So, a friend just shared with me this exchange he saw on Twitter:

Franklin Graham tweeted:

“Christians should be aware of candidates who call themselves progressives. Progressive is generally just a code word for someone who leans toward socialism, who does not believe in God, & who will likely vote against Godly principles that are so important to our nation.”

In response, a Jesuit named James Martin responded:

“Christians should be aware of candidates who call themselves progressives. Progressive is more often a way of describing someone who favors a more just world, where the poor are helped, as Jesus asked us to do; and where those on the margins are given special care, as Jesus did."

How did we get to such a sad state of affairs? How did we arrive at such a divided understanding? Is there any repair in this breach?

A good place to begin to explore these questions might be by asking why socialism has become the ultimate evil. Socialism or, more precisely, “European-styled socialism” is the great bogeyman for conservative commentators.

To be sure, if defending economic capitalism and liberal democracy, as defined by the great American experiment in politics is your priority, then perhaps you can make socialism the enemy. But Mr. Graham does not claim to be a political commentator or an economist, so his blanket condemnation concerns me. (Blanket condemnations, broad-brush stereotypes of any kind are seldom correct, and even less often appropriate.)

Why has a particular form of government, whose philosophical framework actually aims to provide equality to all citizens, become the focus of vitriolic demonization by a man leading one of the world’s largest, global evangelical enterprises? It seems that a particular political perspective became more central than any theological conviction.

Mr. Graham implies that we could not be Christian if the US became a socialist country. So, what does he think of the millions of Christians around the world living under socialist governments? Are they not truly Christian because they do not practice democracy? What would he think of my friend, the pastor in Cuba? Several years ago I asked the young Cuban if he thought there would be a revolution when Fidel Castro died. “Will there be a revolt, a demand for capitalism and democracy?” I asked.  “No,” the pastor said quickly. “We do not need democracy. Socialism is a fine system – though we do need for it to be implemented more justly.”

Christianity and socialism co-exist quite peacefully in many countries around the world. So why does Mr. Graham equate socialists with atheists and their Godless values – and with progressive candidates?  Since well over 90% of all our elected officials claim to be Christians, most of these progressive politicians are also Christian.

Maybe this leader in global evangelism has honestly, sadly, never met any Christians who are socialists. He has apparently never met any, like myself, who are progressive.

But maybe the issue is actually simpler than that. Maybe Mr. Graham’s priorities are actually more political than they are theological.


Photo by Ben White