Guest post by my friend Gary Moore:
What The Presidential Election Tells Our Money Culture About Evangelical Christianity
“Jesus and Paul spent no energy on trying to clean up the Roman Empire, despite their terrible practices of abandoning infants, pederasty, and gladiator games. Indeed, the people Jesus denounced most harshly, the Pharisees, were some of the most moral people on earth. He did not give us the challenge of imposing our morality on others, but rather of spreading a far more radical message, that God loves sinners. Politics is based on power, and power always causes divisions [while it corrupts what it touches]. It is very difficult indeed to get across a message of love and power at the same time…Sometimes I feel like a liberal among conservatives and sometimes like a conservative among liberals. I have conservative theology–I believe the Bible–but that leads me to ‘progressive’ opinions about politics, because the Bible has much to say about justice and helping the poor.”
Evangelical author Philip Yancey
I was recently invited to submit a white paper for an upcoming symposium of evangelical stewardship leaders. I considered the monumental moral and spiritual challenges we face in helping our political-economy more closely reflect the biblical and traditional values of our faith. I decided to write that we can’t really lead our nation in that direction if we’re following politicians. I had no more submitted the paper than a full page ad in The Wall Street Journal told me I had chosen a very timely subject. The ad was placed by no less than the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
It featured a large picture of Rev. Graham, whom I have greatly admired for at least fifty of my sixty-two years on earth. I can think of very, very few people who have stewarded their time, talent and treasure as faithfully as Rev. Graham. Yet I had to wonder if the ad, which I understand is to appear in several other papers, was the best possible use of the donations of Christians. As I told friends who work in the Graham’s ministries, the ad was so blatantly partisan I couldn’t imagine it being the idea of Rev. Graham. Yet the Journal contained another article on October 19th that said Rev. Graham and Franklin had met with Governor Romney the previous Friday and Rev. Graham “all but offered his endorsement.”
He apparently did even more. The Journal also reported the ministry’s website deleted a long-running commentary about Governor Romney’s Mormonism being a religious cult. I’ve often noted the possibly cult-like, and definitely herd-like tendencies of evangelicalism, particularly when it comes to economics. So I’m glad we’re finally being more graceful toward others. But the church might have more credibility if such decisions are made on theological grounds rather than political grounds. A key biblical value is that Truth is Truth, whether Pilate gets it or not. Truth is rarely as dependable when spoken by politicians. We should be quite hesitant to tie our faith to such.
I’ve long described the ironies in evangelical thinking about political economy. Still, the ad dumbfounded even me. Rev. Graham famously misjudged President Nixon. History will long remember Nixon as one of the more immoral men who occupied the White House. So I’ve long believed that Rev. Graham, who no one will ever accuse of loving money, even if many evangelical televangelists do, was very wise since Nixon’s demise to carefully explain that he might be conservative and a Christian but was not a member of the religious right. Still, Journal surveys often remind our money culture that evangelicals are far more “enthusiastic” about politics than any American voting bloc. .
Paradoxically, I believe it has been Dr. Graham’s willingness to transcend politics that has given him such influence with politicians. That parallels my belief that the religious right–which does not include many evangelicals like Yancey, Ron Sider, Tony Campolo and myself–loses considerable political power as conservative politicians can take it for granted. Yes, the religious right greatly influences primaries and local elections. But as indicated by Governor Romney’s late move to the center, which is probably his natural home, swing voters who transcend highly partisan positions hold the cards in presidential elections, and therefore in nominating Supreme Court justices, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and so on. The other irony is therefore that the religious right’s partisanship, which will likely only be reinforced by Rev. Graham’s ad, is likely the primary reason presidential candidates give little more than lip service to social issues. Perhaps you noticed that during speeches and ads to those beyond the religious right, Governor Romney virtually never mentioned abortion and same sex marriage.
Virtually everything was about economics, and growing the economy in particular. Yet Jesus pointedly asked “What will it profit you if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?” Rev. Graham’s ad did not mention that key biblical value. The ad was very emotional in saying Rev. Graham is approaching his ninety-fourth birthday and this might be his last election. It added: “I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a women. Vote for biblical values this November 6.”
Christianity Today has published an article about the Bible being “The Greatest Story Never Read.” Peter Wehner of the American Enterprise Institute has written about our majoring in cultural minors while neglecting what the Bible put in bright neon lights, much of which is about the dangers of riches. They should make religious leaders quite wary of endorsing a mega-wealthy CEO of a Wall Street private equity firm. They should make us even more wary of a running mate who said he entered public service because of atheistic philosopher Ayn Rand, whose fondest hope was for capitalism to replace Christianity as America’s religion.
The Bible is quite clear that God didn’t think much of a king as the people would favor him over God (1 Sam 8:18-20). It also cautions us against putting our trust in any human leader, presumably of either political party, as no human can save us (Ps 146:3). Yet when the people insisted on a king, God lovingly told us that the king should not be rich or he would feel better than the people and grow out of touch, a very common complaint about Washington elites (Dt 17:14-17). That is likely a major reason the prophet Samuel preferred the shepherd boy David to Saul, who the people preferred. Solomon went on to tell us that we’ll muddle through if when the king is concerned with justice rather than money (Pr 29:4). He also warned that we will be punished if we’re in a hurry to grow rich (Pr 28:20).
The prophet Moses had the owners of fields round the corners so the needy could harvest what grew there. He did the same with the second picking of grapes and olives (Lev 19-9-10). He shut down all economic activity each seventh year for environmental reasons (Ex 23:10) and told people not to work on the Sabbath (Ex 23:12). You couldn’t permanently sell property as it was created by and owned by God, not you (Lev 25:13-23 and Dt 8:17). If you made a loan, you had to forgive it each seventh year as bondage can be political and economic (Dt 15:1). None of that falls within the efficiency-driven logic of capitalism. It teaches us that we are free to do with our wealth what we want as we “made it” and own it. Note those teachings were Law, not moral suggestions. Of course, Jesus spiritualized such teachings when he told the rich young ruler he had to sell what he had and give it to the poor before he could follow the Spirit. Jesus also said it would be very difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God on his own merit, which would presumably be true for those following a rich leader.
I’ve learned such biblical values sound like “socialism” to conservative Christians, which is why most conservative ministers talk about abortion and marriage. In his book The Pension Fund, Peter Drucker wrote, “If socialism is defined as ‘ownership of the means of production’–and this is both the orthodox and rigorous definition–then the United States is the first truly ‘Socialist’ country (as workers owned most of America’s stock through their pension funds).”
Such highly debatable economic teachings by many conservative Christian leaders appeal to our politicized culture. They’re why I constantly receive emails from conservative Christians like the one I got last week. It was a newspaper article headlined: “Destroying America from Within.” It began: “President Barack Obama has been trying to transform America to become more like a European nation, to be another socialist state. Obama’s ‘transformation’ to socialism is a serious matter, and could very well be the end for America as a free nation and super power.”
All that might be worth the divisiveness it causes in both church and culture, perhaps even Christian, if it was grounded in reality. But even the pro-Romney forces unwittingly acknowledged it is nonsense. One anti-Obama ad by a super-PAC that ran over and over in my neck of the woods decried the fact that under Obama, the US economy is now ranked seventh in the Global Competitiveness Survey. What the ad conveniently failed to mention, in the half-truth fashion that has become habit on both sides of American politics, was that five of the six nations ranked ahead of us are the European nations that the president is supposedly trying to emulate. It also failed to mention federal taxes have declined in Obama’s first term until they are the lowest since WWII, at 15% of GDP.
Peter Drucker might suggest it’s time all we Christians grow more humble, as well as less parochial and politicized, so that we might consider the “best practices” of our neighbors around our Creator’s world. The Graham ad likely suggests that will probably have to wait until this generation of evangelical leaders dies off and the next generation of evangelicals enters the Promised Land. Peggy Noonan, President Reagan’s favorite speech writer who is now a featured writer at The Wall Street Journal said, “The other day I met with a Chinese dissident who has served time in jail, and whose husband is in jail in Beijing. I asked her if the longing for democratic principles that has swept the generation of Tiananmen Square has been accompanied by a rise in religious feeling–a new interest in Buddhism, Taoism, and Christianity. She thought for a moment and looked at me. ‘Among the young, I would say their religion is money,’ she said. I nodded and said, ‘Oh, that’s our religion too.'”
Evangelicals might deepen humanity’s sensitivities to the plight of the unborn and such before they unwittingly evangelize the world for capitalism with sins of commission and omission.
Gary Moore’s writings have appeared in Forbes, Money, Business Week, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Bottom Line, Christianity Today, Moody, The National Religious Broadcasters’ Magazine, and in many newspapers, including the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor.
Gary began an informal study regarding management of world wealth and later founded The Financial Seminary to build bridges between the financial and moral communities. He also founded his own investment firm, Gary Moore & Company, to serve as “counsel to ethical and spiritual investors.” As a result, he has advised some of America’s most well-known ministries, churches, banks, and individual investors. He has also authored many articles about integrating religion, or spirituality, and ethics with personal financial management and political economy. Get his latest book here: www.lookupamericabook.com