Biblical study series for this week on the Social Gospel Blog with Minister & Author Paul J. Bern will be part 3 of Acts chapter 2, on the continuing relevance of the Day of Pentecost https://www.social-gospel.net/so/58NN32iTV
The ‘Christian Right’ Would Disagree With Me If I Told Them What Was Really In the Bible
by Minister Paul J. Bern
I met someone this past week who insisted that the King James Bible is the only legitimate version available. As far as he was concerned, all other Bible versions currently in print, including my New International Version and my New Living Translation Bible, were “not from God”. I don’t care to elaborate on this much except to say that I don’t agree with that at all. But I’m using this example to make the point that there are a lot of “conservative” right-wing nuts like that guy who have some views about the Bible and Christianity that are totally contrary to the Scriptures. If indeed these people’s beliefs are inconsistent with Scripture, then the question becomes – why do religious extremists on the right (and Christianity has them just like the Muslims do) get away with proclaiming what Jesus would or wouldn’t support (such as endless wars)?
The answer is simple: Conservatives have not read the Bible. Of the ones who do, an overwhelming number of “Christians” are astonishingly illiterate when it comes to understanding the Bible. On hot-button social issues, from same-sex marriage to abortion, Biblical passages are invoked without any real understanding of the context or true meaning. What America needs is Christianity without the dogma, and faith without the spiritual pollution of conservative politics. Nondenominational Christianity with the commandments of Jesus Christ being first and foremost, viewed from a liberal or leftist perspective, would be far closer to what Jesus originally taught than the ultra-conservative slant being espoused all over the right-wing media today. That’s why it’s vital as we live in these last days to help the helpless whenever possible. In so doing, we become ambassadors for Christ while living our lives in complete accordance with God’s will.
It’s surprising how little Christians know of what is still the world’s most popular book. The political Right have successfully re-branded liberals who gave away free health care, higher education, and were in favor of redistributing wealth into a white-skinned-only, trickle-down, union-busting conservatives. So how much do secular Americans know of the Book that one-third of the country believes to be literally true (like I do)? Surveys that I pulled up on the Internet show that 60 percent of Christians can’t name more than five of the Ten Commandments; 12 percent of adults think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife; and nearly 50 percent of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple. A 2013 Gallup poll shows 50 percent of Americans can’t name the first book of the Bible, while roughly 82 percent believe “God helps those who help themselves” is a biblical verse.
So, if Americans get an ‘F’ in the basic fundamentals of the Bible, what hope do they have in knowing what Jesus would say about labor unions, taxes on the rich, universal health care, and food stamps? It becomes easy to spread a lie when no one knows what the truth is. That’s why the Right has successfully re-branded liberals who gave away free healthcare and were pro-redistributing wealth into a white-skinned-only, trickle-down, union-busting conservative.
The truth, whether conservatives like it or not, is not only that Jesus was a meek and mild liberal Jew who spoke softly in parables and metaphors – except when He threw the money changers out of the Temple in Matthew 21, verses 12-13 – but when one reads down a couple more chapters in any of the 4 Gospels, it was the religious conservatives who had Jesus killed. The fact that He rose again on the morning of the third day tells us everything we need to know about Jesus’ view of so-called “conservatives”. The American conservative establishment, however, have morphed Jesus into a muscular, masculine he-man warrior, in much the same way the Nazis did with their “Aryan nation”, as a means of combating “terrorism”, which has become a synonym for American world domination.
Knowing the Bible requires a contextual understanding of authorship, history and interpretation. For instance, when Republicans were justifying their cuts to the food stamp program back in 2013, they quoted the 2nd book of Thessalonians: “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” One poll showed that more than 90 percent of Christians believe this New Testament quote is attributed to Jesus. It’s not! This was taken from a letter written by the apostle Paul to his church in Thessalonica back in the 1st century AD. Paul wrote to this specific congregation to remind them that there were too many people in the congregation that were freeloading off that church. Only a few were doing all the work and making the majority of the financial contributions, and everybody else was just hanging around for the free food. What Paul did say is that anyone too lazy to contribute anything shouldn’t expect anything at dinner time, and that’s just common sense.
What often comes as a surprise to your average Sunday wine-and-cracker Christian is the New Testament did not fall from the sky the day Jesus ascended to Heaven. The New Testament is a collection of writings, 27 in total, of which 12 are credited to the authorship of the apostle Paul, four to the Gospels (Luke also wrote Acts), and the balance with the remaining apostles. What we do know about Jesus, at least according to the respective gospels, is that Jesus’ sentiments closely echoed the social and economic policies of the political left in the 21st century. The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount read like the mission statement for the ministry: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is kingdom of heaven,” “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” and, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called ‘Sons of the living God’.” Jesus also said, “Judge not, or else you shall be judged, for you who pass judgment do the same things yourselves”, and “Sell what you have and give it to the poor” (I’m paraphrasing here). So, when Republicans accused president Obama of being a Black socialist who wants to redistribute the wealth, they were actually thinking of Jesus Christ.
Biblical illiteracy is what has allowed political conservatives to get away with shaping Jesus into their image. That’s why politicians on the right can get away with saying ‘the Lord commands’ that our healthcare, prisons, schools, retirement, transport, and all the rest should be run by corporations for profit. When the Christian Right believes it’s channeling Jesus when they say ‘it’s immoral for government to tax billionaires to help pay for healthcare, education and the poor’, they’re actually channeling atheism. When Bill O’Reilly claimed the poor are immoral and lazy, that’s not Jesus, it’s atheism! The price this country has paid for Biblical illiteracy is measured by how far we’ve moved toward atheism’s “utopia”. In the past three decades.
We’ve slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, destroyed labor unions, deregulated financial markets, eroded public safety nets, and committed to one globalist corporate free-trade agreement after another. With the far-right, Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Koch brothers’ Citizens United, the flow of billions of dollars from anonymous donors to the most reliable voting bloc of the Republican Party — the Christian Right — will continue to perpetuate the Biblical incompatible, anti-government, pro-deregulation-of-business, anti-healthcare-for-all American version of Christianity, and I for one have had more than enough.
Could Revolutions Come In Two’s? In That Case, the Nature of One Would Be Political, While the Nature of the Other Would Be Inequality
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Although I don’t watch much news on television I have, like many of yourselves, become very much aware of the outrage and the indignation of the American people at the state of affairs of the United States of America. We have record unemployment, a flu pandemic, and massive protests in the streets because of police brutality. To top it all off, we have an avalanche of homelessness that gets bigger each day because there are few or no jobs, thanks to the Covid-19 virus. So far this year, the US has seen 41 unarmed men and women killed by the police such as:
John Crawford III
And most recently, Hakim Littleton
There have been many others too numerous to mention. But, thanks to the injustices against all of the above and scores more besides, it is abundantly clear to “we the people” that war has been declared on us by our own government. When I watch the attack of the unmarked cars with the unmarked police looking like poorly paid wannabe mercenaries, I can’t help but look on with a certain amount of apprehension and anticipation, all at once. It is regarding these very things that the Bible says (don’t forget, I’m a preacher first and foremost) in Psalm 9 and verse 9, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble”.
I write today about these repeated clashes that have grown into a kind of cultural resistance not seen since the civil rights protests and anti-war demonstrations of the 1950’s, ’60’s and the early ’70’s. This culture of resistance, which has been building up gradually ever since that time, is beginning to have a noticeable effect as it continues to mushroom. Nothing dramatic or anything like that, just slowly but steadily. There are cracks in the pillars of power, and they’re starting to get a little bigger. It’s up to us to shine the light on the lies and the spins, since the main stream press is being paid very well for not exposing the corruption. The cracks in the pillars of power are what supports the ‘black ops’ and shadow government that has been operating smoothly behind the scenes ever since they killed President John Kennedy to seize power back in 1963. Their all still there, from Kennedy’s assassins on down to the Pentagon, State Dept. and the rest of the military-industrial complex. It is up to us – ‘we the people’ – to uncover the systemic corruption that has been steadily stealing America’s future. I currently feel cautiously optimistic because I have seen this anti-corruption movement continue to build momentum over the years up until today.
Here in Atlanta’s inner city where I live and work, I have perceived what I would describe as a strong sense of suspense in the air. Some people say that they weren’t feeling enough pain to warrant being angry, and that we hadn’t reached the tipping point as of yet. They’re only interested in taking the safe way out. I have had still others tell me that, as a Christian minister, it is not right for a Web pastor to take sides in favor of the protesters, much less write and blog about it, because the protesters are all “breaking the law”. But to those self-appointed critics I will quote the Book of James, where it is written about those in charge who abuse their authority: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay your workman who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” (James chapter 5, verses 1-6)
There are others, however, who are ready to go on strike, such as what is currently happening throughout our nation’s streets. The folks who barricade themselves in their homes and apartments are gradually becoming outnumbered by those who insist on staying out in the streets and making their extreme displeasure known to those who still presume to be in charge. They have staked out a place in the heart of the monster and held it. Excitement and wonder are seemingly everywhere.
Could ‘we the people’ really take on Wall Street and the lobbyists on Capitol Hill? Obviously Wall Street and the offices on K Street in Washington, DC thought so because they ordered excessive and constant police protection. They must have seen something brewing because Wall Street firms had donated unprecedented millions to the NYPD over the previous year. It was police aggression towards peaceful protesters that grabbed public attention and sympathy. For example, a few weeks after the start of Occupy Wall Street in September of 2011, an amazing 43 percent of Americans supported Occupy, a figure that remains largely undiminished to this day.
Nine years later, the physical encampments are long gone, but the Occupy Movement remains, along with its cousins Black Lives Matter, the ‘99%’ and Anonymous Movements, within the hearts and minds of people worldwide. “Occupy”-ing public space was a tactic, not an end in itself. It was a way to make the issues visible, a place for people to gather, a model for a new way of doing things based on respect, mutual aid and democracy and a demand to reclaim what has been ruthlessly taken. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, there was an expectation that the government would respond appropriately to stabilize the economy and that we simply had to weather the storm. What we saw instead were massive bailouts of the industry that caused the crash and greatly inadequate steps to secure jobs, housing and health care. This turned some already catastrophic financial crises caused by runaway private speculation into an immense source of private gain for the same very financiers responsible for creating the catastrophe to begin with. Even worse, it made those catastrophes so much more catastrophic than they really needed to be in the first place. And all this happened prior to the current epidemic of violence in America’s streets and the apparently casual shootings by police officers of unarmed men (in one of the worst cases, a 12-year-old boy was shot to death by the police in Cleveland, Ohio because he held a toy gun).
As a result of all this mess, we’re not heading toward greater income equality. We’re not opposing social and economic injustice like ‘the 1%’ do, but we’re not building up the poor and middle class, or supporting unionization either. We’re not eradicating poverty and hunger, they are getting worse. We’re not expanding educational opportunity because fewer and fewer people can afford it. We’re not rebuilding infrastructure, and yet it’s falling apart. And, we most certainly aren’t doing anywhere nearly enough to improve race relations.
Nothing we’re doing looks anything like the society we built from the New Deal through the 1970s. We’re not doing any of the things that would lead to a more stable and just economy. In fact, we’re doing just the opposite, which means the billionaire bailout society will become even more firmly entrenched. This means that if left unchecked, the trends towards greater inequality and suffering will not only continue, it will accelerate. But the ‘billionaire bailout’ society may have went too far in their exuberance for still more wealth. According to a 2014 Stanford study, “animosity toward the financial sector reached its highest level in 40 years in 2012”. This undoubtedly fueled the Black Lives Matter, Occupy and 99% Movements, and that anger continues to increase to this very day. A majority of Americans believe that not nearly enough was done to prosecute the bankers dating back to at least 2007.
When drowning in so many crises, it is sometimes hard to see above the surface of the water. But the anti-globalization movement and its offspring, the Black Lives Matter, Anonymous, Occupy and “the 99%” movements, are having a noticeable effect (and let’s not omit the Arab Spring of 2011). Since 2000, the World Trade Organization has been unable to advance its agenda and 14 free trade agreements have been stopped by public pressure. Like low-wage workers in the fast food and retail industries, workers must join together to let Congress know that the WTO is not the right path for the US.
It is important to recognize these victories and to build from them. It is also important to remember that we never know how close we are to achieving significant change. The Occupy movement spawned the “Idle No More”, “Workers’ Rights” and ‘Climate Change’ movements. Our eyes are open and we can’t ignore what we now see. We know that it is the plutocratic system, not individual inadequacy, that is causing poverty in America. We know that the $1 trillion given by the Federal Reserve to private banks could have created 20 million desperately-needed jobs. We know that the 400 richest people in the US have more wealth than the GDP of entire countries – like Canada and Mexico, for instance. And we know the names of those who control the wealth and exploit people and the planet for it.
We no longer expect “leaders” to create the change we need. We are all leaders and change depends on our actions and ours alone. Since the system is too dysfunctional to attempt to repair it, the most logical and practical thing to do is replace it. Humankind already has a powerful tool available off the shelf as a basis for launching such a project. It’s called ‘the Internet’, and yet even across the Web we still find cases of inequality due to a lack of Internet access. And yet, computers are gradually getting cheaper, which should have put a sizable dent in this problem. In this instance. We have glaring inequality being shied right through our computer screens.
The culture of resistance necessary to create the kind of world we want to live in is already here. Actions are taking place daily in the US and around the world. You won’t hear about most of them in the mass media. Dairy workers in New York protested their abusive working conditions. Fast food workers and retail clerks from the box stores protested poor wages plus a lack of benefits. Protesters in Vermont, ages 65 to 94, chained themselves to the entrance of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant to demand its immediate closure and Marylander’s protested outside an ‘arms bazaar.’ The Cascadia Forest Defenders scaled the capitol building in Oregon to drop a huge banner to protest clear-cutting. Search them all for yourselves, wise up and join your fellow patriots.
Hard work is being done every day to take on entrenched corporate power and create a new world based on principles such as mutual aid, community, equity, solidarity and democracy. Although we face an uncertain future, we embrace the chaos that defines our times. There is no alternative but to challenge the status quo of ever-increasing debt, shrinking job opportunities and disappearing civil rights. We can’t say what the outcome will be or whether we will live to see the world we hope to create. Perhaps the most important piece of social transformation is not a goal but rather is the process of living in a way that is consistent with our values. We live in the culture of resistance which requires constant nurturing to bend the arc of time towards justice. Resistance is most certainly not futile.
Building Trust and Financial Responsibility Within Ourselves for the Betterment of All
(1st Corinthians chapter 9, verses 1-14)
In today’s installment of this continuing study of the writings of the apostle Paul, we are going to advance to chapter nine of 1st Corinthians, where we will have a look at verses 1 through 14. In last week’s lesson, we found the apostle Paul discussing the topic of exercising our freedom as Christians, provided we never do so in a way that could compromise the faith of other believers. This week Paul shifts his emphasis away from exercising our freedom as individual Christians, as he did in the last half of chapter eight, and instead expounds on applying it to Christians who are in positions of leadership. He then continues on in that vein beginning at verse one:
“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are my seal of apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who sit in judgment on me. Don’t we have the right to food and drink? Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? Or is it only I and Barnabas who must work for a living?” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 1-6)
Here Paul has written about his freedoms as an apostle, presumably because of some long-forgotten split within the body of the Corinthian church from nearly two thousand years ago, possibly over financial matters or internal politics, or maybe even Paul’s authority. I find it interesting that it seems to closely parallel and correspond with a certain lack of unity that I perceive within the contemporary body of Christian believers, regardless of denomination.
Allow me to explain my frame of reference here. Because I am disabled I use public transportation to get around, and I get most my church from the Internet. After all, even those who tend the flocks must stop for lunch sometime! As a result, I see parallels between modern Christian programming on TV, including the way they are being managed financially – and the apparent controversy about the pay and perks of televangelists and their immediate families.
This is reminiscent of the first century controversy within the early Church about who was the greatest apostle, which was reiterated by the apostle Paul back in chapter one of 1st Corinthians. In Paul’s case, the fact that he was not one of the original twelve disciples was the subject of what Paul was writing in the above passage. Was it not good enough for them, Paul wrote, that he had seen the Lord on the road to Damascus? In modern terms, Paul is asking, ‘What more do you want from me? Stop judging me and focus on your own salvation instead’.
There are TV evangelists today that have generated much controversy with stories of fabulous wealth that was “earned” from offerings and donations to their ministries. There are several famous “televangelists” who actually have their own airplanes. They’re not Piper Cubs either. In fact, one even boasts about owning a twin-engined jet that this TV preacher – who I will not name – allegedly paid about $12,000,000.00 cash for. The Secret Service and the Department of the Treasury both could have asserted their authority against such a huge and clearly illegal cash transaction. But those entrusted to guard our land’s money just looked the other way while a cool 12 million changed hands. Well, praise the Lord! What would Jesus say to these TV evangelists who are presiding over enterprises that seem to be charities on the surface, but in reality it’s a church that’s being run like a profitable business? I have seen this firsthand at certain churches from my own past, and they were all churches that I left immediately after. Jesus said, “You cannot worship both God and money” (Matthew 6, verse 24).
It is clear to us from Paul’s writing that he was trying to nip this sort of thing in the bud within the early church before it got out of hand. As we can see from all too many modern churches and the way they are being operated, Paul was not entirely successful. Still, we can take a lesson from this and be wary when visiting a church for the first time. The Bible commands us to “test the spirit” of that church. This is not some fancy terminology, it is something we can do quietly from within ourselves because it is real. If you find anything about that church that makes you uncomfortable, and especially if you do not feel welcome, then keep looking for a church until you find the right one. When you find it, Jesus will make it known to you, of that you can be sure! And, if you can do neither, then plant a church instead. Paul then continues in verse 7 to make his point about how much, and at what level, should church leadership be compensated. Since there are a lot of people who get hung up about money, everyone should read Paul’s writing in these next verses with an open mind:
“Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat of its grapes? Who tends a flock and does not drink of the milk? Do I say this merely from a human point of view? Doesn’t the law say the same thing? For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘Do not muzzle an oxen while it is treading out the grain’. Is it about oxen that God is concerned? Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because when the plowman plows and the thresher threshes, they ought to do so in the hope of sharing the harvest. If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right? On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ. Don’t you know that those who work in the temple get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the Gospel.” (1st Corinthians 9, verses 7-14)
Paul is clearly giving an unmistakable message here regarding how ministers of the Gospel were to compensate themselves in the early Church. This explanation is as valid today as it was when it was first written nearly 2,000 years ago. There is nothing wrong with the compensation of church leadership so long as good judgment and common sense are used to calculate the form and amount of compensation. This means no jet planes, million-dollar houses or cars with 6 figure price tags. This is emphasized by Paul when he wrote, “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more?”….
There are too many “churches” today, particularly in the US, that are very large and therefore they generate eye-popping amounts of cash and checks on Sunday morning during the offering. They are run like businesses, and Jesus will deal with them and their “pastors” as severely as he did when he threw the money-changers out of the temple in Jerusalem the first time around. After all, the money changers of Jesus’ time are the equivalent of the prosperity ‘preachers’ of today. When the time comes for them to collect their reward, Jesus will turn them away instead. “They will be thrown out into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. “For the last shall be first, and the first, last.” — Jesus Christ
Merging Our Freedom With Our Faith
(1st Corinthians chapter 8)
Today in my continuing chronological study of the writings of the apostle Paul I will, with God’s help, cover chapter 8 in 1st Corinthians. The first part of this chapter has to do with eating food that has been sacrificed to idols, which seems on the surface to be a rather antiquated notion. However, it has modern implications that are applicable to modern times which I will cover further down in today’s study. Allow me to begin at verse one:
“Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know what he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called “gods”, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1st Corinthians 8; verses 1-6)
In order to get a proper perspective on what the apostle Paul wrote, we must gain a little insight into the times in which Paul lived. The Christian faith as we have come to know it was in its infancy during Paul’s lifetime. The young and growing churches of his day were islands surrounded by a sea of pagan idol worship such as the pagan “gods” of ancient Greece and particularly the Roman Empire, which was the superpower of its time comparable to the contemporary United States. The pagans of that time sacrificed live animals and even human beings and (most horrifically) children. After the animal sacrifice, which was performed over an altar of raging fire, it was customary to eat the meat that had been sacrificed. As you know, one of the main reasons this was done was purely practical. There was no refrigeration in those days, so opportunities to supplement one’s diet with fresh meat was considered a luxury back then.
But with the advent of the early Christian church, the teaching that there was but one true God was considered quite controversial – even radical – during the times in which Paul’s words were written. So it is understandable that the act of continuing to participate in pagan rituals generated quite a controversy within the early Church. The Bible portrays this most vividly in the book of Acts chapter 17 as written by the apostle Luke. Allow me to quote an excerpt from this portion of Scripture that best documents this topic.
“While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there….. ‘Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with an inscription “to an unknown god”. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else….. Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overcame such ignorance, but He now commands all people everywhere to repent. For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead’”…. (Acts chapter 17, verses 16 – 17 and verses 22-31)
And so now it is easy to comprehend that frame of reference from which Paul wrote 1st Corinthians chapter 8 that I quoted in the first part of today’s study. When Paul wrote “We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know what he ought to know. But the man who loves God is known by God”, he was giving a warning to the Corinthian church. Based on this passage of Scripture, it appears that there were people in the early church who genuinely believed in the saving power of Christ, but they still ate meat sacrificed to idols, presumably because they saw it as an opportunity to score a nice meal for themselves.
In light of the fact that there was widespread poverty and destitution in those days, it is not hard to understand why some early Christians were doing this. It was as if to say, ‘Leave me alone and stop judging me by what I eat. I can worship Jesus and still eat meat sacrificed to idols. I can have it both ways and I see nothing wrong with that’. And so Paul is saying right back to them, ‘You people think you are clever by wanting to have things both ways, but you are not as smart as you think you are’. Paul was saying that people who loved God through Jesus Christ and through no one or nothing else have the purest hearts. On the other hand, people who ate at pagan temples had a conflict of interest. So Paul is warning them, “I will not judge you for what you are doing when you eat meat sacrificed to idols, but don’t be surprised if you find yourselves judged by God when your physical life is over”. Paul then continues in verse 7:
“But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block for the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall”. (1st Corinthians chapter 8, verses 7-13)
Based on what Paul wrote in the above passage of Scripture, apparently there were some new believers joining the Church who saw a contradiction regarding the worship of the one true God as opposed to eating meat sacrificed in the pagan temples during this time. These new Church members viewed this as a spiritual conflict of interest, and it must have been driving some of them away. Or, they would copy those who ate in pagan temples and eat there themselves, only to be gripped by feelings of remorse after doing so since they were being taught that there is but one true God through Jesus Christ, the Lord and Savior of all mankind. This contradiction was surely causing quite a bit of dissent within the early church, compromising the faith of some of the new members, even to the point of leaving and going back to the pagan traditions that were no doubt taught by their parents, teachers and mentors.
In closing, there is a similar spiritual conflict of interest within the church today that drives away many who would otherwise accept Christ as their Redeemer. Instead of pagan temples, we have the contemporary “prosperity gospel” that confuses the Spiritual blessings of God with material blessings, sometimes even intentionally. Let me be absolutely clear about this. The conspicuous wealth of those who “preach” (I am using that word in the loosest possible terms here) this kind of message speaks for itself. Do ministers, evangelists and teachers need to be associated with some mega-church to be considered ‘successful’? Do they really need their own private jets, not to mention cars with six-figure price tags and sprawling mansions? These “churches”, which are supposed to be charities and ministries, are being operated just like the thriving businesses that they truly are. Most people can see right through that sort of thing. The few who don’t perceive this are the ones who are giving money to these “churches”, and in the process they are being taken for a ride by these phony preachers and “faith healers”.
I don’t think it is so much a matter of knowing that there are those who see this spiritual sophistry for what it is, but it has been my observation for many years that these religious masqueraders who disseminate Biblical distortions simply don’t care whether anyone sees through it or not. To them, it’s all in a day’s work, and they pay themselves lavishly. Remember what Jesus said when He drove the money changers out of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, “You have taken my Father’s house and turned it into a den of robbers”. Those words of Christ are even more applicable today than they were when He first spoke them nearly 2,000 years ago. This is the very thing that bothers the conscience of new believers or potential converts when they see this kind of stuff going on, and so it drives away the very ones that Christ wishes to save. And so we have a very similar conflict of interest with very similar results, and the fact that there is 2,000 years of elapsed time is completely incidental to the cause of Christ. The second coming of Christ is very close, perhaps only months or a few short years away. How, then, should we be living? Let’s make sure there are no spiritual conflicts or contradictions within our own lives, and in so doing we can be good examples for everyone. Because that’s what the real Jesus is calling us to do.
When It Comes to Studying the Scriptures, Never Go Beyond What Is Written
(1st Corinthians chapter 4)
In today’s Bible study we will explore 1st Corinthians chapter 4. This chapter is actually a continuation of the apostle Paul’s train of thought from last week’s study. Paul was taking the early church at Corinth to task over multiple divisions from within. He made the point that it doesn’t matter which individual church the early Christians belonged to because they were worshiping the same God, having been saved by the blood of that same Lamb of God. Paul then goes on to state that these things are not up to him anyway. After all, it is God who is in charge of all things, with Paul regarding himself as a mere servant rather than an overseer. So let’s begin today’s study now, commencing at verse 1.
“So then, men ought to regard us as servants in Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore, judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” (1st Corinthians 4, verses 1-5)
The first thing we notice here is that Paul is setting a very high standard, not only for himself but for all who are called to preach and teach the Gospel. Being trustworthy is absolutely essential to being a servant of Christ because those persons are being “entrusted with the secret things of God”. Notice that this act of being entrusted can only take place after one has placed his or her complete faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. So if we want to serve Jesus, and if we want to be “entrusted” by God, we must learn to place our faith in Him first, and only in Him. And then, we are charged with the responsibility of being trustworthy individuals
The truth of the matter is that God loved us first, and he did so by sending his only Son to suffer and die for our sins, only to have him rise up from death three days after he was buried. Paul wrote elsewhere to the early church at Rome that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. If God is willing to extend His forgiveness to all of humankind, then it is our responsibility as Christians to accept it unconditionally, and so to trust Him unconditionally. Otherwise it is tantamount to disrespect of God.
The apostle Paul then put this into further perspective when he wrote that he couldn’t care less about being judged by other people. He does not judge himself either, but instead leaves it all up to God through the blood of Christ. But Paul then brings up a very important point here when he writes, “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent”. It’s easy to be going through life at whatever speed we feel like while feeling pretty good about ourselves. We do not steal, murder, lie, worship false gods, we don’t date married people, and we do our level best to not break any other of the Ten Commandments. We try to love God all we can and to love our neighbor as ourselves, just like Jesus said.
But just because we can’t find any fault with ourselves, and just because we commit our lives to Christ, striving to live as free from sin as we can, doesn’t means we will never sin again. For example, it is possible to sin and not know it, or to not realize our mistake until after the fact. All we can do at that point is to confess our sin privately to God and to prayerfully ask Him for forgiveness with humility and a contrite heart. When one is finished with God, the very next step is to go to the person they have sinned against and, as far as it is possible, be reconciled to them. If they forgive you, you both have something to rejoice about. If they will not forgive you, forgive them anyway, expecting nothing in return. Then and only then will God give you the full credit you deserve for asking forgiveness. Paul then continues this train of thought in verse 6.
“Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘do not go beyond what is written’. Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” (1st Corinthians 4, verses 6-7)
In verse 6, Apollos was a reputable leader in the early church at Corinth. Although I don’t know the exact position Apollos held, he worked with Paul off and on throughout his ministry. But Paul is warning the church, “Do not go beyond what is written”. There is a similar warning at the very end of the Bible in the book of Revelation that says, “I warn who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book” (Rev. 22: verse 18). This is a crystal-clear warning to stay within the Bible during our walk and our service with the Lord and to not add any additional meaning or superfluous teaching to it. This especially applies to those who preach and teach the Gospel since they all, including myself, will be held to a higher standard when being judged by God after our lives end. Speaking of ending I will now, with God’s help, continue today’s lesson beginning at verse 8.
“Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have become kings – and that without us! How I wish you really had become kings so that we might be kings with you! For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle for the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world. I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the Gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me.” (1st Corinthians 4: verses 8-16)
Paul finishes this chapter by reminding the early Church of what it means to be a follower of Christ. To have Christ is to have everything one could ever need. Paul then repeated the theme that is present in all his teachings, which is to warn the church about being too preoccupied with material things and financial gain. When we have Christ as our Savior, we are rich. We have everything we need to get us through this life and into the next, and the next life is the one that really counts, because it will last for eternity.
To be a follower of Jesus, then, can mean blessing those who curse us, to endure persecution and to risk being ostracized for His name, and to answer kindly to those who slander us. This is not to shame us but to warn us because we each have a stake in God’s kingdom, and Paul is exhorting us all to do all we can to abide in His kingdom and grow in our faith. As Paul wrote, we have ten thousand guardians in Christ in the Spiritual realm, and he was that church’s spiritual father. In this ministry I assume the role of spiritual father to all my friends, followers and groups that receive these messages. And we can do this together by imitating Paul as he imitated Christ, who is the head of the Church. We will all be better off when we start doing this individually and collectively as a church as we jointly build up the body of Christ. Let’s all start doing this today while we give all the glory and praise to Jesus.
Embracing Each Other’s Faith Despite Our Differences
(Romans chapter 14, verses 13-23)
For this week’s Bible study we will finish Romans chapter 14, as we continue to learn the meaning of tolerance among ourselves as it applies to our faith. In today’s lesson we’ll be concluding the apostle Paul’s train of thought from the first 12 verses that we studied last week concerning judging one another. Paul was talking about passing judgment on “disputable matters” of faith, using eating certain types of foods as an example. Some folks eat only certain types of foods, such as different kinds of meat, whereas others do not. Still others are vegetarians. Paul is not preaching on what or what not to eat, he is only using this as an example of what he is trying to teach us. Paul states unequivocally that “each one should be convinced in his (or her) own mind”. He then continues in this train of thought as he finishes making his point, beginning in verse 13.
“Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14: verses 13-18)
“Make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way”. Here Paul is exhorting us not to do anything that could compromise or call into question the faith of someone else, whether they are a believer or not. If you are a Protestant then don’t be putting down Catholics. If you’re a Catholic, then don’t express hate for a Muslim or a Jew just because they believe differently than you do (except, of course, for those who blow themselves up while in large crowds of other people). We can and do disagree, that is true. But that does not give us an excuse to look down on someone who we erroneously regard as being not as good as we are. If you are so far up in the clouds spiritually that your feet are no longer touching the ground, then you have lost touch with the very people to whom you are supposed to be witnessing to and setting a good example for. Muslims and Jews do not eat pork. I happen to like pork, I eat it about once a week. Under no circumstances does that allow me to look down upon someone who abstains from pork. And that works both ways.
This also brings up the issue of antisemitism, which is a sugar-coated term for hatred of the Jews. If you are a Christian and worship Jesus Christ in Spirit and in truth, then it is impossible to hate Jewish people because Jesus walked the earth as a Jewish man. You cannot simultaneously hate the Jews and claim to love Christ, who died for all our sins. You either love Christ or you don’t. And if you don’t believe in Christ, then the Bible says you will be condemned to hell when your life on earth is over. On the other hand, you can change your mind right now and ask Jesus, “If you’re really real, then come and become the Lord of my life”. If you love Christ, a Jewish man, then you presumably love all Jews as well. Anything less is completely contradictory and doesn’t hold up under serious examination. Furthermore, while I certainly don’t wish to scold or otherwise cause offense with my readers, I think it’s better to tell the truth and be unpopular than to be well liked for merely telling people the things they like to hear. As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it is part of my job to point out these things.
“Do not by your eating (or drinking) destroy your brother for whom Christ died”. Many Christians, especially Evangelicals, abstain from alcoholic beverages for reasons of faith. Although I was raised as a Catholic, I have been a Progressive Christian since 1992 when I first gave my life to the Lord. As such, I occasionally enjoy alcoholic beverages, but I always do so in moderation. By the same token, if I went out to dinner with Evangelicals I would order a soft drink instead of beer or a mixed drink. By the same token, if I went out to dinner with a Muslim or a Jew, I would not order pork and risk offending that person. That would be no better than showing up at an AA meeting with a six pack of beer. I have been fortunate to never have had a problem with alcohol or drugs, but by opening up a six pack of beer at that AA meeting I would be offending all others there who must by necessity abstain from all forms of alcohol. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil”. Instead, we are to strive to set a good Christian example for all to see, and our every word and action will be watched closely by others, especially non-believers. Since Christ died and was risen from the dead on the third day for us all, we are to treat everyone equally in these matters and not cause someone’s conscience to be bothered or compromised by our own actions. Anyone who does would be sinning against that person and against God. Paul then goes on starting at verse 19.
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” (Romans 14: verses 19-21)
The main point of Christianity is belief in Christ Jesus as the risen Son of God. All other issues of faith, such as what to eat or drink, or for that matter how we worship as an individual, becomes a side issue and as such are besides the point. Abortion is another example. Although I personally think abortion is wrong, I refuse to pass judgment on those who do not, or who may have actually had an abortion sometime in the past. That is between them and God. Judging other people is God’s job, not mine, and therefore I never presume to do God’s job for Him – as if I were somehow capable of doing that in a righteous manner in the first place!
For the Bible says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. And again it is written by the apostle James, “Be careful how you judge one another, for with the same measure that you judge others, it will be measured back to you”. It is far better to follow what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. So if I bring a six pack of beer to an AA meeting, and my actions cause one of the people at that meeting to relapse and wind up back in rehab, that sin is not on that person’s soul; it would in that case actually be on mine. Let it be far from me to cause my brother or sister to stumble and fall because of my actions, because God is watching everything I do and He is listening to every word that I say. So it is for all of us. Paul then concludes in verse 22 as follows.
“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (Romans 14: verses 22-23)
We are to keep everything we believe, every bit of our faith, between ourselves and God. Paul wrote elsewhere in the Book of Philippians that we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling between ourselves and the Lord”. That is exactly what Paul was talking about here. I may not believe what others do, and I may have a different nature of faith than my brother or my sister. But under no circumstances does that give me any right to condemn what anyone else believes, or to look down on them, believing that my faith is somehow better than theirs. God made us all in His image and likeness, so says the Bible. Therefore if we have questions or doubts about what someone else believes, we are actually passing judgment on that which God has made, and no one has any right to question the judgment and intentions of God. That is the ultimate form of blasphemy, a damnable sin if ever there was one.
Let us all start doing this today, and going forward. By doing so we can all become better Christians and have a better walk with Christ. Remember that the closer we walk with Christ the closer we are to God. As we become closer to God, we grow stronger and better through Him by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. And this is a noble and worthy goal for all of us to achieve and to live by. By doing so we become a better Christian and a better person, and that should be the goal of everyone who truly believes. Besides, by doing so, you never know when our actions can influence a non-believer and win them over to Christ. And that is something that is always worthwhile.
A Belated New Year’s Resolution for America, Written by a Concerned Citizen
by Minister Paul J. Bern
One of the primary purposes of this Web ministry is to stand against social injustice and economic inequality in all its forms, as well as the extreme immorality of waging warfare. I firmly believe that any minister who does not do these things is only doing half his or her job. In that case, all they would be doing is collecting a paycheck every Sunday morning for the sake of profit and materialism, forgetting that Jesus preached against this very thing over and over again. (But don’t take my word for it, it’s in all four gospels, go and read it for yourself). Anyone who doesn’t have a Bible should visit the “Contact Us” page on my website and ask for one. I will personally send you an Adobe/PDF version free of charge. Don’t forget to include your email address.)
Although Jesus did take His ministry to the religious establishment of his day, which centered around the temple at Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin (or Hebrew ruling elect) of that time, he was rejected and ultimately executed by them just as the Old Testament prophets foretold. Instead, He went to the poor and downtrodden, the outcast and the marginalized who otherwise had no voice at all. He ministered to the sick, the homeless, the addicted and the unemployed and all others who had nothing, with the knowledge that the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ is vastly superior to mere material possessions. I try my best to emulate this mind-set in my ministry and in the people I meet in order that my words and actions may most accurately imitate my Savior and the redeemer of my very soul, Christ Jesus the Lord.
In today’s world there is social injustice and what I call ‘enforced inequality’ everywhere we look. A veritable class war is ongoing here in the USA, throughout the Middle East, in Europe and in Asia that has the wealthy accumulating ridiculous amounts of wealth in a downright obscene orgy of greed, and all at the expense of the middle and working classes who are being economically decimated. The apostle Luke wrote, “Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) Again in Colossians 3:5 it reads, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” So ‘greed’ becomes synonymous with adultery, and the apostle Peter wrote concerning this, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve” (1st Peter 5: 2).
This ongoing illegal and immoral accumulation of wealth is unparalleled in world history. The signs and indicators of these obscene amounts of wealth that has fallen into the hands of an elite minority are everywhere. Mass unemployment and underemployment are everywhere, and they stand at stubbornly high levels. Now, I’m well aware that the US Labor Department just released figures last month stating that unemployment is at all-time lows. But if we look at the true levels of unemployment, which by definition must include those who are underemployed (working part time at one or more jobs when full-time employment is both desired and required) or those who have left the job market for good (like men and women in their middle 50’s and older such as what I experienced first-hand), the true level of unemployment exceeds 24% in the US alone, not counting the rest of the developed world. Instead of creating more jobs that are the hallmark of any economic recovery, fewer and fewer people are doing more work for less pay. The rest of US and European workers are increasingly finding themselves out in the cold, often literally.
In the meantime, those lucky individuals who still have jobs run the increasing risk of having their jobs out-sourced overseas for pennies on the dollar, or being replaced by workers being imported through H1B work visas to work for wages that are a fraction of their American competitors. Those who are agile enough to avoid either fate will find themselves being replaced by robots and automation in 10 or 15 years. The government has been concealing this from its constituency for decades, but they can’t keep it a secret any longer. One thing is for certain – the centuries-old paradigm of working for money to buy overpriced food, clothing and merchandise is going to have to be replaced. This is simply inevitable. What is also inevitable is that this change will have to come from the bottom up rather than from the top down, since those at the top 2% have proven themselves untrustworthy when it comes to money and finance (because they keep it all for themselves). It will also mean the end of the capitalist economic system as we have known it, and the same goes for the current 2-party political system. Until then, the unending occupation of Afghanistan plus the clandestine wars being waged on every continent are costing the US government $6 billion dollars each day, money that could be much better spent here at home to create some badly needed new jobs.
Clearly this is unsustainable and will bankrupt the country if it isn’t stopped (if we are not there already). American capitalism and the American empire have run their course, and I maintain that capitalism and the American Empire as we have known them are on the deathbed of history where all empires go when they die. America is in decline while the former “third world” has become the developing world, and where even poor countries continue to develop rapidly. The combined economies of China, Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil will overtake the US economy by 2024 at the latest, with China in the lead. This could be ended by creating American jobs through large public works programs to give US infrastructure a badly needed overhaul, and by an accelerated and invigorated space program, mankind’s final frontier. On the other hand, there must be a program in place such as a civilian version of the GI Bill to retrain all the workers who are unable to find jobs, or who would like to change careers. What’s holding that back, you may ask? Let me illustrate why America can easily afford to do this. If the combined US military and intelligence communities set aside the financial expenditures equal to a single day’s cost of the occupation in Afghanistan and put the money into an interest-bearing account of your choice, there would be sufficient funds for a 4-year college education for every school kid in America, from pre-K to a high school senior inclusive. And that’s just from one day’s expenditures!
But what do we have instead? American workers are being thrown away by multinational corporations as being no longer useful or too expensive to keep around, resulting in a wave of homelessness not seen since the 1930’s. The majority of today’s homeless population is college educated, not stereotypical street bums – not by a long shot, and that is a great social injustice. This has been going on for so long now that the American public has become indifferent to it, of that you can be sure. The time to make alternative plans for a possibly rocky future is upon us now. As the Great Recession and its bogus “recovery” grinds on, politicians in most industrial countries have an incentive to make exaggerated claims about the supposed coming economic recovery. Some say the recession is over. President Trump is in the group that claims we’re “on the road to recovery,” while other nations can only spot recovery “on the horizon.” For now, let me sum up the problems of North American companies and their workers along these 7 possible outcomes.
1) Central Banks are Clueless. The usual tricks that U.S. and European central banks use to avoid recessions are long-exhausted. Since cheap money hasn’t been working, the printing presses have been turned up to full throttle, into what the U.S. federal reserve calls quantitative easing – injecting trillions of dollars into the world economy, escalating an emerging trade war while the US dollar loses value in a vicious downward spiral.
2) Trade War. Speaking of which, for a global economy to grow, global cooperation is needed. But in a major recession all countries engage in a bitter struggle to dominate foreign markets so that their own corporations can export. These markets are won by devaluing currencies (accomplished in the U.S. by quantitative easing), installing protectionist measures (so that a nation’s corporations have monopoly dominance over that nation’s consumers), or by war (a risky but highly effective form of market domination).
3) Military War. Foreign war is a good symptom of economic decay. The domination of markets – every inch of them – becomes an issue of life and death importance. Wars have been unleashed in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan and Yemen. “Containing” economies like China and “opening” economies like Iran and North Korea become more urgent during a major recession, requiring brute force and creating further global instability in all realms of social life.
4) U.S. Economy at a Virtual Standstill. The most important consumer market in the world, the U.S. is a nation of nearly bankrupt consumers. Here in early 2020 as I write this, well over thirty million Americans are unemployed or underemployed, while further job losses are certain, due to nearly every state’s budget deficits. The New York Times explains: “Now states are bracing for more painful cuts, more layoffs, more tax increases, more battles with public employee unions, more requests to bail out cities. And in the long term, as cities and states try to keep up on their debts, the very nature of government could change as they have less money left over to pay for the services they have long provided.” (12-05-10) Nearly a decade later, it’s still the same old song and dance, it’s just a different tune.
5) Bailout Capitalism. First it was the banks and other corporations that needed bailing out, and now whole nations need much the same. Western nations bailed out their banks by falling into the massive debt that they are now drowning in. Greece and Ireland have been bailed out, with eyes shifting to Portugal, Spain, and Italy. The entire European Union is being called into question as the Euro takes a beating in the bailout spree. If the EU is dismantled, the shock waves will quickly reach other economies.
6) Bailout Repercussions. All western nations — including the U.S. and England — are grappling with their national debts. Rich bond investors are demanding that these countries drastically reduce their deficits, while also demanding that the deficits be reduced on the backs of working families, instead of rich investors. This is tearing the social fabric apart, as working and poor people see their social programs under attack. In Europe mass movements are erupting in France, Spain, Portugal, England, Greece, Ireland, Italy, etc. Social stability is a prerequisite for a recovered economy, but corporate politicians everywhere are asking much more than working people are willing to give.
7) The Far Right Emerges. To deal with working people more ruthlessly, the radical right is being unleashed. In normal times these bigots yell furiously but no one listens. But in times of economic crisis they’re given endless airtime on all major media outlets. I remember as a boy growing up on the west side of Cincinnati, all the racist jokes, racial slurs and other bad things my family said about people of color. I despised what they were saying, but I didn’t dare tell my dad or any of my uncles about my true feelings. The message of the far right promotes all the rottenness not yet eradicated by education: racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, violence, and a backward nationalism that fears all things “foreign.”
These core beliefs effectively divide working people so that a concerted campaign against the corporate elite is harder to wage. Meanwhile, labor unions, progressives, and other working class organizations are targeted instead. The above phenomena does not happen in a normal economic cycle of boom and bust. These symptoms point to a larger disease in the international economic system, a disease that cannot be cured by politicians who swear allegiance to this deteriorating system and to the wealthy elite who benefit from it. To ensure that the economic system is changed so that working people benefit, large-scale collective action is necessary, based on demands that unite the majority of working people: a massive job-creation program at the expense of Wall Street, no cuts to Social Security and Medicare, a moratorium on home foreclosures, passage of a $14.00 per hour minimum wage, and so on. With the unions in the lead promoting these demands, working people can and should put up a real fight.
The best solution that I can think of, then, that takes care of all this and more, is to come up with an innovative, effective and efficient nonprofit economy. Here are a few examples of what I mean: What’s the underlying cause of the skyrocketing prices of fuel, groceries, college tuition, and medical care including the cost of private health insurance? All of the above industries needed more operating capital to keep going due to rising prices for goods and services that they purchase. But even more basic than that – the least common denominator – is the current corporate business model, where the shareholders needs come first instead of the customers and employees of the firm. More profits must be generated for this cadre of people whose demands for ‘more’ are only exceeded by their self-importance, and this must stop, the sooner the better. But what if this weren’t true? What if the hundreds of billions in profits that each one of these enormous multinational corporations racks up each year were returned to the employees so they, and not the shareholders who don’t do a damn thing anyway, share in the profits? If you multiply 500, the number of Fortune Magazine’s biggest corporations, by all those hundreds of billions in profits they each made, that comes to a sum of money so huge that my calculator won’t display the answer – it doesn’t have enough memory. One thing is for certain; the time for employee-owned businesses has arrived.
If the US wants to clean up its act, a complete repudiation of capitalism and greed would be a very good place to start. Let’s spend this coming week thinking of all the things we could do for each other and the whole world with the money that, as I write this, is still being hoarded by the few. Let’s invent fair and equitable ways we can peacefully distribute it to the many. And next week I’ll be back with part 2 of this series on the End Times.
It Has Been Reported That There Are Over 40 Million Slaves Throughout the World. But There Are Far More Economic Slaves Than That, and Many of Them Don’t Even Realize It
(Matt. 20, verse 27; 2nd Peter 2, verse 19;
Romans 6, verse 22)
by Minister Paul J. Bern
Since I have already mentioned the presidential impeachment circus in Washington DC last week, and wrote about it at length the week before, I will not be revisiting that topic anytime soon. But there has been another topic that is disguised under the turmoil of Washington politics as being something potentially dangerous to the point of being explosive. That other topic is economic inequality, which is currently at greater levels than at any other time in human history. And so today I will be comparing two different kinds of slaves. One is a victim of human trafficking, such as those forced into the sex trade or into indentured servitude.
The other kind are those who are in economic servitude, whether they realize it or not. These are working people who make under $35,000.00 per year. Arguably speaking, that number could be made to include everyone making less than $50,000.00. At any rate, if your monthly take-home pay is insufficient to pay your bills on time, and especially if your income is insufficient to meet your monthly obligations, you are a slave. If your take-home pay won’t even take you home, you are an economic slave. While this fact is nearly unbearable for many, bear it we must. That’s why this week’s commentary is directed at you, my readers. You who hold down 2 jobs, all you students of all ages who have jobs while they train for a new field of endeavor. I want you all to know that I’ve been where you’re at, and there is a new day soon coming that will be a great relief to multitudes. This means an end to economic inequality and the raw greed that has driven it. Allow me to quote from an article that originated in the Lame Stream Media, but which is still relevant more than 2 years later:
40 million slaves in the world, finds new report
By Mark Tutton, CNN
The multi-billion dollar forced labor business
- Report estimates number of victims of modern slavery in 2016
- 25 million people in forced labor, 15 million forced marriage
- International Labor Organization and the Walk Free Foundation produced the report
London (CNN) More than 40 million people were estimated to be victims of modern slavery in 2016 – and one in four of those were children.
Those are the findings of a new report produced by the International Labor Organization (ILO), a U.N. agency focusing on labor rights, and the Walk Free Foundation, an international NGO working to end modern slavery.
The report estimates that last year, 25 million people were in forced labor – made to work under threat or coercion – and 15 million people were in forced marriage.
It’s impossible to know exactly how many people are living in modern slavery, and different studies have produced different estimates. One reason is that modern slavery is a hidden crime that’s difficult to identify. Another is that different studies use different definitions of slavery, with some including forced marriage, for example, and others not…..
By this point it’s likely occurred to you all that, while reprehensible for its gross immorality and its contempt for humanity, slavery doesn’t seem to be anything I’ve heard about in church before. Who would preach about modern slavery in the early 21st century, and in church? Or those who are mainly in cyberspace like myself? The Bible has a lot of things about slavery contained between its covers, such as 2nd Peter chapter 2 verse 19, “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity – for ‘people are slaves to whatever has mastered them’.” How should we view this in modern terms? It should be viewed in terms of addiction at the very least. Suppose we are up to our eyeballs in debt. At the very least, we are slaves to our credit cards (student loans are excluded here on the grounds they are predatory loans). The same thing goes for that expensive model car you’re driving that’s keeping you broke. Or your drug habit, or your porn addiction, or your sexual fetishes and fantasies that exist only between your ears where no one can see them, like hiding them in plain sight. If any of this stuff is in your life, you’re a slave, and it’s up to you to do something about it. I know these words will be hard to read for some, but still this is necessary because it’s my job as a minister to point these things out.
Jesus Christ had something to say about this issue of who is greater or lesser than another. In Matthew’s gospel chapter 20, we find Jesus interjecting himself into a dispute among the apostles as to who would be the greatest for posterity’s sake (their thinking at this point had not yet mastered the teachings of our Lord and Savior). Look how Christ responded: “23) Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.’ 24) When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25) Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26) Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27) and whoever wants to be first must be your slave….”
If Jesus were to return today, everything for the most part would begin to run in reverse of the way the world has things arranged. I realize this will be hard for some to imagine, but we must do precisely that as a unified people if we can ever have any hope of breaking out of the economic chains that bind us. So if you want to become the most valuable worker at your employer, or at your business, make yourself the biggest slave or the greatest servant. Nothing less will do in the eyes of Christ, so let’s all get busy finding someone who needs help the most and start with them. We can all make the world a better place if we spurn competition and embrace cooperation.
For my third example of slavery in today’s world, let’s take a quick peek at the writings of the apostle Paul, who wrote in Romans 6 verse 22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” So if you are content with nothing less, or if you are driven to have, nothing but the highest standards of being slaves to Jesus Christ, he and he alone can deliver what we need in return for our unending devotion to the Son of God. “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26) Not so with you….” Does everyone see this, as I close? The difference between those who want to be the greatest, as opposed to the ones accumulating the most of all the world’s wealth plus that of millions more, is their faith and belief in Jesus Christ (or not). Because when we do this, we will make ourselves servants of the Prince of Peace.
Economic Inequality and Jesus Christ
by Minister Paul J. Bern
I have always vigorously maintained that the gap between the rich and poor is a moral problem as well as a socioeconomic problem in desperate need of a solution. Yes, it’s a religious problem too, and religious people are causing it. They come to church faithfully every Sunday, dressed like fashion models, and go through all the motions of worship and praise. Sometimes there will even be some tears or some healing that takes place. But, as the Bible says, if we do all that and even more without compassion for all humankind, none of those church services I just mentioned will mean one stinking thing. Neither will the people at church, particularly the rich or comfortably well off who do nothing to help those less fortunate than themselves. All their praising, worshiping, preaching and their exclamations of, “Thank you, Jesus!!” will be meaningless. So will the weekly ceremony of tithing that magical 10 percent. Regarding this the apostle Paul wrote, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1st Corinthians 13, verses 3-7)
So we can see that at least part of the reason for inequality is people who keep all they own and all they earn completely to themselves. They won’t share anything – nothing! Despite near-record levels of economic inequality, many politicians and pundits still don’t think this widening chasm is much of a problem in a country supposedly dedicated to egalitarian ideals. Inequality, the logic goes, is a natural result of different degrees of work and creativity. Some people strive harder and have better ideas, as well as take more risks, and giving them out-sized rewards is a good thing, since it encourages others to emulate this behavior and makes us all wealthier in the end.
The only problem with this story, of course, is that it’s persistently contradicted by the actual facts about inequality today. In truth, inequality in America tracks more closely with a classic Marxist analysis whereby the owners of capital exploit a surplus of labor to keep wages low and generate high profits for themselves – depriving workers of a fair share of the value they are creating for companies. Yes, there are smart entrepreneurs taking big risks in America, but the more dominant face of the economy is well-established corporations run by professional managers who keep finding new ways to drive labor costs down and profits up.
The big losers are the people who are actually creating most of the value of these companies – the workers who make the sales, prepare the food, stock the shelves, handle the phones and so on. Many of these people are paid under $10 an hour, which is not enough to live on – and certainly not enough to buy a home, save for retirement or buy health insurance, none of which are offered to most low-wage workers. All of us are hurt, too, by the way that the low-wage model drags down economic growth. If you give a low-wage worker higher wages, they immediately pump that money back into the economy through more spending. But if you give a CEO another few million dollars in compensation, he’ll most likely just plow that money into his stock portfolio or other savings vehicles, which doesn’t do much for the economy since capital is cheap right now and customers are scarce. If we want an economy with robust consumer demand, workers need to a bigger slice of the pie. Business leaders once understood that elementary fact. But all of that has been replaced by raw greed.
Jesus, Pope Francis, the clergy and even some brain scientists have asked what happens to a person who is repeatedly given a larger and larger portion of the economic pie at the expense of the workers, and the answers are clear if unnerving. Wealth and power are dangerous for your mental health, your spiritual condition, and for society in general – especially when they contribute to the neglect of the poor and vulnerable. Ridding today’s world of poverty is currently a fantasy. Jesus spoke of this: “The poor you will always with you, but you will not always have me” (Matthew 26:11). He also said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Only a few verses before this moment in Luke, he cries (quoting Deuteronomy 6:13): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18). Jesus also noted, famously and controversially, that it is easier “for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19, verses 23-24).
Jesus discouraged the accumulation of wealth, worried about its effects on those who had it, and took special pleasure in helping the poor, dedicating His efforts to them. He must have shaken his head at the huge gaps between rich and poor throughout the Middle East in the first century. Pope Francis has taken up Jesus’ call on this. During his 2014 visit to South Korea, he repeated a cry that has become a central theme of his papacy – telling hundreds of thousands of listeners in Seoul that the gap between the rich and poor in Korea was a problem, and that they should think back to early Christian martyrs in Korea. He said: “Their example has much to say to us who live in societies where, alongside immense wealth, dire poverty is silently growing; where the cry of the poor is seldom heeded and where Christ continues to call out to us, asking us to love and serve him by tending to our brothers and sisters in need.” Now, I’m not a big fan of the Catholic church, but I must admit the pope has a good point.
Everyone knows that the wealth gap in the U.S. has increased dramatically. According to the Social Security Administration, the top 10 percent of America’s households took home more than 60% of America’s overall income in 2018, the highest proportion recorded in a century of government record keeping. It’s a problem that makes you dizzy, and one that will never be easily solved. In point of fact, the concentration of wealth at the very top of American society recalls the early 20th century, before the income-leveling measures of the New Deal kicked in. The growing income gap is perhaps the most pressing issue before the world, not just the United States, as the level of misery rises among the world’s middle classes, with the poor always being hit the hardest. Even those formerly known as the middle class, who have struggled mightily to make ends meet for decades now, face an array of problems that create mental and physical stress on a vast scale.
So let’s go back to Jesus and Pope Francis and their concerns. Do people on the other end of this inequality equation really fare better? Does wealth make you happy? Jesus certainly didn’t think so, and neither do I. Although I’ve never been really rich, there was a time in my life during the 1990’s when I owned and operated a small computer repair shop. For the last 4 out of 8 years that I was in business, I earned a 6-figure income. But in the process, my life had sped up to a frenzied pace. By the time I closed that business in June 1999, I was so exhausted that I took a couple of months off to recuperate. So I know first hand that money does not necessarily solve all problems. Indeed, it can sometimes create more problems than it solves.
My own previous experience, combined with a good bit of observation, has taught me that being rich and powerful actually makes you less happy and, even worse, incapable of sympathizing with the poor. They find that the rich and powerful among us show less brain activity in that region of the brain where human sympathy is excited. Power diminishes all varieties of sympathy, and it drowns empathy in a sea of greed. Conversely, those who feel poor and marginalized in society show a great deal of sympathetic activity. The ability to sympathize with those around us seems crucial to our survival, and it’s connected to the mirroring functions of the brain. As the research now suggests, the richer and more powerful we feel, the more dead will be that area of our brain where this crucial activity, which generates empathy, occurs. In fact, power fundamentally changes the way we respond to those around us.
Is it any wonder that when a rich young man came to Jesus asking for spiritual guidance, Jesus said what he was not expecting to hear. “’All these I have kept’, the young man said. ‘What do I still lack’? Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew chapter 19, verses 20-22). The young man “went away sad,” since he had so much materialistic stuff and didn’t want to let go of any of it. But letting go is essential to our own happiness as well as the world’s economic equilibrium. Jesus, Pope Francis and Canadian brain scientists would agree on this, as do I. It’s a hard teaching, but it’s important.
We as humankind must – absolutely must – outgrow our childish need for accumulating material things. The notion that economic prosperity equals happiness borderlines on insanity, and this is because of the deliberate refusal of those who practice it to plug into reality. And so on and so forth. The saying used to be, “On and on it goes, and where it stops, nobody knows”, remember that one? The difference between then and now is that the stopping point is finally in sight. Ultimately this will culminate in the return of Jesus Christ at long last. Oh, what a day that will be!