Those Communist and Socialist Christians!

giving-handsThis is the third in an ongoing series of posts in response to conservative flip-out reactions on an Evangelical page when they distributed a petition to raise the minimum wage.  Today, I want to focus on one singular statement out of hundreds because – even though few said such publicly this time – it belies a fundamental misbelief of the Religious Right:

Sense when are evangelical socialist? don’t call yourself an evangelical if you dig Mao

Ok, it’s easy and fun to rip on the spelling. I get it. But let’s look at the ideas here, because they are so widely and deeply accepted that they’re quite harmful.

The original poster is a group called Evangelicals for Social Action, which probably confused this commenter more deeply than he already was. Since the Religious Right tends to conflate conservative political stances with conservative theological stances, the idea of a group of conservative, pro-life Evangelicals seeking economic justice for the poor (as well as environmental justice) may be just too much for the black & white thinking that RR culture cultivates and values. Looking out for the rights and benefit of poor and struggling families isn’t socialism, it’s human decency.

Socialism is when the workers collaborate in ownership of their work and the means of producing with owners – when wealth, means to wealth, and control is equalized. This happens sometimes with state control, but often as a collaborative, democratic process. To equate all of socialism – which again, isn’t what ESA is – with Maoism is ridiculous and is used to denigrate a large movement with the idea that it’s genocidal or out for blood. It would be like reducing all of Christianity to the Crusades. Or to the Religious Right. It would be reducing all of United States history to the Spanish-American War.

In fact, such an understanding ignores practiced socialism and communism that the Bible and earliest Christians demonstrated.

Exodus: God leads the oppressed out of slavery and into a Promised Land of shared work and wealth. In slavery, the enslaved do not own their work, do not have rights to the fruits of their labor. When the Hebrews were released from their bondage, not only were they freed from the oppression of the Egyptian system, they were given retribution for their work as they walked out of Egypt with the goods of the slave-master class. Yeah, so wealth redistribution and socialism.

Jubilee: This is a period every fifty years where all debts would be forgiven and all the property redistributed.

Jesus’ remarks on forgiveness and work: When Jesus talked about forgiveness, he wasn’t just talking about forgiving others for the grievance they caused you, but he always tied it in with economic/debt forgiveness.

Jesus and his disciples practiced communism: The group of ragtag followers Jesus (from a wide variety of backgrounds and trades including peasants and tax collectors, women with means and those without) wandered around and shared a common purse. The Son of Man had no place to rest his head, but they shared in the labor and the resources. In fact, the story of Jesus’ betrayal is a story of greed. Judas decided to give Jesus up to his enemies after the Nazarene hinted that he knew Judas was stealing from their communalistic funds.

The first churches: Communists!

And then there were the early Christians:

Consider St. Basil’s homily/sermon here as but one example among many:

As for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.

Or the very early Christian writings, the Didache: “Share everything with your brother. Do not say, ‘It is private property.’ If you share what is everlasting, you should be that much more willing to share things which do not last.” (Did. 4:8) (source)

“And instead of the tithes which the law commanded, the Lord said to divide everything we have with the poor. And he said to love not only our neighbors but also our enemies, and to be givers and sharers not only with the good but also to be liberal givers toward those who take away our possessions.” –Irenaeus (source)

This isn’t even counting accusations made against Christians for being too communistic (what a world we live in, eh?) during the Roman Empire days. Such as when the pagan author Lucian said, “Christians despise all possessions and share them mutually.” (source)

It’s funny how times change, huh? Or, rather, how institutions change and look more like the environment they are a part of. To the extent that they actually codify some of the very things (such as greed) that they used to fight against. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t Christian groups of communist/socialist-leaning fellowships and practitioners now and in the more recent past (Dorothy Day and Walter Rauschenbauch and Martin Luther King, Jr., for examples). They’re out there. After all, Commie Pinkos Wrote My Bible.

jasdye

When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!

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  • Nice post, and thanks for the link to Holy Spirit Activism! I would be careful labelling the economic equality of the early church as socialism though, since socialism includes a lot, but it sure wasn’t capitalism. God wants equality (2 Cor 8:14).

  • Matt The Geek

    If groups of people want to get together and form a commune that is great (that is in fact basically what the first century church did) BUT, if you want to use the violence and force of the government to compel people to give their “fair share” (as modern day socialists do) I don’t think you can reconcile that with the teachings of Jesus.

    Freedom is freedom to good or evil.

    • Matt,
      Those are some dubious delineations. The poor people and poor communities did not voluntarily become poor. There may need to be some force of some sort in order to reclaim their rightful wealth and property. I do not think a violent, bloody force is necessary – but lumping in all “modern day socialists” as you have is pretty disingenuous and something I mostly hear from the Religious Right.

      • Chuck Reed

        I say take tax rates back to when we were at our most prosperous!
        The rightwing propaganda machine have these poor souls believing that voting against their own interest is somehow patriotic but as we see the middle class lose wealth at a record pace (since bush tax cuts) and the top 1% gain record wealth why don’t they question what is the long term outlook?
        Who will be the consumer class the middle class used to be?