By Teddy James and Jordan Chamblee*
July-August 2016 – “When I say I support a candidate like Bernie Sanders, or call myself a democratic socialist, I’m not looking for a handout, or asking to take something that isn’t mine. I don’t want ‘free stuff,’” writes Millennial Joshua Murray. His remarks are in an article on Medium.com, a site for budding journalists.
Murray adds, “What I believe, and really what I think most Americans believe, is that as a society, we can decide to care enough about each other that we would be willing to ensure that everyone has the tools they need to live up to their full potential.”
Murray is not alone in his beliefs. Millennials, those between 18 and 35, have supported Sander’s run for the White House and his democratic socialist ideas in startling numbers. For example, in New Hampshire, primary exit polls showed 85% of voters under 30 checked Sanders.
To hear liberal and conservative pundits, these young voters are primarily driven by Sanders’s promise of free college and higher wages. But those concerned about future generations would do well to go beyond pundits’ monologues and listen to the individual voices constituting this diverse group.
“Socialism does not automatically equal communism,” Spencer Reed said in a video posted at facebook.com/modrntv and viewed over 4.7 million times. He extrapolates that communism is an extreme form of socialism just as fascism and monarchism are extreme forms of conservatism.
Reed defines democratic socialism as an embodiment of the idea that a country should be run by ordinary people, not by businesses, banks, and corporations; changes should be decided through fair elections; and basic needs should be provided by the government so people can live happy, healthy lives. He says democratic socialism leaves free markets, businesses, and individual freedoms alone.
Many other Millennials support the economic system believing America is already “socialist-ish.” Murray says many economic policies of President Franklin Roosevelt “are what make America a great country to work in. The two-day weekend, the forty-hour workweek, OSHA, minimum wages, workers comp; all of these socialist ideas are designed to protect and maintain the living standard for working class Americans.”
Still others believe Sanders’s democratic socialist vision of America promises a brighter future. Jeanette Sadernista, in her article “Sanders Socialism is American as Apple Pie” on Medium.com, says, “Bernie Sanders is running for president on a highly positive vision that would leave his grandchildren and everybody else a happier place to live.”
The words of many young democratic socialists reveal a few desires: alleviate poverty, unify a polarized nation, bring affordable medical care to those in need, and return control of government to average citizens instead of businesses and special interest groups. Although their goals are laudable, the path to reach them is often misguided.
Historically, in a socialist economy the government owns and operates the means of production. In each iteration of a socialist society, the government becomes very big and very corrupt, causing people to suffer. However, the idea of a large federal government contrasts widely with the ideal picture most Millennials paint when they describe democratic socialism.
According to a 2014 Reason Rupe poll, 42% of Millennials prefer socialism to capitalism; however, the poll also showed that 74% misunderstand economic systems. When asked in specific terms whether they support a free market or state-managed economy, the overwhelming majority (64%) prefer capitalism over socialism (32%).
One of the most telling discoveries is that Millennials, generally, are socially liberal (supporting same sex marriage, marijuana legalization, etc.) but fiscally conservative (78% saying budget deficit and national debt are major problems).
Further, 65% are in favor of cutting government spending, 57% want a smaller government (after tax rates are mentioned), and nearly 60% “desire a society where wealth is distributed according to achievement, even if that means unequal outcomes.” The bottom line – there’s a lot of confusion about what socialism means.
Millennials may see American’s problems more clearly than prior generations. Social media platforms and the always-connected nature of the Internet turn individual struggles, government abuses, and inequality into a problematic narrative for which they want to find solutions. The beauty of this generation is that they believe any problem can be solved when enough people are aware, active, and creative.
For the Christian responding to these young, energetic, and ceaselessly optimistic voters, the support for a democratic socialist state should be viewed as an opportunity to present the gospel.
The picture many paint when discussing a desire for socialism will never come through an economic system because manmade systems cannot answer the primary problem of man: the sinful nature inherent in every human being.
The ideal image of democratic socialism is one of people serving one another in humility, peace among those who disagree, and those with means helping those in need. What they are calling a desire for socialism can be, and perhaps should be, seen as a misapplied desire for the caring and outreach that are integral to the gospel.
According to a recent Barna survey, many of this young generation have as little of a working definition of the gospel as they have of socialism. The study revealed that 45% of Millennials believe the Bible is “just another book of teachings written by men that contains stories and advice.”
Many of them are not aware that the answers they seek are found in the God to whom Scripture points.
Many make the mistake of winning economic arguments with young voters, rather than winning their souls with the gospel. This is an opportunity for Christians from the Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, X-ers, and Christian Millennials to pour into the lives of those around them. What the world needs most is not an economics lesson; it needs to see the gospel lived out in the lives of Christians who demonstrate patience, integrity, and intentionality.
This is not an economic issue. It is a gospel issue. Christians must handle it as such.
*Teddy James and Jordan Chamblee are staff writers for AFA Journal and Engage, an online magazine aimed at the Millennial generation. (engagemagazine.net)
Bridging the generation gap in the church
● Be patient. Generations within the church have much more in common than not, so overlook non-essential differences in tastes and interests.
● Be honest but respectful. Gently help others discover where their ideas may be lacking.
● Avoid the temptation to patronize. Treat those younger and older how you want to be treated.
● Give younger Christians a chance to prove themselves by assigning responsibilities where appropriate and under reasonable oversight. The best part of discipleship is when the disciple works alongside the mentor.
● Point to Christ. Don’t just tell one another how to behave and what to believe – with your example, show others Who to follow.
● Don’t assume motivations. Their motivation is almost always with the right heart.
– Jordan Chamblee