Donald Andrew Henson II

Archive for the ‘Blogging the New Testament’ Category

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.

 

 

Pure Religious Hypocrisy

In American Society, Blogging the New Testament, Religion and Government, Secular Humanism on April 17, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Paul Ryan shame

It has been a very long time since I’ve blogged the New Testament, which is a shame really as it was one of the primary reasons for starting this blog. I was very impressed with David Platz’ blogging of the Old Testament for Slate, and I wanted to attempt to do the same thing for the New, with a similar, rational, secular approach.

I could blame the Great Firewall of China or a variety of other hindrances, but that would only be partially true. The thing is, when I post a couple of photos on my travel blog, I get 500 ‘likes’ right away, but I can’t even get that many paid likes for a 1500-word essay on secularism. (Seems like you can easily generate 100k or more likes with cute butt photos, but I’m not sure how to tie that in to the topic). But I don’t feel bad – I notice on my twitter account that other secularists, agnostics, and atheists are unable to generate a dozen re-tweets a day, and they’ve got much greater name recognition.

Writing rationally about religion is thankless work – writing and speaking irrationally about it pays millions.

Furthermore, as Sam Harris mentioned in his podcast, with Donald Trump as POTUS, somehow, as scary as theocracy is, suddenly there are ideas – like nihilism, fascism or WWIII – that are just as scary or more so.

But, let’s suppose global thermonuclear war is not imminent, and pick up where we left off, with the Epistle of James. Take a few minutes to read about what we’ve learned so far about one of the earliest New Testament books written. We’ve learned that it’s unlikely that James, the brother of Jesus, wrote the letter – and that it doesn’t really matter if he did or not. We’ve learned that James is not a fan of the idea that the wealthy are job creators, and that Christians need to listen more and stop shouting angrily at pro-Trump rallies. We’ve also learned that, according to James, Christians should be working for a greater morality for themselves, not for the nation as a whole – more on that in a minute.

Perhaps the most astonishing idea I’ve written about, for me personally as an ex- Sunday school teacher, is that when James tells us to be doers of the word and not hearers only – one of the most well-known verses in the NT – he could not possibly be referring to the Bible. And we’ve only covered the first chapter. If a person unfamiliar with American politics read only the first chapter of James, he’d have a hard time reconciling it to most every conservative Christian/Republican policy over the last 20 years – why do Christians vote Republican again?

We’ll finish the first chapter today, in short measure, by examining part of James 1:27, the part about looking after orphans and widows.

If you’re a regular reader, you already know where I’m going with this. But let me go there more forcefully than I usually do – in part, because drastic Trump times require it, but in a greater part because this is an example of Christian hypocrisy that really gripes my ass.

There are no two areas that reveal the hypocrisy of the evangelical, politically involved Christian – out of the many hypocrisies – than the issue of war, and the issue of taking care of the unfortunate. Jesus said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’, yet Christians keep putting warmongers in office. Jesus said ‘as you’ve treated the least of these, brothers and sisters, this is how you’ve treated me’ – referring specifically to the poor, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned. I don’t even need to give you chapter and verse, dear Believer, as you know it is exactly what Jesus said.

And yet – you vote overwhelmingly for the Paul Ryans and the other ‘fiscal conservatives’ who – with great joy – funnel more tax dollars into the war machine, and to the coffers of the rich (whom James disparages) and would strip the poor and sick of what little safety net they have. (Note the recent failure to pass healthcare reform because conservatives thought it didn’t punish the poor quite enough). Given that any pro-lifer logically should be anti-war and pro social safety net – how the hell do you sleep at night? (But logic is not a conservative forte – when Tomi Lahren stated the obvious logical consistency between being pro small government and pro-choice, she lost her job as a conservative commentator the very next day).

If I ever meet Mr. Ryan, aka Ebenezer Scrooge / Simon Legree – that’s the only question I’d want to ask – how, as a Christian, Mr. Ryan, do you sleep at night, knowing that you have purposely disobeyed many of the commands of your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and are personally responsible for the suffering and perhaps even death of thousands – so that the Koch brothers can stack up a few more mil? I mean, forget about those whom you must consider to be the dregs of society – what about your personal salvation? (Although, being Catholic, I suppose you can just go to confession after each major legislative push – as can much of the Supreme Court). On another hypocritical note, it’s amazing that Evangelicals consider Catholics and Mormons to be anathema when it comes to worshipping together – but a-ok when voting. How can you let a man make decisions for millions of Americans, when you wouldn’t let him teach a Sunday school class or serve as a deacon in your church of a hundred souls?

James reinforces Jesus’ message – pure religion has a personal and public aspect. Personally, maintain the high bar on morality. Publicly, take care of widows and orphans. But American Christians skew their politics completely vice-versa, where morality becomes something that should be legislated and charity is an individual virtue, not a public one.

I’m familiar with your hypocritical dodge of this scriptural imperative, dear Christian (in fact, as an agnostic, I’m probably familiar with much more of the scripture, your worldview, and your theology than you, my hazy-thinking friend, are yourself. Yes, I know, even the Devil can cite scripture to his own advantage – thank Shakespeare for that one, not Jesus). Your excuse is that being a peacemaker and taking care of the poor are personal commands, not national ones. I see this argument everywhere online, and certainly in the comments section of my Facebook page.

Really? Please show me in the Bible where it’s explained how your actions and your voting are different – chapter and verse, if you don’t mind. Voting doesn’t count as an action? How, specifically, is voting for someone you know will punish the poor different from you making extra-sure that the poor are indeed punished? How is voting for a profane, immoral, warmonger not an act of profanity, immorality, and warmongering? How do you explain to your own children that you vote for people who exhibit behavior that you would not condone in – your own children? Even taking for granted the Herculean feats of circular logic it takes to maintain your system of belief against the everyday onslaught of increasing evidence – isn’t this a bridge too far?

And furthermore, what I consider to be the epitome of hypocrisy, Christians have spent decades insisting that the dictates of the Bible should be the the guiding light of government. God isn’t only telling me not to engage in homosexual activity – he’s judging us as a nation. Not only is God telling me not to have an abortion, he wants us to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v Wade. The Lord’s Prayer should be on public display in courthouses and schools, and every public square should have a little baby Jesus come Christmas.

Oh but, feed the poor, well that’s personal, that shouldn’t be what government does. Peacemaking? That’s me making amends with the woman down the street that criticized my apple pie at the last church social. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bomb the shit out of ISIS or the North Koreans.

Listen to yourself – your hypocrisy is worse than pathetic. It’s foul, poisonous equivocation – and left unchecked it will destroy our nation.

James, whom you believe to be Jesus’ own brother, tells you to take care of widows and orphans. He tells you this is the purest form of Christianity. And yet you vote for politicians who will punish the poor for the dire straits they find themselves in, while rewarding the rich – whom James says are exploiting you and blaspheming God. (But I’m ahead of myself – that’s James 2).

Shame – by your own Biblical standard – shame on you. When I see such odious, unrepentant hypocrisy, I think that Dante’s Eighth Circle of Hell – were it really to exist – is too good for you.