Christian socialism

Christian socialism is a form of religious socialism based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. 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 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, since 2013 known as Christians on the Left.[1]

Other earlier figures are also viewed as Christian socialists, such 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.[2]

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).[3]

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).[4]
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).[2]

Some of the Psalms 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, one of the Deutro-Canonical or 'Apocryphal' books of the Old Testament, 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 Expels the Moneylenders from the Temple" 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]

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[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.[16]

19th century to present

A variety of socialist perspectives emerged in 19th century Britain, beginning with John Ruskin.

John Ruskin

The influential Victorian art critic John Ruskin expounded theories about social justice in Unto This Last (1860). In it, he stated four goals that might be called "socialist" although Ruskin did not use the term.[17]

  1. "training schools for youth, established at government cost"
  2. in connection with these school, the government should establish "manufactories and workshops, for the production and sale of every necessary of life"
  3. all unemployed people should be "set to work" or trained for work if needed or forced to work if necessary
  4. "for the old and destitute, comfort and home should be provided"

Ruskin was not "an authentic Socialist in any of its various nineteenth-century meanings." His "only real contact with the Christian Socialists came through the Working Men's College. However, he influenced later Socialist thinking, especially William Morris.[18]


The painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were influenced and sponsored by Ruskin.[19] The artist William Morris was a leader of the Socialist League founded in December 1884.[20]

Fabian Society

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.[21]

Bishop Spalding

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.[22]

Christian democracy

The political movement of Christian democracy espouses some values of Christian socialism, for example "economic justice" and "social welfare." It opposes an "individualist worldview" and it approves state intervention in the economy in defence of "human dignity." On the other hand, because of its "close association with Roman Catholicism," Christian democracy differs from Christian socialism by its emphasis on "traditional church and family values," by its defence of "private property," and by its opposition to "excessive intervention of the state."[23]

Christian democratic parties (under various names) were formed in Europe and Latin America after World War II. Some became "a major political force."[23]


In the United States, a group of Christian Socialists arose, known as the Knipperdolings, that advocated social justice.[facticity questionable, see Wikipedia article] and

International League of Religious Socialists

A number of Christian socialist movements and political parties in Europe grouped themselves into the International League of Religious Socialists in the 1920s. Now with members worldwide, it has member organizations in 21 countries representing 200,000 members.

Anti-establishment vs. anti-clerical

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.

Not "Christian Social"

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.

Spiritualism and Occultism

It has been shown that utopian socialist ideas continued, after 1848, in new religious movements such as Spiritualism or Occultism.[24] They were often marked by a heterodox Christian identity and a decidedly anti-materialist attitude.


Félicité de Lamennais, one of the most influential Catholic authors in France, caused a scandal in the 1830s when he spectacularly broke with Rome and turned to a Christian socialism that inspired a whole generation of socialists. It has been shown that contemporary (heterodox) Catholic and socialist discourses were deeply entangled.[25] Most of the so-called Utopian Socialists identified as Christians or even Catholics, although they criticized the Christianity of the established Churches. Not surprisingly, this tendency was condemned by Church authorities.

In Roman Catholicism, Communism was strongly criticized in the 1878 papal encyclical Quod Apostolici Muneris by Pope Leo XIII, as it clearly leads to State domination over the freedom of the individual and quells proper religious worship, inherently turning the top hierarchical power over to the State instead of God. This opinion was moderated an encyclical issued by Pope Pius XII 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 XII called upon true socialism to distance itself from totalitarian communism as a matter of clarity and also as a matter of principle. Communists were accused of attempting to overthrow all existing civil society, and Christian socialism, if allied to Communism, was deemed to be an oxymoron because of this. Pius XII famously wrote at the time that "no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true [totalitarian] socialist",[26] yet had clarified that a Catholic was free to vote for the British Labour Party, the UK affiliate of the Socialist International.


In France, the birthplace of Calvinism, the Christianisme Social (Social Christianity) movement emerged from the preaching of Tommy Fallot[27] in the 1870s. Early on, the movement focused on such issues as illiteracy and alcoholism amongst the poor.[28] After the First World War, Social Christianity moved in two directions: towards pacifism and towards ecumenism.

Hence within the movement emerged conscientious objectors such as Jacques Martin, Philo Vernier and Henri Roser, economists pursuing policies that reflected cooperation and solidarity (such as Bernard Lavergne and Georges Lasserre), and theologians such as Paul Ricoeur. One of the pastors in the movement, Jacques Kaltenbach, was also to have a formative influence on André Trocmé.[29]

Under the Vichy regime, which had seen the emergence of other forms of witness (particularly the support of internees in the camps, and aiding Jews to escape), the movement was reborn to tackle the problems of a changing world. It expressed a Christian socialism, more or less in line with the beginning of a new political left. Political activism was very broad and included the denunciation of torture, East-West debate on European integration and taking a stance on the process of decolonization. It facilitated meetings between employers, managers and trade unionists to discern a new economic order.

After the events of May 1968, Calvinism in France became much more left-wing in its orientation.[30] One doctrinal text produced in this period, Church and Authorities, was described as Marxist in its orientation.[30] Churches now seized for themselves the political and social issues to tackle, such as nuclear power and justice for the Third World.

In the early 2000s, the Social Christianity movement temporarily discontinued and its journal, Other Times, ceased to be published.[28] However, the movement was relaunched on 10 June 2010 with a petition signed by over 240 people[28] and now maintains an active presence with its own website.[31]

Economically, Calvinists have supported capitalism and have been in the vanguard of promoting market capitalism[32] and have produced many of France's leading entrepreneurs.[32] With regard to politics and social issues however, they are very much socialists.[30] Three of France's post-war prime ministers have been Calvinists, despite Protestants only making up two percent of the population. All three of these prime ministers have been socialists.[32]

In Australia, the academic Roland Boer has attempted to synthesize Calvinism and Marxism.[33] He has stated that "it became clear to me that within Christianity there is a strong tradition of political and theological radicalism, which I continued to explore personally. Reformed or Calvinist theology did not seem to sit easily with that interest, so I spent many a long year rejecting that tradition, only to realise later that Calvin himself was torn between the radical potential of elements in the Bible and his own conservative preferences".[34]

In Wales, Calvinistic Methodism is the largest non-conformist religion. Its beginnings may be traced to Griffith Jones (1684–1761), of Llanddowror, Carmarthenshire, whose sympathy for the poor led him to set on foot a system of circulating charity schools for the education of children. However, until the nineteenth century, the prevailing thought amongst Welsh non-conformists was that "it would be wiser if the churches limited their activities to those of the altar and not to meddle at all with the state and social questions". This stemmed partly from the traditional nonconformist belief in the separation of church and state.[35]

In his influential sermon, Y Ddwy Alwedigaeth (The Two Vocations), Emrys ap Iwan challenged this passive pietism: "We must not think, like the old Methodists, Puritans and some Catholics, that we can only seek Godliness outside our earthly vocation." He condemned those Christians who limited godliness to directly religious matters such as Sabbath observance and personal devotion. He declared that all earthly things, including language and culture, have some kind of divine origin.[36]

Many of the founders of the Welsh nationalist social-democratic party, Plaid Cymru were also devout Calvinists, including John Edward Daniel. Daniel was the theologian credited for bringing neo-orthodoxy to Wales. Daniel argued that God did not create man as an isolated individual but as a social being.[36]

The second generation of Plaid Cymru leaders included R. Tudur Jones. His political stance, combined with Calvinist doctrine, created an integrated vision that was significant to the religious life of Christian Wales in the later half of the 20th century.[37] Jones argued that the "state should be a servant, to preserve order and to allow men to live the good life".[38]

Today, many Calvinist socialists in Wales support same-sex marriage on the grounds that it delivers marriage equality in the eyes of the state while still allowing churches to follow their own conscience, thus upholding the traditional Protestant belief in separation of church and state.[39]

The Calvinist tradition in Plaid Cymru has also influenced its non-violent approach. "The ideal is no fist violence, no verbal violence, and no heart violence.... Christians... point to the New Testament example of Jesus Christ clearing the temple. Here there is no suggestion of violence against people; rather the tables are turned as a symbolic act. The life and teaching of Jesus Christ were seen as the foundations of nonviolent direct action [for Plaid Cymru members]... loving their enemies on the one hand, but not compromising on what they saw as an issue of moral rightness."[40] Plaid Cymru continues to see itself as very much part of the Christian pacifist tradition.[39]

Contrary views

Lawrence Reed, in Rendering Unto Caesar, writes that Jesus was not a socialist in that he promoted voluntary giving and charity rather than the mandatory taking by government.[41] Bill Flax, writing in Forbes, says Jesus was neither a capitalist nor socialist.[42] Johnnie Moore (Professor of Religion at Liberty University) writing on the homepage of Fox News Radio's Todd Starnes, says Jesus was a capitalist.[43] Bryan Fischer, of the American Family Association, says Jesus was a capitalist who advocated "voluntary redistribution of wealth".[44]

Christian socialist parties

Notable Christian socialists

The following list includes notable followers of Christian socialism:

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Leech 2000, pp. 677–678.
  2. 1 2 Cort 1988, p. 19.
  3. Cort 1988, p. 20.
  4. Cort 1988, p. 21.
  5. Cort 1988.
  6. 1 2 Cort 1988, p. 22.
  7. 1 2 Cort 1988, p. 23.
  8. Cort 1988, p. 28.
  9. Cort 1988, p. 29.
  10. 1 2 Cort 1988, p. 31.
  11. 1 2 Cort 1988, p. 32.
  12. Cort 1988, p. 37.
  13. Cort 1988, pp. 41–42.
  14. 1 2 Cort 1988, p. 43.
  15. Cort 1988, pp. 43–44.
  16. Cort 1988, p. 45.
  17. Ruskin 1872, pp. xi–xiii.
  18. Norman 2002, pp. 122, 132.
  19. Landow, George P. (2015) [1989]. "Pre-Raphaelites: An Introduction". The Victorian Web. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  20. Cody, David (2002) [1987]. "Morris's Socialism". The Victorian Web. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  21. "The Fabian Story". Fabian Society. Retrieved 23 December 2015.
  22. Berman 2007, pp. 11–12.
  23. 1 2 "Christian Democracy". Britannica Academic. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2015. Retrieved 25 December 2015.
  24. See, e.g., Strube 2016a; Cyranka 2016; Braude 1989.
  25. Strube 2016b, pp. 177–211.
  26. "Socialism & the Vatican". Time. 70 (2). 8 July 1957. p. 19. Retrieved 4 June 2016. (subscription required (help)).
  27. "Social Christianity". Virtual Museum of Protestantism. Fondation pasteur Eugène Bersier. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  28. 1 2 3 "La relance du christianisme social" [The Revival of Social Christianity]. France Culture (in French). Radio France. 2010. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  29. Chalamet 2013.
  30. 1 2 3 Wells, Paul (May 1988). "L'Église C'est Moi: The French Churches and the 'Me' Generation". Third Way. 11 (5). London: Hymns Ancient & Modern. pp. 14–16. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  31. "Accueil" [Welcome]. ...Se réclamant du christianisme social (in French). Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  32. 1 2 3 "Prim but Punchy". The Economist. 346 (8064). 16 April 1998. p. 48. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  33. "Professor Roland Boer". University of Newcastle. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  34. Oudshoorn, Dan (24 December 2010). "An Interview with Roland Boer (On Marxism and Theology)". On Journeying with those in Exile. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  35. Llwyd 2015, p. 3.
  36. 1 2 Llwyd 2015, p. 4.
  37. Davies et al. 2008.
  38. Llwyd 2015, p. 5.
  39. 1 2 Llwyd 2015, p. 7.
  40. Llwyd 2015, p. 6.
  41. Reed 2015.
  42. Flax, Bill (31 January 2012). "Was Jesus A Socialist, Capitalist, Or Something Else?". Forbes. Retrieved 4 January 2016.
  43. Moore, Johnnie. "Was Jesus a Socialist or a Capitalist?". Fox News Radio. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  44. Fischer, Bryan (15 October 2015). "Jesus Was Not a Socialist". The Stand. American Family Association. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  45. Gustafson, Barry (2012) [1996]. "Archer, John Kendrick". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  46. Gustafson, Barry (2013) [1998]. "Nash, Walter". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  47. Maiden, Samantha; Edwards, Verity (15 December 2006). "Rudd Backtracks on Socialism". The Australian Financial Review.
  48. Rudd, Kevin (October 2006). "Faith in Politics". The Monthly. Retrieved 4 June 2016. 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.
  49. Gordon, Michael; Grattan, Michelle (14 December 2006). "Rudd Rejects Socialism". The Age. Retrieved 4 June 2016.


Berman, David R. (2007). Radicalism in the Mountain West, 1890–1920: Socialists, Populists, Miners, and Wobblies. Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado. ISBN 978-0-87081-884-4. 
Braude, Ann (1989). Radical Spirits: Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth-Century America. Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-7500-5. 
Chalamet, Christophe (2013). Revivalism and Social Christianity: The Prophetic Faith of Henri Nick and André Trocmé. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications. ISBN 978-1-61097-858-3. 
Cort, John C. (1988). Christian Socialism: An Informal History. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 978-0-88344-574-7. 
Cyranka, Daniel (2016). "Religious Revolutionaries and Spiritualism in Germany around 1848". Aries. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers. 16 (1): 13–38. doi:10.1163/15700593-01601002. (subscription required (help)). 
Davies, John; Jenkins, Nigel; Baines, Menna; Lynch, Peredur I., eds. (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6. 
Leech, Kenneth (2000). "Socialism". In Hastings, Adrian; Mason, Alistair; Pyper, Hugh. The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought. Oxford University Press. pp. 676–678. ISBN 978-0-19-860024-4. 
Llwyd, Rhys (2015). "Plaid Cymru, Welsh Nationalism and Christianity – A Historical Perspective" (PDF). Ethics in Brief. Cambridge, England: Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics. 2015 Election Series (5). Retrieved 4 June 2016. 
Norman, Edward (2002) [1987]. The Victorian Christian Socialists. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-53051-4. 
Reed, Lawrence (2015). Rendering Unto Caesar: Was Jesus a Socialist?. Atlanta, Georgia: Foundation for Economic Education. ISBN 978-1-57246-037-9. 
Ruskin, John (1872). "Unto this Last": Four Essays on the First Principles of Political Economy. New York: John Wiley & Son. Retrieved 3 June 2016. 
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   (2016b). Sozialismus, Katholizismus und Okkultismus im Frankreich des 19. Jahrhunderts. Die Genealogie der Schriften von Eliphas Lévi [Socialism, Catholicism, and Occultism in Nineteenth-Century France: The Genealogy of the Writings of Eliphas Lévi]. Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten (in German). 69. Berlin: De Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-047654-5. 

Further reading

Primary sources

Secondary sources

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