Two years before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. declared, “We are saying that something is wrong with capitalism … there must be a better distribution of wealth in this country for all of God’s children and maybe America must move toward democratic socialism.”
Virtually from the day she assumed office, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and her avowed democratic socialism have been under attack. Much of the condemnation is from the same crowd that so vigorously insists that America is and always has been a “Christian nation.” This is quite ironic, because democratic socialism and the Bible share a strikingly similar vision of what constitutes a fair and just society. Capitalism, however, does not share that vision.
The Bible and democratic socialism preach that governments should enact policies that address the needs of the poor, provide equal access to opportunity, and legislate policies that curb inequity. Both believe that any government that ignores the interests of the poor is an unjust government in need of correction. As King put it, “The curse of poverty has no justification in our age. It is socially as cruel and blind as the practice of cannibalism …”
In numerous biblical passages, leaders are admonished to strive for justice and equality by prioritizing the plight of the impoverished. For example, Psalm 72:1-2, 4 says:
Give the king your justice, O God … May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice … May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
The Bible envisions a just and equitable social order. As King explained, “God never intended for some of his children to live in inordinate superfluous wealth while others live in abject, deadening poverty.” Democratic socialism seeks to build a more humane society, not by force or compulsion, but by way of the age-old democratic practice of “one person, one vote.” For this reason, democratic socialist policies can only move forward if the American people understand their value and vote for them.
Moreover, King, the Bible, and democratic socialism share the same essential concerns, such as:
- Health care for all
Jesus modeled universal health care by healing everyone who asked, regardless of their gender, nationality or ability to pay. “Great multitudes followed him,” mostly poor peasants, “and he healed them all” (Matthew 12:15).
- A fair wage
Prophets consistently excoriated those exploiting their employees. For example, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness, and his upper rooms by injustice; who makes his neighbors work for nothing and does not give them their wages” (Jeremiah 22:13,17).
- A minimum income for everyone
The book of Leviticus is clear: “There should be no poor among you … if any of your neighbors become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them … so they can continue to live among you.” (Leviticus 25: 35-36).
- Fair treatment of workers
The Book of Deuteronomy declares, “you shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers or one of the immigrants who are in your land …” (Deuteronomy 24:14).
Sadly, in our capitalist society many American workers find themselves subject to the caprice and greed of corporate elites, many of whom annually earn in excess of 300 times the salaries of their average workers. Democratic socialism repudiates such power imbalances. Under it, workers would have a greater say in determining their working conditions and receive a much more equitable share of the profits generated by their labor.
So why is democratic socialism demonized? One reason: Its proponents’ insistence on economic fairness and social responsibility threatens the power of those who wield America’s economic reins. Granted, capitalism has generated immense wealth, markedly improved global living standards, and made life more comfortable for many. Yet capitalism has also caused immeasurable suffering, systematic oppression, and debilitating social alienation. It sponsored America’s shameful trade in human chattel, exploits millions of workers who aren’t paid a living wage, and leaves many to sicken and die because they cannot afford health care. Capitalism rewards, in fact depends upon, ruthless self-interest. It values profits over people, promotes materialism at the expense of spiritual values, dispenses power without responsibility, and treats human beings like commodities.
“The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people,” saying, “‘… the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?’” (Isaiah 3:14-15).
If Christians took the Bible seriously on this point, activist politicians like Ocasio-Cortez would not excite such vigorous opposition and America would not have to endure the disastrous depredations of Trump’s presidency.