Christian left

Last updated

The Christian left is a range of center-left and left-wing Christian political and social movements that largely embrace social justice viewpoints and uphold a social gospel.


Given the inherent diversity in international political thought, the term Christian left can have different meanings and applications in different countries. While there is much overlap, the Christian left is distinct from liberal Christianity, meaning not all Christian leftists are liberal Christians and vice versa. Christian anarchism, Christian communism and Christian socialism are subsects of the socialist Christian left, although it also includes more moderate Christian left-liberal and social-democratic viewpoints.


As with any section within the left and right wings of a political spectrum, a label such as Christian left represents an approximation, including within it groups and persons holding many diverse viewpoints. The term left-wing might encompass a number of values, some of which may or may not be held by different Christian movements and individuals.

As the unofficial title of a loose association of believers, it does provide a clear distinction from the more commonly known "Christian right" or "religious right" and from its key leaders and political views.

The most common religious viewpoint that might be described as "left-wing" is social justice, or care for impoverished and oppressed groups. Supporters of this trend might encourage universal health care, welfare provisions, subsidized education, foreign aid, and affirmative action for improving the conditions of the disadvantaged. With values stemming from egalitarianism, adherents of the Christian left consider it part of their religious duty to take actions on behalf of the oppressed. Matthew 25:31–46, among other verses, is often cited to support this view. As nearly all major religions contain some kind of requirement to help others, [1] adherents of various religions have cited social justice as a movement in line with their faith. [2]

The term social justice was coined in the 1840s by Luigi Taparelli, an Italian Catholic scholar of the Society of Jesus, who was inspired by the writings of Thomas Aquinas. [3] The Christian left holds that social justice, renunciation of power, humility, forgiveness, and private observation of prayer (as in Matthew 6:5-6 ) as opposed to publicly mandated prayer, are mandated by the Gospel. The Bible contains accounts of Jesus repeatedly advocating for the poor and outcast over the wealthy, powerful, and religious. The Christian left maintains that such a stance is relevant and important. Adhering to the standard of "turning the other cheek", which they believe supersedes the Old Testament law of "an eye for an eye", the Christian left sometimes hearkens towards pacifism in opposition to policies advancing militarism. [4]

Some among the Christian left, [5] as well as some non-religious socialists, find support for anarchism, communism and socialism in the Gospels (for example Mikhail Gorbachev citing Jesus as "the first socialist"). [6] The Christian left is a broad category that includes Christian socialism, as well as Christians who would not identify themselves as socialists.


Early years

For much of the early history of anti-establishment leftist movements such as socialism and communism (which was highly anti-clerical in the 19th century), some established churches were led by clergy who saw revolution as a threat to their status and power. The church was sometimes seen as part of the establishment. Revolutions in America, France, Russia and (much later) Spain were in part directed against the established churches (or rather their leading clergy) and instituted a separation of church and state.

In the 19th century, some writers and activists developed the school of thought of Christian socialism, which infused socialist principles into Christian theology and praxis.

Early socialist thinkers such as Robert Owen, Henri de Saint-Simon based their theories of socialism upon Christian principles. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels reacted against these theories by formulating a secular theory of socialism in The Communist Manifesto .

Alliance of the left and Christianity

Starting in the late 19th century and early 20th century,[ citation needed ] some began to take on the view that genuine Christianity had much in common with a leftist perspective. From St. Augustine of Hippo's City of God through St. Thomas More's Utopia , major Christian writers had expounded upon views that socialists found agreeable. Of major interest was the extremely strong thread of egalitarianism in the New Testament. Other common leftist concerns such as pacifism, social justice, racial equality, human rights, and the rejection of excessive wealth are also expressed strongly in the Bible. In the late 19th century, the Social Gospel movement arose (particularly among some Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists in North America and Britain,) which attempted to integrate progressive and socialist thought with Christianity to produce a faith-based social activism, promoted by movements such as Christian socialism. In the United States during this period, Episcopalians and Congregationalists generally tended to be the most liberal, both in theological interpretation and in their adherence to the Social Gospel. In Canada, a coalition of liberal Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians founded the United Church of Canada, one of the first true Christian left denominations. Later in the 20th century, liberation theology was championed by such writers as Gustavo Gutierrez and Matthew Fox.

Christians and workers

To a significant degree, the Christian left developed out of the experiences of clergy who went to do pastoral work among the working class, often beginning without any social philosophy but simply a pastoral and evangelistic concern for workers. This was particularly true among the Methodists and Anglo-Catholics in England, Father Adolph Kolping in Germany and Joseph Cardijn in Belgium.

Christian left and campaigns for peace and human rights

Some Christian groups were closely associated with the peace movements against the Vietnam War as well as the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Religious leaders in many countries have also been on the forefront of criticizing any cuts to social welfare programs. In addition, many prominent civil rights activists (such as Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States) were religious figures.

In the United States

In the United States, members of the Christian Left come from a spectrum of denominations: Peace churches, elements of the Protestant mainline churches, Catholicism, and some evangelicals. Organizations that represent various ideological trends within the Christian Left include Sojourners, founded by Jim Wallis in 1971, Bread for the World, Evangelicals for Social Action, and other faith-based advocacy groups. [7]

In the aftermath of the 2004 election in the United States, progressive Christian leaders started to form groups of their own to combat the religious right. Such groups include the Center for Progressive Christianity (founded 1996) and the Christian Alliance for Progress. [8]



The Christian left generally approaches homosexuality differently from some other Christian political groups. This approach can be driven by focusing on issues differently despite holding similar religious views, or by holding different religious ideas. Those in the Christian left who have similar ideas as other Christian political groups but a different focus may view Christian teachings on certain issues, such as the Bible's prohibitions against killing or criticisms of concentrations of wealth, as far more politically important than Christian teachings on social issues emphasized by the religious right, such as opposition to homosexuality. Others in the Christian left have not only a different focus on issues from other Christian political groups, but different religious ideas as well.

For example, all members of the Christian left consider discrimination and bigotry against homosexuals to be immoral, but they differ on their views towards homosexual sex. Some believe homosexual sex to be immoral but unimportant compared with issues relating to social justice, or even matters of sexual morality involving heterosexual sex. Others assert that some homosexual practices are compatible with the Christian life. Such members believe common biblical arguments used to condemn homosexuality are misinterpreted, and that biblical prohibitions of homosexual practices are actually against a specific type of homosexual sex act, i.e. pederasty, the sodomizing of young boys by older men. Thus, they hold biblical prohibitions to be irrelevant when considering modern same-sex relationships. [9] [10] [11] [12]

Consistent life ethic

A related strain of thought is the (Catholic and progressive evangelical) consistent life ethic, which sees opposition to capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, abortion and the global unequal distribution of wealth as being related. It is an idea with certain concepts shared by Abrahamic religions as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and members of other religions. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago developed the idea for the consistent life ethic in 1983. [13] Sojourners is particularly associated with this strand of thought. [14] [15]

Liberation theology

Liberation theology is a theological tradition that emerged in the developing world, especially Latin America. Since the 1960s, Catholic thinkers have integrated left-wing thought and Catholicism, giving rise to Liberation Theology. It arose at a time when Catholic thinkers who opposed the despotic leaders in South and Central America allied themselves with the communist opposition. However, it developed independently of and roughly simultaneously with Black theology in the U.S. and should not be confused with it. [16] The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decided that while liberation theology is partially compatible with Catholic social teaching, certain Marxist elements of it, such as the doctrine of perpetual class struggle, are against Church teachings.

Political parties

Early Christianity


A number of movements of the past had similarities to today's Christian left:



Related Research Articles

Left-wing politics Political ideologies that support social equality and egalitarianism, often in opposition to social hierarchy

Left-wing politics supports social equality and egalitarianism, often in opposition of social hierarchy. Left-wing politics typically involves a concern for those in society whom its adherents perceive as disadvantaged relative to others as well as a belief that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished. According to emeritus professor of economics Barry Clark, left-wing supporters "claim that human development flourishes when individuals engage in cooperative, mutually respectful relations that can thrive only when excessive differences in status, power, and wealth are eliminated."

Liberation theology Christian theological approach emphasizing the liberation of the oppressed

Liberation theology is a Christian theological approach emphasizing the liberation of the oppressed. In certain contexts, it engages socio-economic analyses, with "social concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed peoples." In other contexts, it addresses other forms of inequality, such as race or caste.

The Christian right, or the religious right, are Christian political factions that are characterized by their strong support of socially conservative policies. Christian conservatives seek to influence politics and public policy with their interpretation of the teachings of Christianity.

Christian socialism is a religious and political philosophy that blends Christianity and socialism, endorsing left-wing politics and socialist economics on the basis of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Many Christian socialists believe capitalism to be idolatrous and rooted in the sin of greed. Christian socialists identify the cause of social inequality to be the greed that they associate with capitalism. Christian socialism became a major movement in the United Kingdom beginning in the 19th century. The Christian Socialist Movement, known as Christians on the Left since 2013, is one formal group.

Christian democracy is a political ideology based on modern democratic ideas and traditional Christian values and Christian ethics. It came from influences of Catholic social teaching, as well as neo-Calvinism. in 19th-century Europe.

The Social Gospel was a social movement within Protestantism that applied Christian ethics to social problems, especially issues of social justice such as economic inequality, poverty, alcoholism, crime, racial tensions, slums, unclean environment, child labor, lack of unionization, poor schools, and the dangers of war. It was most prominent in the early-20th-century United States and Canada. Theologically, the Social Gospelers sought to put into practice the Lord's Prayer : "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". They typically were postmillennialist; that is, they believed the Second Coming could not happen until humankind rid itself of social evils by human effort. The Social Gospel was more popular among clergy than laity. Its leaders were predominantly associated with the liberal wing of the progressive movement, and most were theologically liberal, although a few were also conservative when it came to their views on social issues. Important leaders included Richard T. Ely, Josiah Strong, Washington Gladden, and Walter Rauschenbusch.

Progressive Christianity Post-modern theological approach, not necessarily synonymous with progressive politics

Progressive Christianity represents a post-modern theological approach, and is not necessarily synonymous with progressive politics. It developed out of the Liberal Christianity of the modern era, which was rooted in enlightenment thinking. As such, Progressive Christianity is a "post-liberal movement" within Christianity "that seeks to reform the faith via the insights of post-modernism and a reclaiming of the truth beyond the verifiable historicity and factuality of the passages in the Bible by affirming the truths within the stories that may not have actually happened."

Liberal Christianity Emphasizes the importance of reason and experience over doctrinal authority

Liberal Christianity, also known as liberal theology, is a movement that interprets and reforms Christian teaching by taking into consideration modern knowledge, science and ethics. It emphasizes the importance of reason and experience over doctrinal authority. Liberal Christians view their theology as an alternative to both atheistic rationalism and theologies based on traditional interpretations of external authority.

The Catholic Church and politics and concerns the interplay of Catholicism with religious, and later secular, politics. Historically, the Church opposed liberal ideas such as democracy, freedom of speech, and the separation of church and state under the grounds that "error has no rights". It eventually accommodated these ideas and began to view religious liberty as a positive value during and after the Second Vatican Council.

Student Christian Movement of Canada

The Student Christian Movement of Canada is a youth-led ecumenical network of student collectives based in spirituality, issues of social, economic justice, environmental justice, and building autonomous local communities on campuses across the country. It is part of the World Student Christian Federation. The SCM Canada works with other Christian groups, for example, in 2017 supporting the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Typically, members of the evangelical left affirm the primary tenets of evangelical theology, such as the doctrines of the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection, and also see the Bible as the primary authority for the Church. Unlike many evangelicals, however, those on the evangelical left often support and utilize modern biblical criticism and are open to more progressive interpretations of Christian beliefs. They often support a more progressive political platform as well. Many, for example, are opposed to capital punishment and supportive of gun control and welfare programs. In many cases, they are also pacifists. While members of the evangelical left chiefly reside in mainline denominations, they are often heavily influenced by the Anabaptist social tradition. While the evangelical left is related to the wider Christian left, those who are part of the latter category are not always viewed as evangelical.

Religious socialism is a type of socialism based on religious values. Members of several major religions have found that their beliefs about human society fit with socialist principles and ideas. As a result, religious socialist movements have developed within these religions. Those movements include Buddhist socialism, Christian socialism, Islamic socialism and Jewish socialism. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica Online, socialism is a "social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources. According to the socialist view, individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members. [...] Early Christian communities also practiced the sharing of goods and labour, a simple form of socialism subsequently followed in certain forms of monasticism. Several monastic orders continue these practices today".

The Australian Student Christian Movement (ASCM) is a Christian group with an ecumenical focus working with university students.

Conservative Christianity or Christian conservative may refer to:

William Dwight Porter Bliss (1856–1926) was an American Episcopal priest and one of the most famous and influential Christian socialists at the turn of 20th century. As a devout churchman, organizer, public speaker and an editor of numerous publications for over 40 years, Bliss became a central figure for the entire Christian socialist movement.

The relationship between Christianity and politics is a historically complex subject and a frequent source of disagreement throughout the history of Christianity, as well as in modern politics between the Christian right and Christian left. There have been a wide variety of ways in which thinkers have conceived of the relationship between Christianity and politics, with many arguing that Christianity directly supports a particular political ideology or philosophy. Along these lines, various thinkers have argued for Christian communism, Christian socialism, Christian anarchism, Christian libertarianism, or Christian democracy. Others believe that Christians should have little interest or participation in politics or government.

Religious communism is a form of communism that incorporates religious principles. Scholars have used the term to describe a variety of social or religious movements throughout history that have favored the common ownership of property.

Political influence of Evangelicalism in Latin America

The political influence of Evangelicalism in Latin America is a phenomenon that has resulted in increased political influence and activism by the Evangelical Christian community in the region. Marginal at first, different news reports and political analysts have pointed the important weight that such community has and its impact in electoral politics, even helping in the electoral victories of conservative candidates.


  1. "The "Golden Rule" (a.k.a. Ethics of Reciprocity)" . Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  2. "Beliefs review: Religion and social justice". 7 July 2019. Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  3. "The FAQs: What Christians Should Know About Social Justice" . Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  4. Damon, Linker (31 March 2014). "Why Christianity demands pacifism" . Retrieved 3 February 2020.
  5. John Cort, Christian Socialism (1988) ISBN   0-88344-574-3, pp. 32.
  6. "Mikhail S. Gorbachev Quotes". Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  7. Hall, Charles F. (September 1997). "The Christian Left: Who Are They and How Do They Differ from the Christian Right?". Review of Religious Research . 39: 31–32. doi:10.2307/3512477. JSTOR   3512477 via JSTOR.
  8. Utter, Glenn H. (2007). Mainline Christians and U.S. Public Policy: A Reference Handbook. Contemporary world issues. ABC-CLIO. p. 230. ISBN   9781598840001 . Retrieved 1 August 2015. The Christian Alliance for Progress. composed of individuals from various denominations and religious viewpoints, strives to emphasize the core beliefs and values of Christianity in response to the contemporary involvement of Christian groups in the search for political influence and power.
  9. Why TCPC Advocates Equal Rights for Gay and Lesbian People Archived 12 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  10. "Equality for Gays and Lesbians - Christian Alliance for Progress". 1 December 2005. Archived from the original on 1 December 2005.
  11. Bible & Homosexuality Home Page Archived 24 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine . (1998-12-11). Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
  12. Archived 21 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  13. Bernardin, Joseph. Consistent ethics of life 1988, Sheed and Ward, p. v
  14. McKanan, Dan (November 2011). Prophetic Encounters: Religion and the American Radical Tradition. ISBN   9780807013168.
  15. Dorrien, Gary (25 March 2009). Social Ethics in the Making: Interpreting an American Tradition. ISBN   9781444305777.
  16. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)