“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.” Sermon on II Cor. 12:9 Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I am scared for the Church in the United States. I am afraid that in our zeal to promote and defend “Christian” values in the face of atheistic “socialism” we have instead embraced the allure of brute power, wealth and the rather banal philosophies of social and economic Darwinism as espoused by Adam Smith and Ayn Rand. Bluntly we have become culturally captive to a rather un-Christian way of life and thinking and quite readily embrace Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” so long as we don’t teach evolution in schools.
But how can we not?
The most popular and powerful clerics in theUnited Statesare the CEOs of the Mega-Churches sometimes known as pastors, evangelists and even “Apostles.” These men and women preach a “Gospel” of wealth, power and domination over whatever they define as anti-Christian. To do this they maintain massive church plants which sometimes occupy multiple city blocks, operate television and media empires and ally themselves with the most unsavory characters in politics and business. After all it takes money and connections to run such empires.
Much of American Christianity has embraced the “Imperial Church” model of the Dominionist movement and the New Apostolic Reformation. Many American Christians have allowed themselves to simply become the religious organ of whatever political, social or business concern that we choose mostly because they support their agendas. In fact many churches and ministries are likely to “baptize” whatever their business and political allies say with a few Bible verses and make it their own.
We are captive to the most banally evil institutions and while we want to think that we are “influencing the culture” we in fact are enslaved to the very powers. The politicians and business leaders are content with allowing Churches and politically minded pastors to bask in their illusion of power and influence. These powers, political and economic are quite content to outwardly support some of our passionate causes in the short term even as they use their financial and political power to emasculate the Church in the long term. At the end of the day they seek to destroy the very things that we thought we could count on them to defend. In our blind fanaticism to the misguided belief that we can co-opt these powers to do our bidding we have become the willing dupes of those that hold us in contempt.
The tragedy is not that those that have power deceive us but that that our powerful spiritual leaders who think they have earthly have no clue. Jesus told his disciples to be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” but our most popular spiritual leaders are neither wise nor gentle. They are brutal fools that they are spiritually superior to other Christians and quite mistakenly think that they influence business leaders and politicians. Bonhoeffer noted: “Still more pathetic is the total collapse of moral fanaticism. Fanatics think that their single-minded principles qualify them to do battle with the powers of evil; but like a bull they rush at the red cloak instead of the person who is holding it; he exhausts himself and is beaten. He gets entangled in non-essentials and falls into the trap set by cleverer people.” (Letters and Papers from Prison)
To be truthful we are little different than the Churches of Germany who helped the Nazis into power. They too were blinded by their fear and hatred of atheistic socialism and the erosion of “Christian values.” They rallied to the extreme of the political right because the savvy politician Adolf Hitler knew exactly what words and images to use to mobilize them to support him. Hitler was also savvy enough to cultivate strong relationships with the great businesses, industrial and financial houses of Germany. Those entities prospered as the Nazis deprived their opponents of political power and then launched their programs of persecution and extortion against the Jews and many others in Germany and every country that they occupied and very few people spoke out against this. Those intrepid pastors and other church leaders who spoke up were rapidly silenced, even those like Martin Niemöller who initially supported the Nazis thinking them to be friendly to the church and who was against the socialist and communist threat. Niemöller later wrote this powerful poem about his inaction during the Nazi rise to power.
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
The supposedly wise and “Spirit filled” “Apostles” of the “New Apostolic Reformation” and those of similar beliefs preach a “Gospel” that is antithetical to the Gospel that Jesus preached. It is a gospel that sees the wealth and power of the world as the way to usher in the kingdom. They preach “civil war” against other Christians that do not agree with them, calling them the “false church” and promise that under their “Apostolic leadership” that the “very definition of Christianity will be changed for the better.” (Rick Joyner Morning Star Prophetic Bulletin May 1996) They readily admit that their rule may seem at first “totalitarian” but that it will result in “new freedom.” As a historian I know of no totalitarian or authoritarian movement that has ever brought freedom, political, social or spiritual. They like their political allies fashion themselves as “revolutionaries” who promise freedom but as Hannah Arendt said “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”
So is it any wonder that we are witnesses to people cheering politicians when they brag about killing people that might in fact be innocent. Today I saw someone write that we should execute those on death row for economic reasons because taxpayers should not have to pay for the care and feeding of convicted criminals. There are those that shout at debates “let them die” when a question is asked of a politician of what to do with a critically ill patient without health insurance and the politically driven televangelist who counsels a caller to divorce a spouse because they have Alzheimer’s disease.
With good reason we want to limit or even end the practice of abortion but show quite often show no compassion for the mothers of babies after they deliver or before they become pregnant. Believe me, once the political and business allies of conservative Christians take power the cause of ending abortion which motivated many conservative Christians to support them will be dumped. The dirty little secret is that political and business elites will find that it makes economic sense to kill babies in the womb rather then pay for high risk pregnancies that produce babies that need lots of medical care to survive outside the womb. The same is true same the elderly, those chronically ill, or terminally ill that have no health insurance. “Let him die” is the mantra of business, and such is not a pro-life ethic. Business is all about the bottom line and has no morality except profit, people are secondary and disposable once they no longer can contribute to the bottom line. Christians that believe business and those in political power will yield to their beliefs about life are badly mistaken.
Likewise Evangelical Christians have become some of the loudest supporters of pre-emptive war against other nations as if they were the Popes calling on the people to support the Crusades. Of course such calls have no place in the Gospel and cannot be reconciled with the Christian understanding of “the Just War Theory.” Pre-emptive war where every principle of the Just War theory is violated is hardly a pro-life ethic yet many evangelicals support a “war without end.”
We support the rights of the wealthiest not because it is scriptural but because we believe that God wants us to be rich too. Our political benefactors tell us that the government has no business caring for the poor as that is the job of churches, charities and individuals. However the most affluent churches have most their money tied up in real estate, church plants that are more like malls or sporting venues and television air time, not to mention the grotesque salaries of their CEO Warrior Apostles. In such an environment many churches offer less than a pittance to the support of the less fortunate even members of their own congregations. Charities in our depressed economy have more requests for assistance than they have resources to support and many individuals that used to give to help those less fortunate are now the long term unemployed or under-employed who themselves need help. So blind are we that we follow politicians of both parties who are busy finding ways to eviscerate government programs that provide a safety net all in the name of fiscal austerity while ensuring that multi-national corporations have every break imaginable. Charities, individuals and the churches that still want to help are less able to do so and face the daunting task of caring for even more people because of the government cuts.
We have already abandoned the moral imperative to defend the weak and those least able to care for themselves. We cheer the death penalty, even when a person very well may be innocent. We are willing to abandon those with Alzheimer’s Disease and we shout “let them die” if they don’t have health insurance. Meanwhile we are willing to abandon those whose jobs have been shipped overseas never to return.
Yes those are generalizations because not everyone thinks that way but such opinions are be being voiced and voiced by those with a great deal of power. It is foolish to think that once such people have the political power that they desire that they will not act on these base instincts. It is not enough to call ourselves pro-life because we oppose abortion when we embrace what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of death” at every other opportunity. It is not enough.
Bonhoeffer wrote this in prison.
“The huge masquerade of evil has thrown all ethical concepts into confusion…. The failure of “the reasonable ones” … is apparent…. Who stands firm? Only one whose ultimate standard is not his reason, his principles, conscience, freedom, or virtue; only the one who is prepared to sacrifice all of these when, in faith and in relationship with God alone, he is called to obedient and responsible action…. Where are these responsible ones?”
Just who will stand?