Tag Archives: social justice

Long Past Time for Christians to Stand Up

Something very sick, creepy, and evil has taken over the Republican party. It makes one’s flesh crawl. A GOP congressional candidate body slams a reporter, then gets elected. GOP lawmakers at the Texas state house call ICE on peaceful protesters, who just happen to have brown skin. One lawmaker threatens to “put a bullet” through his Democratic opponent’s head. A grisly hate crime is perpetrated in Portland and the present administration has to be vehemently coaxed to make a statement denouncing such acts. The violence, intolerance, racism, misogyny, and lack of respect for the poor and suffering are reaching fever pitch, empowering the sickest elements of our society, and one gets the impression from their silence that many of our elected officials actually find it refreshing. Many Christians helped vote these people into office; they are thus partly responsible. If what calls itself “the church” in this country does not stand up and denounce this brand of behavior, one can only assume it is because they approve.

In the U.S., white supremacy and fascist movements have a long history of Christian support. In the 1930s fascism grew apace here, largely with the help of Christians who believed in an America for whites only. It was only WWII (when Hitler and Mussolini became the enemy) that put a stop to their advancement. But they have never entirely disappeared, just gone underground, waiting for the right moment and the right person to empower their voices. Sadly, such support merely demonstrates the complete lack of Christianity in those who call themselves Christians.

Let’s face it, for a significant percentage of Christians (is it a majority? I don’t know. I hope not), things like democracy, free speech, human rights, and the free practice of  religion are sacrosanct when it comes to themselves. When it comes to others’ exercising those same rights, however, many Christians are not so enthusiastic. Nor, really when it comes down to it, are they that committed to democratic ideals. It seems they would much rather have an iron-willed, jack-booted dictator to kick them in the ass and promote “law and order,” (i.e., silence dissent, show minorities their place, and make other undesirables disappear), than to live in a free society where tolerance is required.

Let’s put it simply. Those who call themselves Christians, yet despise everything Jesus stands for (such as mercy, tolerance, kindness, peace, generosity, love for the poorest and weakest, including immigrants), are deeply mistaken. They actually have nothing in common with Jesus, except that they try to use his name to justify their putrid hate and ignorance. To be a follower of Jesus Christ, one must follow his teachings and walk in his ways. The apostle John makes that clear in his first epistle (1 Jn 1:5,6; 2;3,4; 3:16,17).

It is long past time for Christians to stand up and denounce what is being done in their name. If they will not separate themselves from this movement, then they must be prepared to share in its judgment. For “it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God” ( 1 Ptr 4:17).

 

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How to FINALLY make America Great: Author and pastor has 11 ways to stop the rhetoric and live a Christian life

[The following interview appeared in the Feb 6th edition of Spark Magazine, a quarterly publication of the Winston Salem Journal.]

By Jodi Stephenson Sarver

Feb 6, 2017

The Rev. S.J. Munson’s name might be familiar to readers of the Winston-Salem Journal’s Opinion pages as an occasional letter writer. Writing is one of his passions, and he is the author of two books, Christ Held Hostage and The Treasure of Israel, as well as plays, theological articles and fiction.         

          His other passion is ministry, and for three decades he has been an outspoken activist with a deep concern for the issues of poverty and justice. After years of identifying as a conservative, Munson had what he calls a “political epiphany” during the 2000 presidential election. He discerned that issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and prayer in school became the hot-button topics that politicians kept using every two to four years to hijack Christianity, exploit voters and win elections, he says. He checked into liberal candidates, and he found similar problems in how their platforms meshed with biblical principles. He looked to independent candidates, and felt that they fared no better. Like Goldilocks in search of the right bed, Munson felt as if none of the political parties fit “just right” with Christ’s teachings.
          “Jesus is neither Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. You can’t classify him,” Munson explains. “I can safely say that Jesus never conceived that the church would be joined at the hip with one political party or another.”

          In his book Christ Held Hostage, Munson explains that political campaigns and the corporations that fund them politicize issues that “point a finger at others for being the source of our nation’s problems” and never make most Americans face their own complicity in a corrupt and unjust system.

          He decided it was time to focus on the issues that are most prevalent in the gospels: poverty, injustice and caring for the weakest members of society and then support the behaviors, policies and candidates in line with those teachings, regardless of party affiliation. What follows are Munson’s ideas about how Americans can challenge their biases and start the process of making this country great.

          Don’t Tolerate Intolerance. More than 85 percent of American churches are still mostly segregated, according to a 2014 study by LifeWay Research and corroborated by the Brookings Institute. It’s a passive form of racism when we segregate to worship, and it’s not reflective of how heaven will be, Munson explains.

          “The church looks all the more out of touch when it doesn’t reflect its community,” he says. In Acts 7, the ancient church was also confronted with the problem of cultural intolerance. A committee was formed, and church leaders decided that the best way to defeat intolerance was to transfer power from the current ruling church group to the outsiders.

          “A great way to diffuse racism is by transferring power to the powerless. The church has to be proactive and promote people of different races to power positions,” Munson says. “The church should not be a haven for racism, misogyny or xenophobia. It should be a place where our bigotries are exposed, not massaged.”

           Work for Peace Not War. How to treat other people … our enemies, immigrants, refugees, the poor … is all covered in Old Testament law and New Testament gospels, where compassion and mercy are foundational elements.

          “We have to disenthrall ourselves of violence, hate, greed and empire,” Munson says. As a country, he believes that Americans have become desensitized to what’s done in our name around the world by our leaders.

          “We must realize that those dots on a map are real people crying out for food, jobs and life. Isn’t being concerned about the victims of war a family value? If we don’t hear them, how do we expect that God will hear our cries?” Munson asks. “How can we want food, jobs and life for our family but not for others? Sabre-rattling is not Christianity. It’s not conservative versus liberal. It’s right versus wrong.”

          Build Bridges Not Walls. Many people know the parable of the Samaritan helping the Jew, but the cultural significance of this act can be lost today. He got him to a safe place and paid for his medical care, despite harboring deep-seated dislike and distrust.

“It’s a radical teaching,” Munson says. “Not only is our enemy our neighbor, but he is also the example of how to behave.” When Jesus talks about loving your enemies, he’s talking about people who may want to hurt you, he says. “That may seem unpatriotic, but we’re Christians first. Our citizenship is not of this world. We have to choose our heavenly citizenship.”

          Be an Involved Citizen. Have you seen Finding Nemo? At the end of the film, Nemo and Marlin are reunited, but Dory and other fish are caught in a trawler’s fishing net. Nemo and Marlin mobilize the fish to swim down, and the combined pressure of all their fins swimming in the same direction snaps the net.

          “Swimming together is how change happens. Voting every two to four years is not enough to make positive change happen,” Munson says, adding that as citizens we have to get involved. “Positive change happens when like-minded people band together and demand change,” he adds. Throughout this country’s history, Christians have banded together to take on issues including workers’ rights during the industrial revolution, women’s suffrage and child labor. “It’s not up to our president to change the country. It’s up to us to step up and work together to change something,” he says.

          Another civic duty citizens have is to ensure that the information they’re reading is coming from reputable sources. Using reliable and vetted sources from ethical journalists helps ensure people aren’t hearing propaganda, Munson says. “Don’t just believe what you see, hear or read. Check it out. Truth isn’t relative.”

          Ditch the Partisan Politics. When President George Washington left office, he gave a farewell address that is amazingly prophetic. In it he says that partisan politics has the ability to destroy a republic, serving as a distraction for leaders and agitator of the public, and it “opens the door to foreign influence and corruption” and causes men to “seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual” who in turn brings about the end of the republic.

          “Bailing out of the political party system is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’m not invested in the party. I’m invested in the truth and what’s best for our country,” he says.

          Rediscover Humility. Humility should be an important aspect of Christian life, but there seems to be an idea among Christians in America that they need to be in control to effect change, but this is not a biblical concept, Munson explains.

“Jesus said the greatest among you will be the servant. He led by example, and that example is to be servant.” History shows that change isn’t effective when it comes from top down by edict, he says.

          “Christianity is much more effective when we live scripture and become a moral influence than a political power. Political power just makes us hated.” Munson believes that atheism and disillusionment are on the rise in U.S., and it’s mostly due to political partisanship.

          Become an Ethical Consumer. Many Americans love discounts, inexpensive products and finding the best deal. But what’s behind the “sale” sign is likely the product of child labor, sweatshops or even slavery.

          “We have a discount culture, and we want to get the most for our money, but we need to keep justice in mind. Is what we’re buying the fruit of injustice?” Munson asks. Although fair trade clothing is expensive compared to going to discount stores, thrift stores and garage sales are good shopping options, he says.

           “Every purchase we make is a blow for or against justice, so be informed where products come from,” he advises. A good website to refer to is greenamerica.org. Another area of financial responsibility for Christians is in retirement choices. “It’s important to do business with companies that are trying to take a stand against bad practices,” he says, and he lists ussif.org as a resource for people to use to find socially responsible investments or SRIs. “They’re not perfect, but they’re companies that are trying to be ethical and take a stand.”

          Care for God’s Creation. “From page one of the Bible we’re told to take care of the environment. It should be a no-brainer for Christians,” Munson says. “And how do you take care of something that’s not yours? You take special care of it because you have to give it back.”

          Educating ourselves about the cost of what we consume and, for example, purchasing grass-fed local beef, would have a huge effect on reducing greenhouse gases. “In Revelations 11:18, God says he will destroy those who destroy the earth. If our interpretation of the scripture causes us to disrespect people or the Earth, then we need a new interpretation because it’s not following the spirit of Christ,” he explains.

Stand up to Corporate Greed. Have you seen the bumper sticker that quotes part of 2 Chronicles 7:14? “If my people will humble themselves and pray …”

          The ellipses replace an essential part of the verse, Munson says. It’s “turn from their wicked ways,” so what are our wicked ways, he asks? They are the corporate sins that we participate in because we’re part of a system, Munson explains.

          “Greed is the most serious threat to our survival as a species, and it permeates society at every level,” he says. The Bible has a lot to say about greed, and Munson refers to James 5 where Jesus’ brother chastises the rich for cheating workers and fattening themselves at the expense of the poor.

          Greed is also the main reason that Sodom was destroyed; its citizens were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned about the needy, he says. “We need to reread scriptures with new eyes and discover what’s important to God and why. We have cultural, political and religious filters that we need to remove and discover God’s priorities.”

          We’re in This Together. Another area where political leaders have hijacked Christianity, Munson notes, is by painting America as “the city on the hill,” a metaphor from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

          The phrase comes from a sermon delivered by Gov. Jonathan Winthrop to Puritans sailing to the New World, except he said that in order to become a shining city on a hill, its people had to be governed by justice and mercy, by love and generosity in their relationships and commerce, Munson says. Instead, to Americans it’s come to mean that the U.S. has a God-given destiny to enforce its will around the world and that its policies are supported by God, he explains.

          Relying on Isaiah 58, Winthrop did not envision a society where each member could pull himself up by his own bootstraps, Munson says. “His vision could be achieved only if all worked together, sacrificed, shared with and cared for one another. But I have faith that when the word is preached that the Holy Spirit is present, and people can be transformed,” Munson says.

 

S.J. Munson’s book Christ Held Hostage is designed for group or individual study and is available in paperback and Kindle versions on amazon.com.

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“Let the Record Show”

A worthwhile read from an honest pastor here in NC. Wish there were more like him.

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What Would MLK Jr. Say?

In honor of MLK day, Huff Po has run a series of articles about how Dr. King would view Trump’s America. Regarding the GOP’s nomination of far-right candidate Barry Goldwater, King noted in 1964,

The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, amlkjrnd extremism…On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represents a philosophy that is morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulates a philosophy which gives aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I have no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that does not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.

To read more: This MLK Quote Sums Up The Rise Of White Supremacy Post-Trump

Also: 5 Lessons From Martin Luther King Jr. To Apply To Trump’s America 

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Political Opinion and the Whole Person

GSand“I believe that a man’s political opinion is the whole man. Tell me your heart and your head, and I will tell you your political opinions. In whatever rank or party chance has caused us to be born, our character wins out sooner or later over the prejudices and beliefs of our education. Perhaps you will think this a sweeping statement ; but how could I choose to augur well of a mind that clings to certain systems that humaneness rejects ? Show me someone who supports the usefulness of the death penalty, and, however conscientious and enlightened he may be, I defy you to establish any sympathetic connection between him and me. If this person wants to teach me facts that I don’t know, he will not succeed ; for he cannot count on me to trust him.” —George Sand, Indiana (1832)

In her novel Indiana, French author George Sand (1804-1876), whose real name was Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, ventures to explain why people can fall out so completely over politics. I believe she got it in one. People’s politics do demonstrate who they are, not in the sense of telling everything about them, but by revealing something very deep about the state of their hearts.

I do not believe that Sand means that civil dialogue itself is impossible, or that we should judge or utterly reject those with whom we disagree. She herself was un auteur engagé, a passionate writer with a cause, who spilled a great deal of ink to set forth her political positions and to educate the public mind. Rather, what she is driving at is something more fundamental: that personal politics has deep roots in our soul, bypassing, eventually, even the prejudices of our upbringing, to reveal in its flowering something basic about our personality or even, one might say, our maturity as human beings.

Modern psychology has hypothesized a spectrum of spiritual development which might also be applied in this case. From the work of Fowler and Peck, we see a series of natural stages of spiritual growth from the toddler to the mystic, or from egoism to altruism. Peck observed, however, that some of his patients, for various reasons, got stuck in one stage or another, perhaps because of trauma or fear, or because their context somehow rewarded or reinforced their behavior. Take someone like Donald Trump, for example, whose blustering and boardroom bullying (toddler stage) has made him successful in the corporate world. Sand herself might be characterized as having spent most of her adult life in the adolescent (or rebel) stage, as witnessed by her frequently wearing men’s clothes, smoking tobacco, and having a long series of romantic liaisons with men of genius (poet Alfred de Musset and composer Frederic Chopin being among the most notable).

Sand, however, does not refer to natural stages of spiritual development, but to political opinions, which seem to be a kind of snapshot of a person’s quiddity. I do see a great deal that is true in what she says, although my fear is that taking the conclusion too far might lead us to dismiss individual human beings as monoliths and therefore justify our further polarization as a society.

Yet what would Sand say, for instance, of the “Christian” who pulls into the church parking lot, his SUV plastered with stickers lauding John Galt (a hero in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged) or The Donald ? Would it be fair or even accurate to infer that the stickers represent the person himself ? I know that none of us is perfect, yet if this person so opposes everything Jesus stands for, why is he at church at all? What is to be done with such people, who seem now to make up such a significant proportion of the church? How are we to have anything in common with them when they are, effectively, our enemies?

Yes, enemies. Not because they vote differently or stand on the other side of some political spectrum, but because they want to empower a man who stands for greed and militarism, the eradication of civility and kindness, the further destruction of our planet, inhumanity toward the poor and immigrants, and racism and bigotry. Is not such an individual an enemy of mankind? I look at them, then I look at my child and ask myself what kind of world she will live in. Will she be denied opportunities because of the color of her skin? Will there even be a habitable world for her to live in? What kind of world are these bigots and climate-deniers preparing for her?

I must say that the current political polarization in this country is frightening. Yet even more disturbing is the support Donald Trump has among so-called “evangelicals.” The word evangelical is code in the media for older white voters who identify themselves as evangelicals. So thankfully, they do not represent the entire evangelical community in this country. The same demographic questions are not used by pollsters when interviewing black or young voters among the left. If they did, they might discover the evangelical world is a lot more diverse than traditionally depicted in the media. Yet it is enough that so many who do consider themselves evangelicals are praising Trump to the skies and are largely responsible for his unyielding success.

It is astounding that these white voters seem not to be put off by the GOP candidate’s blatant racism, misogyny, and contempt for the poor and immigrants. It is impossible to deny that each of these positions is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Has the mask finally slipped ? Has the religious right finally found a candidate who (like Archie Bunker on steroids) is willing to say what they are all thinking but have been afraid to say ? Has their concern for abortion and family values all along been but a smoke screen for their real concern, which is the inexorable decline in white dominance ?

Sadly, the latter is probably the real issue (just as the religious right itself sprang into being in the 1970s, not as a religious reaction to Roe v. Wade, but in response to the federal government’s threatening the tax exempt status of Christian universities that resisted racial integration). Yes, in supporting Trump, these voters seem willing to threaten world peace and pull our whole democratic system and the Constitution down around us merely in order to turn back the clock on civil discourse, the rights of women, immigration reform, and economic and racial equality. The slogan “Make America Great Again” is just a dog whistle for a return to white dominance at home and abroad. Talk about a pipe dream. No, Donald, like you, America may be a bully, but she will never be truly great until she is good, just, and fair—both here and over there.

Perhaps worse than the Trump supporters among the church is the church leadership itself who, in general, seem to be taking refuge in silence, afraid to take on the angry crowd. I’m sorry, but church leaders do not get a pass on this. We are pastors, shepherds, commissioned to protect the sheep. Silence does not signify, “I don’t want to get involved.” Silence means consent. For those afraid to wade into politics, let me just say that this is no longer about liberal versus conservative, Democrat versus Republican. This is about right versus wrong, and good versus evil. We have crossed a line in this country, and we now stand at a crossroads, just as the German church did in the early 1930s.

Quoting Micah 7:6, Jesus tells of a time before the end when “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household” (Mt 10:36). At the same time, he also commands us to love and pray for our enemies. The apostle Paul likewise instructs us with the following strategy:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth,  and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2Tim2:24-26)

Lord, give us the words to speak to our erring, angry, and frightened brothers and sisters.

 

 

 

 

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Telescopic Philanthropy

I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating. Conservative evangelicals as a whole do a lot to help the poor ; they’re good at giving things to the poor. They work with inmates in prison. They run food pantries and other food distribution organizations. They send thousands of missionaries to poorer nations overseas, not only to convert souls, but also to help build infrastructures, give medical care, train and educate, even dig wells. They are generous people.

But one thing they more than often forget is that giving to the poor should go hand in hand with standing up for the poor, being a voice for the voiceless, challenging power structures on behalf of the disempowered. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached : “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.” The principle is indeed a biblical one:

I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor and upholds the cause of the needy.–Ps 140:12

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.–Prov. 29:7

The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice.–Ezek 22:29

It amazes me how hard some evangelicals can work to feed the poor; then they go out and vote for the same corrupt politicians who despise the poor (or immigrants) and want to make them poorer or deprive them of all rights. Many evangelicals donate time and money to programs that comfort the afflicted ; but they will fight to the death to support the very systems than help create those afflictions in the first place (American exceptionalism and militarism, support for oppressive regimes, or economic domination, for example). It’s as if we’re dealing out poison with one hand and antidote with the other, helping to create and cure misery in the same embrace.

In my church parking lot I recently saw a bumper sticker that for me is emblematic of the problem : it read, “John Galt for President.” Really ? The reference, of course, is to a character in Ayn Rand’s objectivist novel Atlas Shrugged, a man who lives by the motto, “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” For Rand, things like God-values have no place in this world, which is about survival of the fittest. Instead, she postulates a morality of selfishness, in which the poor are viewed as useless and ugly, and rich capitalists are the bold and the beautiful. Is there anything so completely antithetical to the essential teachings of Christianity ?

How can you reconcile two things that are so completely irreconcilable ? Here’s a clue : you can’t. But it is entirely possible for some people to put their spiritual and ethical lives in separate compartments. It’s not about “living with the tension”; it’s about moral blindness, a kind of ethical dissociation. It allowed people like Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant thinker and a firm believer in human equality, to own and sell slaves (or even sleep with them). It may not be a conscious choice; in Jefferson’s case, he grew up with slavery and racism, lived and profited by them, and so rarely allowed his enlightened self to challenge them.

And perhaps therein lies the problem. We evangelicals often have a moral blind spot when it comes to America, the land of the free and home of the brave. We’ve been suckled on our national myths and propaganda—that America is good and can do no wrong, that our system is the best—and we can’t conceive of any other view. We’ve so profited by a system of inequality, militarism, and the politics of empire– especially those of us among the white middle and upper classes– we durst not rock the boat.

What is clear, however, is that as evangelicals we can be the bearers of both the good news and the bad. Like the old colonial missionaries we are at the same time part of the answer and part of the problem, packing heaven with souls while we help to facilitate the rape and pillage of foreign lands, or else crossing land and sea to make converts while neglecting the poor and destitute among us. Charles Dickens called this kind of mental gymnastics telescopic philanthropy.

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The Real War on Christmas

In a recent article radio commentator and activist Jim Hightower contends that shock-jocks like Bill O’Reilly have cooked up a phony War on Christmas, while at the same time, they are the very ones who have recently launched the real war on Jesus by labeling the new pope a Marxist.

195px-Papst_Leo_XIIIShrill voices like O’Reilly’s are hard to take seriously; they often seem more to resemble a carnival sideshow than to reflect the true face of conservative American evangelicalism. Yet perhaps we could say that they are a true caricature of us. A caricature is a distorted, exaggerated image, but at the same time it reflects real blemishes, a something out of balance in the original.

As the prophet of privileged white victimhood, O’Reilly perfectly demonstrates how political forces have become adept at distracting American evangelicals from the real issues that plague our society. As Billy Graham warned in a 1981 interview, “It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” The War on Christmas is a good example, as it seeks to misdirect evangelical frustrations and energy.

Instead of helping the church to focus on the yawning chasm between rich and poor in this country, or the arrogance of greed run amok, this war has us demonizing non-Christians and punching store employees who dare to wish us “Happy Holidays,” as though they were the Red Menace. Here again Christianity seems to be reduced to a cartoon of itself, anathematizing bewildered and underpaid store clerks, instead of calling to account the very economic forces and political system that have brought us a banking crisis, a Great Recession, growing inequalities, and a return to the economic conditions, legislated greed, and racism of the Gilded Age.

Let’s face it. To economic elites, Jesus’ real teaching on poverty and riches is a meddlesome interference. That is why Greed loves to wear a religious mask, using the language of piety while denying its true power and message. Such campaigns as the War on Christmas are extremely cost-effective, a very cheap way of distracting Christians from a truly New Testament agenda. They do cost the church dearly in looking ridiculous and petty, but cost us nothing in terms of our having to look at ourselves, our selfish lifestyles, and the corrupt systems we support.

Yet perhaps Hightower goes too far in calling this war a “hoax.” For such skirmishes are certainly part of a larger cultural shift in this country: not simply away from Christmas, but away from white Protestant Christianity. For the first time in American history, Protestants now find themselves in the minority, and soon, within the next decade, whites will find themselves in the same boat. Such kvetching as O’Reilly’s is part of a swan song. America is rapidly diversifying. We are already the most religiously diverse nation in the world, and the white-dominated society most of us grew up in, too, is almost a memory. Yet many refuse to adapt, preferring to go down kicking and screaming. Ironically, however, it is not Christianity that is most threatened, but Christendom—the geopolitical power that dominated the world from the Middle Ages through the last century, or in this country specifically, the dominant white power structure that identifies itself as Christian.

Not content with leading the crusade against diversity, however, O’Reilly tips his hand too much by attacking the pronouncements of Pope Francis, teachings that are in keeping not only with Catholic social doctrine over the past 120 years, but also with the New Testament itself. Francis’ recent encyclical, in which he castigates predatory capitalism and chides the church for taking its eyes off the poor, is hardly new, but merely one in a long line of papal declarations, going back to Leo XIII.

In his encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891) Pope Leo responded to the growing desperation of the working classes as they groaned under the various social maladies engendered by the Industrial Revolution. Yet, while taking unrestrained capitalism to task for its exploitation of workers and its savage indifference to the cries of the poor, he also rejects communism and upholds the individual’s right to property. Instead, he calls both labor and capital to mutual responsibilities, while also recognizing that God is unmistakably on the side of the poor. He also calls governments to work with the church in ameliorating the inequities and sufferings of poverty, for it is the primary duty of the State to promote both justice and the general welfare. The document did much to offer both a rational and theological argument for the formation of labor unions, social safety nets, the right to collective bargaining and a living wage, as well as the role of the church as a voice for social justice in a rapidly changing modern world. Far from being Marxist, by addressing such inequities and injustices, Leo was trying to avoid the very kind of cataclysmic crisis that would soon take hold in Russia, an upheaval that would bring its own kind of injustice and repression. (Leo’s encyclical is definitely worth a read: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Rerum_Novarum)

If Leo’s or Francis’ words seem “Marxist” to us, its goes to show how far we have drifted from the norms of New Testament teaching and of reason itself, as well as from the excruciating lessons of modern history.

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