John Calvin: Green Socialist?

Some of the modern Western world's earliest entrepreneurs were pious Calvinists, believing that industriousness and thrift were godly.

But the purported spiritual heirs of John Calvin, fretting over "global economic injustice and ecological destruction," are repenting of the global capitalism they helped to create.

"The people of the South need you to stand up to the powers of the time and say 'no' when the world is presented as an enemy simply to support privileges gained at the expense of the rest of the world," asserted Argentine pastor Roberto Jordan to a conference of fellow Presbyterians on September 18 in Louisville.

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Rev. Jordan was representing the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the purported voice of 75 million Calvinists around the world. According to the Presbyterian News Service, he was speaking to the 2007 Witherspoon Conference of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at the denomination's headquarters.

The early followers of Calvin did not share the modern statist notions of coercively redistributed wealth. They instead focused on creating new wealth. Calvinist Dutch merchants of the 17th century ruled the seas and global markets. British Calvinists helped transform their nation from an economic backwater to an industrial world power. The Calvinists of early New England ensured that the rising new republic would become an economic colossus.

Calvinists always believed in helping the poor, not out of guilt, but for the glory of God. But more importantly, they believed that the poor did not have to remain poor. If property is legally protected, and the economy is free from obtrusive state control, then the poor can become middle class and even rich, through their own thrift and self-denial. Calvinists saw capitalism as a tool for creativity and expanded wealth.

Thanks to four centuries of Calvinist wealth creation, some of the modern elite heirs of organized Calvinism can afford to matriculate at well endowed, liberalized Calvinist seminaries and jet to global church conferences at sumptuous hotels. There, these Calvinist heirs can learn that their ancestors were actually avaricious exploiters of the earth and of the downtrodden. Hoping to atone for these ancestral sins, the Calvinist heirs want to harness state power to redistribute other people's wealth to people who are deemed more deserving.

"Be suspicious of the power structure today but don't withdraw - participate, learn, get involved, commit to change even if it means less comfort for some," exhorted Rev. Jordan. "And vote when you have elections. Be informed of the issues that are left out of the political debates and do your best to include them."

Rev. Jordan touted the "Accra Confession," which the World Alliance of Reformed Churches drafted in 2004. Evidently, "Accra" has not yet subdued the monsters of global capitalism. So Calvinists need to get to work, undoing what they spent 400 years creating. "Accra" is a manifesto for global collectivism. Calvinists once believed that innate human depravity was responsible for global suffering. But "Accra" makes clear that the "root causes of massive threats to life are above all the product of an unjust economic system defended and protected by political and military might."

Calvinists once inveighed against blasphemy, fornication, and laziness. But "Accra" has other demonic targets. "The policy of unlimited growth among industrialized countries and the drive for profit of transnational corporations have plundered the earth and severely damaged the environment," it regrets, citing "climate change" as one of the devastating consequences.

"Accra" blames the global "crisis" not on The Old Deluder against whom Calvinists once inveighed, but on "neoliberal economic globalization," fueled by "unrestrained competition," "deregulation of the market," "privatization," and "lower taxes." This monstrously consumerist ideology demands "total allegiance which amounts to idolatry."

Global capitalism, the modern Calvinists discern, is sustained by an "immoral economic system defended by empire." The controlling ideology is classical liberal economics, which insidiously insists that the state "exists to protect private property and contracts in the competitive market."

According to "Accra," since the 1980's "neoliberalism" has been dismantling welfare states around the world, instead focusing on increased profits for the "owners of production," while excluding most people and treating nature as a "commodity."

The Calvinists were never afraid to publicly expose the names of sinners! The wrists and ankles of adulterers and gossips were once manacled into stockades so that the whole community could confront the fallen. "Accra" prefers to name the "government of the United States of America and its allies," who "use political, economic or military alliances to protect and advance the interest of capital owners."

Calvinists once penned confessions about their theological doctrines on the sovereignty of God. But in "Accra," the World Alliance of Reformed Churches admits that it cannot make a "classical doctrinal confession." Why should churches bother with salvation when there is a global economic crisis caused by the neoliberals?

So instead, "Accra" offers a political/economic confession, which rejects the 'current world economic order imposed by global neoliberal capitalism," which spawns "rampant consumerism and the competitive greed and selfishness," and has already "cost the lives of millions and destroyed much of God's creation."

Calvinists are always eager to confess their moral failures, or at least points at those of others. So "Accra" acknowledges the complicity and guilt of those who consciously or unconsciously benefit from the current neoliberal economic global system," with all of its "consumerism" and "competitive greed."

"Accra" is not very clear how its Calvinist followers are supposed to act upon its solemn confession of international capitalist greed. Adherents are urged to share the creed with their churches. Seemingly, its simple recitation will help cleanse hearts and impart grace.

Calvinists of centuries past launched merchant fleets, built trade empires, constructed new cities, cleared forests, generated an industrial revolution and choreographed the rise of new civilizations, confident that Providence wills creativity, growth, and industry. But international church bureaucrats at the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and many officials of its member denominations, like the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), prefer the peevishness and scarcity of statism and socialism.

Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

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