Actor Matthew Modine is currently on tour with a new short film that explores an idea which has been mentioned in public debate with more frequency of late: was Jesus a communist? Did Jesus speak against economic inequalities, or was he a capitalist who taught about rewards based on ability and achievement?
According to The Huffington Post, Modine's film frames the debates on poverty, pollution, and politics with Jesus' teachings in the New Testament. The film's synopsis also claims that Jesus would be a sympathizer with "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) protesters.
"His revolution involved a dramatic change in the way people thought; progressive and liberal thinking in a time of Empire," the film's synopsis reads. "With no army and no weapons, he led people toward a new, more humane way of thinking; toward a philosophy of love and forgiveness. These are ideas explored at this very moment in lower Manhattan and by thousands of American's across the United States."
With some Christians expressing support for the OWS movement, the concept of Jesus being an active force on the side of the poor has been expressed more and more in the public sphere. At Manhattan's Zucotti Park, where the OWS protesters have held court since September 17, Jesus has been mentioned frequently.
"Jesus would have provided the poor with fish and bread – even if they could not afford to pay back a loan," Meredeith Kadet, 29, told The Christian Post in October.
Kadet, a theological student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City as well as a community minister at Judson Memorial Church, said she was supporting the OWS protest to help counter the perception that Christianity is ideologically opposed to helping those hurt by the economic crisis, an idea she shares with Modine's interpretation of Jesus' teachings.
At the heart of Kadet's religious reasoning was her conviction that Jesus sides with the poor, as opposed to the dominating "powers that be." OWS protesters have been identifying themselves as the "99 percent" of society suffering under economic equalities seen as advantageous to the rich, whom protesters say make up "1 percent" of society.
"I think Jesus considered himself to be part of a long line of prophets who spoke for the poor and rejected," she said. "That's why we came here today...He would be here."
Nevertheless, the suggestion that Jesus would sympathize with the anti-capitalist movement makes some Christians uncomfortable.
Some conservative Christians have used Jesus' teachings to prove a more capitalist-oriented ideology that is in line with what they consider the American way of life.
In an essay titled, "Jesus Was a Capitalist," Bryan Fischer, radio host of "Focal Point," a talk show produced by the American Family Association, wrote: "Responsibility is awarded based on ability, not on some kind of ethnic or economic quota system. And promotion likewise is based squarely on achievement. The man with five talents earned five more, and was given more responsibility and authority as a result. Likewise with the servant who took two talents and turned it into two more."
"Bottom line," Fishcer claimed, "Jesus...had capitalism in his DNA."
Despite the attempts to figure out what Jesus' political leanings would be, Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way, a Christian organization in Philadelphia, said in during CNN debate, "Jesus wasn't anything that ended in 'ist' - he was an existential lover - but I think that he was challenging all these systems, and he was pulling the best of the people in those systems out."
When asked if he thought the way the economy is structured automatically prohibits people from enjoying prosperity, Claiborne responded: "I wouldn't say that I think that it's fixed, but poverty wasn't created by God. God didn't mess up and make too many people or not enough stuff."
He added: "Poverty was created by us because we really haven't lived into His vision of loving our neighbor as ourselves and of really understanding that someone else's suffering needs to be mine and it demands something of us. When you have a massive disparity between the rich and the poor, that is unsustainable."