It was to say the least, an interesting prayer meeting. The former missionary from Northern Ireland stood up and prayed fervently that the Lord would deliver us from the evils of homosexuality, abortion, nationalism and socialism. Afterwards when I was speaking to him, I called over three of my elders. “Donald, what’s your politics?” “Oh, I’m a true blue Tory.” My missionary friend nodded approvingly. “What about you Angus?” “I can’t stand the Tories, I’m a nationalist through and through.” “And you Ross?” “I’m a socialist.” The look on my friend’s face was priceless…. “But, but…these are good and godly men.” “Indeed they are,” I told him, “And you will never pray in this prayer meeting again using political criteria rather than biblical.”
A couple of years later I was sitting at a conference in the US when I was approached by another minister who turned to me and said, “They hate you, you know.” Somewhat taken aback, I asked, “Who?” “The theonomists.” (For those who don’t know, theonomists are those who believe that the civil punishments of the Mosaic civil code should be enacted by the State today. The Free Church banned its office-bearers from being theonomists because, whilst we have a high regard for the Mosaic law, we regarded it as both unconfessional and unbiblical to ask for rebellious teenagers and homosexuals to be executed by the State!). “I used to be one of them….I know…they hate you,” my new found friend continued,”They can’t work out if you are a Satanist or a Socialist.” What struck me was the implication that the two were synonymous!
Fast forward to today and an American friend who sent me this following link on the Reformation21 site.
At first I smiled ruefully. I have seen plenty of this kind of stuff from the US before, usually from those who wear t-shirts saying ‘You’ll get my gun when you take it from my cold, dead fingers,’ as they head to the hills to check on their stock of tinned baked beans awaiting the coming apocalypse. And then I did a double take. This was from Reformation 21…the blog site of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals!
My first thought was “Is this a spoof?” My second, “Whatever happened to Carl Trueman?” My third, “It’s no wonder that the US could end up with Donald Trump as President if this is the kind of nonsense that even sound, biblical evangelicals come up with.” I stopped having thoughts after this because they were rapidly becoming unprintable!
The author, Rick Phillips, has a very simple case. Socialism is inherently evil, on a par with government sponsored torture and racism. Biblically speaking, socialism is evil because it is:
- a system based on stealing,
- an anti-work system, and
- concentrates the power to do evil.
Apparently this is meant to be a serious comment and not a spoof, so I suppose we have to take it seriously, although I note in passing that despite claiming to be ‘biblically speaking’ there is little bible speak in the ensuing article.
It’s always helpful when discussing things to actually define and know what we are talking about. Socialism is a word that some evangelicals are far too quick to use when it comes to something that doesn’t agree with their particular political viewpoint (much the same can be said of the sloppy use of the term ‘Capitalism’ as though it were the obvious evil). Lets just go with the normal definition just now:
Socialism [noun] “A political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”
And then lets deal with each of Mr Phillips points.
1. Socialism is not stealing – unless you are prepared to say that all forms of taxation are stealing. If so, then you are of course going against Christ who said “Give to Caesar, the things that are Caesar’s.” So what Mr Phillips is really saying is that if you do not like what the government is using your money for then you just call it stealing. This strikes me as a somewhat illogical and cavalier way to use the Scripture as some kind of justification for your politics. We may disagree about what precisely the role of government is but that does not give us the right to claim that only our view is scriptural and all other views are evil. Defence, protecting the weak, punishing evil doers etc. are accepted by all but the most extremist libertarians. However, there has been a long Reformed tradition that argued that the role of government extends beyond that.
“Calvin saw civil government as an opportunity for good. Schools and roads could be provided to benefit both the rich and the poor. New hospitals and prisons were also a part of the social reforms he encouraged.”
Gary Z Cole – John Calvin on Civil Government.
Imagine that. Calvin was for ‘Socialised Medicine.’
Besides which there is a far stronger case to argue that unfettered market capitalism, with its reliance on high interest rates (which always harm the poor most), is far more unbiblical.
2. Socialism is not an anti-work system. To claim otherwise is just demonstrably false. Speaking of being biblical, doesn’t the bible say something about bearing false witness? If you are going to argue against a system then at least get your facts right. In fact socialism, like capitalism, could not work unless there were people who worked hard. Let me tell you about one of my wealthier Dutch friends – who pays about 60% in tax and is glad to do so. Why? It’s because he not only gets excellent health care, a good pension and excellent public facilities, he also knows that his hard earned money is going to provide the same things for those less fortunate than himself; the sick, disabled, unemployed, refugees. etc.
Of course the system can be, and is often abused, but the simplistic notions of Mr Phillips reveal only his own fears and prejudices and have nothing to do with the Bible. I can think of many godly men I know who worked hard and were socialists, as I can think of many who were not. The simplistic equation just does not work.
Mr Phillips seems to have a very low view of his own nature. Whilst his humility is commendable, can I suggest that the question “Why would I put myself through the ordeal of discipline, sacrifice, and sweat, much less risk-taking business endeavours, if I can have a wonderful life without working for it?” is not one worthy of him? Perhaps you might work hard because you are a God fearing Christian who knows that he is working for the Lord, not just for his own reward? Maybe you might just want to help the community and provide for others in need? Mr Phillips’ attitude panders to the lowest common sinful denominator in human beings and thus strikes me as being profoundly unbiblical.
3. Socialism does not concentrate the power to do evil. The argument used here is economically, politically and biblically illiterate.
Firstly, in the socialist system the idea is meant to be common ownership, not a handful of people controlling or owning it all. (The fact that this does not often happen is a testimony to human sinfulness, not the inherent evil of the system).
Secondly, Capitalism is not primarily about individuals working hard to produce wealth. They work within systems. Sometimes those systems can be corrupt; bribery, greed, exploitation (refusing to pay the workers their due reward cf. James) and corruption are as endemic within the capitalist system, as they are within any socialist system.
Thirdly it is unfettered free market Capitalism, not Socialism, which is concentrating the power to do evil in the hands of a few. It is the big corporations, headed up by a very few wealthy individuals who are pushing the LGBT agenda in the US and elsewhere. It is they who are seeking to negotiate trade agreements that take them out of democratic control and leave them free to regulate their own affairs and control their massive wealth.
But this does not stop Mr Phillips hyperbole. In Socialism everyone is impoverished, everyone is in slavery and a culture of corruption is always produced. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the crass ignorance and grotesque cultural pride on display here. When I first went to the US I couldn’t believe what I saw with my own eyes in some American cities, in the richest country in the world. There was a level of third world poverty and degradation that should have been a shame to any civilised society – but no, some (rich) American evangelicals saw the evils of socialist Sweden, rather than the sick of St Louis.
But Mr Phillips is not yet done. He uses the platform given him by the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals to urge all Christians not to support or praise any socialist candidates, although they are precious few in the US. He states, “To students of such arcane history as the 20th Century, the prospect of socialism is chilling.” Well, I am a student of 20th Century history, but what I find ‘chilling’ and depressing is this kind of article masquerading as biblical teaching. Even more chilling is the notion of an unfettered market capitalism in a Godless America! To paraphrase the Scotsman who invented modern Capitalism (Adam Smith – the Wealth of Nations), Capitalism without Christianity would be hell.
The article goes on to state, “There is a reason why some Americans want to erect a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, whereas socialist countries have built their walls to keep people in.” I am not aware of a single socialist country that has built a wall to keep its citizens in. I am aware of communist countries that have done so but, as any serious student of 20th Century history would tell you, comparing communist Russia with socialist Sweden is as valid as comparing fascist Italy with capitalist America.
Mr Phillips speaks of the nightmare of living in a socialist country for those who have experienced it. Well I have. In his terms Scotland is very socialist. I like living in a country where everyone has access to clean water, good roads and good medical care – irrespective of their ability to pay.
Let me tell you what the real nightmare is – having your son being taken into hospital in the US after an accident and being told by the ambulance driver, you can’t go to the hospital first with your son, you have to go home and get your insurance documents.
Or having a friend being told that his mentally ill son cannot get insurance because he has ‘a pre-existing condition’, and therefore has no access to the proper treatment.
Or having another friend (as right wing as you can get) telling me that in his job he has to effectively bribe doctors to stay and work in his area because they can make far more money going off to California and becoming plastic surgeons for the rich.
On the other hand, whilst our NHS has many problems, it nonetheless caters for every citizen, and does so at half the cost to the economy that the US system does. I don’t know about you, but I find profiteering at the expense of the sick, a somewhat ‘unbiblical’ concept. I could go on, but I won’t. And here’s why.
I am not here to defend socialism. I am not a socialist. And I am not a capitalist. I am a Christian. I don’t trust any system. And I think that socialism without Christ is as bad as capitalism without Christ. I am here to challenge ignorance and to plead with my American brothers and sisters to STOP identifying Christianity with your own politics/culture/economics. You are causing the rest of the church a great deal of harm.
This is my real problem.
I think that this ACE blog indicates something that is deeply wrong within the US church, especially the evangelical world, but apparently also the Reformed world. It is far too wedded to the politics of the prevailing culture and as such has weakened the impact of the gospel, by allowing itself to be identified with one particular political, cultural and economic system.
And this gets played out in the church as well. In fact as I have been thinking about this I am going to write a Part 2 ASAP as a follow up. Meanwhile I have a simple question for the Alliance. Do you believe in total depravity, or is it only socialism that is depraved?
As you have apparently decided to get involved in politics, can we look forward to future blogs on the evils of gambling on the stock market? The corruption on Wall Street? The evil of supporting a billionaire show business personality who makes his money out of gambling? And the sins of a political system where commercial companies can pay billions to politicians in order to ensure that the most favourable conditions are in place for their particular means of creating wealth for themselves? Or is it the case that you are just simply going to present one side?
As someone who loves and supports the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and who listens to and admires many of its speakers, I cannot describe how much I am disappointed in this political propaganda appearing on their website. It’s the kind of thing that puts many people off Christianity – and to be honest that includes an increasing number of Americans. You are not going to win your country back by identifying the Gospel with one political/economic point of view. This kind of abuse of theology will only lead to disaster. If I dare say it – ‘you’ve been Trumped’.
PS. My deepest apologies to The Gospel Coalition – in the first draft of this I got them confused with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (there are just too many organisations and I was writing this on a train!). I would simply say to the Alliance – is ‘Socialism is evil’ part of your confession?
There are two other posts in this series: Click the links below: