Recently, I was reminded by friends of some dated writings in which liberals work against all odds and logic to convey that Jesus Christ, both Biblically and historically, would be considered liberal by today's standards.
In almost all cases (two good examples found here and here) the authors relate the basic definition of liberalism. Then, that definition is set against cherry-picked quotes that are taken entirely out of context in order to prove the argument correct. Where Jesus' words were meant to shape people's ideology, these authors have shaped Jesus' words to meet their established ideology. This, expectedly, calls the intellectual and Christian integrity of the argument into serious question.
But rather than jumping to the defensive and crying, "Jesus was quite obviously a conservative," I will simply point out one story that proves that Jesus' ideology doesn't fully jive with that of today's liberal.
The American left as a whole generally decries the disproportionate distribution of wealth in America. Despite having a robust middle class and a poorer class that enjoys a fantastic standard of living by global standards, liberals incessantly decry the "obscene" wealth of the top 10% of American earners. This is generally followed by a call to extract more tax revenue from the wealthy. That revenue will then be redistributed to the less wealthy, and thereby the rich will be become less rich and the poor will become less poor.
But does Jesus think it's okay for the government to steal money from the wealthy to redistribute among the masses? Liberals think so. In fact, this is likely the first thing that you'll hear when liberals want to convey that Christ shared their opinion. Jesus didn't like rich people just like the liberals don't like rich people, so shouldn't the act of taxing the wealthy be justified, even to conservative Christians?
It is true that Jesus warns of the dangers of greed and against being miserly. Note that in Matthew, chapter 19, Christ relates to the apostles: "Truly, I say unto you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven." (19:23) Now, it is at this point that your average liberal will set down the book, entirely convinced: "Well, that's all I needed to hear. Jesus was obviously liberal."
This is likely what Gary Vance was thinking when he penned his article conveying that Christ is a liberal. "The labor movement of the early twentieth century was aided significantly when major Christian denominations got behind it. No average American would have a fair wage today if it weren't for liberal Christians and labor activists."
In other words, if unions and the government hadn't overcome greedy businessmen like Christ would have wanted, we'd all be worse off. But if Mr. Vance were to read past the previously quoted verse, he may find how wrong he is. He would find that in chapter 20 of Matthew, the parable Jesus tells is entirely antithetical to very notion of unions and the "tax-the-wealthy" mentality of today's liberals.
In the Parable of the Vineyard, we discover how Jesus feels about compensation for labor and the private property of the wealthy. One day, a farmer went out at sunrise to seek workers for the vineyard. Those he found he told that he would pay "1 denarius" for a day's labor, which was the going rate for such work. Three hours later, he hired more workers telling them that he would "pay them what is right." At 12, 3, and 5 o'clock he again hired more workers, each time telling them the same. At the end of the day, he called the workers to be paid:
“The workers who were hired about 5 in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
If American labor unions were involved, do you think the landowner could have gotten away with this? Certainly not. He would have to pay more because that is what would be "right" for those who labored all day. They would strip from the landowner the right to pay the wage he would choose. How, again, are labor unions the result of Christian doctrine?
And as far as redistribution of wealth, can you possibly read this and think that Christ would advocate the government taking the landowner's wealth and distributing it to all in Judea that did not work on his fields? Envy is the root of such an argument. American liberals are envious of the wealthy and do not feel they are entitled to their property because others have less, which leads to the belief that their property can be taken and distributed among the masses. And this parable warns against such envious ambition.
Beyond a warning about envy and a verifcation of Jesus' opinion that a man has a right to his property and to do with it what he pleases, this parable is also a lesson about charity. It is important to note that the landowner is a private landowner- not Caesar or his appointed representatives. It is he who is charitable, not the government. This is a lesson much better practiced by conservatives, as the charitable giving of conservatives eclipses that of liberals.
In truth, as Christians believe that Christ is God and not man, to paint Him entirely in the box of either liberal or conservative is to do Him disservice. But for the sake of argument, I will say that there is no question that Christ would have been viewed as a liberal in the Roman province of Judea in his time. And I would be dishonest to say that Christ did not share some values that the common liberal of today holds dear. But the truth is, as this one parable suggests, Christ did not believe, as American progressives do, that government redistribution is a justified course of action, and he would not agree with a union strong-arming a business owner. So the calls of liberals saying that Christ believes the same as a modern liberal needs to be taken for what they are: inconsistent and illegitimate political rhetoric.