Thinking Biblically About Democratic Socialism

Mar 16th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

Some in the progressive left of the Democratic Party are advocating a form of “Democratic Socialism” as the solution to “the inequality in American society and to an economy rigged in the favor of vested interests.”  Bernie Sanders is of course the standard bearer of this movement (and to some extent, Elizabeth Warren), but it is now being energized by more radical socialists, principally Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  She recently proposed a Green New Deal, a set of proposals that is not only focused on radically changing how this nation does energy, but it likewise calls for central planning and government ownership of much of the energy sector.  The Green New Deal also calls for massive public spending on infrastructure and other government services for those who cannot work or who are “unwilling to work,” as one of Ocasio-Cortez’s memos put it.  [This has since been retracted.]  There are several other proposals Democratic Socialists advocate:

  • “Medicare for all,” which would mean a single payer system for health care as the first step toward a national health care system funded and managed by the government.
  • Free tuition for all at public colleges and universities.
  • Addressing the economic inequality in America through higher taxes on the wealthy and the purposeful redistribution of wealth by the government.
  • Several American socialists call for worker’s representatives on boards and an effort to redistribute dividends.
  • Since all of these plans/programs would involve enormous amounts of money, where will it come from? Two primary sources:  Significant increases in the tax rate on wealth.  Ocasio-Cortez calls for a 70% tax bracket for the wealthy.  2.  Many advocate “modern monetary theory,” which says that governments can borrow freely with virtually no limits to fund all new spending, while keeping interest rates low.  As The Economist argued, the notion that “unlimited borrowing does not eventually catch up with an economy is a form of quackery.”

Setting aside the politics of Democratic socialism, does the Bible helps us to think clearly about economic issues?  About socialism?  About capitalism?

The 8th commandment as an ethical absolute establishes the sanctity of private property (“You shall not steal,” Exodus 20:15).  The Old Testament affirms this in the Levitical code (see Lev. 25:10).  Neither the government nor society owns property; individuals do.  The Mosaic covenant was based on laws that defined punishment for stealing and the restitution for damage to another person’s animals, fields, etc.  Deuteronomy 19:14 even affirmed the importance of boundaries for privately owned land.  This ethical standard is also affirmed in the New Testament (e.g., Romans 13:9; 1 Corinthians 6:10; Ephesians 4:28, etc.).  The New Testament also states that individuals have the right of ownership of money, possessions and are to use them wisely, as a stewardship from God (e.g., Romans 12:8; 1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:7; Ephesians 4:28, etc.).

In the modern era, the emergence of communism (and socialism) was an attack on the sanctity of private property.  Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto:  “The theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence:  abolition of private property.”  Wayne Grudem comments that “an abolition of private property as occurs under communism is horribly dehumanizing because it greatly minimizes people’s freedom to make wise choices regarding the stewardship of their resources and prevents human economic and cultural flourishing as God intended it to occur.”

Grudem also offers instructive application of the 8th commandment:  “It protects property and possessions.  By implication, we are right to think it also protects another person’s time, talents, and opportunities—everything over which people have been given stewardship.  We are not to steal someone else’s property, time, talents, or opportunities.”  What follows are important biblical principles for evaluating Democratic Socialism:

  1. Private Property as Stewardship: God entrusts to us our time, talents, property, possessions and opportunities as a stewardship.  He expects us to manage these well and to be wise and thankful for what He has entrusted to us.  This proposition has several implications for us as Christians:
  • We are accountable to God for how we use our property (see 1 Corinthians 4:2).
  • God dispenses different levels of stewardship responsibility when it comes to property. Thus, everyone is responsible for being faithful with what they have received from God.  Those who receive much are held to a higher standard of expectation (see Luke 12:48).
  • There are no expectations in Scripture that God will bring about complete equality of stewardship or equality of possessions among His people either in this life or the age to come.
  1. The Blessings of Private Ownership of Property: Our personal possessions are not to be a source of guilt or of feelings of superiority over others. They are to be a source of blessing.
  • Humanity’s dominion authority over God’s world brings glory to Him (Genesis 1:28; 1 Corinthians 10:31).
  • Since God richly “provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), personal possessions should promote a spirit of thankfulness in our lives (see Psalm 103:2; 136:1).
  • Since God richly “provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), personal possessions should promote a spirit of joy in our lives.
  • The private ownership of property is an ongoing test of our faithfulness and devotion to God (see Psalm 62:1; 73:25-26; 1 John 3:17).
  • Wayne Grudem writes: The 8th commandment “gives (1) the opportunity for human achievement (by entrusting property to us), (2) the expectation of human achievement (by making us accountable stewards), and (3) the expectation of human enjoyment of products made from the earth, with thanksgiving to God.”
  1. The Dangers of Private Ownership of Property: The Bible is filled with counsel that we need God’s wisdom when it comes to private ownership of property.  Without such wisdom, dangers lurk to snare us into egregious sin.
  • The danger of materialism: See 1 Timothy 3:3 and Matthew 6:24.  1 Timothy 6:9-10 argues that the “love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.”
  • The danger of the “health and wealthy gospel” (aka “prosperity gospel”): Such teaching claims that God desires for each believer to have good health and material prosperity and that the role of the believer is to have enough faith through a “positive confession” of that faith through our spoken words. {Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, etc.)  God never makes such a promise in the NT.  Consider these verses:
  • He promises to meet our needs (Philippians 4:19) and that as we generously give to His work, He will generously supply our needs in return (Luke 6:38).
  • The poor are often used by God as examples of deep faith (see 2 Corinthians 8:2; 1 Corinthians 4:11 and most importantly James 2:5).
  • Nowhere does God command us to seek prosperity but He does warn of us of its dangers (see 1 Timothy 6:8-11; Matthew 19:24; James 2:6-7 and 5:1-2).
  • The Danger of False Asceticism: A teaching that constantly opposes and criticizes the enjoyment of material things that God has placed in His world. See primarily Colossians 2:20-23, where Paul resolutely condemns such teaching.

Democratic Socialism is not an acceptable set of proposals.  Many of these proposals are not only unwise; they decidedly violate clear Biblical teaching and principles.  They will not only bankrupt the nation, they will introduce a set of assumptions totally alien to wise decision-making when it comes to the stewardship of God’s resources.

See “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Property,” in The Economist (16 February 2019), pp. 11, 17-22; and Wayne Grudem, Christian Ethics: An Introduction to Biblical Moral Reasoning, pp. 895-916.

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