Was Jesus a leftist?

Jesus preaching

I’ve looked at the connection between christian faith and politics before. I’ve asked whether Jesus was a socialist and asked whether religion and politics can be mixed.

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.

Army recruiting

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.

Progressive christian?

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.’”

Anti LGBTQ

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.

Afterlife obsession

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?

Josiah concludes:

“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.

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12 Comments

  1. Jesus would be labelled an “extreme leftist”. The presumption here is that the views of Jesus can be straightforwardly applied to a modern context. Jesus lived in a world that was very different from modern Western societies. One of the biggest problems facing poor people today in the West is obesity. In Jesus’ time it was more likely to be starvation. Furthermore, there was nothing like the modern welfare state in those days. The amount of money spent on welfare by modern societies would have been unimaginable 2000 years ago.

    On the subject of divorce, Jesus reminded people that God had created us “male and female”. This is not the kind of statement that would endear Jesus to the Left. In today’s world it is more likely to get someone “cancelled”.

    The views expressed on this site might be of interest to so-called progressive Christians. Such people are an irrelevance. The Left has no place for Christians. It is dominated by atheists who are often aggressively anti-Christian. Such people will not accept a truce with Christians on any terms. Even when “Christians” stop talking about the Resurrection, miracles in general and God, they will not be welcome.

  2. Hi David, thanks for reading, and commenting. It seems we agree agreed on some things, but clearly not on others.

    We agree that Josiah overstated his case, but you are stronger in your opposition to what he said.

    We agree too that we cannot take Jesus’ sayings to first century Jews under Roman rule and apply them blindly to our contect in the first world. This understanding belongs more to so-called progressive christians today, though conservative christians are inconsistent in applying Jesus’ teachings.

    And again we agree that Jesus’ statements on divorce, sexuality and gender are a challenge to some more progressive or liberal christians, but then, they are also a challenge to conservative christians who support a form of patriarchy that Jesus clearly opposed.

    “The Left has no place for Christians. It is dominated by atheists who are often aggressively anti-Christian.”

    I cannot see the logic of this. We might say “Capitalism has no place for Christians. It is dominated by materialists.” or “Television has no place for Christians. It is dominated by egotists.” Are either of those statements true? There are many, many aspects of society which are dominated by non-christians, but I cannot see any logical reason why christians shouldn’t be there too. After all, our mission is to go the all corners of the earth to share God’s love in word and deed, so why draw the line at atheists? Can you explain how you see that?

    “Even when “Christians” stop talking about the Resurrection, miracles in general and God, they will not be welcome.”

    This isn’t my experience. Of course there are some people who will scorn any form of christianity, progressive, liberal or conservative, but I haven’t met any face-to-face – only online. My experience is that many of my non-christian friends respect my beliefs even though they know I believe in Jesus, the resurrection, prayer and miracles, and even though don’t share those beliefs. I think (and hope) this is because I respect them and care for them even though we disagree, and I try to be sensitive to them and what they are willing to hear and not hear. After all, Jesus did warn us not to give our message to those who don’t want to hear it.

    I’d be interested to discuss these matters further with you. Thanks.

  3. You say that you have never personally encountered anyone who scorned Christianity, but the internet is a useful barometer on the issue. I have had numerous internet encounters with people who scorn Christianity. These people may not express such views in other situations; however, that is true of aggressive behaviour in general. People say things on the internet that they wouldn’t necessarily say to someone’s face. In fact, the internet has revealed something about human nature that we wouldn’t otherwise have known about. Human nature seems to be even darker than we might have expected.

    I should also say that I have had encounters with some very belligerent Progressive Christians. What surprises me about them is that they put so much effort in to defending their views on political and social issues but I have never seen these people defend, say, the Resurrection or Gospel reliability.

    I won’t bother to argue that Christianity really is incompatible with leftwing views. Clearly, there is an unbridgeable gulf between conservative Christians and those who think that it is OK to be “queer” and that “homophobic” attitudes should be opposed.

  4. Hi David, I agree with you totally about the internet. I have been a member of several atheist or religious forums, and have followed and commented on many atheist and christian blogs. I have encountered extremely rude behaviour from some atheists and a few christians also.

    I have certainly met and been friends or colleagues with many non-believers who were critical of christian faith. But I don’t recall any of them being rude or disrespectful to me. I think, here in Australia at any rate, people react to the way others behave. So if I am respectful and sensitive to them, they behave the same.

    I think both progressive and conservative christians can behave belligerently, I think because issues are important to us all. I know I was more forceful when I was younger, but hopefully I do better now.

    “I have never seen these people defend, say, the Resurrection or Gospel reliability.”
    I can help you out here. I don’t particularly like the label “progressive”, but I guess that is what I am, more or less. And I certainly often defend these matters. You can find pages on this website, and I have another whole website on apologetics. For example, in this post I spent quite a few comments discussing the resurrection with an atheist.

    “Clearly, there is an unbridgeable gulf between conservative Christians and those who think that it is OK to be “queer” and that “homophobic” attitudes should be opposed.”
    I think there is indeed an unbridgeable gulf between those who support same sex marriage and those who oppose it for christians. But that isn’t what I said or discussed in this post. Josiah, who I was referencing, wasn’t making a point about same sex marriage, but about being either hateful or caring towards LGBTQI people. In my experience, most conservative christians, like most progressive christians, are not hateful, but sensitive and loving, even if they don’t agree with the person’s choices. Is that not how you see things?

  5. interesting post, i think it is true about the poor, peacefulness, and treating other as we like to be treated like inclusion, antiracism and lgbt, but less true about critical race theory and anti-army

    “against the recruting until the army left.”

    there’s a typo in “recruting”

  6. academic is in points useful but has many flaws still so use must be careful, academic crts often treat academic critique of crts as type of racism that leads to politisation and conspiracy thoughts, also they reject race as biologgy and race essentialism but export american race thinking that is type of race essentialism in rest of white countries (this overlooks contextual unique ways racism takes place), and standpoint epistemology is essentialist and rejects truth, and often ignore other causes why someone is privilege (example is that average asian in america wealthier than white, not mean no racism against asians, and it’s wrong to say that asians are most privileged in us), so always take with salt but may point at correct things

    in media treatments crt fans make generalisations that is borderline prejudice or even bigoted, they will say it’s not meant as claim of collective guilt but why write like that if it’s not, it’s problematic

    but in many individuals there are links between crt and afrocentrism and other nut stuff, these support people like ron karenga, louis farrakhan and nikole hannah-jones who said many bigoted things about white people, many still defend kwanzaa despite karenga is evil torture assault racist with nutter beliefs who hates christianity

    i think this makes more difficult to prevent police murders and killings of black people or other discriminations and promotes itself different type of racism so clearly a bad thing

  7. I think He was not a traditional leftist, because He opposed revolution like the traditional left advocated, but, ironically, the left seems closer to His views than the right now. The general right in my country is more anti-church in rhetoric or less pro-church in actions than the moderate left. That’s like upside down world for the rest of the world. 🙂

  8. Hi Hein, thanks for reply, sorry to be so delayed in responding.

    I don’t understand all your references, but I agree with a lot of what you say, that things aren’t as black and white (couldn’t find a better expression, sorry!) as some on both sides make out.

    I don’t agree with everything Josiah Daniels says, but I think his story is worth thinking about.

  9. Hi Tomm, I think I agree with everything you say here. Jesus was certainly non-violent, which makes him removed from the revolutionary left. But he definitely disagreed with a lot of the religious status quo, which makes him a strange guru for the US right. It is probably fair to say that the US right disagrees with the Jesus of the gospels far more than they agree with him. Strange days indeed.

    When you say “my country”, which is that?

  10. yes, sorry english is not my mother language

    this is on karenga, not a neutral source but better than extreme right source:
    https://jacobin.com/2018/12/kwanzaa-ron-karenga-black-panther-party
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maulana_Karenga

    this is what hannah-jones wrote, the article is conservative and stresses wrong things, because columbus was horrible in real, but read her actual letter:
    https://thefederalist.com/2020/06/25/in-racist-screed-nyts-1619-project-founder-calls-white-race-barbaric-devils-bloodsuckers-no-different-than-hitler/

    but this context leads people to wrong things, so black theologian who wanted to stress white obstruction, did that by called for hatred in blasphemous prayer and others defended that:
    https://religionnews.com/2021/04/09/a-white-christian-response-to-the-prayer-of-a-weary-black-woman/

  11. Hi Hein, no need to apologise – your English is way better than my German!

    Thanks for the links – all movements and people I don’t recall knowing about. You are well-versed in what is happening in the US. I take an interest because I have relatives and friends there but I haven’t followed the people you mention.

    My relatives there tell me that they can understand the anger of black and native American people because the injustice towards them has been enormous and continues. The right wing response is predictable and sometimes maybe justified (when black people go over the top with their outrage), but generally ignores the horrors that white colonisers and slave-owners have committed.

    There will always be some rights and some wrongs on every side, even if my sympathy generally is on the left. As a christian, I feel I should try to understand the other person and give deference to their feelings, so I can accept the outrage even if I think it is unhelpful.

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