Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!
“When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain,
and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah,
add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver,
and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”
The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done! Amos 8:4-
There is a certain joy and challenge to having to preach every week, especially when one follows the lectionary instead of making things up as we go based on our favorite theological biases or interests.
Thus coming back to a place where I am having to preach each week it is a challenge. It is interesting for me to see what the Bible has to say on issues that Christians including me like to ignore. The funny, but not so funny thing is that those parts of the Bible that many conservative American Christians of all denominations, but especially Evangelicals like to ignore are the kinds of passages that are more the norm than the exception. Thus we tend to ignore the really challenging things and focus on what tickles people’s ears. Now I have never been a fan of having my ears tickled but evidently some do or the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have not warned Timothy about it.
In the United States Christians have it good. As rich and fashionably well to do entitled Christians we love to cite verses that talk about prosperity. Those more theologically adept love to misuse the writings and theology of John Calvin to show who our material success somehow equals God blessing us. The sad thing is in order to do that many of us will totally ignore most of Jesus’ teachings about the misuse of wealth and the abuse of the poor as well as those of Paul, James, and the vast majority of the prophets of the Old Testament in such matters. But then what do they know? They didn’t study Ayn Rand did they?
I can only imagine what Amos, a prophet from Judah whose ministry was primarily directed at the Kingdom of Israel in about 750 BC would be if he walked among American Christians today. I mean really, think about it. Amos almost sounds like he is talking about the Prosperity Preachers and those in the church who for the sake of partisan political power are willing to ignore or even worse to sacrifice the most vulnerable people in society for their own place at the seat of power.
How Constantinian of them. Yet Amos and most of the other prophets seem to have a most egregious disregard for the issues that contemporary Christians have sacrificed on the altar of political power and expediency. Yes “Christian Right” I and they are talking about you.
Pope Francis is nailing the issue. For too long the Christian Church in the United States and western Europe have been engaging in the so called “culture wars.” While some of the issues are legitimate including some of the pro-life related issues, they are actually subordinated to a broader and much more insidious agenda which is neither Christian or for that matter American, at least in the sense understood by the religiously tolerant and pluralistic founders of the country understood.
Ever since Nazi apologist Pat Buchanan (See his book Hitler Churchill and the Unnecessary War) declared the beginning of the “Culture Wars” in 1992 and long after the foundations were laid by others on the Christian Right the Church, Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic decided on the Christian version of Jihad to achieve political goals. In fact men like Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft actually wrote books like Ecumenical Jihad to define their strategy and goals. Clothed in the veneer of Constantinian virtue these people helped lead the church into an abyss that from which may not be able to extricate itself in our lifetimes.
Unfortunately the problem is that the culture wars are more often fought with the goal of maintaining the political power and influence of Christians while ignoring the very tenants of what writer after writer, prophet after prophet and even Jesus made foundational issues of their day. We Christians have sold out the Gospel in order to be co-opted by the very people and interests who hate the kind of justice that Jesus and the prophets preached about.
When Pope Francis talked this week about those “culture wars” this week in a number of ways. He decried the manner in which some bishops were more at war with the culture than caring for the people of their own dioceses and how in terms of caring for and loving people “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules…” He said that in regard to the focus that many Catholics have had on abortion and homosexuality. Pope Francis said: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.” To finish the week, or rather to start this week on a high note Francis attacked the culture of greed which many in the church have blessed and furthered.
I am all in with Pope Francis on this because he is speaking the truth. The fact is that he is saying things that most of us do not want to hear. Francis is talking about redemption, the fact as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself counting men’s sins not against them.”
Yes these are tough words, but the proof of their validity is in the pudding. Non-believers want nothing to do with the church, even if they happen to like what Jesus says and many believers are fleeing the church and not coming back. And yes this is different than the days when young people would leave the church for a few years and then come back. The folks leaving now for the most part have no desire to return. The reasons are self evident. It is not Jesus, nor is it even doctrine. It is how Christians and the Church treat the world. Something that Pope Francis seems to understand while many of his Bishops as well as leaders of Evangelical Christian Churches in the United States seem oblivious.
George Barna, an Evangelical Christian who runs one of the most respected polling agencies around has done a number of polls on this very subject. Sad to say his polls, which are scientific in the way they are conducted line up with what I am saying here and what Pope Francis is speaking about.
One Barna poll asked the words which most describe Christianity. The results: Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna study dealing with why young people are leaving the church included that nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.” That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds, people for the most part raised in the church.
Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Dr Francis Schaeffer noted in his book Crazy for God: “I personally came to believe that a lot of the issues that were being latched onto by the Christian Right, whether it was the gay issue or abortion or other things, were actually being used for negative political purposes. They were used to structure a power base for people who then threw their weight around.” Schaeffer should know, in the 1970s and 1980s he was a key player in the growth of the political Christian Right.
But I digress…. Soren Kierkegaard noted “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”
The fact is that if we actually decide to look at the way we do life, faith, politics and ethics in light of the writings of men like Amos, James and even Paul to some extent not to mention Jesus we might have to actually repent. But then, when all that matters is maintaining our political and social power who needs repentance?
But I digress, after all, repentance in our American Christian culture is never having to say your sorry. It is no wonder that Mark Twain noted: “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.”
I think that old Amos might just be talking to us as much as he was talking to the people and leaders of Israel. But hey, I could be wrong.
PS. I do plan on doing some articles over the next few weeks about how people of all religions attempt to use the political and police power of the state to advance their beliefs and to demonize dissenters.