Bernie Sanders and Christian Progressivism

And he answered them, "Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise." – Luke 3:11 (ESV)

Recently Bernie Sanders spoke at Liberty University.

In response to this speech, a self-described Evangelical Christian responded in agreement on Reddit.

Introduction

Of course, this is rather shocking to some. The typical view from afar is that all Evangelicals are staunchly conservative, and rightly so. The Religious Right was made popular in the late 1970s when religious leaders urged congregants to get involved politically. From this birth-place of a political movement, Evanglicals got a new identity.

In any event, being a progressive Evangelical is not a new thing at all. In my experience, most progressive Christians care deeply about social justice issues which lead them to adopt a viewpoint in line with liberation theology.

I disagree with both the aims of the Religious Right as well as the Christian Progressive Left. I agree with (some) ideals of both, but the means to their ends are misguided, at best.

First, I should start with what I agree with that is on Bernie's heart:

  • it is vitally important for those of us with differing views to be able to engage in civil discourse
  • Matthew 7:12, the "golden rule", is something good and decent and to be honored
  • justice as stated in Amos 5:24 is important and to be cherished
  • his agreement with the Pope on "There is a need for financial reform along ethical lines that would produce in its turn an economic reform to benefit everyone. Money has to serve, not to rule,"

Now, where I disagree:

  • income/wealth inequality is a form of injustice
  • people not having health insurance because they can't pay for it is a form of injustice
  • people not being given paid medical leave is a form of injustice
  • youth unemployment is a form of injustice
  • his assertion that people have to "serve money and wealth"

My problem with Bernie and Christian progressives (and to be fair a good portion of the Religious Right) are not the motives. I believe Bernie and others motives are generally good. I like to believe that most people want to make things better. However, there are three facets of "social justice" banner that I just cannot abide.

  1. Coercion instead of Freedom
  2. Disunity instead of Harmony
  3. Fixed Wealth instead of Elastic Wealth

Coercion instead of Freedom

In order for Bernie's plan, democratic socialism, to work, government force is required.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of equalization to acheive with the amount of coercion that is required. Just think about it. We already have this situation where not only do we not have the option to not pay taxes, in many cases it is removed from our paychecks before we receive them. The government already gets paid first on our labor.

In addition, when you can get a majority of the electorate to benefit at the cost of a very few, the government just becomes a billy club against the minority. This reaks of injustice to me.

When I have the freedom to deploy charity by my own parameters, I am able to experience the doing of a moral good. When I lose that freedom because the government is going to deploy my capital for me, not only is it less efficient (by several orders or magnitude), but I am then merely complying to a threat of force than performing a moral good of my own free will.

Let's put this another way by localizing a hypothetical.

If I feel that a certain poor person needs to eat or otherwise could use my help, I should help them by what means I am able. I should not hire a governing authority to take money from my neighbors just because they have more money than I do, to then divide those funds between the poor person and the governing authority.

Jesus modeled freedom throughout the New Testament.

If we want to go back further, we can see since the very beginning God modeled freedom in given Adam and Eve the choice to obey Him.

Jesus certainly gave commands to his followers, but he never forced them to follow. Jesus was focused throughout the New Testament in ministering directly to people, and instructing his apostles on ministering directly to people.

Therefore, I find it pretty astounding when people want to use the name of Jesus to argue for using government force to reallocate capital to the poor in a very impersonal and draconian manner. I find this a misread of the Scripture at best, and an intentional abuse of it for acheiving political aims at worst. I can see Bernie making the former mistake as he is not a Christian, but the self-avowed Evangelical who commented in response to Bernie's post should know better.

Disunity instead of Harmony

It's incredibly distasteful to hear the very strong theme of class warfare in Bernie's platform in general. He makes an early appeal for civil discourse but then preys on the human tendancy towards envy. Bernie doesn't hold a monopoly on this practice. It is a very common rhetorical device for the Marxist because it is quite powerful. What better way to to engender popular support than to get people focused on other people as the source of their problems.

Focusing on strategies for improving conditions for the poor and middle-class in a manner that is unifying and bring harmony is no easy task. There is an uphill battle to be fought in our country against the messages we are bombarded with involving class warfare. I think a key thing to focus as a government is not "fixing poverty" but creating the conditions that can increase economic mobility. There has been a lot of reports about how economic mobility in our country has gotten much worse, or is all but non-existant, but that is simply not true.

The position of the liberterian-minded conservative is that we can improve conditions for the poor and middle-class in terms of increasing opportunity for economic mobility by just getting government to get smaller and out of the way.

Fixed Wealth instead of Elastic Wealth

Bernie and Christian progressives seem to have a fixed wealth view, rather than a view that wealth is elastic.

Wealth is created by, and morally belongs to the individual creator. As Rand observes, since “man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.”

This is critical in understanding where these folks come from and why they view so many things as "injustices" that I do not. Exploring this topic is something I'll leave for future essays. But in the meantime, some great reading material on this topic:

Conclusion

The vast majority who want to leverage the government to help the poor do have honorable intentions at heart. Those that would use Jesus as an argument to support this though, I believe are simply misguided. Jesus was about changing hearts and minds, not about coercion. This is modeled all the way back to the beginning with God chose to give Adam and Eve a choice to obey him or eat the forbidden fruit. That is why I'm for freedom and in this freedom seeking, we find harmony and less political discord. To hammer this home, it is important to understand that wealth is elastic and just because someone becomes rich doesn't mean someone else had to become poor.