Boy, if that post title don’t fetch ’em, I don’t know Arkansaw (to borrow a line from Twain).
Whatever it may seem like, the title of this post is not link- or click-bait. It’s a legitimate question as we look around at 21st Century America and the world in which it exists. I’ve commented on the dynamic before, here, and here’s another soul whose church has pretty much left him. In the linked article, we find commentary on the American Presbyterian Church’s decision to “divest” itself from Israel. By doing so it has aligned itself with the enemies of the one solitary democracy in an entire area of the world, the one place where Muslims can decide they’d rather be something else and not have to fear death imposed by government decree. The one place where a homosexual can parade his preferences in the open without being sentenced to death. The one place where the government is not run by a cabal of blood-soaked theocrats and kleptocrats. A place where teenage girls need not concern themselves with “honor” killings winked at by the police. Where gang rape of lower-class girls is not looked upon as something of an outdoor sport. A place where government-backed thugs don’t go about the place burning other people’s houses of worship.
Will the Presbyterians divest themselves from Russia? Russia’s invaded and stolen an entire geographic region — the Crimea — which dwarfs any place the Palestinian Arabs lived within the borders of modern Israel. For that matter, Russia kicked out the Prussians and the Poles from most of its modern western reaches. The Poles of course ejected the Germans when their country was bodily moved 150 miles west at the end of the war. How about the Czech Republic? It kicked the Sudeten Germans out in 1945, although those people had never been part of a modern Germany; they’d come to what was then the kingdom of Bohemia in the late Middle Ages. So why don’t the Presbyterians divest from England? The English have been occupying Wales since the Middle Ages, and until recently actively suppressed Welsh as a language and culture. Come to think of it, will the church divest from California? I seem to recall that the U.S. didn’t exactly acquire undisputed title to that place. And while we’re at it, will the Church divest itself from companies doing business in China? China is doing everything in its power to crush its western peoples, principally the Uyghurs and the Tibetans. It is flooding those areas with ethnic Chinese, suppressing the local cultures and locking up local leaders willy-nilly. The Church gets its chasuble all in a wad because of a few apartment buildings the Israelis have run up; but about the all-but-shooting war in western China what do we hear? Crickets.
What makes Israel different? Oh. Right. It’s the Jooooossss.
Jeffrey Carter, over at StockTwits (the article linked above) puts it succinctly: “Why have traditional churches lost members? It’s because they have lurched to the far left when it comes to official church policy.” I’d submit it’s not just official church policy; it’s the churches’ gratuitously mixing themselves into political areas where they have no moral authority to speak and where they enjoy no identifiable expertise that makes their voices weightier than anyone else’s. They have conflated Christianity with the furthest-left reaches of the political spectrum.
I find this odd.
The big churches increasingly embrace political positions that have demonstrated themselves across all areas of the globe, across multiple generations, and across entirely distinct cultures to be the direct causes and exacerbators not just of material and moral human misery, but of active evil. We are now preached at, week in and week out, about the evils of capitalism. The butcher’s bills of the Holodomor, the Great Leap forward, the Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot, the grinding prison that has been Cuba since 1959 — they are never mentioned. You’ll never hear a preacher mention how it has only been since Red China’s (however lackluster) embrace of capitalism and free markets that hundreds of millions of Chinese can hope to have reliably clean running water, or transportation beyond their villages. It’s as if the population of India has just magically begun to flourish, and children who once would have ground their lives to dust tending herds of goats, sheep, or water buffalo may now dream of becoming engineers, doctors, scholars, or just independent businessmen.
Unfortunately Jesus doesn’t seem to have spent a great deal of time on public policy matters. About the closest He got was His famous render-unto-Caesar dodge, when they tried to trick Him into a seditious position. Unlike some I don’t read that as saying any more than what it says: It permits a Christian to be a citizen. No more, no less. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Amish and related faiths because they in fact do walk the walk, but with all that respect I think they’re taking things to excess in their disengagement from the polis. Which is a shame because civil society has such desperate need of people who cultivate precisely the values of those groups.
So we’re left with How Would Jesus Vote? on any number of things. Would He raise or lower the capital gains tax? Would He use the tax code as a device to redistribute wealth, when the attempt to do so merely destroys existing wealth and discourages the creation of new? Would He support gratuitous licensing requirements (such as hair dressers, landscapers, interior decorators, and so forth), when the demonstrable effect of those is to keep in distressed circumstances many people who might otherwise achieve economic — and thus moral — independence? Would Jesus so arrange the social welfare net as to encourage generations of families to squander their cultural heritage, to create situations where it’s been three or four generations since anyone in the family held a job? Would He approve of governmental programs that more or less pay teenage girls to become unwed mothers, when the single strongest predictor of all manner of adverse economic and social outcomes for adults (poverty in childhood, criminal behavior, unemployability, failure to complete high school . . . you name it) is the age of the mother at the birth of her first child? Would Jesus support the Community Reinvestment Act, which mandates under threat of significant penalty that banks make loans to people it is known cannot hope to repay them? How about Dodd-Frank, with its tens of thousands of regulations, large numbers of which have the intentional or ancillary effect of driving local financial institutions out of business, so that the economic engines of thousands of communities are destroyed?
Would Jesus own stock in Wal-Mart, which provides fairly good products at fairly reasonable prices to small towns all over the country, and provides tens of thousands of jobs? It provides those jobs to people who may not have the talent or the drive to own their own businesses, and whose other options would be working for other employers where the job security is non-existent, there is no hope of advancement (unless you’re part of the family and might hope to inherit or buy), and which are subject to the wild swings of local economies. Would Jesus turn His back on those people?
Would Jesus support Israel, or would He back Hezbullah? Would Jesus support those people who throw acid on women’s faces for daring to show them in public? Would He support forcible measures against those groups?
You see, I have this inability to understand a Lord and Savior who would command His children to do things that are known to cause or worsen each other’s misery. I get it: Jesus hated suffering and poverty. He loved the poor and the down-trodden, but I don’t recall anything in Scripture that would support the argument that He loved them so much He wanted to see more of them, and in greater poverty and misery. I also think I understand what he was saying in the eye-of-the-needle turn of phrase. I don’t think He was condemning riches or the rich; I think He was warning against the temptations that riches bring, the temptations to pride, hardness of heart, oppression of one’s fellow humans. Riches enable, after all, not only human goodness but also human iniquity. It’s real hard to indulge feelings of malice when you’re too flat broke to worry about anything except how to pay for that next tank of gas. I think Jesus was cautioning us against the moral pitfalls of prosperity, rather than condemning prosperity as such.
I am, as I have mentioned elsewhere, no theologian. But a Christianity that works to establish and promote systems of human organization that have accounted for nine figures of corpses in less than a century, and which have as their stated goal the destruction of individual humans’ moral agency and their yoking to the harness of the faceless behemoth that is the modern nation-state, is not a Christianity that I can accept as serious moral system. It is certainly not a moral system which I recognize as having a claim upon my allegiance.
I do not see, however, that American churches’ embrace of the extreme leftist positions on nearly every question of public interest out there can be characterized otherwise than as affirmative efforts toward that establishment and promotion.