Do You Hear the People Sing? M.L. King & Les Misérables’ case for a Socialism of Grace

MLK Memorial DC Jarrod McKenna

If the latest Billboard album chart is anything to go by, the answer to Victor Hugo’s question “Do you hear the people sing”? is a resounding “Yes!” as the soundtrack to the latest film adaption of his novel has hit number one. More ambiguous however, is the answer to the question: do we understand what they are singing?

Many know of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Fewer know of Dr. King’s letter from a Selma jail where he wrote, “If we are to achieve a real equality, the U.S. will have to adopt a modified form of socialism.” This week will see President Obama sworn into office by laying his hand upon the Bible of America’s greatest preacher and prophet, M.L. King. If the appropriateness of King’s radical legacy being invoked by Obama goes beyond being skin deep, might we also ask the question: do we hear and understand the song Martin King sung?

As many blogs will brim with praise for Martin Luther King Jr. with little mention of his politics, so too are they awash with praise for the latest Les Misérables film without mention of its vision for society. They praise Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway’s ability to blubber while beautifully belting out ballads. They have shown the Christian virtue of mercy to Russel Crowe’s singing (at least more mercy than the infamous critique of his musical ability by Australian punk band Frenzal Rhomb). All this before moving on to talk of Les Misérables’ less than subtle Christian themes.

As CNN reported, since the micro-targeted marketing success of movies like The Passion of the Christ, film studios have been courting Christians to exchange their pews for popcorn and Gospel songs for cinema going. Again, this time with Les Misérables, the faithful have responded to the box office like it was an altar call offered with Dr. King’s eloquence.

Evangelicals Accepting Les Mis into their hearts?

Much like Martin King prior to 1964, Les Misérables’ first act is initially easier for white evangelicals to invite into their hearts. After 19 years of brutal imprisonment, the lead character Jean Valjean abuses the hospitality of a kind Bishop who takes him into his home. In the night he steals the silverware, only to be caught red-handed by police and returned to the Bishop to face life imprisonment in the morning. In a dramatic move that mimics not just the story of the prodigal son but the very dynamics of the Gospel, the bishop chooses not to leave him as a victim of his sin and a sinful system but instead shows him a gratuitous grace. Grace, Martin Luther King Jr. would insist is “a gift we don’t merit, that we don’t deserve, but which we so desperately need.” Declaring Valjean innocent despite his guilt, and adding the most valuable items that he has to what Valjean has stolen, the Bishop dismisses Valjean’s accusers and then announces to him:

But remember this, my brother

See in this some higher plan

You must use this precious silver

To become an honest man

By the witness of the martyrs

By the Passion and the Blood

God has raised you out of darkness

I have bought your soul for God!

*Ok, I admit it, just reading this I feel like doing some blubbering of my own all over again*

Yet before we start saying (or singing?) proud prayers like, “God, I thank you that I’m not like Javert”, can we understand why Tolstoy called Les Misérables “the greatest of all novels” without seeing Victor Hugo’s all encompassing vision of grace? Is there a danger that Hugo’s masterpiece – a masterpiece that caused such a stir a decade before the Paris Commune that it inspired reform initiatives in prisons, schools and factories – could be reduced to a sermon illustration that safely domesticates grace to a merely privatised spiritual reality, albeit awkwardly staged on a very leftist revolutionary themed set?

Related: Valjean and Javert: The Two Christianities of Les Miserables by Morgan Guyton

To situate Victor Hugo politically, it’s significant to note his poetry in praise of the Occupy Movement of his day was some of the first public support of the Paris Commune. According to The Encyclopaedia of the Romantic Era, Victor Hugo’s political imagination became “on behalf of the poor, in favour of social justice, against kings and their wars, and against capital punishment”. On the surface, this sounds rather what like Tony Campolo would call “Red Letter Christianity”, or what anyone who has spent time with the writings of the early church would just call “discipleship”. I do, however, want to resist making Victor Hugo into my own image. My faith is fiercely committed to the nonviolence of Christ and orthodoxy generally, two things of which Hugo isn’t often accused. What I do want to point out is that the radical outworking of grace from the personal into the public that is so central to Hugo’s Les Misérables, is decidedly missing from most talk of the film.

For many, the social implications of grace in Les Misérables (not to mention the Gospel) seem to share the same fate as Fantine on her death bed. The character who represents the enforcer of segregation between the personal and social implications of God’s grace is of course police inspector Javert. Despite all the commentary to the contrary, there is not one line from Javert to support him believing in a “works-based righteousness.” There is nothing to suggest that Javert thinks he’ll be saved by anything but grace. Yet all Javert’s prayers and pleadings point to a belief that grace is a “spiritual” reality, to be segregated from all social implications. We want mercy from God but that’s got nothing to do with welfare for the poor. We are saved by grace but that’s very separate to any discussion of the death penalty.

Javert believes the grace God shows us sinners cannot be allowed to interfere with maintaining a “moral universe”. The law must be maintained like the stars are maintained in the sky. Forgiveness, mercy, grace and redemption for Javert are all “religious truths” that animate his high moral standards and motivate him to maintain systems that show none of these qualities to the suffering poor. “Mine is the way of the Lord” sings Javert and no doubt in his mind it is ‘to the glory of God’ that “if they fall, as Lucifer fell, the flame, the sword.” If we are preaching against Javert’s Christianity without calling for an end to punitive retributive justice in the forms of the death penalty and the new Jim Crow of the Prison Industrial Complex, our understanding of Les Misérables is as problematic as Javert’s understanding of the Gospel.

Use of the “S Word”

This brings me to the use of the “s word”. I’m not referring to the colourful language Thenardier uses to complete the line “Master of the house? Isn’t worth me spit! ‘Comforter, philosopher and life long – ”! No, I’m referring to that other “s word”. Socialism.

In the final years of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. would use the word “socialist” with the disclaimer “democratic” (referring to the practice not a Party) to describe to co-workers his own politics as a Christian. Recently I had the life changing privilege of spending four days with Dr. King’s close friend, co-worker and speech writer Dr. Vincent Harding. One of the things Dr. Harding corrected Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and I on was the use of the term “conversion” when talking of Dr. King’s journey to this political position. According to Martin King’s wife Corretta Scott King, when they met in 1953 King discussed with her “working within the framework of democracy towards a kind of socialism”. Before we return to Jean Valjean, Fantine and Javert, I want to mention two things that might be helpful to locate me in this conversation regarding King’s “kind of socialism”. Firstly, I’m Australian. Secondly, I’m no Marxist (nor was Dr. King).

Don’t shoot! I’m Australian!

Last month I was speaking again in the U.S. and I’m always struck by how much people in the U.S. love Australia. So much so that when Obama was re-elected it made the “news” in Australia that some displeased people were going to move to Australia. Us Aussies love the U.S. too. But there are certain realities about Australia that might surprise some Americans.

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Here’s the thing. Imagine growing up in a reality where there is no death penalty, for anyone.  A reality where you never see a gun as a child, even in the roughest inner city neighbourhoods, other than on TV. A reality where everyone has healthcare regardless of insurance or employment. And where everyone can go to university and receive a degree if you get the grades required, regardless of income, and without a scholarship. That’s where I’ve grown up, Australia. We are not more morally upright than our mates from the U.S. (after all, a lot of us are descendants of convicts and invaders!). We are not naturally more intelligent. And we’re NOT the greatest nation on earth!

In reality these conditions are like those in many other democratic nations. Australia is far from being the Kingdom Come obvious in our horrific and ongoing treatment of aboriginal people groups and shameful cruelty to desperate people who seek asylum on Australian shores. Yet many in the U.S. might be surprised to learn that a significant number of the Obama administration’s policies are to the right (regarding social welfare, healthcare, gun control and capital punishment) of Australia’s equivalent to the Republican Party (called the ‘Australian Liberal Party’, which adds to confusion of some U.S. friends).


The Australian experience demonstrates that healthcare for all heals rather than harms a nation, that liveable welfare fosters more decency not dependence, that greater access to education makes a great nation greater, that the death penalty doesn’t minimise crime it just makes us murderers and, maybe, semi-automatics aren’t necessary for hunting kangaroos, or for that matter, deer.

Even a literalist reading of the Gospels makes it hard to deny; Jesus healed without charge, there were no food stamps needed at the feeding of the five thousand, the greatest teacher the world has ever known taught for free, died for everyone a victim of the death penalty and commanded his followers to love our enemies like he has loved us, with a Calvary-like love. You don’t need a PhD in New Testament ethics to realise a Jesus-like-love kind of rules out blowing your enemies away with a semi-automatic.

Also by Jarrod: What Would MLK Do? Christians and Climate Change

This in Australia is partly due to what Dr. King would call a tradition of “a kind of socialism” that predates Marx, and it would be disingenuous, (not to mention dishonest) not to mention the tradition that precedes him. I’m no Marxist, by grace I’m seeking to be a follower of my Lord Jesus. To quote Martin Luther King Jr, “I didn’t get my inspiration from Karl Marx, I got it from a man named Jesus. Who said he was anointed to preach good news to the poor.”

MLK: “Never can we accept communism and be true Christians”

But let’s not jump to Communism. Communism is to Socialism what Mormonism is to Christianity. Or Nickleback is to music. That is to say, it’s something completely different. In Martin Luther King’s sermon “Can a Christian be a Communist?” he answers that question “with an emphatic ‘no’.” Martin King was very clear, “no Christian can be a communist.” King rejected outright Marx’s claim that humanity “unaided by any divine power can save himself [sic.] and usher in a new society.” King also rejected; any ideology that stifled freedom of thought, the Feuerbach adapted materialism of Marx, the economy as history’s main mover, “any means necessary” methods, and the ‘end’ being the State. Yet as King’s late wife Corretta shared, King insisted “a kind of socialism has to be adopted by our system because the way it is, it’s simply unjust.” Do Dr. King’s witness & Hugo’s Les Misérables hold out the possibility of “a kind of socialism” that could be something different to Marxism?

Christian Socialism?

Is This TomorrowChristian socialism, including the romantic socialism of Victor Hugo, pre-dates Karl Marx’s writings and sought to see Christian concern integrated into the organisation of society in relation to the marginalised, the poor, the victims, the wretched; or to sum it up in one phrase in French, Les Misérables. In the words of Victor Hugo, it is the conviction to ask and act on the question; “Is the bottom of civilization, being deeper and darker, any less important that the top?” The tradition of Christian Socialism saw grace not only as a life changing personal experience but also as an alternative way of organising all of life, including social structures.

Given that the term “socialism” is so traumatic for post ‘reds-under-the-bed-McCarthy’ America,why would I bother using it? For the same reason that M.L. King in his last years self-described to co-workers as a “democratic socialist”, and why former Princeton University, now Union Theological Seminary professor Dr. Cornel West self-describes as a “non-Marxist socialist”: because once we get over our prejudice, it names a vision of grace that doesn’t stop at the self but works [and I would want to insist nonviolently and democratically] for that grace to be witnessed throughout society. Especially for les misérables!

Les Misérables and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Socialism of Grace”

For Jarvet, it was not just the ‘non-spiritualised’ grace of Valjean’s conversion that was offensive. It was its implications, seen fully in the finale of the film. In the finale we see that Hugo’s vision of grace is as expansive as the Bible’s. Grace isn’t just transformative for the individual, here on these ‘heavenly barricades’ that have descended to earth is a vision of grace realised throughout all of creation;

Do you hear the people sing?
Lost in the valley of the night
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light
For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies
Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise

They will live again in freedom in the garden of the lord
They will walk behind the ploughshare
They will put away the sword
The chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!

Will you join in our crusade?
Who will be strong and stand with me?
Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?
Do you hear the people sing?
Say, do you hear the distant drums?
It is the future that they bring when tomorrow comes! 

And the key to understanding the nonviolent means to this coming “tomorrow” is given in the line that precedes this final chorus: “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

Victor Hugo and Martin Luther King Jr. challenge us to reject the idea that “socialist” is the worst thing you can be called, and to freely explore a kind of “socialism of grace”. For me this is a “socialism of grace” that rejects violence and takes up the cross of nonviolent love. A nonviolent love that sees in the faces of les misérables, and even Javert, the face of God.

The grace that brings us to tears in the conversion of Valjean is the same grace that should bring us to tears in the finale of Les Misérables. The grace that flows from the cross of Christ, that is ours in the Resurrection, can never be separated from the “tomorrow comes” of the Kingdom, “the world we long to see”.

Can you hear the song Martin Luther King Jr. sung encouraging us to:

“recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal opposition to poverty, racism and militarism. With this powerful commitment, we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.”

With the God of grace, can you hear the people sing a nonviolent alternative to both communism and capitalism?

Photo Credit: Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com




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About the Author

Jarrod McKenna

Jarrod McKennaJarrod McKenna is amazed by grace. A peace award winning nonviolence trainer and activist, Jarrod is now World Vision Australia’s National Advisor on Youth, Faith & Activism. Jarrod with his amazing wife and son Teresa and Tyson, are three of 17 people living at First Home Project; an innovative community welcoming, housing and empowering refugees. Follow him on twitter here.View all posts by Jarrod McKenna →

  • Travis

    This is fantastic. I met Jarrod on a flight from Birmingham to D.C. when in the States. Very in depth piece, quite challenging too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000699994198 David Reynolds

    A big like! This really does help articulate some of the tensions I see when I dialogue with my US Christian friends. Things that seem common sense to me, are distressing for them, and vice-versa no doubt. Thanks for putting this out there Jarrod.

    • Joe

      ditto!

  • fantasticrice

    In my opinion, it is the attempts at incorporating Christian values into the State—while done under the best intentions for bringing the Kingdom to society—that have resulted in economic disaster, corruption and oppression. This is because the two are in irreconcilable tension: the power of the State is predicated on violence and sin is still present in spades. You can’t force society to live as disciples of Jesus, we can only choose that of our own free will. This puts the responsibility for restoration and transformation squarely on the private shoulders of the Church—one individual life at a time. It can only ever be this way until our Lord returns to establish His reign on Earth.

    • 22044

      Thank you for expressing the truths you did, better than I could.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000699994198 David Reynolds

      “Economic disaster, corruption and oppression”. Really? Have you done ANY research on this? Or is it just another mantra that Republicans repeat?

      Australia: Universal healthcare. It works really well, ranked number 6 in life expectancy (USA #38). Costs us 1.5% in tax every year…since 1975.

      Tighter gun controls in the last 14 years (led by a conservative government), deaths by firearms halved, corresponding homicides by other methods have not increased. Zero massacres since introduction of the new laws.

      Significantly lower crime (notably, especially corporate crime), and tighter controls on corporate or special interest funding for politicians = less corruption.

      One of the strongest economies on the planet, unemployment around 5%, economy is usually in surplus, if it falls into deficit it is in single figures %GDP.

      Where we suck is how we treat our indigenous Australians and asylum seekers….oh and the cricket at the moment.

      This is what I mean by my dialogues with my US Christian friends. It seems like such common sense to me and I get frustrated. I imagine it’s the same for them with me.

      BTW. The old “it’s the responsibility of the church” chestnut. Firstly, I’ll believe it when I see it, until then it’s just an excuse to get in the way of the poor getting help, and secondly, with the current size of the church it’s not economically viable. I serve a God of miracles, but He doesn’t seem to be onboard with the program yet.

      • 22044

        I think fantasticrice is saying is that passing & enforcing laws can be good, but God’s will of redeeming hearts & minds doesn’t happen through those, whether you’re conservative or liberal, Australian or American, or a citizen of another nation.
        A society or nation is still flawed when its citizens’ hearts are not renewed. I think we can all agree on that.

        • THX1138

          The problem with viewing any monetary inequality as an injustice, as socialism does (whether you affix it with Marx or Christ), is that you will never be happy until resources are distributed equally. The problem is that this cannot be done without the use of force – of taking people’s money (whether they earned it by putting on a show or writing a book) and giving it to others.

          We need to be careful about doing this, as it:

          – Violates the sovereignty of the individual (both the one investing their time to put on a performace and the ones who choose to go watch it)

          – Results in diminished incentives to create wealth and enlarge the economy so there’s more wealth in society to put towards social goods

          – Results in passivity and welfarism, where recipients made dependent on the state – this is widely acknowledged to be a problem in parts of remote indigenous Australia

          I’m not saying there should be no tax or no government. Just that socialism is not the answer. Maybe Jesus transforming our hearts and minds to make us more generous, just and loving is.

      • fantasticrice

        I commend your zeal for helping others, but I just can’t find the part of the Gospel that condones forcing others to be righteous. I am purposefully keeping this at the philosophical level because I believe anyone can support their politics with confirmation bias. “I’ll believe it when I see it … He doesn’t seem to be onboard with the program yet” – Be careful with your rhetoric here, this is not the mindset of the saints.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000699994198 David Reynolds

          Not at all suggesting we force righteousness on others. I am 100% with you. I was calling into question your “economic disaster, corruption and oppression” statement.

          It is noteworthy that you did not respond to the points I made,but rather suggest that I am not a saint because I call your reasoning into question…. frankly I find that an old and tired technique.

          The statement about God not being on board, I grant was a glib and perhaps insensitive statement. It was intended to make a point, but I accept that it was not helpful. I apologise and withdraw it. If I need to do more to help you forgive my offence, let me know.

          So, if the church believes that it is only their responsibility to care for the poor, why haven’t they? Worse still, why do they deliberately try and stop government from doing it?

          There is plenty in scripture about good, fair, wise leaders. Is it wisdom to leave the poor to suffer?

          • fantasticrice

            From the condescending way you ask your rhetorical questions, I suspect we will not have much of a productive conversation. For example, the Church I see at work in the world does a great deal to address the issue of poverty—both physical and spiritual. My view of economics suggests that many of the factors in that complex issue stem from the unintended consequences of government action upon society, which then incites further compounding government action precipitated by generally good intentions, ad infinitum.

            “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.” – C.S. Lewis

            You see, any State action requires the implicit or explicit threat of force, which in turn requires an escalating amount of control by those who wield the power over those who don’t. One of the most instructive examples of this process in action can be seen in the rise and fall of the Roman Republic, but other Western societies are also at various points on this path.

            Our hope is not found in ascending the peaks of power in society in order to bring the reign of the Kingdom to the rest of society. You merely need to look at what happened to the Church in the past when it has done this: the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Papal government, the Church of England, the Christian Right, etc. Frankly, with a very select few exceptions, the Bible does not speak favorably about government/societal leaders. In the upside Kingdom, Jesus the Messiah comes not to overthrow Roman rule as was expected, but rather to transform the lives of one disciple at a time.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000699994198 David Reynolds

            Condescending? Where was I condescending ya clown!
            They are real questions asking for a genuine dialogue! A dialogue which I note you continue to avoid, you ignore the questions and then give me some tired old right wing speech.
            I took full responsibility for your easy offence in order to try and keep peace for the sake of meaningful discourse…al you can do is call me condescending and not a Christian because I disagree with you! It’s that kind of bullying behaviour and avoidance of the issues that keeps us from ever solving things.
            So by your CS Lewis’ reasoning (I am a great fan of his by the way), we must never sincerely seek the good of others. That is an outrageous position and such a ridiculous misuse of the quote it is barely worth mentioning. He of course meant that things can go wrong when we try to sincerely do good, not that we shouldn’t try. But you must know that.
            Any state action requires the implicit or explicit use of force?!? Do you even think before you write this? Building a hospital? Building a road? Feeding the poor? Of course these are not use of force, implicit or otherwise.
            The bible doesn’t speak favourably about government leaders? What are you saying? That we shouldn’t have government? That being in government is bad? There are any number of ways that God used leaders of the times, in government or otherwise.
            Why are you avoiding the points and questions that I raised?
            I completely agree with your last sentence, unreservedly. It has no impact on my earlier points and questions.
            No condescension, just looking to learn and see if there is any actual substance to the things that the Christian right say. I have my doubts to be honest, but I started with as open a heart as I am able.

          • 22044

            David,
            Some points may be tired but they aren’t false.
            Regarding your points about a state building a hospital, building roads, or feeding the poor, they did with funds that were collected through taxes, as the applicable laws are enacted. Government in its nature has only force as its change agent.

            The amount of force & laws that a government may use…different societies can come to different conclusions, but the general principle is that a centralized government that continues to expand its influence inevitably leads to oppressing its citizens.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000699994198 David Reynolds

            Some points are both false and tired.
            So, in your reasoning the democratic process is all about force? Interesting. Are you sure that you’re not just committed to small government ideals, but haven’t really thought through why? Where you may be right is where the democracy is hijacked, but that is an entirely new conversation………on the subject of which, why are you still avoiding my initial points and questions?….and the ensuing questions from our continuing “dialogue”?
            You keep making your right wing points, I question them and it appears they are without substance, so instead of clarification or withdrawal you just look for a new line of attack? How do imagine that you will find truth by doing that?

          • 22044

            David,
            Yes, when trying to pass which laws should be enacted, it’s all about force. That’s not a right wing point, it’s a fact.
            And I have not attacked anything. I’m not sure why you’re making that claim.

            Regarding small government vs. big government, that’s not really the proper question if you’re willing to be thoughtful. It’s really determining which powers are properly assigned to which levels of government (in the United States, those are generally Federal, state, & local).

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000699994198 David Reynolds

            “not a right wing point, it’s a fact”. Unsubstantiated, unclear, if you declare something as a fact you need to clarify how it is actually a fact and not mere opinion…which it appears to be from here. Declaring something a “fact” does not magically make it factual.

            Of course I’m willing to be thoughtful, what a condescending (your word), thing to say. You haven’t offered any kind of alternative thought to my questions and points, while I continue to consider yours and offer alternative thinking….who is not being thoughtful here? You just keep making unsubstantiated declarations, when they are questioned, you ignore the question and go ahead with another “factual” declaration.

            In a democracy people vote for representation. The whole point of democracy is so that ultimate power resides with the people. Ipso facto, it can’t be force. If it becomes force, it is no longer true democracy. This is a conversation worth having.

            I agree with the premise of your last sentence, another good conversation to have.

            I too have thought about these things most of my adult (and teenage life), I’ve lived in other countries including third world and the US, I’ve served as a missionary and an army officer. I’m still learning and realise that I still have much to learn, hence my readings and questions here.

          • 22044

            Sorry David,
            When you incorrectly think I am condescending and unwilling to listen to my points, I really have nothing further to say. All the best.

          • http://snommelp.tumblr.com/ Snommelp

            It appears to me that you are another victim of the fickle nature of disqus – reading from outside of this discussion, it appears that you are responding to 22044 as if 22044 were fantasticrice. Disqus sometimes places the wrong name on posts – much to the dismay of all involved.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000699994198 David Reynolds

            Thanks Snomelp, you’re right of course….ooops! To be honest, it may not have been disqus, I may have missed the changeover. My bad.
            22044: My apologies for putting you both in the same bucket.
            Having said that, I wasn’t condescending (if I was show me where and I will make amends as best I can). I was listening to your points and responding, it was actually you who was ignoring my points, a reread of our discourse shows that pretty clearly. Again, if you can show me where on the record that I am ignoring you, I will make amends.
            To be honest, it looks like you guys just run away when you are confronted with decent reasoning. For an interesting exercise, do a little research on cognitive dissonance. I think it particularly pertinent to much of our discussion.
            All the best to you too.

          • 22044

            As a brief addendum, I have thought about these issues for my whole adult life, and studied many trusted scholars to develop my understanding.

      • Joe

        after reading this thread, i realize you should have ignored the following post. ;-)

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000699994198 David Reynolds

          :)

    • Teri

      I assume then that this also applies to other issues like abortion and marriage equality, right? There’s no reason for the state to be attempting to legislate “Christian values” in those areas either?

      • fantasticrice

        Forcing others to do what we want—whether it’s personally, or with a bunch of other people—is fundamentally immoral and incompatible with the Gospel. We need to change people’s hearts through our conduct, not under the threat of violence.

      • Benjamin

        Almost everybody in the U.S. and U.K. does believe in MANY values they got from Christianity, (while they threw out sexual morality.) Then they pretend that they invented these values as “humanists”. You could relate most laws back to a Christian moral.

  • fantasticrice

    In my opinion, it is the attempts at incorporating Christian values into the State—while done under the best intentions for bringing the Kingdom to society—that have resulted in economic disaster, corruption and oppression. This is because the two are in irreconcilable tension: the power of the State is predicated on violence and sin is still present in spades. You can’t force society to live as disciples of Jesus, we can only choose that of our own free will. This puts the responsibility for restoration and transformation squarely on the private shoulders of the Church—one individual life at a time. It can only ever be this way until our Lord returns to establish His reign on Earth.

  • http://twitter.com/HistoryJedi Glen Doris

    We who live in the United Kingdom also live with the reality of free healthcare and our taxes pooled to provide services for all, including those who, for whatever reason, are unemployed. While the history of Britain has been often tainted with exploitation of the poor in many nations, the government has had the good fortune of having been ameliorated through reforming action, often instigated by those working within the framework of Christian ideology. While protection of the poor is not a long-standing British tradition, compassion for the weakest in society has become one of the standards by which national governments of all parties have been judged by the people, rather than, for example, how much they spend on defense. Any government that even hints of limiting availability to publicly funded healthcare would soon find itself out of power. This may be seen as Socialism by Americans, but most in the UK wouldn’t have it any other way.

  • Margaret

    As an Australian i guess i have always taken our healthcare, education, and penal system for granted. I certainly have never thought about them in terms of “democratic socialsim”. I just assumed the US had got it wrong. Makes me realise for most of us, Australia truly is the “Lucky Country”. What can I do to help our refugees and Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders? Whatever it is, I’m on board!

  • Dixie

    As a US citizen, I enviously look at countries like the UK and Australia for providing needs (healthcare, education, retirement) for their citizens without the judgement of the populace at large. A childhood with no influence of guns? Simply amazing. I wish, fervently, that such a system would work here. Here’s my question, though. If the US spent less of its ridiculous budget on defense…how would that affect the rest of the world? As in, if we decided that we want to cut it down to some tiny percentage so we could reallocate those resources to the healthcare and education of US citizens, what happens when there’s some conflict or tragedy? It seems that the knee-jerk reaction of the world at large is to call in the US military to come help out. (I don’t deny that the US government is quick to ‘pre-emptively’ take action…that’s not something I agree with and would be a discussion for a different blog) but I think you see what I mean. Is there a possibility that other countries’ ability to provide these basic human needs for it’s people is, at least in part, because they don’t have to ‘police the world’ the way the US seems to?

  • bluecenterlight

    I see in our times, a paralysis in the
    church. A paralysis that echos the paralysis in Washington. I see
    those that want the civil authority to be arbiters of justice to the
    poor and marginalized, as a way of releasing their own
    responsibility. I see those who cry out, it is the churches
    responsibility to care for the poor, not the government, and yet they
    dedicate very little of their own time and resources to that purpose.
    On this day we set aside to celebrate MLK’s legacy, I think it is
    important to define what his legacy means to the church. I believe it
    can be defined in three words, “ I’m not asking”. I’m not asking
    corrupt, ivy league politicians to live out my Christianity for me.
    I’m not asking for others to make the church what it “should” be.
    I’m not asking for others to provide a “safety net” when God has
    commanded me to be such a net. I’m not asking for others to care
    about justice, when I prioritize my own comfort. We come from a
    church who, when confronted with the living Christ, pushed all their
    chips in. As a result God, through them, shook the world. We have
    lost faith in a world shaking God, and as a result we hedge our bets.
    When I was is bible college, a
    teacher broke this concept down with simple math. 0 times 1 is 0. 0
    times a million is still 0. But what is 1 times God? The eyes of the
    Lord search the earth looking for that someone. MLK is an example of
    a man who went all in for Jesus. We are without excuse.

    Ephesians 3:20
    Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or
    imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,

  • jim

    I must say that the follow are not my words, but they are appropriate for the time.

    Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of Roe v Wade.

    Both draw attention to the issue of sanctity of life and our nations struggle to carry out its most fundamental principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    The cause of the struggle is our own sinfulness. We judge some people to be superior to others. We judge the rights of some to be more important than others. No law will fix this. We need grace.

    In the days of Christ, Jews and Gentiles did not treat each other as equal. Both groups claimed superiority. This was brought out once Cornelius and his household were saved. Certainly, a Gentile would not be given the same salvation the Jew received? That was the question on the table at the council of Jerusalem.

    After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:7-11 NIV)

    God does not discriminate. Everyone is of equal value to Him and He extends His grace to all. That changed Peter. And it can change us.

  • Paul Nuechterlein

    Great essay! One suggestion: perhaps better than using the loaded term “socialism” we could strike up the theme of the “common good.”

  • THX1138

    Hey Jarrod, isn’t the hero character in Les Miserables an individual guy changed by grace who becomes a successful capitalist and loves others through his business?

    Also Australia is also a low taxing, fairly business-friendly place. What if that has something to do with our success?

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