Marx, Jesus, and Capitalism

What would Jesus join? Are there Marxists who are Christians?

Since I've had the assignment of staying in touch with people who have not joined a CPUSA club, I've corresponded with wonderfully interesting people from all over the remote parts of the United States. None was more interesting than the Reverend Paul White, who wrote the essay below to me:

    I became a Marxist during the 1960s. I was ordained as a Baptist pastor in 1987. I remember telling my oldest son, when he was still a very young man, about my civil rights and anti-war activities during the 1960’s and how my involvement in those movements moved me toward Marxism. He asked what had caused me to renounce Marxism and become a Christian. I told him I had never renounced Marxism, I had simply switched nouns and adjectives. In the sixties I considered myself to be a Christian Marxist. In the eighties, I thought of myself as a Marxist Christian. Today I use neither term to modify the other. I am a Marxist. I am a Christian.

    I never told any of the churches I pastored about my Marxist views because, frankly, I wanted to keep my job so that I could continue to support my family. However, I did once have a parishioner complain that my sermons always made Jesus sound like a Democrat. I told her if she would give me a list of all of Jesus’ Republican sayings, I would preach an entire sermon series on them. Apparently she wasn’t able to find any because she never took me up on my offer.

    My wife and I have often joked with each other that with our left of center economic and political views and our right of center theological beliefs we have to stick together because nobody else likes us very much. When leftists friends find out we are theologically conservative Christians, or when Christian friends find out we are way left of center economically and politically, those friendships tend to disappear. Consequently, we feel quite frustrated because we can never really be ourselves in either group.

    Recently, however, a new friend asked me to put in writing my thoughts on how a person could be both a Christian and a Marxist. Personally, I think it would be more difficult to explain how a person could be both a Christian and a capitalist since I am convinced the Bible makes clear they are mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, I will attempt to begin an answer here, and perhaps expand upon it at a later date.

    Does the Bible contradict Marxism?

    The Bible contains many verses in both the Old and the New Testaments that speak about economic and social justice issues. I have developed a list of those verses that is pretty extensive but I will just spotlight just a dozen of them here. Unless otherwise noted all of the verses are from the New International Version. The words in italics are mine.

    Leviticus 19:33-34  When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.  The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

    Leviticus 19:35-36  Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity.  Use honest scales and honest weights…. (I believe God is condemning all dishonest business practices here.  The banker who talks a poor working woman into a balloon mortgage she does not understand and cannot possibly repay is just as guilty as the merchant using corrupt scales.)

    Deuteronomy 23:15-16  If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand him over to his master.  (16)  Let him live among you wherever he likes and in whatever town he chooses.  Do not oppress him.  (I can’t help but wonder if this does not apply to “illegal aliens” who have entered our land fleeing economic servitude in their homeland.)    

    Deuteronomy 24:14-15  Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns.  Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.

    Deuteronomy 25:13-16 Do not have two differing weights in your bag--one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house--one large, one small.  You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. For the LORD your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly.  (I wonder how many corporate CEOs who fill their warranties, contracts, and rebate instructions with confusing legalese loopholes that allow them to renege on their promises are aware that the LORD their God detests them. I wonder how many of their pastors have had the courage to preach honestly on this passage.)

    Psalm 94:20-21 CEV  But you [God] are opposed to dishonest lawmakers who gang up to murder innocent victims. (Hmmm… could this apply to our lawmakers who voted in lavish healthcare packages for themselves and their families but deny even basic coverage to the poor?)

    Proverbs 29:7  The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

    Ezekiel 16:49  Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Now be honest, if you were asked what God considered to be the chief sin of Sodom, would your answer be "they did not help the poor and needy"? It makes you wonder what God would consider to be the worse sin in American.  Would it be the pervasiveness of hedonistic sex outside of the bonds of marriage; or, would it be that in the land of plenty we seemingly have no concern that the infant mortality rate among the poor in America is higher than that of many third world countries? )

    Malachi 3:5  “So I will come near to you for judgment.  I will be quick to testify against … those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.

    Matthew 25:31-46  "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger* and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

    "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger* and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

    "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger* and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

    "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger* or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." * The Greek word xenon (from which we get the word xenophobia) translated as stranger here in the NIV, actually referred to someone outside your ethnic or cultural group. i.e., an alien or foreigner. Jesus is making it pretty clear here that those who do not show love and mercy to the oppressed are hell bound.

    James 5:1-6 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.

    1John 3:17-18 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.

    There are many, many more verses in the Christian scriptures that speak to economic and social justice issues. Jesus actually speaks more about social justice than he does about salvation. In fact, most of the time Jesus is speaking about heaven, he is talking to the outcasts or marginalized in society. When he is talking about eternal damnation, he is generally speaking to the rich and powerful.

    So like I said prior to the above list, it seems to me that it is capitalism, not Marxism that is incompatible with Christianity.

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  • Bravo. I am a committed Christian, and have moved from being right-wing to considering the Social Implications of the Gospel, and now consider myself a Marxist-Socialist Christian. It is liberal socially-minded Christians who have been at the center of the great social movements for justice and equality worldwide. I can understand how someone not schooled in serious theology and economic history can be a right-wing Christian, but I cannot understand how someone can have a solid education and as a Christian continue to self-identify with the so-called 'Christian Right'. Jesus was (and is) a liberal, period. Again, Bravo.

    Posted by obraiche, 11/04/2015 4:11pm (2 years ago)

  • You have a major flaw. We must first walk in obedience to Christ and live in faith by him and through him. We cannot take Christ and make him fit into some ideology we have about worldly governments. He told us he wad not of this world. So lets only teach scripture, what two commands does all the law and prophets hang on: Love the lord, your God, with you all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second like it, love your neighbor as yourself. So as you the only way to improve society is for each person to be born again in the blood of Chris. Marxism has no place in the gospel, only a government that gives you free will to choose Christ and then trust him and he will provide. Seek first the kingdom of God and all else will be given unto you. Look at birds of the air or the Lilly of the field.

    Posted by Kevin, 12/18/2014 12:32am (3 years ago)

  • my opinion is this

    Communism--what is yours is mine and i will distribute to all of you a Fair equal share...

    Christianity---what is mine is yours all and we will share to all of them....

    the difference is in a communism a the big portion goes to the distributer while in real christianity the riches of God is
    being shared to all of us righteous or unrighteous...

    above comment you gave to evry verse are universal..applicable in any persons even to non christians but.. .. a true christians must follow the way of Jesus Christ.. he must not do any unrigteous things....

    Posted by `john, 07/08/2013 11:47pm (4 years ago)

  • I agree with the article for the most part..

    But with a line like:

    Proverbs 16:26 GNT A laborer's appetite makes him work harder, because he wants to satisfy his hunger.

    How would you respond to that

    Posted by JohnRad, 04/09/2011 4:41am (7 years ago)

  • Thank you Kent, for your kind words about my missive to Jim Lane. My son tells the story of a good friend of his, who at the time was the youngest tenured professor in England and was planning to leave his post to become a Christian missionary in India. At an Evangelical Christian festival in England this young man met with a Church of England bishop who had himself been a missionary bishop in the same area of India that my son’s friend was planning to relocate too. He asked the bishop how he could best witness for Christ in that part of India. My son says he will never forget the bishop’s response: “Live like the communists there, and not like the Christians.”

    Now a lot of people might hear that story and think it a putdown of Christianity. But I hear just the opposite in the story. Here was a Church of England bishop who recognized that the Marxists in India were living more Christ-like lives than were many Christians. And he had the courage and the foresight to challenge his young Christian protégé to be equally Christ-like. There are a growing number of people in Christendom who are beginning to realize that the church has been co-opted by the ruling class and it is way past time to bring back the revolutionary Jesus into the doors of the church.

    I am encouraged that the CPUSA now has a new Religion Commission to strengthen its work among religious people and organizations. I understand that the chair of the Religion Commission has just become ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church and hopes to become a priest within a year or two. I think that is great. When I was a young man, a lot of the Marxists I knew wore their atheism on their sleeves. It is one of the reasons I never joined the Party. I remember overhearing a conversation at a meeting I attended back in the 1960’s wherein a Party member said something to the effect that he was purposely scheduling a meeting on a Saturday morning so that a particular observant Jew would be forced to make a decision between following Moses or Marx. I am hopeful from what I am now reading on the CPUSA and PA websites that that would not happen today.

    Congratulations, Kent, on your decision to join CPUSA-TX. I pray God’s rich and abundant blessings upon your work for the “least of these my brothers” (Matthew 25:40) with your comrades there.

    Posted by Paul White, 01/13/2011 11:50am (7 years ago)

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