Debunking the Right’s Straw Man Fallacy, Part 1

“A straw man fallacy occurs when someone takes another person’s argument or point, distorts it or exaggerates it in some kind of extreme way, and then attacks the extreme distortion, as if that is really the claim the first person is making.” Excelsior Online Writing Lab’s Argument and Critical Thinking curriculum

This is the strategy of the extreme right in the U.S., which I deconstructed in part in my argument regarding the response of James Dobson to Christianity Today’s editorial about removing Donald Trump from office. This is the first in a series of discussions about the Right Wing Straw Man Fallacy.

The most heinous of the fallacies promoted by the extreme right (which includes our current leadership) is that the have-nots somehow only want handouts — usually from the pockets of the haves — rather than working in the same way that the haves have. These “conservatives” are truly disgusted by those who “refuse” to take care of their own. These people are likely well-intentioned, but this perspective is so addictive that people will follow it to sometimes bizarre conclusions.

This position is but a single facet of the straw man created by the right to justify its extreme positions, and the problem with straw men is that they don’t have to be real to be bullied. This straw man is multi-faceted and represents the extreme of everything the right “hates”. Borrowing in large portion from Dr. James Dobson, here are a few of the characteristics of this “opponent” of the Christian Right:

Pro-abortion
Anti-family
Promotes laziness for the poor
Hostile to the military
Dispassionate toward Israel
Supports a socialist form of government
Promotes confiscatory taxation
Opposes school choice
Favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms
Promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda
Opposes parental rights
Distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct.

In attempts to cloud reality, these people mash all of these into one enemy called “the left”. They are highly adept at promulgating such a fallacy, because their Bible tells them they can make sweeping judgments in the self-serving name of God’s prosperity.

This was recently revealed in a Brookings analysis paper “Low unemployment isn’t worth much if the jobs barely pay.”

Some will say that not all low-wage workers are in dire economic straits or reliant on their earnings to support themselves, and that’s true. But as the following data points show, it would be a mistake to assume that most low-wage workers are young people just getting started, or students, or secondary earners, or otherwise financially secure:

  • Two-thirds (64%) of low-wage workers are in their prime working years of 25 to 54.
  • More than half (57%) work full-time year-round, the customary schedule for employment intended to provide financial security.
  • About half (51%) are primary earners or contribute substantially to family living expenses.
  • Thirty-seven percent have children. Of this group, 23% live below the federal poverty line.
  • Less than half (45%) of low-wage workers ages 18 to 24 are in school or already have a college degree.

These statistics tell an important story: Millions of hardworking American adults struggle to eke out a living and support their families on very low wages.

My own research confirms the position that unemployment numbers are extremely unreliable as a measure of our economy, and the Presidency of Donald Trump has exacerbated the problem. Here’s a graph revealing that in 2019 poverty shows up in unique ways. This graph reveals the growth of people in the labor force working multiple jobs. The source is the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

MULTIPLE JOBHOLDERS 10-YEAR TRACK

Of course, this only reveals about 5% of the labor force. However, other employment categories combine to tell the bigger story:

“Even with sunny job statistics, the nation’s economy is simply not working well for tens of millions of people.” (Brookings Analysis)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 48.8% of the labor force are dual income families. 63% of families with children had both parents working, Even 65.1% of mothers with children under 6 are working. A BLS profile of the working poor in 2017 offered five points worth noting:

  • Full-time workers continued to be much less likely to be among the working poor than were part-time workers. Among persons in the labor force for 27 weeks or more, 2.9 percent of those usually employed full time were classified as working poor, compared with 10.9 percent of part-time workers.
  • Women were more likely than men to be among the working poor. In addition, Blacks or African Americans and Hispanics or Latinos continued to be more than twice as likely as Whites and Asians to be among the working poor.
  • The likelihood of being classified as working poor diminishes as workers attain higher levels of education. Among those with less than a high school diploma, 13.7 percent of those who were in the labor force for at least 27 weeks were classified as working poor, compared with 1.5 percent of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Individuals who were employed in service occupations continued to be more likely to be among the working poor than those employed in other major occupational groups.
  • Among families with at least one member in the labor force for 27 weeks or more, those with children under 18 years old were over four times as likely as those without children to live in poverty. Families maintained by women were more than twice as likely as families maintained by men to be living below the poverty level.

The point of all of this, of course, is that silly arguments that present poverty as single dimension are extremely misleading, for nowhere is there a way to nail down the laziness of one group of people over another. Margaret Sanger, in speaking about men, once said, “Women have just as much right to be lazy as men,” and that generalization is just as false as the one presented as part of the left-wing boogieman that the Republicans reference.

But that’s the way it goes when political manipulators paint horrendous pictures of their opponents. Beware the straw man of the right, for the character is quite unbelievable.

Donald Trump’s Spiritual Problem

Donald Trump in prayer with his Christian advisors

The press is struggling with covering the split among white evangelical Christians over the editorial in Christianity Today (and a similar commentary in The Christian Post) calling for the removal from office of President Donald Trump. The struggle is not new, and those without knowledge can’t possibly understand what’s really going on here.

Disclaimer: This is not an Academic theological paper. Many books have been written about the subject, none from my pen. The views expressed here come entirely from my own research and experiences primarily as former Executive Producer of The 700 Club, Author of “The Gospel of Self: How Pat Robertson Stole the Soul of the GOP”, author of the 1988 television news series on religion in the Tennessee Valley (“I Believe”). and subsequent studies and writings on the subject.

In response to these messages from evangelicalism’s main editorial voices, Trump has scheduled a January 3rd rally (of course) called “Evangelicals for Trump” at a venue that’s a giveaway for anybody with an understanding of the split. The rally will be in Miami at the West Kendall Church, an “Apostolic” megachurch run by Pastor Guillermo Maldonado, a man calling himself an apostle. This church practices “the gifts of the Spirit” which includes speaking in tongues, interpretation of those tongues, dancing in the Spirit, prophecies, laying on of hands for healing, and words of knowledge and wisdom straight from the Holy Ghost. This is from Paul’s writings to the Church at Corinth during the First Century:

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12:4–10.

These practices were limited primarily to primitive, smaller rural Pentecostal churches until the Charismatic Movement of the 60s counterculture spread “the gifts” to more mainline churches. Pentecost, the event found in the second chapter of Acts, is cited as the first example and forms the basis for such beliefs. Early Charismatic prayer meetings in the 60s and 70s would find folks from Catholic and mainline protestant denominations gathering together to worship God in such a manner, and the foundation created through these meetings led ultimately to the televangelists who practiced these “gifts” during times of prayer on television. Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and many others bound themselves to this burgeoning growth. It seemed so new and fresh that people were drawn to the practice and demonstration of faith they viewed on television. The scandals that hit in the mid-80s were tied to these ministers. At the time, the most prominent, non-tongue-talking televangelists were Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham.

When Pat Robertson decided to run for President, I had to make choices for who would play Pat’s role of news commentator on the show while he was off on his campaign, and I chose Chuck Colson, a brilliant and wonderful man who didn’t practice the gifts of the spirit. I loved Chuck Colson and felt a kinship with him that was rare. I was at core still a journalist with a modicum of skepticism about generally everything, including all that we practiced theologically via The 700 Club. In discussing this with Chuck one day, he told me a story from his experience with Robert Tilton, an extreme practitioner of speaking in tongues and words of knowledge while praying on his program. Tilton was later found by the press in Dallas to have questionable practices and financial dealings. Chuck Colson told me that Tilton had told him that Chuck needed to get into the same sorts of things, “because that’s where the money is.” Colson knew then and there that he wanted nothing to do with what Tilton was practicing. This observation explains much in today’s contemporary arguments about what does or doesn’t represent the faith. When all else is stripped away, the bottom line is often cash in the form of contributions to continue such ministering.

At The 700 Club, we practiced these gifts during prayer time, which was often at or near the end of the program’s first hour. I recall one focus group discussion about the program in which one man described it as “progressively subjective”. He didn’t care for the prayer segment. The program was shown to people with like/dislike hand-held meters that they could turn in one direction or the other, depending on what was being shown. By the time we got to the prayer segment, these meters registered at polar opposites, suggesting that the viewers either really liked or really disliked the segment with nothing in-between.

Here’s more from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” 1 Corinthians 12:28–30.

When Christians unfamiliar with these writings were first exposed to them, there was a boom in the growth and development of these practices, which is where we find ourselves today. This is how the pastor in Miami can identify himself as an apostle, while others just look the other way.

These “gifts” are offered to the public via the euphemism “full gospel”, and followers are drawn to the expression of emotions, including those which “prove” to practitioners a level of internal reality that is passionate and highly addictive. They feel special in the eyes of God and cling to what they view as Biblical validation via Paul’s and Mark’s canonized offerings. Here’s Mark testifying to what Jesus told the apostles after His resurrection, that they should make disciples of the whole world:

“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” Mark 16:17–18

Of course, most Christians don’t handle snakes to demonstrate signs and wonders, but some do. In the series “I Believe,” we attended services of a snake-handling church in North Georgia, and one statement by the pastor was most memorable: ““If you reach your hand into that box (of rattlesnakes), you’d better have faith.” In other words, these Christians practice an extreme — perhaps the most extreme — version of Christianity in the world today. And they are completely supported by scripture in so doing. Most people, however, feel that this is “testing God” and reject it as dangerous and unhealthy.

The point is where do you draw the line? Moreover, those already predisposed to “the full gospel” are more willing and capable of believing the more extreme examples of faith spoken of in the New Testament, and this is where Donald Trump finds his most ardent support. Hence, the meeting in Miami.

To be sure, not all of Trump’s support comes from full gospel practitioners, and many of his advisors are more conservative, like Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Junior, whose support is more political than spiritual, but these differences in theology still are significant. Pastor Maldonado’s church is Hispanic, which also played a role in its selection by Trump, but the message of this church is no where near embraced by Christianity as a whole. That’s important.

In another place in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes “We are fools for Christ” (I Corinthians 4:10). These same ministers use this as a hammer to tap the minds of followers who would find discomfort with emotional displays of worship. If you’re not willing to be a fool for Christ, the thinking goes, then you lack the wisdom needed to be a “real” follower, and this is a divisive preaching that they believe separates them from others who proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.

In my view, the discussion about this in public is long overdue. History will record this time as one in which we dealt with expressions of faith as a people. It will be one significant aspect of Trump’s legacy, because he uses his affiliation with such to separate himself from others who occupied the White House.

There is, of course, much more to this story. The press, however, doesn’t have a clue, so for now, it’s a subject discussed mostly in secret.

That needs to change.

Dr. James Dobson’s Absurd Response to Christianity Today

As a regular critic of Christianity Today for its refusal to acknowledge the damage being done to the Christian witness by Donald Trump, I have to acknowledge its editorial calling for his removal from office over the evidence used to impeach him. This was a very brave admission of its own guilt, what I would call an act of repentance for the real mess that we find ourselves in today.

Most fanatical evangelicals who support this pathological liar struck back against the magazine over the weekend, and their unity is most fascinating, for it’s all wrapped around a straw enemy created by their own hyperbole. Chief of these critics is Dr. James Dobson of “Focus on the Family” fame. Mr. Dobson’s ministry puts him at odds with anyone who doesn’t view his definition of “family” as absolute, and therein lies the weakness of his argument against Christianity Today.

So, let’s examine his response in order to glean our own understanding. His entire pro-Trump passion is built around a figure who doesn’t exist in reality, namely any potential Democratic opponent. “The editors didn’t tell us,” he writes, “who should take his place in the aftermath.” He then goes on to list the attributes of this “replacement,” most of which are completely blown out of proportion. Dr. Dobson is a staunch believer and practitioner of the “only way” theology, and he’s long been a leader in the baking of bias into the political realm of conservative Christians. Here are his beliefs regarding ANY opposition to the President, namely that the only choices would be:

  • Pro-abortion — There is no such thing, for pro-choice is not the same as pro-abortion. As someone who knows the truth here, let’s just say that this issue brings in more money to white evangelical coffers than any other, because these people have done a great job of confusing the issue of choice with the killing of “babies.”
  • Anti-family — This means the nuclear family with working dad, stay-at-home mom, and straight children. It doesn’t even begin to acknowledge other family arrangements and their needs for support from us all.
  • Hostile to the military — This disguises Trump’s use of the military for extorting “protection” money from our allies abroad. A Pentagon funded by increasing the federal debt is not pro-military, and we’ve learned from history that making war as a defense against others making war against us can have drastic consequences, especially when politicians insert their own personal agendas. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs to read the exploits of Richard Nixon in 1968.
  • Dispassionate toward Israel — This, of course, references anyone who acknowledges the war crimes perpetrated on the Palestinians in the name of Zionism. To Dr. Dobson and his cronies, God Almighty brought Israel back into being to usher in the return of Jesus Christ. This is hardly a basis for unilateral and unquestioning support of a foreign power like Israel, to whom we “give” $10 million each and every day to “defend” itself.
  • Supports a socialist form of government — This is the real straw man of 2019, for Republicans don’t argue anymore with Democrats; it’s “Socialist Democrats,” which are just a breath away from Communist Democrats. Oh please. Fascist Republicans believe they can falsely claim anything as long as it moves the electorate in their direction or keeps them there. Dobson’s “Christians” are especially gullible in this regard.
  • Promotes confiscatory taxationOMG. All taxes are confiscatory, but it’s a big word he can use to obliterate the reality that Trump borrowed $2 trillion and gave it to the wealthy — many of whom give big resources to these white evangelical ministries.
  • Opposes school choice — This is the language of Zion term used to destroy public education in the name of segregation. The argument is that Christian parents (families) shouldn’t be forced to send their children to school with such obvious sinners as the poor and the afflicted for fear it might rub off on them.
  • Favors men in women’s sports and boys in girl’s locker rooms — This would be laughable if it weren’t for the real fears such a statement engenders in his “Focus on the Family” followers. It’s amazing how these people shun human progress in the name of self-service by always selecting worst-case “possibilities” rather than admit that their bias is showing.
  • Promotes the entire LGBTQ agenda — To Dr. Dobson and his ilk, this is a buzzword for what they deem to be sexual sins, on which they cannot give an inch, lest they be called hypocrites. Amazingly, however, story upon story of such escapades within the church continue to make headlines every week. Christians need to clean up their own messes before taking such a pharisaical position against the publicans of the world. Here’s the truth: the LGBTQ community has more in common with the Jesus of the Bible than His own followers do. But again, this is a threat to Dr. Dobson’s narrow view of family, so he must spew hatred rather than love.
  • Opposes parental rights — Wow, parental rights, eh? God said to “honor your father and mother,” not march in lockstep to their madness. This, again, points to Dobson’s ministry, and he needs this to be believable, because it means money to his 501c.3. In the age of the internet, this is a remarkable statement of such preposterous accusation that it’s hard to even respond without sounding deliberately off-putting. Nobody opposes parental rights, but common sense reveals the danger of rigid rules that only serve to isolate children, leaving them unprepared to participate in the tapestry of modern life.
  • Distrusts evangelicals and anyone who is not politically correct — As if the trust of evangelicals ought to be a given. Here we have a group trying to practice societal isolation in the name of God’s will, and yet they have the temerity to complain about distrust! Notice that Dr. Dobson lists the group as part of a bigger group that opposes so-called “political correctness.” This is deliberately designed to take advantage of legitimate debate over personal issues and make it into one that serves his constituency.
  • Trump fights for religious liberty and the Bill of Rights — Here the phrase “religious liberty” is interpreted as “Christian” liberty, which is actually not liberty at all but rather “license” in the name of Christianity. Lawyers use the term to project their own beliefs on others rather than read the establishment clause for what it really is — which is the opposite of what the fundamentalist evangelical community wants/needs it to be. In supporting a President who caters to their every whim, these are the only ones attempting to rewrite history to suit their needs, and it’s all going to collapse on their heads one day.

So, rather than answer with specificity the arguments raised in the Christianity Today editorial, Trump’s Christian Right is spouting their opposition to a being of their own making and description. The problem, of course, is that none of it is real.

There simply is no person or group that represents what Dr. Dobson opposes, and that’s the truth.

The Five Reasons White Evangelicals Will Vote for Trump in 2020

In the recovery community, we are often admonished to “play out the tape,” which means to consider where a decision will lead BEFORE making said decision. This is often life-altering wisdom for people who tend to simply react without thinking. Given the conservative wins in the U.K. elections, any thinking that Americans are just dying to vote Trump out is poppycock, and the GOP has done an outstanding job of painting the Dems into a fallacious socialist corner.

So, playing out the tape is an important exercise as we look ahead to November of 2020. White Evangelical Christians are likely to vote once again for Mr. Trump, because they simply cannot ignore five issues that matter above all. These, they are taught, are framed by what they believe to be absolute truths supported by faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ. Their view, quite frankly, is that they live safe from the ravages of sin within the culture, and they want everybody else to find what they’ve known in their personal histories.

It’s not the economy, although that issue may be huge to others. White Evangelicals profess that God is their provider and that His provision is their back-up plan in the event anything ever goes “wrong” under the sun. They don’t worry so much about shit happening or bad luck or bad timing or bad planning as they do striving to stay on the path of wholeness and prosperity.

It’s not global warming, because these people trust that God has it under control and that the evidence for global warming is all science, which is at enmity with Christianity at core anyway.

It’s not Trump’s behavior, because Biblical history includes stories of reprobates used by God for righteous purposes. So important are their core issues that as long as Republicans give them what they want, the President’s personal behavior is irrelevant, even if it matches that of the world’s oligarchs. Therefore, it’s not about the President’s pathological lying, self-centered governing, obstruction of justice, or any other political issue, as long as he maintains the rudder on the “right” course for these matters.

Here are the five issues that opposition cannot possibly overcome:

  1. Everything’s fine with them. Contrary to those with real evidence that Trump is turning the U.S. into a global laughing stock or destroying America as we know it, these Christians are just fine. Their lives are quite contented with the path of the right, for theirs is the Gospel of Self. Why should they want change when they look around the holiday table and smile at how things are just fine for them and their loved ones?
  2. Individualism. This is the Christian fundamentalist idea that everyone is responsible for themselves and their families. It’s a New Testament mandate to these Christians, a view that God has prospered them for taking care of their own. Therefore, the poor who are seeking hand outs from them are seen as vulgar thieves.
  3. Abortion — The litmus test for Supreme Court justices isn’t abortion; it’s their views on capitalism and business. That these candidates favor the pro-life perspective is a convenient justification for advancing the interests of business while leading “Christian” voters to the high moral hill which they are then directed to keep at all costs. Pro-life’s opposition is funneled into a “pro-death” pigeon hole that accompanies statements that the pro-choice perspective is actually pro-abortion. It’s amazing to me that such people — normally highly intelligent and successful people — can buy into this without question. “We finally have a President who’s on OUR side.”
  4. Religious Freedom — This is in reality a ruse to combat any aspect of gender fluidity, the core of which is homophobia. It’s not that these Christians have anything particular against those who practice such (as opposed to being born with it), but they don’t want their families being exposed to what they view as sin. Hence, they want the “freedom” to be intolerant towards those whose alternative lifestyles might draw their children or grandchildren away.
  5. Absolute allegiance to Israel, regardless of its behavior. There are simply no questions to be asked here, much less answered, because to these Christians, God was behind the re-creation of Israel in 1948, because He’s getting ready to usher in the return of Jesus Christ. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capitol, his determination that the illegal settlements are actually legal, the abandonment of Syria, and the rejection of Obama’s Iranian deal all work to support the end times theology of the white evangelicals.

Nothing else matters, for the end justifies any means necessary, and Trump appears to be delivering to this particular flock. These are all talking points that the faithful have heard from their leaders for decades during the rise of the Christian Right. Hence, their determination that Trump was sent by God to restore the land that He gave to their Christian ancestors. Each of these issues is used to demonize opposition, because opposition is tagged as unrighteous and therefore, their points are freely dismissible as an argument. This leaves believers out on a dangerous limb of their own making, and they’re not about to ask for a ladder.

However, playing the tape out leads to a place where we must ask what comes next? It’s here where those who protest this establishment of religion must be wise, for there most certainly will be a “next” if this continues. These folks will reason that God has blessed their efforts, so the message will be to press on. They will demand Christian prayer in public schools. Moreover, everything they consider cultural sin will be challenged: tobacco, alcohol, drugs (including marijuana), and especially sex and everything that makes up the industry of adult entertainment.

It may lead to nothing, if they’re defeated in November. More than likely, however, they won’t view it as a loss and will simply continue to press these issues over and over again. Sorry, folks, but this is not a political fight. It’s the same old horrific religious bias we’ve been trying to set aside for centuries. This battle rightly belongs with the church, for the real struggle is for the narrative that best represents what it means to be Christian.

Right-wing fanatics have seized the brand for now, but if history is any guide, it thankfully won’t last. We would be tragic fools, however, to not let our voices count today.

The Bible made me do it

The Cape Henry Landing by English artist Stephen Reid

One of the great political mysteries of the 21st Century is how and why certain members of the have-nots will support the haves regardless of the evidence that they and their families would be better off in opposition. Opposing the greed of the rich seems a no-brainer. The two groups have virtually nothing in common, so either the haves have done a sensational job of manipulating the working poor, or there is something taking place that observers seem unable to observe.

Firstly, there’s the belief among this group of mostly Christian have-nots that their hope is in God, but Biblical reasoning posits a political system that believes the poor should pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get over it. This is accompanied by the idea that if you give a poor man a fish, you’ve fed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you’ll feed him for a lifetime. The fallacy of this concept, of course, is in its practical execution, for it assumes an unlimited supply of fish and resources required to make this a reality. Ours is a world of limited resources, and when I take extra fish for myself and my family, I’m acting out of greed, not love for my fellow humans.

Secondly, this is supported by the writings of Paul to the communities of the burgeoning local church in the First Century, including especially one verse from his first letter to Timothy. Chapter 5, verse 8:

“Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (NIV)

A good preacher can heap coals of fire on the heads of parishioners by taking this out of context and presenting it as a stand-alone command of God. It seems a logical idea until the words of Jesus are applied, “The poor will always be with you.” One must assume, then, that Biblical followers are doing a lousy job of teaching people to fish. Harping on the poor to take care of their own is hypocrisy gone-to-seed, no matter how justifiable it may seem.

Therefore, in a world of limited resources, hoarding such for one’s own gain is reprehensible in the big cultural picture. Despite this, these Christians cling to conservatism, mostly because it fits this particular Bible verse. Mix in a little abortion, gender, sex, and religious freedom, and it doesn’t matter if their party exists solely to support the wealthy.

This verse, however, is part of a bigger matter that Paul was discussing with Timothy, who raised the issue of care for widows in the church. Apparently (we don’t know, because we don’t have Timothy’s original letter to Paul), the church was having difficulty separating widows who were deserving of care from those who weren’t. Think of it as a matter of welfare for the poor, and here we have the contemporary division between liberal and conservative thinking expressed 2,000 years ago. If we take the time to actually read and study this, we come to a place where Paul actually separates church governance from the basic tenets of Christianity. He judges some widows as undeserving and presents others as “the real widows.” In verse 16, he writes what could be a plank for the GOP:

“If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.”

The remarkable admission that the church is fiscally burdened by this puts the statement into the uncomfortable category of the practical versus the faith, for God is certainly not burdened by some widows seeking care. I don’t know enough to make the claim that this is idolatry, but as long as this portion of Paul’s letter is used to justify disrespect for the poor today, it flies in the face of the actual red words in the New Testament. Such followers need to be called on it.

What’s even worse is that these believers use this statement in their response to governmental aid for the poor today. Paul’s writings are addressed to the church, not the government. Moreover, when this fundamental belief is mixed with abortion, genderism, transphobia, homosexuality, and religious freedom, it’s easy to miss that the wealthy really only want for themselves.

Two other thoughts. One, if people really thought about Donald Trump’s election phrase — “Make America Great Again” — they’d realize that the good things of the melting pot days included strong labor unions and their core support for working men and women. Two, this leads inevitably to the conclusion that license on behalf of the business community is not what ever made America great. This worship of the businessman or woman is the core of Trumpism and a blight on those who labor on their behalf. Brett Kavanaugh wasn’t appointed to the Supreme Court, because he was pro-life; he was given the job because he passed the right wing litmus test of being 100% pro-business, a.k.a. the wealthy.

Finally, the press today is going to have to find a way to feel comfortable and confident arguing religion during the 2020 campaign. I support the Christian Democrats of America, because theirs is an ignored voice in the public square, and that cannot continue.

May you be so moved, too.

The New Split in Christianity

Image result for northern ireland conflict
Northern Ireland 1970

Christianity has had its share of historical ugliness when it comes to defining and defending the faith. From Catholic priests offering indulgences for those who could afford them to the violence and death between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland and elsewhere, including the U.S., Protestantism arose as the Bible became more broadly available through the printing press, so that those outside the grasp of Rome could discover for themselves God’s instructions to humanity.

The ruling class slowly evolved to support protestantism, in part, because good works and deeds within its evangelical mandate took a back seat to one’s faith, which is an open door for mischief through claims of righteousness. Those brave souls who moved across the sea to tame the wilderness known today as America carried the evangelical message with them, a license to destroy the beliefs and lifestyles of the native population in the name of saving them. It was no accident that they also brought with them the business acumen of those from their fatherlands.

And so, the gap between the two forms of Christianity widened, one emphasizing the holiness of this life on earth, the other offering a prize in the afterlife. The Apostle James wrote that faith without works is dead, but Luther called the book of James “the epistle of straw”, thus enabling societal growth as the real higher power in the works of man.

Today, there’s a new and growing split between forms of the protestant faith, one that is seen and discussed in only a very few places. The political power and wealth of the white evangelicals has replaced the hand-to-hand combat that is the war on poverty as the primary mission of the church.

To be sure, the evangelicals have their answer to poverty, which is to emulate its leaders, because “God is no respecter of persons” and what they’ve been given is available to everyone. It’s warmly presented as “Give a man a fish, and you’ve fed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” This, of course, presupposes an equal playing field for all and the natural resources for everybody to be rich. This is quite impossible, even though “God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”

A supporter gestures at the press as Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Cincinnati

The Language of Zion forms an important narrative for these faithful people, for there is nothing so absolute as to end all discussion than a good Bible verse or summarizing metaphor in secret-handshake language that only its practitioners understand. These believers point to what they view as the sexual sins of the culture as the great enemy of theirs and especially their children. This is another assumed license they’ve been given to practice their brand of Christianity despite what the Bible actually says.

The best illustration of this is found in the 16th chapter of book of Ezekiel where God tells the prophet to tell Jerusalem how displeased He was with them. In the 15th verse, God tells Jerusalem, “But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.” To God, the comparison is valid, and if you’re looking for Bible verses about sexual misconduct, look no further than this chapter. For 48 verses the prophet rages on about the wickedness of their sin, and then he makes this remarkable observation:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

So, while Christians today rail on about homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenders, and other forms of what are called “queer,” God is concerned only with the love in their hearts for the poor and needy.

Another example of this is found in the book of the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was called to prophesy God’s unhappiness with King Shallum, the son of righteous King Josiah. Under Josiah, the land had prospered and all was well, but Shallum hadn’t walked in his father’s ways and had fully slipped into sin by reinserting pagan beliefs into the culture. In referring to Josiah, Jeremiah offers this word of God to Shallum that justifies removing him from the throne:

“Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place…

…“Woe to him (Shallum) who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.’ So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. ‘Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the Lord. ‘But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion.’”

Image result for poor and needy

God’s message to humanity is to care for the poor and needy, and not through the laziness assumed in teaching a man to fish, and this brings us back to the current split in Protestantism. It’s not going to end well for those who remove themselves from this core mandate of the faith, and that’s not me saying so; it’s directly from God’s word to humankind.

Gospel preachers who fly around in private jets to spread their form of prosperity are the modern-day Shallums and Sodoms, and it’s their followers who will suffer most in the final analysis. The splitting within Christianity today is along the grain and will not be joined back together with only glue, and God’s forgiveness is not absolute, despite the redemptive power of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

During his ministry, Jesus warned everywhere of the deceptions that plagued humanity. He asked the Pharisees to consider the words of the prophet Hosea to the unrighteous:

“…I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgments go forth like lightning. For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Let me close with a few rhetorical questions. How does your religion feel about the destruction of our planet in the name of profit for the rich? How does your faith reconcile borrowing two trillion dollars to give to the rich in the name of a tax cut, while demanding that everybody else pay for it? How does your faith explain its beliefs about protecting the unborn without pleading the cause of those already born? How does your religion rationalize spreading its legs for the wicked while denying the needs and desires of those immigrants seeking the very freedoms we enjoy?

These and other questions are what is tearing Christianity apart in this century. Behavior today is the only issue that matters, despite the promise of Heaven to those who beg forgiveness at the end of a life of greed and avarice. That is the great deception of today, and I fear for those brothers and sisters who will not be held blameless for their support of such ungodliness.

NOTE: All Bible verses from the New International Version (NIV)