Christian Socialism? What it is and What the Gospel Says About it.


hi I’m Rich and this is Maureen and
we’re excited to be embarking on a new series of videos talking about
Christianity and socialism which is sure to freak some people out have no fear
the reason it’s a good time to talk about Christian socialism is that
enthusiasm for political socialism is on the rise particularly among the youth
although as Ezra Klein points out in a recent Vox article the enthusiasm is
likely more for a socialist ethic solidarity with the underdogs and so
forth and really then socialist economics now a lot of older folk in
particular are dismayed by socialism’s resurgence because they conflate
socialism with repressive communist regimes of the 20th century Soviet Union
East Germany so forth and they’re not wrong to be concerned much evil has been
done in the name of socialism yes but just because evil has been done in the
name of socialism doesn’t mean the ideals socialism promotes are evil per
se let’s start by discussing how
Christianity and socialism overlap not in terms of a political system but as a
practical way of living in acts two and four the earliest example we have in the
Gospels of church community all goods were commonly owned and there were no
rich and poor common ownership and economic equality are also hallmarks of
political socialism the zeal of the early church did cool over time although
voices like that of basil of Caesarea and John Chrysostom early church fathers
continue to decry economic inequality and while the concept of the universal
destination of goods this idea that God gave the earth and its goods to the
whole human race remains a principle of Catholic doctrine it’s honored more in
the breach than the observance modern political socialism by contrast espouses
some of the same values exemplified by the early church but it does it without
Jesus it replaces voluntary acts of love and self giving with a political system
that ultimately relies on coercion bureaucracy and force and that in my
opinion is why it mostly hasn’t worked so well but Christianity is also
incompatible with capitalism any economic system that is built on
self-interest well let’s just call it greed instead of love is not in the
spirit of the gospel so I would say socialists are right to critique that
yeah but the thing with the term like socialism is it’s kind of hard to pin
down what exactly people mean by it I think most of the time people don’t
really know what they mean by it I think you’re right half the time the word
seems to be used as a cultural shorthand for anything but capitalism so what
exactly do we mean by Christian socialism well rather than try and
define it we’re going to take a different approach we want to look back
to some people who are promoting Christianity infused socialistic ideals
prior to their adoption and perversion by the authoritarian regimes in the 20th
century now at the top I’m gonna say this is a very incomplete list but we
chose these folks because they’ve been sources of inspiration for us on the
Bruderhof and I’m gonna start with a fairly obscure one Hermann Kutter a Swiss
Protestant theologian and one of the founders of Christian socialism in
Switzerland his book Sie Muessen or they must is a defense of a much maligned
early 20th century Workers Party but it’s actually primarily a challenge to
Christians here’s one thing he wrote when you Christians say Christ alone
tell me how do you show it if Christ and Christ alone is important why do you
find it so difficult to start practicing his gospel which overthrow is Mammon do
you still want to take refuge in the excuse that it is meant only in an inner
sense doesn’t the inner side have to find expression in the outer side
haven’t the early Christians shown the fruit of the Spirit in their community
of goods I have to admit I have not read much Kutter my go to Christian socialist
is Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt a 19th century Lutheran pastor who’s rarely
mentioned today but whose writings influenced Karl Barth Dietrich Bonhoeffer
and many others including the founding members of our own church he
relentlessly called for people to live out the Kingdom of Justice here and now
in this time and place and to see God at work in people who just skipped
the whole Lord Lord chanting and just got busy doing what he says we should do
so Blumhardt wrote how can you see yourself as noble and religious if you
eat well but do not think of those who are starving today you have to think of
them it is a service to God when we stand up and say they also want to live
it is often the so called godless people who toil and work in God’s vineyard they
pretend they have no religion yet isn’t it religion and praying when one strives
for the vindication of each person’s rights going back a little farther
there’s John Ruskin the Victorian firebrand who called
himself a communist but who diverged from Marx and drastic ways as Eugene McCarraher points out where Marx emphasised communism as a
form of property common ownership Ruskin emphasized communism as a principle of
morality and here is Ruskin himself the art of becoming rich in the common sense
is not absolutely nor finally the art of accumulating much money for ourselves
but also of contriving that our neighbour shall have less and there’s
William Morris another romantic and protege of Ruskin who was less
interested in the technicalities of socialism in fact he admitted that he
was completely ignorant of economics but he called for a condition of society in
which there should be neither rich nor poor neither master nor masters man
neither idle nor overworked neither brain sick brain workers nor heart sick
hand workers in a word in which all men would be living in equality of condition
and would manage their affairs unvoiced fully and with the full consciousness
that harm to one would mean harm to all no brain sick brain workers now that’s a
tweetable line William Morris also wrote a dream of john ball a novel about the
English peasants rebellion in the 14th century that contains some inspiring
passages about holding things in common including this one which I love where
the title character is imagining a world without masters he says and then shall
help man and the saints in heaven shall be
glad because men no more fear each other and the churl shall be ashamed and shall
hide his churlish ‘no still it be gone and he be no more a churl and
fellowship shall be established in heaven and on the earth
another ardent socialist rosa luxemburg was deeply respected by Bruderhof
founder Eberhard Arnold after she was murdered by the german military in 1919
he wrote to a friend the living faith that was in her cannot be killed
now that’s an extraordinary statement as she was by no means a fan of
institutional Christianity Luxembourg once asked how does it happen that the
church plays the role of a defense of wealth and bloody oppression instead of
being the refuge of the exploited but she pointed to the Christians of the 1st
and 2nd century as models of communism citing the words of the early church
fathers and we’ll hear more from the early church fathers as we proceed with
the series for more recent proponents of religiously motivated socialism there’s
of course Martin Luther King jr. particularly towards the end of his life
spoke openly about the failings of capitalism and about a more just
distribution of wealth comparing the evils of capitalism to the evils of
militarism and racism and then there are the more than 200 communal houses of the
Catholic Worker movement which was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter
Maurin whose beliefs include the establishment of farming communes where
each one works according to his ability and receives according to his need so
the old Karl Marx stand by and that’s just a short list of folks who saw
socialist ideals less as a political program and more as moral imperative and
a number of them came to that conviction as a result of what they read in the
Bible which begs the question was Jesus a socialist well he is clearly not
merely concerned with inward transformation he’s interested in
justice the social gospel calls for an entirely new view of life that
encompasses all areas not just spiritual matters and personal behavior it was
Karl Barth who memorably said Jesus knows and recognizes only the Kingdom of
Heaven is within us but the kingdom must obtain
dominion over the external over actual life otherwise it does not deserve the
name it is after all right there in the Gospels central texts I call followers
of Jesus to a radically different way of living let’s take Luke 14:33 where Jesus
states clearly that only those who are announced all that they have can be his
disciples you can’t renounce something and continue to possess it so Matthew
5:3 the first of the Beatitudes blessed are
the poor in spirit how can we be poor in spirit if we cling to possessions which
they’ll easily become idols that replace God well there’s also Matthew 5:19 where
Jesus says don’t store up treasures on earth I’ve heard people argue away the
line about not serving two masters by saying you can have Mammon without
serving it but I don’t think that there’s much room for interpretation and
don’t store up like that second rented storage unit and he confronts the owner
of presumably many storage units in Matthew 19 21 when he counsels the rich
young man to somebody has and give it to the poor in order to be perfect
that story speaking of the rich young man ends with the lines and he went away
grieving he was grieved to know that his possessions had too great a hold on him
to give him the freedom of obedience as opposed to someone who just dropped the
fishing nets and followed without a backward glance or who picked up his bed
and walked so the young man’s story could also have ended as others do with
and he went on his way rejoicing in John 16:13 Jesus says that the Spirit of
Truth who is to descend upon the disciples will guide them into all truth
and when this actually occurred at Pentecost they became of one heart and
one soul and had all their goods in common this same phrase is repeated in
acts 245 and for 3234 community of goods was and is the outcome and result of the
love and grace the believers experienced when they were filled with the spirit
there are so many more but here’s my closer first Corinthians 12 25 through
26 speaks of the church that there should be no division but that each
should have equal concern for the others is that even possible and some are
richer than others the same is true of 2nd Corinthians 8 13 through 15 where
Paul clearly states the goal is equality but I earned my money
God must want me to have it in fact it’s a sign that I’m doing his will and I’m
being rewarded for it those who say material possessions are a
sign of God’s blessing ignore the fact that material wealth is a power that
requires inequality and injustice to exist did you just make that up
no I didn’t that’s Hermann Kutter guess I better get reading and to give you time
to do that we’re gonna wrap up this first video so what’s your takeaway my
takeaway something I was convinced about without reading Kutter yes yes I will
still give him a chance I would say Jesus offers people a new life where any
kind of power over others is replaced by love agreed and power over others means
any kind of domination be it over others labor or by hoarding wealth at others
expense or by ignoring the suffering of others when you could could be doing
something about it to help in the end love should rule all relationships both
social and economic

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