In a recent post (“The New Left”, 7/20/11) we issued a declaration that we were going to reclaim the term “Left” and redefine it in terms of who Jesus is and how he calls us to live and reflect his heart. I’d like to add a little background to some popular ideas (and misconceptions) of “the Left”, since the term that we want to reclaim has had quite a convoluted history, and has generated a lot of misunderstanding, for quite a long time. So ........
Ready for a jaunt through some history?
Where did all the “left/right” dichotomy come from in the first place? The terms first showed up (in politics) in France during its Revolution of 1789, when members of the National Assembly divided into supporters of the king to the president's right and supporters of the revolution to his left. The terms went through a history as complex as the politics in France over the next century and more (including the appearance of more nuanced terms such as “center-left” or “extreme right”), but by 1947 historian Robert McIver noted in his book The Web of Government:
“The right is always the party sector associated with the interests of the upper or dominant classes, the left the sector expressive of the lower economic or social classes, and the center that of the middle classes. Historically this criterion seems acceptable. The conservative right has defended entrenched prerogatives, privileges and powers; the left has attacked them. The right has been more favorable to the aristocratic position, to the hierarchy of birth or of wealth; the left has fought for the equalization of advantage or of opportunity, for the claims of the less advantaged. Defense and attack have met, under democratic conditions, not in the name of class but in the name of principle; but the opposing principles have broadly corresponded to the interests of the different classes.”
That ought to sound familiar: it’s pretty much identical to the battle going on today between Left and Right in this country — and it describes perfectly the principles that The Christian Left takes, in line with Christ and the rest of Scripture on defending justice and supporting the less advantaged.
“We’re the ‘left’”. “No, we’re the ‘left’ ...!”
So what should be the problem with that? Well, the problem comes from the competing political and social forces that have wrangled for control over how “the left” (or its professed support of “the people”) ought to be put into practice. Early “liberals” were actually from the middle class, aiming to protect themselves against aristocratic power (and “conservatives” arose to defend aristocratic privilege, in reaction to liberals — hence the idea of “reactionary”); later in the 19th century, socialist groups, at first allied with liberals, broke away when workers and “lower” classes sought more control of their work and political futures, since the middle-class capitalists held most of that control (at least, in the workplace). The very idea of socialism — an economic system, not originally a political one at all — arose from the ideal of the society (“we the people” would be another way of putting that) controlling material wealth and production, in order to promote more equality across society as a whole.
But as you can imagine, all sorts of disagreements about how best to apply that led to the competing political groups I mentioned just above. In the middle and later 19th century, socialism in turn led to the development of communism (a more extreme form, which held that only revolutionary change could bring about an ideally socialist society). Various forms of “socialism” ranged from the more democratic, to the more “statist” or centralized-control versions. Popular unrest over Russia’s involvement in the First World War paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution, in which the Communist Party seized power (and set the standard for “communism” as involving centralized state control, as separate from socialism as allowing for more democratic elements). The great tragedy of the 20th century, of course, was that autocratic groups so easily seized control in the name of “the people”, but then committed horrific genocides and instituted oppressive regimes in which “the people”, of course, had no control at all.
McCarthy era: no one expects the Spanish Inquisition!
All that, of course, left a deep distaste in the more democratic-capitalist West, and naturally was the source of legitimate fears of “socialist” or “communist” infiltrations into democratic societies, especially in America. (The author of the Pledge of Allegiance, Baptist minister and Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy, ironically was booted from the pulpit in 1891 shortly before the Pledge was published, over his socialist views.) After the Second World War, and with the start of the Cold War — with the Soviet Union now our competing superpower, and an even greater threat — fears of communism and socialism reached fever pitch, climaxing with the McCarthy-era inquisition and “witch hunts” of suspected Communists throughout the U.S.A.
And behold — the image of communism, and of socialism (with few people distinguishing between the two) were fused in American popular understanding as: fiendish plot to destroy Moose and Squirrel! As they pretty much are seen to this day. So on a political level, anyone who identifies with “the Left” is still automatically assumed, by most in this country, to be in league with forces that wanted to impose autocratic, centralized control over all aspects of life, threatening to turn America into the kind of nightmare, totalitarian state that cast such darkness over the world during the 20th century. And because totalitarianism took so many ugly forms during that century, popular thinking also usually doesn’t distinguish between communists, socialists, fascists, Marxists, Maoists, or Nazis: to many people, those are all different names for the same horrors. (See the signs that often sprouted at Tea Party rallies in recent years, for plenty of examples of that!)
What about the “religious left”?
What about the “religious left”? That’s a whole different arena, of course (which may wait for another blog post to look at more deeply). But briefly, since the 19th century, especially during the last half of the 20th century, a whole host of views — ranging from fusions of Christianity and socialism, to “unorthodox” ideas that merge with some of what are often known as “New Age” beliefs, but often also aligning with ideas on the political or social left — have convinced much of conservative Christianity that, well, the “Christian left” doesn’t often have much to do with historic Christianity at all. That’s why, in most references to the “Christian left” in conservative Christian publications, the general perception is that “lefties” are probably not Christians at all.
Okay ... so what about The Christian Left?
So where does that leave our group, The Christian Left? Following Jesus, of course — at least, that’s always been and always will be our stated intent. Politically, we see the overwhelming theme in the Bible to support justice and defend the rights of the poor, the sick, and all the disadvantaged — which is at the original heart of what political groups on “the left” have always advocated. Religiously, we don’t take a doctrinally narrow view (or impose a religious “purity test”, nor exclude anyone from joining us, no matter their views on religion) as some groups on the Right tend to do; but neither do we have a problem with the heart of historic Christianity. Instead, again we want to emphasize the heart and life of Jesus himself, along with the rest of Scripture, as supporting justice equally for all in society (especially the poor, sick, or disadvantaged) — including the biblical insistence that it is most certainly the business of government, not just individuals or churches, to provide for the poor and needy — and we recognize the Bible’s strong call that all who consider themselves Christians “must live as Jesus did” (1 Jn 2.6).
So, to the political Right: sorry, but we are not out to impose fiendish plot to destroy Moose and Squirrel (or otherwise promote centralized, state control)! And to the religious Right: sorry, but we actually love Jesus Christ and want to follow him, as you profess to do also. We just take utterly seriously that walking our talk means applying the Golden Rule in everything, and that, as Scripture emphatically declares, it is government’s business to practice that as well.
To all our readers, then — the next time someone squawks at you over your involvement with something incongruously (as they think) called “The Christian Left”, you’ve got the chance for a little good old American value, freedom of speech, and maybe can educate some people out of misconceptions. You’re in pretty good company when you do that: Jesus is a teacher too, you know.
Sources: you can read a lot more about the histories of Left and Right, and about socialism, communism, and related topics, at these Wikipedia pages:
(Post submitted by featured blogger, Roger Smith, who also blogs at Roger’s Shrubbery.)
Both the Old and New Testaments stress the importance of government for protection and for maintaining order.
In the Bible, kings or other rulers were expected to rule with wisdom and justice. The Old Testament contains story after story of wicked, greedy and oppressive rulers who brought disaster on themselves and their people. Many of the Old Testament prophets, such as Elijah, Elisha and Daniel, delivered their messages of reform to Israel's kings.
Those of us who live under democracy elect our own "rulers." Our votes decide whether our government will be benevolent and just or harsh and oppressive. The Bible's advice and reproaches to the ancient rulers provide us wisdom to help us make wise choices in our own times.
A recurring theme in the Bible is that we should provide equal justice for all, not favoring the rich or powerful. Also, because all the peoples of the world are God's creation, we should not discriminate against foreigners:
He who oppresses the poor reproaches his maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. (NAS, Proverbs 14:31)
Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the righteous. Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (TNIV, Exodus 23:6-9)
Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, So as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans. Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your wealth? (NAS, Isaiah 10:1-3)
The Bible often speaks of charity as an individual-to-individual act of generosity. The law of Moses and the Hebrews, though, provided an institutional way of providing for the poor that did not depend on the good will of any individual. Not only was individual generosity encouraged, but, as a matter of law, part of everyone's produce or income was to be set aside to aid the poor:
"And you shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the needy of your people may eat; and whatever they leave the beast of the field may eat. You are to do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. (NAS, Exodus 23:10-11)
"When you have finished paying all the tithe of your increase in the third year, the year of tithing, then you shall give it to the Levite, to the stranger, to the orphan and to the widow, that they may eat in your towns, and be satisfied. (NAS, Deuteronomy 26:12)
Let's also recall the celebrated story of Joseph, son of Jacob:
Genesis 41:25-42: And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, "The dreams of Pharaoh are one. God hath shown Pharaoh what He is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years: the dreams are one. And the seven thin and illfavored cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine. This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: what God is about to do He showeth unto Pharaoh. Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine shall consume the land. And the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following, for it shall be very grievous. And for that the dream was repeated unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass. Now therefore let Pharaoh seek out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up a fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven plenteous years. And let them gather all the food of those good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh, and let them keep food in the cities. And that food shall be for store for the land against the seven years of famine which shall be in the land of Egypt, that the land perish not through the famine." And the counsel was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said unto his servants, "Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "Inasmuch as God hath shown thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art. Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled. Only in the throne will I be greater than thou." And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, "See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt." And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.
In above story of Joseph, "The Government" set aside the bounties of 7 years of plenty to be "redistributed" during 7 years of famine. Enough said?
One doesn't have to dig very deep to learn the spoken sentiments of Jesus related to these matters:
Matthew 25:31-46: "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' And the king will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, 'You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.' Then they also will answer, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?' Then he will answer them, 'Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The ancient Hebrews lived in extended families or clans and could generally take care of their own. In modern industrial societies, though, families are often fragmented and many have nowhere to turn except to "The Government," which is really We The People. In Jeremiah 22, when the prophet delivers a scorching sermon about the treatment of workers, aliens and the poor, he specifically addresses both rulers (government) AND individuals.?
Judgment Against Evil Kings
1 This is what the LORD says: "Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there: 2 'Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, you who sit on David's throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. 3 This is what the LORD says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the alien, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. 4 For if you are careful to carry out these commands, then kings who sit on David's throne will come through the gates of this palace, riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by their officials and their people. 5 But if you do not obey these commands, declares the LORD, I swear by myself that this palace will become a ruin.' " ?
13 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.
14 He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red.
15 "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.
16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" declares the LORD.
17 "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."
Everyone, both rich and poor, benefits when a government respects the rights of all and provides for the needy. Crime and drug abuse breed in areas of poverty and unemployment, where people may feel they have nothing to lose. Likewise, apathy and violence breed where people perceive injustice and feel excluded from the benefits of society. To the extent every individual feels empowered as a valuable, productive member of society, then society becomes healthier and more secure for everyone.
Amos 5: 11-12 You trample on the poor and force him to give you grain. Therefore, though you have built stone mansions, you will not live in them; though you have planted lush vineyards, you will not drink their wine. For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Courts? That would be "Government."
(Post submitted by Charles Toy who is a founding member of The Christian Left and a Featured Blogger).
Copyright © by Cliff Leitch
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About TCL Blog
We’re not about Dogma here. We’re just Christians who think the political and Christian right-wing have their priorities wrong.
Charles Toy is the founding member of The Christian Left. We're sure you will enjoy his passion as well as his wit. Guest bloggers featured often.