Christianity is social and we can make clear the incompatibility of the socialist faith, life, and hope of Christianity with the antisocial logics, practices, and effects of capitalism

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). 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. 

We support and explore 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, and bigotry

Political love means that Christians must defend democracy, which prioritizes self-determination and freedom from arbitrary domination. Christians are thus right to be alarmed by the erosion of democratic norms and process. But democracy in America has never been a finished achievement — the original “U.S. political order was built on anti-democracy.” Democratic norms in American society have always resulted  from emancipatory struggles against the exclusionary forces of slavery, property, settler-colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and hetero-sexism. 

Insofar as the politics of Christian love must be democratic, it must also throw itself into these emancipatory struggles. As Gustavo Gutiérrez insisted, only by participating in the struggles of the oppressed “can we understand the implications of the Gospel message and make it have an impact on history.” Christian political love is a love that becomes “concrete and effective by becoming incarnate in the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed.” Faced with an assault on democracy that intensifies existing racial and class oppression and emboldens the far right, the Church must come to grips with its political and economic situation. And we must do this so that the Gospel can be heard. 

In recent months, we have witnessed a rapid escalation of anti-democratic forces, most visibly in the violent suppression of protests against racism by police and federal departments. We must be clear that these displays of systemic racism and police brutality are windows into the racism, violence and exploitation writ large in America’s social, political and economic institutions. The recent protests and the state’s response to them demonstrate the extent to which racial capitalism has hollowed out democracy. Capitalism and racism have always been mutually dependent projects to restrict democracy, and the most recent protests expose the relation of police violence to a centuries-long history of profit-seeking at the expense of Black life. The Church must better understand how racism and capitalism intersect and reinforce one another. And that understanding can only arise out of a commitment to a politics that is rooted in building power with the leftWe must join arms with those who have struggled to address these issues for decades. Only through building political power with the left will we defeat the vicious and interlocking evils of capitalism, authoritarianism, and racism.

The reformist approaches favored by the Democrats are detached from any vital connection to movements of the left that seek to disempower these racist, authoritarian, and capitalist social forces. We cannot settle for pleas to the powerful to reconsider their attitudes when what is so desperately needed is a mass movement to dispossess the powerful.

**

The Institute for Christian Socialism

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.    

Building the Ecumenical Christian Left

Sanctuaries of Democracy

A Statement from the Institute for Christian Socialism

Now that Joe Biden is the president-elect, we cannot be complacent. Biden’s narrow victory happened amidst multiple and accelerating political crises and right-wing threats, many of which are enabled and endorsed by public Christians: blatant repudiations of democracycapitulations to racismnationalism, and authoritarianism. Despite the protestations of Americans and their leaders that “this is not who we are,” these threats are not new. They are fundamentalrecurrent features of American social life and right-wing politics. They are not caused by Donald Trump. He is their symptom. 

The election of a Democratic president will not be sufficient to contest the power of the right. Not only did support for Donald Trump and the Republicans increase in the 2020 election, but Democrats continue to empower the right by courting them — at just the moment that the Republican party becomes more extreme. Biden promises to restore ‘normality,’ but has no political vision to transform the material conditions that delivered Trump. 

The extremist and even fascistic currents that were nurtured by the Trump presidency will continue to grow without him. We must be organized — against the right and incrementalist liberalism — to stop them. If Christians and churches are serious about their commitment to democracy, then the moment of Trump’s democratic defeat must also be the occasion for increasing and intensifying our organizing to expand democracy.

For Democracy: The Anti-Racist, Anti-Fascist, Anti-Capitalist Church

Many Christians object that the Church must guard against allowing its spiritual message to be confused with politics, that it’s dangerous for Christianity to become a political project. This is a strange claim to make. A “political” church is not a betrayal of the Church’s “spiritual” mission. Always and everywhere, the churches are implicated in the political and economic order. They are not exempt from social conflict, class struggle, or material interests. Neutrality in the face of systemic domination, oppression, and social exclusion is not only impossible, it is immoral. An abstract “love,” “unity,” or “witness” is no love, unity, or witness at all. It is in our bodies and in our social relationships that love, unity, and Christian witness are spiritual. So if Christians are to love their neighbors, they must do so in a political and economic world; and, if they are to love them well, that means politically and economically, too.

Political love means that Christians must defend democracy, which prioritizes self-determination and freedom from arbitrary domination. Christians are thus right to be alarmed by the erosion of democratic norms and process. But democracy in America has never been a finished achievement — the original “U.S. political order was built on anti-democracy.” Democratic norms in American society have always resulted  from emancipatory struggles against the exclusionary forces of slavery, property, settler-colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and hetero-sexism. 

Insofar as the politics of Christian love must be democratic, it must also throw itself into these emancipatory struggles. As Gustavo Gutiérrez insisted, only by participating in the struggles of the oppressed “can we understand the implications of the Gospel message and make it have an impact on history.” Christian political love is a love that becomes “concrete and effective by becoming incarnate in the struggle for the liberation of the oppressed.” Faced with an assault on democracy that intensifies existing racial and class oppression and emboldens the far right, the Church must come to grips with its political and economic situation. And we must do this so that the Gospel can be heard. 

In recent months, we have witnessed a rapid escalation of anti-democratic forces, most visibly in the violent suppression of protests against racism by police and federal departments. We must be clear that these displays of systemic racism and police brutality are windows into the racism, violence and exploitation writ large in America’s social, political and economic institutions. The recent protests and the state’s response to them demonstrate the extent to which racial capitalism has hollowed out democracy. Capitalism and racism have always been mutually dependent projects to restrict democracy, and the most recent protests expose the relation of police violence to a centuries-long history of profit-seeking at the expense of Black life. The Church must better understand how racism and capitalism intersect and reinforce one another. And that understanding can only arise out of a commitment to a politics that is rooted in building power with the leftWe must join arms with those who have struggled to address these issues for decades. Only through building political power with the left will we defeat the vicious and interlocking evils of capitalism, authoritarianism, and racism.

Christians invested in protecting and deepening democracy cannot replace the work of politics with moralizing denunciations or platitudes of opposition and prophetic critique. Nor should they mistake alliances with Democrats for the hard work of organizing to defend and expand democracy. The reformist approaches favored by the Democrats are detached from any vital connection to movements of the left that seek to disempower these racist, authoritarian, and capitalist social forces. We cannot settle for pleas to the powerful to reconsider their attitudes when what is so desperately needed is a mass movement to dispossess the powerful.

Building and Organizing Democratic Power

There is every reason to believe that the unrest, rebellions and violent reactions that occurred in 2020 will continue, and perhaps increase, into a Biden presidency. The Church must be prepared for a continued onslaught of anti-democratic activity. One important way for Christians to begin organizing vital networks of power is for churches to provide sanctuary to protesters fighting for democracy. Follow the example of Rahul Dubey, who opened his house to 70 protesters and refused entry to law enforcement — even after the police pepper-sprayed his house and attempted illegal entry — so that the protesters could safely go home after the curfew ended. Rahul’s actions challenge our churches to a specific form of faithfulness in the midst of need.

This happened recently in Louisville, Kentucky when a Unitarian Church gave sanctuary —space and food —to people who were protesting because no charges were brought against the police officers who killed Breonna Taylor. Protestors sought refuge on the church grounds as the city curfew began and were welcomed by the church while the police, in full riot gearlaid siege to the protestors for two hours on church groundsPress and protestors both credited the church for its involvement in negotiating a peaceful end and preventing the police from storming the grounds and building. In the words of Brother Tim Duncan, the rationale for sanctuary is to make good on the “large banner on the front of the church that read[s], ‘Black Lives Matter,’” for “it is a way of showing that we are with you. We are a part with you, and we are with the struggle and a struggle that has gone on for centuries, that this God is one who is always on the side of the oppressed.”

Or, take the example of Grace Church of Logan Square (UMC), which recently found itself in the middle of a tense moment amid the protests. Located a few blocks from the Chicago mayor’s house, Grace Church opened its doors to those expressing their rage at the politician who authorized the police to trap and punish protesters with a curfew, public transit shutdowns, and who was unwilling to listen or respond to their demands for justice and equity. Grace Church partnered with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, local community members, and other clergy to help promote greater understanding of what it means for churches to be sanctuaries of democracy and to provide answers to practical questions that arise in that work. 

In order to assist churches in the work of creating sanctuaries, The Institute for Christian Socialism has created a guide, “Throw Open Your Doors! A Call to Sanctuary.” It includes a set of guidelines used by Grace Church and St. Luke’s during summer protests, as well as a theological reflection on the importance of sanctuary. 

Organizing the Christian Left

The Christian left does not now have its own institutions, infrastructure, and networks to support its work of preserving and expanding democracy. Nor do we currently have strategic alliances with the broader political left that will be necessary in coming years. Not only do Christians on the left lack these resources, but in some cases their own churches militate against organizing and advocating for emancipatory democracy. As we approach our second year, the Institute for Christian Socialism will begin to provide resources to nurture the growth of institutions, networks, and alliances that can educate, equip and mobilize the Christian left to organize. 

In the new year, the Institute for Christian Socialism will announce important developments in the following areas:

Political Education

The Bias magazine has been our primary vehicle for political education in our first year. But in our second year, we will significantly expand on this work by offering more regular webinars (links) and with our new podcast, A Moment of Time. We will also be releasing a 15-part, year-long series, “The Invisible Feet of the Market,” an educational primer on Christianity and capitalism.  In conjunction with these developments in political education, we are pleased to be able to offer regular reading groups on key texts for the Christian left, which will not only broaden our understanding of the socialism of the gospel, but begin to build vital relationships among Christians on the left.  

Working Groups and Networking

In a similar vein, we are beginning to coordinate working groups for building power within the Christian left and with other leftist and socialist groups. Our groups will provide essential connections between people who are working at the intersection of the Church and left politics, and provide important practical guidance for growing the organizing power of Christians.

We are now developing groups for mobilizing and organizing clergy as well as prison and police abolition activists. We hope in the coming year also to have groups addressing involvement progressive/socialist electoral campaigns, support for organized labor and the broader left (DSA, trade unions, ecosocialists, co-operatives, etc). 

Membership

Our most important initiative in the new year will be announcing how you can become a member of the Institute for Christian Socialism. Formal membership will provide a way for you to be a more active partner in our work by sharing your knowledge, skills, and passion with others, and to have a voice in how that work develops. In addition to providing a way for you to be involved at an individual level, our membership structure will establish local, regional, and college and university chapters of ICS, through which to expand and develop our work.


We are eager to begin this work with you.

Join us.

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