Archive for category Justice

American Gospel: The Parable of the Strong Goats and the Weak Sheep


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American Goat Hicks

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the goats on his right and the sheep on his left.

Then the King will say to the goats, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you fed me with holy words, I was thirsty and you took away my strong drink. I was a stranger and you set high standards for friendship, I needed clothes and you shamed me in my nakedness then gave me  your castoffs, I was sick and you told me to pray for healing, I was in prison and you said it was what I deserved.’

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Damn Hippy Sheep

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whenever you admonished the least of these brothers of mine, you made my job easier.’

Then he will say to the sheep, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you only gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing but drink, I was a stranger and you  only invited me in, I needed clothes and you took me shopping, I was sick and in prison and all  you did was visit with me.’

‘I tell you the truth, whenever you spent your worldly efforts on one of the least of these you pushed them even farther away from salvation.’

Then the weak and soft sheep will go away to eternal punishment, but the strong and righteous goats to eternal life.

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The Dead Pirates Society


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I feel like shouting “Huzzah!” for the Navy SEALs and their superb marksmanship  on the Arabian Sea earlier this week.  But should I?  As a Christian,  shouldn’t I feel just a little bit guilty about that?  Well, I don’t. Not in the least.

I am proud of the SEALs who took the shots, the officers who commanded them, the military that trained them and a country that still encourages a professional warrior ethos.  No pray and spray, no collateral damage, no ‘acceptable’ civilian losses – just deadly accuracy as the result disciplined training and meticulous precision.  I appreciate what these men did in much the same way I appreciate the workings of a well made mechanical watch or the engine of a high performance automobile or the culmination of a perfectly prepared meal.  Craftsmanship and artistry, but in this case combined with the fortitude and courage to risk deadly force in order to protect the defenseless.

Does comparing the workings of a watch with the workings of a sniper team sound a bit callous?   Perhaps it is, but I think there is something more noble (yes, noble) in killing these pirates than in just killing time.  These were bad men; thieves, kidnappers and murderers who deliberately targeted innocent people in order to line their pockets (or fund their ’cause’ – it matters little to the victims).  Who could possibly stand up for them? As Super Chicken used to say, they knew the job was dangerous when they took it.  Thank God that our leaders understand that the continued presence of people like these require the services of the professional warrior.  Thank God that there are people willing to take on that mantle.

Three well placed US government issued bullets, three dead pirates and one rescued sea captain.  “Huzzah!”

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Jesus as Payment for Our Sins versus Matthew 5


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Did Jesus think that his primary purpose was to stand in our place and receive the punishment from God that we deserved?  Did he believe that God considered mankind to be essentially his own enemy?  Did he think that  God was  such an inflexible judge that mankind’s  universal and eternal damnation was the only way to balance the cosmic books?

If so then why does the Gospel of Matthew have Jesus  say this:

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5: 38-48)

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Can God only love those who love him, as so many Christians claim?  In other words;  is God  no better than the tax-collectors?  It doesn’t really make sense, does it? That Jesus would advocate a behavior that God the father will not even practice himself; demanding instead either hellish retribution or the murder of a divine scapegoat.  Though God might demand an eye for an eye (his rightful pound of flesh) when we choose not to seek this but instead forgive our enemies then we are in some way more like God?   Curious.

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There is Something Fundamentally Wrong with Christian Support for the Death Penalty


For  years I strongly believed that capital punishment was a viable crime deterrent and a just form of punishment.  This was coupled with a sens of satisfaction that the death penalty provided me with; the serving of just desserts.  I was not a Christian nor a believer in any sort of God, but I appreciated those conservative religious people who understood the obvious necessity for a legal death sentence.

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Upon entering one of they many streams of the  Christian faith ( a very conservative one) I was pleased to find  that many of my long held political  convictions fit in quite nicely with my new found religion.  It was not long before, after overcoming my initial fear of heterodoxy,  my understanding of Christ’s teachings began to take me in new ‘liberal’ directions  both theologically and politically.  I guess it really is a slippery slope.

Now I am firmly opposed to the administering of the death sentence.  Not that I don’t think the state has the right to take life under extreme circumstances;  I am certainly glad that the Baltimore police as well as the Marine Corps are fully armed and trust (and hope) that they expert in the use of those arms.  Nor do I think that no one ‘deserves’ to be executed.  Plenty of people deserve no less than death for their crimes- those who commit single as well as multiple murders,  those who kidnap and rape and  torture, not to mention the world’s horrendous genocidal despots.   I think, tough, that taking this final irrevocable step -of killing the guilty -  in some way diminishes our own humanity.  More objectively,  I am opposed to capital punishment on the grounds that the state certainly has executed innocent people, and continues to do so.

I have tried to make that last point many times when talking with Christian fundamentalists. For the most part, they are very much in favor of capital punishment.  Many of them firmly believe that there is a biblical  imperative for the death sentence, that God not only does not forbid it, he mandates it.  I’ve found that there is little value in arguing against these Biblical points, as there is usually an unbridgeable gulf of scriptural understanding between us. They read the Bible much differently than I do and so long as east is east and west is west….

But what confounds me so much is that, even if you get some of the most rigid fundamentalists to admit that our judicial system is humanly flawed and at times corrupt, even after being confronted with the growing testimony of numerous death sentences being commuted due to new DNA evidence, they will remain firm in their support of capital punishment.  Righteousness trumps mercy yet again.

There seems to be a sense that those innocent people killed by the state are in some way negligible and acceptable losses for a system that firmly metes out justice.  Surely, they will say, the death penalty is an effective deterrent (highly disputable) and those murderers left alive might kill again (even though no one is suggesting that they be released). I often hear that the cost of keeping these convicts  alive is not in our economic best interests yet that very argument receives  their righteous criticism when the abortion advocates use it.  I even had one good lady tell me that my concern was misdirected, because even if the innocent person was executed, if they had made their peace with God, then they (like the Good Thief ) would receive their reward in Paradise.  Couldn’t this same argument be used for abortion, or even for infanticide?  This is the type of perverted theology that drives tragic stories like that of Andrea Yates, who drowned her own, still innocent, children rather than chance their falling into Hell.

We could debate these issues all day long and never come to an agreement.  But if we can concede that it is at all possible (and the evidence PROVES that it is not only possible but likely) for the state to take the life of an innocent person, how can anyone, much less a Christian, tolerate capital punishment?  Do we agree with Mr. Spock when he upbraids the illogical and emotional Captain Kirk,  saying that  “the good of the many outweigh the good of the one” ? Perhaps Caiaphas said it even better; “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” (John 11:49-50).

I think it is worth considering that this willingness on the part of many Christians to risk sacrificing  innocent lives for the benefit of the majority, coupled with an eagerness to bestow a punishment of death on the guilty, are the toxic byproducts of a traditional and orthodox view of  Jesus’ undeserved execution as the legal and  substitutionary sacrifice for our own individual, as well as collective, guilt.  Once again, the secular world seems to have a better understanding of Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness.

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What if a Woman had Written Genesis?


Let’s start at the beginning.

Genesis One: God makes the universe and everything in it. He creates life. He creates humans and he makes them in his own ‘image’, both man and woman. He gives humankind all of nature for their enjoyment and their sustenance. Although the chronology may be a bit confusing, the basics of this account can be made to square with what we know of nature, as long as you don’t read it too literally.

Genesis Two (the rest of the story?) is a bit fuzzier on the universe-making details but it does gives us more info on the first humans. Here we have God creating just one human, a man named Adam and instead of placing all of nature at his disposal he sets him up as the caretaker for a garden called Eden. Genesis doesn’t give us any of God’s policies and guidelines except for one;  Adam is to never eat the fruit from one particular plant -  the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

God soon figures that Adam will become bored (especially if he is immortal, as some think) and that he needs a companion – or as the NIV say; a “helper”. So God runs all the animals by Adam (who names them all in the process) but none of them seem to fit the bill. So God tries something completely different. He knocks out Adam and removes one his ribs, which he then turns into the first woman. She’s also the world’s first Gal Friday, as it is her job to ‘help’ the world’s only man do whatever manly things he does. At this time, she doesn’t even have a name for herself.

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But good help is hard to find and soon the woman is picking up bad ideas from the local crime boss, Satan. Using her beguiling feminine ways, she gets Adam to join her in a little snack, courtesy of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. So God’s original deal is now off and life for the two of them will suck forever. At this time Adam finally names the woman, just like he did with the other animals. He calls her Eve , which means something like “mother of all the living” ( perhaps implying that kids and paradise are incompatible concepts?).

Now, though Genesis never actually says this, many people believe that what Adam and Eve did in the Garden queered things not just for them but everyone else that came after, including all of nature and the entire universe. So even though it is NEVER stated explicitly, one could get out of this story that  Eve (who owed her own existence not just to God but also to Adam) couldn’t stay focused on her job and so  ended up being a huge hindrance to Adam. And everyone else, including you and me.  Turns out she was not much of a helper at all.

No doubt the cultural views of the men who wrote the scriptures  had  some bearing on how they presented their stories of God.  It is obvious that this particular telling of the Creation story, along with a very rigid reading of it, has adversely influenced the relationship between men and women over the centuries. Amazingly, it  still does so today.

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Window on History


There are many great moments interspersed throughout American history.  Just about all of us have been born since the advent of radio and television and are fortunate to have witnessed some of these events (almost) first hand.  Today’s electronic media coverage is so thorough and so pervasive, though, that some of the world’s most important moments risk becoming commonplace. But certain events are so singular – so unique -that they can only be described as momentous. These historical moments stand out above all the others and are said to come only once in a lifetime.

There will never be another VE or VJ day (at least I hope not) but there will be other days commemorating peace, just as there were before  World War II.  Though joyous, they marked the end to years of terrible suffering and the loss of millions of lives.  Those who listened to the peace treaty being signed on the USS Missouri could not help but remember just a few years earlier the  shock of Pearl Harbor.

Everyone remembers the horror of the Kennedy assassination yet he was not the first U.S. President to have been  murdered (though hopefully he will be the last). Like millions of others, I will never be able to forget the sight of those planes crashing into the twin skyscrapers.  Historical moments like these are all wreathed in sadness and sorrow.
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There are a few once in a lifetime events, though, that foster feelings of national pride and well being.  I remember, as a boy,  staring transfixed at our scratchy old black and white television, watching Neil Armstrong stepping off of Apollo 11′s lunar module, leaving the first human footprint in the moon’s dust.  Although there were six manned lunar landings in all, it was the first one that is burned into my memory.

I should not have been surprised at how powerful today’s inauguration was.  Being privileged to witness the  swearing-in of America’s first African -American President turned out to be very moving.  There may be other black men and women elected to our nation’s highest office but their inaugurations will never have the same impact as this first one. This is truly a watershed event, especially when we consider the turbulent history our nation has had in regards to racism and intolerance.  It can be said that the institution of slavery had more of an impact on our nation’s history than any other. This institution, abolished almost 150 years ago, still taints our society and stains our reputation among other nations.  In this significant regard, Obama’s presidency transcends politics.  Great presidents have always been more than just leaders but also national icons.  Today, President Obama is an icon for national healing and reconciliation.

No matter what your political persuasion, you should be able to appreciate the magnificence of what has occurred today. Without meaning to detract from Obama the man (or Obama the politician) the most significant aspect of his presidency has nothing to do with his politics or even his personal character.  Just as the opinions and philosophies of Neil Armstrong are not relevant to the historicity of his achievement, neither should they detract or overshadow what Obama has accomplished today.

Parents and teachers: I sure hope you had your children sitting in front of the television set today. There will never be another moment quite like this one.

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Faith and Work


The following prayer was composed and recited by Dr. Martin Luther King over 50 years ago. I think it is especially meaningful on the eve of this historic inauguration; of the first black man to the presidency of the United States. The long night of the past certainly has been very long for a great many Americans, but a great bright hope has finally been realized. One particular passage stands out to me, and I have highlighted it. Embodied within this prayer is the notion that prayer itself is not enough, that God also calls us to action. At times the goal may seem impossible,  just as a black president must have seemed impossible to many in 1956. But King and other civil rights leaders decided to take the long view of things, the view that God most certainly must have. They not only prayed for justice, they worked hard for it.

We come to today, grateful that thou hast kept us through the long night of the past and ushered us into the challenge of the present and the bright hope of the future.
We are mindful, O God, that man cannot save himself, for man is not the measure of things and humanity is not God.
Bound by our chains of sin and finiteness, we know we need a Savior.
Help us never to let anybody or any condition pull us so low as to cause us to hate.
Give us strength to love our enemies and to do good to those who despitefully use us and persecute us.

We thank thee for thy Church, founded up on they Word, that challenges us to do more than sing and prayer, but go out and work as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon thee.
Then, finally, help us to realize that man was created to shine like the stars. And live on through all eternity.
Keep us, we pray, in perfect peace, help us to walk together, pray together, sing together, and live together until that day when all God’s children, Black, White, Red, and Yellow will rejoice in one common band of humanity in the kingdom of our Lord and of God, we pray.
Amen.

(1956)

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The Whistleblower


So, you want to hear this story again, do you?  Well, alright, one more time, then. Bear with me, though. It’s a tad long.

Right after that last bit of real bad times, Gilorien Bindings emerged as one of the biggest corporations in the world, and it had its hand in just about everything you could think of. Old John Gilorien himself had been driving his company to success now for over 50 years.  He owned most of the company stock, which caused the shareholders (not to mention his board of directors) some concern. You see, John Gilorien was nearing 90 years of age and was unmarried with no known kin.  His wife had passed on 20 years before and his son, Jack Jr., was presumed dead, having been buried in a big mine collapse.  Ironically, John Jr. had been on a tour of the company’s holdings with the intent of  improving labor relations along with working conditions. Seemed like this was a pretty big deal to John Jr. but apparently it wasn’t much bother for upper management.

Fortunately his old man saw some good in it and against the angry complaints of the  bean counters,  sent John Jr. out on his task. They were just beginning to make some progress when the accident happened. There were rumors that this was no ‘accident’ but nothing was to ever come of it. His body was never found and his goal was never realized. And the old man lost his son and only heir.

Meanwhile, things were going good for Gilorien Bindings. Their plants were more productive than ever and much praise (and money) was heaped on the plant managers,who were doing a good job keeping the workers cooperative. They really took to that old saying about idle hands being the devil’s playthings. Old Scratch couldn’t even get an appointment on a rainy day.

Now, Gilorien Bindings, like many industrial giants, was a union shop.  All their non-management employees were required to be members of the Southern Continental Regional & International Bindings Employees union. The relationship that Gilorien had with the union was surprisingly cordial, unlike what most other companies  experienced.  Although the workers occasionally grumbled, the arrangement was pretty stable.

Some said this was because so many managers had been promoted from the ranks. Funny thing was, these managers used to be union stewards. Probably just coincidence. Anyway, the idea was that these managers would remember their roots and prove to be good for labor as well as good for the company. In reality they were pretty much only good for the company and themselves.  They made sure that their replacements in the union leadership understood which side their bread was buttered on, never mind that their friends in the lower ranks might have to make do with bacon grease.

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Most workers knew they were being shorn like sheep – paying high union dues out of low wages – but the plants were always located in the outback where Gilorien was the only game in town. They accepted that the situation, bad as it was, was a  whole lot better for them than it was for those  non-union workers they would see wandering about town. If for nothing else they could be thankful for their job security.

Everything seemed to be working out for the best, at least for some folk. The workers stayed in line and earned their paychecks, the stewards were cozy with the managers, the managers shared their rewards with the stewards while upper management and the  shareholders realized enormous profits. Things would have gone on like this for a long time, too, if it weren’t for that trouble maker who showed up one day.

Came out of nowhere, he did. Said he was a line worker from one of the plants in the outback. His name was Jake Something-or-other and apparently he’d been working on the line for some little time, minding his own business, when suddenly he got it into his head to file a grievance with the union stewards.  Can’t much remember what it was about ( Lord knows there was plenty to choose from) but it ended up with him saying something about the stewards speaking out both sides of their mouths.  Well, he got the same response all complainers got; told to shut up and mind his own business or else he’d be fired and kicked out of the union. Or worse.

Well that boy would not take no for an answer. He began talking to folks on his lunch hour, asking them questions about their jobs, their families, the union, the foremen – you name it. He had a certain way about him and before long people started telling Jake things that they’d kept bottled up inside for a long, long time.  Like how they not only had to shop in the company stores and pay rent to the company landlords but also how they had to pay the company doctors to take care of work related accidents.  On top of all that, they had to fork over 10% of their gross paychecks in union dues. And for what?

They workers could  barely make ends meet, there were no other job opportunities in the town and no one could afford to leave the area (at least that’s what the stewards told them).  Those who complained at the meetings found  their homes vandalized or were laid off or some even met with accidents.  Of course everyone new that these ‘accidents’ were really just the stewards and the foremen working on a teaching lesson together,  but pretty much everyone got the point.  Besides, most folks thought those trouble makers had it coming to them.

Well, young Jake got mighty steamed up about all that and took it upon himself  to get the folks a bit riled up themselves. He told them they were being duped.  He quickly caught the  union’s attention and was told that he was breaking the union by-laws. Besides, they told him, he was being foolish, that the real problem was with the lazy workers and the greedy managers. Their job as stewards was to keep the peace.   If he kept  this up he was going to get himself fired.  So he quit.

Now he took to meeting with people outside of the plant, at all times of the day and night. He met them in the town square and in the bars and pubs.  They union leaders tried to shut him down, again saying that it was against the by-laws to organize off  company property.  They told the workers that the union was granted sole authority by the company to represent the workers. Only the stewards were allowed to speak for the workers and to the workers. If they kept listening to Jake they could lose their jobs.  This only gave Jake plenty of opportunity to further point out their hypocrisy. The people kept on listening to what he had to say.

He told them that they didn’t have to obey the stewards or even the foremen.  That they had been tricked into believing that they were somehow stupid and needed to be told what to do. They already knew what they had to do. He told them how, if they just came together and followed him, they could bypass the stewards and deal with Gilorien Bindings on their own terms.  He told them how the stewards needed them more than they needed stewards. He told them not to blame everything on the company managers because it was their own people – other workers -  who were helping to keep them down.  Remember, he said; all the union stewards were at one time their friends. Would they have acted any differently in if they were in the stewards shoes? Really?  Even so, they could still force changes to be made, peacefully.  They could get better wages, a safer environment, even a better community.  They might even get the company to clean up the plants and stop dumping all those poisons into the air and the streams. All they had to do was stand together. And be prepared to strike, if need be.  More and more workers heard what he said and began to follow him.

Desperate, the stewards began a smear campaign against Jake.  They accused him of being drunk, a drug addict, a thief, an absentee father and  a homosexual pervert. Even a Communist.  But none of these labels stuck. Anyone who knew the man knew these were lies  or at least they didn’t care.  People loved Jake and stood beside him.

So the union stewards and the company managers hatched a plot.  They called a big meeting of all the plant workers – all three shifts – in the big factory square (which meant shutting the works down for a bit, which was absolutely unheard of).  They called Jake up on stage and asked him to read the (illegal) demands that he was making on behalf of the union. Suspecting some kind of trick, Jake refused, telling them that they knew darn well what they had to do to make things right with the people.

Well then, they said; we have looked over your illegal demands and have decided to grant you half of them. Of course what that meant was, that due to the high cost of these demands, the company would have to layoff one third of the  workforce and have the other two thirds pick up the slack, with no additional pay. It seemed that the union leadership had signed off on this plan, reminding everyone that this would mean union dues would increase by a third.  If this was the only way to maintain the status quo…

Well, you never saw such a commotion. People who were singing young Jake’s praises just the day before were now hollering for his hide.  Folks began to call him things like drunkard, drug addict, homosexual pervert – even Communist. Next thing you know the sheriff was standing by the stage with a set of handcuffs. They took young Jake away in chains,  the crowd throwing all kinds of eggs and rotten vegetables at the paddy wagon (now how do you suppose they found them so handy ?).  The deputies hustled him over to the railroad station and set him on the first train to nowhere.

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There were still some people who stuck by Jake and what he said but they were quickly rounded up, fired and set packing. (Some of the more stubborn in the bunch met with unfortunate ‘accidents’.)  The plant managers were praised for avoiding a costly situation and many were promoted. The shop stewards were happy they could hold on to their sweet deals and the people went back to being grateful for what little they had (at least that’s what they said if you asked them). And the shareholders continued to make more money.  End of  story.

At least that would’ve been the end of the story if something amazing didn’t happen back at company headquarters.  After three years gone missing, old man Gilorien’s son showed up out of nowhere.  Thing was,  the Old Man wasn’t too surprised -  said that he had sent his son on  a secret mission some time ago, to check into his company’s working conditions.

Turns out that in just about every plant in the company a certain young rabble rouser named Jake had shown up  and pretty much found out the same things; the unions were in cahoots with the plant managers and that they both took advantage of the people they were supposed to be taking care of. All for personal gain or curry favor from above. Even worse, the people didn’t have the courage to risk a little security for the  greater hope of freedom.  Everyone  was always looking for someone else to blame and whenever people at odds agreed on a scapegoat then the situation for that person suddenly turned real, real nasty. In every instance Jake (Jack Jr.) had been maligned, vilified and run out of town.

Old Man Gilorien soon turned the company over to Jack Jr., who immediately ordered sweeping reforms ; granting overdue pay raises, boosting benefits and improving plant working conditions. He also provided the courts with the evidence they  needed to disband the union. These things didn’t come cheap. Gilorien Enterprises (formerly traded as Gilorien Bindings) took a big, big loss in the stock market and many on the board resigned.  Jack Jr. had not, however, announced any terminations. At least not yet.

All across the country the employees of Gilorien Holdings began to worry. Many remembered meeting this man, who was now the new head of the company, and they wondered if he remembered them.  Low level workers and upper level management waited anxiously for their next pay check,  praying that they would not find a pink slip in the envelope.  When pay day finally came, thousands of employees opened the beige envelopes with trembling fingers. Inside each one, alongside their check, was a personal not  from Jack Jr. saying that, yes indeed, he did remember them. And that he forgave them. But…he did expect a tad bit better behavior from now on.

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Prosperity Gospel of Another Sort


Russell H. Conwell (February 15, 1843 – December 6, 1925) was the founder of Temple University. He was a Baptist minister,  a lawyer and well known for his speeches and sermons, the most famous of which also became a popular book of the same name;  Acres of Diamonds. The title is in reference to a man who spent all his life looking for fortune, never realizing that the property he sold to finance his travels would later be the site of the Kimberly diamond field.

Preaching this sermon over six thousand times (which reputedly earned him over $8,000,000 dollars), Conwell greatly influenced the Social Gospel that was emerging during the Gilded Age and this speech was  said to have such a significant and lasting impact upon American politics that it can still be felt today.  I found the it to be fascinating and present it here with no additional commentary:

I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. How many of my pious brethren say to me, “Do you, a Christian minister, spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to get rich, to get money?” “Yes, of course I do.” They say, “Isn’t that awful! Why don’t you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man’s making money?” “Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel:’ That is the reason. The men who get rich may be the most honest men you can find in the community.

“Oh”, but says some young man here tonight, “I have been told all my life that if a person has money he is very dishonest and dishonorable and mean and contemptible:’ My friend, that is the reason why you have none, because you have that idea of people. The foundation of your faith is altogether false. Let me say here clearly, and say it briefly, though subject to discussion which I have not time for here, ninety-eight out of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they carryon great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them. It is because they are honest men.

Says another young man, “I hear sometimes of men that get millions of dollars dishonestly” Yes, of course you do, and so do I. But they are so rare a thing in fact that the newspapers talk about them all the time as a matter of news until you get the idea that all the other rich men got rich dishonestly.

My friend, you take and drive me – if you furnish the auto – out into the suburbs of Philadelphia, and introduce me to the people who own their homes around this great city, those beautiful homes with gardens and flowers, those magnificent homes so lovely in their art, and I will introduce you to the very best people in character as well as in enterprise in our city, and you know I will. A man is not really a true man until he owns his own home, and they that own their homes are made more honorable and honest and pure, and true and economical, by owning the home.

For a man to have money, even in large sums, is not an inconsistent thing. We preach against covetousness, and you know we do, in the pulpit, and oftentimes preach against it so long and use the terms about “filthy lucre” so extremely that Christians get the idea that when we stand in the pulpit we believe it is wicked for any man to have money-until the collection basket goes around, and then we almost swear at the people because they don’t give more money. Oh, the inconsistency of such doctrines as that!.

Money is power, and you ought to be reasonably ambitious to have it. You ought because you can do more good with it than you could do without it. Money printed your Bible, money builds your churches, money sends your missionaries, and money pays your preachers, and you would not have many of them, either, if you did not pay them. I am always willing that my church should raise my salary, because the church that pays the largest salary always raises it the easiest. You never knew an exception to it in your life. The man who gets the largest salary can do the most good with the power that is furnished to him. Of course he can, if his spirit be right to use it for what it is given to him.

I say, then, you ought to have money. If you can honestly attain unto riches in Philadelphia, it is your Christian and godly duty to do so. It is an awful mistake of those pious people to think you must be awfully poor in order to be pious.

Some men say, “Don’t you sympathize with the poor people?” Of course I do, or else I would not have been lecturing these years. I won’t give in but what I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has punished for his sins, thus to help him when God would still continue a just punishment, is to do wrong, no doubt about it, and we do that more than we help those who are deserving.

While we should sympathize with God’s poor-that is, those who cannot help themselves – let us remember there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by his own shortcomings, or by the short-comings of someone else. It is all wrong to be poor, anyhow. Let us give in to that argument and pass that to one side.

A gentleman gets up back there, and says, “Don’t you think there are some things in this world that are better than money?” Of course I do, but I am talking about money now. Oh yes, I know by the grave that has left me standing alone that there are some things in the world that are higher and sweeter and purer than money. Well do I know there are some things higher and grander than gold. Love is the grandest thing on God’s earth, but fortunate the lover who has plenty of money. Money is power, money is force, money will do good, as well as harm. In the hands of good men and women it could accomplish, and it has accomplished, good.

I hate to leave that behind me. I heard a man get up in a prayer-meeting in our city and thank the Lord he was “one of God’s poor.” Well, I wonder what his wife thinks about that? She earns all the money that comes into that house, and he smokes a part of that on the veranda. I don’t want to see any more of the Lord’s poor of that kind, and I don’t believe the Lord does. And yet there are some people who think in order to be pious you must be awfully poor and awfully dirty. That does not follow at all. While we sympathize with the poor, let us not teach a doctrine like that.

-Russell H. Conwell

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Joy to the World? Seriously?


According to UNICEF, 26,500-30,000 children die each day due to poverty. And they “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:8

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