Saturday, August 08, 2009

Mr. President, Christianty and Socialism Don't Mix

The following is excerpted from Kairos Journal:

Christianity and Socialism

In trying to bring Christian teaching to bear on society, socialist-type ideals have long exerted a powerful attraction. In 1848 (the same year as the publication of Marx’s Communist Manifesto) two Church of England clergymen, F. D. Maurice and Charles Kingsley, launched the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) which has continued in various forms to this present day, existing as a “critical friend”1 of the British Labour Party. Many Western Church denominations and ecumenical agencies like the World Council of Churches and the American National Council of Churches have spawned social action departments which consistently favor socialist-type solutions to economic problems. In other parts of the world, notably Latin America, South Africa and some of the poorer parts of Asia, liberation theologians have attempted a fusion of Marxism and Christianity so radical as to fundamentally alter traditional theology.2 Nor are evangelicals immune from similar tendencies.3

This is all rather strange. The Bible provides little support for the fundamental pillar of socialism—the common ownership of property. Jesus, whilst seeing into the greedy hearts of those who make material goods their God, nevertheless accepted the principles of the Mosaic law which regarded private property as the norm. His commandment to His disciples was to love others (which can involve costly giving), but He gave no commandment that their goods were to be handed over to the state for redistribution. Even what has come to be called the communism of the early Church (Acts 2:44-45 and Acts 4:32,34-35), one of the guiding principles of the CSM, was actually nothing of the kind. The members of the Jerusalem church, who decided to share possessions freely, were not instructed by the apostles to do so, and it was not a condition of church membership (some of whom continued to hold private property).

Unlike State socialism, their decision to hold property in common was voluntary and not forced upon them. Some groups of Christians and indeed other groups with shared ideals do the same today. This is their choice. But socialism always involves some degree of coercion by powerful governments over, necessarily, weaker individuals, be it punitive rates of taxation or nationalization of private property.

Most countries in the West have opted for a mix of public (state) and private ownership and because of this, despite some restrictions of individual freedom of action, have remained reasonably free societies. But the greater the degree of state ownership of property in society, the greater the loss of freedom, for as Leon Trotsky observed in 1937, “In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation.”4 Indeed, the repression and human-rights abuses in fully-socialist states bear out Trotsky’s words and should appall any Christian.

A group of French historians calculated in 1997 that approximately 20 million people were killed in internal repressions in the Soviet Union, since the Communist revolution of 1917, and 65 million had similarly perished in China since 1949.5 Many more millions have been killed in South East Asia and African communist states like Angola and Mozambique. Nor have such states been anything like as successful in delivering their people from poverty as have the less socialistic economies of the West, as numerous studies attest and any trip to Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union affirms. The continued Christian attraction to socialism is difficult to understand.


1 “Who Are We?” Christian Socialist Website, (accessed, March 1, 2005).
2 For an introduction to liberation theology see Phillip Berryman, Liberation Theology (London: I.B. Taurus & Company, Ltd. 1987). A critical assessment is provided by Michael Novak, Will It Liberate? (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1986).
3 For a discussion of this see Rachel Tingle, “Evangelical Social Action Today: Road to Recovery or Road to Ruin,” in The Anglican Evangelical Crisis, ed. Melvin Tinker (Fearn: Christian Focus Publications, 1995), 186-202.
4 Leon Trotsky quoted in F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1944) 119.
5 Stephane Courtois, et al. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, trans. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 4.

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