Donald Andrew Henson II

Archive for February, 2020|Monthly archive page

GOP: All Faith No Works

In Blogging the Bible, Blogging the New Testament, Current events, Religion and Society, The Trump Administration on February 5, 2020 at 10:26 pm

Trump with Billy Bush

Read James 2:14-26

As a person who grew up in an Evangelical church in the Reagan/Bush years, I cannot help but be astounded by the rapid moral decline in the Republican Party these past couple of years. It used to be that the ‘moral majority’ supported the GOP because the leaders of the party appeared to hew more closely to Christian beliefs than the Democrats did. Who were you more likely to support – family men like the Bushes or Romney, or womanizers like Bill Clinton and John Edwards?

This seemed to change with the election of Barack Obama. Suddenly, a guy who attended church weekly, never cheated on his wife, was never involved in a moral scandal of any kind – this guy was somehow viewed as the devil himself by a great number of Evangelical Christians. So much so that nearly all of them supported the election of a known adulterer and liar, known blasphemer and shady businessman, and suspected rapist, whore-monger, financial fraud, and tax evader to the nation’s highest office.

In fact, Donald Trump commits, in full view of everyone, every single one of the 7 Deadly Sins on pretty much a daily basis. Pride, Wrath, Envy? This could actually be the name of his Twitter feed or the title of any one of his campaign speeches. Greed? By his own admission, it’s a defining quality. Lust? He’s an admitted adulterer and the guy who bragged about ‘grabbing ’em by the pussy’. Sloth? Leaked schedules show that he spends 60% of his work day in ‘executive time’, meaning no appointments. So he’s watching Fox News for more than half the day and doing little else. He complained that Obama golfed too often at once every 12-13 days; Trump golfs every 5.

And gluttony? You need look no further than his big fat ass. (Actually, by the looks of most American church-goers, they seem to have forgotten that over-eating is one of the go-straight-to-hell-do-not-pass-go trespasses).

Now, it’s fair to say that not all Christians have thrown away their Bibles so that they can worship a big orange peacock. Only about half of Catholics and main-line Protestants approve of Trump’s handling of the job, and non-White Catholics as well as Black Protestants overwhelmingly disapprove, the latter group giving him a consistent 12% approval rating.

But White Evangelicals – they can’t get enough of the man. Trump consistently gets support of 70-80% of this group of Christians for pretty much everything he does. And evangelical leaders such as Paula White, Jerry Falwell Jr., Rick Warren, and Franklin Graham stumble over one another to publicly excuse his many sins.

It’s easy to chalk this up to shared racism – which is what the media routinely does. White Bible-thumpers are all racists, so the story goes. Some closet racists, some blood-and-soil, white hood-wearers – but all love Trump because they all hate the yellow, brown, and black people.

While I’m sure this is true of some, I’m thinking (hoping) it constitutes a very small minority. In fact, I think the second half of James 2, and the difference in how these verses are interpreted by Evangelicals and main-stream Protestants has more to do with this than what at first meets the eye.

What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?

Traditionally, this has been interpreted by Catholic and Protestant alike to mean that there must be evidence of the working of God in a Christian’s life – evidence that shows they are changed creatures. You can’t just say you believe – your life has to show it. Given that the example given by James is feeding and clothing the poor, historically, this has been a big part of the Church’s work in the community.

However, from their origins, Pentecostal movements never followed suit. Part of this stems from practicality – small, poor, independent church bodies simply were not able to do much for their communities, even if they wanted to. And if there’s a bit of extra money, the thinking was it should go to missionaries.

But part of it is rooted in a doctrine that frames the evidence of God’s approval of an individual not in his works – but in his gifts.

Can you speak in tongues or prophesy? Can you preach or sing with anointing? This is the evidence of your faith – how much God has blessed you. Notice how many Americans refuse to say, “Well, I’m lucky to have a good job and home, etc.” Now, it’s pretty much mandatory to say, “I’m blessed to have a good home…” This comes straight out of the Evangelical churches. To be gifted a home or job by God is evidence of faith.

By the ’70s, these groups were calling themselves charismatic believers – at first referring to possessing the Gifts of the Spirit, but eventually meaning that they were recipients of all of the blessings of God, both spiritual and material. With the economic boom of the ’80s and ’90s, these Christians became wealthier and more influential in their communities. But, in the main, these churches did not contribute more to their communities as they grew richer. Instead, this was the beginning of the rise of the millionaire tele-evangelist. There are no vows of poverty taken by current leaders of the movement such as Kenneth Copeland or Joel Osteen – the possession of great wealth is evidence of great faith.

What’s known in church parlance as the prosperity gospel has completely overtaken Evangelicalism. If you don’t have material wealth, your faith is not pleasing to God. You need to figure out what you are doing wrong.  If you do have material wealth, God is pleased with you – you’re on your way to heaven.

But a more troubling extension emerges – if a person with material wealth is forced to share his blessings with the less fortunate – through taxation, for example – the will of God is circumvented. A government that requires the wealthy to contribute to society is immoral, in that it moves against the workings of God.

Donald Trump is gifted in this worldview, and thus, accepted of God. It doesn’t matter what his works are – the evidence is in his wealth, his charisma.

Now, of course this worldview runs contrary to what James writes. Abraham was accepted because of his obedience, not because of his wealth. Rahab is judged by her righteous actions, not her gifts. And, when we get to 1 Corinthians, we’ll see that Paul expressly warns believers not to be taken in by charismatic con-men – a warning unheeded by Evangelicals over and over again.

So what can we say about the GOP – and the White Evangelicals who support them?

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

They are bodies with no spirit. They put innocent kids in cages. They take food and education away from children. They labor day and night to figure out a way to take medical care and Social Security away from those who need it most – remember it’s only an immoral government that would ask you to re-distribute what God has distributed.

They have sold out their core values for 2% economic growth, tax cuts, and a bevy of conservative judges. But in doing so, they have hastened their demise.

The Church is quickly losing its relevance by worshiping a clearly flawed and immoral man. And by hitching its wagon to a party that delights in injustice.

The Sin of Partiality

In American Society, Blogging the Bible, Blogging the New Testament, Current events, The Trump Administration on February 2, 2020 at 12:51 am

 

Read James 2:1-13.

I am so gob-smacked by the political behavior of those who claim to be Christians these past several months that I really do not know where to start.  Perhaps it’s best just to pick up where I left off with blogging the New Testament. I covered the first chapter of James several months ago – time for James 2.

A central theme to this blog – neglected as it is – is that a) the US government needs to be a secular one, as not only was that the intent of the founding fathers, but also because it is this kind of government that offers the utmost protection and freedom for adherents to EVERY faith, and thereby maximizes religious freedom (yes, it’s counter-intuitive – but if you think about it for just a tiny bit – you’ll find it self-evident) and b) if Christians were to TRULY look to the Bible for political guidance, they would come to quite different conclusions than those espoused and misguidedly propagated by the GOP/Evangelical bully pulpit. (Apologies to google analytics for that sentence).

Any person taking an honest look at James 2 would have to conclude that American Christians support politicians that are, without a doubt, working in contravention of the ideas of the New Testament. In Acts, Peter says that God is no respecter of persons (Greek: prosopolemptes – to play favorites). Almost every law written by the GOP in the past four decades – supported by the religious right – are meant to favor wealth and the wealthy. Case in point – the last tax package gave huge, permanent tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy, while giving marginal, temporary relief to the middle class and the poor. Or the fact that ‘investors’ pay 14% capital gains taxes while working men and women pay upwards to 39%. And, since recent GOP polices have taken the deficit to record highs, I’m sure we’ll soon be hearing about how we need to make cuts to the few benefits we offer to the poor to lower-middle-class.

The title of this essay, the Sin of Partiality, is a chapter heading for James 2 in the NASB – and I think is quite self-explanatory. But, for those who struggle with fancy words such as partiality and respecter of persons, James breaks it down so that a six-year-old can understand. Basically, imagine two guys come into your church one sunny Sunday morning, one poor, dirty, homeless, and in need – the other well-dressed, wearing a bit of jewelry. Which person gets better treatment? If it’s the latter – you have sinned. James makes it clear that giving the wealthy better treatment than the poor is a sin.

I am sad to say that, in my experience, the dirty, needy guy gets passed over for the guy wearing a suit and driving a nice car 9 times out of 10. I can only speak for the small churches I grew up in – and, in their defense, have to say that they were often struggling financially. Another tithe-payer joining the group would have gone a long way towards paying off the church mortgage or perhaps even keeping the air-con running through the long summer. There’s little that five dozen souls can do for the needy beyond providing a few meals or a night or two of lodging. Yet, despite my apologetics, James says it’s wrong – it’s sinful.

I think it’s also noteworthy that James says this person comes into the assembly – your church or your synagogue, not your home. He’s pointing out that this is a sin committed by the group, more than it is by the individual. There are many in the church today that explain away the contradictions between their faith and their political convictions by saying that scriptural admonitions are personal, not political or social. James doesn’t support that view – it’s clear to him that a group of believers could act ‘with evil motives’. They do this by ignoring the lowly while brown-nosing the wealthy – the same folks who blaspheme and would gladly drag them to court tomorrow.

There are large numbers of ‘Christians’ today that want to punish the poor and reward the rich – I’m at a loss as to how they align their politics with their supposed beliefs.

In verse 8, we have the famous admonition to ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ and then a bit of talk about adultery and murder. It seems to me that James is saying this whole ‘partiality’ thing is not a small sin – it is right up there with the big ones. He reminds us to speak and act as those who are judged by the law of liberty – and as such to act with mercy in all that we do.

You might ask – Who is my neighbor? The answer reveals a close connection between the ideas of James and those of the writer of Acts 10 – and gives us one of the most beautiful of Jesus’ parables. Both passages stress the need for merciful action, for treating poor strangers with great care.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Go and do likewise – the command can hardly be clearer.

We certainly have the right as a nation to strengthen our borders – to decide who gets to enter and who doesn’t. We may need to have a look at how much money we are spending on social programs, and to weigh them according to their cost vs their benefit. These are the kinds of decisions every country must make.

But, if our laws are to be moral – they must be merciful. Separating kids from their parents, putting children in cages, kicking babies off of nutrition assistance – while at the same time giving millions away to wealthy shareholders and mega-corporations – these actions are immoral and, for the Christian, not in line with the teachings of the New Testament.