I stumbled across the following blog post as it was trending and being shared on social media by friends and acquaintances. I read it, thought about it and couldn’t stop thinking about it—so I took the time to write out a rather lengthy comment addressing most of the author’s points honestly seeking debate or conversation because despite this post apparently going a bit viral there were no comments. Apparently that’s because the author isn’t approving any comments on her page or at least on this article. So,  I’m tailoring my comment into a straightforward post for my own page since I took the time to write it.  To see exactly what I’m responding to please visit the above link and read her piece first. I want to stress that this is not an “attack piece” or anything of the sort; just browsing the rest of her blog leads me to believe she is a devout, authentic, strong-willed and genuinely good person of integrity. Which, to be honest, makes her posted endorsement of Trump all the more shocking to me—but I know many other people much closer to me (folks I actually know) that share her sentiment. It’s not just the videoed folk s shouting racial slurs at Trump rallies or the neo-nazis on the dark corners of the alt-right internet who support Trump, it’s almost half of our fellow citizens. I feel that no matter what happens in this election we have to find a way to discuss these issues, to debate and to discuss and most of all to find a way to agree on facts, tools of reason or logic and basic neighborly decency.

Also, I will note I’m just about done in every sense of the word with current year politics. They’ve exhausted me unlike any year in memory and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m over feeling shocked at an ever lowering of the bar, I’m over the visceral hatred between different groups in our own country and I’m over the disintegration of facts and discourse. So maybe this is my last political post for the foreseeable future.

First, I want to address the author’s claim that Hillary Clinton has done more to contribute to rape culture than Donald Trump. Obviously, measuring the actions of any two individuals to determine their personal role and impact on the overall culture as a whole is difficult if not impossible so in some ways we can only use them as categorical examples, representative of many other similar individuals. But the author makes two specific claims—one, that as an attorney “she [H. Clinton] has reduced the jail time of rapists” and two, that she “helped cover up the abuses done by her husband.” Regarding the first point, I assume she is referring to the Kathy Shelton rape case. I would recommend a recent recap of that event in the Washington Post, a pretty reliable source not known for a “liberal bias.” * The issues about that case are complex but of primary purpose as it relates to Hillary Clinton is that she was working for a legal aid clinic serving the poor and was appointed by the court to represent the accused rapist of Shelton. Court appointed attorneys have to represent the client they are appointed to and to do less than their best job in such cases goes against our entire legal system.  Hillary stated she was not thrilled to take on the case but she did and as a young attorney did her job just as any other appointed DA would. So unless we believe that the accused parties in court cases don’t deserve legal representation I am not sure how this incident is an indictment against Hillary. Regarding the second point, to the best of my knowledge there hasn’t been any reliable evidence from a reputable source tying Hillary Clinton to any sort of cover up of Bill’s extramarital affairs. It appears to all non-biased observers and reporters that all of Bill’s extramarital affairs were carried on without Hillary’s knowledge and thus she was a victim of his affairs. So the only thing she can be fairly accused of is of not divorcing her husband when she discovered the affairs. Of course standing by a partner and seeking reconciliation isn’t typically a bad thing in conservative minds which is why this is an odd accusation from that corner of our politic but regardless her choice to not divorce her husband is her right alone.

This author may very well  be right that we are well past picking a President based on character and I’d argue that history has shown many great leaders are of bad character and many bad leaders are of good character—in a pluralistic society character matters only so much as it influences or reinforces the culture itself however. In the case of character Trump vs. Clinton we have on the one hand a man who has used his power and wealth to harass, degrade and assault women. This is evident by his video-taped conversation with Billy Bush where he openly stated he kissed and fondled women without their permission. This is evident by claims from beauty pageant contestants (as young as 15) that he knowingly walked in to inspect them when they were in the nude. That he smiled and allowed Howard Stern to call his own daughter “a piece of ass”. Then of course there are claims from women who worked in his companies that he forced himself on them, kissed, harassed and threatened them. And a claim that he raped a 13 year old girl that is pending in the courts now. This doesn’t even account for comments he has made about women (“you have to treat them like shit”) the deaf/mute (“retards”), Mexicans, refugees, African Americans, etc.  On the other hand you have Hillary who worked at a legal aid clinic where she once defended a rapist as a court assignment and who didn’t divorce her husband and instead reconciled with him after his extramarital affairs came to light. Just on these issues alone (sticking to ones brought up in the linked article) one definitely influences rape culture and one definitely does not. Trump exemplifies that power and wealth allows you to behave how you want and that seeking permission is not necessary for sexual contact. This models for younger males and females what behavior is appropriate and what they are worth. Just last week a friend of mine in an airport overheard two college students joking about the airport workers and flight attendants loudly within her earshot, specifically about groping them. When she confronted them they said “we’re voting for Trump”.

The author is correct that a third-party vote in this election will simply be a vote by default for the winning candidate. I agree that voters should vote for a front-runner, I just happen to believe that the candidate they should vote for is Hillary Clinton because any vote not for her may allow Trump into the White House where he can do unimaginable damage to our economy, environment, international relations, domestic race relations, refugee crises and advancing rape culture.

Now, regarding what the author defines as the “real issues” of this election:

  1. National Security: The author claims that Hillary wants open borders. Trump claims Hillary wants this as well. The facts however are that all of her proposed immigration plans thus far increase funding for border patrol and call for deportation of violent criminals and those who pose realistic threats while also allowing for sanctuary cities and a path to citizenship for nonviolent undocumented workers who are contributing to US society. The “open borders” claim refers to a speech Hillary gave to bankers in which she claimed: “My dream is a hemispheric common market with open trade and open borders, some time in the future, with energy that is green and sustainable…powering growth for every person in the hemisphere.” She is speaking about unfettered international trade, green energy and a global marketplace though even if she also meant unfettered migration of people (which doesn’t seem likely) she is also speaking in a utopia-positive prophetic manner. This of course is a very biblical (people not commerce) vision one more traditionally “Christian” than walls and borders which the Gospel ignored and prayed to cease. A good analysis of the “open border” Clinton claim is available at Politifact. ** I am glad the author recognizes the heart-breaking reality that is the Syrian refugee crisis. Some humanitarians are referring to it as the holocaust of our time. We will be judged by history in how we dealt (or did not deal) with this crisis. I also agree with the author that refugee crisis or not we should screen those who enter our country—which we do already. We have a very intensive vetting process of refugees.  In fact, refugees are screened more extensively and heavily than any other segment of our society in the US which is why the majority of threats, violent crimes and terrorist acts on US soil have been perpetrated not by refugees but US citizens. Terrorist watch organizations estimate far-right racial KKK style hate groups are by far the most likely groups to commit terror acts on US soil. During this point the author also goes on a tangent about gun owning citizens (which to be fair can be a national security issue)  and that taking away guns from citizens just leave them at risk of attack from a criminal who does not care about gun laws. It’s worth noting that Hillary, like Obama, has no intention of confiscating America’s guns though she does want to pass basic regulation like prohibiting those on terrorist watch-lists from purchasing guns and instituting universal background checks. Most Americans, according to polls, agree with these common sense approaches. Gun rights and gun laws are a complex subject from understanding the 2nd amendment in history (“well regulated militia” to “citizen soldiers” e.g. National Guard) to debating how that applies now but a good deal of research can be done utilizing what other countries have tried and done. In short, criminals may not care about gun laws but with less guns in circulation there are less non gun-owning non-criminals to steal from but regardless, Hillary has no intention of confiscating all guns and this is a false alarm claim just as it was with Obama to sell more firearms which is why the NRA (now a lobbyist for the gun manufacturers rather than a hunting and sports shooting conservation group) loves these worries.
  2. Economic Stability: Like many others, the author believes that since Trump is a businessman he will run this country like a business and as President running our country will be his job. The author writes that Trump refused to pay taxes or bad workers as good business practices. Stories have shown he stiffed good workers as well and we’ll leave the tax question alone now other than to say that’s a lot of funds for schools, military, roads, fire and police etc. that went unpaid. But Trump’s record as a businessman isn’t that great which is likely a large reason he doesn’t want his tax returns released—he’s probably not as rich as he says he is and doesn’t like people who say so. Regardless, financial experts think he’d be richer if he’d just invested his money in index funds and left it alone. *** He started out rich with connections and since has lost a lot of money for a lot of people bankrupting companies along the way. As actual billionaire Mark Cuban recently pointed out—name one person who has claimed Trump helped them personally become richer or more successful, one person he’s mentored, one lasting business claim he successfully can make. Furthermore, you can’t run the country like you run a business. You’d never intentionally create a national debt by absorbing state debts as Alexander Hamilton did in our country’s first administration in a private business but you do in the government because it creates the index for all federal government functions. “Wealthy people are usually successful business people who EMPLOY other people” is also a highly debatable claim as a huge percentage of the wealthiest individuals do not employ anyone, run any company or contribute to society—they simply inherit a good deal of money or make money by having money invested.
  3. Supreme Court- The author is correct that this is important. She and I would disagree however as I believe severe damage could occur if the court drifts too far to the right. But even assuming a far-right Supreme Court would be a good thing, what makes you think Trump would appoint anyone you like or that such a nominee would get through the House? Heck, he may even appoint his sister who is a judge (Elizabeth Trump Grau) and she is very liberal.
  4. Pro-Life – Avoiding an entire discussion on this issue as it’s never-ending (though you can read my previous post on the subject here) I will simply say though the author and I may disagree on this issue I understand the importance of this issue to many voters and that it often pushes many to become single issue voters simply over the passionate beliefs they have about it. But if we look at history we find previous Presidents post RoevWade who were pro-life, even adamantly so and fundamentalist about it (Reagan) yet nothing happened to roll back abortion access rights. Even while George H.W. Bush “came around to the issue” at Reagan’s prompting, his son George W. as an evangelical was even more stridently pro-life; yet Laura, Barbara and Nancy remained by all accounts pro-choice and nothing did change. There have even been times in history in which the Republicans had control of the House, Senate, Court and Presidency and nothing changed to roll back abortion access and legality. It’s been alleged that keeping abortion legal and using anger directed at it works better to fire up a base and win elections. My opinion remains that if you are pro-life you should: refrain from having an abortion; support policies that reduce the desire for women to seek abortions; and encourage laws and practices that value and support life from childhood through old age encompassing the rights and livelihood of immigrants, refugees, the less fortunate and the “other”. In fact abortions go down, as they have under President Obama, more under Democratic presidencies due to policies which support the social safety net, increase access to birth control, and promote women and child health.

PS: The author adds a PS that she supports Trump because his first “hire” was Mike Pence, a man (according to the author) of “character, faith and integrity.” However it is likely Pence would have lost re-election in his own state had he not been scooped up by Trump as he failed Indiana economically and in the undermining of the social safety net. An AIDS epidemic broke out due to Pence’s delay and early refusal to sign a needle exchange bill, LGBT teens were directed into “conversion therapy” which has historic notoriety for increasing teen suicide and depression rates (not to mention no evidence of “working”), factories shipped overseas, etc. Pence’s role thus far as VP seems to be to deny Trump has said what he has said or that he meant something else and I don’t consider that indicative of “integrity” in any way.

So, these are the points I posted as my comment challenging the author’s assumptions. I do this not to be vindictive but to challenge her to consider her points and evaluate them for factuality. We are losing something in this election—respect for facts, respect for debate, respect for reason and tools of logic. We are doubting the veracity of our entire democracy, of the party system and of the value in public service and government. We are losing respect for considered rational yet kind conversation with those with whom we disagree.  Recent studies and stories have shown that we don’t just disagree on issues but WE DISAGREE ON FACTS. We tunnel-vision into our catered news while rejecting the “Media” for not agreeing with us, we reject science when it conflicts with our feelings or preferences and we overlook the parts of history that don’t justify the narrative we want to tell. This is dangerous stuff and if we don’t create a space where we can discuss with compassion the issues that face us and seek ways to equip everyone with the tools of discernment we are doomed.

I spent so much time on this author’s post not because of who she is or really even the points she makes but because her piece is indicative of those I know that agree with her but that are kind, decent and seemingly rational folks.  There’s no arguing with those who resort to character assassination and racist rhetoric, there’s no debating with those who approach this election with sheer panic and misplaced fear of their own place in the world but there should be a place to discuss the issues with those who simply disagree.

I will also end with a caveat–Hillary is by no means a perfect person or a perfect candidate and though I strongly support her now and believe her to be an honest, hard-working person who will make a solid President she was not my first choice either. Once she is elected I will be critical of her–of her military enthusiasm and role in perpetuating endless wars, of her refusal to reign in Wall Street excess, etc. But I will not dehumanize her or work against her in any way that might prevent genuine positive progress.

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/10/11/the-facts-about-hillary-clinton-and-the-kathy-shelton-rape-case/

**http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/oct/12/donald-trump/trump-ive-been-proven-right-about-clinton-wanting-/

***http://www.moneytalksnews.com/why-youre-probably-better-investing-than-donald-trump/

****https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/10/15/americans-now-live-in-two-worlds-each-with-its-own-reality/?postshare=5451476708300360&tid=ss_fb

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The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade in 1973 to legalize abortion placing the decision to have one on each woman faced with that choice. Immediately after the verdict organizations formed which have since worked continuously to reverse the court’s decision, influencing countless house and congress members and even a few presidents–yet the verdict has stood ever since. It’s never even come close to being overturned, though many politicians have based their entire campaign on promises to overturn it and even one president (Reagan) made moral opposition to abortion a frequent talking point both because of his own fundamentalist evangelical faith and his close political alliance with Jerry Falwell in forming the “moral majority.” Reagan’s selection of George H.W. Bush, a social moderate, was controversial as Bush was not strictly pro-life but in time he “came around” to the position. Later on, his son would also engage in pro-life rhetoric. Interestingly, Nancy Reagan and Laura Bush were both pro-choice all the while.*

Yet for all of their talking points none of these pro-life politicians have been able to reverse Roe v. Wade. In fact, the legality of abortion was even expanded in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey which removed the trimester barrier (which restrained the legality of abortion primarily to the first trimester) replacing it with a “viability” clause which defined abortion as illegal only in cases where the baby would be able to live outside of the mother’s body. There isn’t much a President can do to criminalize abortion as it was a decision by the Supreme Court that ruled abortion as a legal right related to privacy and due process via the 14th amendment. Presidents can nominate justices they believe will vote “pro life” when a case comes along that would have bearing on the previous decisions but this is often hard to predict as Reagan’s nominations proved.** In fact, there was a time when the Republicans controlled the House, Senate, Presidency and 7/9 Supreme Court justices–and no moves were made to criminalize abortion. *** Some argue that it works better for GOP campaigns to keep abortion up for debate as it gives them an additional base.

Meanwhile, life continues on and due to many factors, abortions are actually at historic lows. Abortions even went down an additional 13% during Obama’s presidency (and prior to restrictions placed in conservative regions).**** This is largely because abortions are almost always a symptom of a bigger problem–poverty–that democratic policies tend to better address through an emphasis on sustaining the social safety net. One huge factor that (obviously) reduces abortions is access to birth control and as that expands abortion numbers drop. Yet many factions of the pro-life movement extend the pro-life view to include opposition to birth control as it also prevents potential life from culminating.

Here we are 40+ years after RvW and the issue is no less contentious. Criminalizing abortion is still a rallying cry that whips up a base and creates a wave many candidates have rode to office. Where I live there is a congressperson who makes overturning RvW her primary talking point regardless of what issue is currently under discussion–local traffic and infrastructure needs, the city budget, etc.–and she is widely loved for it. Nationally, Trump has “converted” to the pro-life cause after a lifetime of quotes in which he was seemingly pro-choice. For this reason there are many one-issue voters who will vote for Trump as he is the only “pro-life” candidate running.

Many others have effectively argued that being pro-life goes far beyond the issue of abortion.***** They stress that being pro-life must be about caring for life once it is born–that if we are to insist a poor Mexican immigrant carry her pregnancy to term (for example) then we must advocate and support programs to lift her out of poverty, provide her with the education needed to sustain her and her baby’s life, provide her with healthcare and a network of support, and value her and her baby’s life–even as that baby grows into adulthood and faces tough choices of his/her own. “Pro-Life”, such advocates insist, must also oppose capital punishment, support immigration and refugees, the living wage, welfare, addiction treatment,  and all matters related to the social safety net. While I respect and admire the views of writers like the referenced Ms. Held-Evans I part ways with them in ways that will deter some readers, but here goes:

The terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are a misdirection that creates a false dichotomy. One is either for or against the criminalization of abortion, that is all. You can be “pro-life” on either side of this divide and you can be “pro choice” about any issue other than abortion on either side. Those that are pro-life believe abortion should be illegal and although some make exceptions for special circumstances many make no exception for any (even Zika-induced encephalitis as Rubio recently proved). Those that are pro-choice believe each woman is their own moral agent capable of making the decision to have an abortion or not depending on their own circumstances. I believe unequivocally that every woman has the right to make that decision for themselves based on their own unique circumstances. I believe that a government that insists every woman carry every pregnancy to term is guilty of serious overreach. I believe the health and well-being of the mother is always the first priority and I trust every woman to make that decision themselves.

Equating abortion directly to murder is dangerous. Many of the terrorist acts perpetrated on American soil over the years have been by right-to-life organizations including as recently as last year a shooting at a women’s clinic and the arson of 4 others.****** Doctors have been murdered and women threatened under the guise of “pro-life” and rhetoric that flatly compares a woman’s choice to murder directly encourage that activity by giving the armed and dangerous moral permission to prevent future “murders”. Several years ago when I was living on a seminary campus pursuing a master’s degree in religion my wife volunteered with the campus women’s center. As a progressive seminary the women’s center was pretty far to the left of similar organizations on more conservative campuses. This group went to the city’s women’s clinic to help escort women into the clinic past the protestors. Doing this greatly honed my wife’s ability to block out insults and maintain composure in dicey situations. This is because the clinic in the city was one of the most aggressively protested women’s clinics in the country. Often my wife would be escorting a woman in who having miscarried a child was having a procedure to remove the body–of course, on top of the heartbreak and discomfort the woman was already undergoing she then had to snake through a mob of loud frenzied picketers shouting at her that she was a murderer. Point is, those protestors did not know the situations of the women they were shaming–and they didn’t care. Their violent rhetoric could have easily led to gunfire any day as it has around the country for decades.

Deep down, most people realize the situation is more complicated and nothing brings this to the surface quite like the issue of “punishment” for abortion. If abortion is illegal then it would seem to follow that if a woman procured one she would then face punishment for breaking the law–and if abortion is flat out equal to murder then that punishment would be severe. Yet when Trump voiced this position earlier this year he quickly back-pedaled as even pro-life groups stressed punishment of the woman was never an option, she had been through enough; punishment was to be reserved for the doctor alone. By parsing the judgement in such a way  Slate writer William Saletan argues fairly convincingly that pro-lifers secretly recognize “that abortion is a medical procedure, that the woman is the primary patient, and that the physical and moral relationship between her and her fetus is complicated.”

But if we abolish “safe,legal and rare” abortion (as Clinton defined it) what is it we are asking for? Some sort of punishment for those women who desperately sought out an abortion. Wealthy women, even enthusiastically pro-life ones, will continue to have access to and procure their own abortions while denying them to others (As Jon Pennington writes based in his PhD work on the pro-life movement “Most pro-life women oppose abortion with four exceptions: rape, incest, the life of the mother, and me”).********

Women have abortions for many reasons. Some men use pregnancy as a means of limiting a woman’s options, trapping them in continual pregnancy to “keep” them whether the woman wants or can handle having another child or not. Sometimes women are victims of rape or incest. Some times women are simply not physically, mentally or financially capable of giving birth and if they are forced to that child will grow up unloved, unwanted and in physical and financial pain and want. Unwanted children are often victims of poverty, domestic abuse and addiction.

I have been fortunate and privileged to have never had to face a situation where a woman I love has had to contemplate abortion. I have always taken every precaution possible to ensure this was never an issue and I’ve been fortunate enough that even had I faced an unplanned pregnancy in my relationship my partner and I haven’t lacked the resources and connections to “choose life” had we found ourselves in such a situation. Yet I would never in a million years choose to judge, shame or denigrate someone who has had to make such a choice. Based on the stats a woman in America is about 30% likely to have had  an abortion by age 45.********* Though the “1 in 3” claim has been a contentious bit of data  ********** the 30% estimate is our best current estimate and it is much lower than it was 30 or 40 years ago and will likely continue to lower pending maintenance of the social safety net, promotion of sex education and the widespread availability of birth control. The point is, it’s safe to assume a woman you know, maybe a woman you love, has had an abortion. To label her a murderer and to flatly refuse to consider the complexity of the issue is not the moral high ground.

The moral high ground is in fact the issue. Because it’s over the issue of abortion many on the right get most indignant. Liberals may have “stolen” the moral issues of poverty alleviation and caring for the sick, poor, refugees, “least of these”, environment, imprisoned, etc. but the right are the ones to hold onto the hard “fact” that abortion is a moral outrage. It’s enough of an issue for conservatives that one I love could claim someone like myself can have nothing to say of value on any issue if I don’t agree abortion is always wrong.

But maybe that’s right to the extent that the reasons I am for the woman’s right to choose tie in with the rest of my moral judgements–so if you ridicule or hate my rationale for taking this stance you may as well ridicule the rest. I support a woman’s right to choose because I trust women to be their own moral agents and I would never presume to  know what is in their best interest. I am for a woman’s right to choose because I believe forcing a woman to carry a baby to term from the very moment of conception is arbitrary and cruel. The CDC reports 90% of abortions are in the 1st trimester and just over 1% are in the 3rd (almost always tied to the survival of the mother or because the baby has died). So to insist that those women who just found out they are pregnant but who are wise enough to their own situation to know they are in no shape to become a parent must just suck it up and become a parent is beyond absurd to me and against the liberties and freedoms inherent to our country. Pre-born life is potential life and there is no argument against abortion that is not rooted in religion; so if we are to maintain our separation of church and state we will not dictate what decisions women can make based on our own form of religion that they may not share. The issue of abortion is simpler than we all make it–if a person is against abortion they should never get one and they should never be forced to get one. But there is no room for them to force others to share their belief. Women can never maintain gender equality with men and be free to pursue their own visions, goals and live their own lives if we do not grant them freedom to make their own decisions about their own bodies–and that includes an embryo growing within that body.

If you are pro-life I urge you to at the least expand your vision of what that entails and support programs, resources and avenues of growth that let life flourish from adoption and foster care systems to refugee resettlement programs to addiction treatment and poverty alleviation. I urge you to support programs that reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies: expanded access to birth control, comprehensive sex education and advanced women’s health care and mentoring. I urge you to love the life of women facing terrible decisions without resorting to labeling them murderers and shaming them without even understanding their life situation. I also urge you to be skeptical of politicians and people who play on your pro-life convictions to get your votes and dollars without ever having any genuine plan or hope of changing abortion legislation who simultaneously do everything they can to destroy the programs that reduce the desire for abortion in the first place.

References

*http://thefederalist.com/2016/01/15/why-the-abortion-stance-of-a-presidents-spouse-matters/

**http://www.forbes.com/sites/ilyashapiro/2015/10/28/ben-carson-overturn-roe-v-wade-abortion/#18da2a754511

***http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithfuldemocrats/2012/09/if-you-are-truly-pro-life-youd-vote-democrat/

****http://www.politicususa.com/2014/02/03/newsflash-republicans-abortion-rate-fell-13-president-obama.html

*****http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/pro-life-voting-for-hillary-clinton

******http://www.adl.org/combating-hate/domestic-extremism-terrorism/c/anti-abortion-violence-americas-forgotten-terrorism-1.html

*******http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2016/04/donald_trump_abortion_comments_exposed_the_incoherence_of_the_anti_abortion.html

********http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/05/pro-life-views-change-if-abortion-gets-personal.html

*********http://www.politifact.com/texas/statements/2016/jan/19/wendy-davis/flawed-wendy-davis-claim-1-3-women-has-had-abortio/     “”We know that the abortion rate has dropped substantially since 2008, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the lifetime incidence has. There also have to be concomitant changes in age-specific first-abortion rates.” She said that until 2014 data is analyzed, likely in 2017, it’s only appropriate to say that given 2008 abortion rates, “an estimated 30% of women will have an abortion by age 45.”

*********http://www.not1in3.com/

 

More Money More Jesus?

March 27, 2015

richpastors

So occasionally I see things like the above meme. Or similar ones with sarcastic slogans like “Jesus died so Joel Osteen could buy a multimillion dollar home in the suburbs”. Recently Christian wealth-adviser Dave Ramsey himself responded to criticisms over the cost and value of his own home clarifying that he lives by his principles of having no debt and giving back huge amounts through church and charity. Ramsey has always held the viewpoint of “how can the poor help the poor?” In his recent defense of ownership of said home he positioned his abode as a nexus for service– a place for other wealthy Christians to gather and donate to support church and charity.

Conservatives are hardly the only folks who preach service to the poor while simultaneously generating wealth. Weathy liberals abound. And honestly, could Bill Gates do the work he is doing through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation without his massive resources and personal wealth? No. Yet there is a difference between someone like Gates who made his money from business and someone like Osteen or Mr. Dollar whose “business” is that of Christian ministry. Protestant Ministers have never been asked to take a vow of poverty of course, but the sheer extravagance and amount of remuneration these high profile celebrity preachers earn has long irked not only cynical secularists but also many of the religious as well. Now Mr. Ramsey, of course, is not a pastor and hasn’t made his money from sermons–he’s made the bulk of it from financial advising. Of course that financial advice is, according to Ramsey, Christian-based. He advocates wealth generation as positive for his fellow Christians.Therefore his message and his money is worth consideration in this present discussion.
Ramsey echoes a sentiment that folks as varied as Jay-Z have also made with his “I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them” sentiment. Of course that is true to some degree. Yet the question is: is that Christian?

I do not ask this as an attack but as a genuine consideration. Earning wealth for oneself and one’s family is not at its face value an evil or a social ill unless one earns that money through destructive means and/or uses that money for destructive ends. I’m not here to claim a wealthy person is by default a “bad” person. But can a very wealthy person be a Christian? Can a very wealthy person be a Christian pastor? Conservative Christians will likely take this question as more of an insult than I intend it. I once again stress as I have in many recent articles that I am not trying to ask this question from the inside–that is, I ‘m not inside of the Christian tent pointing fingers and asking if those “others” belong in here with me. I am outside of that tent looking in and here is what I think–some of the people inside of that tent may be better suited and more honest with themselves and their neighbors if they exit that tent by their own accord and find something else to identify as because the label just doesn’t fit without stretching so far that it is unrecognizable. I’m not saying your “immortal soul” is in danger or that you are not “saved” but I am saying that if you are closing in on having a billion dollars in personal assets and you aren’t using 98% of it to make this world a better place you are kidding yourself with the Christian label.

There simply exist far fewer “Christians” in the world, particularly in America, than  people who identify as Christian. It’s most often a superficial label signifying one’s birth to Christian parents not that far removed from how most of the world considers their own identification as Jews, Muslims or Buddhists. Most Christians in America are participants in the civil religion of American culture that meshes patriotism, national foundational documents, capitalism, and common social mores. If generating, maintaining, and then sharing some of a great amount of wealth is your interest you may very well be a good person but you’re not a Christian in the traditional sense. Jesus was pretty clear about what his followers had to do to follow him. Jesus was not a financial adviser. Following Jesus through the teachings and example he provided (as best as we can objectively understand it 2000+ years after the fact) will not lead to a 401k or a vacation home. The original Christian community as established by Jesus’ brother James did not encourage its members to hoard their goods. The diaspora Christian churches as established by St. Paul practiced communal pooling of wealth and resources to care for the poor members of the community.

Now, you can: (a) follow these examples and some still do; or (b) not. They are pretty central to the original basis of Christianity, so if you claim Christianity and do (b) you are at most a Christian-influenced person. You may be (c) and not care about fitting into either category.  I don’t claim that a, b, or c is a “better” choice. It’s totally up to the individual and should be influenced by more than anything written here and it should really be based on more than financial issues as well.  I certainly wouldn’t claim that those who follow (a) will lead stable, happy lives and I wouldn’t even go so far as to claim those in the (a) camp are in any way “better” than those in the (b) camp just that they are more honest in their self-identification. You can be a good or a bad person in a, b, or c. Those in the banner at the top of this article are in a category of all their own, however. They are (d) those who misuse, misunderstand,and misrepresent a religion for personal gain (whether intentional or unintentional) and their seemingly sole (or at least majority) way of “giving back” is limited to their “ministry” which is simply a recurring cycle of misuse, misrepresentation, and often the spreading of false hope and blame to people who will never have that type of wealth.

I don’t think I’m done with this topic yet. But I’m done for now.