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Christian socialism

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Christian socialism

Christian socialism is a form of religious socialism based on the teachings of Jesus. Many Christian socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in greed, which some Christian denominations consider a mortal sin.[1] Christian socialists identify the cause of inequality to be associated with the greed that they associate with capitalism.[1]

Christian socialism became a major movement in the United Kingdom beginning in the 1960s through the Christian Socialist Movement.[2]

The term also pertains to such earlier figures 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).


Biblical age

Elements that would form the basis of Christian socialism are found in the Old and New Testaments.[3]

Old Testament

The Old Testament had divided perspectives on the issue of poverty. One part of the Jewish tradition held that poverty was judgement 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).[4]

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
—(Lev 19:13, 18).[5]
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).[5]
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
—(Deut. 24:19-22).[5]

The Psalms that were written in a period of eight hundred years from 1300-500 B.C. include many references to social justice for the poor:

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).[6]
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).[6]

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.[7] The prophet Isaiah (759-694 B.C.) to whom is attributed the first thirty-nine chapters of the Book of 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).[7]

The Book of Sirach denounces the pursuit of wealth, stating:

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).[8]

The most important quote of the Old Testament that has been recognized by Christian socialists is the verse from Ecclesiastes 3:13 that describes God as promoting an egalitarian society, stating:

It is God's gift to humankind that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil
—(Ecc. 3: 13).[9]

New Testament

In the New Testament, Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 identifies himself with the hungry, the poor, the sick, and the prisoners.[10] Matthew 25:31-46 is a major component of Christianity and is considered the cornerstone of Christian socialism.[10] 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.[11] (The Samaritans were considered a heretical sect by Jews and neither would usually deal with the other.)[11]

Jesus vertreibt die Händler aus dem Tempel by Giovanni Paolo Pannini

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus says, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied" (Luke 6:20, 21).[12]

Christian socialists note that James the Just, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth, in the Epistle of James criticizes the rich intensely and in strong language:

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).[13]
Some of the verses which inspired the communal arrangements of the Anabaptist Hutterites are Acts 2, verses 44 and 45:
"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."
Acts 4, verse 32:
"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions were his own, but they shared everything they had."
and Acts 4, verses 34 and 35:
"There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from their sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need."

Church Fathers age

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.[14] During the great famine of 368, Basil denounced against profiteers and the indifferent rich.[14] 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
—Basil of Caesarea from the The Rich Fool.[15]

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.
—John Chrysostom.[16]

These passages and similar were also instrumental in inspiring the Christian Social Party of Austria and de La Tour du Pin, obviously Roman Catholic rather than Eastern Orthodox.

19th century

A variety of socialist perspectives emerged in 19th century Britain. The influential Victorian art critic John Ruskin expounded theories about social justice in Unto This Last (1860). The painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were influenced and sponsored by Ruskin. The artist William Morris was a leader of the Socialist League founded in December 1884. 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.

In the November 1914 issue of the The Christian Socialist, Episcopal bishop Franklin Spencer Spalding of Utah, U.S.A. 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."[17]

Despite the explicit rejection of Socialism, in the more Catholic countries of Europe the encyclical's teaching was the inspiration that led to the formation of new Christian democratic parties.

A number of Christian socialist movements and political parties throughout the world group themselves into the International League of Religious Socialists. It has member organizations in 21 countries representing 200,000 members.

Christian socialists draw parallels between what some have characterized as the egalitarian and anti-establishment message of Jesus, who–according to the Gospel–spoke against the religious authorities of his time, and the egalitarian, anti-establishment, and sometimes anti-clerical message of most contemporary socialisms. Some Christian Socialists have become active Communists. This phenomenon was most common among missionaries in China, the most notable being James Gareth Endicott, who became supportive of the struggle of the Communist Party of China in the 1930s and 1940s.

Christian socialism is not to be confused with certain parties with "Christian Social" in their names which are found in the German-speaking world, such as the contemporary Christian Social Union in Bavaria or the Christian Social Party in Austria-Hungary c. 1900. Such parties do not claim to be socialist, nor are they considered socialist by others. The term Christian Democrat is more appropriately applied to the contemporary parties.


In Roman Catholicism, Socialism was strongly criticized in the 1878 papal encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris by Pope Leo XIII. This opinon was moderated an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XI on 15 May 1931 Quadragesimo Anno. Wherein Pius XI describes the major dangers for human freedom and dignity arising from unrestrained capitalism and totalitarian communism. Pius XI called upon moderate socialism to distance itself from totalitarian communism as a matter of convenience and also as a matter of principle. Socialists were accused of attempting to overthrow all existing civil society, and Christian socialism 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".[18]

The encyclical Rerum Novarum encyclical of Pope Leo XIII from 1891 was the starting point of a teaching on social questions that was expanded and updated all through the 20th century. Despite the introduction of social thought as an object of religious thought, Rerum Novarum explicitly rejects what it calls "the main tenet of socialism":

"Hence, it is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonwealth. The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property." Rerum Novarum, paragraph 16

However, Rerum Novarum condemned unrestricted capitalism and called for measures to ameliorate "The misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class."[19]

A great number and variety of Catholics have championed the cause of working folk. Prominent individuals and movements include: Francesco Saverio Nitti, Corazon Aquino & Benigno Aquino, Jr., Solidarity (Polish trade union), Cesar Chavez, Sargent Shriver, Harris Wofford, the Kennedy family, Liberation theology, Jerzy Popiełuszko, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement, John M. Corridan, and E. F. Schumacher.

The apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium by Pope Francis, criticizes unfettered capitalism.

See also: Catholic Church and politics in the United States

Christian socialist parties

Prominent Christian socialists

The British Labour Party, Australian Labor Party and New Democratic Party of Canada have all been influenced by Christian socialism, and some figures from all these parties could be considered to be Christian socialists, depending on the definition of "socialism" used.

Former British Labour leader Tony Blair is a member of the Christian Socialist Movement[20] although his adherence to Christian Socialist ideals is highly disputed, as he is much further to the right than most "socialists".[21]

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd identified himself as an "old-fashioned Christian socialist" in a 2003 interview with The Australian Financial Review,[22] later writing in 2006: "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."[23] However he also described socialism as an "arcane, 19th century" doctrine and stated that "I am not a socialist. I have never been a socialist and I never will be a socialist."[24]

The following list includes other well-known Christian socialists:


If we all came of the same father and mother, of Adam and Eve, how can they say or prove that they are better than we, if it be not that they make us gain for them by our toil what they spend in their pride? John Ball[25]
Socialism which means love, cooperation and brotherhood in every department of human affairs, is the only outward expression of a Christian's faith. I am firmly convinced that whether they know it or not, all who approve and accept competition and struggle against each other as the means whereby we gain our daily bread, do indeed betray and make of no effect the "will of God." George Lansbury
Capitalism is the way of the devil and exploitation. If you really want to look at things through the eyes of Jesus Christ—who I think was the first socialist—only socialism can really create a genuine society. Hugo Chávez[26]
Socialism is Christianity politicized. Russell Brand[27]

See also


  1. ^ a b Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, Hugh S. Pyper. The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press Pp. 678.
  2. ^ Adrian Hastings, Alistair Mason, Hugh S. Pyper. The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press Pp. 677.
  3. ^ Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 19.  
  4. ^ Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 20.  
  5. ^ a b c Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 21.  
  6. ^ a b Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 22.  
  7. ^ a b Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 23.  
  8. ^ Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 28.  
  9. ^ Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 29.  
  10. ^ a b Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 31.  
  11. ^ a b Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 32.  
  12. ^ Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 37.  
  13. ^ Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. pp. 40–41.  
  14. ^ a b Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 43.  
  15. ^ Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. pp. 43–44.  
  16. ^ Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York, USA: Orbis Books. p. 45.  
  17. ^ Berman, David (2007). Radicalism in the Mountain West 1890-1920. University Press of Colorado. pp. 11–12. 
  18. ^ Socialism & the Vatican Time magazine, July 8, 1957.
  19. ^ Paragraph 3, Rerum Novarum.
  20. ^ UK: Tony Blair's pact with God
  21. ^ Poplarism, Christianity and Socialism, July 14, 2007.
  22. ^ Samantha Maiden and Verity Edwards: Rudd backtracks on socialism The Australian, December 15, 2006.
  23. ^ Kevin Rudd: Faith in Politics The Monthly, October 2006.
  24. ^ Michael Gordon and Michelle Grattan: Rudd rejects socialism The Age, December 14, 2006.
  25. ^ John Richard Green, History of the English People. Accessed 2007-07-22.
  26. ^ Tim Padgett: Chavez: "Bush Has Called Me Worse Things" Time magazine, September 22, 2006. Accessed 2007-07-22.
  27. ^ Donald Kaufman (21 January 2014). Russell Brand: ‘Socialism Is Christianity Politicized’. Truthdig. Retrieved 24 January 2014.

Further reading

Primary sources

  • Gray, John. The Life of Frederick Denison Maurice: Chiefly Told in His Own Letters (1885) online edition
  • Kingsley, Charles. The Works of Charles Kingsley (1899) online edition
  • Kingsley, Frances Eliza Grenfell. Charles Kingsley: His Letters and Memories of His Life (1877) online edition
  • Leno, John Bedford. The Aftermath with Autobiography of the Author, Reeves & Turner, London 1892

Secondary sources

  • Bissett, Jim. Agrarian socialism in America: Marx, Jefferson, and Jesus in the Oklahoma Countryside, 1904-1920 University of Oklahoma Press, 1999
  • Boyer, John. Culture and Political Crisis in Vienna: Christian Socialism in Power, 1897-1918 (1995)
  • Cort, John C. Christian Socialism: An Informal History (1988)
  • Hopkins, Charles Howard. The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865-1915 (1940) (Chap. X "Christian Socialism")
  • Phillips, Paul T. A Kingdom on Earth: Anglo-American Social Christianity, 1880-1940. (1996)
  • Young, Shawn David. "From Hippies to Jesus Freaks: Christian Radicalism in Chicago’s Inner-City." Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. Vol 22(2) Summer 2010.

External links

  • Official site of Christian Socialist Movement (UK)
  • Religious Socialists Vision Statement of the Religion and Socialism Commission of the Democratic Socialists of America
  • Socialism and Faith Commission of the Socialist Party USA
  • Spartacus Educational on nineteenth-century Christian socialism
  • New Testament Supports Socialism
  • Anglo-Catholic Socialism
  • The Bible on the Poor: Or Why God is a Liberal
  • Christian Socialist Party USA Right-wing Christian socialism movement
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