A Socialist goes to a conservative Christian college to make a speech. Sounds like the setup for a joke, doesn’t it? But in the 2016 presidential campaign, the most free-wheeling, anything-goes stump season of any in recent memory, we shouldn’t be the least bit surprised that it actually happened.
Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, who calls himself a socialist and is running for president as a Democrat, spoke at Liberty University (yep, that Liberty, the one founded by Jerry Falwell) on September 14. He received a warm welcome from the faculty, students, and visitors there, a far cry from the reception a conservative gets on a left-leaning campus.
I read the transcript of Sanders’ speech, and it’s actually not as terrible as one might think. He said some really good things; the problem, of course, lies in the remedy Sanders favors as opposed to how the majority of the student body at Liberty thinks.
I admire Sanders for his courage. He admits that:
…it is easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you. I was in Greensboro, North Carolina, just last night. All right. We had 9,000 people out. Mostly they agreed with me. Tonight, we’re going to be in Manassas, and have thousands out and they agree with me. That’s not hard to do. That’s what politicians by and large do.
We go out and we talk to people who agree with us.
But it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.
And it is important to see where if possible, and I do believe it is possible, we can find common ground.
Can you imagine Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama going out and speaking at a place like Liberty? Heck, can you imagine Donald Trump speaking somewhere where there might be a danger of the majority of the audience disagreeing with him?
Sanders said some wonderful things in his speech, including lines that garnered applause. He lamented the fact that too few Americans are taking care of the poor and destitute. Some of his words even echo the calls that pastors are making to their congregations to help what Jesus called “the least of these” in Matthew 25.
The glaring problem with Sanders’ remarks is that, for a speech intended for an audience at a conservative Christian school, the senator’s words sorely lacked actual scripture. He cited two verses. The first was Matthew 7:12, commonly known as The Golden Rule:
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
And the other was Amos 5:24:
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
I think that Sanders’ skimping on scripture reveals a fundamental disconnect between his brand of left-wing social justice and the way conservative Christians and Jews regard the concept of justice. Here’s an excerpt from the speech:
…there are millions of people in our country, let alone the rest of the world, who are struggling to feed their families. They are struggling to put a roof over their heads, and some of them are sleeping out on the streets. They are struggling to find money in order to go to a doctor when they are sick.
Sobering thoughts, aren’t they? And most any sentient person would agree that the plight of the poor and indigent in this country demands action. But the difference lies in how Bernie Sanders plans to remedy this phenomenon and how the God of the Bible commands His followers to care for the less fortunate.
Sanders outlines his plans to deal with “income and wealth inequality” on his website. The 13 points would stagger your imagination, but here are a few of the points:
1. Demanding that the wealthy and large corporations pay their fair share in taxes. As president, Sen. Sanders will stop corporations from shifting their profits and jobs overseas to avoid paying U.S. income taxes. He will create a progressive estate tax on the top 0.3 percent of Americans who inherit more than $3.5 million. He will also enact a tax on Wall Street speculators who caused millions of Americans to lose their jobs, homes, and life savings.
2. Increasing the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020. In the year 2015, no one who works 40 hours a week should be living in poverty.
3. Putting at least 13 million Americans to work by investing $1 trillion over five years rebuilding our crumbling roads, bridges, railways, airports, public transit systems, ports, dams, wastewater plants, and other infrastructure needs.
9. Guaranteeing healthcare as a right of citizenship by enacting a Medicare for all single-payer healthcare system. It’s time for the U.S. to join every major industrialized country on earth and provide universal healthcare to all.
10. Requiring employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave; two weeks of paid vacation; and 7 days of paid sick days. Real family values are about making sure that parents have the time they need to bond with their babies and take care of their children and relatives when they get ill.
11. Enacting a universal childcare and prekindergarten program. Every psychologist understands that the most formative years for a human being is from the ages 0-4. We have got to make sure every family in America has the opportunity to send their kids to a high quality childcare and pre-K program.
The Bernie Sanders plan for helping the poor consists of punitive taxation, byzantine regulation, and burdensome government programs. This is a markedly different method of caring for the poor compared to what we see in the Bible.
In the Torah, the Old Testament law, God commands His chosen people, the Israelites:
“Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan.” Exodus 22:22
“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” Leviticus 19:15
“If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother.” Deuteronomy 15:7
“When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.” Deuteronomy 24:19-21
The psalmist Asaph reiterates God’s commands:
“Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 82:3-4
God’s commands are not to enact government programs to take care of the poor and destitute; rather, He commands His people to take care of each other and enact justice as individuals and families and bodies of believers acting on their own obedience to Him.
In the New Testament, Jesus reminds His followers of the importance of helping those in need:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world .35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:31-40
Jesus’ reward does not go to faithful governments, but to faithful believers. Consider the early church as they took care of each others’ needs after Jesus ascended into heaven:
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Acts 4:32-35
Again, this isn’t a communal system. The early church didn’t lobby Rome for higher taxes to help the needy; they acted out of their own love for each other and out of their obedience to God.
This may come as a shock to Bernie Sanders, but the God of the Bible is not a Socialist. He commands us to take care of the poor, but His commands don’t apply to governments–they belong to individuals, families, churches, and synagogues. We are to help those who need help out of the overflow of our love for God and for each other, not because a tax code or government entity forces us to do so.
The apostle John tells us in 1 John 5:3 that “this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” Caring for others as a result of God’s love does not burden us, but programs like the ones Bernie Sanders proposes burden everyone. And that’s the disconnect between the truth of Biblical justice and the modern Left’s vision of social justice. Sadly, Bernie Sanders and his ilk will likely never understand.