In recent weeks, since my defense of the Occupy Wall Street movement and my pleas for greater income equality in the United States, I have been attacked by some conservatives as a socialist and a communist.
In response to these charges, I would say that, if by a "socialist" or a "communist" you mean that I believe that government has a positive role to play in assuring some level of basic equality among its citizens, then I stand accused. I've never denied that I think that a very well-regulated economy that protects the most vulnerable members of the society from being preyed upon by the rich and powerful is optimal. And, if you choose to label that particular view as "socialist," then I'm more than willing to embrace that title.
As a matter of fact, I derived my socialist leanings from a very good source: at one time I was inspired by a certain radical fellow by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, who would almost certainly be considered a "socialist" and a "communist" by many conservative Christians today. I would bet that, if Jesus was around right now, you'd be more likely to find him hanging out with the young protesters in Zuccotti Park then you would in the boardrooms of Wall Street. If you think otherwise, then you probably have not spent much time reading the gospels.
For example, try this little passage from Matthew 25:
"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”.
...or check out the following passage from James 2:1-7:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?
If sentiments like these aren't socialist, then, baby, I don't know what is!
Wall Street Christians and conservative evangelicals may have forgotten just how radical the animating spirit of Christianity is, but it hasn't been lost on the Pope. His latest encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate" would be slammed by reactionaries as "socialist" and "communist" if it wasn't being promulgated by the same guy who has spoken out so fiercely against abortion, birth control, the ordination of women, and gay rights.
When I reflect upon just how radical the teachings of Jesus, his early followers, and the Pope are on economic issues, it actually makes me feel quite ashamed of my own relative conservatism. I certainly would never think of asking people to give away all their wealth to the poor (Luke 1: 25-35) or claim that it is impossible to love God if you are working on Wall Street (Luke 16:9-13; Mark 10:17-31). Perhaps that's why I hesitate to call myself a Christian: if the passages I've cited above represent the standard for what it means to be a follower of Christ, then I could never in a million years be a real Christian.
I love my Ipod far too much.