Democratic Socialist leader: Jesus was a socialist, you know

It turns out that the ignorance of Democratic Socialists of America goes well beyond economics. In explaining “what DSA members believe,” NPR spoke last week to Kelley Rose, who founded a DSA chapter in West Virginia in early 2017. Rose tells NPR that Jesus made her do it, or something:

And so, less than a year and a half ago, Rose helped start this chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, making it a part of the DSA’s explosive growth nationwide. Membership has grown sevenfold since 2015, from around 6,000 then to 43,000 as of early July.

But for all of its recent growth, socialism is still an idea with a lot of Cold War-era baggage for a lot of Americans. Still, the group has gained new prominence with New York Democrat — and DSA member — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent congressional primary win. …

“I might be the only one in our little chapter that is a Christian, and it all just fits so perfectly together for me, things that I’ve always thought anyway along with my values morally and religiously,” she said.

“Possibly my mother would want to debate me on this, but if anyone was ever a socialist it was Jesus.”

Perhaps her mother should have instructed Rose better in the first place. Not only does one have to wonder about whether she understands much about Christianity, one has to wonder how much Democratic Socialists understand about socialism. Socialism is an economic and political system, two issues on which the Gospels have Jesus remain remarkably silent, in which the state owns and/or has full control over the means of production.

“Democratic” or not, the aim of socialists is the elimination of private property entirely and the transformation of human society. To the extent this touches on religion at all, it’s entirely hostile to the idea of a power higher than Man. Socialism envisions the perfection of humanity through secular means, and in every attempted application of socialism, the churches have been targets of the revolutionaries.

The only support for Rose’s contention in the New Testament doesn’t come from Jesus at all, but from two observations by Luke in Acts of the Apostles. He writes in chapters two and four that the early church community in Jerusalem “sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need,” and that “no one claimed that any of their possessions was their own.” What that misses, however, is that this was entirely voluntary, and not imposed on the disciples as a system of government. (In fact, this group was being persecuted by the temple leadership and possibly by the Roman government in the region at the same time.) Nothing prevents people from forming voluntary communes on this same basis, and indeed this was the model for some (but not all) early Christian communities leading lives of prayer and disconnection from the rest of society. But it wasn’t a form of governance on any scale.

In contrast, Jesus spoke in many parables about private property, employment, wages, and so on, none of which endorsed the idea that it should be seized and redistributed as a system of government. It’s always dangerous to apply modern politics to ancient parables, especially since the point in most of them was to demonstrate the kingdom of God rather than a preferred governance structure here on Earth, but one parable comes particularly to mind — the parable of the wicked tenants in Matthew 21:33-46. Jesus clearly isn’t endorsing the forcible redistribution of wealth and the seizure of the means of production by the proletariat in that lesson.

In only one instance does Jesus actually comment on governance outside of parables, and then to dismiss it as non-essential to salvation. That happens when the Pharisees attempt to entrap Jesus into rebellion by asking whether the Judeans should pay tax to Caesar, described in both Matthew 21 and Mark 12. Jesus points out that the coins in use bear Caesar’s image and says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus pointedly did not say that the people should seize the coins and revolt against the Romans to establish socialism or anything else. And while Jesus wouldn’t endorse the consumerism and avarice found in some corners of modern Western societies, He would likely find the murder of tens of millions of people in socialist countries over the past century a wee bit more disturbing.

At any rate, it’s good to see Democratic Socialists expanding their repertoire of incompetence beyond economics. At the very least, it’s entertaining.

Addendum: For the record, I’d have as much issue with people who claim that Jesus was a capitalist. If you’re mining the Gospels to support your favorite form of government and economics, you’re wasting your time. Jesus taught the path of eternal salvation through His sacrifice and God’s love. Human organization in this life should align with the values espoused in Scripture, but Christ had a more specific and focused mission.

Update: My good friend Jeff Dunetz takes a look at this argument from the perspective of Jewish law, especially at that time, and finds it similarly ridiculous.