You see if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. – Old Man Potter, “It’s A Wonderful Life”

In 2020, the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act established the Paycheck Protection Program, creating a $350 billion kitty of forgivable loans for small businesses. The intent was pandemic relief for recipients to keep workers on the payroll and stay open in the near-term. The massive bailout program was rushed out, and hidden in a veil of secrecy, with the Treasury Department declining to disclose how it spent the funds or who the PPP recipients were. Eventually, the recipients were revealed – but only vague dollar ranges instead of specific awards were published. For example, records show that a family-owned shipping business related to McConnell’s wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, received a loan somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million. Chao disavowed any connection to the business or knowledge of the loan, although the New York Times reported that in the past, she had repeatedly used her official position to bolster the business. Their net worth is estimated between $25 and $35 million dollars. Meanwhile, the slipshod administration of the loan program opened the door to massive fraud, waste and abuse, with the Government Accounting Office declaring “the limited safeguards and lack of timely and complete guidance and oversight planning have increased the likelihood that borrowers may misuse or improperly receive loan proceeds.”. Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner received million$, along with many in their orbit – even a golfing buddy.

Other friends of Trump made out like bandits – and evangelicals were especially keen on cashing in on free government money to the tune of $17.3 million. Joel Osteen’s megachurch received a $4.4 million check. Members of the President’s evangelical advisory board were exceptionally well-rewarded for their loyalty, with Paula White’s ministry receiving between $150,000 and $350,000, and Robert Jeffress’ church getting between $2 million and $5 million. Prestonwood Christian Academy, associated with Trumpist Jack Graham, received between $2 million and $5 million – but reported zero jobs being retained. There were numerous other ministries tied to the President that reaped a financial bonanza.

Like Daystar Television Network’s Marcus Lamb, who bought a Gulfstream V just two weeks after receiving a $3.9 million PPP loan. Ostensibly an operating expense to spread the Gospel, Inside Edition reported it was used like an airborne RV for family beach vacations. Lamb’s organization denied using the PPP loan to buy the luxury aircraft, although hastily repaid the loan.

There are so many questions here that nobody is asking. What did America buy with this bailout? Should taxpayers be obliged to underwrite debt-free ministries with plenty of cash to maneuver? These figures are so gargantuan that one questions why such an immense budget? Like the ministry leaders pulling down million dollar salaries – can’t they cinch up their belts a bit to keep the lights on, like most American households are forced to do. And why, oh why, are they considered too big to fail?

In 2008, when General Motors desperately needed financial aid to continue, the government authorized emergency loans to continue paying bills and making payroll, but tied strings to the bailout. GM would have to go through a bankruptcy reorganization, auction off assets to raise cash, reduce management ranks and cut executive pay. The CEO was ousted, shareholders like me were left penniless, and a new company emerged from bankruptcy to continue making the same old crappy cars.

The point is, if you are too big to fail, you should nevertheless pay a price for surviving on the public dole. The government doesn’t operate on grace, and everyone else shouldn’t be forced to keep a bunch of religious goofballs living the high life. The government had the leverage that Chuck Grassley wished he had in his 2008 investigation of tax-exempt religious organizations. Maybe we would have seen some genuine reform of tele-vangelism. Instead, we got shafted by people who shoot pool with some employee here.

I could have ended there, but can’t resist this apt quote about virus relief from Mitch McConnell: “Socialism for rich people is a terrible way to help the American families that are actually struggling,”

The evangelical life, then and now… Part 5.

My concern is about telling changes in us as practicing Christians rather than in the practices themselves. Mine is not a call to some form of evangelical museum mentality. Mine is, in the words of Wilmer MacNair, “more than the last whimper of a lost understanding of religion in the face of the emerging God-industry.”[i] MacNair calls out two sobering departures from the evangelical prototype. “First”, he laments, “the mega-church does not conceive of God as awesome and holy.”[ii] What now passes for spirituality would once have been inconceivable. Transcendence and mystery are no longer our experience; holiness no longer our objective.

We live in a post-whatever-that-was evangelicalism, where hearing musty old words like “holy”, “sacred”, or “sanctification” is a thing of the past. It’s not just abandoning some archaic “Christianese”. We’ve moved on from good and evil to the pursuit of happiness. And when you no longer have a sense of awe and wonderment in God’s presence, it’s a good bet he probably is no longer there. We are the master of our own destiny and have settled on “a less mighty, increasingly inconsequential version of God.” [iii] A god who is much less demanding of us, and of whom we expect very little. We needn’t have worried about secularists claiming God is dead. In making him irrelevant, we’ve done their work for them.

Second of MacNair’s laments is the sense that God’s righteousness has been usurped by a cult of individual supremacy. We look to Jesus the Life Coach for our personal success – his response to us – not as the object of loving obedience to him. Today we assent to the concept of sin as good people occasionally making bad choices, in a flippant sense that complements a conscience-salving message. One can sit through an entire sermon series without hearing of sin as an offense against God’s righteousness, and the need for repentance and obedience. The assumption, it seems, is that a half-Christ is better than none. This is no longer Christ’s atonement for sins, but religion without the sin part. Where Jesus is for people who like, but don’t necessarily need him, it is not Christianity. The normative tradition of faith is now radioactive, seen as inviting people to walk out of churches, not seekers to fill them. What sort of faith these distortions are creating, and reflections on where evangelicalism should be going instead, form the heart of this blog.


[i] Wilmer E. MacNair, Unraveling the Mega-Church: True Faith or False Promises? Westport CT: Praeger, 2009, p. vii.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Mitchell Stephens, “The Rise Of The Diminished, Ordinary God”, Religion News Service, February 19, 2014. https://religionnews.com/2014/02/19/commentary-rise-diinished-ordinary-god/ (accessed March 3, 2019).