Editing and Introduction by Lauren A.R. Koslow
Did you know that Socialist Party USA has a Faith and Socialism commission? Faith and socialism are not mutually exclusive! Most of the world’s religions are founded on principles of peace, love, justice for the oppressed, and equality for all.
What follows is a series of personal accounts of Socialist Party USA members for whom a religious tradition or other spiritual perspective has helped to inform their socialist views. Our spiritual diversity should be celebrated just as much as our diversity of gender/identity, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, and ability!
This is part two in our two-part series in which members answer the question, “Do you identify with a religion or other spiritual way? If so, how does that influence your socialist worldview and activism?”
LAUREN A.R. KOSLOW
I am a “cradle” Episcopalian: I was raised and remain a practicing member of The Episcopal Church. In my experience, Sunday school focused on one main idea: God is love. As a teenager, I was encouraged to wrestle with faith and embrace mystery. When it came to right living, my church community promoted social justice. The first queer folk I met were in the church and its diocese … including many clergy. The religious world I know has always (not just welcomed but) celebrated the role of women and LGBT people. Care of Creation is frequently emphasized as stewardship of the earth and its creatures – human and non-human alike.
I have been privy to powerful sermons embracing pluralism, the acknowledgement that there is no one right way. Each of the world’s religions offers a different path to the divine and is effective as such. So when once I was tempted to abandon formal religion for a more universal approach, it was my realizing that, while appreciating all religions, I could best walk my spiritual path and go deepest in my faith by choosing one on which to focus. Therefore I appreciate breadth yet go further with depth. After college, I did briefly explore other denominations and faith traditions but ultimately realized that The Episcopal Church is my community of faith, as we are a diverse group theologically but always strive for justice, freedom, and peace.
My understanding of Christianity is symbolic. Jesus and the Bible speak in allegory to teach that which is beyond our understanding (as well as to chronicle the life and times of my spiritual ancestors). If I were to whittle down Christianity, it would be to say that Jesus’s message trumps all else. He was a revolutionary who suggested we stop clinging to Jewish law – the Ten Commandments included – since the most important thing is to love God and love one’s neighbor. And Christ is not a supernatural being; Jesus was a radical Jew, and his divine legacy through his followers is how Christ remains alive today. “Christ has no body now but ours.” So in the Lord’s Prayer, I see “Thy Kingdom come” as a call to action, to bring about the world God intends.
Did you know that in the Bible, Jesus speaks of possessions (i.e. their lack of importance) three times as much as he stresses love? My religious values and the messages of love, peace, justice, freedom, respect, unity, sustainability, and equality for all of creation led me to socialism once I took a comparative look at political systems. I see no better fit for myself and no truer exemplification of Jesus’s call than to build a better world according to our shared platform, that of the Socialist Party of the United States of America.
My primary commitment, superseding nationality or political alliances and even ties of family and friendship, is to live as faithfully as I can as a follower of Jesus Christ. Living as a disciple of Christ informs not only my Sunday morning worship, but my actions during the week – even though my life is at best an unreliable witness to the good news of Jesus. According to Luke’s gospel, Jesus chose the following as his text for his first sermon in his hometown synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2a and Isaiah 58:6)
As Luke’s gospel tells it, this verse was a kind of mission statement for Jesus. And therefore, as a follower of Jesus, it becomes a mission statement for me as well. It’s a description, not of pie-in-the-sky piety, but of revolutionary praxis.
Working to build socialism is, for me, one way to bring good news to the poor and liberation to the oppressed. The book of Acts, which Luke wrote as a sequel to his Gospel, describes the praxis of the early Christians:
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)
Socialism provides a theoretical framework within to strategize how the poor can receive good news and the oppressed can be liberated. Ownership by the workers of the means of production is a way to liberate those oppressed by capitalist labor relations. Distributing resources according to need rather than greed is good news for the poor. Prioritizing planet, people, and peace over profit is very much in line with Jesus’ vision of “the year of the Lord’s favor” – a reference to the year of Jubilee mentioned in Leviticus 25, in which captives were to be liberated, property forfeited to debt was to be restored to the owner, and the people and even the land itself were to enjoy a year of rest.
Both Christianity and socialism remind me that “another world is possible.” While many Christians limit their thinking to the afterlife, Jesus taught that “the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:21) or, according to some translations, “within you.” Some theologians speak of the reign of God in terms of “already but not yet:” the seeds are already planted and sprouting, but we won’t live to see it come to full reality in this present world. While I would not equate socialism to “the reign of God” of which Jesus spoke, I do think of socialism as existing “already but not yet”—seeds of justice and peace that we are to tend and water in our day, so that coming generations may enjoy the fruit.
Critiques of religious institutions often refer to corruption, poor administration, or hypocrisy in doctrine – as is potentially inevitable with any level of social organization – yet at the crux of these spiritual traditions are the same basic tenets. As explored in our series, for many, learning and practicing morals in a spiritual community provides a unique level of support and a wealth of ritual devotions on which to build character and foster activism.
Socialist Party USA’s Faith & Socialism Commission seeks to develop resources and support for SPUSA members for their spiritual enrichment as socialists; to reach out to communities of conscience and spirituality as socialists; to foster peace-building and understanding across lines of religious conflict; and to create resources and media that develop socialist perspectives on religious, ethical, and spiritual matters. To get involved, contact Chairperson Charley Earp (firstname.lastname@example.org) and/or join the Facebook group (facebook.com/groups/faithcommspusa).