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Christian Socialism?

The Base Metal of Christian Socialism

By Joel McDurmon |

I am currently at work revising and expanding my free ebook God versus Socialism so that American Vision can produce a print version. The book will nearly double in length to about 150 pages and will expand the Bible’s criticism of socialism into at least three of the major voices of Christian socialism today: Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, and Ron Sider. Each of these three men call themselves Evangelicals, profess to believe the Bible and the classic doctrines of the apostles’ creed. Each claim to only teach what the Bible teaches on poverty and politics, to have “no particular political agenda,” and yet the policies each proposes always line up point-by-point with the platform of the Democratic party. Yet since they put it forth under the guise of the Bible, Campolo argues that not to support his favored liberal legislation is “sinful.” I think there’s something fishy here.

Last week I wrote about the Fabian socialists and their effort to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. They wished to advance Marxism and socialism without being detected as atheistic revolutionary socialists. The attempted to subvert the Christians by using biblical ideas and Christian language to present socialist ideas that actually contradict the Bible. The three men I cover stand in this tradition. What follows will show that this has been going on for a long time. Socialism got its foothold in this country through active, concerned Christians duped by the propaganda wrapped in Bible verses.

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

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

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

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

Therefore, the Party listed their demands:

We consider it the first duty of the Government and Legislatures to change the present economical conditions into a co-operative system of society.… For that purpose we strive for the acquisition of political power with all appropriate means.…

* The United States shall obtain possession of the railroads, canals, telegraphs, telephones, and all other means of public transportation.

* The municipalities to obtain possession of the local railroads, of ferries, and to supply the light to streets and public places.

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

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

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

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

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

* Uniform national marriage laws. Divorce to be granted upon mutual

consent, and upon providing for the care of the children.

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

* Uniform law throughout the United States [no Tenth Amendment!]. Administration of justice to be free of charge. Abolition of capital punishment.

This is what these “Christian socialists”—in the name of Jesus Christ, in the name of scripture and the lofty moral principles of the God of the Bible—called Christians to devote to. In the name of Jesus, these guys wished to leverage to persuasive power of the church and the propagandistic value of the pulpits, to join and support a political Party that demanded outright communism and total revolution of what the United States is. And when the revolution was accomplished, the Christians would take the back seat in society: “Separation of all public affairs from religion; church property to be subject to taxation.” In other words, the allegedly Christian socialists wished for the church to sell-out to Marxism—a political system that wished to contradict, liquidate, and finally silence the church. “You scratch our back, and we’ll stab you in yours.”

It’s no wonder that a Christian giant such Charles Spurgeon saw Christian Socialism as a departure from Christianity. He warned his congregation in 1889, “I would not have you exchange the gold of individual Christianity for the base metal of Christian Socialism.” He rightly saw socialism as the fallout from rejecting God:

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

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

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

Aikman’s assessment is right on. People who wish to spread other people’s wealth around must ultimately hate informed, influential Christians (really, all Christians) because the Bible mandates strict private property rights, strict enforcement of contracts, decentralized government, and just weights and measures for currency. Welfare States and Socialism do not hold up well under the lens of Scripture.

I just wish the three brethren, Wallis, Campolo, and Sider, could see this. Their books would get a lot more helpful to read. Unfortunately, Campolo actually says that those who do not support his political policies are “sinful.” Unfortunately, unlike the old guys, these guys and their ilk are the ones teaching your kids in college.


[1] Jim Wallis, “Foreword,” in Tony Campolo, Red Letter 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 Faith and Politics (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 29.
[3] Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 48.
[4] Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 1865–1915 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940), 46.
Charles Howard Hopkins, The Rise of the Social Gospel in American Protestantism, 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, and deleted the resulting erratic numbering. Italics and bracketed comments are mine.
Charles H. Spurgeon, “One Lost Sheep,” Sermon No. 2083, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Albany, OR: AGES Software, 1997), 35:310.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, 7 vols. (New York and London: Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1881), 5:267.
David Aikman, The Delusion of Disbelief (Carol Stream, IL: SaltRiver, 2008), 106–107.
Tony Campolo, Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), 29.