The Revived Social Gospel Movement

The Left-Wing Social Gospel Movement

 By Dr. Gary North

 “Thou shalt not steal, except by majority vote.” (Exodus 20:15,   as modified by the Social Gospel)

 Jim Wallis supports the economic conclusions of the Social Gospel. This is the #1 fact of his ministry and activism. (Wallis recently worked on the Obama Administration’s White House Advisory Council).

The Social Gospel is a theological defense of the welfare state. The welfare state relies on a system of compulsory taxation that is backed up by the threat of government violence against taxpaying residents within its jurisdiction.

The welfare state threatens residents and citizens with the following penalties for resisting the tax collector: (1) the confiscation of their assets, (2) fines, and (3) imprisonment. The welfare state’s law-enforcement agents are armed and are empowered by law to shoot anyone who physically resists the tax collector.

The welfare state exists only because voters have authorized the confiscation of private property through violence by the state. In the name of helping the poor, middle-class voters extract most of the money: tax-funded education, Social Security, and Medicare. The welfare state is therefore the implementation of covetousness by politics.

Humorist P. J. O’Rourke has described the ethics of welfare state.

There is no virtue in compulsory government charity, and there is no virtue in advocating it. A politician who portrays himself as “caring” and “sensitive” because he wants to expand the government’s charitable programs is merely saying that he’s willing to try to do good with other people’s money. Well, who isn’t? And a voter who takes pride in supporting such programs is telling us that he’ll do good with his own money — if a gun is held to his head.

The Social Gospel defends this system of compulsory wealth-redistribution in the name of Jesus. It teaches that Jesus implicitly favored economic aid to the poor in the form of government policies that can be enforced only by the threat of systematic violence.

No New Testament account of Jesus offers evidence that He recommended such a view of Christian civil government. This inconvenient fact is regarded as a slight impediment by Social Gospelers, but nothing too serious. They insist that this is what Jesus really meant to say, even though He never actually said it, and despite the fact that the Old Testament adamantly denies such a view of civil justice. God through Moses warned:

Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour. (Leviticus 19:15)

When you hear the words Social Gospel, immediately think “Pastors’ justification of armed government agents acting on behalf of certain special-interest voting blocs to take wealth away from other groups of citizens in order to benefit these special interests.” This is exactly what the Social Gospel has always been. The central moral, judicial, and political issue of the Social Gospel is compulsion.

The Social Gospel asks this question: What Would Jesus Steal? Its answer: “As much as He can convince politicians to vote for.”

The Social Gospel first began getting a hearing in the United States in the 1880s. It was adopted in 1908 by the newly created, Rockefeller-funded Federal Council of Churches. It came to prominence in the mainline churches in the 1920s, and it was adopted as gospel by most younger pastors of the mainline Protestant churches during the Great Depression of the 1930s. These denominations all began to lose members in the 1960s, a process that continues today.

The Social Gospel for decades was given lip-service by non-church attending politicians who sought support for their tax-and-spend policies. With the visible decline in membership of the mainline Protestant denominations after 1960, whose leadership and seminaries had gone modernist (anti-biblical) theologically, the secular humanists who dominate American politics began to ignore the (now-renamed) National Council of Churches. The Social Gospel lost influence politically and intellectually.

Fundamentalists’ Adolescent Rebellion

After 1960, a small percentage of fundamentalist high school graduates who went off to college went through a late-teen rebellion against their parents. Their peers had begun this rebellion two years earlier, while they were still in high school. The late-comers rebelled, conveniently, at their parents’ (and often taxpayers’) expense. At numerous little denominational colleges, they were exposed to the Social Gospel. In large tax-funded universities, they were exposed to KeynesianismFabian socialism, and (after 1965) Marxism.

They wanted to discover a moral justification for their adolescent rebellion against their parents’ social outlook. They soon decided that these new-found philosophies of coercive taxation and endless government expansion offered them what they perceived as the high moral ground. They absorbed, temporarily, the slogans of the political Left.

Ten years after graduation, most of them lived in the suburbs, worked for corporations, went to church in seeker-sensitive middle-class independent churches, and voted Republican.

Nevertheless, a few of them remained true to the ideals of their collegiate indoctrination. They announced as “morally Christian” the political demand that all levels of government send out revenue agents to put either a metaphorical or literal gun in your belly and tell you to hand over your wallet. The preachers advocate this in the name of the poor, but in fact they are acting on behalf of the careers of a growing army of college-educated, upper-middle-class bureaucrats, who administer every modern welfare state and extract close to half of the tax money allocated to the poor. This policy, pastors insist, is an inescapable implication of the teachings of Jesus.

There are very few of these people today. They rarely have enough adherents in any city to form even a single evangelical church whose pastor preaches the Social Gospel from the pulpit. They are distrusted in fundamentalist churches, regarded as eccentrics in evangelical churches, and almost the only members under age 60 in liberal churches.

A series of spokesmen have come forward to represent this tiny, politically impotent special-interest group. Ron Sider arrived in 1977 with Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. He faded rapidly in the mid-1980s, to be replaced by sociologist Tony Campolo. Campolo’s close connection with President Clinton as one of his spiritual counselors backfired during the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998. Campolo then rapidly disappeared from the evangelical scene. Today, Jim Wallis is the best-known representative.

Jim Wallis: Evangelist

In his book, God’s Politics (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), he describes his adolescent rebellion against his parents’ fundamentalism (pp. 34-35). He went to college and got involved in the civil rights movement. This transformed his thinking, as he readily admits. He says that he later returned to the faith of his youth. It would be far more accurate to say that he came back as a self-conscious agent of the Social Gospel radicals who created the civil rights movement, in order to do “evangelism” work among the still-alienated children of fundamentalism.

Wallis is a part-time instructor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (p. 21). Harper published his book — one of the major mainstream media publishers. It is owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch. Jim Wallis is in fact an Establishment insider who is playing the role of a prophetic outsider. He is to “prophetic Christianity” what Jimmy Carter was to “prophetic politics.” A man can make a career of this if he is skilled at positional marketing. (For more information, click here.) Jim Wallis is a highly skilled practitioner of positional marketing.

Wallis is editor of Sojourners, a magazine of considerable prominence in liberal political circles. Don’t get me wrong. Political liberals do not actually read Sojourners, but they know it is out there, softening up the hearts and minds of an ecclesiastically isolated and politically marginal group of evangelicals. To do what? To vote for the next Democratic candidate for President.

Sojourners was not always called Sojourners. It was called Post-American. For a detailed history of his extreme left wing activities in the 1970s, click here.

Jim Wallis still holds to Ron Sider’s original vision, which Sider modified into a vague moralism in the 1997 edition of his book. (On Ron Sider, see David Chilton’s book, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators, which is available free on-line.)

Jim Wallis totally misunderstands at least two things: economic theory and what the Bible specifically teaches about economics. I say this as someone who has published over 9,000 pages of verse-by-verse commentaries on the economics of the Bible. I have done my homework. Jim Wallis has not done his.

In God’s Politics, Mr. Wallis says that he is getting invitations to be interviewed by evangelical radio talk show hosts, which he says is a new phenomenon for him (pp. 225-26). I have therefore prepared a series of questions for these talk show hosts to ask Mr. Wallis when they get the opportunity. (See Gary’s question’s for Mr. Wallis at

Jim Wallis lectures and teaches at Harvard, which appreciates his message in God’s Politics. This is understandable. Mr. Wallis’ politics and economics match the conclusions of the liberal political establishment. This is why he has great difficulty getting a hearing among Bible-believing Christians. No one can successfully play the role of John the Baptist for both Harvard and the Bible Belt, but he tries.

Christian economist William Anderson, once a big Jim Wallis fan, has exposed the fallacies of his economics and his ethical position on property rights: here and here.


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Dr. Gary North has recently finished writing a 31 volume economic commentary on the Bible. It is available to view online for free until it goes to print at the end of this year. North explainsI began my series, An Economic Commentary on the Bible, at almost the exact time that An Introduction to Christian Economics appeared in print: the spring of 1973. I finished the exegetical work in late 2010. It is being typeset. This 31-volume project should be in print in late 2012. There are about 700 chapters. My goal is to produce at least 1400 videos: 3-minute summaries plus 25-minute presentations, one per chapter. Preliminary PDF editions of this series are available here: will begin my treatise on Christian economics in 2012. I have planned this since 1973. I plan to write a multi-volume version comparable to Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action, a 450-page version comparable to Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics, and a 200-page version, comparable to Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson. I will also do about 500 3-minute videos, plus an equal number of 25-minute presentations. Gary North.

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