I have long said that Americans have got problems with politics. I don’t know what it is about the US and the word ‘Socialism’ but it seems to send them into some sort of frothing frenzy. They enjoy referencing 1984 any time they perceive their government over-stepping without noting the fact that Orwell, who wrote the novel, was himself an avowed Democratic Socialist.
Anyway, the foaming at the mouth is at full froth thanks to the rise of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I’ve seen brothers in Christ – who I otherwise find reasonable, well-considered thinkers – going apoplectic at her. Hilariously, the Babylon Bee has tried to lampoon her as ‘an economically illiterate representative left of Stalin.’ Others, not trying to lampoon, have said similar such things.
Now, my American friends, go to my ‘About’ page and get that feral reaction to Socialists out of your system before you read on. Do remind yourself that the overwhelming majority of freedoms won in my country – ones that leftists love to remember being hard won – were almost all achieved by Nonconformists (often Evangelicals) who, in modern parlance, would be ‘of the left.’ Remember that the mainline left-leaning party in the UK, which until very recently had specific Socialist clauses written into its constitution, was founded by a Scottish Presbyterian and propped up by Welsh Methodists. Just remind yourself that the term ‘the Evangelical Right’ doesn’t exist outside of the USA.
Bearing all that in mind, let’s think about AOC. She has stated pretty clearly, she does not advocate the Communism of Cuba or the Socialism that has gone so wrong in Venezuala but would ‘most closely resemble what we see in the U.K., in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden.’ Now, the systems running in those countries are quite different, each being more ‘left-wing’ (such as that means much these days) than the others on different issues. But, from what I can see in her policies, she is advocating for something close to the UK.
Here is what is insane about the American Evangelical reaction I have read about her. She is apparently ‘to the left of Stalin’ because she wants to introduce gun controls, a healthcare system similar to the NHS, free college education (a position recently in place in England and advocated by many) and other such policies. What she wants to see is something close to the UK system.
Now, be under no illusion, I don’t think UK politics is perfect. I, for example, happily own the label Socialist whilst, at the same time, equally happily own the label Conservative Evangelical. Socialism being what it is fits perfectly happily with Conservative Reformed Evangelicalism being what it is; that is, an economic/political theory and a theology/worldview drawn from scripture. Neither of those things are mutually exclusive. That is not to say that I agree with everyone who owns either the political or theological labels that I think they best describe my broad positions.
Of course, not all those who say ‘Lord, Lord’ are truly Evangelical and so not all those who call themselves Socialist are any such thing either. Likewise, Evangelicals – whilst agreeing on a lot of stuff – don’t agree on everything and those who call themselves Socialist, whilst they may agree on certain things, don’t necessarily agree on everything. There are plenty of different forms of Socialism. Nobody really thinks that the British Socialism advocated by Tony Benn and Michael Foot is the same as that of Maoist China or Stalinist Russia.
There are plenty of those who claim to be Socialist who, these days, are something closer to Liberals. Likewise there are plenty who call themselves Socialist who may agree with me on key tenets such as public ownership but disagree on all sorts of social issues. Socialism doesn’t necessarily have anything to say to the question of what should be taught in schools, for example. Indeed, just as the term Evangelical is broad enough to cover a range of subsets that don’t agree on all sorts of things, Socialism is the same.
But here is the thing. If AOC, as Babylon Bee claim as do some theologians who I hold in high regard, ‘economically illiterate’, we do have to go some way to explaining how that can be when she is advocating policies held by the world’s fifth largest economy. If the policies really are so economically devastating, why is it that four out of the seven G7 countries advocate something close to them without leaving those places economically bereft? He who has an ear let him hear.
I’m not saying all Americans should advocate Socialism. Obviously I’m not saying that. Anyone can advocate for whatever policies they want. But I am saying that they should be careful on two fronts. First, they need to be careful that, in their frothing rage against anything that they perceive to be even the slightest bit tainted red with Socialism, they don’t speak against the facts (which, I am afraid to say, happens more regularly than it ought). As I mentioned above, calling people ‘economically illiterate’ and ‘to the left of Stalin’ when they advocate policies in line with the UK is hardly being nuanced nor is it realistically speaking to the facts of the matter. Christians should have a better standard of truth than that.
Second, they need to be careful not to call Socialism what most would not. Most British people do not consider themselves Socialist and it would come as a great surprise to them that somebody might suggest our government, and political system, amounts to a radical Socialist regime. Britain is not, by most people’s reckoning, a Socialist country. Again, a high regard for truth might not lead us down this road. We may argue against all sorts of aspects of the British political system without labelling it in ways most people living there wouldn’t recognise.
I have already spoken against some of this tendency here, here, here, here, and here in response to Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Ben Shapiro and others. The former two men are those for whom I have deep admiration and affection and reckon them as a gift to the church. But in those articles I made a case against viewing Socialism as unbiblical and highlighted some of the Christian beliefs from which my view is drawn. You may not find it utterly convincing (and that’s OK) but we do need to stop this assumption that it is inherently unbiblical. David Robertson (The Wee Flea), former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, has said similarly and can hardly be dismissed as a raving leftist of the most radical kind.
Specifically in the case of AOC, American Christians really need to stop the slurs. She wants to see something akin to the not-so-Socialist policies of the UK system. But this contemptuous view of her means that our US brothers and sisters are inadvertently dismissing large swathes of their brethren from the rest of the world as unbiblical and ungodly for holding political views that they wouldn’t even recognise as Socialist (and certainly wouldn’t describe themselves that way!)
This is even more on the nose for those of us who would affirm, not that we are the children of Stalin (though my family members on mission East Asia – who consider themselves very much ‘on the right’ – like to get me Communist propaganda as something of a running joke to that effect) but that we stand in the venerable Christian Socialist tradition. That is as Christian Socialist tradition that traces its formation through Cromwell, the Nonconformist Levellers, Diggers and Chartists and found expression even with Christian Socialist leaders of the Labour Party.
By all means, reject Socialism if you will. Plenty of my British brothers and sisters do. But they manage to do so without suggesting I am bound for Hell because Christ somehow didn’t die for Socialists. They do so without suggesting my view is unbiblical (which it isn’t) and rather because they think it is not the best solution to the same issues that we identify and wish to resolve. We can agree to disagree on the political issues as brothers in Christ. I don’t expect my American friends to all become Socialist but it would be really nice if they didn’t write those of us out of the corpus as a result. Jesus, after all, died for Socialists too.