Several years ago, I was at a large luncheon function sitting next to the long-time editorial page editor at the paper where I worked as a special projects reporter. Right before the speaker arose, this editor turned to me and said, “I don’t understand how you can be a conservative and a Christian. Seems like by what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, you should be a liberal Democrat.”
Setting aside that this man was himself an atheist, and the Biblically clear moral issues surrounding abortion and homosexuality, did he have a point? It’s relevant because that train has traversed so far down the tracks that a recent trending topic on social media was that Jesus would be a Socialist or a Communist.
Now it’s great to see people reading the Bible. It’s less great to see people cherry-picking the Bible to support preconceived positions — which unfortunately all of us do too much.
Where the idea comes from?
So first let’s stipulate that Jesus certainly taught Christians to love one another, even to love our enemies. He taught us to feed the poor and clothe the naked. The New Testament letters expand on those teachings with caring for orphans and widows and the elderly. All of these things sound like a fit for socialism or communism.
Without going into the differences in the two — and the extraordinary miseries that have been brought to bear on hundreds of millions of people through those philosophies — let’s take socialism in its most pristine form on paper. Karl Marx, the primary promulgator of socialism in the 19th century, popularized the phrase “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
Well that sounds just lovely. Alas, among the myriad flaws in socialism has always been its inability to account for human nature. People simply won’t work hard just to have it taken and given to someone who is not working hard. Simple truth. The apparently lovely concept always runs aground on the rocks of reality, spiraling into worse and worse living conditions for everyone except those at the very top. Every time. And the ensuing corruption!
The audience is key to understanding
But philosophically, would Jesus be a socialist? Here’s the rub, and the answer I sent to that editor in a note to which he never responded. Jesus was addressing his followers, future Christians. He was not talking to the entire world. And he most certainly was not talking about a role for government. The only thing he ever says regarding government is to render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s but unto God that which is God’s. In the context of the attempted trick question by the Pharisees, it means: Pay your taxes.
It is the Christian’s responsibility, and by extension the church’s responsibility, to help those in need. And that is a major reason why there are so many orphanages, and soup kitchens and relief organizations that are Christian. Actually, an awful lot of Christians really do these things. We are to give sacrificially to those in need. We are not to use the force of government to take from one we deem has too much and give to another we deem has too little. There is no evidence — zero — that Jesus wanted his followers involved in any such earthly schemes. Jesus was always after the heart of man, not the policies of government.
Jesus’ disinterest in worldly governments makes clear that if he were alive today, he would not endorse any candidate, party or policy. His purpose for coming to earth as man was to save those who would believe in him.
We rate this claim about Jesus being a socialist as “Pants on fire!”