Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. … Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you. — James 5:1–6
Undeniably, Trump and his base have advocated for and enforced some very un-Christian actions over the last few years, cutting welfare for the poor and hungry, denying assistance to those seeking refuge and hoarding wealth among them. Just this week, the Supreme Court voted in favor of an “immigrant wealth test” that could potentially prohibit low-income people from entering the U.S. This doesn’t seem to be a very loving act toward our geographical neighbors, yet white evangelical Protestants remain the demographic most devoted to the president, with nearly seven out of 10 continuing to support his presidency.
Evangelicals currently represent about half of America’s Christian population as a whole, and it’s for this reason that Christianity and conservatism are so deeply co-aligned in our country’s political system. Christian leftists, meanwhile, want to change this, and with good reason: For many, it’s the teachings of Jesus that led them to leftism in the first place.
Damon Garcia of Santa Maria, California, grew up in the Evangelical Church. After high school, his faith called him to pursue ministry and he began training to become a pastor, which required him to study theology, Biblical studies and religious history for the first time. It was an eye-opening experience. “The more I studied, the more I found myself at odds with the theology of the evangelical Church, particularly from discovering how modern evangelical theology is,” says Garcia. “Studying what you have to study to become a pastor exposed me to a more radical Jesus, and the radical stream of Christianity that’s existed ever since Jesus chose justice and love, while the popular church chose imperialism.”
This discovery led Garcia to the field of liberation theology, a movement that began in Latin America in the 1960s based on the belief that God favors the poor. It’s a stance supported in Bible verses like Matthew 19:24, which famously states that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter heaven. “Studying liberation theology led me into critiques of capitalism, and then led me to embrace leftist politics,” says Garcia. “Some people think this is a new way of approaching Christianity, but it feels like I’m recovering the radical roots of this entire tradition.”
Along the way, Garcia left the path toward becoming an evangelical pastor behind. “I knew I wasn’t going to be able to answer their questions to their liking, since my theology had already progressed years before and I couldn’t hide it anymore,” he says. But Garcia has found alternative ways to minister according to his faith. He currently hosts Twitch livestreams and runs a YouTube channel and podcast devoted to liberation theology. Some of the topics he covers include evidence for the support of trans rights by Apostle Paul, how leftists can practice spiritual health and a Marxist analysis of Joker.
Garcia believes that today’s evangelical thought is a mix of theological developments, politics and capitalism. Many contemporary Christians believe in the Prosperity Gospel, which emphasizes the belief that poverty can be transcended through devotion, and that the wealthy have been made so by God as a sign of their devotion. “Throughout history, there have been theological developments from the oppressors in order to justify their violence, and there have also been theological developments from the oppressed in order to justify their struggle for freedom,” Garcia explains. “Today, there are people whose conceptions of God lead them to oppress others. I’m interested in the conceptions of God that empower vulnerable people to struggle for freedom, especially because that seems to be the most aligned with the God that Jesus talked about when he says, ‘Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.’”
As with every subset of Christianity, the actual figure of Jesus Christ is central to much of the Christian leftist belief system. On the subreddit r/RadicalChristianity, a leftist group with 23,500 members, living in the image of Christ as a socialist is the guiding ideology: While scripture from the Old Testament also frequently makes the case for economic justice, it’s the New Testament narrative of Jesus Christ and his radical compassion toward the poor, the sick, sex workers, alcoholics and other maligned figures that demonstrates the axiom of “love thy neighbor” in a way many conservative evangelicals might oppose.
The subreddit is often a place to share memes that align with their beliefs, or articles on topics like how Trump became a “messiah” figure for many evangelicals, or the Christian case for land conservation. The hypocrisy of conservative Christians is a common topic of discussion, as is how leftist Christians can engage in discourse with conservatives. For example, a recent post discusses James 1:19–20, which advocates for being “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” One member of the group sought guidance for living this practice when communicating with people whom they disagree with, particularly conservatives.
The problem is, of course, that there are countless verses of the Bible that would seem to advocate for hateful acts, as well. For this, Garcia says, it’s important to consider context. “We have to read the Bible literately, not literally,” he says. “If it’s a parable, then we read it as a parable. If it’s a commandment, then we read it as a commandment. But look at the specific context of the commandment to learn if it’s a commandment that was actually aligned with the cultural norms of the time that we’ve progressed from.”
Gay rights are one prominent example. “Verses that get used against LGBTQ people [for example, Leviticus 18:22, which states, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable’] are in reference to the Roman practice of exploitative orgies with child sex slaves, that happened to involve men having sex with men. Your gay neighbor with a boyfriend was beyond the scope of the imagination of ancient Biblical writers,” says Garcia.
“All Christians are reading the same Bible,” he continues. “It just seems like the conservatives are ignoring the parts of the Bible that talk about economic justice, while the liberals want to individualize the verses about economic justice and try to fulfill them through charities and individual actions. Leftists want to fulfill them individually, but also want to transform the system that creates so much poverty.”
Garcia’s hope is that those who have distanced themselves from the evangelical church, and leftists who may have never had a relationship with God, can utilize liberation theology and Christian leftism to both rekindle their relationship with religion and deepen their practice with leftism. In essence, the work of Christian leftism is to “help people heal and to discover the radical Jesus that looks starkly different from evangelical Jesus,” according to Garcia.
The next step is toppling capitalism. It’s what Jesus would’ve wanted.