Another inconvenient church affiliation surfaces
Published on: June 6, 2012
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  • Those who embraced the “preferential option for the poor” in Christian churches by advocating for anti-redlining laws and sub-prime and NINJA (“no income, no job, no assets”) loans gave religious legitimation to the Housing Boom.

    Was it then “free markets” that ruined all the former renters who bought homes with cheap money loans?

    I don’t see any of those who advocated for such policies doing much of any public penance for the consequences on lower income families. A study by the U.S. Federal Reserve found that Hispanics were those mostly adversely affected by such lending policies and by subsequent foreclosures.

    Interesting to note that most of the loans foreclosed on were home equity loans where the homeowners were using their home as a piggy bank for things they really couldn’t afford .

    Dr. Berger has cited many times Max Weber’s precaution about “righteousness” ethics over “consequentialist” ethics.

    Religious legitimation of the “preferential option for the poor” in a bureaucratized and politicized welfare state is problematic to say the least. What ends up is often a “preferential option for the state” over mediating institutions. The whole notion of “the preferential option for the poor” in a welfare state needs to be re-thought by churches and those who are seriously religious. I don’t see anyone doing that, however.

  • Athanasios Paul Thompson

    Spokesperson on American culture, Athanasios Paul Thompson observes:

    Barak Obama’s membership at Trinity United Church in Chicago was hardly incidental to the further development of his essential leftist views. Jeremiah Wright’s church was undoubtedly a major factor in his apparent rejection of liberal modernity. Liberation theology is more perfectly invested in a highly racist atmosphere which is so typical of Black Nationalist churcheslike the one pastored by Wright. It stretches credulity to think that then Community organizer Obama was not exposed to the more hate filled anti semetic, anti white, anti American rhetoric that was the hallmark of that church and its preacher.

    If one considers other friendships and associations like the one with Bill Ayers, former Weather Underground activist and the fact of Mr Obama’s notable moments when he refused to place his hand on his heart in 2008, during the National anthum or his very recent absence from any ceremony or celebration of the June 6th D-Day observance. Does this seem to mirror a pattern of words, symbolic gestures(or the lack thereof)and actions that strike doubt in the hearts of American patriots?

    Of course religion is a factor in the current race for the Presidency. But one can have membership in an unpopular church or a religious community that is known to have scandal or a controversial history. The important factor ouht to be an understanding of the values derived from a religious philosophy. In Obama’s case it seems that his political policies and public statements are often found to have agreed with the unnerving and negative rhetoric that came from his once “favorite” Pastor’s preaching.

  • DEacon Jim Stagg

    Thank you, Mr. Berger, for a well-written and cogent explanation of Marxist influences on “religious” thought, which is generally irreligiously applied. For those who feel disadvantaged, envy is always preferable to hard work. Marx seems to have given us the “entitlement” society to succeed Western civilization. We seem to prefer to focus on the “social” part of “social justice” and ignore the second term completely.
    My personal expectation, when I face the Judgement Seat, is that G-d will not ask how much I paid in taxes to support governmental programs, but, instead, question my PERSONAL responsibility to help each PERSON I meet.

    Again, thanks for your good words.

  • Kris

    Moving from your good post to petty politics, Mark Oppenheimer’s column is tendentious in another way. Jonah Goldberg and Glenn Beck did indeed criticize Jeremiah Wright and his ideology, but they mostly preach to the choir. It seems obvious that Obama’s repudiation of Wright had a much greater impact on public perception thereof. And yet who does Oppenheimer train his fire on? (Asked he rhetorically.) Does Oppenheimer believes that Obama, as one of the oppressed, is not to be burdened with moral agency?

  • Doug

    As someone who is active in missions in Peru, I have been repeatedly reminded by priests and evangelicals in Peru that the support they seek is for the spread of the gospel of Jesus Christ before all else. After a person’s soul they will feed them and after that educate. That is the order of things, as they (and God) are more concerned with eternal life than our temporal one. It is we norte americanos who want to build, feed, and raise economically without any requirement to consider Jesus.

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  • Jim.

    Poverty is autochthonous.

    Now that the formerly third world is embracing Western ways (including, increasingly, non-Marxist Christianity) they are prospering.

    For all of Eurocentric imperialism’s faults, the cultural assets that they spread (and catalyzed) during the 19th century are the best thing that ever happened to the world. It just took a while for them to be implemented for the benefit of the locals; but now, benefit they certainly do.

  • Rich
  • Wright’s rhetoric of chickens coming to roost continues the usage by James Baldwin and Malcom X , and reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposite concerns. The irony (I almost wrote “of course” irony) from the perspective of older “community civil rights activists” who are more neighborhood development activists rather than Obama style Alinsky leaning “community organizers for government programs activists”, the chickens are reversing flight and coming home to roost for Wright style Black liberation theology-Black nationalists.

    Tally the “progress” in Black controlled Newark, Detroit, and similarly controlled cities, tally the bitterness in Black communities because of the lack of any special moves for the Black community by the Obama administration, and tally the frustration of boots on the ground community advocates seeking community development and true education reform but who in turn see certain community Black ministers as hustlers and pimps serving “the man” rather than their neighborhoods/communities.

    My sense is that the volatile mix of religion in general, stirred with evangelical culture war issues, Mormonism, leftist atheism, Islamism, the inevitable “let’s not be offensive” cross cultural sensitivity infusions, and the pressure on the President to prove his Christian bona fides, religion will become an important ingredient of the campaign, with all portions of the stew represented by both real and faux versions.

    One of the tragedies of pre-mature deaths of brilliant minds is we don’t get the gift of their mature minds (think Dietrict Bonhoeffer) or the contrast between the young and the older selves (think Marx, and Mohammed vs. Luther and Newton). Part of the catalyzing forces of rebuilding Germany after World War 2 was enabled by the evangelical academies (initially heavily Lutheran), which have continued to meet yearly, gaining from the maturing process. We know Berger’s contributions to that as well as contributions to help end South Africa’s apartheid. Thus, think what the world would be like had the gifts of Bonhoeffer, quoted by both Wright and Obama, been available in his older years.

    In a recent photo, President Obama was shown holding up a copy of the Eric Metaxas biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy), Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 2010), given to him by Metaxas at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, February 2, 2012. Bonhoeffer gives us a unique perspective on the precursors of Wright style Black Liberation Theology and Black Nationalism, especially as Bonheoffer held that one cannot be both a Christian and a Nationalist (Metaxas, p. 111, Bonhoeffer’s reference point: Germany’s National Socialist Party (Nazi) of the Third Reich.

    What did Obama get from the Bonheoffer book? Kingdom as spirit (Hegel) not material (Marx)? Prosperity as peace and justice, not conflict and polarization? Programs that transform with education and jobs and not just enriching the “leaders” of the poor?

    Metaxas reports the shock Bonhoeffer had taking classes at Union Seminary, 1930-1931, quoting Bonhoeffer:

    “There is no theology here. …. They talk a blue streak without the slightest substantive foundation and with no evidence of any criteria. … completely clueless with respect to what dogmatics is really about. … They become intoxicated with liberal and humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not even up to their level (p.. 101).”

    “In NY they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed sparsely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life (p. 106).

    [The churches] have forgotten what the real point is. (p. 107).

    The one, notable exception, Bonheoffer observed, was in the “negro churches.” (p. 105) … Metaxas: “There in the socially downtrodden African American community, Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested” (p. 107-108) [in] the Harlem Abyssinian Baptist Church. With “14,000 members [it] was arguably the largest Protestant church of any kind in the whole US, … Bonhoeffer was staggered. … [He} attended “every Sunday” (p. 108). Thus, “The only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and past history of suffering” (p. 110).

    So what about poverty and how government and/or religion can end it? I thank Jim for the word tutorial “Poverty is autochthonous.” To the dictionary three: 1. present from earliest times (biology); 2. formed where found (geology); 3. produced where situated (physiology), we can add a 4th, Jesus’ statement that “the poor will always be with us” (sociology). Jim gives a good, empirically based descriptor: “Now that the formerly third world is embracing Western ways (including, increasingly, non-Marxist Christianity) they are prospering.”]. Jim well concludes that “For all of Eurocentric imperialism’s faults, the cultural assets that they spread (and catalyzed) during the 19th century are the best thing that ever happened to the world.”

    Bonhoeffer (p. 142): “the good leader serves other and leads others to maturity, being a good parent to lead the child to someday be a good parent. Discipleship … Free and committed to responsibility at the same time.”

    In his book, No Rusty Swords (p. 13), Bonhoeffer spells out the stark truth of his time, a truth that is still true too often in too many places: “Black and white hear the Word and receive the sacrament in separation.”

    At the heart of this discussion is the battle between the socialist (centralized planning, controlled market) and capitalist (limited government, far less controlled market) chickens, and which ones return to who and which ultimately roost best for “the people”. Will there be some kind of cross breeding resulting in a new kind of chicken (here I riff off of Berger’s clear statement on the focus of neo-Marxist “dependency theory,” which champions a falsified rooster: “that capitalist imperialism is the cause of Third World poverty, and that socialism is the remedy for this condition“ and that “revolution” is the way to usher in socialism”?

    Which rooster? Jesus? (“the poor will always be with us.”). The redistributionist (“the preferential option for the poor”)? The Bishops (“the poor must be a primary concern in any Catholic social ethic”)? Wayne raises a warning about making the state central, as it takes away from community: “What ends up is often a “preferential option for the state” over mediating institutions.“ This can lead to setting up more programs of dependency, removing opportunities for interdependency, and increasing poverty. Mediating structures should be the provenance of “community organizers.” Instead, the Wright/Alinsky/Obama style of mediating structures, is not to use them to serve people but to use them to acquire power for the “servants” so they can be over “the people.” We are given pause by the recent Brookings Institute (a liberal think tank) study regarding how to avoid poverty and enter the middle class, a report based on census data that was presented in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee on June 5, 2012: “three elementary rules for success—complete at least a high school education, work full time, and wait until age 21 and get married before having a baby. “ If followed: “2% chance of being in poverty and a 72% chance of joining the middle class (defined as above $55,000 in 2012).” Violators of these three rules: “”chance of being poor 77% and reducing their chance of making the middle class to 4%.”

    This is a fascinating example of how, as Berger expresses it, “secular liberation movements have been theologically legitimated by a sort of Christian caucus among their followers.” Too often the cornucopia of programs for the poor fatten Black church program leaders, thus ignoring the very things needed by the poor, “education, jobs, housing,” the articulated mantra of Nellie Stone Johnson, Black head of Minnesota’s Farm Labor Party. At the request of Hubert Humphrey, she became co-founder, of Minnesota’s DFL (Democrat-Farm-Labor Party. Nellie, in her seamstress dress and self hair care was later kicked off the DNC (Democratic National Committee) and kicked out of the Urban League with Community Advocate Ron Edwards, as they stood for these three interdependent community development issues rather than the “leaders” gravy train that reinforces community dependency. As Black Mayor Corey Booker said to Bill Maher after his rant against growth, “in other words, Bill, you would condemn the people of Newark to perpetual poverty…..and condemn Africa to perpetual poverty.” Chickens coming home to roost indeed.

  • Corrections to previous post:
    1. No Rusty Swords, p. 113, not 11.
    2. (defined as above $55,000 in 2012): should be 2010.

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