Support for socialism is on the rise in the United States, due in part to prominent politicians such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York.
Religious groups have responded to this trend in a variety of ways. Some claim this controversial economic system violates religious teachings, while others view socialist policies as a potential balm to people in need.
Although most people of faith feel called to address inequality, they disagree on the role the government should play in the process.
Religious socialists typically favor expanding government programs, such as Medicare, in order to strengthen the social safety net. Religious opponents of socialism, on the other hand, are more likely to argue that people flourish when there’s less government interference.
This edition of ReligionLink expands on this basic overview, highlighting resources that will help you explore growing support for socialism through a religious lens.
- Read “Stark partisan divisions in Americans’ views of ‘socialism,’ ‘capitalism’” from Pew Research Center on June 25, 2019.
- Read “Four in 10 Americans embrace some form of socialism” from Gallup on May 20, 2019.
- Read “Socialism vs. Capitalism?” from Monmouth University Polling Institute on May 6, 2019.
- Read “Exclusive poll: Young Americans are embracing socialism” from Axios on March 10, 2019.
- Explore findings from Harvard Institute of Politics’ spring 2016 poll of young people, which found that a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds reject both socialism and capitalism.
- Watch the “Religion, Socialism and Economic Justice” panel from the Religion News Association’s 2019 annual conference.
- Watch Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, discuss socialism in a video posted to his YouTube channel on June 18, 2019.
- Listen to “Dr. Anne Bradley on Income Inequality” from the “Faith & Economics” podcast on May 20, 2019.
- Read “Socialism as substitute community” from National Review on May 16, 2019.
- Listen to “Democratic Socialism and AOC” from the “Faith & Economics” podcast March 18, 2019.
- Read “The spiritual case for socialism” from The New Republic on Feb. 19, 2019.
- Listen to “Rabbi Michael Feinberg on multi-faith labor organizing and what he learned from the Catholic left” from the “Religion and Socialism” podcast on Nov. 6, 2018.
- Read “Why a Southern church is hosting socialist meetings” from Sojourners on April 22, 2018.
- Listen to “Christians for Socialism Pt. 2” from “The Magnificast” podcast on Nov. 16, 2017.
- Read “Americans may be too religious to embrace socialism” from FiveThirtyEight on March 10, 2016.
- Read “The (religious) problem with socialism” from the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission on Jan. 18, 2016.
Matt Bernico is an assistant professor of communication and media studies at Greenville University in Greenville, Illinois. He co-hosts “The Magnificast,” a podcast on Christianity and leftist politics.
Elizabeth Bruenig is an opinion columnist for The Washington Post, writing most often on politics, religion and morality. She is Catholic and has written about her support for socialism.
Timothy P. Carney is an author, researcher and political commentator. His most recent book, Alienated America: Why Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse, is about societal change and loneliness. Carney has argued that people turn to socialism in the absence of other sources of community, like religion.
Heath W. Carter is an associate professor of American Christianity at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of Union Made: Working People and the Rise of Social Christianity in Chicago.
Vaneesa Cook is a history lecturer at the University of Wisconsin. She is the author of Spiritual Socialists: Religion and the American Left.
Paul Djupe is a political scientist at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where he specializes in religion and politics. He edits the Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics series and has written about people of faith’s voting patterns, the religious right and faith-based opposition to socialism.
Janine Giordano Drake is a research fellow at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University. She is currently working on a book about Christian socialism.
Rabbi Michael Feinberg is an ordained Reconstructionist rabbi and identifies as a democratic socialist. He has described providing sanctuary for immigrants as an act of “radical hospitality,” in line with the religious principle of welcoming the stranger. He is a veteran of successful living wage campaigns, and a longtime active member of the Religious Socialism Working Group of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). He is the former executive director of the Greater New York Labor-Religion Coalition.
Martin Hägglund is a professor of comparative literature and humanities at Yale University. In his most recent book, This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom, he challenges modern commitment to organized religion and capitalism and makes a case for a form of democratic socialism.
The Rev. Art Lindsley is vice president of theological initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics. He researches religious teachings on economic systems, including Bible passages used to justify socialism, and was co-editor of Counting the Cost: Christian Perspectives on Capitalism and For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty.
Russ McCullough is professor of economics at Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas. He co-hosts the “Faith & Economics” podcast, which explores Christian teachings on economic issues.
Sarah Ngu is the host of the “Religious Socialism” podcast, a project of the Democratic Socialists of America’s Religion and Socialism working group. She’s also co-founder of Church Clarity, which aims to reduce confusion tied to churches’ teachings on women and members of the LGBTQ community.
Edd Noell is a professor of economics and business at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, where he specializes in the history of economic thought and the relationship between Christianity and economics. He is president of the Association of Christian Economists.
Maria Svart is national director of Democratic Socialists of America, a national political organization. DSA members who cite spirituality as a source of their political views have the opportunity to join a religion and socialism working group.
The Rev. Liz Theoharis directs the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary and serves as co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, which aims to bring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s lessons on morality and justice to bear on modern life. She is ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and has written two books on poverty and moral organizing.
John Thornton is co-pastor of Jubilee Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He identifies as a democratic socialist and has written about socialism, children and suffering for a variety of publications.
Dean Dettloff is a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, where he researches and teaches courses on Christianity, capitalism and Marxism. He co-hosts “The Magnificast,” a podcast on Christianity and leftist politics, and has written about religiously motivated socialism.
Gerard Madden is an Irish historian who specializes in the Catholic Church’s efforts to stamp out socialism and communism in Ireland during the 20th century.
Julian Strube is a postdoctoral research fellow on religion and politics at Heidelberg University in Germany. His dissertation was on socialism and Catholicism, and he’s since argued that socialist beliefs are a source of modern religious practice.