Tag Archives: prosperity preachers

No Losers Allowed: The Hallmark of the American Church

Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you

I have been writing a lot this week about the greed, self-centeredness and dehumanizing aspects of much of the American church. I seems that with each article that I wrote that another thought would flow and another article would be born. Now  I promise that this will be the last of these for a while, unless something else triggers me.

I know to some people that these articles are very uncomfortable because they challenge something that many hold dear. Certainly that is not the Gospel.  But, rather it is the very comfortable and insulated lives that we lead in churches which have entirely bought the crass materialism of our culture, and which seek brazen political power rather than caring for the least, the lost and the lonely.

This has been epidemic since the 1980s and has infected churches and denominations across the theological, social and political spectrum of our country. However, my real Christian formation comes from the 1960s and 1970s. I am a relic by today’s standards and I don’t mind it. There is s scene in the movie Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner’s character tracks down a writer played by James Earl Jones. I kind of reminds me of some of the looks I get when I spout ideas that are to say the least counter-cultural, but more often are an attack on the current system.

Terence Mann: Oh, my God.

Ray Kinsella: What?

Terence Mann: You’re from the sixties.

Ray Kinsella: [bashfully] Well, yeah, actually…

Terence Mann: [spraying at Ray with a insecticide sprayer] Out! Back to the sixties! Back! There’s no place for you here in the future! Get back while you still can!

But I digress…

Back in 1976 a Christian rock group called Daniel Amos from Calvary Chapel released a little song called Losers and Winners http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J520qyIUHME which when you come to think of it is one of the most amazingly theologically correct songs ever written. Back then I had the album that it came on both on LP and 8 Track. Thankfully I was able to get a CD of it a few years ago.

The song has come back to me in a big way during the past week as I have watched watched Christian leaders and their followers delve ever deeper into the pit of Hell known as the Prosperity Gospel. Yesterday I wrote about churches and pastors that ignore, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The fact is that many, maybe even most churches are more social clubs with a religious veneer than they are places for those beaten down by the world to come for solace, help, or even salvation.

That has been in stark contrast to the men who have been regulars at my little chapel service at the staff college. I have had the blessing of having three Lebanese Christian officers attend over the past two months. They return to Lebanon at the end of the week, but all of them have stated their disappointment with the American church, a church that they do not believe cares about Arab Christians and is more concerned with money and politics than the Gospel. I all miss them because they have helped bring a joy back to celebrating the Eucharist that I have not felt since my time in Iraq. They will go home to a country oppressed on all sides where they are the targets of not just the various types of Islamic extremists, but the American supported Israeli military. A military which many American Christians believe can do no wrong.

When it was released the song went pretty much unnoticed outside of the few that really liked the less than conventional message of Daniel Amos.

The song really is amazing because the song is more true to the Gospel so much of what is called “Christian” now, especially some of the “praise” songs that preach the militant and often hateful theology of Dominionism.

I spent many years in churches and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for me, I have never really been in the “in crowd.” Now that I am older I really don’t want to be in the “in crowd” if it means being less than Christian in the way that I get there.

For me church is not a place to enhance my social status, nor is it a place simply to network or a place that I can use to enhance my political or social agendas. It is simple a place where believers gather to worship as well as share the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a place of refuge for all people, but especially for the wounded, the outcast and the broken.  Likewise it is a place that even unbelievers can come and be welcomed without prejudice. Didn’t Jesus say “come to me you who are weary and bear heavy burdens and I will give you rest?”

To me the church is not about being the political platform of any party or political leader, but being the redemptive voice of Jesus the Christ to a broken world.

Unfortunately now the church is viewed more for what it is against and who it rejects rather than the one who calls the broken, who will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a flickering flame.

Do you give the highest place
To someone ’cause you like his face
And turn aside those you deem less than yourself?
Well, love that is natural
Can be less than satisfactual
For we all are one, no less than anyone else

As a result people are fleeing the church or if they were not a part of the church simply turning their back on it. The “Nones” or those with no religious preference are the fastest growing segment of American faith and religion.

The message that the church is actually teaching today is a diametric opposite of the early church and it would be unrecognizable to Christians of many eras. The church is obsessed with its own power, privileges and pre-eminence and this is particularly true of its most influential preachers. Today I read about televangelist Crefo Dollar begging his congregation and television viewers for over 60 million dollars buy a state of the art Gulfstream G650 private jet so he can “spread God’s grace around the world.” But he is not alone in such behavior.

If the church today has an unspoken message it goes something like this:

We welcome you to church…If you look like us, if you hold similar political views, if you have money, if you are attractive, if your presence will benefit us… Our doors are open to you if you fit the criteria that we decide and unless you are like us, agree with us or are not of a group of people that we have determined cannot enter heaven you are welcome.

Another verse of Losers and Winners says:

Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose

That is not just me talking but it is what polls published by the Evangelical Christian Barna Group attest. The terms used to describe Christianity are: 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, not the unchurched.

The fact is that our obnoxious, arrogant, materialistic political and theologically insipid version of Christianity is causing great harm both inside and outside the church. It is not redemptive it is selfish and power hungry. It is not open, it is closed. We are losing our young people and those outside the church don’t want any part of us. Can you blame them? I don’t.

The funny thing is the long haired, Jesus people musicians of Daniel Amos figured this out close to 40 years ago. But then maybe they read and took seriously the message of Jesus. Maybe we should as well.

Peace

Padre Steve+

P.S. Expect some more Gettysburg and Civil War articles soon, some about baseball and some other interesting and hopefully less controversial subjects.

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God’s Going to Get the Church for Its Greed

JoelOsteen_FOR_PROSPERITY

Back when I was in seminary at Southwestern Baptist, before the Fundamentalist takeover of that once proud school, my Church History professor, Dr. Doyle Young made the comment “God’s going to get us for our stained glass windows.” It was in the context of the rich and indolent nature of the American church. This was back in 1988 and 1989, sadly, things have only gotten worse.

In his various lectures Dr. Young was always able to weave church history into contemporary issues. He was really an amazing professor and he understood human nature more than most theologians. As such his lectures always had a profound amount of biography of the men and women who influenced church history. In fact, that biographical narrative is something that I have adopted in my own teaching and writing about history. That biographical emphasis helps keep me grounded and allows me to see that some things never change.

 

I noticed this again tonight when I posted a meme on Facebook about the televangelist and mega-church “pastor” Joel Osteen purchasing a 10.4 million dollar home. All of a sudden I had two men, one the son of a prominent televangelist that I worked for in the early 1990s, and the other a man who served with me as a Priest in my former denomination and now is a fairly high ranking priest in a diocese of the Episcopal Church open fire on me and defending the opulence of Osteen. When I asked what Jesus would do the televangelist’s son made comments made comments which were almost mocking of Jesus and his death for us. The Episcopal priest continued his defense and finished his post with the comment “cheers!” Frankly I found nothing to cheer about in their comments. When one of the men who served with me at war commented on the post, the Episcopal priest attacked him.

Do I really care what these men think of me? The hell no, not anymore. I invited both of them to drop me as “friends” because frankly I don’t want to be associated with people who make their living off the backs and hard earned money of the tithes and offerings of people who often cannot afford it and then defend the greed and opulence of wealthy minsters. I cannot do that. In fact when I retire from the Navy I will help other ministers and churches but I will not take any salary. I cannot do that, it seems to me that the Gospel which is supposedly freely given to us, should in turn be given.

Does that mean that I think that ministers should not be paid? Not at all. But there is a point, which is different in every church where what a minister makes is too much, and when the money that is sucked into a church or ministry only serves to prop that church or ministry up without helping any of God’s people but the livelihood of the minister.

I have heard so many rationalizations for this by ministers and Christians that it makes my head swim. I just remember reading the notes, letters and phone calls from poor people giving what they could not afford to the televangelist that I worked for in the early 1990s. Thinking about what those people gave and wrote breaks my heart to this day, especially when I see that man on television and radio talking about and actively backing the politicians who do the most to further impoverish the poor and support war without end.

Barry McGuire, the rock and roller who wrote and performed the song Eve of Destruction wrote another song after he became a Christian in the late 1960s called Don’t Blame God (for the Sins of America). Some of words in that song, a song of protest by a new Christian at the American church are even more accurate today.

On every worthless coin
and every dollar bill
you see the words in god we trust
but outta fear we kill

we got million dollar churches
but nobody’s on their knees
we got too many selfish people
just doin what they please

Sadly, because of the lives and actions of such people, many are fleeing the church, even those who grew up in it, the baptized. The fastest growing religious demographic in the country is the Nones those who ascribe to no religion. Many people blame God for the action of such people, but if I understand the message of justice of Jesus, John the Baptist and the prophets I know that it’s not God to blame. Instead it is us, those who claim to represent God while making our living off the backs of the weak and supporting the powerful. The Price Bishops of the Middle Ages would be jealous at how well we American Christians do this.

The song’s chorus would be banned in most churches especially those who have sold their souls for political power and economic wealth:

so don’t blame God for the
sins of america
america is fallen from the ways of the Lord
Don’t blame God for the
sins of america
livin for the dollar, she’ll be dyin’ by the sword

 

Anyway, this was one of those articles that I had thought about writing for a while and just needed a trigger. I guess I got it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Social Justice from the Prophet Amos and Pope Francis

holy-saturday

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.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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.

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