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Veal Pen Preachers and Conservative Idolatry of Teh Market is an Ugly Combination

From Occupy Boston (October 3, 2011)

Back during the health insurance reform debates, Jane coined the term “veal pen” to describe those groups or individuals who were so interested in having access that they put aside their beliefs and concerns, rather than speak honestly to The Powers That Be. Progressive leaders of these groups get pressured and bought off by TPTB and their members get sold out.

This week, a friend forwarded me a CNN piece that shows the Veal Pen mentality hard at work in a place near and dear to me: the church. What’s particularly troubling is the selectivity of the Veal Pen mentality around matters of economics and greed:

[Bishop Harry Jackson] once described same-sex marriage as a satanic plot to destroy the family, called on Republicans to get “political Viagra” and said African-Americans needed to abandon what he called the Gospel of Victimization.

Jackson is not shy about stirring up controversy, but he stops short when it comes to preaching about greed. . .

“I’ve got to watch it,” said Jackson, pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland. “I could get into some big teaching on greed, but the reality is that a lot of that teaching may wind up creating anti-economic-growth and anti-capitalism concepts (in people’s minds). … I always talk about personal responsibility so we don’t get into the blame game.”

When you see a preacher who has no problem getting into the blame game when it come to marriage equality, but quakes at addressing greed, you’re looking at a Veal Pen Preacher.

John Blake, the reporter who wrote the CNN piece, isn’t terribly helpful. No, strike that: he’s downright misleading when he says “Preaching what Jesus would say about the Great Recession, though, is tricky. The Bible doesn’t record any instance where someone asked Jesus about the morality of a subprime loan or the best way to reduce the deficit.”

Blake seems to have bought what the Heritage Foundation’s visiting scholar Jay Richards is peddling. Richards may have a PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary, but with statements like this, Princeton may want their diploma back:

“Denouncing a presumed gap between rich and poor is, more often than not, a symptom of economic confusion, not prophetic wisdom,” he said. “It can also mask envy, and is usually invoked just before someone calls for the state to coercively confiscate the wealth of some and give to others.”

A “presumed” gap? That right there tells you a lot about Richards. I hear lots of people debating whether the gap is too large or just fine, but I don’t hear anyone saying it doesn’t exist.

Blake and Richards both could do well to read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, for there is plenty there to suggest rather clearly what Jesus thinks of the gap between rich and poor, of loading up on possessions while ignoring the poor and needy, and of seeing the needy and passing them by without helping.

For instance, in Luke 14, while Jesus was at dinner with some of TPTB, he showed himself to be a less-than-subtle dinner guest:

12 [Jesus] said also to the one who had invited him, ‘When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. 14And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’

I’m sure that was just envy talking, right Jay?

Or check out Luke 18, where Jesus had a conversation with a rich ruler, which did not end well for the latter:

18 A certain ruler asked him, ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 19Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 20You know the commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.” ’ 21He replied, ‘I have kept all these since my youth.’ 22When Jesus heard this, he said to him, ‘There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ 23But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. 24Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! 25Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’

There goes Jesus with that “economic confusion” again, trying to mask it in prophetic wisdom, right Jay?

While the economy shivers and shakes, while the 99ers run out of unemployment insurance, while schools and other local and state governments slash their staff and their services, while people put off seeking medical care just to keep food on the table, while those with a job fear getting laid off and those without a job despair of finding one, while the Occupy Wall Street movement grows both in NYC and around the country, one story of Jesus keeps coming to mind.

Matthew 18:23 ‘. . . the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” 29Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. 31When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

10,000 talents is a huge, astronomical sum, equivalent to about 90 billion denarii. So here’s a story from Jesus about a slave who gets a huge bailout from the king to help with his own financial problems, but then this slave turns around and squeezes the much poorer slave who owes him a pittance, refusing to show any of the same kind of mercy he had just received.

Hmmm . . . why do the Too Big To Fail banks come to mind?

That’s just class warfare, right Jay?

Against Veal Pen Preachers who fear the reaction of their congregation and duplicitous conservatives who want to hide their idolization of Teh Market, the rather clear words of Jesus speak volumes.

I understand the reticence of preachers to address greed and the current economic situation in church, but these preachers do no one any favors by ignoring reality — not themselves, not their parishioners, and certainly not the larger society. Greed is NOT good, and the preacher who avoids saying so might as well turn in his or her Bible. After all, it’s not being used, so why carry it around?

It’s not class warfare to say that those with resources need to look out for those who lack them; it’s economic justice. And that’s an ever-flowing stream we all could use right now, whatever our personal religious beliefs may be.


photo h/t: Massachusetts Cop Block

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.