Beware of God’s judgment, O Church

Who am I to speak about God’s judgment? In my pride, do I think I’m better than others? Is that it? Do I actually believe that God has spoken to me? Who the heck am I? “How dare you speak to us that way? Shall we list your sins and transgressions? What qualifies you?”

I got into a brief exchange the other day with a guy on Facebook over Christians and Trump. I made the statement that God is judging the church, which set him off with the attitude mentioned above. So let’s deconstruct this just a bit.

Christians, especially those of the white evangelical sort, embrace of form of speaking that’s lovingly referred to as “the language of Zion.” Trust me, if you know any of these folks, you know what I’m talking about. It’s like a secret handshake, and if you use it, a form of immediate trust is given. If you don’t use it, however, you’re immediately considered an outsider and a target for condescension. I can speak the language when necessary, but my default is to keep it to myself. However, the statement that God is judging the church is written in the language of Zion. What this man suggested, therefore, was that I must be haughtily assuming the role of prophet in making a statement about God’s judgment. Oh boy.

Firstly, as prophets go, I can’t possibly claim that status. For one, I’m a nothing and a nobody, but it’s also my belief that only others can bestow such a title on those sensitive to the presence of God. The prophets of old didn’t walk around glowing or surrounded by a heavenly host crying “Holy.” They didn’t drag behind them great throngs of worshippers as an entourage. They were often dirt poor but always had sustenance, because the power of their words was substantial and what they predicted came to pass. Naturally, then, people would give them things, food and possessions. In the language of Zion, “God took care of them.” So, if I’m somehow assuming the role of prophet in my pronouncement of judgment on the church, then we’ll just have wait and see what happens downstream, right? I claim nothing except the ability to read what I view as obvious signs among us.

Secondly, modern prophets aren’t always a part of any religion. Don’t have to be. I consider Bob Dylan to be a contemporary prophet, and I know he had a conversion experience once, but he represents — although not well — the trappings of the world. Modern prophets are found in the arts community, for only they have the sensitivity to hear “the voice of God.” That, by the way, is another use of the language of Zion, for connecting to the creator spirit doesn’t require the forms of holiness that those who speak it demand of “their” prophets.

It doesn’t take a genius or a special connection with life to see what’s going on today, and it always — ALWAYS — begins with the wellbeing of the poor and the afflicted. It’s simply impossible to miss or dismiss the constant references to this through both the old and new testaments. God’s true character is revealed in His equal love for all. Israel’s Abrahamic economy was built entirely around the idea that no one needs to be poor. And yet, in our culture, the gap between the haves and have‐nots is widening every year. The middle class is gone, and all that’s left are those who have and those who don’t.

Do I need to go through The Book and point out what’s written about dealing with strangers, foreigners, or visitors? And yet, these commands are set aside each time someone complains about immigrants. Are these instructions written for those who don’t believe? No, so how can I possibly be criticized for saying that God is judging the church? And, the cultural “sins” against which they pray and involve themselves politically are of little interest to God compared to His command to love Him and our neighbors.

None of this is the responsibility of those outside the church, for only those who “know” the commandments can be guilty of violating them. So, if God is judging behavior in the culture, that judgment is for the church, because these “transgressions” are only considered so by the church. Therefore, judgment, the good book says, “begins at the house of God.” And for Christians especially, the kinds of “sins” they complain about aren’t any of their business anyway. What part of “neighbor as yourself” is found in the hatred expressed over the last several years towards those “neighbors” in the soiling of our precious country? Until we — perhaps for the first time as a people — start doing what God/Life wants, I will never cease in my view that “God is judging the church.” Here’s an example:

My old boss Pat Robertson went ballistic on the air the other day over the idea of cross dressers reading stories to children at a local library as a part of the “Drag Queen Story Hour” program. Pay attention to not only what he says but to the absolute disgust with which he says it. When this kind of stuff is expressed to a large audience, it moves the thinking of that audience to matters that are political, petty, and therefore trivial to Life itself. It makes people mad and inspires them to DO SOMETHING, which is exactly the core mission of the one shouting the complaint.

“This next story should shock the daylights out of you and you ought to do something about it,” Robertson vented. “It’s an outrage. Little teeny children as young as two years‐old being exposed (to) cross‐dressers, homosexuals who dress up as women and are called so‐called drag queens … They’re men acting like women—and they used to, out in San Fransciso, used to call them ‘he-shes’—and they’re reading books to children.”

“You’d better get outraged about this,” he added.

“If you read the Bible, there were a couple of cities where they actually, the men tried to have sex with angels who were then as male figures and God destroyed those cities,” Robertson said following the segment. “The crime was called, subsequent to that, it was called sodomy. This whole thing is just an outrage. It’s an affront in the eyes of God and I think that’s what we’re trying to do is stick our fingers in God’s eyes and say, ‘Okay Lord, you thought you were making people men and women … but we’re going to fix it so that we’re going to confuse the sexes, we’re going to confuse everything that you’re doing and then, if we have offspring as a result of our sexual activity out of marriage, we’re going to kill the offspring and we’ll stick our fingers in your eye to show you who’s boss.’”

“The United States of America is on very slippery ground,” he warned. “How is (God) going to bless America if we put our finger in his eyes repeatedly? And that’s what we’re doing. It’s not just some library that is going to be in trouble, it’s the whole population when God brings judgment.”

Folks, God IS bringing judgment. Right now. Today. On the church, the very people Pat Robertson represents atop the pedestal of his own righteousness. God is not going to “bring judgment” against the United State, because, honestly, what does He have to do with it anyway? America isn’t God’s church. Never has been; never will be. God doesn’t judge outsiders; He judges those who profess allegiance to Him. Think of it this way. If the church was actually doing its job, do you really think we would have all these social issues that dominate our lives and the lives of our friends and neighbors? As long as we embrace a gospel of self that emphasizes what’s good for us, our families, our friends, and our neighborhoods, we will always find fault with those who seem a threat to our comfort. This is the sad state of the Christianity practiced by “the church” under judgment. Is that you? Think carefully and prayerfully, for there’s more at stake for you than you might imagine.

Moreover — and this is what’s truly galling — the Bible does NOT say that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah over homosexuality. Ezekiel wrote that God destroyed Sodom for its self‐comfort and lack of concern for the poor and needy, exactly as we have become today. Ezekiel 16:49–50:

“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. (NIV)

As I wrote in my book about my time with Pat Robertson, he’s a politician who happens to be a minister, not the other way around. As such, politics flows through every fiber of his being, and we see that reflected above. Pat’s audience is filled with grandparents. So is his donor base. Anything that appears to threaten the wellbeing of children is therefore a serious hot button to pursue. And what better straw man at which to point than homosexuals. It’s no coincidence that one of the things people can do with the outrage he describes is to give to CBN or maybe Republicans. In this sense, everything that comes out of his mouth is designed to tweak the consciences of those who support the work of CBN. In 1984, we raised $248 million in contributions by following this formula, and as long as the name Robertson is what makes the CBN ministry tick, viewers will be manipulated in this way.

I genuinely feel sorry for those who are caught up in this unawares, because they will not be held blameless in the midst of God’s judgment. Support Donald Trump, therefore, at your own peril, for we are playing the harlot with the oppressors, and God is nowhere near any of it.

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

The CBN formula that didn’t work

In the wake of Roy Moore’s defeat in the Alabama Senate race, I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the foundational documents we used at CBN in developing and fine‐tuning processes and systems in the creation of the daily 700 Club program. It’s referenced in my book, The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined the GOP -a research project by George Gallup — one of Pat Robertson’s dear friends — into the perceptions of Evangelical Christians by the America public. This would have been around 1980. I wasn’t there for the actual research, but I inherited the results as an outline of what needed to be incorporated into the program. One of our unspoken missions was to change this perspective, and we gave it our best shot.

The research painted a dismal picture of American attitudes and perceptions about Christians. If we were to recruit new followers of Christ through television, we were going to have to shift these attitudes away from the pejorative and to the desirable. It wasn’t easy, but we felt it was doable with a razor sharp focus on attention to detail when it came to those perceptions. People thought Christians were overweight, so we presented mostly fit and attractive people. They thought Christians were old, so we presented young. Same with Bible‐thumping, ignorant, rural, and polyester‐wearing. We chose questions & answers, educated, urban, and well‐dressed. Christian women were submissive and dowdy. We focused on empowered and fashionable. We deliberately and constantly emphasized people who didn’t fit the stereotypes felt by the average American. Whenever we pursued a testimony story for the program, for example, the first order of business was a photograph of the person giving the testimony. This focus became second nature, and our internal membership data strongly suggested we were on the right path.

Then came the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, which slammed a door on what had been perceived as a revival in the church. Oral Roberts told his viewers that God was going to “take him home,” if he didn’t raise $9 million by Friday. Jim Bakker got caught with his pants down with a staffer, and Jimmy Swaggart got caught in sleazy motel rooms with sleazy prostitutes. We had no scandal, but our coffers were profoundly impacted by all this mischief. And who do you think were the ones who gave up on us the most? That’s right, those intelligent, educated, well‐dressed, curious, and slim newbies.

Fast forward to today, and the irony is that we now have Donald Trump as President, with 80 percent of Evangelicals giving him their votes. One of the most puzzling questions about the election is how anybody with serious thinking chops could have been persuaded to vote for a guy who represents everything they hate. A salesman. A man who bends the truth to his own liking. A rich flimflam man. Could it be there’s more to these stereotypes than we’d like to think? In the rejection of Roy Moore last month, the voters of Alabama took a stand against those stereotypes we fought against so long ago. The public animosity towards what are viewed as hypocritical bigots with Bibles and bellies is back in full force, and I have to admit that I’m kind of happy about that. I’d love to see George Gallup repeat that study today, for I suspect the results would be even stronger than ever.

Perhaps this will be enough to get us out of this awful pit into which we’ve fallen.

Is Christianity Under Attack? Well, yes and no!

The better question, perhaps, is “should” Christianity be under attack?

My granddaughter’s class Christmas concert 2017

I was fortunate to attend my five‐year old granddaughter’s Christmas program at school this week. The place was packed with proud parents and grandparents watching cute little kids sing Christmas carols from a stage. It’s a big deal for them and a shot of seasonal love for us. Of course, it was very much Christmas, for Alina attends a pre‐school program at a Baptist Church, and we’ve been very happy to have had her there. Soon it will be Kindergarten, and things will change.

One of the songs they sang was the old standard, Joy To The World (The Lord Is Come). My mind went immediately to something I’d seen on TV the other night, a holiday ad for Big Lots that used the old Three Dog Night hit, Joy To The World. The ad was all smiles and happiness with gifts, decorations, and a Christmas Tree. The theme was “share the joy with Big Lots.” I mean, it was a nice ad, but the use of an old rock & roll classic to reference the joy of the holiday — and make no mistake, this was a house celebrating Christmas — says a lot about our culture, where we’ve been, and likely where we’re headed. It also speaks to the disconnect between Madison Avenue and the people who caused such an upset in last year’s presidential election.

That’s because one of the most powerful motivators of the Evangelicals who support Donald Trump without question is the heartfelt belief that the Christian faith is under attack in our current culture. So persecuted are Evangelical Christians by a rotting culture, the thinking goes, that we need to fight back with everything we’ve got politically, rather than just give the nation over to the devil by saying nothing. During his campaign, the President assured a drooling Christian right that “We’re gonna bring it back,” “We’re gonna protect Christianity,” and that “Christianity will have power if I’m president.”

This issue of whether Christianity is under attack is complex and difficult to understand on every level. The parties involved have obviously differing views, but the arguments never really take place in the same contextual frame. It’s like competitors playing the same game in different arenas, never really meeting each other face‐to‐face. One side argues that America was created as a Christian nation by Christians who came here to colonize in Jesus name, while the other side argues that such a belief is irrelevant in modern times, because humankind has come such a long way in the last few centuries. One is a spiritual argument; the other is an argument of the mind. One touts Holy Scripture, while the other relies on education and knowledge. One is upstream with the saints of old; the other is downstream in a hundred tributaries. One believes the Bible is a “living document” while the other sees a certain anti‐progressive rigidity in a set of archaic rules. One claims to argue faith; the other claims to argue logic.

Any reasonable, objective study of early American history makes a convincing case that Christianity was so enmeshed in daily life at the time that one must conclude its governance and institutions bore the mark of the cross. Arguing against this requires changing history, although there’s no real reason to do so. When English speaking people landed at Cape Henry Virginia in 1607, their very first act was to plant a cross and claim the land on behalf of their Savior. Any fair reading of early documents — including those of the Founding Fathers — can only be done using the language of the time, because the meanings of key words have changed over time. That means one must use the dictionaries of the era, Samuel Johnson’s classic of 1755 and Webster’s of 1828. When that is done, it takes considerable manipulation to conclude anything other than the truth of the claim that Christianity played a significant role in the formation of the U.S. It didn’t need to be specifically spelled out, because it was assumed at the time. This in no way means America was birthed as a theocracy, but rather a country based on the belief that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” meant that those same people were already self‐governed through their faith. After all, it was John Wycliffe who first uttered the phrase when, upon completion of the first common English language translation of the Bible, he said, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This is why those same founding fathers saw the need to include the establishment clause in the First Amendment. No single representation of God could never rule a people educated in the truths of the Bible.

As the country has become more secularized, therefore, it’s pretty simple to understand the angst being expressed by certain Christians when, for example, academia and the government unilaterally decided that our most basic calendar headings had to be changed from BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini — year of our Lord) to BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era). There was no debate. No hearings. No input from others whatsoever. Suddenly, textbooks that our children used to study everything were printed using only BCE and CE, and all devout Christians could do was to loudly cry, “foul.” There are also the matters of School Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the personal politics of gender. Is there a battle underway for the soul of the West? Isn’t it pretty obvious?

Google N’gram chart showing use of CBE in books over the years.

So one must conclude that the Christians are right on both counts: That the U.S. was planted and grew with Christianity at its core, and that there has been an attempt — conscious or otherwise — to remove that core from modern culture. However, none of this ends the argument, for there are a great many other cultural considerations to be weighed. Like most things in life, this is not black and white, and the strict Christian Nation crowd deserves its own blame for gutting the fatted calf it now wishes to protect. Besides, the more important matter is that even if we agree that this was birthed as a Christian Nation, what are we to do about it today? The wise answer is nothing.

Christianity is so divided into subsets that no one speaks on behalf of the whole. It’s just not possible. Each denomination makes a case why theirs is the path to righteousness and an afterlife in heaven. Therefore, there really is no such thing as the “Christian perspective” we used to espouse back in my days at The 700 Club. Is that the Catholic perspective or the Protestant perspective? Is it premillennial or postmillennial? Is it pentecostal or reformed? Is it liberal or conservative? Black or white? Judeo‐Christian or just Christian. You can see the conflict, which is why the establishment clause is there.

Therefore, by self‐division alone, Christianity has lost its influence on the culture, and the voice that’s complaining the loudest is the one that has the money and the resources to be heard, the Evangelicals, eighty‐one percent of whom voted for Donald Trump in the last election. And so Evangelical Christianity is the branch that is trying to drag us all in the direction of the theocracy the founders hoped to avoid. This is the group who has joined forces with the Republican Party to “make” things happen that benefit their congregations and their point‐of‐view. God apparently doesn’t need our faith alone; He wants us to be a powerful political voice as well. This is the group that wants a war with Islam, because it leads to their one thousand years of glory in the name of Jesus. This is the group that needs Republican leadership in Washington to keep them tax free and thriving, so they can recruit support from the mountain top of the one percent. This is the group that wants their prayer to be in public schools, their self‐centered gospel to govern programs for the poor, their self‐righteousness to dominate human hearts when it comes to personal medical or relationship decisions, their way of life to be the norm and to frame the melting pot, their comfort to be the guiding light regarding who we allow into the pot in the first place, and their music, film, books, and art to be the only choice for all.

As my friend Jeff Jarvis said, “Sharia Law? That’s nothing compared to Armageddon.”

If there is but one truth about this particular group of Christians that should make us all wary, it is this: they will never be satisfied with just one victory in the culture wars. You can take that to the bank, and it represents the only tape that must be played out to the end for us to realize that — as a self‐governing people — we cannot and must not let our guard down. The history of humankind is littered with the tragedies of those who fell for idolatry, the promise of magic, and the fallibility of human nature. You want civil rights rolled back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want women to return to the status of chattel? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want slavery brought back? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want corporal punishment in the public square? Say nothing. Do nothing today. You want a culture dominated by fascist fear and bayonets? Say nothing. Do nothing today.

Finally, from an historical perspective, there’s a great difference between a culture being overthrown and one that self‐destructs, which is what’s really happening here. If, as the Evangelicals insist, they were the ones who built this country — and there’s considerable evidence to support that view — then its collapse must be birthed in the same womb. You cannot claim leadership for the one without responsibility for the other. This is the major blindspot of those who argue that the devil or the liberals or the communists or members of any other group are at fault. Therefore, positing that Christianity itself is the victim here is utterly self‐serving, and it’s also useless in trying to do anything about the evils around us. A slipping culture needs no outside help, if the ruling class within that culture cannot or will not accept responsibility for the slippage.

The ruling class in America today, we must now conclude, includes certain powerful and vocal elements from within the entire Judeo‐Christian Western hegemony. The nobility of yesterday has been replaced by panting thieves for whom license is the desire demanding to be fed. Thinking has been replaced by a mindlessness not found among past generations, who survived and even thrived despite having to solve real problems like slavery, sickness, world wars, and the rights of individuals.

Those past generations wouldn’t recognize the Christianity that’s “under attack” today.

The Religion of Conservative News

I met a woman this year who has the gift of personal prophecy. By that I mean that she’s genuinely very sensitive and able to offer wisdom and encouragement to people who benefit deeply from her words. We can argue over whether this is a real spiritual gift or whether she’s just good at reading people, but to me, it doesn’t matter, for both are the same thing. There’s no doubt that certain fundamentalists have taken this idea and used it for foolishness, but as a sensitive person myself, I can confirm that “reading” others isn’t a form of magic, nor is it all that unique. One can’t brag of specialness for self‐centered purposes when such insight is spread around to many.

Nevertheless, a lot of gifted people simply keep their mouths shut, and this woman is a bit different in that sense. Rather than sharing publicly, however, she usually shares her thoughts only with the person to whom they’re intended. I like that. There’s a genuineness to it, and I respect her for that.

She’s very much a loving Christian and often provides uplifting posts on Facebook, but she also has a significant blindspot. She spreads false information about politics based on fake news sources that she consumes with regularity. When I pointed out to her recently that she was actually “bearing false witness” on one particular piece of delicious clickbait, she got angry and basically told me to keep my mouth shut. Fair enough, although I regrettably have no filter when it comes to such, so I’ve been known to really piss people off. I used to care, but I guess I just don’t anymore.

She actually pulled the post after a few days, and I appreciate that. We really don’t need stuff like that influencing others.

This woman is part of a large group of conservative Christians who struggle with my book, The Gospel of Self, How Jesus Joined The GOP, because they don’t like my position on so‐called conservative news. I believe it’s propaganda, and I should know, since I was one of the people who helped create it. A full fifteen years before Fox News, there was The 700 Club and CBN News. We wrote the book on conservative propaganda as news, so any argument that attempts to validate it as real news isn’t really worth having. It’s a chasing of the wind, but it does reveal how far off the mark many of these Evangelicals have drifted. They honestly believe that the mainstream press openly supports a liberal agenda for the country and is their arch enemy in the flesh. They seem incapable of reason when it comes to certain things, and this is one of them.

Kaitlyn Scheiss

Some observers are beginning to see the ritual of nightly consuming Fox News as a solemn rite of worship, an idolatry so deceptive that it’s impacted most of Evangelical Christianity. Dallas Theological Seminary graduate student Kaitlyn Schiess offered such insight in an excellent New York Times article, How to Escape From Roy Moore’s Evangelicalism. It came in a discussion of Evangelicals leaping to the defense of Roy Moore, despite the nature and degree of his history with young girls and allegations of sexual contact.

To Ms. Schiess, this is one more sign that a new ritual has superseded Sunday worship and weeknight Bible studies: a profane devotional practice, with immense power to shape evangelicals’ beliefs. This “liturgy” is the nightly consumption of conservative cable news. Liberals love to complain about conservatives’ steady diet of misinformation through partisan media, but Ms. Schiess’s complaint is more profound: Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson aren’t just purveyors of distorted news, but high priests of a false religion.

“The reason Fox News is so formative is that it’s this repetitive, almost ritualistic thing that people do every night,” Ms. Schiess told me. “It forms in them particular fears and desires, an idea of America. This is convincing on a less than logical level, and the church is not communicating to them in that same way.”

This is a brilliant deduction, and I can verify that the devotion expressed by people such as my friend above borders on brainwashing, because it oversteps facts, truth, and logical thinking en route to its fallacious conclusions. Why not view it as a form of worship? After all, that’s what we did at The 700 Club. Here was a Christian talk show featuring Christian guests, Christian themes, and Christian prayers that was a bonafide substitution for church in the early days of the televangelist movement. When we began to weave news coverage into the mix, there was little question in our presentation that it was as much a part of being a Christian as prayer. When Fox News came into being in 1996, conservatives had already been nurtured and convinced of its necessity and its vision. We did that, and the worse thing we did was to believe our own hype. Pat Robertson is so lost today that he can’t separate the faith from his politics, and he’s still among the top influencers when it comes to the agenda of Evangelicals and the Republican Party.

God is judging this version of the church today, and I’m beginning to hear arguments to this effect from voices other than my own. We need to repent and turn from this wickedness, or the church has little hope for tomorrow. We steadfastly blame others — like those dirty liberals — for the sad state of our nation and the world today, when we should be examining our own hearts.

Ever evangelizing, we shake our fists up at those walking by, as we travel along the flow of the gutter toward the awaiting sewer. “Curse you, World,” is our cry. “You’re all going to hellllllllllllllll.”

The Winds of Change

Hello, friends. I feel a familiar tug in the wake of recent dealings with The Huffington Post, and I need to take a step back and reconsider everything regarding my mission in Life as I continue to get older. I’ve got another book in the works, and perhaps that’s where my attention needs to be right now. I’m tired of being broke, and the book that I’ve dedicated my life to over the past couple of years (The Gospel of Self: How Jesus Joined The GOP)  isn’t selling like I thought it might. But this latest business with the online publication I’d hoped would help has left me a bit cynical and very disappointed

I’ve enjoyed commenting on current events for HuffPost, but this episode affirms my belief that our society has no real wish to deal with its problems, because we are complicit in their continuation, even to the point of rooting for them. My piece on Harvey Weinstein was rejected due to “the assumption of pathology and the discussion of victims’ responses and clothing choices, among other things.” This is, of course, their right and perhaps even their duty, but it tells me that despite my experience on the issue, my opinion simply doesn’t matter. Offered the confessions of a reformed serial sexual predator, the editors couldn’t bring themselves to consider another perspective in the matter. Meanwhile, I’ve read countless expert and non‐expert opinions on Weinstein, all of which make assumptions of pathology or character defects. This is similar to responses I’ve received regarding articles about Christianity that I’ve produced, so I’m thinking that perhaps it’s time to just move along. One of the great tests of leadership is to turn around and see if anybody’s following. Just like what happened in media circles, with religion and feminism, there’s too much at stake to risk going off‐road with sacred cows. And so, I need to back away — at least for a bit — and give some thought to where I go from here.

I’ll continue promoting my book, because I still believe it’s an important read in the age of Trump. I got an invitation to participate in a major book event in Tucson in March, and that’ll be a lot of fun.

I’ll publish here the article that was rejected by the folks at The Huffington Post and let you be the judge. It took guts to step out and admit what I did in that piece, but I really thought it would help advance the discussion. I know where Harvey Weinstein is getting treatment, and I know who is helping him. I’ve taken very similar steps, but apparently that’s of no consequence.

We’ll see.

Redefining Compassion

The Trump administration’s budget reveals a dramatic dismissal of programs designed to help the poor, including some, such as Medicaid, that have great favor with the majority in the land. This should surprise no one who’s taken the time to study the platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties, because much of conservatism has always been about the worship of the individual and the protection of wealth. Poverty is one of those sticky issues that clearly divides, for in the narrative of the GOP, poor people are takers who take from the pockets of the wealthy. This cynical view is best depicted in our current administrations attempt to “redefine compassion.”

In the name of decreasing government spending, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney made this remarkable statement in front of the House Budget Committee on Wednesday:

“We no longer want to measure compassion by the number of programs that we have, or the number of people that are on those programs,” he said. “We want to measure compassion, true compassion, by the number of people we help to get off those programs.”

takemefishing.org

Trump supporters, including Evangelical Christians, will see this simply as the old adage “Give a man a fish, and you’ve fed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for life.” This is part and parcel of the Gospel of Self and a very useful metaphor for those pushing a political agenda along with the faith. Unfortunately, the concept misses on two rather enormous assumptions. One, for it to be true in practical terms, the idea assumes an endless supply of fish for everybody, and the truth is that all resources are limited and mostly in possession of the top fishermen, those who also own the best lakes and streams. You can teach a man to fish all you want, but unless the supply is available to all, the story falls apart. Two, and this is a biggie for the Christian crowd, Jesus actually tied poverty to the unrighteousness of God’s people as written by Moses in the Torah in Deuteronomy 15. Therefore, the dream of redefining compassion by teaching people to fish directly contradicts the message of the Bible, which always includes restrictions on the rich getting too rich. Instead, the evangelical message offers the idea that humans can somehow “manage” their way out of poverty while others maintain a selfish grip on resources and income. Not happening.

So once again, I’m forced into the corner of declaring that the church is under judgment, not the nation of the United States, western culture, or “the world,” and it specifically relates to this issue. It’s not about visible “sins” that the faithful rail against and in so doing blame the victims of poverty instead of their own greed. It’s about a certain group of believers who espouse a formulaic version of life through their faith. That’s why this — and my book specifically — is a message for Christians, for the pathway to truth is the willingness to challenge one’s own assumptions, whether you call yourself a Christian or not.

Please do not interpret my statements as disrespectful, for I find nothing disingenuous about Mr. Mulvaney’s view or that of the many Evangelicals who subscribe to the fishing metaphor. I fully believe they believe this to be THE solution to poverty. The same day Mulvaney was testifying, HUD secretary Dr. Ben Carson — an Evangelical — was on Sirius XM radio being interviewed by his longtime ally Armstrong Williams:

“I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind. You take somebody who has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street and I guarantee you, in a little while, they’ll be right back up there. And you take somebody with the wrong mindset, you can give them everything in the world and they’ll work their way back down to the bottom.”

Dr. Carson went on to add that this mindset begins in childhood and is passed along by parents. He, too, favors the “teach a man to fish” model, noting that there’s both “economic poverty” and “poverty of the spirit,” what he called “that defeatist attitude.”

“I think the majority of people don’t have that defeatist attitude, but they sometimes just don’t see the way, and that’s where government can come in and be very helpful. It can provide the ladder of opportunity, it can provide the mechanism that will demonstrate to them what can be done.”

In my experience, this is the thinking that dominates the Evangelical Christian crowd who believe that their form of “salvation” includes prosperity of mind, soul, body, and pocketbook. This set of religious rules can be highly self‐centered by providing future rewards in this life and in Heaven for teaching people to fish. So it’s not just about the teaching; it’s about the reward for so doing, which doesn’t depend on the outcome. Hence, it’s very easy to say “teach a man to fish,” because that’s where the responsibility ends.

It would appear the Trump administration is attempting to change the way Washington looks at spending by invoking the shallow thinking of certain Evangelical Christian teachings, which is, I suppose, exactly what Mr. Trump’s followers asked him to do. They will try and it will all fail, because those teachings are self‐centered and conveniently bypass entirely the “love your neighbor” mandate. Oh I know the contrary arguments. I used to believe them and teach them myself.

Life is not manageable, no matter what you believe. Life is chaotic. Order is “the dream of man,” as Henry Adams noted long ago. And the book says that “time and chance” occurs to everyone anyway regardless of their faith and witness.

You want to redefine compassion through a spiritual message? How about “Thy will, not mine be done?” Living life on life’s terms (and not my own) is the greatest personal challenge we all face in the expression of our compassion for others.