Sunday, December 18, 2011

Jesus, OWS and Tony Perkins' Bad Theology

The preacher/pastor in me, has his hackles raised by this bit of theological foolishness by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council...

"Here's the direct quote from Luke: "He called his ten servants, and gave to them ten minas, one mina each (a mina today would be worth around $225), and he then told them to 'Occupy till I come.' " (Luke 19:13, King James Version)"
"But just what does Jesus' order to occupy mean? Does it mean take over and trash public property, as the Occupy movement has? Does it mean engage in antisocial behavior while denouncing a political and economic system that grants one the right and luxury to choose to be unproductive?..."
"From a spiritual perspective, the mina in this parable represents the opportunity of life; each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives, and each of us shares the same responsibility to invest our lives for the purpose of bringing a return and leaving a legacy. Jesus gave equal responsibility and opportunity to each of his 10 servants."
"The fact that Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable should not be overlooked. When the nobleman returns, after being established as king  a stand-in for Jesus  he calls all his servants together to see what they had accomplished in his absence..."
"...The parable of the king and the servants endorses the principles of business and the free market when properly employed..."
We called this "proof texting" when I was in school. It's the act of 'decontextualiznig' a passage of scripture and force fitting it into an argument in order to prove one's point. 
I've seen Perkins on any number of news shows and heard him in interviews a number of times. I rarely walk away convinced by his arguments, but, for the most part, hardly anyone could accuse him of being intellectually irresponsible. He has a conservative ideology based on his faith. There really is nothing wrong with that. Bringing that viewpoint into the public square isn't wrong either. If you are willing to defend your position with integrity, you have every right to be there. And, Christians disagree with how they see things. After careful study, its entirely possible to arrive at different points of emphasis. 
But Perkins assertion that Jesus is a 'free-marketer' based on this parable is a trivialization of scripture based on a co-opted conservative theological perspective, more American Nationalist Church Thought than  Biblical Christianity. 
Perkins' 'logic' would lead us to believe that Jesus' use of a 'scroll' shows that there is some type of Divine animus towards technology; or that Jesus' parable in which a scoundrel is subtly admired (Luke 16:1-8) suggest that we should take a less dim view of larceny. Contrary to what seems to be popular opinion, real Bible study is not free association...
I would argue with Tony Perkins that the Occupy Wall Street crowd is just where you would find Jesus (Luke 7:39, 15:2). He would be among those disaffected by a government where the income and wealth disparity had caused people to question the justice of their society - or to give up hoping (Matthew 9:36).  Jesus was not criticized because He affirmed the materialism of the wealthy, but because He spent time among those whom the 'free-marketers' of His day deemed worthless. He was among those  who were the very ones Tony Perkins speaks of with apparent derision 'those who engage in antisocial behavior'. 
Wasn't it to a 'free marketer' Jesus spoke when He said, 'Sell all you have and give it to the poor...' (Matthew 19:16-22)?  Wasn't it about the 'free marketers' Jesus spoke when He talked about the difficulty of 'the rich' getting into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19: 23,24)?
Perkins shows why I have trouble with some who support his ideology. When Christianity is unable to stand as an alternative reality to a culture's imperialism, when it's legitimacy is gained from its support of the status quo, it loses authenticity and power. It becomes a state religion. God does not sanction American capitalism. God is not a Democrat or a Republican. God is the only True and Supreme Independent. The God of the Bible and the True Christ of the Church is far more free than our political ideologies. He does not sanction as blessed because of the riches alone, or the poor only because of their poverty. True Christianity is more complex than that. Only the most simplistic reading of the Bible draws the conclusion that God is a 'free marketer' because he uses a profit motif in one of His parables. In one of His parables Jesus employs the image of a farmer (Matthew 13:1-9). Does that mean that Jesus' use of the image mean that we are all Divinely intended to be farmers?! 

Jesus will judge any system that does not value human dignity and worth above profit or even the sovereignty of the state. And there is something wrong about our system that will inflame the human inclinations toward greed, foreclose on their homes, seek to shrink if not remove all public supports or provisions for uplift. There is something wrong about a system which will justify poorly educating the young thereby consigning them to lives of economic second class citizenship. There is something wrong with a system that makes equal access difficult, if not impossible for some because it sanctions concentrated poverty. 
And there is something wrong with a religion that actually believes that the God of the Bible supports that system. 

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