Photograph of China’s “Red Guards” used in The Guardian : Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images
A clergy friend with a fruitful ministry sends me news links every so often. I’m not sure if he’s reaching out for my sage input from the land of retirement or if he wants to torment me for having crossed over.
One of his recent sends was an article about young Christians embracing socialism. As soon as I saw young-Christians-socialism in the link, my social media addled mind wanted to skip it – a manifestly unhealthy approach to reading, thinking and writing about any subject.
I took a breath and saved the link for later. Before reading it, my thoughts and prayers received an infusion of charity. If they are Christians, they deserve a brotherly bias when I read their ideas.
Besides, Christianity has a long history of its faithful reflecting the Kingdom of God by living out its radical realities. Might the Christian socialists be on the trajectory of St. Francis of Assisi, who embraced perfect reliance on God through intentional poverty? Or countless disciples who declined the earthly consolations of marriage and/or eros to lead celibate lives in witness to the sufficiency of God’s love? Or traumatized people who offer the mercy of Christ in situations that scream for revenge (as David Ould shared at Stand Firm a few days ago)? Or martyrs who accept the loss of this life in witness to the Lord of the life to come?
In the Kingdom of God, all is provided for all to enjoy. So its witnesses in this world include Christians who hold material goods in common, eschewing private property. This was an early aspect of the Jerusalem church described in the Acts of the Apostles. Religious orders like the Benedictines hold property in common, as do some Protestant or ecumenical communities.
So before diving in I decided to make room for the possibility that the Christian socialists in the article are radical witnesses to the Kingdom of God, challenging cultural assumptions of value, scarcity, merit, entitlement, fairness, competition, workaholism and other “givens” that need to be held up to the Word of God for examination and in many cases rebuke.
There are several pleasant surprises in the article.
+ There is stress on Democratic Socialism, which, even if you disagree with its policies, assumes winning public buy-in by persuasion and constitutionally governed politics.
+ There is honesty about how churches – even “conservative” ones – are more diverse than left wing elites,
While (one young socialist) now disagrees with much of what that megachurch preached, he readily acknowledges that it was quite diverse in terms of race, income, and immigration status—unlike many socialist spaces in the U.S., which, from my experience and that of my interviewees, tend to be predominantly white and cis-male. (Yeah, sorry, as Matt Kennedy documents so well, that’s how they think and talk).
+ There is a desire for something better than the political polarities dumped on the young by my baby boom generation. This includes refreshing candor about the current elites of the left. Describing one young Christian’s movement toward socialism, (The current) liberal narrative did not help her make sense of Trump, nor did it make sense of the pain and suffering in her pews and her city, Chicago, which has been run for decades by the liberal Democratic party.
+ There are serious efforts to address life through Scripture. Several of the young people quoted cite the value of their backgrounds in Evangelical churches, which taught them to search the Bible for ultimate meaning and answers. While one might find flaws in the following statement, the authority it grants to the Bible is admirable, The gospel is about living like we are one body. That’s where the liberal Christian project failed me because that was optional. We understood [the body of Christ] to be about being nice to one another in a group. What socialist Christianity tells me is you are a body—without each other you will die. We will not be free without each other.
Sadly, the glimmers of hopeful engagement in Christ are doused with other agendas and sputter out.
— The article is written in the cant of “intersectionalism.” Various quotes and perspectives reveal “Christian” as an add-on, lacking meaning until established by sexual, ethnic or political utility;
In college, he came out as both gay and LGBT-affirming, breaking with conservative Christianity. He went on to intern with Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization in Washington, D.C. “I wanted to become a good progressive Christian,” he said.
Christianity is a great vehicle through which we (Marxists) can do multiracial, working-class organizing.
Being a Christian trains you to take on the complicated history of communism…If I can make peace with the fact that the worst abuses in history have actually been committed by people who are devoted to Jesus Christ, then surely, I can try to figure out how to sort out the messy history of [the] Soviet Union, Cuba, or the People’s Republic of China. (That is, once you blame Christianity for enough, you can justify the noble efforts at socialism despite their multi-million body counts).
This lapses back into the liberal Christianity of the baby boomers, in which theological language and even Christ himself are flexible symbols, with no inherent value except to amplify personal feelings or factional causes. There’s not much difference, at base, between this approach on the left and the prosperity gospel on the pop right. Christianity provides tools to get what you want for yourself or maybe an approved list of pals.
— The article offers Christianity as a bit of temporary superstructure for political ends; the infrastructure is Marxism. One of the young socialists lets slip how the sincere faith of those he wants to help can be used to get them under his political prescriptions for their improvement,
Beltrán has observed that many of the working-class people that he meets as an organizer, such as Hispanic female childcare workers in California, naturally bring up—without prompting—their faith in Jesus as an explanation for how they can get through the challenges of their job. He says, “A lot of working-class people already have a certain comfort [with Christianity] and can speak that language in a way they can’t speak critical theory and Marxist analysis.”
It’s the boomer liberal elite all over. Let the less enlightened have their quaint habits and ideas for the little while, while the intelligent elite organize them for what really matters.
— As much as they seem to militate for new ideas, the young socialists can’t escape slavery to banal partisan politics. The article is stitched together with phrases like, Since the inauguration of Trump… It devolves to the same old same old dueling DC elites. Hillary shoulda won. So socialism something something.
— The horror of authoritarianism peeks out from behind the Democratic Socialist curtain,
Over the past three years, some American Christians have rediscovered this tradition and found themselves gravitating to socialism—in all its varieties, from democratic socialism to full-fledged communism. (Emphasis added).
Communism is hard core, centralized imposition of elite prescriptions. It waxes poetic about the workers and the poor, while writing off and consigning to revolutionary violence many of the marginalized people to whom Jesus always reached out.
The article spends some time with two young left wing podcasters, one of whom now identifies as a communist Catholic, and the other as a communist Episcopalian.
These two denominations are natural draws for elite leftists, as both are big on hierarchy. Rome’s history with this needs little reiteration, but it is worth noting that the Episcopal Church has imposed and embraced the term recently, hand in hand with historically high numbers of punished dissenters, property seizures, litigation, more power invested in unaccountable “Executive Committees” and the like, and high minded branding with “tolerance and diversity” while actually declining in active participants and becoming more monochromatic by most demographic markers.
Marxism, which is the social analysis upon which hierarchical socialism/communism rests, has no enduring use for Christianity. Despite some good intentions from the young socialists in the article, they provide no answer to the “Marx must increase, Christ must decrease” dynamic of their core belief system.
And, as is a fault for Americans today on both the left and the right, they conflate the church and government. Whether it be the Trump is our new King Cyrus movement or the Christian Socialists, there is the belief that holding control of government will produce the Spirit filled body of Christ described in 1 Corinthians 12. Voices on the right and the left assert that people can be coerced by a central authority into “building the Kingdom of God on earth.”
It’s the belief behind Christianity’s worst historical seasons. And there’s nothing in the article to suggest any different outcome from the young Christian socialists if their ideology is imposed on the body politic instead of lived out in voluntary communities of the faithful.