn’t lend itself very well to loving neighbors: it perpetuates oppression.

It lacks mercy, grace, and love.

A kind of socialism that acknowledges our history of inequality and seeks to treat all humans well by erring on the side of generosity and grace seems most like the kind of economic theory Jesus would promote.

Would an economic system with a bent toward socialism be perfect? Of course not. Christians can’t bring perfection to the earth: all they can do is seek to compose a world that best reflects Jesus’ teachings.

Good News is grace, not profit.

Good News is shelter, healthcare, food, and education for all people, regardless of how rich their parents were or how privileged they entered the world.

Good News is justice, and a community where a relative handful of rich individuals keep filling their pockets while masses go hungry or struggle to pay medical bills is not just.

In admitting America’s harsh contemporary realities – the vast discrepancy between the wealthy and poor, a lack of access to healthcare for middle and lower classes, gaps in education depending on income – it’s clear our capitalism isn’t working; especially if Christian beliefs and values are to be taken with any seriousness at all.

A kind of socialism that seeks to correct the economic injury done to our brothers and sisters in the past and the economic injustice that endures would be an earnest attempt to design a world where love and grace – not profit or security – are taken seriously.

 

Was Jesus a Socialist? No.

guest_lawrence-reedBy Lawrence W. Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education

Opinions as to what socialism really is are all over the lot. Socialists themselves are so intellectually slippery that they could crawl through a barrel of pretzels without knocking the salt off. It’s socialism until it doesn’t work; then it was never socialism in the first place. It’s socialism until the wrong guys get in charge; then it’s everything but. Under socialism, do you shoot the cow or just milk it 24/7? One thing I know for sure: When the milk runs out, socialists will blame the cow.

Is socialism nothing more than “sharing” things? It can’t be just that because you can do that under capitalism. In fact, there’s more voluntary sharing, more charitable activity, and more production of needs-satisfying goods and services to “share” under capitalism than in any other system. The fact is, what makes socialism socialism is the fact that it’s never voluntary. It relies on the use of secular government power to impose somebody’s vision of society on everybody else, and it does it through compulsory income redistribution and other politicized schemes.

Nowhere does Jesus suggest, let alone endorse, anything that looks like socialism.

I’m an economic historian, not a theologian, but I have read the New Testament many times. Nowhere does Jesus suggest, let alone endorse, anything that looks like socialism.

I first heard “Jesus was a socialist” and “Jesus was a redistributionist” some forty years ago. I was puzzled. I had always understood Jesus’s message to be that the most important decision a person would make in his earthly lifetime was to accept or reject him as savior. That decision was clearly to be a very personal one — an individual and voluntary choice. He constantly stressed inner, spiritual renewal as far more critical to well-being than material things. I wondered, “How could the same Jesus advocate the use of force to take stuff from some and give it to others?”

In Jesus’s teachings and in many other parts of the New Testament, Christians — indeed, all people — are advised to be of “generous spirit,” to care for one’s family, to help the poor, to assist widows and orphans, to exhibit kindness and to maintain the highest character. How all that gets translated into the dirty business of coercive, vote-buying, politically driven redistribution schemes is a problem for prevaricators with agendas. It’s not a problem for scholars of what Jesus actually said.

Jesus’s words and deeds repeatedly upheld such critically important, capitalist virtues as contract, profit, and private property. For example, consider his parable of the talents. Of several men in the story, the one who takes his money and buries it is reprimanded while the one who invests and generates the largest return is applauded and rewarded.

Jesus’s words and deeds repeatedly upheld such critically important, capitalist virtues as contract, profit, and private property.

Jesus was not interested in the public professions of charitableness in which the legalistic and hypocritical Pharisees were fond of engaging. It would hardly make sense for him to champion the poor by supporting policies that undermine the process of wealth creation necessary to help them. In the final analysis, he would never endorse a scheme that doesn’t work and is rooted in envy or theft.

Search your conscience. Consider the evidence. Be mindful of facts. Ask yourself: When it comes to helping the poor, would Jesus prefer that you give your money freely to the Salvation Army or at gunpoint to the welfare department?

In spite of the attempts of many modern-day socialists to make Jesus into one of their own, he was nothing of the sort.

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2 thoughts on “Was Jesus a Socialist?”

  1. The OT had a social welfare written into the Torah itself. It certainly encouraged the hard work that produces a rich harvest, but about a third of that harvest by law went to the poor and to immigrants, in tithes, gleaning and every seven years, the fallow year the entire harvest going to the poor and immigrants. Generosity and charitable giving was on top of that. As well you had debt cancellation every 7 years and every 50 years in the year of Jubilee all the land and houses accumulated by the wealthy being redistributed to the original families who had to sell them. See my blog: https://simianinthetemple.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/moses-and-israels-social-welfare-system/
    These laws were was Ignored by the rich through the generations or overturned through corrupt laws and bribery. This was the injustice the prophets and wisdom writers condemned so often. Prov 13:23 “The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” In fact they thought Messiah would be good news to the poor, that he would bring justice and even teach justice to the nations.
    And Jesus? He fulfilled the sacrificial laws, dismissed the kosher food laws, but he never disowned the social welfare laws. How could he when they are central to what God considers Justice? When Jesus spoke of the Pharisees meticulously tithing from their herb gardens, he went on to echo the OT prophets calling for social justice Luke 11:42 “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

  2. Debt forgiveness every seven years and the Jubilee was more like a mortgage burning than bankruptcy or just erasing debts with no consequences. With both, a farmer would sell his land only to pay off debts. He could sell it only for the sum of the output it would produce until Jubilee. That in turn would limit how much he could borrow. The seven year forgiveness and Jubilee were in reality the points at which the debt would be paid off.

    Evidence from ancient Jewish writings shows that the state did not enforce the poor laws or Jubilee. They enforced just the civil laws. And there were no tax collectors. The reason is that God loves a cheerful giver. Morality requires voluntary action else it’s not morality. The same goes for charity. The government of Israel left enforcement of those laws to God. Human government did not try to make people moral or make them give to the poor. Giving to the poor in the Bible was always voluntary from the perspective of government so that it would be a sign of one’s love for God.

    The Bible always and everywhere condemns those who refuse to give to the poor. It’s evil. But it is nowhere illegal. The state should never enforce that morality.

    BTW, the Bible prescribes only anointing with wine and oil and prayer to heal the sick. Christians don’t limit their healthcare to those today because God has given us modern science with better methods. In a similar way, God has given us modern economics. Economic history teaches us that freer markets have lifted more people out of poverty than all of the charity given in the history of mankind. China is only the latest example. It has lifted over 500 million from starvation to relative wealth only through slightly freer markets and no charity. If Christians care about the poor, they will champion freer markets.

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