Can we blame sin as our culture’s underlying problem?

The assertion by the white evangelical crowd that the culture has been lost to sin is worth examining as we attempt to process the disaster that has been Donald Trump. Moreover, if the culture is lost to sin, has it always been that way, or is this merely a contemporary phenomenon? And, if it’s only a modern-day problem, does the slogan “Make America Great Again” reference a period of time in which the culture wasn’t awash in sin? If so, when exactly was that?

In the world of televangelism, few things are as important (and telling) as fundraising telethons. For all the hollering about faith and how God will sustain them, these telethons are methodical, systematic, manipulative, and self-serving. Nothing is left to chance. Hot buttons are pushed relentlessly. Anything goes when it comes to raising money for rich Christian ministries, something I participated in as show producer, senior producer, and then executive producer of Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club during the 1980s. I was there during the height of the televangelists, before scandals ripped the genre apart, and I was there when Pat ran for President in 1988.

The theme of our telethons was always a variation of how the world was going to hell, because we had lost our Biblical guidance. Therefore, the solution was for viewers to give us the money to combat this through “outreach,” ministry, education, and action. I need to state clearly that this strategy was extremely effective, in part, because the culture wasn’t hearing this kind of message from its leadership. Although very old, the message seemed new, because it was on TV in easily-digestible form. The television rule for audio-video linkage was manipulated, so as to match our words about sin to pictures of calamity big and small. Consequently and for a season, we sat in the position of prophets calling down hellfire and damnation on the culture for its dreadful sins, and it’s a short path from there to blaming the sinners, a.k.a. those demon liberals.

We attributed this conflict to cause and effect without proof whatsoever. That gave us license to say anything we wanted about the culture and attribute it to the loss of Biblical “authority” in our society. In so doing, we completely dissed the blood that was shed on behalf of our rights to self-determination, and, frighteningly, rejected all of those battles as being of the devil.

Who knew that one day we would actually be taken seriously?

This is the underlying pretext for everything from the Christian Right, and it’s why people who have no business being yoked to the extremely wealthy find themselves supporting everything the group tells them to support. The most obvious is in the appointing of judges who pass the litmus test of supporting business owners in all matters regarding business. Moreover, when we hear the phrase “religious liberty,” we must translate that as white evangelical Christian liberty.

If we’re ever to truly understand what’s happened to us over the past four years, we MUST not be afraid to examine these kinds of questions in the light of day. This was modern journalism’s great failure in the run-up to the 2016 election, for reporters simply didn’t see it coming. It’s a cornerstone of the Trump phenomenon, so we’re simply unable to get to the truth absent the deconstruction of this critical influence. Is sin the culprit for which we all must repent, or is something else going on? We must examine it historically, but we must also consider basic Christianity.

Basic Christianity
There is no Biblical entry whatsoever — not even one — that suggests it is the mission of believers to force a non-believing culture to repent. The most oft-quoted Bible story concerning this comes at the end of Solomon’s rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, when God spoke to Solomon thusly:

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land…” 2 Chronicles 7:13–14 (NIV)

In this statement, we learn a great many things. One, that God is the one who’s responsible for those cultural/natural events that believers find so discomforting. Two, the responsibility for these “punishments” is with the believers, not the unbelievers. Three, the land can’t be healed from these pestilences absent the repentance of those He holds responsible, namely those same believers.

Therefore, it’s beyond misleading to claim that God wants to heal the land from sin, so that the righteous can live in peace. Seriously, who do we think we are? Watching people of faith yell and scream about abortion, prayer in schools, and Christian liberty, all the while aligning themselves with the vast wealth of the few is a bastardization of everything that’s truly holy. Period.

This command to repent was directed towards God’s people, not the culture at large. It came at the end of a great accomplishment, which is when humans are most vulnerable to deception. Rather than pat them on the back for such a feat, Solomon called for the Jews to repent, which I’m sure shocked many. The only lesson here for today is that God’s people — if in fact they have won a battle against cultural sin — ought to be on their knees begging forgiveness rather than prayers of thanksgiving and celebration in the White House. The fact that they aren’t is a dead giveaway to the unrighteousness of their behavior.

These are modern-day Pharisees, for God’s book isn’t a message to the culture; it’s a message to individual hearts.

The entire story of redemption is corrupted by the actions of this religious group, for Jesus Himself refused to call for back-up when He was taken to the cross. Spiritual warfare takes place outside the confines of our senses “under the sun,” but these self-centered warriors view the battles as among each other, right here within the whole of creation.

Why is the press unable to argue this? Rationalizations include it’s too complicated, it’s hard to be neutral, and there’s no consensus to fall back on. This is a blight on the practice of journalism, one that has been used to manipulate people and the press itself. There’s no fence to ride here.

Setting Aside History
In their zeal to advance THEIR religion, white evangelical Christians have disregarded the history behind that which we as a nation hold dear. In many of these events and instances, blood was shed — sometimes a lot of it — and lives were sacrificed in order to make these rights worth keeping. However, these elitist representatives of God that we have today think THEIR way is the true path to righteousness and that nothing else matters. It is with haughty, self-centered goals that these people piss all over the sacrifices of history as if they never mattered in the first place.

We fought a civil war over racism, unity, and the extent to which states within the union can try to distance themselves from the rest. The French gave us the Statue of Liberty, and immigration became the bedrock of our fledgling economy. We fought the First World War to spread our thoughts and ideals of freedom to the rest of the world and to protect our rights at home. We went through a Great Depression and came out on the other side determined to protect the poor and the afflicted from ever suffering again due to the lack of basic necessities. We determined that the market for liquor was so strong that we ended prohibition, because that market led to violence and death in the government’s efforts to press an alcohol-free society. We fought the Second World War to again preserve our freedoms in the face of fascism and its intolerance for personal rights. We helped dismantle Communism. Add to these the efforts to secure women’s rights, labor rights, civil rights, gay rights, and even the “rights” of our planet itself. It’s easy to understand why opponents of the current administration are not only opposed to shoving all of this aside but appalled and infuriated at the mere suggestion. Who knew we’d have to fight all of these battles again?

Governmental regulations of businesses, such as environmental mandates, didn’t just suddenly appear in a vacuum. These were hard-fought victories for all of us, as we tried our best to advance not only our culture but the human race in total. Did this burden the business interests of the country? Of course, but it had long ago been determined that they helped foster environmental concerns and human rights violations in the first place. There is nothing inherently righteous or evil about Capitalism. It’s an institution of humankind, and profit can be a highly selfish motive for cultural behavior.

This is now all being set aside by the good intentions of the few, and that is the real tragedy of our current dilemma. Add to this the idea that foreign leaders are willing participants through subversion, and we have very real dangers to consider. It is a real slight-of-hand to incite disputes among us when the truth is that we are not our real enemies. There are others who want what we have and will do anything to disrupt the unity that we struggled so dearly to gain and protect.

Adverbs like forward and backward are used to describe culture but only by those making self-serving judgments as to its governance. Both are pejorative and ineffective descriptors, because cultures don’t actually do any moving. There is only the present. Sure, there’s history and there’s the future, but we can’t do anything about either. We only have the present, and that’s where our efforts are best presented. We must always guard against those who will direct us to the future, for such is a license to deceive.

So, let’s go back and repeat our central question: Is America so corrupted by sin — especially the sins of those atheistic liberals who want to destroy the church — that only a revival of religion (specifically, white evangelical Christianity) will solve what ails us? I’d argue strongly that the answer is no, but even if there’s a grain of truth to it, the correct spiritual response is prayer, not political action.

Today, there are those who think the world is going to hell due to Trump and his cronies pressing absurd demands based on their beliefs in absolute certainties. Those who pointed to corruption of the culture have now themselves become the real corruptors, and it’s going to take more than our votes to sort it all out.

Honestly, we’re going to need the chaos of Life to fix this terrible mess, and that’s exactly what I choose to see happening today. To paraphrase George Carlin, if we’re going to have a disaster, make it so big that we destroy everything and have to start over.

Even so, let it be.

The right plays offense; the left always plays defense.

Image result for sitting on a fence

In the world of politics, the idea of a comfortable fence between the right and the left is an illusion, as is the insistence that there’s a sizable “middle”. That’s because when it comes to campaigning’s end, voters have to pick one or the other, even while splitting tickets. This is the only way in which the right and the left are the same.

The right plays offense while the defensive unit for the left is always on the field.

In the realm of convictions, expectations, and faith, the right and the left are polar opposites. The right is all about business and wealth, and their justification comes from a misinterpretation of Biblical promises regarding prosperity. Thusly, the right argues against taxes for the rich — those who allegedly create jobs for everybody else — and regulations for businesses. Its litmus test is presented as favorable to white evangelicals, but it’s actually always the degree to which candidates for government are business-friendly.

The left is a consortium of special interests fighting discrimination, gender equality, poverty, global warming, and a check on the extremes of business without regulation. The “both the same” tag, however, is meant to dismiss deplorable behavior in matters such as corporate benefactors, fundraising, and electioneering. After all, if they’re all the same, then sleaze is just a normal part of the political process in the U.S., and it doesn’t matter which party you pick. The fact that one party says it far more often than the other, however, speaks loudly about the behavior that party is trying to blur.

Thusly, the suggestion that all politicians and political parties are identical entities and that they “all do the same things” benefits the right far more than it does the left. For one thing, it originates with the right, because it obliterates viable resistance to corporations who would rather have a perfectly stable environment within which to do commerce (e.g. Make America Great Again) than one that is constantly changing. The right is very vocal about this and is in a regular game of offense while stating it. When this offense steps out-of-bounds, there is no penalty flag, so the process is repeated ad infinitum. This effort is organized, focused, and coördinated, which is often not the case for the Democrats.

The left sees this relentless posturing as an attack, so their defensive unit is always on the field. It is into this stadium that the flag of “all the same” flies, because it so easily hides the truth that they are not.

It’s a specious statement, because at core the two groups function so differently that the narrative has to fall apart. To get where we are today, the right forced the comparison with the Clintons and then Barack Obama, and the left allowed them to get away with it. As long as the left lets others define them, then the right will always win. This is the great weakness of the Democratic Party. Each element of the left is its own individual institution or social movement, all of whom must work together to produce a force large enough to win elections. While it could be said that these disparate groups have much in common, each’s bottom line is different, so fitting everybody into one, tightly-focused message is much more difficult.

The right has always been comprised of the wealthy and especially those in business, especially the defense industry. The 1% is a very small, hierarchical group, so consensus is fairly easy to establish. Whatever is best for them is what drives Republicans. Of course, because they represent so few, the party must offer bones to a few groups with numbers, but the NRA, white evangelical Christians, Wall Street players, and the fearful don’t call the shots. These groups are only needed for the voters they bring, and if any ever decided to walk away, it would create quite a crisis for the right. This is why business interests will often be cloaked as “for the people” through the use of propaganda, euphemism, oxymorons, such as “clean coal”, and especially outright lies.

With Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and other white guys calling the shots, it’s pretty easy to see that the “right” has its marching orders from a white, hierarchical “top.” The RNC is focused, and the Republican Party platform we’ll get this summer will be one that caters to the extreme wealthy and is hard on the have-nots. Oh, it’ll have the right words to support Trump’s fanatical Christian base, but the point is the Republican Party is governed from the top in a way that is not at all similar to the Democrats.

In this sense, Democratic issues are too small to compete with the grand narratives shouted by the right. One illustration is the term “political correctness,” with which the right can tag the whole party when it’s actually only important to those dealing with gender identity, minority communities, and some women’s issues. Political correctness is not a plank of the Democratic Party platform, but the tag sticks, because nobody will come out and say it doesn’t. The right suggests they are the party of real men, those who hunt and fish, dominate their family units, and are generally considered the smarter of the two genders. I assure you there are “real” men in the Democratic Party, but again, if nobody challenges the assumption, then it will default to the position of truth. To the right, women are here for their real men. Their women are touted as more beautiful than those on the left, and they’re certainly sexier and more playful. The obsession that Fox News has for blondes is simply a reflection of the whole party. Blondes in red dresses are hot, but women on the left wear only pants or dull outfits. Again, this is all carefully orchestrated so as to provide both direct and subliminal evidence that they are somehow better than those ugly, nasty, and whiny bitches from the left. Do not underestimate this, for the images shared with the media of glamorous Republican women — yes, even those who qualify as trophy wives — are calculated and purposeful, for what girl wouldn’t aspire to be just like them (wink, wink)?

We practiced this same form of manipulation when I was producer of The 700 Club. The idea was to recruit beautiful people through the presentation that beautiful people followed Jesus Christ. This was a response to ground-breaking research that revealed America’s true thoughts about white evangelical Christians. Our job was to present the opposite in the hope that we could break through the negative images that people held about Christians.

As of this writing, the GOP’s 2020 tactics include tagging every Democrat as a socialist. This accomplishes several things. It redefines progressive by making it seem extreme. There is no useful comeback for the label. It paints every Democratic Party plank as anti-business. Socialism is defined as an inch from communism, which is a defeated concept. But mostly, it chafes at the idea of non-white progress, because, after all, what self-respecting white family wants their children being forced to attend classes with these aliens? Socialists want to take money from the rich to help the poor, even though the wealthy believe that they can offer greater relief by themselves. What’s most irritating to members of the right is that THEIR money is being taken from them and being used for programs and systems they don’t support.

But mostly, the socialist tag forces the left to play more defense, which means the right is again playing offense.

The left must play offense with a crystal clear focus on the reality that Trump represents a Republican Party that has completely gone off the rails in its disgust with the poor and the afflicted. This path, however, is fraught with danger, for Trump was elected primarily because he was not a part of the status quo in government and that he would do things differently. A part of Trump’s charm with his constituency is the proud proclamations that he is not a part of anything “normal” and therefore able to govern differently, which we must all admit has proven to be the case. While the left complains that Trump doesn’t play by the rules, his supporters are quick to point out that these rules are the biggest part of the problem in Washington and that they voted for Trump to do things differently.

If the Democrats ever want to put an end to this, they must be prepared to hire a new offensive coördinator to craft a new strategy, because a defensive posture that is governed by logic and reason doesn’t stand a chance against propaganda that asserts the opposite.

It begins with recognition that while defense wins championships, it’s the offense that gets all the glory, the fame, and the money.

1920 — When the Rules All Changed

Image result for woodrow wilson

When I first discovered historian Christopher Lasch many years ago, I was stunned by his brilliant reading of the role of Woodrow Wilson in all the nonsense we deal with today in the worlds of politics and the press. Wilson ran for re-election in 1916 on a platform of “He’ll keep us out of the war.”

World War One was America’s chance to become a world (business) power, however, and Wilson knew this, so the trick became how to run opposing the war while at the same time preparing to enter the conflict. Wilson formed a group of advisors and thinkers — including influential newspaper publishers. This organization — The Committee for Public Information, also known as The Creel Committee was named after its leader, George Creel. The characters making up this committee was a who’s who of a new type of thinking, one that would change the rules for everybody 100 years later.

I’ve written much about these remarkable people whose good intentions have had a lot to do with today’s untenable government-press relations. Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, was a member of the committee as was Walter Lippman, the father of professional journalism. Volumes could be written about these two characters alone, but everybody on that committee shares the responsibility for what we have today. Bernays, a cousin of Sigmund Freud, used lessons from his Uncle to shape new ideas for marketing. Here’s just one of his famous quotes:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must coöperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

From “Propaganda” by Edward Bernays

If that sounds familiar, it should, but we must understand that this thinking is only 100 years old. Here are four Google N’Gram graphs about the use of certain thoughts in the books of our world. Note that these all show rising use in the wake of 1920:

Here’s the use of the word Propaganda in publications.

Here’s the phrase “Public Relations”.

Here’s one that works in concert with the above. Objectivity. It’s necessary for public relations to insert itself into journalism.

And finally, here’s what “Professional Journalism” looks like:

The other side of this whole “Right Wing News” fallacy is going to require something completely different, because in 100 years, we’ve gone from a government of the people to one of propaganda and self-interest of the few.

Somehow, we’ve got to find a way to put all this into the dust pile of the past. Maybe we should begin with technology that labels news as propaganda (regardless of the source) when such passes through our filters.

One thing is super clear, however, and that’s that this doesn’t work, not at all, for the country that our founders created.

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.