The Social Gospel and “Economic Liberty,” Such as It Is

A few Washington Post columnists started a thoroughly unproductive fight about whether the Bible “mandates,” or encourages, a “socialist” form of government. Both sides are wrong, in a few ways.

First, both are using the word “socialist” to mean “redistributivist,” but the two are by no means equal. Let’s use the proper definition: though the tea party has tortured the word beyond all meaning, we don’t have to accede to their abuse of the English language. Socialism means public ownership of the means of production, which is nowhere indicated in Christian theology. And, separately — I’ll stick by it — I don’t think Jesus prescribed a form for earthly government at all, whether dominionist, socialist, or “other.”

What Sekulow misses — and Paul tries to get at — is that Jesus also abjured a morality where the possession of property was a moral good in itself. He may not have spoken on the abolition of private property (but then again neither does socialism: here, again, Sekulow conflates socialism with Communism), and may have preferred to help those who help themselves, but He also spoke of a joint, universal responsibility for the less fortunate, and roundly condemned those who would hold money for its own good. To that extent, Paul nails it: Christianity is incompatible with a value system that sets the sanctity of private property above charity. This isn’t radical — it’s Sunday school theology — but it does raise questions. Increasingly, we hear that the true import of “liberty” is financial security, and nothing more. But is economic liberty actually a fundamental freedom that Christians should value?

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