The Christian Left

I’ve been stung recently by a couple of comments from other Christians, which implied that my political views were un-Christian. I am a Christian. I love Jesus, trust Him with my now-and-forever life, and attempt to follow Him. And I hold Left-wing liberal views. Here is my reasoning.

Firstly, I am a person before I am a label. Before we prejudge somebody based on a label, any label, we should begin by trying to understand where they are coming from, preferably speak with them and listen as they explain their point of view, even if in the end we have to fundamentally disagree. If you are reading this as a Right-wing and/or conservative Christian, I am not asking you to agree with me, but I am asking you if you’ll try to understand where I’m coming from.

Before I start on my own position, the comments I heard conflated the left with liberalism*. It is in fact perfectly possible to be a Right-wing liberal (ie to believe that both corporations and individuals should be given absolute freedom), or a Left-wing conservative (ie, to believe in regulating both the behaviour of corporations and individuals) – I know, I began as the latter! Even within these categories there will be a variation between the views different individuals hold, and I think the Bible is sufficiently big and broad for it to be possible to justify any of these positions.

However, in this case, I really am a Left-wing liberal, and a Christian, and what’s more, my politics has developed from my faith in Jesus rather than in isolation from it.

For my part, I stand on the Left because I believe humans are worth much, much more than corporations, and that human need must be prioritised over the interests of corporations. Sometimes doing the right thing is not the most profitable course for a company, so left purely to market forces the needs of real people get left behind in the pursuit of profit. Where the market does drive improvements, and where there is genuine competition to give the best service, I think it’s a good thing. But I think where the market is creating a race to the bottom in standards there is a real need for regulation. I also believe our worth is not based upon how hard we worked, what we’ve worked on, or how much we’ve earnt doing it, but on how God views us. I believe that all people are created equally in the image of God, and that therefore we should ensure that poor and vulnerable people, and even the least deserving person is given their basic needs and cared for. It doesn’t make me a Communist. My husband puts it well – he says that taken to their logical conclusions both free market capitalism and communism both end up creating unaccountable monolithic power structures to serve their own interests over the interests of the majority; the state in the case of communism, corporate monopolies in the case of capitalism. I don’t buy either personally! I don’t want to pull others down into poverty. It doesn’t mean I do not want my country to be great, or to do well for my own family and people. It does mean that I don’t want myself, my family, or my country to do well at others’ expense – I want to see us all pull together, and all do well. This to me seems to stand in line with the message of the Bible, and Jesus’ greatest commandments, to love God and to love others as we love ourselves, even including our enemies.

Justifying the liberal position is harder. Granted it is deeply counterintuitive, and for a long time I held conservative views, so I truly understand the desire to protect others from the harm we can do one another by our wrong choices. However, for me it comes down to this; I don’t believe the law can achieve the work of grace. By that I mean that we cannot make someone a Christian, or indeed even a better person, by banning wrong behaviour by law. We would risk making criminals of ordinary sinners, making it harder for people to openly repent of their wrongs and seek help. In this fallen world, with so many living without the support and guidance of the Holy Spirit, people will sin. All of us will sin. Adding laws only adds guilt and punishment. The only thing that can truly change our behaviour by changing our hearts is Jesus. Rather I think it should be possible to sin openly, so that a person can be set right openly. I believe in using the law as a basis on which to try and lock up people who are genuinely dangerous to society, but not to make criminals of broken people in need of help. It’s not that I do not care about sin, or condone it, but that I think it’s for us as Christians to teach and model a better way to the rest of society, with grace, love and humility, taking our own behaviour seriously and acknowledging that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace and one another’s help. This seems to me to be how God deals with us; giving us free will, allowing us to experience the consequences of that, but also teaching and demonstrating the best way to live, and offering us a supportive relationship to help us to live that better way. I don’t believe it is the job of Christians to police the behaviour of non-Christians. We cannot expect others to live to our standards until they too have the Holy Spirit in their lives to help them – especially when we too often fall by our own standards, and all fall so far short of God’s. God requires perfection, and there’s only One who can make any of us perfect. I no more want to see others condemned to hell than a conservative Christian does – but I cannot make somebody perfect by improving their behaviour a little by the law. Grace alone will change and save us.

I’m aware being Left and liberal is in a sense a case of double standards – that one the one hand I stand for regulation but on the other hand for freedom – but having thought a lot about it, I think it comes down to the fact that individuals can respond to God’s grace, whereas companies (as companies, not the individuals they comprise) cannot. God deals with people, and we have to deal with companies.

As to problems in the liberal church; yes, they certainly exist, no we are not perfect. Neither is the conservative church. We all have faults and blind spots, and they do tend to differ between different groups. However I don’t think that’s a reason to stand at a distance, make assumptions and point the finger. I’ve found Jesus at work right across the Christian Church, in all kinds of different traditions. We should be careful not to reject anyone who Christ accepts. I actually think our differences could be our strength if we worked together in spite of our disagreements, as it’s easier to see blind spots in another’s life than in our own. Wouldn’t it be better to listen to one another, to build up trusting relationships with one another, as individuals and as churches, in which we can lovingly and humbly challenge and be challenged by one another on our blind spots? To learn from one another and grow more Christlike as a result of allowing those with different views and traditions to challenge us?


*Left v Right v Liberal v Conservative – my definitions

Right – belief that deregulation of corporations is the way to improve people’s lives, that corporations act in the human interest so we should ensure their interests are met, that people should get only what they deserve.

Left – belief that corporations do not always act in the interests of the common good so should be regulated to ensure they do no human harm, and that all should be equally taken care of regardless of whether they ‘deserve’ it.

Conservative – Individual and societal behaviour should be regulated to stop people doing what is wrong.

Liberal – All individual and societal behaviour (caveat – if it poses no direct threat to others) should be allowed, regardless of whether it is right or wrong.

See http://www.politicalcompass.org/ for a good explanation of this – you can even take a test to find out whereabouts your views actually place you on the political scale, and compare your position with the positions of political parties.

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4 thoughts on “The Christian Left

  1. Inked Eskimo

    I’ve wanted to come out of the political closet with my conservative Christian American family but I know it’ll just be a battle. I express some of my views where necessary but mostly, due to our physical distance, I don’t bother. It’s always nice knowing I’m not the only one going through these changes and ensuing conflict. BTW, not so she about that test… It put me off the chart on the left haha!

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  2. Rebecca Foster

    I missed this when you first posted it earlier in the year. You’ve explained things so well, I’m going to send the link to my mother to see if she’ll read it. She’s of the persuasion that true Christians only vote Republican, and at one time I probably thought that, too.

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