The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the Northern Hemisphere and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (July 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
Christian socialism is a form of religious socialism based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Many Christian socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in greed, which some Christian denominations consider a mortal sin. Christian socialists identify the cause of inequality to be the greed that they associate with capitalism.
Other earlier figures are also viewed as Christian socialists, such as the nineteenth century writers Frederick Denison Maurice (The Kingdom of Christ, 1838), John Ruskin (Unto This Last, 1862), Charles Kingsley (The Water-Babies, 1863), Thomas Hughes (Tom Brown's Schooldays, 1857), Frederick James Furnivall (co-creator of the Oxford English Dictionary), Adin Ballou (Practical Christian Socialism, 1854), and Francis Bellamy (a Baptist minister and the author of the United States' Pledge of Allegiance).
Old Testament had divided perspectives on the issue of poverty. One part of the Jewish tradition held that poverty was judgment of God upon the wicked while viewing prosperity as a reward for the good, stating that "The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want" (Prov. 13:25).
However, there are other sections that instruct generosity to the "have nots" of society. The Torah instructs followers to treat neighbours equally and to be generous to have nots, such as stating:
You shall not oppress your neighbour...but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord
He [the Lord your God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt-- (Deut. 10:18-19).
When you reap in your harvest in the field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it...When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again...When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked-- (Ps. 82 (81): 3, 4).
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!...He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honour-- (Ps. 112 (111): 1, 9).
Amos emphasizes the need for "justice" and "righteousness" that is described as conduct that emphasizes love for those who are poor and to oppose oppression and injustice towards the poor. The prophet Isaiah (759-694 B.C.) to whom is attributed the first thirty-nine chapters of the Book of Isaiah ("Proto-Isaiah"), followed upon Amos' themes of justice and righteousness involving the poor as necessary for followers of God, denouncing those who do not do these things, stating:
Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood...cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow-- (Isa. 1:15-17).
He who loves gold will not be justified, and he who pursues money will be led astray by it. Many have come to ruin because of gold, and their destruction has met them face to face. It is a stumbling block to those who are devoted to it, and every fool will be taken captive by it-- (Sir. 31: 5-7).
In the New Testament, Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 identifies himself with the hungry, the poor, the sick, and the prisoners. Matthew 25:31-46 is a major component of Christianity and is considered the cornerstone of Christian socialism. Another key statement in the New Testament that is an important component of Christian socialism is Luke 10:25-37 that follows the statement "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" with the question "And who is my neighbour?", and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus gives the revolutionary response that the neighbour includes anyone in need, even people we might be expected to shun. (The Samaritans were considered a heretical sect by Jews and neither would usually deal with the other.)
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up for treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter-- (Jam. 5:1-6).
During the New Testament period and beyond, there is evidence that many Christian communities practiced forms of sharing, redistribution and communism.
Basil of Caesarea (c. 330-379), the Father of the Eastern monks who became Bishop of Caesarea, established a complex around the church and monastery that included hostels, almshouses, and hospitals for infectious diseases. During the great famine of 368, Basil denounced against profiteers and the indifferent rich. Basil wrote the sermon on The Rich Fool in which he states:
Who is the covetous man? One for whom plenty is not enough. Who is the defrauder? One who takes away what belongs to everyone. And are not you covetous, are you not a defrauder, when you keep for private use what you were given for distribution? When some one strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not--should not he be given the same name? The bread in your hoard belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. All you might help and do not--to all these you are doing wrong
John Chrysostom declared his reasons for his attitude towards the rich and position of attitude towards wealth by saying:
I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth. I point out constantly that those I accuse are not the rich, but the rapacious; wealth is one thing, covetousness another. Learn to distinguish.
A variety of socialist perspectives emerged in 19th century Britain, beginning with John Ruskin.
The influential Victorian art critic John Ruskin expounded theories about social justice in Unto This Last (1860). In it, he stated four goals that might be called "socialist" although Ruskin did not use the term.
Ruskin was not "an authentic Socialist in any of its various nineteenth-century meanings." His only real contact with the Christian Socialists came through the Working Men's College. However, he influenced later socialist thinking, especially William Morris.
The Fabian Society was founded in the same year; Sydney and Beatrice Webb were among its leading members. The Fabians influenced members of the Bloomsbury Group and were important in the early history of the British Labour Party.
Founded in 1911 by Vida Dutton Scudder, herself influenced by the Fabian Society, the Episcopal Church Socialist League and its successor the Church League for Industrial Democracy sought to ally Christian doctrine with the plight of the working class as a part of the larger social gospel movement that was taking hold of many urban churches across the United States in the early 20th century.
In the November 1914 issue of The Christian Socialist, Episcopal bishop Franklin Spencer Spalding of Utah stated:
The Christian Church exists for the sole purpose of saving the human race. So far she has failed, but I think that Socialism shows her how she may succeed.
It insists that men cannot be made right until the material conditions be made right. Although man cannot live by bread alone, he must have bread. Therefore,
the Church must destroy a system of society which inevitably creates and perpetuates unequal and unfair conditions of life. These unequal and unfair conditions
have been created by competition. Therefore competition must cease and cooperation take its place.
The political movement of Christian democracy espouses some values of Christian socialism, for example "economic justice" and "social welfare." It opposes an "individualist worldview" and it approves state intervention in the economy in defence of "human dignity." On the other hand, because of its "close association with Roman Catholicism", Christian democracy differs from Christian socialism by its emphasis on "traditional church and family values," by its defence of "private property," and by its opposition to "excessive intervention of the state."
Christian democratic parties (under various names) were formed in Europe and Latin America after World War II. Some became "a major political force."
Christian communism is a form of religious communism based on Christianity. It is a theological and political theory based upon the view that the teachings of Jesus Christ compel Christians to support communism as the ideal social system. Although there is no universal agreement on the exact date when Christian communism was founded, many Christian communists assert that evidence from the Bible (in the Acts of the Apostles) suggests that the first Christians, including the apostles, established their own small communist society in the years following Jesus' death and resurrection. As such, many advocates of Christian communism argue that it was taught by Jesus and practiced by the apostles themselves. Some independent historians confirm it. The Bruderhof would be a modern example of this, taking the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, and the example of the Apostles in Acts to mean that Christian should live in community.
Utopian socialist ideas continued, after 1848, in new religious movements such as Spiritualism or Occultism. They were often marked by a heterodox Christian identity and a decidedly anti-materialist attitude.
In Catholicism, communism was strongly criticized in the 1878 papal encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris by Pope Leo XIII, as he believed that it led to state domination over the freedom of the individual and quelled proper religious worship, inherently turning the top hierarchical power over to the state instead of God. This opinion was moderated an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XI on 15 May 1931 Quadragesimo anno, wherein Pius describes the major dangers for human freedom and dignity arising from unrestrained capitalism and totalitarian communism. Pius XI called upon true socialism to distance itself from totalitarian communism as a matter of clarity and also as a matter of principle. Communists were accused of attempting to overthrow all existing civil society, and Christian socialism, if allied to communism, was deemed to be an oxymoron because of this. Pius XI famously wrote at the time that "no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist", yet had clarified that a Catholic was free to vote for the British Labour Party, the UK affiliate of the Socialist International. Nonetheless, prominent Catholic Socialists did exist during Pope Pius XI's era, such as Dorothy Day of the United States of America, and Father Michael O'Flanagan of Ireland.
Pope Francis has shown sympathy to socialist causes with claims such as that capitalism is "Terrorism against all of Humanity" and that "it is the communists who think like Christians. Christ spoke of a society where the poor, the weak and the marginalized have the right to decide."
More recently movements such as liberation theology, and Tradinista! have argued for the compatibility of socialism and Catholicism. António Guterres, a practicing Catholic and current Secretary-General of the United Nations is the immediate past President of the Socialist International.
In France, the birthplace of Calvinism, the Christianisme Social (Social Christianity) movement emerged from the preaching of Tommy Fallot in the 1870s. Early on, the movement focused on such issues as illiteracy and alcoholism amongst the poor. After the First World War, Social Christianity moved in two directions: towards pacifism and towards ecumenism.
Hence within the movement emerged conscientious objectors such as Jacques Martin, Philo Vernier and Henri Roser, economists pursuing policies that reflected cooperation and solidarity (such as Bernard Lavergne and Georges Lasserre), and theologians such as Paul Ricoeur. One of the pastors in the movement, Jacques Kaltenbach, was also to have a formative influence on André Trocmé.
Under the Vichy regime, which had seen the emergence of other forms of witness (particularly the support of internees in the camps, and aiding Jews to escape), the movement was reborn to tackle the problems of a changing world. It expressed a Christian socialism, more or less in line with the beginning of a new political left. Political activism was very broad and included the denunciation of torture, East-West debate on European integration and taking a stance on the process of decolonization. It facilitated meetings between employers, managers and trade unionists to discern a new economic order.
After the events of May 1968, Calvinism in France became much more left-wing in its orientation. One doctrinal text produced in this period, Church and Authorities, was described as Marxist in its orientation. Churches now seized for themselves the political and social issues to tackle, such as nuclear power and justice for the Third World.
In the early 2000s, the Social Christianity movement temporarily discontinued and its journal, Other Times, ceased to be published. However, the movement was relaunched on 10 June 2010 with a petition signed by over 240 people and now maintains an active presence with its own website.
Economically, Calvinists have supported capitalism and have been in the vanguard of promoting market capitalism and have produced many of France's leading entrepreneurs. With regard to politics and social issues however, they are very much socialists. Three of France's post-war prime ministers have been Calvinists, despite Protestants only making up two percent of the population. Two of these prime ministers have been socialists.
In Australia, the academic Roland Boer has attempted to synthesize Calvinism and Marxism. He has stated that "it became clear to me that within Christianity there is a strong tradition of political and theological radicalism, which I continued to explore personally. Reformed or Calvinist theology did not seem to sit easily with that interest, so I spent many a long year rejecting that tradition, only to realise later that Calvin himself was torn between the radical potential of elements in the Bible and his own conservative preferences".
In Wales, Calvinistic Methodism is the largest non-conformist religion. Its beginnings may be traced to Griffith Jones (1684-1761), of Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire, whose sympathy for the poor led him to set on foot a system of circulating charity schools for the education of children. However, until the nineteenth century, the prevailing thought amongst Welsh non-conformists was that "it would be wiser if the churches limited their activities to those of the altar and not to meddle at all with the state and social questions". This stemmed partly from the traditional nonconformist belief in the separation of church and state.
In his influential sermon, Y Ddwy Alwedigaeth (The Two Vocations), Emrys ap Iwan challenged this passive pietism: "We must not think, like the old Methodists, Puritans and some Catholics, that we can only seek Godliness outside our earthly vocation." He condemned those Christians who limited godliness to directly religious matters such as Sabbath observance and personal devotion. He declared that all earthly things, including language and culture, have some kind of divine origin.
Many of the founders of the Welsh nationalist social-democratic party, Plaid Cymru were also devout Calvinists, including John Edward Daniel. Daniel was the theologian credited for bringing neo-orthodoxy to Wales. Daniel argued that God did not create man as an isolated individual but as a social being.
The second generation of Plaid Cymru leaders included R. Tudur Jones. His political stance, combined with Calvinist doctrine, created an integrated vision that was significant to the religious life of Christian Wales in the later half of the 20th century. Jones argued that the "state should be a servant, to preserve order and to allow men to live the good life".
Today, many Calvinist socialists in Wales support same-sex marriage on the grounds that it delivers marriage equality in the eyes of the state while still allowing churches to follow their own conscience, thus upholding the traditional Protestant belief in separation of church and state.
The Calvinist tradition in Plaid Cymru has also influenced its non-violent approach. "The ideal is no fist violence, no verbal violence, and no heart violence.... Christians... point to the New Testament example of Jesus Christ clearing the temple. Here there is no suggestion of violence against people; rather the tables are turned as a symbolic act. The life and teaching of Jesus Christ were seen as the foundations of nonviolent direct action [for Plaid Cymru members]... loving their enemies on the one hand, but not compromising on what they saw as an issue of moral rightness." Plaid Cymru continues to see itself as very much part of the Christian pacifist tradition.
Lawrence Reed, in Rendering Unto Caesar, writes that Jesus was not a socialist in that he promoted voluntary giving and charity rather than the mandatory taking by government (taxes).[dubious ] Johnnie Moore (Professor of Religion at Liberty University) writing on the homepage of Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes, says Jesus was a capitalist.[dubious ]Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, says Jesus was a capitalist who advocated "voluntary redistribution of wealth".[dubious ]
The following list includes notable followers of Christian socialism:
A Christian perspective, informed by a social gospel or Christian socialist tradition, should not be rejected contemptuously by secular politicians as if these views are an unwelcome intrusion into the political sphere.