Was Jesus a socialist?
In this corner, saying “Yes,” is MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell.
In that corner, saying “No,” is Rush Limbaugh, America’s #1 radio talk show host.
Or to put the argument in a more obtuse way: WWJD or WWJT? Take your pick.
On his cable show the other night, Lawrence O’Donnell showed clips from Rush Limbaugh on the subject of Jesus and taxing the rich. Rush said the question wasn’t “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) so much as “What Would Jesus Take?” (WWJT).
Rush said He would take nothing. (Jesus wouldn’t be for big government soaking the rich.)
Lawrence, on the other hand, gleefully quoted Jesus chapter and verse with the implication that Jesus would advocate taking everything.
One of the MSNBC host’s proof-texts was the passage in the Gospels where Jesus tells the rich young ruler that he must sell everything and give to the poor to truly follow Jesus.
I’ve heard many a sermon on that passage to the effect that that young man’s god was his wealth and, since Jesus wants full obedience, in that man’s case, he needed to abandon his god. You’ll note Jesus didn’t advocate everybody selling their goods in order to be obedient disciples.
Indeed, much of the ministry of Christ was even underwritten by some wealthy women, some of whom are mentioned by name in Luke 8. It isn’t how much wealth one has, but one does with that wealth that matters.
O’Donnell also quoted Jesus in the parable of the sheep and the goats, where Jesus commends those who have given to the needy (because they were giving to Him), and He condemns those who held back because they were denying Jesus help.
It was fascinating to hear so much Scripture read on a news program-although I have to say I don’t agree with the interpretation applied to the Scripture.
But here’s the bottom line question: Does the Bible teach socialism? Or, more specifically, did Jesus advocate socialism?
In my opinion, no.
Socialism involves the state mandatorily taking someone’s property, ostensibly to distribute to the less fortunate. In reality, in all socialistic schemes, it’s the government bureaucrats who live high off the hog.
What Jesus and the Bible advocate are voluntary giving to the less fortunate.
The key concept is voluntary versus mandatory.
Voluntary giving is commanded and commended by the Bible.
Mandatory “giving” is condemned in the Bible. Why do I say that? Because God’s law declares, “Thou shalt not steal.” That law implies the sanctity of private property.
The Ten Commandments also declare, “Thou shalt not covet.”
Socialism is based on coveting your neighbor’s goods and wealth.
Another thing Rush Limbaugh mentioned in MSNBC’s commentary against him was that the slothful, the lazy, should not be rewarded.
That’s a very critical point. Jesus told the parable of the talents where the third man is condemned for his laziness. (It even happens to be in the same chapter, Matthew 25, that Lawrence O’Donnell cited.)
The apostle Paul laid down a law for the churches: If a man will not work, then neither shall he eat. Here is another clear teaching against laziness.
(Paul didn’t say if a man cannot work…If a person can’t work, then there are definitely ways to help such a person, such as his family, the church, or private, voluntary charity.)
This discussion isn’t just an interesting theological dialogue. This issue gets at the heart of our national debate.
The whole welfare scheme, however well-intentioned it may have been at one time, has created tens of millions of less fortunate people, who are relying on their fellow man working hard so that government can confiscate from the producers to give (a sliver) to the needy. In this kind of scheme, it’s actually the bureaucrats who make off the best, as the needy only get a pittance.
And the bureaucrats are not working themselves out of a job. Well, to paraphrase Lincoln, it’s a good thing Washington, D.C. loves poor people. They’ve made so many of them!
Meanwhile, there are millions of generous people in our society who are on the forefront of effective charity, much of which has been motivated by the love of Jesus Christ. Someone might say. “Score one for Lawrence O’Donnell.” But, again, he’s advocating forcible taking, not charitable giving. So he loses that point as well.
Dr. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote a book a few years ago called Who Really Cares. He has been researching charitable giving for years. He basically found that the more one goes to church, the more generous that person tends to be. He told me, “Faith matters more than anything else in determining whether or not we are giving to others.”
He went on to say, “Imagine you have two people. One is secular and has a socialistic outlook; they believe that it’s the government’s job to help others. And the other person is a person of faith, who believes it’s their job, as opposed to the government’s, to help others. You will find that the second person is twice as likely to give as the secular socialist, and will give on average 100 times as much money a year to charity and 50 times as much to explicitly non-religious causes.”
To sum it up: Voluntary giving? Good. Confiscatory taking? Bad.
Jesus wants us to love our neighbor. Sorry, Lawrence, that’s something Washington, DC can’t force us to do.