The left has long painted its push for expanding government’s social welfare programs as the “Christian” way of government. But with the Democratic Socialists of America on the rise – a likely disaster for mainstream Democrats this election season – the strategy may be backfiring.

In most of the country, Democratic candidates are wise to try to distance themselves from openly declared socialists like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who managed to oust incumbent Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., from his seat. After all, the last presidential election taught us that most Americans are interested in making America great again. It seems doubtful that they were imagining that would involve reinventing the entire basis of the nation’s economic, political and social structures.

The trouble for Democrats, however, is that they have set themselves up for exactly this kind of radicalization. One of the left’s favorite pastimes is challenging the integrity of Christians who vote Republican by claiming that socialism is biblically mandated.

For instance, an E.J. Dionne Jr. column highlighted a recent declaration titled “Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis,” drafted by progressive clergymen. The declaration posits that because “how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ,” Christians must oppose “cutting services and programs for the poor” and tax breaks “for the rich.” Then there are those who go so far as to claim, “If anyone was ever a socialist it was Jesus.”

As I’ve written before, this kind of confusion is somewhat understandable. Jesus of Nazareth did care for the poor. He did admonish his followers to care for orphans and widows, to visit the sick and to treat prisoners humanely. And the followers of Christ remain accountable to those mandates today. But they were mandates to us as individuals, and collectively, as the church. Jesus never suggested that the job of Christians was to lobby Caesar to take over the work of caring for human needs.

In fact, claims that the Bible portrays a God who mandated a socialist government system defy some pretty basic and absolutely clear biblical principles. As Christian author John Piper points out, “‘Thou shalt not steal’ makes no sense where no one has a right to keep what is his.” He goes on to explain, “Socialism borrows the compassionate aims of Christianity in meeting people’s needs while rejecting the Christian expectation that this compassion not be coerced or forced.”

Those of us who find ourselves able to do so (which includes most of those reading this column), should absolutely use our personal wealth, our skills, our extra time and energy, to assist those less fortunate than us. But using the force of government to coerce individuals to hand over wealth to others is wrong. It is a form of plunder.

The emerging struggle of mainstream Democrats to distance themselves from declared socialists – who simply carry liberal policies to their logical conclusion – is a natural consequence of the left’s misuse of Christ’s teachings to prop up its political ideology.

Eventually, they’ll have to come clean, because they just can’t have it both ways. If the left has been right, and Christianity requires its adherents to champion a government system focused on caring for people and their material needs by redistributing the fruit of others’ labors, then the Democratic Socialists are the Democratic Party’s truest believers and most faithful disciples. The other alternative, of course, is that the left has simply been wrong all along, and Christian voters have good reasons to reject socialism – even in its most “democratic” form.

The left should follow the example of Martin Collins, who confessed, “When I was young I thought socialism the mathematics of justice. Now I realize it is only the arithmetic of envy.”

Christians who find themselves conflicted when confronted with socialists’ appeal to our sympathy for the poor must exercise careful discernment. Consider the irreconcilable differences between the goals of socialism and Christianity. According to a statement on the DSA website, the movement’s “goal is to achieve socialism as the center of human life for all.”

Surely nothing could be more at odds with the aim of true Christianity: the knowledge and enjoyment of our Creator; a productive life characterized by generosity and kindness, and filled with peace, contentment, hope and joy that are centered on the person of Jesus Christ – not on some feeble, envy-driven government system focused on “income equality” and the meager goal of material subsistence.

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