What Might Christian Socialism Look Like?

Is a society with equitable distribution of resources and mutual support possible?


Video transcript:

So…I get to finish off this series by myself because Maureen’s moved on to greener pastures and Laura’s doing who knows what. Today: What might Christian Socialism look like? Is a society with equitable distribution of resources and mutual support possible? Many would say no but I (much to no one’s surprise) am here to tell you otherwise.

From monastic orders to grassroots urban communities, shared living has been a recurring vision most famously described in the book of Acts. Some have lasted for decades, others burn out after only a couple years. Because they’re not mainstream, and none have lasted forever (yet), there’s a common consensus that the error must lie in the concept of community, rather than in the fallibility of those who attempt it. 

Looking back over our own movement’s history, it’s hard to believe that the Bruderhof has held to this tenet of sharing everything in common through times of great crisis and testing, because it’s not something you ever become “good” at. As Eberhard Arnold put it, life in community is “a venture dared again and again.” So what does it mean to us?

When you become a member of the Bruderhof you renounce ownership of all possessions including any future inheritance or earning. It’s a sign of total surrender to God and faith in him. So the things we use in daily life – houses, vehicles, whatever – are not technically ours; they’re “ours to take care of.” Sounds very scary to the uninitiated, but you get used to it.

Money is held in a common bank account administered by members appointed to that task in trust. Everything is shared equally, although we make every attempt to live simply so that excess funds can be used to help others who are in need, both in our local area and further afield.

It’s more than money or things that can be bought with money. If you really want to love your neighbor as yourself that means a whole lot more than sharing material goods. It means we need to be there for each other.  So one practical expression of that is we don’t live in isolated family dwellings, but in larger houses with apartments that support families and singles. There are ground–level apartments with wheelchair access for elderly folks or members with disabilities, and space next to them for their care teams who are not necessarily relatives, in fact frequently not, but we are all pledged to treat each other as relatives… welcome relatives. At least that’s the aim.

Of course healthcare is a part of this. Our approach to medicine is the same as anywhere else, but it’s in a more holistic context where often a physician cares for a patient over the course of many years.

Our kids are central to our life together. Seriously. We expend an inordinate amount of blood and treasure, sweat and treasure, whatever, on providing children with the best childhood possible. Our pedagogical approach is centered around the idea of educating the whole child – heart, head, and hand. Three H’s. As someone with five kids, the centrality of children to our life together is huge. It really is the case that the village helps raise the child. It’s like having a village full of grandparents – basically advocates who want your kids to learn and grow and turn out well.

Same deal with the teachers in the Bruderhof schools. They know each child well, they celebrate their strengths while working with the kid to overcome obstacles. Because we’re family, our kids’ teachers will come over and hang out in the evening, or invite us over to their house, and offer tips for the next semester, whether that’s strategizing how to streamline homework or re-direct some excess energy.  When parents and teachers are on the same side, the kids feel secure – they’re getting the same message at home and at school.

No one does anything for a promotion or a raise be it in the work shop, business management, publishing house or the laundry (and I’ve done a stint in the laundry myself). No one has a title, and no one earns more than anyone else. Actually, no one earns anything.

It’s a given that people don’t have equal gifts. People are gifted in different ways, and everyone can do something, or be part of something.

The fact that you are gifted in one area or another is no credit to you, so why should you receive more than others? Aren’t your gifts there to be of service to others? Our aim is to not value people by their output or skill level. So our jobs do not define us or confer status. In fact, many of us will change our occupations several times over the course of our lives. I have certainly found myself in surprising and inspiring new channels I did not imagine. Like this one.