Christians Seduced By Socialism?

Copyright © Rachel Bjorklund, January 2010

Many Christians today are being seduced by socialist arguments as solutions to the very real problem of poverty.  They are concerned about the growing gap between the rich and the poor.  They believe that redistribution of wealth through government programs is actually compassionate and scriptural.  It isn’t.  But how are so many being deceived?

One mistake they make is believing the economic fallacy that if one person has more, that means another person must automatically be left with less, as if wealth were a fixed pie.  If this were true, every wealthy person in the Bible, including Abraham, David and Job, would automatically be guilty of injustice because they took more than their “fair share”.  But this is not what the Bible teaches.

Scripture shows us that as creatures made in the image of our Creator, we have been given the ability to create value through our labors that wasn’t there before.  If a man takes dirt and water and makes a clay pot, he has created value out of something that was previously worthless.  If another man plows a field and raises a crop, he has created wealth out of what was once just a patch of ground.

If the farmer decides to trade a portion of his crop for his neighbor’s clay pot, who has won and lost?  Neither.  Both have won.  The farmer valued the pot more than the portion of his crop he did not need, and the potter valued the grain more than the pot he could not eat.  Both have benefitted from a voluntary transaction, and both have had the overall value of their property increase.

Have the people around them been made poor because of this trade?  Certainly not.  Wealth has been created without having been taken from anyone else.  It was created through labor and free trade, and nobody has been victimized or robbed.   That is the true nature of free enterprise.  Wealth is not a zero-sum game.  The poor are not made poorer when others become richer, and the “gap” between the rich and the poor is not a case of cause and effect.

Another mistake many Christians make is confusing an inalienable right, given by God, with a good or service, created by man.  You may have a right to free speech, but you don’t have a right to free airtime or newspaper space to broadcast it.  You have a God-given right to defend yourself, but you’re not entitled to a free weapon at someone else’s expense.

Neil Mammen explains this distinction in his book, “Jesus is involved in politics! Why aren’t You? Why isn’t your Church?”:

“If a ‘right’ depends on someone else’s service, work, or money, it’s not a right, it’s goods, and it’s certainly not a God given or Constitutional right… while you may have the right to not be prevented from having an education, you don’t have a right to that education.  Why?  Because that education will be dependent on someone else providing the labor to give you that education.  Same for…food.  Someone had to grow that food.  Someone had to harvest and clean it.  As soon as something is a product of someone else’s hard work, it becomes a good, not a right.  You always have a God given right to your own goods, but you have no right to someone else’s goods.  That’s called stealing.  And if goods are what you are promising to someone, however noble those goods are (like healthcare or a home), eventually you’ll have to enslave some men to guarantee those goods to other men.”

Does one man have a right to take the fruit of another man’s labor, just because he’s poor?  That’s not what the Bible teaches.  Even the gleaning laws of ancient Israel required the poor to come collect the leftover crops on their own.  Their small harvest would be their wages.  As the Bible teaches, “The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Tim 5:18)

In the same vein, the scripture also teaches that “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” (2 Thess 3:10)  If the poor didn’t gather the leftovers, they would be left to rot.  No handouts.  This preserved their dignity and work ethic, as well as prevented an entitlement mentality – all essential elements to enabling a person to eventually lift themselves out of poverty.

So what is true social justice, then?  The Bible defines justice differently than socialists do.  Marx taught that justice meant economic equality.  By that definition, any difference in wealth is automatically injustice.  But that’s not how the scripture defines justice.  Here is God’s definition:

“‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:15)

God’s justice means equality before the law, not equality of income or property.   A poor man who steals is just as guilty as a rich man who steals.  Both are to be treated equally before the law.

Some have argued that it is up to the government to decide what is your property, but that is unscriptural, too.  1 Kings chapter 21 describes an incident when King Ahab tried to buy his neighbor Naboth’s vineyard.  When Naboth refused,  Ahab’s wife had him falsely accused and murdered, and took the vineyard, anyway.  If property rights were granted by the state, then Ahab would have been completely within his authority to take Naboth’s vineyard.  But NOBODY, not even the government, is above God’s law.  The government has a right to be paid for its legitimate duties of executing justice, (Romans 13), but it does NOT have a right to pervert justice and take your property for the purpose of redistribution.

What if enough voters decide that the state should take money from the rich, put it into a government program, and redistribute it to poor people who qualify?  It’s still stealing.  Using the state to launder stolen money for you doesn’t change the fact that you are taking what you haven’t earned from the person who to whom it truly belongs.  Whether or not a person can “afford” to be robbed doesn’t make it right.  Stealing is still stealing.  Nowhere does the Bible authorize the state to redistribute wealth by force.   That is a miscarriage of justice.

What, then, is the scriptural solution to poverty?  Voluntary charity.  We have been commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that includes caring for those in need.   This is the job of the individual, the family, and the church.  It is unscriptural to abdicate our responsibilities to secular governments who take money by force and pour it into programs that create dependency, entitlement mentality, and a permanent voter base for politicians who promise handouts at others’ expense.

It’s time for the church to stand up and start calling Socialism for what it is: state-sanctioned theft.

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