Kamala Harris, the Good Samaritan, and the Christian Socialism Oxymoron

August 17, 2020 Updated: August 19, 2020


The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris frequently cited the New Testament parable of the good Samaritan on the campaign trail when she was vying for the presidential nomination.

Good move! Who doesn’t admire the good Samaritan? That parable (Luke 10:25–37) is a favorite of Christians, and it’s so well known that many non-Christians admire the Samaritan’s generosity and charity.

Sen. Harris (D-Calif.), according to the same report, also acknowledges “liberation theology” as having informed her world view. There’s a fundamental problem here: Liberation theology is incompatible with the moral precept taught in the good Samaritan parable. Progressive politicians and adherents of liberation theology overlook one absolutely crucial aspect of the good Samaritan story.

In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus clearly illustrated the two forms of Christian charity: direct and indirect. The Samaritan compassionately helped a total stranger, first directly—by personally tending to his injuries and comforting him—and second, indirectly—by deputing an agent to act on his behalf, in this case by giving an innkeeper money to pay for the needs of the wounded man during his convalescence.

Has Harris been that kind of a good Samaritan? We don’t know if she has personally ministered to strangers in need. In today’s world, it’s far more common for busy people such as Harris to engage in indirect charity—to delegate charitable deeds by giving donations to private organizations (churches, community groups, etc.) that have the facilities and personnel to help those in need. In fact, the federal government allows us to deduct such charitable donations; so by looking at candidates’ tax returns, we can see whether they have been good Samaritans.

How generous has Harris been in her indirect charities? According to Business Insider, “during several years of her time as California attorney general, Harris reported no charitable donations.” (Although, more recently, she and her husband, whom she married in 2014, gave 1.4 percent of their combined 2017 income of $1.9 million to charity in 2017.)

Thus, when Harris avers “that we are all each other’s brothers and sisters,” she apparently feels that she doesn’t need to donate to charities in one’s capacity as a private citizen (like you and I do). Rather, she is speaking in a collective political sense. She’s talking about government redistributing wealth. That’s where the liberation theology comes in. Liberation theology, like Christian socialism, seeks to blend Marxist policies with Christianity.

Now let’s revisit the good Samaritan parable for a moment and conduct a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that the Samaritan, having spotted the badly wounded man, sees several prosperous travelers walking by. Let us then suppose that the Samaritan is a big, strong man capable of intimidating others. Then he accosts the travelers and threatens them with his staff unless they give money to pay for the wounded man’s care. The man in need would still receive the help that he so desperately needed, true, but would we hold the Samaritan in such high regard today? Not likely.

And why? Because of his use of force. That is the crucial difference between socialism and Christianity. Socialist “giving” is compulsory. Christian giving is voluntary. The former relies on force imposed from without. The latter acts from grace within. “Christian socialism” is literally an oxymoron: There is no such thing as “compulsory charity.” When politicians use the powers of the state to give financial assistance to others, they are proposing to do so using other people’s money, not their own. That’s a false, counterfeit charity, quite the opposite of the good Samaritan’s genuine (i.e., voluntary) charity.

It’s, quite rightly, against our laws for an individual to use force to take money from others no matter how worthy the cause for which the funds are appropriated. Then how can we justify government using the threat of fines or imprisonment to take property from some to give it to others? In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “It is strangely absurd [to suppose] that a million human beings, collected together, are not under the same moral laws which bind (or liberate) each of them separately.”

If Harris makes the good Samaritan a campaign theme, I hope some alert person will point out to her that the Samaritans’ actions were voluntary, and that he helped the stranger using his own time and money. (Another question for Harris: Don’t you believe in the separation of church and state?)

By all means, friends, be charitable. Just don’t mix charity with compulsion. That is the Marxian way, not the Christian way.

[For a more detailed discussion of “Christian Charity and the Welfare State,” see my Institute for Faith and Freedom commentary. For an explanation of how Orwellian social justice perverts traditional justice, see my previous column, “‘Justice’ Is the Word of the Year, and ‘Social Justice’ Is Its Orwellian Opposite.” Finally, the great moral philosopher/classical economist Adam Smith gave a brilliant exposition of how to reconcile justice and beneficence (charity) in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments,” which I review in an Institute for Faith and Freedom commentary.]

Mark Hendrickson, an economist, recently retired from the faculty of Grove City College, where he remains a fellow for economic and social policy at the Institute for Faith and Freedom.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.