Sunday, January 27, 2013

Greed, Like Charity, Begins at Home

Mainstream Preachers Fail to Condemn Greed While
Stock Market Soars and Homelessness Runs Rampant

Our nation is being savaged by economic hard times, but many pastors are afraid to talk about its causes, lest they offend anyone and risk losing members of their churches. In light of this I would like to present some comments of my own, since I am not the least bit shy about stirring up controversy. It has been my observation that too many preachers and teachers of the Gospel stop short these days when it comes to preaching about the evils of greed. Instead, they encourage their congregations to get through their financial woes by making larger financial contributions. “If you have a need”, one famous TV preacher once said, “you must plant a seed”. Unfortunately, greed, like charity, begins at home. Apparently they don’t want to alienate the most well-off members of their congregations by talking about what’s behind the nation’s economic woes. I can sum it up in one sentence: “I've got mine and I'm doing well, how about you?”

The reality is that certain people may wind up creating anti-economic-growth and anti-capitalism concepts in their minds. Greed and our capitalist economic system fear anything that even remotely resembles 19th and 20th century (OMG!) communism or socialism (see the book of Acts, chapter 2, verses 44-47). The very idea of sharing anything, or of equal economic distribution in any form, makes these “congregants” furious. Never mind that caring and sharing are 2 fundamental concepts of true Christianity (Acts chapter 4, verses 32-37). The Great Recession and its continuing aftermath are more than an economic crisis. It has become a spiritual dilemma for some of the nation’s pastors and their parishioners. Nearly four years after an implosion of the nation’s financial system helped push the country into its worst economic nosedive since the Great Depression, pastors are still trying to figure out how to address people’s fears from the pulpit. But first they have to deal with their own fears, and in some cases their own greed.

Though millions of Americans are justifiably angry over the economy, little moral outrage seems to be coming from mainstream denominations, and ditto for many unaffiliated nondenominational churches. Too many pastors opt for offering platitudes from the pulpit or from TV studios because they are afraid their partners will stop giving money if they hear teachings against greed. Money, and the acquisition thereof, is one of the last taboos in church (not counting preaching against the extreme immorality of waging warfare). The anxiety from the pews has become so palpable for some pastors, though, that they now feel like they have no choice.

The Rev. Andy Stanley, a prominent evangelical leader, said some in his congregation cheered when he launched a preaching series called “Recovery Road” to talk about politically touchy issues such as personal greed, the unsustainable federal deficit, and the sins of sub-prime home loans and predatory student loans. Andy Stanley says he took a risk preaching about greed to his suburban Atlanta congregation, but it has paid off. The senior pastor has told his church members they should look in the mirror before they start blaming politicians for the nation’s economic woes. Any economic recovery “begins with me, not they,” Stanley said. It continues when pastors ask how such a wealthy country can stumble into such a financial mess. “Any time the entire country is talking about something, pastors should pause and talk about it,” Stanley said. “We know what Republicans and Democrats think, but what does the Bible and Jesus say?’’ Other ministers say an economic recovery also must involve pointing fingers. They say Jesus calls his followers to struggle against those people and policies that helped lead to the Great Recession and economic inequality.

It’s good to pull people out of the river when they’re drowning, but it’s also good to go upriver to see who’s throwing them in the water. Should pastors speak truth to economic power? Absolutely! There was a time when American pastors routinely took stands on the big economic issues of the day. During the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist minister, inspired others to fight against the economic inequality of the time with the “Social Gospel.” Social Gospel ministers helped inspire President Theodore Roosevelt to break up business monopolies and abolish child labor.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spent the last three years of his life focusing on poverty. When he was assassinated in 1968, he was on the cusp of leading a nonviolent, interracial army of poor people into the nation’s capital to demand a fairer distribution of wealth. Rev. Dr. King and others like him took on the big economic issues of the day, and they were inspired by the example of Jesus, who angered the powerful by condemning the economic exploitation of the poor. Jesus took sides – he said he “didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword.” The hard truth is that pastors who are afraid of angering congregants by talking about touchy economic issues like greed ignore the Gospel. You can’t preach the Gospel without alienating people. That’s part of it. You’re not helping people if you’re not alienating them. The recession and its accompanying jobless recovery divides preachers, not just politicians.

Preaching what Jesus would say about the Great Recession can be controversial. The Bible doesn’t record any instance where someone asked Jesus about the morality of a sub-prime loan, or of waging undeclared, unofficial wars, or the best way to reduce the federal deficit. That leaves pastors with the challenge of interpreting Jesus’ message for today’s economic woes. On that front, the pulpit is as divided as the nation’s politics. Consider the cause of the 2008 economic meltdown. Was it primarily the result of Wall Street greed?

Greed was a factor in the 2008 financial crisis, but not it’s primary cause. There were other major factors, including the tendency of Americans to live above their means and policies that encouraged banks to dilute mortgage lending standards. In addition, large financial institutions were encouraged to engage in risky behavior because they knew the federal government would bail them out. The causes of the 2008 crisis were so complicated that some of the smartest people in the world either failed to anticipate it, or they looked the other way so they would not see. Why don't more Christians condemn the growing gap between rich and poor? Denouncing a presumed (and enforced) gap between rich and poor is a moral imperative, not to mention prophetic wisdom, in today's Church. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, income disparity in the United States has increased 40% in the past 30 years. In 2010 the nation’s poverty rate rose to a 17-year high, with more than 46 million people – 15.1% of the population - living in poverty and 49.9 million living without health insurance. These grim statistics point to the hard truth that people born in America today can no longer “succeed” like their parents and grandparents did. Working hard and getting a good education are no longer enough. Higher education is only for the well-to-do, and working hard, long hours only guarantee jobs for as long as it takes any given employer to find and hire someone else who is willing to work for $1.00-$2.00 dollars per hour cheaper than those they replace. In short, the American Dream is dead on arrival. It has devolved into a lie. The fact that millions of people want jobs and can't find them is a sign of that capitalism is dying of old age, and the profit motive is doomed to die with it because there is way too much money in the hands of far too few people while everyone else gets (literally) left out in the cold.

It’s very clear to me that greed was a major factor in the 2008 economic collapse, and that the widening gap between the haves and have-nots is social and political dynamite. Quite frankly, economic inequality is a recipe for revolution, and it is a revolution that is long overdue. History shows that an increasing gap between the rich and the poor is a prime indicator of imminent spiritual, financial and cultural collapse. What is sorely needed today is a movement among the nation’s churches to re-examine the country’s economic values. Unfortunately, many of the nation’s pastors and TV evangelists operate like politicians, afraid to alienate their wealthy donors. Their sermons sound more like rehearsed sales pitches than they do Spiritual messages.

Where have all the prophets gone? If pastors choose not to preach about the causes of economic calamity, they can still talk about the issue through the prism of personal behavior. Some church members have been hit hard by bad economic times. But instead, they hear about the cures and not the causes for the nation’s economic ills. It has been my observation that too many pastors have reduced Jesus to a financial adviser rather than the Son of God who was a prophet and teacher, and who saved us all from death by the free gift of eternal life for all those who truly believe, and who back up their beliefs with charitable acts.

Pastors should also call for equality and justice as a part of this message. In point of fact, it’s a crime that no bankers or financial leaders behind the 2008 collapse have gone to jail, and it is indicative of culpability and complicity on the part of our nations “leaders”. We’ll send an African-American teenager off to the slammer who robs a 7-Eleven, and ditto for smoking an innocuous substance like marijuana, but people won’t do one stinking thing to any banker who helped cause the collapse of the entire banking system. But most preachers won’t dare say that, because much of the church is too captive to greed to address the moral challenges of the nation’s economic problems. In my opinion, this is due in large part to the “prosperity gospel” that is being “taught” in many churches today. In other words, it's OK to be greedy, so long as one is doing so for the sake of Christ. They are forgetting that Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”, and again when He said, “You cannot have both fresh and salt water flowing from the same spring. You either love one master and detest the other, or you will cling to the other and despise the former. You cannot worship both God and money”.

We can’t expect politicians, pastors, teachers, evangelists or other business and political leaders to step into that void because too many are beholden to the rich and powerful. A prophet is someone who is willing to tell us the unpleasant truth about ourselves. That's what Jesus did, and that's why he was crucified by the Roman Empire. If we can’t bring unpopular messages, who will do so in our place? It's all up to us, and anyone who willingly does not do so is ignoring at best, or willfully bastardizing at worst, the true and timeless Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

King Holiday Commemoration part 2

I Dare To Dream

The march of economic inequality, from which springs the source of poverty, crime, violence, and lack of access to healthcare and higher education, has become the new civil rights issue of the 21st century. King's dream of unconditional equality throughout the country can finish becoming a reality when the economic barriers that we all face on a daily basis finally come down for good, like an economic Berlin Wall. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to the masses during the 1963 civil rights march on Washington and said, “I have a dream...”. By writing and publishing these words it is my intent to help take up where King's Dream left off, and to finish the job that he started. And so instead of writing, “I have a dream”, let me slightly change that to, “I dare to dream”.

I dare to dream of a world in which the gap between rich and poor is gone forever. We all deserve to live in a world where wealth has been redistributed in a peaceful and orderly manner and not by the barrel of a gun. I dare to dream of a country where wealth has been redistributed in 4 ways. First, every worker earns a living wage so poverty can be eliminated. Second, free higher education and vocational retraining must be available to every worker for life, including daycare available to all, that would be based on the worker's or student's ability to pay on a sliding scale. Third, I envision an America where quality health care is available to every worker at nominal cost for life. Single-payer healthcare based on the current Medicare model must not be reserved only for those who can afford it, but it must be a fundamental human right for all ages. I dare to dream of an America where there will be no such thing as someone without health insurance, where every citizen will have lifetime healthcare and prescription drug coverage without qualification, and where there will be the fewest sick days for American workers and their children of any country in the developed world. Fourth, “we the people” demand the abolition of the federal tax code, including elimination of the despised federal withholding tax, which would give every American worker or business owner an immediate 18% pay raise.

I dare to dream of a new America with a robust and viable economy. That is why I have been insisting on a $12.00 per hour minimum wage since 2010. I dare to dream of a new America where education will be subsidized from the cradle to the grave so that the US develops the most formidable work force the world has ever seen. I dare to dream of an America where all workers have the right to organize, to a flexible work week and to paid family or maternity leave.

I dare to dream of an America where affordable housing is the law of the land, where home ownership becomes a right and not a privilege so we can wipe out homelessness, and where the price of a house is limited to the sum total of ten years income of any given individual or household purchasers. I insist on a country where home ownership isn't part of an exclusive club with the highest “credit scores”. It is, and must become, a basic human right. Even the cave men lived in caves of their own!

I dare to dream of a country with new public works programs that put an end to unemployment forever so the USA can have full employment all the time. America's infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, and its inner cities are in dire need of an overhaul. What a better way to accomplish this!

I dare to dream of a new America with an all-new public school and university system that has an Internet-based curriculum that can be updated at will, and that is second to none in the developed world, with a new and more intensive school year, and that has viable replacements for standardized testing, and where class size is limited by law. I dare to dream of a country where teachers make what their Congressional representatives make, and vice versa.

I dare to dream of a new nation where unconditional equality is the law of the land for every citizen without exception, and this will include economic equality. I dare to dream of a new America where there is no more income tax, no capital gains tax, no alternative minimum tax, no estate tax, no self-employment tax, and where families and businesses can have a tax free income unless they are very wealthy. In its place would be a national sales tax, such as a Consumption Tax, where everyone pays proportionately the same tax rate on only what they consume, plus an “excess wealth tax” for persons with annual incomes exceeding $3 million, and for businesses with annual proceeds exceeding $300 million, so America's budget can be balanced and fair.

I dare to dream of a better USA where personal privacy is the law of the land, where identity theft is a thing of the past, and where it will be illegal for employers to obtain the credit files or credit scores of any job applicant.

I dare to dream of a more compassionate America where children have the right to a challenging and progressive learning environment, and where kids will be legally guaranteed freedom from hunger, sickness and violence, and where all God's children will have the right to safe adoption, foster care and day care.

I dare to dream of an all-new voting system, including the abolition of the elitist Electoral College, that is Internet-based, paperless, and that can be accessed from any location using any computer or wireless device, instead of wasting our time and fuel and losing work time going to polling stations, and instead of using unreliable and unsecured voting machines.

Finally, I dare to dream of a world in which all this is easily financially achievable because all the money that is being wasted currently on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and to a lesser extent in Pakistan, Libya and elsewhere will be redirected towards all these dreams that I have just mentioned. The money is already there, its just being budgeted in all the wrong places. Let me tell you why.

If the US military took all the money it spends occupying Afghanistan for just one day and put it into an interest-bearing account, there would be enough money available to send every American school kid from the first grade up to senior year in high school through 4 years of college fully paid for, including tuition, dorms, books, food, and access to the Internet and to public transportation. Here's another example: If the US government took all that money set aside from one days worth of military expenditures in Afghanistan alone, there would be enough money to build a 2,500 square feet house, fully furnished and stocked with groceries, with all the utilities already turned on, for every homeless person in the US including all the homeless kids. That's how easily we can end homelessness in the richest country in the world.

Just as surely as there was an Arab Spring beginning in 2011 that is still ongoing in Egypt, Algeria and Syria, to name a few, uprisings of the people throughout North Africa and the Middle East that toppled one dictator after another, so I am telling you that there will be an American Spring in 2013. Beginning in 2011 with the start-up of the “Occupy” and “99%” Movements, of which I am proud to be a part, this uprising of the American people against the top 1% will explode like an atomic mushroom cloud over the American political and economic elite, obliterating them all without anyone having fired a single shot so that the remaining 99% of us can peacefully take back what has been stolen from us over the last 100 years. We can only accomplish this by uniting together as one and acting as one body to break free from the shackles of oppression that have us all enslaved.

You have just read the end of chapter 9 of my book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto” (Salt of the Earth Publishing, 470 pages, $18.95) To order your copy, go to Thanks so much.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The King Holiday Is Nearly Upon Us, Part 1

The Hijacking of a Dream:
Reclaiming Dr. King’s Legacy

As we approach the Martin Luther King holiday, America needs to perform a re-assessment of what this memorial holiday means to all of us. On August 28, 2011, the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial took place on the National Mall in Washington DC. Having the dedication of this memorial on the 48th anniversary of the March on Washington, was clearly a symbolic gesture — paying homage to one of the many defining moments in the great civil rights leader’s life. However, the corporate contributors of this event, along with many of the politicians that were in attendance, were and are symbolic themselves. They are symbols of everything Dr. King was, and would be opposed to, if he were alive today. These charlatans and hucksters know very well of this fact, which is exactly why they, the mainstream media in America, and an ever-shrinking segment of prejudiced Americans of all colors and races continue to desperately try to reshape the image of Dr. King. If these people have their way, Dr. King and his legacy will stand for nothing more than what I regard as a superficial image. They fervently wish to recreate him into someone they can feel more comfortable with. This is why most children, and adults, can only recite one quote in relationship to Dr. King —“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood for much more than what mainstream America has methodically reduced him to. In fact, if he were alive today, many of the corporate war mongering politicians, including President Obama, would be vilifying Dr. King as if he were some crazed angry black man. This is why we will never hear the likes of Barack Obama quote Dr. King when he referred to the US government as “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”. Dr. King said those powerful and honest words on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New York City (exactly a year before he was assassinated). Over four decades later—the US government is still the greatest purveyor of violence on earth. You can bet that the following quote with not be read at the dedication of the King memorial:

As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask — and rightly so — what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”

After reading Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam — A Time to Break Silence” speech, anyone still thinking that he would be in approval of what this current administration is doing in places like Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, need to have their heads examined. Dr. King was much more than simply a man who was anti-war; he was a man who stood for peace and social justice. He was truly a man of principles and convictions, which is why he was unafraid of speaking truth to so-called power. Remaining silent, as so many gutless politicians and celebrities do today, was not an option within Dr. King’s conscience. And because of this, he was routinely targeted by the US government, by way of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and devils minions such as FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover.

The American empire’s military-industrial complex has been a prominent issue dating back decades. The military industrial complex is a vastly profitable behemoth that must be fed a steady diet of wars in order to maintain its existence. Those who threaten the existence of this killing machine become expendable. Dr. King’s outspokenness against not only the Vietnam War, but also the military industrial complex, secured his status as a target. Dr. King’s “crime” was that he dared to challenge the conscience of a nation entangled within the web of an imperialist war throughout Southeast Asia. Among other things he said, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Which one of the political frauds, or entertainers, in attendance at the dedication to Dr. King’s memorial took such a courageous stance in solidarity with Martin Luther King, Jr.? None, that's how many. Zero, nada, zip, or zilch, take your pick.

In 2013 the US government has methodically found a way to direct itself into multiple military campaigns of aggression, including dropping missiles indiscriminately upon Libya and arbitrarily using drones to bomb villages in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over a trillion dollars have been used on these campaigns, including Iraq, since 2001—- all the while people in the US are losing their homes to foreclosures, school systems are being de-funded, and 40,000 Americans die each year due to a lack health insurance. That's more people than all who died in auto accidents last year. If Dr. King’s statement is true then America’s spirit must be on life support — needing an end to its defense spending as part of a multi-tiered remedy for rehabilitation.

Dr. King knew very well about the US government’s record of going into countries, whose governments refused to be obsequious to their addiction to other nation’s resources, and then destabilizing them by waging war, by assassination of leaders, or both. Dr. King knew that the US played a role in the removal and murder of people like Congo’s Patrice Lumumba in 1961. Today in 2013, very little has changed at all. The US and its gang of European minions (NATO) are currently bombing Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia into the stone age. This is, in fact, the kind of immoral act of war that Martin Luther King, Jr. would be completely opposed to, along with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq before that. His life should give us ample reason to come to this conclusion, and only this conclusion. However, how many children in America know this, especially children of color? Dr. King’s image has been reshaped by some amoral adults as well as by adults who have been purposely mis-educated. When we see ridiculous t-shirts with the face of Dr. King juxtaposed next to that of President Obama we should see this as a blatant assault on the civil rights leader’s work, as well as on his character. These kinds of comparisons further confuse the masses, and not by accident, especially those who have purposely been given little to no historical point of reference in regard to Dr. King and his complete body of work.

The night before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated he was giving a speech in support of striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. He understood the need for unions and supported their struggle. He passionately supported the economically disenfranchised as evidenced with his organizational work around the Poor People’s Campaign. When we study his work on these issues it should be clearly evident that this man would be completely opposed to the current vicious attacks on labor unions and the poor. The fork tongued Barack Obama campaigned in support of labor unions, saying whatever he needed to, in order to curry favor from them — as a means of gobbling up their valuable votes. However now that he won his second term, he has deliberately distanced himself far away from their struggle, all the while bending over backwards for their nemesis — Wall Street and the gangs of mega-corporations that lurk there. Are we really that foolish to believe that Dr. King would have been in favor of Barack Obama’s multi-trillion dollar bailout for the same “banksters” that are largely responsible for the current economic crisis plaguing the US, and the world?

Dr. King made it quite obvious which side of history he stood on with his actions. He made it even clearer that he stood with the masses of oppressed and poor people riddled throughout the unequal social fabric sewn throughout America, exactly what my own ministry stands for. Serving as the first president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Dr. King supported SCLC initiated programs like Operation Breadbasket which was aimed at economically empowering black communities. In 1967 Dr. King said, ‘‘Many retail businesses and consumer-goods industries deplete the ghetto by selling to Negroes without returning to the community any of the profits through fair hiring practices.’’ Today numerous members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as President Barack Obama, appear to have no problem selling out the interests of black communities to the benefit of vulture-like corporations. Whether it is the privatization of public schools, gentrification, or the growing economic disparity between whites and blacks; politicians like Barack Obama could care less about their policies overall negative impact on the very African-Americans who helped vote him into office. It remains perplexing as to why so many black people remain in support of Barack Obama — the absence of historical perspective and critical analysis can have this effect on people. Obama’s actions regarding Black America, including the rapidly vanishing US middle class, are antithetical to those of the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Obama has become rather skilled at blaming black people for their plight, whenever he decides to acknowledge their existence at all. He even had the audacity to do this at the NAACP’s 100th anniversary meeting when he said, “We’ve got to say to our children, yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that somebody in a wealthy suburb does not have to face. But that’s not a reason to get bad grades — that’s not a reason to cut class — that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands — never forget that! That’s what we have to teach all of our children. No excuses. No excuses. You get that education; all those hardships will just make you stronger, better able to compete. Yes we can.”

Obama would never have gone into a poor white community and told the parents of a vastly underfunded school system and marginalized community that they should, in essence, accept those conditions without protesting or fighting to hold the government accountable. However, Obama knows he can slap around the black community in that manner because far too many African-Americans continue to pledge blind obedience him in what I see as a most pathetic manner. Unfortunately, Obama, like many other Democrats, will continue to disrespect the black community until they completely divorce themselves from that party and form/support a truly independent party that actually advocates for their collective interests. In my view as a Caucasian American, it underscores the urgent need for a viable third political party in America that speaks for and addresses the needs of all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, age, gender, economic status and sexual orientation. On further thought, I could end this week's commentary right here and still have a pretty good article, but I want to go deeper so everyone please stay with me on this, okay?

In regards to people of color, especially poor black people; Dr. King had a knack for placing their living conditions within the context of institutional racism and its impact on their communities. In 1968, just months before his assassination, Dr. King said, “It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society.” The great civil rights leader said those words within a speech he gave to his staff at a SCLC meeting in Frogmore, South Carolina as he was preparing them for the Poor People’s Campaign. His commitment to black people, and poor people in general, was the polar opposite of a man like Barack Obama who seems to thrive at marginalizing those demographics while catering to his corporate and military bosses.

In the same Beyond Vietnam speech, Dr. King gave a prescient warning when he said, “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” Today in 2013 much of the world is suffering from the impact of America’s insatiable hunger for global domination. The US’s runaway military industrial complex continues to take lives away from innocent civilians in places like Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Libya, to name just a few. The American military industrial complex creates carnage abroad, all the while preventing Americans from having things like a single-payer healthcare system. In 2013 institutional racism remains a disease that destroys the lives of people of color in America by way of ruthless police brutality, enforced economic inequality and intentionally unequal school systems — to name a few. Also in 2013 runaway capitalism is imposing economic terrorism on countless people and their rapidly disintegrating communities. Dr. King’s words are surely more relevant now than ever before.

The dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was assured to be a most superficial event replete with superficial politicians and luminaries when it was held nearly 18 months ago. The organizers of this event and their corporate cronies were promoting and selling everything from expensive hotel rooms, sponsorship opportunities, to high priced exhibitor space. In essence, they will be “honoring” Dr. King by not embracing his legacy of social justice, but by financially capitalizing on his name. There will be no speeches of ending America’s imperialist wars, like Dr. King did. Anyone with that message trying to get on stage will be swiftly removed by security. There will be no speeches about destroying institutional racism in America. Instead, the lie of America being a post racist country will be bandied about. Don’t expect any talk about waging a war on poverty — after all, some of the sponsors of this event are in fact large multinational corporations (such as Wal-Mart and numerous others) that benefit from destroying local businesses while dissuading their workers from unionizing.

However, what you are sure to see is cameras on disingenuous politicians crying crocodile tears, as if they give a damn about Dr. King’s legacy. Many of these political actors will be men and women who have, at one time or another, voted to finance one or more of America’s current military campaigns. Unfortunately, some of these frauds will even be members of the Congressional Black Caucus, but I will decline to name names for now. Far too many members of the CBC have become quite comfortable with taking the easy way out and remaining silent about things that matter. The same goes for countless black entertainers riddled throughout Hollywood. They have lost their spine and made the conscious decision to protect their political interests and/or their potential sponsorship from white corporations that could not give a damn about social justice or the well-being of the communities from which many of these black politicians and entertainers come from.

Dr. King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” He also famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Ending institutional racism in America, eradicating poverty and homelessness, tearing down the US prison-industrial complex, and stopping the US’s destructive wars – these are the things that really matter. They matter so much that life and death hinge upon each injustice. It is obvious that we cannot expect Democrats or Republicans to vociferously break their collective silence about the cauldron of social injustices that have been brewing in America for quite some time — that job must be ours, starting with the clergy like myself, since Congress and the President refuse to do any such thing. We must raise our collective voices and speak out against them and stand up for justice. As the 2013 King Holiday approaches, this is the greatest way we can honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Exodus 2.0 and Christianity

Are We Becoming an Atheist Nation?
3 Reasons Young People Are Abandoning Christianity

Chances are that if you are in your 20's or 30's, you are not a church member. Polling is now a highly sophisticated industry, and religious organizations are being fed some irrefutable numbers about what is happening among their congregations. In a single generation, the Christian church dropout rate across all denominations has increased fivefold. The Barna Group, a leading research organization focusing on the intersection of faith and culture, says 80 percent of the young people raised in a church will be “disengaged” before they are 30.

In the past 20 years, the number of American people who say they have no religion has doubled and now exceeds 15 percent. Those numbers are concentrated in the under-30 population. The polling data continues to show that a dramatic exit is taking place from American Christian churches. Is it any wonder? There are too many churches I have been to that look more like fashion shows than places of worship. Many others insist that the members must “tithe” 10% of their income as specified in the Old Testament. Never mind what Jesus taught us, which was that he was the fulfillment of the old law, the sacred Law of Moses, and that He represents a new covenant between God and mankind. (Yes, we should give to our churches as much as we can, when we can, but I disagree with the teaching that one's donations must be exactly 10%.) I came to the conclusion many years ago that this teaching is a distortion of what the Bible says on this subject, meaning so-called tithing is a thinly veiled excuse for procuring the maximum amount of donations to church coffers. Then there are the Christian TV stations, of which I watch quite a bit, where some of the women have enough makeup on for three people, and where some of the musicians are obviously gay, especially the men. Still others are preaching the “prosperity gospel”, which is a false teaching and a gross distortion of what the Good Book actually says about that topic. Beyond those numbers, denominations across the board are acknowledging loss of membership, but it is worse than they are reporting. Many churches report numbers based on baptized constituents, yet actual Sunday morning attendance doesn’t come close to those numbers.

Once baptized, always a reportable Christian! Simply put, denominations are no longer a reliable source of membership information. The mega-church movement also has flattened, with people leaving as fast as they are recruited. The only real growth among Christians appears to be in the home church movement in which small groups of independent believers gather in a house to worship. While the polling numbers are in, the debate about the reasons is only just beginning. When a pollster asks if a person has left the Christian Faith and a church, the answer is answered “yes” or “no.” However, when the pollster asks “why?,” the answers become mushy and the numbers lose their significance. Why are people leaving churches so fast?

I am not a pollster, but rather an observer of the religious scene looking in from the outside. Speaking as an independent minister who is unaffiliated with any denominations, entirely too many churches today, from the pastor on down, have a credibility problem because of all the things that I mentioned above. My impressions are anecdotal and in no way scientific. I receive personal responses to my columns, and I carry on conversations with a steady flow of people by e-mail. I do believe we Jesus worshipers and the clergy need to look at ourselves for at least some of the reasons for the decline in membership. I offer three observations:

[1] Churches are no longer intellectually challenging, if they ever really were to start with. I can still remember attending Catholic school as a child and being “taught” not to think, since that's too much trouble, and to just obey. Organized religion has always been like this, and critical independent thinkers like myself are shown the door without just cause way too often. More and more of our young people are college-educated and in the future even more must and will accept the challenge of post-high school education. They are thinking people who are expanding the limits of their curiosity and knowledge. Some of them will be the first American generation to explore and eventually colonize outer space. I have often wondered what will happen to organized religion when life is inevitably discovered on other planets and their moons. It is no surprise to me that these young people often conclude that they are not willing to accept the church’s rigid catechism, an educational method that teaches the religious questions and the correct answers. As an educational tool, catechism is outdated and provides no challenge to students eager to question and discuss. Ministers must re-establish themselves among the leaders of the intellectual community.

[2] Churches are no longer leaders in moral and ethical discussions. Young people have grown weary of churches that cannot get past issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Our new crop of church drop-outs is still very interested in alternatives to a selfish, hedonistic society. More and more they are catching on to something I have preaching and teaching for years, namely the unilateral rejection of materialism and the trappings of wealth. Success in life is not defined by how much money and possessions we have accumulated. That type of “success” is only an illusion. Instead, justice, fairness and compassion are high on their agendas, and they are looking for opportunities for public service as their way of worshiping God. Life is all about how we treat other people as well as how devoted we are to serving the less fortunate. Today's generation of young people want to be involved in solving environmental problems, ending poverty and homelessness and their root causes, and in peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, Jesus said, “for they shall be called 'sons of the living God'.” By contrast, pizza parties and rock concerts – techniques that have been used to make churches appear more relevant to the young – are not high on the agenda of young people concerned about society’s deep-seated problems. In other words, too many churches are concerned about the hot-button issues of today, such as same-sex marriage or abortion, when the preachers should be talking about the extreme immorality of war. If the same amount of passion were devoted to protecting and upholding the living as has been said and written about the unborn, the world would be a markedly better place in which to live. As for same-sex marriage, the Bible does teach that homo-or-bisexuality is wrong, but it also warns us repeatedly not to judge other people. I don't hang around gay people, nor do I approve of their “lifestyle” – as they call it – but that does not give me the right to hate gay people, nor is it an excuse to hold them in contempt. “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

[3] Churches are no longer visionary for the reasons I have stated above. They have remained focused on offering rituals and dogma tied to perpetuating theologies that no longer seem relevant to many young people. That's because many of these theologies aren't based on what the Bible says, and can even contradict it, and many people see right through that. Too much religion today is taught from the perspective and viewpoint of the extreme right-wing of American politics, and as before it is a glaring contradiction of the teachings of Christ. If the teachings of Jesus could be compared to modern political ideology, its closest comparison would be to what we call socialism today, a Biblical fact that invariably infuriates the conservative extremists who have invaded America's pulpits. People are figuring out that God is not a republican, and that he never was. For these reasons, churches are no longer significant players in shaping the life of our communities. If priests, ministers and their churches will not lay out what the kingdom of God on earth might actually look like, young people will continue to look elsewhere for other models. In that sense, I am less concerned about the young adults who are leaving the churches than the churches they are leaving behind.