Last updated on 5 November 2017
The term Christian left refers to a spectrum of left-wing Christian political and social movements that largely embrace viewpoints described as social justice and uphold a social gospel. Given the inherent diversity in international political thought, the term can have different meanings and applications in different countries. Although there is some overlap, the Christian Left is distinct from liberal Christianity, meaning not all Christian Leftists are Liberal Christians, and vice versa. Some Christian Leftists also have socially conservative views on some social issues, while left-leaning on some economic issues.
As with any section within the left and right wings of a political spectrum, a label such as "Christian left" represents an approximation, including within it groups and persons holding many diverse viewpoints. The term left-wing might encompass a number of values, some of which may or may not be held by different Christian movements and individuals.
As the unofficial title of a loose association of believers, it does provide a clear distinction from the more commonly known "Christian right" or "religious right" and from its key leaders and political views.
The most common religious viewpoint that might be described as "left-wing" is social justice, or care for impoverished and oppressed groups. Supporters of this trend might encourage universal health care, welfare provisions, subsidized education, foreign aid, and affirmative action for improving the conditions of the disadvantaged. With values stemming from egalitarianism, adherents of the Christian left consider it part of their religious duty to take actions on behalf of the oppressed. As nearly all major religions contain some kind of requirement to help others, various religions have cited social justice as a movement in line with their faith.
The Christian Left holds that social justice, renunciation of power, humility, forgiveness, and private observation of prayer (as opposed to publicly mandated prayer), are mandated by the Gospel (Matthew 6:5-6). The Bible contains accounts of Jesus repeatedly advocating for the poor and outcast over the wealthy, powerful, and religious. The Christian Left maintains that such a stance is relevant and important. Adhering to the standard of "turning the other cheek", which they believe supersedes the Old Testament law of "an eye for an eye", the Christian Left often hearkens towards pacifism in opposition to policies advancing militarism.
Some among the Christian Left, as well as some non-religious socialists, find support for socialism in the Gospels (for example Mikhail Gorbachev citing Jesus as "the first socialist"). The Christian Left is a broad category that includes Christian socialism, while also including non-socialists as well.
For much of the early history of anti-establishment leftist movements such as socialism and communism (which was highly anti-clerical in the 19th century), some established churches were led by clergy who saw revolution as a threat to their status and power. The church was sometimes seen as part of the establishment. Revolutions in America, France, Russia and (much later) Spain were in part directed against the established churches (or rather their leading clergy) and instituted a separation of church and state.
However, in the 19th century, some writers and activists developed a school of thought, Christian socialism, a branch of Christian thought that was infused with socialism.
Early socialist thinkers such as Robert Owen, Henri de Saint-Simon based their theories of socialism upon Christian principles. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels reacted against these theories by formulating a secular theory of socialism in The Communist Manifesto.
Alliance of the left and Christianity
Starting in the late 19th century and early 20th century, some began to take on the view that genuine Christianity had much in common with a Leftist perspective. From St. Augustine of Hippo's City of God through St. Thomas More's Utopia major Christian writers had expounded upon views that socialists found agreeable. Of major interest was the extremely strong thread of egalitarianism in the New Testament. Other common leftist concerns such as pacifism, social justice, racial equality, human rights, and the rejection of excessive wealth are also expressed strongly in the Bible. In the late 19th century, the Social Gospel movement arose (particularly among some Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Baptists in North America and Britain,) which attempted to integrate progressive and socialist thought with Christianity to produce a faith-based social activism, promoted by movements such as Christian Socialism. In the United States during this period, Episcopalians and Congregationalists generally tended to be the most liberal, both in theological interpretation and in their adherence to the Social Gospel. In Canada, a coalition of liberal Congregationalists, Methodists, and Presbyterians founded the United Church of Canada, one of the first true Christian left denominations. Later, in the 20th century, liberation theology was championed by such writers as Gustavo Gutierrez and Matthew Fox.
Christians and Workers
To a significant degree, the Christian Left developed out of the experiences of clergy who went to do pastoral work among the working class, often beginning without any social philosophy but simply a pastoral and evangelistic concern for workers. This was particularly true among the Methodists and Anglo-Catholics in England, Father Adolph Kolping in Germany and Joseph Cardijn in Belgium.
Christian left and campaigns for peace and human rights
Some Christian groups were closely associated with the peace movements against the Vietnam War as well as the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. Religious leaders in many countries have also been on the forefront of criticizing any cuts to social welfare programs. In addition, many prominent civil rights activists (such as Martin Luther King, Jr.) were religious figures.
In the United States
In the United States, members of the Christian Left come from a spectrum of denominations: Peace churches, elements of the Protestant mainline churches, Catholicism, and some evangelicals.
The Christian Left does not seem to be so well-organized or publicized as its right-wing counterpart.
Opponents contend that it is actually more numerous but composed predominantly of persons less willing to voice political views in as forceful a manner as the Christian Right, possibly because of the aggressiveness of the Christian Right. Further, supporters contend that the Christian Left has had relatively little success securing widespread corporate, political, and major media patronage compared to the Right. In the aftermath of the 2004 election in the United States, Progressive Christian leaders started to form groups of their own to combat the Religious Right – such groups include The Center for Progressive Christianity (founded 1996) and the Christian Alliance For Progress.
Members of the Christian Left who work on interfaith issues participate in building the Progressive Reconstructionist movement.
Approach to issues such as homosexuality
The Christian left sometimes approaches issues such as homosexuality differently from other Christian political groups. This approach can be driven by focusing on issues differently despite holding similar religious views, or by holding different religious ideas. Those in the Christian Left who have similar ideas as other Christian political groups but a different focus may view Christian teachings on certain issues, such as the Bible's prohibitions against killing or criticisms of concentrations of wealth, as far more politically important than Christian teachings on social issues emphasized by the religious right, such as opposition to homosexuality. Others in the Christian Left have not only a different focus on issues from other Christian political groups, but different religious ideas as well.
For example, all members of the Christian Left consider discrimination and bigotry against homosexuals to be immoral, but they differ on their views towards homosexual sex. Some believe homosexual sex to be immoral but largely unimportant when compared with issues relating to social justice, or even matters of sexual morality involving heterosexual sex. Others affirm that some homosexual practices are compatible with the Christian life. Such members believe common biblical arguments used to condemn homosexuality are misinterpreted, and that biblical prohibitions of homosexual practices are actually against a specific type of homosexual sex act: pederasty, the sodomizing of young boys by older men. Thus, they hold biblical prohibitions to be irrelevant when considering modern same-sex relationships.
The Consistent Life Ethic
A related strain of thought is the (Catholic and progressive evangelical) Consistent Life Ethic, which sees opposition to capital punishment, militarism, euthanasia, abortion and the global unequal distribution of wealth as being related. It is an idea with certain concepts shared by Abrahamic religions as well as Buddhists, Hindus, and members of other religions. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago developed the idea for the consistent life ethic in 1983. Currently, Sojourners is particularly associated with this strand of thought. Adherents commonly criticize politicians who identify as pro-life while simultaneously oppose funding for pre-natal vitamins, child nutrition programs, or universal health care.
Jim Wallis believes that one of the biggest problems that faces the left is to reach out to evangelical and Catholic religious voters. (Note however that Jim Wallis denies that his Sojourners organization belongs to either the right or left.) Catholics for a Free Choice has responded that these progressive evangelical and Catholic pro-life people have difficulties dealing with the implications of feminist theology and ethics for Christian faith.
Liberation theology is a theological tradition that emerged in the developing world, especially Latin America. Since the 1960s, Catholic thinkers have integrated left-wing thought and Catholicism, giving rise to Liberation Theology. It arose at a time when Catholic thinkers who opposed the despotic leaders in South and Central America allied themselves with the communist opposition. However, it developed independently of and roughly simultaneously with Black theology in the US and should not be confused with it. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decided that, while liberation theology is partially compatible with Catholic social teaching, certain Marxist elements of it, such as the doctrine of perpetual class struggle, are against Church teachings.
Notable Christian leftists
- Frank Brennan, Jesuit and advocate for Australia's indigenous peoples
- Ben Chifley, former Prime Minister of Australia
- Tim Costello, former Baptist pastor and CEO of World Vision Australia
- Jock Garden, founder of the Communist Party of Australia
- Brian Howe, AM, Australian politician, Deputy Prime Minister in the Labor government of Paul Keating from 1991 to 1995
- Ciaron O'Reilly, Catholic worker, Christian anarchist
- Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia
- Paulo Evaristo Arns, Roman Catholic Archbishop of São Paulo and Cardinal
- Frei Betto, writer, political activist, liberation theologist and Dominican friar
- Leonardo Boff, academic and social activist
- Dom Hélder Câmara, Roman Catholic archbishop
- Sister Maurina, Roman Catholic nun who was tortured during the military dictatorship
- Sister Dorothy Stang, Roman Catholic nun murdered for helping the landless and poor
- Frei Tito, Roman Catholic friar who was tortured during the military dictatorship
- Richard Allen, politician and historian of Christian socialism
- Charlie Angus, writer and politician
- Bill Blaikie, United Church minister and politician
- Andrew Brewin, politician and author
- Lorne Calvert, United Church minister, politician, former premier of Saskatchewan, and president of theological seminary
- Bruce Cockburn, singer and songwriter
- Cheri DiNovo, minister and politician
- Tommy Douglas, voted the "Greatest Canadian"; leader of the first avowedly socialist government in North America in Saskatchewan; introduced universal medicare; former Baptist minister
- Brent Hawkes, minister and LGBT rights activist
- Stanley Knowles, United Church minister and politician
- Jack Layton, former Leader of the Official Opposition, former leader of the NDP
- James Loney, peace activist
- Desmond McGrath, priest, labour union organizer and activist
- Bill Phipps, church leader and activist
- Frank Scott, poet and constitutional expert
- Bill Siksay, politician, former theological student, partner of a minister
- William Horace Temple, politician, and trade union activist
- J. S. Woodsworth, minister and politician.
- Christoph Blumhardt, Lutheran theologian
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer,Lutheran theologian,minister involved resistance to Nazi Germany
- Alfred Delp, Jesuit involved in resistance to Nazi Germany
- Eugen Drewermann
- Ulrich Duchrow, theologian, global justice movement theoreticist
- Rudi Dutschke, student protest leader
- Emil Fuchs, Quaker theologian
- Helmut Gollwitzer, Lutheran theologian
- Nikolaus Gross anti-Nazi labor leader
- Adolph Kolping Catholic labor advocate
- Johann Baptist Metz, Catholic theologian
- Thomas Müntzer
- Uta Ranke-Heinemann
- Johannes Rau, President of Germany
- Hans Scholl, youth leader, student involved resistance to Nazi Germany
- Sophie Scholl, student involved resistance to Nazi Germany
- Oskar Schindler,German Businessman rescuing millions of Jews from Holocaust Anti-Nazi involved resistance to Nazi Germany
- Dorothee Sölle, Lutheran theologian
- Beniamino Andreatta, economist and former Minister of Treasury, of Foreign Affairs and of Defense
- Rosy Bindi, former President of the Democratic Party
- Pierre Carniti, trade union leader and co-founder of Social Christians
- Danilo Dolci
- Ermanno Gorrieri, trade union activist, economist and co-founder of Social Christians
- Rosa Russo Iervolino, politician, former Minister of the Interior, Mayor of Naples
- Boris Pahor, writer, prominent public figure of the Slovene minority in Italy
- Pietro Scoppola, historian and politician
- Allan Boesak
- Dennis Hurley, former Catholic Archbishop of Durban, anti-Apartheid activist and advocate for reform within the Catholic Church
- Beyers Naude, anti-Apartheid Dutch Reformed minister
- Alan Paton, author, politician and anti-Apartheid activist
- Desmond Tutu, former Anglican Archbishop of South Africa
- Walt Brown, ex-Oregon state senator, Socialist Party USA
- William Jennings Bryan, three time presidential nominee
- Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States
- Bob Casey, Jr., current U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania
- Robert Casey, former Pennsylvania governor
- Nick Clooney, Roman Catholic activist and Congressional candidate
- Eugene V. Debs, co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World and Socialist Party of America candidate for President
- Peter DeFazio, U.S. Congressman from Oregon's 4th district
- Robert Drinan, Congressman and Roman Catholic Jesuit priest
- Diane Drufenbrock, nun, Socialist Party USA
- Frank Ford, farmer
- Dick Gephardt, former Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate
- Thomas J. Hagerty, founding member of the Industrial Workers of the World
- Ammon Hennacy, "Wobbly" (Industrial Workers of the World member)
- Hubert Humphrey, former Vice President of the United States
- Jesse Jackson, politician and Civil rights movement leader
- Dennis Kucinich, former Congressman and past Presidential candidate
- John Lewis, U.S. Congressman and civil rights leader
- Eugene McCarthy, former Senator from Minnesota and presidential candidate
- Walter Mondale, former Vice President of the United States
- Brian P. Moore, Socialist Party
- Tim Ryan, U.S. Congressman
- Norman Thomas, Socialist Party of America presidential candidate
- Frank P. Zeidler, ex-Mayor of Milwaukee, Socialist Party USA
Leaders and/or activists (civil)
- Jay Bakker, pastor of Revolution Church
- Joseph Bernardin, Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago
- Father Daniel Berrigan, Catholic priest (Jesuit) and peace activist
- Philip Berrigan, former Catholic priest (Josephite) and activist
- Kim Bobo, founder, Interfaith Worker Justice
- Leonardo Boff, liberation theology activist 
- Father Roy Bourgeois, Catholic priest and peace activist
- Peter Boyle, actor, studied to be a De La Salle brother
- Everett Francis Briggs, POW and labour activist
- Tony Campolo, Baptist evangelist and sociologist
- César Chávez, Mexican American labour and social activist
- Sr. Joan Chittister, Catholic nun and feminist theologian
- Forrester Church, Unitarian Universalist minister, author
- Shane Claiborne, Christian activist and author who is a leading figure in the New Monasticism movement
- William Sloane Coffin, Jr., UCC minister and peace activist
- Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report and Sunday school teacher
- John Cort, writer, editor for Commonweal, Peacework, Religious Socialism
- Jerome Davis, labour organizer and sociologist
- Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker Movement co-founder, "Wobbly" (Industrial Workers of the World member)
- Father John Dear, Catholic priest and peace activist
- Rev. Robert Drinan, former U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts
- Jane Fonda, actress and activist
- James A. Forbes, minister at Riverside Church
- Rev. George Foreman
- Laura Jane Grace, Anarcho-Catholic and punk rock icon
- Jeannine Gramick, Roman Catholic nun and founder of New Ways Ministry
- Rosey Grier
- Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Roman Catholic Bishop of Detroit and social activist
- Charles Kekumano, activist Hawaiian priest
- Helen Keller
- Angelo Liteky, former priest, soldier, activist
- Ava Lowery, peace activist
- Rev. Joseph Lowery, civil rights Leader
- Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State
- Pauli Murray, first female Episcopal priest and co-founder of the National Organization for Women
- Mike Papantonio
- Rev Richard Penniman, aka Little Richard
- Father Michael Pfleger, Catholic priest, social activist, pastor of Saint Sabina church
- Georges Pire, "Peace University" and Nobel Peace Prize for work with refugees 
- Sister Helen Prejean, anti-death penalty activist; author of Dead Man Walking, adapted for the film of the same title
- Monsignor Charles Owen Rice, Catholic priest, labour leader, and civil rights activist
- Brandan Robertson, LGBT rights activist and Pastor of Mission Gathering, Seattle.
- Fred Rogers
- Frank Schaeffer
- Katharine Jefferts Schori, former presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
- Cindy Sheehan, peace activist
- Martin Sheen, Roman Catholic activist/actor
- Ron Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action
- Mitch Snyder, convert, advocate for the homeless
- Charles Toy, online and social media activist
- Carmen Trotta, Roman Catholic pacifist
- Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners Magazine
- Barry Welsh, Congressional candidate and minister (United Methodist Church)
- Ellen G. White,Co-founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church writer and vegetarian.
- Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ
- Rev. Lennox Yearwood, veteran and anti-Iraq war activist
- Peter Agre, awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry
- Miguel A. De La Torre, scholar-activist and author of numerous books on Hispanic religiosity
- David Ray Griffin, theology professor and 9/11 Truth author
- Chris Hedges
- Anne Lamott, author
- Peter Maurin, Catholic Worker co-founder
- Brian McLaren, Emerging Church Leader
- Charles Clayton Morrison
- Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Church
- Walter Rauschenbusch, social gospel thinker
- Anthony Paul Kennedy Shriver, son of Sargent Shriver, member of the Kennedy family, holds a degree in theology
- Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics
- John Shelby Spong, retired bishop and liberal political activist
- Paul Tillich
- Kathleen Kennedy Townshend
- Randall Wallace, Academy Award nominee, holds a degree in theology
- Cornel West, theologian, academic, activist
- Jim Winkler, leading member of the United Methodist Church
- Art Alexakis, leader of rock band Everclear, has referred to himself as a left-wing Christian
- Ray Boltz
- Johnny Cash, singer/songwriter, has promoted Christianity in a number of songs and public appearances
- John Fugelsang, comedian
- Dan Haseltine, singer-songwriter
- Dwight Howard, Atlanta Hawks basketball player
- Val Kilmer, has done promotional videos for his denomination
- Lecrae, Christian rapper
- Pete Maravich, Hall of Fame basketball player
- Barry McGuire, singer-songwriter
- Michael Moore, documentary filmmaker
- Alonzo Mourning, Hall of Fame basketball player
- Bill Moyers, journalist and public commentator
- Larry Norman, Christian rock singer-songwriter, advocate of the Jesus Movement
- Pauley Perrette, actress and LGBT rights advocate
- Ed Shultz, television and radio host
The medieval Lollards, particularly John Ball, took up many anti-establishment causes. During the English Civil War many of the more radical Parliamentarians, such as John Lilburne and the Levellers, based their belief in universal suffrage and proto-socialism on their reading of the Bible. Other people on the Christian left include:
- Martin Bashir, journalist
- Hilaire Belloc, Anglo-French writer and historian
- Tony Benn, former Labour MP
- William Blake, poet, painter, Christian mystic
- Chris Bryant, Labour MP and former priest
- David Cairns, Labour MP and former priest
- George B. Chambers, writer and Anglican priest
- Charles Dickens, writer
- Terry Eagleton, Marxist literary theorist and critic, Catholic.
- Gwynfor Evans
- William Everard
- David Ford, leader of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland
- George Fox, Quaker
- Giles Fraser, Anglican priest and writer
- Dave Gahan, lead vocalist of Depeche Mode
- William Ewart Gladstone, Prime Minister
- Charles Gore, Anglo-Catholic
- Keir Hardie
- Stewart Headlam, Anglo-Catholic
- Christopher Isham, scientist
- Hewlett Johnson
- Kenneth Leech, Anglo-Catholic theologian
- John Lewis, philosopher
- Frederick Denison Maurice
- Florence Nightingale
- Conrad Noel, Anglo-Catholic
- Maurice Reckitt, writer
- J.K. Rowling, author
- R. H. Tawney, economist and historian
- William Temple
- Ellen Wilkinson
- Bishop B.F. Westcott, Anglo-Catholic and spiritualist
- Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury
- Gerrard Winstanley
- Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats
- Jonathan Reynolds MP, Shadow City Minister, and chair of Christians on the Left
- Sister Rose Thering, during Vatican II helped in exonerating Jews from Christ's death; social and human rights activist
Parties of the Christian left
A number of movements of the past had similarities to today's Christian Left:
- Contrast: Christian right
- ^ John Cort, Christian Socialism (1988) ISBN 0-88344-574-3, pp. 32.
- ^ "Mikhail S. Gorbachev Quotes". Brainyquote.com. Retrieved 23 February 2007.
- ^ Compare: Blow, Charles M. (2 July 2010). "The Rise of the Religious left". New York Times.
On the other hand, the religious left is not the religious right. The left isn't as organized or assertive.
- ^ Utter, Glenn H. (2007). Mainline Christians and U.S. Public Policy: A Reference Handbook. Contemporary world issues. ABC-CLIO. p. 230. ISBN 9781598840001. Retrieved 2015-08-01.
The Christian Alliance for Progress. composed of individuals from various denominations and religious viewpoints, strives to emphasize the core beliefs and values of Christianity in response to the contemporary involvement of Christian groups in the search for political influence and power.
- ^ Why TCPC Advocates Equal Rights for Gay and Lesbian People Archived 12 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ Equality for Gays and Lesbians
- ^ Bible & Homosexuality Home Page Archived 24 February 2015 at the Wayback Machine.. Pflagdetroit.org (1998-12-11). Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
- ^  Archived 21 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ Bernardin, Joseph. Consistent ethics of life 1988, Sheed and Ward, p. v
- ^ "And there are literally millions of votes at stake in this liberal miscalculation. Virtually everywhere I go, I encounter moderate and progressive Christians who find it painfully difficult to vote Democratic given the party’s rigid, ideological stance on this critical moral issue, a stance they regard as "pro-abortion." Except for this major and, in some cases, insurmountable obstacle, these voters would be casting Democratic ballots." from Make Room for Pro-Life Democrats, Jim Wallis, Sojourners Magazine, hosted on beliefnet
- ^ Wallis, Jim (2005). God's Politics--Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It. HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 978-0-06-083447-0.
- ^ Reframing Social Justice, Feminism and Abortion Archived 27 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
- ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 December 2007. Retrieved 7 December 2007.
- ^ http://nobelprize.org/peace/laureates/1958/pire-bio.html
- ^ https://www.facebook.com/TheChristianLeft
- ^ Amira, Dan. (2013-01-15) Michael Moore Is a Better Christian Than You - Daily Intelligencer. Nymag.com. Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
- ^ Carrigan, Jr., Henry L. (24 June 2014). "Terry Eagleton: A Late-Life Return to Religion". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 23 April 2017.
- ^ "Tim Farron on faith, morality and serving others". Christians in Politics. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
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