Marxist Coffee Shops and Gospel Liberation

jasonlief Uncategorized 5 Comments

A local coffee shop made news last week when it was a part of a festival associated with the LGBTQ community. A local politician referred to it as a “Marxist coffeeshop“. I think it was meant as criticism, but I’m not sure the politician knows what Marxism is. I mean, the shop is owned by a person—concentrating the means of production into the hands of what can only be called a capitalist. I haven’t seen their books, but I’m guessing they don’t pay that well, which means the workers are most likely alienated from their labor, even if they do get to claim a bit of “cool factor”. (Is growing a hipster beard tax deductible?) From what I can tell, it’s not a cooperative; the purpose seems to make money by providing goods and services—food, coffee, and beer on tap. (What’s more capitalist than craft beer! Am I right beer snobs?) So why would someone mistake this well oiled capitalist machine for Che Guevara’s Java Hut?

I’m guessing it has something to do with providing a space for people outside the structures of power. It’s no secret that Orange City, or Northwest Iowa for that matter, isn’t the most welcoming place for people of the LGBTQ community. By opening their door to them, and allowing their stories to be heard, this coffeeshop (and others involved) poked a finger at the status quo. Ok, so I have my students reading A Theology of Liberation in which Gustavo Gutierrez calls the church into solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. He argues that Christianity should never align itself with the dominant structures of power; the gospel must never be relegated to some other worldly spirituality, it must remain a transformational way of life grounded in the new humanity of the resurrected Christ. This means that the Christian community is always on the side of the poor and the oppressed—you know, blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who mourn, and so on. This means we are on the side of the powerless—those who are discriminated against, the economically impoverished, the physically or sexually abused, just to name a few. It means that we are always on the side of life as we seek the flourishing of all creation. It means being willing to challenge every self seeking form of institutional power that sows fear and anxiety in the name of self preservation. It means coming alongside those with whom we may even disagree, because in the end it’s not about being right, it’s about being faithful to the call to love my neighbor. Ultimately, it’s about following Jesus “along the way” as Mark puts it—a life marked by the cross in which peace, justice, and love are sown by the seeds of suffering.

Maybe it isn’t Marxism after all… maybe it’s just the gospel. Maybe it’s a cruciform Christian faith that is less concerned with winning a cultural war and making sure people are loved, protected, and given the opportunity to live a meaningful life. I end with the words of the well known Marxist, George W. Bush:

We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty. At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together. Argument turns too easily into animosity. Disagreement escalates into dehumanization. Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other. ”  

Comments 5

  1. The shop really tries to welcome people representing the range of opinion and diversity now true of a small Iowa town. I’m thinking, Jason, that the swipe against the shop was based on this math: Welcome diverse peoples=Democrat=socialist=Marxist. Keeping in mind your sense of flourishing as warm welcoming, neighborly generosity, kindness, and peacemaking, I think there still is an interesting discussion to have over what political system is most likely to encourage the flourishing you describe so well.

  2. Professor Lief:

    You teach your students about Liberation Theology. Do you critique it? Do you inform them that, in Latin America and elsewhere, it is closely associated with Marxism? Do you tell them that Marxism is antithetical to Christianity?

    You also may (if you don’t) want to tell them how limited government (best exemplified by our US Constitution) combined with free-market capitalism has resulted historically in the greatest human flourishing, relative to every other society. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) try to usurp the role of the Church. It also allows for freedom of expression and protection of minority groups, even in Iowa.

    You may already do this. I just want to make sure that NWC students and their parents are getting their money’s worth.

  3. Marxist coffee-shop? Could be–if you accept a notion of “cultural Marxism”. Such champions trashing of eternal verities & revealed truth to push society toward autonomy. A public thumb in the eye of Christian behavior–what fun in the Bible belt!

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