Raise a Toast to Thanksgiving

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5

We lived in the village of Ellicottville, New York for a number of years,  tucked away in a small corner upstate which is famous for snow accumulations. This week, a ginormous blizzard “of long duration” is destined to hit, leaving some 4 feet of fresh snow.  We’re used to that beginning around Thanksgiving, being snuggled away with a cozy wood fire blazing, watching out the windows as big flakes poured forth from the sky. It was the best time for that holiday, or at least the best time to be home for it. Sadly, some years, we celebrated by ourselves – the roads were impassable for traveling family. But thankful for their presence whenever they could make the snowy trek.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for the year. It expresses my gratefulness to God for all his many good gifts. Even in the years snow blocked us from the rest of civilization, we gave thanks “in all circumstances”.  Thanksgiving is a bittersweet time for me. I love the family-oriented togetherness that culminates at a well-appointed common table. A time of renewal; a time we express love and receive it. But it’s distressing to see the creeping commercialization of Christmas overtake it. Even as the turkey dishes are being cleared, the god of Mammon is seducing us back into the malls, as if Thanksgiving were some annoying interruption to the all-important “ca-ching”. And Americans are more than eager to resume their acquiring, having paused a whole day out of the year to be thankful.

For me, every single day is one for which I feel grateful – and indebted – to a loving God full of grace. For my loving, caring family. For physical well-being. For the protection of a warm house, and food on the table. Its also a day I give back to those not as fortunate in those regards. Like our former housekeeper, Maria. We have committed to “pay forward” many of our blessings onto her struggling family.

For me, commercialization has hollowed-out much of the true joy of Christmas and turned it into a frenzied credit card free-for-all. I look forward to the season of Advent and the Nativity with mixed emotions, seeing so much having been captured by secular culture. There’s not much buying and selling involved in Thanksgiving – a turkey dinner, some seasonal decorations, maybe a vase of flowers. It’s not sexy for marketers. Stores are already fully stocked with Christmas wares. Materialists don’t know how to molest Thanksgiving. They keep pecking away at it, reminding us in football commercials that Black Friday is really the holiday you should pay attention to.

But there is one special day I can raise a toast to the Giver of the feast with my wonderful family to say “I am truly grateful to God for the blessings he’s bestowed”. And for that, I am truly thankful.

Credo… Credimus

But if we walk in the light, as he also is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.  1 John 1:7

 “I believe… We believe…” Modern English language is densely rich, but one shortcoming rests in addressing a whole bunch of people.  We have no linguistic way of differentiating singular and plural “you”.  It wasn’t always this way. In English at the time of the King James Bible, “ye” was the second person plural pronoun (i.e.- not the performer previously known as Kanye West). As in, “prepare ye the way of the Lord”. To make that distinction today, English speakers need to resort to awkward work-rounds like “y’all” or “you guys”.

I’m not trying to inflict a grammar lesson; this linguistic deficit affects how we interpret the Bible and our approach to faith.  The majority of St. Paul’s epistles, for example, were addressed to congregations, to be communally received. We can easily misread passages where Koiné Greek expresses the collective you. Especially given our hyper-individualized evangelicalism, which embeds the assumption that the Apostle’s instructions were addressed to “Me”, “Mine”, or “I” rather than as pluralized instruction to a community.

The collapse of American community has been recounted in Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone”.  The disconnectedness of our society influences how evangelicals relate to one another. Or, to be more precise, how they don’t. The message of the gospel becomes a message “for me” personally. This branding of the idealized modern American Christian begins as the sale is closed, typified by the “I have decided to follow Jesus” style of proselytizing popularized by Billy Graham in his mass crusades. My religion is exclusively between me personally and Jesus.

Asking Jesus into your heart – just say the magic words, and now you’re totally free in Christ. What more is needed after that? The problem with retail grace is that Jesus did not say go and make Christians, but disciples who were to be baptized and taught. The magic words spoken in a crusade do a great job answering what I need to be saved from; what I am being saved to – not so much. John Stott comments: “We tend to proclaim individual salvation without moving on to the saved community.” Jesus didn’t tell people to accept him, but to follow him. And that needs to happen within the loving arms of a body of believers, whose practices embody the biblical story.

When Paul the Apostle speaks to the Galatian church about growing “… until Christ is formed in you” (Galatians 4:19), he wasn’t talking about weekly meet-ups for religious consumers, or feeding the fast food aggregate of “I”s. He meant a new identity lived out in community. It is where Christians (“we”, “us together”, “among”, “in common”…) put into practice the habits to live Christianly, to encourage each other in godliness, and invoke mutual obligations of care and concern. Worship is connection; brought together with God and each other. Bonhoeffer describes this in Life Together (Gemeinsames Leben). Other cultures have excellent words for this concept English can only vaguely approximate, like the Russian word Sobornost (Собо́рность) or the Greek Koinonia (κοινωνία).

Now, worshipping apart from the evangelical tradition, I’ve begun to think in terms of corporate spirituality, gaining a fuller perspective on life together. In worship we pray, “Our Father in heaven…”  We also profess our faith publically with the Nicene Creed, starting with “We believe (pisteuomen) in one God …” The “we” of the Creed’s opening statement is not only a recitation of doctrinal unity, it also implies obligation and responsibility to one’s neighbor. What is true for me applies to each member of my family of faith, standing together as the church.

Some time ago, the military came up with a recruiting slogan, “An Army of One”. “If you want to be an ‘Army of One’”, one critic noted, “you probably want to join the Hell’s Angels, not the U.S. Army.”  The same can be said for Christianity, where there is no single-person church. The plural use in Nicaea dates back to the early church, and given the post-modern primacy of the individual and its jettisoning of common identities, is especially relevant today for the self-centered “my faith” in isolation from the church, versus the allness of  “our faith” as corporate witness to the Living Word, re-enacting his presence among us in water, bread and wine, and being the vehicle through which the Holy Spirit moves.

We believe!

Freedom Or Religion

Former Vice President Mike Pence thinks religion means freedom. He claims that First Amendment rights do not protect Americans from having other people’s faiths forced upon them. “It’s nothing the American founders ever thought of”.  Evidently, he is not a scholar of Jefferson, who penned that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion”. The Constitution doesn’t mention any Supreme being; neither does the National Anthem.

An oft-repeated meme from Vietnam War days says, “We have to destroy the village in order to save it”. Putin likes the sound of that blessed violence – and the sound of his missiles bombing Ukraine, “dehousing” the civilian population back into the stone age. Serious indicators point to Russia preparing for total war – even going nuclear. Despite battlefield losses and chaos, retreat might be possible from worldly things, it’s impossible to retreat “from faith”.

And Putin has set himself up as Holy Russia’s defender of Christian morality. He has the military wherewithal to impose his will – and the anointing of God – to wage a holy “special military operation” against the Ukrainian forces of evil. And the Russians face the children of the Devil, who must be “de-Satanized”. According to Russian propaganda, there are no civilians there, just demons. And when we make others into devils, as C.S. Lewis said, this is “the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils”.

“We aren’t coming to kill you, but to convince you,” the “People’s Governor” of Donetsk threatened. “But if you don’t want to be convinced, we’ll kill you. We’ll kill as many as we have to: 1 million, 5 million, or exterminate all of you.” This religion has an ominous Old Testament ring to it. “So go now and strike down the Amalekites. Destroy everything that they have. Don’t spare them. Put them to death—man, woman, child, infant, ox, sheep, camel, and donkey alike.”(1 Samuel 15:3) Speaking on camouflaged piety, Reza Aslan notes that “a cosmic war transforms those who should be considered butchers and thugs into soldiers sanctioned by God”. Russian state media has suggested Ukrainian children should be drowned or burned, women deserve to be raped by Russian soldiers, and anyone who resists should be shot. What a moral difference religion makes!

Regrettably, we see the logical conclusion being played out in evangelical life. Those with whom we disagree are not just wrong, they are evil. Amidst the slaughter, Kremlin mouthpiece Tucker Carlson barfs out that Democrats hate Russia for being Christians. In rebuttal, we point to the some 400 Ukrainian Baptist churches having been wiped out. “It’s not just buildings that have been destroyed”, a Baptist pastor says, “but church leadership and congregations have been broken down”.  In persecuting any believer not under Moscow’s thumb, Putin is converting by bayonet. And American evangelicals echo Putin’s words: “We reserve the right to react and do everything to protect human rights, including the freedom of worship.” The “religious freedom” sought by Franklin Graham and his ilk entails the same Orwellian  formula to “force others to be free.” The evangelical war-god prefers using the same politics and combat methods as Satan: murder, destruction and domination. Pin the tail on the real Satan.

Having seen Putin carrying Russia’s divine mission to fruition, one can only dread what lessons-learned Christian Nationalists here are cooking up to impose when they get the chance. Mike Flynn, has-been Army general (pledged to support the Constitution) is now an evangelist touting Christian Nationalism. (Questioned whether he believed in the peaceful transition of power, Flynn took the Fifth). He alleges America needs “one religion under God”. If America is to be a Christian nation exclusively ruled by Christians, then who will be its Supreme Leader? Pick your thousand-watt celebrity of weirdness: Franklin Graham? Paula Cain? Sean “Guitar Jesus” Feucht?  “It’s time for the Church to rise up with one voice and tell our government leaders and the rulers of big tech that we refuse to be silenced”, Feucht sing-preaches.

But evangelicalism has never been “one religion”. It is polymorphic, with some 200 major denominations in the United States. Likewise, it is polycephalous. There is no Patriarch Kirill, no Pope, no Ayatollah, and no one “owns” the movement. Evangelicals agree on one Truth, but divergent secondary doctrines are equally valid small-T “truths”. Far from being a monolithic beast, its organic complex retains traditional tensions among different religious constituencies. Individual Results May Vary. And these religious play-actors setting themselves up as defenders of traditional morality are not even Christian but Christian-like bastards, “fusing deranged political ideas with a mangled version of the Christian faith”.

This is not Cookie Monster’s game, One Of These Is Not Like The Other. The Russians are missionaries just a bit farther along in their Christian Domination quest. Now if a heavyweight like Mike Pence – together with a religion-coddling Supreme Court – is now singing the Christian Nationalist blues, there is little hope for true freedom (religious or not) in Americans’ near future. If history is any judge, when the “Righteous” run out of enemies to kill, they’ll start devouring each other.

Hitlers come and go”, a quote of Stalin reads. “But the German people and the German state remain”. The dictator of a Communist country that devoured itself sounded almost eschatalogical. The same aphorism could be applied to Russia or the United States. The house that has been evangelicalism is empty today. The spiritual weather forecast looks grim. But as my blog header announces, our perpetual ruins will be rebuilt; you will reestablish the ancient foundations.. God will protect his church. Even if a “Christian” sword demands Freedom Or Religion.

Mental Illness Versus Religious Performance

When the president talks to God
Does he ever think that maybe he’s not?
That that voice is just inside his head
When he kneels next to the presidential bed
Does he ever smell his own bullshit
When the president talks to God?

– “When The President Talks To God”,           Bright Eyes

“When his family heard this they went out to restrain him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’”. Ever since Jesus began his ministry, religious fervor has been mistaken for mental illness. Physicians in the 19th Century ascribed many cases of mental illness to religious “excitement”. Nowadays, psychiatrists simply prescribe pills. Even so, psychologists struggle to find the dividing line. The Scientific American suggests even mental health professionals must frequently rely on conclusions based on observable behaviors.

In the Miracle of the Swine narrative mentioned in all three Synoptics, Jesus calls forth a “legion” of demons from a Gerasene man living among the tombs. Psychiatrists would diagnose the man’s pattern of self-mutilation as suggesting schizophrenia spectrum. Christians, on the hand solidly place this as demon possession, with the “legion” of demons crying out, saying, “What business do you have with us, Son of God?”

“You talk to God, you’re religious. God talks to you, you’re psychotic.” So goes the old saying. But not if you’re religious. Or at least a charismatic Christian, following a tele-preacher who acts as a conduit for the “Spirit of God”.  Especially those COVID-19 denying faith-healers whose Anointed Word from God has killed many of their own flocks, by claiming the people of God “have dominion and authority over COVID-19”. Including self-proclaimed “prophetess” Kat (Jesus-loves-dessert-in Heaven) Kerr who broke Satan’s lie that Biden had become president, by laughing it off in the Spirit.  She’s the same nut job, among other wacky prophecies, dispatched “1000 Special Ops Angels” to ensure Trump would get reelected. It’s just a smidgen of her spiritual looneyness that JoeMyGod takes a deep dive into.. And evangelicals – for which faith detached from reason plays well – keep nodding their heads in approval.

Søren Kierkegaard was spot on when he observed that “in paganism the theater was worship – in Christendom the churches have generally become the theater.” The best televangelists are accomplished thespians, knowing they are the lead performers acting in a religious theater.  It doesn’t matter what pours forth from the performer’s mouth – however toxic – so long as it keeps God’s people entertained. Is it performance art, or mental illness?

Ever since the Moral Majority days, an evangelicalism founded on racism has spilled over its self-righteous banks to put a voodoo curse on Others they don’t like.  In a recent pro-Trump rally, the crowd cheered as a “prophet” declared that the “Angel of Death” is coming for named Democrat politicians by the end of the year. Kill the Gays! Kill the Abortionists! Now the dam is bursting into society at large: Kill the Librarians! Kill the School Board! Kill Election Officials. Kill the FBI!  Kill the George Floyds!  Kill George Soros globalists!  Or whatever Demon-Du-Jour St. Tucker of Carlson anathematized the evening before. These are the divine commands they are receiving loud and clear now. Of course, it’s rarely been translated into criminal action – excepting Jan. 6th – but the imprecatory rhetoric is rampant throughout an evangelicalism bent on smiting its perceived enemies.

It gets deadly serious when the National Leader hears divine voices. People by and large adjust to presidents who formulate policy by personal gut feeling, or just plain lie about their inner motivations in executing it as they see fit. What about a foreign leader with claims to righteousness and to revenge, and who hears the audible voice of God?  Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, the Ayatollah, Putin?  Surely they were demon-possessed – or at least delusional. What about an American president?  

George W. Bush, for example. “I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, George, go and fight those terrorists in Afghanistan. And I did, and then God would tell me, George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq... And I did.” Bush was not elected; he was ordained to carry out God’s commands, taking the leap from seeking to obey God’s will to embodying it as earthly redeemer. Bush claimed his anointed position obviated accountability to any mere mortal. “I’m the Commander – see, I don’t need to explain why I say things. That’s the interesting thing about being the President”. Those close to Bush were spooked by his “sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do”. As Gary Wills noted, “the conviction that we might benefit by removing Saddam is not the same as believing that God wills it – except in George Bush’s mind.” Cal Thomas ascribed Bush’s dangerous arrogance to individuated religious feelings, which “supplant objective truth and make the individual a high priest unto himself.”  Meanwhile, estimates of total fatalities in his contrived Shock and Awe against Iraq vary between 800,000 and 1.3 million.   

I could go on and on about Presidents who were utterly unqualified, or otherwise psychologically and spiritually impaired. But cut to the short and say Donald Trump wins the prize. “Against his staff’s warnings about dictator Kim Jong-un, Trump boasted their personal “love letters” assured international peace. Despite that North Korea continued unabated at delivering a nuclear missile to “hit and wipe out” the American mainland. “Only I know”. Donald Trump didn’t ask Americans to place their trust in each other or in God, but rather in himself alone. I Alone Can Fix It. According to Trump’s psychologist niece, the former President is mentally ill with an attention-seeking Messiah complex.  Theologian  Diana Butler Bass agrees. “The King of Israel? The second coming of God? He thinks he’s Jesus. That’s where we are.”  His dangerous attempts to hold on to power after he lost the 2020 election almost convinced his cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove him from office. It had the opposite effect on millions of his “Let’s Go Brandon” followers, with many expressing their willingness to die for him. It becomes a shared psychosis, arousing a “similar pathology in the population that creates a ‘lock and key’ relationship”.

Oh, I can’t tell if he is a crook or a religious fanatic,” declares one of Sinclair Lewis’ characters in his political novel, It Can’t Happen Here. The man is listening to the nomination of presidential candidate Buzz Windrip. Supported by both fundamentalist Christians and large corporate interests, the cunning Windrip ultimately wins the election, and proceeds to transform America into a dictatorship. Is Trump an attention-seeking, Bible-fumbling performance artist, or is he certifiably insane? Either way, it appears our country is life imitating art at the whims of another wrong hero. One, like the deranged “precious bodily fluids” character in Dr. Strangelove, who has his finger on the nuclear button. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. (Ps. 118:9). Sadly, Trump will keep his crowds entertained until the final curtain falls – directly on top of all of us.

Santa Ain’t Coming.

Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no sense? (Proverbs 17:16)

Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.  (Isaiah 30:10)

I am a rather plump older man with a large, flowing beard that is pure white. In fact, I get many requests to put on my red suit and portray Santa during holiday season. Which I accept, but only for free at nursing homes and for Special Ed kids. Invariably, starting this time of year, random kids gin up the courage to ask this stranger if I am Santa. Of course I play along, avoiding any promises about the presents they ask me for. For a kid, asking Santa is like offering a prayer. Because Santa is omnipresent like God – everyone knows he’s there, but no one’s ever actually seen him.

Large swaths of evangelism key in on that innate trust in other-worldly blessing.  Prosperity gospel pyramid scammers like Kenneth Copeland tell their children of God to ask for affluence (like he has), and God will give it to them. (But only if you first give bountifully to Copeland ). But even after delivering truckloads of Seed-Money, God doesn’t come through with a Learjet or hand them the keys to a spreading mansion. And Santa ain’t coming.

One Christmas, I was desperate for a BB gun. (Of course, I didn’t get one). But I still believed in Santa. It wasn’t his fault; maybe I didn’t believe hard enough. After trying my best to be a good boy, next year I knew he would come through for me. Funny, how so many adults still place their hopes in a God that looks more like Santa. Maybe, with enough faith – and send enough checks – they’ll soon hit their heavenly lucky numbers. But Santa ain’t coming.

Fabulist Word-Faith preachers promise big miracles for desperate believers. When the Heavenly Amazon doesn’t deliver, posing as God’s earthly surrogates, they plead that no person can know the mind of a god whose intentions and decisions emanate from a metaphysical realm. Their trade is in transcendence. After all, these are businesses that deal exclusively in the divine, not the natural world. Santa doesn’t sell toys; he’s selling dreams. And just like with Santa, you can’t sue God when you don’t get stuff from him. If parishioners miss out on God’s financial largesse, it’s their own fault because of their lack of faith. Any questioning is viewed as a spiritual attack of the Devil. And Santa ain’t coming.

Peter Popov vowed, “I can see God leading people into new homes, new automobiles!” Never mind that Popoff is a debunked faith healer, even today he has a popular nation-wide “ministry”. He brings a “feel good” message that resonates with thousands seeking the Christian self-improvement and emotional therapy he sells – regardless whether he was an enormous fraud. He nevertheless reflects who people want to hear, offering the good life.  But Santa definitely ain’t coming here.

Convicted felon, Jim Bakker, likewise has successfully resurrected his God-business.  What got him into prison was a Ponzi-scheme selling condominium time-shares at his Heritage USA property that bilked hundreds of his – mostly elderly – followers out of their life savings.  Today, it is an ugly, abandoned ruin that resembles eastern Ukraine. Santa never came.

Here’s Bakker’s problem: when these preachers move from commercialized transcendence to dealing in “here-on-earth” goods. You know, like ones involving legally enforceable contracts. Like the “Holy Ground Tiny Houses” manufacturer featured on social media, who promised to build 250 homes tiny homes, never delivered, and then declared bankruptcy.  “He came across as a godly person”, one empty-handed buyer remarked. “It was a Christian organization,” another said. “That’s the only reason I went with it.” NBC reports that, among other things, he “spent five years in prison for bilking more than $470,000 from investors”. Bernard Ebbers, former chairman of bankrupt WorldCom was sentenced to 25-year for cooking the books in a securities fraud which drained billions of dollars from retirement accounts. But Ebbers had the balls to tell his Baptist congregation, “more than anything else, I hope that my witness for Jesus Christ will not be jeopardized.”[i]  They’re full of apologies, but Santa ain’t coming here, either.

Like with my BB gun, people are often disappointed when what they wished for doesn’t materialize. Even when a big name preacher-man – or a smooth talking evangelical layman – promises for sure it’s God’s will. The moral here is not necessarily to avoid evangelical marketiers (although probably a wise decision). It’s about not being a “mark” yourself. Especially from trusting others on instinct just because they are Christians. Otherwise, you’ll be singing “I’m gettin’ nuttin for Christmas”.


[i] Jeter, Lynne W. Disconnected: Deceit and Betrayal at WorldCom. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2004,  p. 188.

Die Juden sind unser Unglück

There was a time when evangelicals just whispered the “J” word. Now, Trump has given license to say whatever bigoted stray thought that escapes their closed minds.  Take for example, QAnon Christian, Marjorie Taylor Greene, who blamed California wildfires on a space laser controlled by “Globalists” – code word for the Rothschild banking firm. And Jewish multi-billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who a motley collection of MAGA cultists see as a nefarious mastermind of international conspiracies. It was impetus enough for a Florida man to deliver a pipe bomb to the Soros home. “Soros was the one behind everything,” an acquaintance  recounted him repeating. “He was the one buying the whole Democratic Party, he was the epicentre of what is going wrong in the United States of America.”

Blame the Jew. “The truth is”, writes Seth Cohen, “there is only one sordid reason for why attacks on George Soros are constantly trending, and it is not because of his money or his politics. It is because he is Jewish.”  He shares that blame with Jews who “control” Hollywood, the media, banking and finance. The usual suspects: Janet Yellen, (Jewish Secretary of the Treasury) and Lloyd Blankfein (Jewish Goldman Sachs Chairman). Otherswho don’t have your good in mind.” “I stand with the Christians worldwide not the global bankers who are shoving godlessness and degeneracy in our face,” fervent evangelical Wendy Rogers recently scapegoated. Her solution: build more gallows for these traitors.

Last November, I posted The Problem With Judaism: All The Good Jews Live In Israel  which identified Soros as the personification of Jewish blame for the moral collapse of Western civilization. (For Donald Trump, who claims American Jews are disloyal, as with a wide assortment of Christian Zionists, Israel-loving is “a different story.”)  “Most churches in America today do not think they are anti-Semitic. Many churches allow small attacks on Judaism that make larger attacks more likely”. Evangelicals blithely imprint Soros, a Holocaust survivor, while pretending the ugly trope is not an ambiguously disguised reference to Jews as a whole.

There was always anti-Semitism in evangelicalism. One can recall Billy Graham candidly speaking with President Nixon, unaware that he was being recorded. The Watergate tapes reveal Graham’s personal feelings about his Jewish “friends”:  ”They swarm around me and are friendly to me because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country”. Things have changed since. They’ve taken an extreme turn for the worse. And evangelical churches are a hub for radicalization. Forget that passé right-wing mantra, Judeo-Christian heritage. “We have to have one religion ” Mike Flynn spouts as he traverses the country speaking at churches.

Anti-Semitic Beliefs Grow Among Evangelicals, reads a Forward headline. Take for example, popular right-wing pastor Rick Wiles of Florida (a state where anti-Semitic incidents have increased by 50%). Wiles called the attempt to impeach President Donald Trump a “Jew coup”. He went on to claim Jews will “kill millions of Christians.” Perhaps he took a cue from Hitler-loving Trump himself, who outright threatened U.S. Jews to “get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel – Before it is too late!” “We are called to be at odds with any religion that does not acknowledge Jesus as the Prince of Peace,” another Florida pastor declared. Or take celebrity convert Kanye West’s threat to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE”. These are not outliers in an evangelical church disfigured into a politically-influenced identity cult. “This is not an aberration in behavior. It is the default.”

What to do? Firstly, Christians should verse themselves in what St. Paul commands: “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good”, and “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12). Secondly, determine you will love and pray for them, regardless. Thirdly, reclaim the Gospel from those kidnapping the faith, watching out “for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.” (Romans 16).

If anything, Christians can learn a lesson from House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, who recently invoked a new committee rule against “batsh** crazy” legislation (in this case, from Lauren Boebert) from proceeding. “I’m sorry. We’re not doing this”, he declared. “We’re not doing this. I’m not going down that road. I’m not going to be part of any effort to legitimize people who are f*cking lunatics”.

Unless our opposition is vocalized and actualized, evangelical Christians will be facing the same fate as German pastor Martin Niemöller described under the Nazis:

… Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Praise the Lord and Pass the Joint.

“We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee”, sang Merle Haggard back in the hippie days. Today in Oklahoma, a person can get a medical marijuana license following “a documented in-person medical evaluation”. Times have changed. In the anti-drug propaganda 1967 episode of Dragnet,The Big High”, Detective Joe Friday hears reports of marijuana smoking in a white suburban home. The husband in a normal-looking, well-bred family declares, “In a couple of years, things may change when all the kids grow up and start wearing ties and go into to the polls”.  Prohibition-oriented evangelicals fighting the cultural “war on drugs” have opposed legalizing weed since forever. Perennial culture soldier Franklin Graham has drawn his line in the sand, warning Christians not to allow dragging the U.S. “into the drug pit”.

Overwhelmingly, evangelicals take communion with unfermented grape juice, as opposed to a thimble-full of wine. They maintain weed use is almost always sinful, analogizing it to alcohol. I have known many evangelicals priding themselves on life-long tea-totallers. There is apparent ambivalence in the Bible, where it often speaks of wine as a divine blessing, which for example “gladdens the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15). Jesus himself “brought” some 1,000 bottles of the best wine to a wedding feast in Cana (John 2). Perhaps that’s why the brick wall against pot is eroding, with only 40 per cent of white evangelicals now saying using is a sin or prohibited by the Bible. (Although pot is never mentioned in the Bible). And recent archeology has found that cannabis was used in early Jewish temple worship.

“I do not believe that the Bible teaches teetotalism”, Billy Graham once pronounced. And some 77 percent of evangelicals do not view drinking alcohol as morally wrong where used in moderation. And for morally-proper purposes. For example, St. Paul himself advises Timothy to “use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Tim 5:23). It would be a far stretch to say its biblically appropriate to use alcohol or psychotropic drugs recreationally with the intent to get high. But many users take marijuana for medicinal purposes. Disclaimer: I’ve taken edibles twice for painful osteoarthritis. I found those small (legal) doses to be medically helpful to this elderly man.

Many evangelical leaders like Mike Huckabee fixate on the dangers inherent in “reefer madness”, pointing out that states where marijuana is legal have seen an increase in traffic accidents involving drivers testing positive for THC. “Legalization of marijuana doesn’t come without a cost”. Although “increased marijuana use itself is likely not the sole cause of the increases seen.” Bingers gonna binge, and there is evidence indicating excessive alcohol consumption is often also involved. The risk from driving under the influence “of both alcohol and cannabis is greater than the risk of driving under the influence of either alone.”

Vehicles, like many everyday items – chainsaws, hairdryers, propane space heaters or even Tylenol – can kill when used against instructions. (Let’s not talk about guns!)  But the potential for improper use does not ban their use. In fact, laws exist to minimize their inherent risks – for example, showing an adult ID when buying the sorts of spray paints used by adolescent taggers. The same for cigarettes. A highway safety engineer brings an important perspective: “First, convince everyone that driving under the influence of marijuana is not okay,” he says. “Then, enact laws and sanctions penalizing those who ignore the message. Finally, make sure you have the resources (i.e., staffing and training) to enforce these laws and sanctions.”

Years ago, I knew a newly-Christian couple who thanked Jesus when they lit up together. Based on the spiritual guardrails of sound judgment and discretion I see in the Scriptures, I don’t see why not. In everything give thanks. Praise the Lord and pass the joint.

Dumb, Ignorant, Lazy or Just Plain Stupid?

One of the most religious countries on the earth is also a nation of religious illiterates – Stephen Prothero

When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)

The Greatest Book Never Read – evangelicals have become a religious tribe of biblical illiterates. The People of the Book revere the Bible – “but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” For many an evangelical Christian , the word is more a brand than a faith. Evangelicals are identified politically more than theologically; simply another word for ‘Republican’. “This is what religion without religion looks like”, writes Shadi Hamid.

How did we get here?

There are plenty of reasons, and throughout this blog, I’ve been stuck writing the same thing over and over again on the manifold failings of evangelical leadership. We likewise need to examine the effect of those sitting in the pews.

A Christianity Today article entitled, Why Johnny Can’t Read the Bible, found an appalling scriptural illiteracy among the very biblicists who uphold its every inspired and inerrant word. Only about half of those who define themselves as professing Christians bother to read the Bible. Frankly, it belies a common American lack of curiosity about the known world, confirmed as I taught ninth grade world geography. I had to dumb things down and teach from a seventh grade textbook. Even then I had to soft-ball exams, with students answering, for example, that Hawaii was a country.  Jay Leno spelled out this embarrassing national ignorance on his Jaywalking segments.   

By and large, Americans are not well-read. And the same goes for evangelicals, where more and more, faith ignorance rules the day. Even at a evangelical seminary, a theology professor was astonished to find incoming students needed remedial training on Bible content. Its a damning confirmation of modern evangelicalism’s anti-intellectualism. It’s not that Johnny Evangelical can’t read the Bible. He’s just grown up in an environment where verbalizing the orthodox faith isn’t that important. This lack of Bible-reading explains why we supposed Biblicists assume we know the Bible, when we really don’t.

One could go further.  Many evangelicals come pre-loaded a scatter-text of Bible snippets, rather than an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Biblical literacy means more than winning a game of Bible Trivia – a cut-and-paste approach that looks to the Bible as one’s personal answer book. Bible literacy needs to be more than meeting our emotional needs. Rather than approaching the Bible as a “grab-bag repository of texts that reaffirms the reader’s prior commitments”, Christians need to be readers seeking the unfolding of God’s redemptive process. 

Sunday school is passé. Forget catechism – it’s is for Catholics! Feeling is Believing. Small group relational Bible studies are called inductive, but are more assumptive; weighted by with free-flowing devotionals that don’t force us to wrestle with our Christian belief and practice – or as Archbishop Thomas Cranmer put it, hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the Scriptures . Today’s blind collectivism arises from little taste for “theology” in what has become a post-denominational movement inexplicably hung together by individual autonomies.

To my mind, foremost in the formation of disciples is having read the Bible cover-to-cover, and frequently. From Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, we see the arc of Scripture in Creation – Fall – Redemption – New Creation, with its centrality being Jesus Christ. That’s why I recommend against reading the Bible front-to-back. A serious Bible learner should start in the Gospels, which hang the larger narrative together in redemptive completeness.

Where do we go from here?

Americans have an innate quest for authentic spirituality. Even many who are “Dones” turned off by the institutional church remain, like the Bereans, eager to learn more about Jesus. Marva Dawn asked, “will we give away the Church and its gospel power by dumbing it down or by failing to reach out?”[1] One of my favorite writers, Dawn incisively begins at the heart of Christian community: worship.

“My major concern for the Church”, she continued, “has to do with worship, because its character-forming potential is so subtle and barely noticed, and yet worship creates a great impact on the hearts and minds and lives of a congregation’s members. Indeed, how we worship both reveals and forms our identity as persons and communities.”

Why do I paste a book on communal worship into a post on “dumbed-down” Christians? Because the Bible was meant to be read and discussed in gathered community. The locus of that gathering is koinonia, where we “experience God’s grace and power, informed by the written Scriptures, mediated by the Holy Spirit, and based upon the work of Christ on the Cross.”

I assign “dumbed-down” Christians two homework assignment: Buy a fresh Bible and immerse yourself in it. Then read Marva Dawn’s works and introduce her to your congregation.  


[1] Marva J. Dawn, Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down: A Theology Of Worship For This Urgent Time, (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1995), 12.

Calling James Dobson. Are You There…? Hello…?

For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. (Acts 26:26)

“I simply can’t in good conscience be a party to putting any of them in power, because I believe they’ll do irreparable harm to our country.” James Dobson in 2008 on electing McCain, Clinton or Obama

Years ago, as a young church-going parent, I listened to James Dobson’s tapes on Christian child-rearing.  Until I realized the futility of his advice to break children’s wills by bullying them with authoritarian parental control. Abuse doesn’t lead to redemption. From there, the child psychologist increasingly misapplied his media hold over millions of evangelicals for his own skewed political purposes. Confident in his role as Spiritual Daddy, he parleyed his combative fundamentalism to become a partisan kingmaker.

Bill Clinton “will never stop lying”, Dobson pronounced in 1998. His “disregard for morality is profoundly disturbing to me.” Clinton, he maintained, “is the only one in American history, to my knowledge, who has been specifically applauded for his deceit…  Character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it.” Again: “We are facing a profound moral crisis — not only because one man has disgraced us – but because our people no longer recognize the nature of evil. And when a nation reaches that state of depravity – judgment is a certainty.”

Fast forward to today, where Dobson runs spiritual defense for Team MAGA, including its pathological leader. He’s a man who remained stumm about Trump’s sexual infidelities, his cheating, his profanity – despite supporting “those who will lead the country righteously, honorably, and wisely”. And he’s a man who claims the 2020 election was stolen, because of “the overwhelming volume of evidence”.  

You might say Dobson is a hypocrite. But Dobson, like so many of his pious sisters and brothers in Christ, is not a religious phony. Dobson has spent his entire career telling others how to structure their lives. He, like the Pharisees, takes pride in narrow-minded “our-way-or-highway” religiosity. You’d think this witness for the Truth would have the discernment to distinguish right-ness from righteousness. Thus, he’s not a hypocrite when playing by his own interpretation of the rules. But you can know all the rules – and when to break them – all in a Christianity bereft of the teachings of Christ. And because, as Dr. Dobson put it, “our people no longer recognize the nature of evil”.  

“If there’s no meaning in it,” said the King in Alice in Wonderland, “that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any.” Evangelicals “talk good sense about wisdom and morality, at least until a Bible opens up. Then, suddenly, we are incapable of holiness,” writes Bart Gingerich. It becomes a free-for-all antinomialism. This isn’t just that they’ve been ignorant, which implies lack of knowledge. They hold false beliefs while knowing they are untrue, which implicates deliberate sinful intent. As Jerry Falwell, Jr. once explained, “we can argue about theology later after we save the country.”

As the disgraced Falwell himself personifies, the Moral Majority has never been about personal morality. At least from “our” side. That’s why you’ll never see Dobson condemn a dreadful person like candidate for Georgia governor, Herschel Walker. Character DOES matter, as Dobson once believed. Now, its just delivering political results. “All that talk about how leaders must exhibit personal morality was forgotten in favor of a ruthless pragmatism they make no effort to conceal. They just want to win by any means necessary and worship power for power’s sake.”

And just as Dobson led thousands into the front door of churches, he’s now pushing thousands out the back door. Hello, Dr. Dobson, are you listening to the door slam on their way out? Wonder why the evangelical church is withering? To paraphrase Dobson, when the church “reaches that state of depravity – judgment is a certainty.”

Behold, A Man In Whom Is No Guile.

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near. Matt. 3:2

You’d have to live under a rock to miss the contenders for Georgia senator. The incumbent Democrat, Rev. Raphael Warnock is pitted against Trump-endorsed Herschel Walker. It’s that season when the airwaves are rotten with campaign ads, and here in Georgia it’s no exception. Walker has made it a toxic race where his are primarily attack ads – very few concentrate on his own accomplishments.

That should not come as a surprise, given Walker has no political experience. More to the point, however, is that there is little virtuous to say about him. Other than he was a popular football star, if that counts. On the football field, he was a superhero. On his private playing field, by published accounts, he was a violent serial philanderer, domestic abuser, and deadbeat dad. Asked if he has ever spoken to any of the mothers of his children, his answer was “why do I need to?” Oh, I forgot to mention he professes to be a staunch “family values” Bible-believing Christian.

And Walker is a habitual liar. “He’s lied so much that we don’t know what’s true”, his own campaign staff admitted. A fictitiously-inflated business record, outright fabrications about being an FBI agent, claims that he graduated from college in the top 1% of his class – when he never obtained a degree. You know, just mere trifles anyone might not remember about their past. Oh, and that he failed to mention he pointed a gun to his former wife’s head and threatened to kill her. Or, that he kept secret – even to his own campaign –three undisclosed children born out of wedlock with various women on the side. There might have been more – but he reportedly paid another girlfriend (or more?) to have an abortion. Walker claimed he had no idea who this woman could be, a denial which was undercut by further reporting that she also had a child with him.

One might suppose all that would put the kibosh on pro-lifers’ support. But predictably, “Family Values” evangelicals merely doubled down.  “Walker’s Christian Fans Unfazed By Abortion Revelations”, a Politico article announces. This follows on a “prayer warriors for Herschel” campaign stop at First Baptist of Atlanta, where the preacher invoked God’s blessing for him to win. “So, we thank you that we can support our fellow conqueror, our brother, our friend, the one that we are praying for today.”.

In fact, the revelations of his private life spurred a vote of confidence by record-setting influx of donations, as most evangelicals dismissed the allegations as October surprise hit-jobs. Including Walker himself, who swore he didn’t do any of it. “They want you to confess to something you have no clue about.” And yet, without confessing these as these hidden sins and repenting, he pronounced himself forgiven “by the grace of God.” It’s somewhat akin to the story in Genesis 18 where Sarah lied and said, “I did not laugh.” “Yes, you did laugh”, the divine visitor replied. You put on a show for other people, cleverly thinking “no one’s gonna know.” But God knows. It nevertheless doesn’t matter to Walker. He pulls out some pages from O.J. Simpson’s book, If I Did It, to say, “And if I knew about it, I would be honest and talk about it, but I know nothing about that.” He then deflects to that old saw that “I’ve been born again”, so I have protection against everything.

“The left will do whatever they can to win this seat,” Walker said. “And I told you when I got in this race I’m gonna win this seat.” Funny how projection works. “I always hoped the influence was such that whether we were out in public or on the field,” long-time Dallas Cowboys coach and evangelical Christian Tom Landry once said.” We conducted ourselves in such a way to show Christian traits.”  Landry never allowed winning override his personal dignity and Christian virtue.  Sadly, our current world is bereft of men and women of similar honor. Who are hailed are those with dubious character, those utterly unqualified as leaders, or otherwise psychologically and spiritually impaired.

You might think this is a hit piece on Herschel Walker. He’s merely a bit player in the ongoing Christian Nationalist wet dream. And with a career of severe head injuries, is an ill man to be pitied and cared for. The real villains in this story are the evangelical leaders/grifters unable to accept the Truth and who foist him up as a Jesus-level hero. You know, those who condemn the sins of those on the “opposing” team. And yet turn a hypocritical eye away from their own. I recall Jesus saying many things against people for whom nothing matters more than raw power.

Frankly, I’m voting for Raphael Warnock on his record and Christian ethic.  If power-hungry evangelicals are willing to overlook their own candidate’s  total lack of a personal moral code for the sake of controlling the Senate, shame on them. They may win this election, because he’d be elected by Christians regardless of what Jesus said. But they are stone-cold losers. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?