I concluded they are often mixed, both well and badly. And that some of Jesus’ teachings were closer to socialism than many christians realise.
So I was interested to recently read the story of someone whose conservative upbringing made him a leftist.
Radicalised by a conservative christian college
Josiah Daniels tells his story on the Sojourners website.
Josiah attended a small conservative christian university. He cites other colleges which “affirm anti-LGBTQ statements”, oppose “diversity and inclusion initiatives”, and say “’critical race theory’ and ‘the gospel’ are incompatible” as evidence of a philosophy or approach that says in effect:
“Come as you are, embrace repression, chapel is mandatory, join our culture war.”
He says his college had similar values: “My school tried to purge any evidence of liberation theologies, Christian critiques of the economy, or radical solidarity with the poor, hoping to indoctrinate students with a conservative ideology.”
But some of his courses and some of his professors included among their required reading some liberationist theologians. He is now thankful for those students and lecturers (“an underground community”) who apparently risked being expelled or fired for sharing revolutionary ideas with him.
Five leftist ways
He describes five ways that his christian faith required him to be a leftist in opposition to the college’s conservatism.
Love of money
Sports programs that attract students and bolster the university budget were valued more, even in chapel services, than the legacy of Martin Luther King. He concluded that his college valued the accumulation of wealth more than racial justice.
The army was allowed to set up a recruiting at the campus. He had come to believe that “the military uses violence to perpetuate racism and economic exploitation”, and gives a terrible example of an apparently christian army prison guard who participated in torture. He and some like-minded friends handed out anti-violence tracts and campaigned against the recruiting until the army left.
When he realised he was no longer a “conservative” christian, he wasn’t sure what label best described him. He was opposed to “progressive” as he thought that was too weak and insufficiently radical. He decided “leftist” was the best label because he felt leftists are more activist. He says “being a leftist is a broad way of thinking about the world that includes a willingness ‘to fight against and try to understand the sources of that social misery at the structural and institutional level and at the existential and the personal level.’”
For the first time at college he had queer christian friends who had come out at college. He began to reject homophobic attitudes and instead support his friends.
So many christians emphasise, or even argue about, heaven and hell. But Josiah came to believe that our first priority is “justice in the here and now”.
Was Jesus a leftist?
“By Christian college standards, Jesus would be labeled “an extreme leftist” because he embodied class solidarity with the poor, damned the rich, and imagined an alternative community.”
I think this is a little over-stated, but broadly correct.
His story, and where he ended up, make interesting, and slightly scary, reading.
Graphic of Jesus preaching the sermon on the mount, by Carl Bloch on Wikipedia.