Why Evangelical Socialism?

You don’t have to give up orthodoxy to oppose capitalism.

Photo by Jason Betz on Unsplash

The Gospel and the Image of God

The Bible opens with the story of God’s creation of all things set in theological terms. Bible scholars such as John Walton have recently called attention to how the creation narrative is structured like building an ancient near-eastern temple, and that is indeed what the Eden garden was: a place where God’s space and the world’s space overlap. Human beings are created and tasked with being God’s “image.” In ancient temples, “images” of the gods were idol statues, and they resided in the center of the temple. This is the role human beings were given. This is why were are not to make idols of God: he already has them. Every single human being reflects his image back to him.

What’s Wrong with Capitalism?

This is the theological ground from which I hope to present the socialist critique of capitalism. If there is anything the varieties of socialism share, it is a critique of capitalism that goes basically like this. Under capitalism, there are some who have control over all the economic resources necessary to produce all the things humans need and desire: factories, power lines, iron ore, and so on. A very small proportion of society owns all of these parts of creation, while the vast majority of people have nowhere near enough of these resources to subsist on.

Socialism and the Christian View of Property

This is the problem socialism aims to solve. “Socialism” is such a polysemic term that I feel compelled to state the basics of what I mean by it. The socialist solution is to subordinate the economy to society, not the other way around. Socialism means designing an economy that is purpose-built to ensure that the means to live a flourishing life are genuinely accessible to everyone. In particular, it erases the divide between “owners” and “workers” by bringing the productive resources of society under democratic control. The profits from our industry should flow to the whole society, not just to a small class of people who pile wealth upon wealth. In the same way, decisions about life at work — compensation, conditions, treatment, management — should not be made by the unaccountable will of bosses. Socialists want to give workers a say in how they go about their work. It also takes into account the fact that many people are not working at a given time, so it builds distributive institutions to make sure children, the elderly, the disabled, caretakers, and the unemployed have incomes as well. For the whole society, public services like healthcare and education are made freely available.

PhD student in sociology at Ohio State University studying religion, capitalism, and race in the US. Cofounder, Evangelical Labor Institute.