I’m not a politician. I’m not even a political person. Truth be told, laughing at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is about the extent of my political involvement on a normal day. So as I bring this question up, I approach it as one seeking answers, not one arguing for a position. If you want to pick a fight about economic policy, you’re not going to get it from me. Feel free to fight amongst yourselves in the comments.
So here’s the question: I constantly hear church goers complain about the president and one of the major complaints I hear is that he is a “socialist.” They spit that last word out like it tastes bad. To hear them talk, with Obama in charge we’re just a few steps away from being Russia under Stalin. I overheard a conversation a few weeks back where both sides reminisced about the good old days where everyone knew who the bad guys were (communists and socialists.) The fact of the matter is that Obama’s no socialist and he’s not about to turn our country into a socialist nation, but even if he was, would that really make him a “bad guy”? Can we really frame this argument in moral terms so that socialism equals evil and capitalism equals good? And even more interesting for me, why is capitalism thought to be the automatic moral preference for Christians? Is a belief in capitalism inherently the more “Christian” or moral position?
Socialism seems to only be a dirty word in America. On the other side of the pond, many politicians proudly wear the title of “socialist” and run for office under socialist parties. They make no secret of their disdain for the free market. I know there are socialists in America, but as far as I know, most of them have to avoid that label is they want to get elected.
Jesus commands the church to care for the poor and says that the things we do to help the least among us are done unto him as well (Matthew 25:34-45). Jesus’ half brother James even says that taking care of widows and orphans is the mark of true religion (James 1:27). The early church shared everything they had, selling their possessions and distributing the money to those who had needs (Acts 2:44-45). Caring for the poor, helping those unable to help themselves, the redistribution of wealth… that sounds a lot like the things that socialists talk about. I realize that many Christians will respond that these verses deal with the actions and responsibilities of believers and churches, not governments. However, couldn’t a Christian be in favor of any work that supports the poor, both within the church and the government?
When people talk about not wanting to take their “hard earned money” and give it away to others, I hear argument like the one I found on this blog: “Capitalism rewards hard work, creativity, service, and (not so good) cunning.” The line of thinking seems to be that capitalism is great because it rewards hard work and creativity. It’s great because it encourages people to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and make a living. Does capitalism hurt anybody? Only “the foolish, the lazy, the poor, the sick, and the ungifted.” In other words, if you don’t have money, it’s because you’re lazy or stupid and you did it to yourself. You made your bed, now sleep in it and don’t expect any help from anyone else. This is the Christian view? Not to mention the fact that in the desire to gain capital, people and businesses frequently use and exploit the “least of these” in order to get the most labor for the least money.
Socialism may have some major problems with the way it works out in real life implementation, but is capitalism really any better or more moral? Both fall under some shady gray area in some respects. I guess my problem isn’t with either view as much as it is with the idea that there is only one official “Christian” view on economic policy that all Jesus followers must hold. I have the feeling that even in the church this argument has more to do with party affiliations (and everyone knows real Christians are Republicans) than with biblical reasoning.
The fact of the matter is that the Bible doesn’t endorse any particular economic policy, political party, or even a system of government (How many leaders in the Bible became leaders by gaining a majority of the electoral votes?) Shouldn’t two Christians with different political views feel free to express those views without being seen as heretical or even “evil?” Isn’t it possible for churches to refrain from demonizing any minority views? People who hold these views often are afraid to speak up for fear of how the congregation will react.
Isn’t the church supposed to be more about freedom than fear?