What is the Socialism of the Gospel?
Christianity is inherently social. The manifestations of this sociality, found throughout scripture, doctrinal teachings, ecclesial mission, spiritual practice, and daily discipleship, are richly diverse and abundantly evident. On the most basic level, we mean to be faithful to this socialism of the Gospel. In doing so, we are compelled to make clear the incompatibility of the socialist faith, life, and hope of Christianity with the antisocial logics, practices, and effects of capitalism.
The Socialism of Jesus's Gospel
Jesus of Nazareth’s ministry began with an announcement of good news to the poor by calling for the release of captives, the liberation of the oppressed, the forgiveness of financial debts, and the redistribution of wealth (Luke 4.18). He warned against making money a god (Luke 16:13) and taught that the highest law is the love of God and neighbor (Luke 10:27).
Jesus called workers, social agitators, and outcasts to follow him in healing the sick, comforting the aggrieved, feeding the hungry, and seeking a just new society of mutual service. His meal practices leveled social hierarchies (Mark 6:32-44). He taught his disciples that God expects them to give without expecting a return (Luke 6:34) and that no one should fear having their needs go unmet, because the same measure of abandon with which you give, he said, is the same measure you will receive (Luke 6:38). He condemned the religious and political elite who elevate themselves by burdening others (Matthew 23:1-36) and engaged in direct action to dismantle their systems of exploitation (Mark 11:15-18).
Following his execution by the state, Jesus’s earliest followers professed that he appeared to them and instructed them to spread the good news (gospel) of everything he had taught (Matthew 28:18-20). He promised to be present wherever two or three gather in his spirit (Matthew 18:20) and among the hungry, thirsty, strangers, vulnerable, sick, and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46). In the earliest church, Jesus’ followers held everything in common, selling their property to give to the needy, with no one claiming private ownership (Acts 2:42–47, 4:32–37).
There have always been Christians who have sought to realize and develop this socialism of the Gospel, even when the official churches have betrayed and obscured the radically egalitarian nature of Jesus’s vision and ministry. In every age, Christians have protested the subordination of the churches to riches and powers of domination. They have started monastic communities and religious orders; they have built communities, like the Bruderhof and Catholic Worker Movements; they have been Non-conformists, like the Anabaptists and Diggers; they have struggled in various faith-rooted socialist, labor, and civil rights movements; and they have organized in base communities inspired by Liberation Theology in solidarity with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed.
Christian Socialism Today
Today, amidst the rapid reclamation of socialist thought and practice, it is clear that the intellectual and organizing energies are emerging largely from outside the churches. As such, we recognize the urgent need to awaken among Christians an awareness of and commitment to the socialism that is inherent to the Gospel, to invite Christian contributions to the socialist debates and proposals arising from the broader movement today, and to encourage opportunities for mutual inspiration, correction, and solidarity.
We are aware, of course, that there are a wide range of socialist visions, projects, and outcomes to account for historically. Many of these can be directly tied to the influence of Christianity, while others, including forms of socialism critical of Christian faith and practice, have been guided by different motivations. Similarly, we affirm that a breadth of interpretations and expressions of the sociality that is of the Gospel, past and present, exist within worldwide Christianity.
There are many socialisms of the Gospel. Our aim is not to fix too narrowly upon any one form but to foster an open-ended recovery, sharing, and exploration of the varied expressions that might in turn energize Christian political engagement – even as we welcome careful dialogue about, critical engagement with, and lived expressions of them. This entails making room to engage a variety of possible theological, ecclesial, and political-economic alignments.
Socialist Imperatives of the Gospel
To be clear, we are convinced that faithfulness to the Gospel must entail a commitment not just to resisting or reforming capitalism, but to overturning it while working for new forms of political economy that are life sustaining, egalitarian, and just. The Gospel unsettles the false separation of politics, economics, society, and culture from personal salvation. The mandate of Christian love, which demands justice for all who are poor and oppressed, is universal and encompasses all our relations. It leaves no part of the world untouched and makes no compromise with injustice, domination, and degradation.
Followers of Jesus can make no peace with an economic system that daily transgresses human dignity and planetary boundaries for the sake of maximizing financial profit in cycles of unending growth. Not only does capitalism promote crises, instability, and injustice, but it threatens our very survival, having brought us to the brink of extinction. Neither individual acts of service nor charitable donations nor regulatory constraints can undo or justify the reckless sacrifice of God’s creation on Mammon’s altar.
We recognize, further, that capitalism’s present domination of social, institutional, and biospheric life is inseparable, both historically and functionally, from myriad forms of oppression that legitimize and sustain it. Alongside extreme economic inequality and environmental collapse, capitalism is inherently tied to the evils of systemic racism, white supremacism, settler colonialism, violence against women and children, ethnonationalism, bigotry against LGBTQ persons, and related forms of social and religious violence such as antisemitism and Islamophobia. Indeed, the magnitude of these threats are only accelerated as the social and political crises caused by capitalism deepen.
In our rejection of capitalism and advocacy for socialist forms of political economy, we are necessarily committed at the same time to the work of anti-racism, feminism, Queer liberation, anti-imperialism, indigenous sovereignty, and related emancipatory struggles. These, too, we understand to be manifestations – whether explicitly Christian or not – of the socialism of Jesus’s Gospel.