Jesus, Socialism and Bernie Sanders

Well, its upon us. The Presidential campaign cycle is here, and dominating the 24 hr news channels. I am also seeing many Facebook posts, tweets, and appearances on late shows (such as Fallon and Colbert). The candidates seems to be all anyone can talk about, which is a shame when you recall that ISIS is still conquering, Syrians are still massacring each other, Planned Parenthood kills new victims daily, and the Iran Nuclear Agreement is still a thing. Emerging into this arena, somewhat surprisingly to me, is a 72 year old socialist of whom Andy Samberg remarks, ” Is it just me or does Bernie Sanders always seem like his flight is delayed? Guy’s a mess!”

I have read a few notes on Facebook about how Jesus would be for Obamacare, welfare, marriage equality and the like. According to some, Jesus would vote for Bernie Sanders. They argue that Socialism is the only economic system which comports with a christian worldview. If that is true, then I am monster of the highest order. If Jesus is a Socialist, then I have been blinded to His true gospel for more than 15 years. In fact, I may have to doubt my very salvation.

Now, some of you may roll your eyes, imagining that I am exaggerating. “Oh, Dan,” you may think, “aren’t you being just a little too melodramatic.” And my response is, not at all. I take God’s word (that’s the Bible for those of you keeping score) seriously. And God’s Word (nods to the score keepers, that’s Jesus) commanded His sheep to give to the poor, feed the hungry, care for the sick… that kind of thing. Maybe the best way to accomplish all of that is a system of economics, under-girded by government policies, which guarantees income equality, free access to doctors and medicine, and a “middle class” lifestyle for all. Call it Socialism or income redistribution, for those followers of Jesus who believe that way, its simply called the Gospel.

My faith, it seems, is perilously perched upon a razor’s edge, which would result in my shame and dismay, were it not for one comforting fact. That fact is the millions of conservative evangelicals who think and vote like me. And, herein lies the rub. Why do committed followers of Jesus, mostly self identifying as Evangelicals, vote along Moral Majority lines? Did those mean, nasty, heartless conservatives co-opt America’s right leaning Christians, to consolidate political power and exploit the well meaning faith of those foolish enough to be snookered? Did they pull the greatest bait-and-switch, since the garden of Eden? Did they distract us with entitlement blather and exceptionalist bluster, thereby subverting the essence of the Gospel ?

Another fact which makes me more comfortable with my political leanings and economic philosophies, and I am hesitant to say this as it is not terribly charitable, is the lifestyles and moral choices of the American Left. How can liberals, many of them godless atheists, dare to use the religious language to attempt to guilt the Right into doing it their way. Seems pretty shameless to me. How can people who claim to be so committed to the good of the poor be so lazy, shiftless, distracted and unemployed? How can those who claim, like Jesus, to be for the welfare of little children, also be for abortion? Why is it that those liberal Americans who claim to be against global poverty have never been on a mission trip? How can those who clamor for free healthcare also spend billions on recreational psycho-active drugs? Obviously I am painting with a pretty broad brush, for which I apologize. And, those descriptions will not all apply to all liberals. But, I am stuck with the palette I’ve been given, and these colors were chosen for me. My brush is simply what I’ve observed among my peers.

Now, to my liberal friends and readers, if I have not disqualified myself, I will attempt to lay out a 6 point treatise on the cross section of Christian morality and anti-socialism. In a later article, I will analyze selected quotes from Bernie Sanders, scrutinizing them, in context, through the lens of biblical morality. To you my dear liberal Christians, I will hold out the charity of Jesus, as I lay out my arguments, and I ask that you judge them based on the criteria of scriptures. These are just principals, and they should not be construed so as to apply to all cases at all times. The real problem is, our faith has so many facets that it is easy to focus on this or that issue, while neglecting others. In the words of democratic candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, “I believe from the bottom of my heart that it is vitally important for those of us who hold different views to be able to engage in a civil discourse.” If, I am wrong, or misguided, I invite your thoughtful, winsome responses, so that I may be guided to the the truth. If you find my points persuasive and biblical, I invite you to abandon your former error and embrace Truth. I am not above being corrected when I have gone wrong, nor should anyone else be.

Principle #1. Don’t go in to debt or borrow. It is well known that the Law, Prophets, and Jesus exhorted believers to take special care of the vulnerable. What may be less known, and is certainly under taught in our churches, is that the Bible makes it clear that debt and credit are not to be among God’s people. If debt and lending practices were the only rubric by which to measure Christian morality, then our nation could not in anyway be associated with Christ. We are the worst. What’s even more troubling is that our pulpit preachers are virtually silent on the issue. That being said, over and over the scriptures counsel us to stay out of debt. “Proverbs 22:7 The rich rules over the poor, And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” Now, since the Bible adjures us to stay out of debt, should we, as a nation, really be borrowing such heavy amounts? According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities we have to raise $229 Billion just to pay our interest on our debt. We owe 13 trillion dollars. See the breakdown of how that money is sent here. Does this seem like a wise course? Does this seem like a way to please God? Can we borrow from godless communists to pay welfare, food stamps, medicaid, etc, and simultaneously hold our heads up to God expecting his favor? Methinks not.

Principle #2. Welfare is not “rendering unto Caesar” Some socialist would remind us that Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and render unto God that which belongs to God.” They think this means that the Federal government can demand from us any amount of taxes it pleases, and Christians should just lump it. However, a closer inspection of this passage, in its historical, political and social context might just change your mind. Jesus utters this famous phrase, in the midst of conflict with Pharisees who are trying to get him in trouble with Rome. They tried to trap him into saying something which would result in Him either losing face with the Jewish people or committing treason against the Empire. Jesus saying render unto Caesar is certainly a directive to paying your taxes, but it does not necessarily follow that Caesar can shake you down to his heart’s content. Remember that even Caesar is under the authority of God. In God’s economy, as established by Moses on Mt. Zion, there weren’t any taxes at all. So which is it? Pay all your money to Caesar, because his face is on it? Or, pay no taxes at all, because Deuteronomy makes no mention of them? Well, the latter certainly applies to the 47% of Americans who pay no taxes whatsoever. But, what about the rest of us? I think we can definitively put to bed that this scripture should be used to extort as much tax revenue as the Federal Govt decides. At a certain point, and I’m not sure where that is, the percentage will be so high that taxation becomes naked theft. And, I seem to recall somewhere that it says, “Thou shalt not steal”

Principle #3. Scripture does not endorse funding laziness Some people legitimately need some help. There are those who are temporarily down on their luck, and I am glad we have a safety net. But, it is far too common that people get on the public doles for life. There are countless stories of people who have never worked, and yet they continue to eat, live, and watch cable. This is bad for the soul. Work is a gift from God which He expects us to avail ourselves of. Idleness makes room for sin. Go get a job. It’ll keep your nose clean and you’ll have something to contribute to your family. 2 Thessalonians 3 6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. 9 It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. 11 For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. 12 Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.”

Principle #4. A free ride undermines the “Poor in spirit” Jesus famously proclaimed that, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Spiritual poverty is a state which any human can enter into, regardless of what they have in the bank. It means to be awakened to the reality that spiritually speaking we have nothing to offer God. We must approach God with empty hands, unable to lay anything of value at His feet, because we do not possess anything in our natural man He would find acceptable. But, how does this intersect with our discussion? You may have heard of an “entitlement” mindset some people receiving Gov’t benefits often display. Having an entitlement mentality, which says, “I deserve this or that, so make sure I get it”, has no place among those who would be counted as the “poor in spirit”. How many of those receiving a free ride, in the form of U.S. Treasury check or SNAP card, from a nameless faceless bureaucrat, humbling turn their gaze heavenward in thankful repose to Almighty God? Or, is it much more likely that they begrudgingly cash the thing, wishing it were for a larger amount, while cursing their “damned bad luck”? It is difficult to be poor in spirit, when democrats and socialists are constantly ginning up your natural proclivity to class envy. God prefers that you “work with your hands, that which is good, so that you may have something to give to him who is needy.” Needy exclusively referred to an aged widow with no family to help her, a true orphan too young to work, and the severely crippled living off the largess of his neighbors.” Needy is not an able bodied, unemployed person.

Principle #5. Income Redistribution robs the “giver” of his ability to love the poor In a normal charity situation, the giver reaches into his pocket out of the goodness of his heart, in compassionate response to a known need. It is un-coerced, often spontaneous, generosity. In many cases the giver can look, with the loving regard, into the recipients eyes. In return, the recipient, unashamed and full of gratitude knows that the giver loves him. This is what Jesus experienced, and recommended, every time He did a loving act among the poor and vulnerable. It was personal, and that made it powerful. When the gov’t takes your money, and hands it to whosoever they see fit, that is not charity. It is not personal. It is not done from a generous or loving or compassionate heart, and therefore cannot be what Jesus had in mind. Taking from me, in the form of taxes, to give to someone I do not choose, care for, or even know is robbing me of the chance to do real charity from a real heart of love and compassion. It robs me of the chance to choose the person or need, and, independent from any say on my part, arbitrarily chooses what amount I must proffer. I am left with less of my own money to give to my church, charity of choice, or unexpected need one of my neighbors may stumble upon. The Good Samaritan, perhaps the seminal example of goodwill toward men, did his act in person, upon seeing a wounded person in need of care, out of regard for God and compassion on His creation. This is truly charity. Income redistribution has merely co-opted the language of charity, to try to shame Christians into going along with it quietly.

Principle 6. Capitalism and the American Republic are not perfect, but they take sin seriously. The framers of the constitution were very aware of man’s proclivity to sin. They installed safeguards in the Federal system, and created 3 co-equal branches to share power and enforce checks and balances. They divided the congress into two houses, so the legislature had to make very certain it was in the interest of the states and the people being governed before a law could be enacted. By today’s standards we would say that the Founders were fanatics, paranoids, and kooks, for being so careful to keep one person (or branch, or state) from accruing too much power. But, they had had their fill of Tyrants, and would not be responsible for creating a system that produced any. Sin, they knew, would lead men to try and get and hoard as much as they could. It is in our nature. It is how animals survive. Capitalism is the perfect check against greed. Some of you are now quite certain that I have indeed lost my mind. But, allow me to explain. Capitalism says let the market decide how much a thing is worth. Here’s an example. If a gallon of gas it too expensive at one place then I will go someplace else. If it is too expensive, for me, at all place, then I will get a bike instead. If I can’t afford a bike, then I’ll take the bus. If the bus is too far, then I will move to a place within walking distance to my job. If I cannot get a job, then I will leave my community in search of a place with more options. In every case, the market and my personal situation dictated what I would do next. In the animal kingdom we call it “the environment” or “the ecosystem” and we think it is perfectly normal for them. If gazelles get scarce, the lion moves to where they are abundant. Simple. Capitalism does not reward laziness, neither does God. Scarcity encourages humans to work to get what they need. Even if that work is going out into the woods and foraging for nuts, berries and other wild edibles, biblically speaking, that is much more commendable than sitting around waiting for a handout. The New American Standard Bible puts it this way, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, Observe her ways and be wise, Which, having no chief, officer or ruler, prepares her food in the summer and gathers her provision in the harvest. How long will you lie down, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep? Verse 10 is a specialized proverb within a proverb

“A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to rest”—

Your poverty will come in like a vagabond and your need like an armed man.”

Capitalism is not perfect, but it is superior to Socialism and I get to keep more freedoms. It is ideal for our society. Having given the former argument, and all of the shortcomings of the system, I conclude that I am not so much for capitalism as I am against anything else. Everyone may not benefit equally from the system, and that i just what we should expect if we believe in a sovereign God. He is not fair, and life is not fair. But, He does love you, and He will always do what it right. Embracing that truth will set you free from disappointment, envy, and a heart weighed down with the burden of covetousness. I want to end with a scripture that applies equally to Conservative and Liberals, the Right and the Left, the very Poor and the 1 percent. From the Holman Christian Standard Bible, “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

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