Christian left

For the non-political philosophy, see Liberal Christianity. For the political party in Chile, see Christian Left Party of Chile.

The term Christian left refers to a spectrum of left-wing Christian political and social movements that largely embrace viewpoints described as social justice that upholds a social gospel. Given the inherent diversity in international political thought, the term can have different meanings and applications in different countries.


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.

While non-religious socialists sometimes find support for socialism in the Gospels (for example Mikhail Gorbachev citing Jesus as "the first socialist"),[1] the Christian Left does not find that socialism alone as an adequate end or means. Christian faith is the core of their belief, which in turn demands social justice.


Early years

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), established churches were led by a reactionary clergy who saw progress as a threat to their status and power. Most people viewed the church 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.

Christian left and campaigns for peace and human rights

See also: Peace churches

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.

Christian left 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.[2] Opponents state that this is because it is less numerous. Supporters 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.[3]

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.[4][5][6][7]

The Consistent Life Ethic

Main article: 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.[8] 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.

Differing views

Jim Wallis believes that one of the biggest problems that faces the left is to reach out to evangelical and Catholic religious voters.[9] (Note however that Jim Wallis denies that his Sojourners organization belongs to either the right or left.[10]) 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.[11]

Liberation theology

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.[12] 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











East Timor


El Salvador










New Zealand






South Africa


Sri Lanka



United States

Leaders (political)

Leaders a/o activists (civil)



United Kingdom

A meeting of the Oxford Branch of the Christian Socialist Movement, with Larry Sanders speaking, October 2007

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:



Parties of the Christian left

See also

Early Christianity


A number of movements of the past had similarities to today's Christian Left:



Contrast: Christian right


  1. "Mikhail S. Gorbachev Quotes". Retrieved 23 February 2007.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Why TCPC Advocates Equal Rights for Gay and Lesbian People
  5. Equality for Gays and Lesbians
  6. Bible & Homosexuality Home Page. (1998-12-11). Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
  7. Archived 21 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. Bernardin, Joseph. Consistent ethics of life 1988, Sheed and Ward, p. v
  9. "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
  10. 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.
  11. Reframing Social Justice, Feminism and Abortion
  16. Amira, Dan. (2013-01-15) Michael Moore Is a Better Christian Than You - Daily Intelligencer. Retrieved on 2013-08-24.
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