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Christian Socialism?

The Base Metal of Christian Socialism

By JoelMcDurmon |

I am currently atwork revising and expanding my free ebook God versus Socialism so that American Visioncan produce a print version. The book will nearly double in length to about 150pages and will expand the Bible’s criticism of socialism into at least three ofthe major voices of Christian socialism today: Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, andRon Sider. Each of these three men call themselves Evangelicals, profess tobelieve the Bible and the classic doctrines of the apostles’ creed. Each claimto only teach what the Bible teaches on poverty and politics, to have “noparticular political agenda,” and yet the policies each proposes always line uppoint-by-point with the platform of the Democratic party. Yet since they put itforth under the guise of the Bible, Campolo argues that not to support hisfavored liberal legislation is “sinful.” I think there’s something fishy here.

Last week I wroteabout the Fabian socialists and their effort to be wolves in sheep’s clothing.They wished to advance Marxism and socialism without being detected asatheistic revolutionary socialists. The attempted to subvert the Christians byusing biblical ideas and Christian language to present socialist ideas that actuallycontradict the Bible. The three men I cover stand in this tradition. Whatfollows will show that this has been going on for a long time. Socialism gotits foothold in this country through active, concerned Christians dupedby the propaganda wrapped in Bible verses.

“ChristianSocialism” developed in the mid- to late-1800s and promoted moderate forms ofsocialism at first. But even these proponents made the redistribution ofproperty central to their pleas. For example, Edward H. Rogers, a carpenter, Methodistlay preacher, and member of the “Christian Labor Union” of Boston (1870s-80s),preached this way: “The church, he declared, ought to demand that wealth bemanaged for the common good of the people.… He asserted that the fulfillment ofGod’s will ‘on earth, as in heaven’ involved the equitable distribution of theproducts of labor.”

The Christian LaborUnion itself, in its journal Labor-Balance, advocated Marx’s “labortheory of value” (rejected by Jesus in the parable of the talents), and openlyendorsed political socialism—in 1878 it even “printed the platform to theSocialistic Labor Party.” One of the Union’s leaders, Jesse Henry Jones,published a book called The Kingdom of Heaven which he called for theUnited States to adopt “communism” as “an actual, human, civil government uponthe earth.”

The SocialistParty’s platform, which many of the social gospelers promoted over the decades,itself used openly Marxist language. The 1887 version appeals,

The basis ofco-operative society stipulates the substitution of public ownership forprivate ownership of land, instruments of labor (machines, factories, etc.),and with it co-operative production and guarantee of a share in the product inaccordance with the service rendered by the individual to society.

Therefore, theParty listed their demands:

We consider it the firstduty of the Government and Legislatures to change the present economicalconditions into a co-operative system of society.… For that purpose westrive for the acquisition of political power with all appropriate means.…

* The United Statesshall obtain possession of the railroads, canals, telegraphs, telephones, andall other means of public transportation.

* Themunicipalities to obtain possession of the local railroads, of ferries, and tosupply the light to streets and public places.

* Furthering ofworkmen’s co-operative productive associations by public allowances;such associations to be preferred in the placing of contracts for public works.

* Inauguration ofpublic works in times of economical depression [sound familiar?].

* The United Statesto have the right of expropriation of running patents, new inventions to befree to all, but inventors to be remunerated by national rewards.

* Progressiveincome tax and tax on inheritances; but smaller incomes to be exempt.

* Compulsoryschool education of all children under fourteen years of age, instructionin all educational institutions to be gratuitous and to be madeaccessible to all by public assistance (furnishing meals, clothes, books,etc.). All instruction to be under the direction of the United States and tobe organized on a uniform plan.

* Uniform nationalmarriage laws. Divorce to be granted upon mutual

consent, and uponproviding for the care of the children.

* Abolition of thePresidency, Vice-Presidency and Senate of the United States [abolition of theConsitutition]. An Executive Board to be established, whose members are to beelected, and may at any time be recalled, by the House of Representatives asthe only legislative body. The States and Municipalities to adopt correspondingamendments to their constitutions and statutes [no Tenth Amendment!].

* Uniform lawthroughout the United States [no Tenth Amendment!]. Administration of justiceto be free of charge. Abolition of capital punishment.

This is what these“Christian socialists”—in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of scriptureand the lofty moral principles of the God of the Bible—called Christians todevote to. In the name of Jesus, these guys wished to leverage to persuasivepower of the church and the propagandistic value of the pulpits, to join andsupport a political Party that demanded outright communism and total revolutionof what the United States is. And when the revolution was accomplished, theChristians would take the back seat in society: “Separation of all publicaffairs from religion; church property to be subject to taxation.” In otherwords, the allegedly Christian socialists wished for the church to sell-out toMarxism—a political system that wished to contradict, liquidate, and finallysilence the church. “You scratch our back, and we’ll stab you in yours.”

It’s no wonder thata Christian giant such Charles Spurgeon saw Christian Socialism as a departurefrom Christianity. He warned his congregation in 1889, “I would not have youexchange the gold of individual Christianity for the base metal ofChristian Socialism.” He rightly saw socialism as the fallout fromrejecting God:

The god of modernthought exceedingly resembles the deities described in this Psalm [115:8].Pantheism is wondrously akin to Polytheism, and yet differs very little fromAtheism. The god manufactured by our great thinkers is a mere abstraction: hehas no eternal purposes, he does not interpose on the behalf of his people, hecares but very little as to how much man sins, for he has given to theinitiated “a larger hope” by which the most incorrigible are to be restored. Heis what the last set of critics chooses to make him, he has said what theychoose to say, and lie will do what they please to prescribe. Let this creedand its devotees alone, and they will work out their own refutation, for as nowtheir god is fashioned like themselves, they will by degrees fashion themselveslike their god; and when the principles of justice, law, and order shall haveall been effectually sapped we may possibly witness in some formof socialism, similar to that which is so sadly spreading in Germany, arepetition of the evils which have in former ages befallen nations which haverefused the living God, and set up gods of their own.

From this strongstand, we can understand why one of the fathers of socialism—Marx’s co-writerand financier Friedrich Engels—held a special hatred for Spurgeon. Christianscholar and journalist David Aikman mentions an interesting anecdote in hisbook on atheism, The Delusion of Disbelief. He writes, 

The strong linkagebetween politics and religion in the late nineteenth century was having aprofound social impact, one that deeply troubled Marx and Engels. The followingstory illustrates just how it incensed them. While playing a well-knownVictorian parlor game with Karl Marx’s daughter, Engels answered with a singleword a “Confessions” question (“What is your favorite motto?” “What is yourfavorite color?” etc.) that asked whom he most hated in life. “Spurgeon,” wasEngels’s curt, one-word answer, referring to the English Baptist… whose sermonsin the 1850s to the 1880s drew as many as twenty thousand people, many of themworking-class folk. Why did Engels hate him so? Because Spurgeon was divertingEngland’s urban working class away from atheist revolutionary socialism toChristian parliamentary reformism.

Aikman’s assessmentis right on. People who wish to spread other people’s wealth around mustultimately hate informed, influential Christians (really, all Christians)because the Bible mandates strict private property rights, strict enforcementof contracts, decentralized government, and just weights and measures forcurrency. Welfare States and Socialism do not hold up well under the lens ofScripture.

I just wish thethree brethren, Wallis, Campolo, and Sider, could see this. Their books wouldget a lot more helpful to read. Unfortunately, Campolo actually says that thosewho do not support his political policies are “sinful.” Unfortunately, unlikethe old guys, these guys and their ilk are the ones teaching your kids incollege.


[1] Jim Wallis, “Foreword,” in Tony Campolo, RedLetter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics (Ventura, CA:Regal, 2008), 11.
[2] Tony Campolo, Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faithand Politics (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 29.
[3] Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in AmericanProtestantism, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 48.
[4] Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in AmericanProtestantism, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 46.
Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in AmericanProtestantism, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 47.
The Socialist Labor Party of North America: Platform, 1887,”(accessed September 24, 2009).
[7]The Socialist Labor Party of North America: Platform, 1887,”(accessed September 24, 2009). I have listed only some of the points, anddeleted the resulting erratic numbering. Italics and bracketed comments aremine.
Charles H. Spurgeon, “One Lost Sheep,” Sermon No. 2083, MetropolitanTabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1997), 35:310.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, 7 vols. (New York andLondon: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1881), 5:267.
David Aikman, The Delusion of Disbelief (CarolStream, IL: SaltRiver, 2008), 106–107.
Tony Campolo, Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith andPolitics (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 29.