Grand Rapids Press

ETHICS & RELIGION TALK

Does communism have a connection with Christianity?

Rabbi David Krishef ethicsandreligiontalk@gmail.com

Tanner S writes, “I’ve always been fascinated by the parallels between the teachings of Jesus Christ and communism. The allegory of the good Samaritan, loaves and fishes, and the beating of bankers comes to mind, as do the frequent tirades against the rich and powerful. Do you see parallels between Jesus’ message and communism?”

The Rev. Michael Nasser, who writes from an Eastern Christian perspective and is pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Christian Church, responds: “Christ taught commandments for personal choices, while communism is a governmental system. While one can make the case that in an idealized communism there are some Christian similarities, the historical reality would tell us quite a different story. More martyrs went to their glory enduring horrible deaths under communism than under the Roman persecution, Muslim extremism and all other forms of persecution against Christians combined.

“Today’s debate between the left and right in our country and beyond is often posed as concern for the needy vs. their neglect, and therefore an ethical debate. But since the questions being posed are specifically what should the government do, not individuals, groups or private agencies, these are political discussions, not ethical ones.”

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds: “There are certainly some parallels between the teachings of Jesus and those of communism, but the axle which holds them together is radically different. Communism encourages people to riot against the oppression of the rich and all governmental structures, in favor of a government that owns the means of production and natural resources. Jesus encourages people to riot against the oppression of sin and all forms of evil, in favor of a kingdom that promotes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness. Communism is about using force and intimidation to gain equality. Jesus’ kingdom is about love and sacrifice — for God and for our neighbor — and he promotes a kingdom where equality is the natural result of putting other people’s interests above ours. And, since we only have 80 or 90 years to learn to do that, let us pray as the Psalmist did: ‘So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.’ (Psalm 90:12)”

The Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds: “I see only total opposition between Jesus’ message and international communism, in starting point, norms upheld, values cherished, methods of operation and the aim to be achieved. Any similarities are incidental and quite unintended.

“Christ’s starting point is the God of Israel: ‘I am the LORD thy God’ (Exodus 20:2); ‘Of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things’ (Romans 11:36). This God is despised by communism, religion is rejected as ‘the opiate of the masses.’ Christ engaged in ‘beating of bankers,’ not to smash the forces of capitalism, but to purge God’s temple of corruption that dishonored God’s name.

“Christ’s norms and values are revealed in God’s law, and expounded by the prophets. The norms and values of communism are determined by arbitrary dictates of fallible economic theorists, violent political operatives and evil men who lust for power over others.

“Christ’s methods are spiritual, peaceful and life-affirming. The gospel is to be preached, sinners called to repentance and believers called to a life of love and service. International communism relies on subversion and coercion, raining death on its foes, expropriating (stealing) all property in the name of the people, who are made wards and pawns of the state. Born in violence and bloodshed, communism persists only by oppression, persecution and periodic purges in which millions have perished.

“Christ aims to save his people from their sins, establish God’s kingdom in the earth, and bring his people to eternal life and rest. Communism aims to perpetuate the hold of the Communist Party on power, at all costs. There may be bread and vodka, but no forgiveness of sins, no life with God on Earth, and no entrance into everlasting joy.”

The Rev. Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as adjutant judicial vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds: “The answer to this question depends on one’s definition of ‘communism.’ As a simple philosophical system, ‘communism is a government and economic system where everyone is supposed to share the wealth that they create.’ However, the political definition of communism is ‘derived from Karl Marx, advocating class war and leading to a society in which all property is publicly owned, and each person works and is paid according to their abilities and needs’ (Google dictionary).

“The former definition is parallel to the message of Jesus. In fact, there are individuals in the Catholic Church who are vowed religious. These individuals profess a vow of poverty, in addition to obedience and chastity, and everything is owned in common, and therefore live the former definition above. The latter definition is the antithesis of Jesus’ message of loving God with your whole mind, heart, soul and strength and then loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.”