Christian socialism

Christian socialism is a form of religious socialism, which followers believe to be based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Many Christian socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in greed, which some Christian denominations consider a mortal sin.[1] Christian socialists identify the cause of inequality to be the greed that they associate with capitalism.[1]

Christian socialism became a major movement in the United Kingdom beginning in the 19th century. The Christian Socialist Movement, since 2013 known as Christians on the Left, is one formal group.[1]

Other earlier figures are also viewed as Christian socialists, such as the nineteenth century writers Frederick Denison Maurice (The Kingdom of Christ, 1838), John Ruskin (Unto This Last, 1862), Charles Kingsley (The Water-Babies, 1863), Thomas Hughes (Tom Brown's Schooldays, 1857), Frederick James Furnivall (co-creator of the Oxford English Dictionary), Adin Ballou (Practical Christian Socialism, 1854), and Francis Bellamy (a Baptist minister and the author of the United States' Pledge of Allegiance).


Biblical age

Elements that would form the basis of Christian socialism are found in the Old and New Testaments.[2]

Old Testament

Old Testament had divided perspectives on the issue of poverty. One part of the Jewish tradition held that poverty was judgement of God upon the wicked while viewing prosperity as a reward for the good, stating that "The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want" (Prov. 13:25).[3]

However, there are other sections that instruct generosity to the "have nots" of society. The Torah instructs followers to treat neighbours equally and to be generous to have nots, such as stating:

You shall not oppress your neighbour...but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord

— (Lev 19:13, 18).[4]

He [the Lord your God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner therefore; for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt

— (Deut. 10:18–19).[5]

When you reap in your harvest in the field, and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it...When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again...When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it afterward; it shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this

— (Deut. 24:19–22).[2]

Some of the Psalms include many references to social justice for the poor:

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked

— (Ps. 82 (81): 3, 4).[6]

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!...He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honour

— (Ps. 112 (111): 1, 9).[6]

Amos emphasizes the need for "justice" and "righteousness" that is described as conduct that emphasizes love for those who are poor and to oppose oppression and injustice towards the poor.[7] The prophet Isaiah (759–694 B.C.) to whom is attributed the first thirty-nine chapters of the Book of Isaiah ("Proto-Isaiah"), followed upon Amos' themes of justice and righteousness involving the poor as necessary for followers of God, denouncing those who do not do these things, stating:

Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood...cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow

— (Isa. 1:15–17).[7]

The Book of Sirach, one of the Deuterocanonical or Apocryphal books of the Old Testament, denounces the pursuit of wealth, stating:

He who loves gold will not be justified, and he who pursues money will be led astray by it. Many have come to ruin because of gold, and their destruction has met them face to face. It is a stumbling block to those who are devoted to it, and every fool will be taken captive by it

— (Sir. 31: 5–7).[8]

The most important quote[citation needed] of the Old Testament that has been recognized by Christian socialists[citation needed] is the verse from Ecclesiastes 3:13 that describes God as promoting an egalitarian society, stating:

It is God's gift to humankind that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil

— (Ecc. 3: 13).[9]

New Testament

In the New Testament, Jesus in Matthew 25:31–46 identifies himself with the hungry, the poor, the sick, and the prisoners.[10] Matthew 25:31–46 is a major component of Christianity and is considered the cornerstone of Christian socialism.[10] Another key statement in the New Testament that is an important component of Christian socialism is Luke 10:25–37 that follows the statement "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" with the question "And who is my neighbour?", and in the Parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus gives the revolutionary response that the neighbour includes anyone in need, even people we might be expected to shun.[11] (The Samaritans were considered a heretical sect by Jews and neither would usually deal with the other.)[11]

"Jesus Expels the Moneylenders from the Temple" by Giovanni Paolo Pannini

In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus says, "Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied" (Luke 6:20, 21).[12]

Christian socialists note that James the Just, the brother of Jesus of Nazareth, in the Epistle of James criticizes the rich intensely and in strong language:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up for treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you have kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter

— (Jam. 5:1–6).[13]

During the New Testament period and beyond there is evidence that many Christian communities practiced forms of sharing, redistribution and communism.[14]

Church Fathers age

Basil of Caesarea (c. 330–379), the Father of the Eastern monks who became Bishop of Caesarea, established a complex around the church and monastery that included hostels, almshouses, and hospitals for infectious diseases.[15] During the great famine of 368, Basil denounced against profiteers and the indifferent rich.[15] Basil wrote the sermon on The Rich Fool in which he states:

Who is the covetous man? One for whom plenty is not enough. Who is the defrauder? One who takes away what belongs to everyone. And are not you covetous, are you not a defrauder, when you keep for private use what you were given for distribution? When some one strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not—should not he be given the same name? The bread in your hoard belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. All you might help and do not—to all these you are doing wrong[16]

John Chrysostom declared his reasons for his attitude towards the rich and position of attitude towards wealth by saying:

I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth. I point out constantly that those I accuse are not the rich, but the rapacious; wealth is one thing, covetousness another. Learn to distinguish.[17]

19th century to present

A variety of socialist perspectives emerged in 19th century Britain, beginning with John Ruskin.

John Ruskin

The influential Victorian art critic John Ruskin expounded theories about social justice in Unto This Last (1860). In it, he stated four goals that might be called "socialist" although Ruskin did not use the term.[18]

  1. "training schools for youth, established at government cost"
  2. in connection with these school, the government should establish "manufactories and workshops, for the production and sale of every necessary of life"
  3. all unemployed people should be "set to work" or trained for work if needed or forced to work if necessary
  4. "for the old and destitute, comfort and home should be provided"

Ruskin was not "an authentic Socialist in any of its various nineteenth-century meanings." His only real contact with the Christian Socialists came through the Working Men's College. However, he influenced later socialist thinking, especially William Morris.[19]


The painters of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood were influenced and sponsored by Ruskin.[20] The artist William Morris was a leader of the Socialist League founded in December 1884.[21]

Fabian Society

The Fabian Society was founded in the same year; Sydney and Beatrice Webb were among its leading members. The Fabians influenced members of the Bloomsbury Group and were important in the early history of the British Labour Party.[22]

Episcopal Church Socialist League and the Church League for Industrial Democracy

Founded in 1911[23] by Vida Dutton Scudder, herself influenced by the Fabian Society, the Episcopal Church Socialist League and its successor the Church League for Industrial Democracy sought to ally Christian doctrine with the plight of the working class[24] as a part of the larger social gospel movement that was taking hold of many urban churches across the United States in the early 20th century.

Bishop Spalding

In the November 1914 issue of The Christian Socialist, Episcopal bishop Franklin Spencer Spalding of Utah stated:

The Christian Church exists for the sole purpose of saving the human race. So far she has failed, but I think that Socialism shows her how she may succeed.
It insists that men cannot be made right until the material conditions be made right. Although man cannot live by bread alone, he must have bread. Therefore,
the Church must destroy a system of society which inevitably creates and perpetuates unequal and unfair conditions of life. These unequal and unfair conditions
have been created by competition. Therefore competition must cease and cooperation take its place.[25]

Christian democracy

The political movement of Christian democracy espouses some values of Christian socialism, for example "economic justice" and "social welfare." It opposes an "individualist worldview" and it approves state intervention in the economy in defence of "human dignity." On the other hand, because of its "close association with Roman Catholicism", Christian democracy differs from Christian socialism by its emphasis on "traditional church and family values," by its defence of "private property," and by its opposition to "excessive intervention of the state."[26]

Christian democratic parties (under various names) were formed in Europe and Latin America after World War II. Some became "a major political force."[26]


In the United States, a group of Christian socialists arose, known as the Knipperdolings, that advocated social justice.[citation needed]

International League of Religious Socialists

A number of Christian socialist movements and political parties in Europe grouped themselves into the International League of Religious Socialists in the 1920s. Now with members worldwide, it has member organizations in 21 countries representing 200,000 members.[citation needed]

Anti-establishment vs. anti-clerical

Christian socialists draw parallels between what some have characterized as the egalitarian and anti-establishment message of Jesus, who—according to the Gospel—spoke against the religious authorities of his time, and the egalitarian, anti-establishment, and sometimes anti-clerical message of most contemporary socialisms.[citation needed]


Some Christian socialists have become active communists. This phenomenon was most common among missionaries in China, the most notable being James Gareth Endicott, who became supportive of the struggle of the Communist Party of China in the 1930s and 1940s.[citation needed]

Not "Christian Social"

Christian socialism is not to be confused with certain parties with "Christian Social" in their names which are found in the German-speaking world, such as the contemporary Christian Social Union in Bavaria or the Christian Social Party in Austria-Hungary c. 1900. Such parties do not claim to be socialist, nor are they considered socialist by others. The term Christian Democrat is more appropriately applied to the contemporary parties.[citation needed]

Spiritualism and Occultism

It has been shown that utopian socialist ideas continued, after 1848, in new religious movements such as Spiritualism or Occultism.[27] They were often marked by a heterodox Christian identity and a decidedly anti-materialist attitude.

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