The Financial Seminary
Email to Mark Galli, Christianity Today
From Gary Moore, The Financial Seminary
Re: Has Billy Graham paved America's road to hell with good intentions?
A final email to Christianity Today
I have a dear friend who is a retired Lutheran minister. When he was active, he told a joke from his pulpit about dying and meeting Martin Luther in hell. Perplexed, he asked Luther, "What happened?" Luther just shrugged and said, "Turns out it was works after all." I greatly admired my friend's seeming irreverence. For it reflected the biblical truth that far too many ministers resemble the Pharisee proudly praying in the front of the Temple rather than the sinner in the rear of the church begging for God's amazing grace.
I've been thinking a lot about that joke the past week or two. I thought about it during my sleepless night last night. It's now four in the morning on election day 2012. I'm tired as I spent yesterday hearing both conservative and progressive Christian friends essentially tell me it's my Christian duty to vote in "the most important election in history," which every election I've voted in the past forty years has been. I've simply, and most likely futilely, asked the more persistent, who were mostly well-intentioned Bible-believing conservatives, if Moses validated the vote of the people at the base of Sinai or if Jesus appreciated the vote of the people conducted by Pilate. Few could nuance that Judeo-Christianity has always been about the will of God while democracy is about the will of the people, who don't have a great voting record when it comes to morality.
A couple were so enthusiastic about my political conversion they not only further alienated me from conservative politics but from conservative Christianity as well. The irony is that their politicized worldview and behavior convinced me to avoid voting today. Instead, I'll spend my time in prayer and meditation about the true state of our church and nation, as well as writing this final email to Christianity Today. I expect that will gladden several hearts up there. I know I've been a persistent thorn in your side by hoping there will one day be a column in your magazine or at least a button on your website about economics and personal finance. But the articles that I submitted upon your request about the economic facts of which evangelicals are most ignorant surely convinced you that anything more than tithing and cutting up credit cards would greatly undermine the evangelical worldview. Like the cancer cell, we are cultural in accepting at face value the worldview of the money wing of the GOP that more growth of any sort must be good, even if it kills our faith as Wesley predicted, while advocating social policies this country will not vote for until we change hearts, minds and souls.
So after watching the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association join the religious right, that knocking sound you now hear is no longer my head banging against the closed evangelical mind. It is of this Evangelical Lutheran nailing this simple thesis on Christianity Today's door: It's now most apparent to me that it's as futile to hope a magazine founded by the Rev. Billy Graham will consider the economic dimensions of morality as it was for Luther to hope Pope Leo might see the need to reform the medieval church. To use biblical imagery, this generation of evangelical leadership will mostly likely have to die off before the next generation can enter the promised land. The popes of evangelicalism have, hopefully unwittingly, reduced the concept of stewardship to little more than indulgences. They simply don't, and won't, understand that economics is now one-half of the world's language about managing God's good creation, or political-economy. The irony here is that the unwillingness of most evangelical leaders to talk about holistic stewardship makes us as relevant to our money culture as a missionary to China who can't speak Chinese.
I expect that hard perspective elicited a reaction similar to what Luther experienced from Leo. But I hope my past writing for you will encourage you to simply grant me the time it will require for tens of millions of evangelicals to vote. Reflecting the negativity of American politics, most will simply vote against, in the recent words of The Economist magazine when endorsing President Obama, "the devil we know." Far fewer will actually vote for "the devil we don't know," as The Economist termed Governor Romney. Like The Financial Times, which also endorsed Obama, The Economist's sub-headline said, "America could do better than Barack Obama; sadly, Mitt Romney does not fit the bill." The Economist lamented that, "Mr. Romney has an economic plan that works only if you don't believe most of what he says."
There's considerable hope in that statement if the Governor is elected. The Governor's worldview has been "flexible" enough to out-liberal Ted Kennedy on abortion and universal health-care in Massachusetts, out-libertarian the Tea Party when seeking the GOP's nomination in the primary, and out-moderate St. Benedict when appealing to independents during the general election. That's how elections are often won in Balkan states. And it's often how most nations are governed. But it's also how Truth is inevitably lost. So even The Wall Street Journal has repeatedly noted the other irony that Romney's flexible worldview no longer troubles today's conservative religious leaders who usually advocate an absolute worldview. When moral leaders turn to pragmatism, all is lost. So my decision was to avoid supporting either "devil" and hope for our kids sake that only God can judge a human heart, whoever wins.
My primary reason for writing however was my decision actually came down to my new issue of Christianity Today, and particularly Harold Smith's self-congratulatory article entitled "Our Call." Noting the magazine was founded by Dr. Graham, Mr. Smith proceeded to dismiss a consultant's vexing question of whether people, which would include us Christians on Wall Street and in corporate America I assume, would miss the magazine if it folded. Mr. Smith reassured us the magazine is exceptional. But I don't know a financial leader who bothers to read it as faithfully and seriously as The Wall Street Journal and so on, from which we get serious help in stewarding God's creation. Apparently, Mr. Smith has never even noticed the frequent criticisms I hear from stewardship leaders that, like Rev. Graham, the magazine never bothers evangelicalism or our money culture with those tough love teachings of Christ and Paul regarding the eye of the needle and the root of all evil. I've certainly never read an analysis of our role in making a cover story for The Economist, "The Wickedness of Wall Street."
Mr. Smith's article reminded me that a week before the election, The Dallas Morning News devoted a full page to two far more humbling articles about American leadership. The first was how, "The illusion of knowledge leads to extremism." It noted that when individuals are asked to explain how their strongly held political views might actually work in practice they "become more moderate," and "not only do their attitudes change, but so does their behavior." It concluded, "We have a problem in American politics: an illusion of knowledge that leads to extremism. We can start to fix it by acknowledging that we know a lot less than we think." At least that "secular" article reminded readers of the Bible verse that says, "Moses was the most humble man on earth." The other article was entitled, "The opiate of exceptionalism." It noted, "People in this country want the president [apparently of our country and our magazines] to be a cheerleader. This national characteristic, often labeled American exceptionalism, may inspire some people and politicians to perform heroically. But during a presidential campaign, it can be deeply dysfunctional, ensuring that many major issues are barely discussed."
During this election, such issues might include the growing inequality of wealth. That is often explored by the economic media but has been ignored by Christianity Today. Yet perhaps affirming the biblical root of all evil thesis, The Economist has said inequality contributes to delinquencies, shortened life-spans and unwanted pregnancies. Another neglected issue might be the reality that America has one of the highest infant mortality rates among children who are allowed to be born. Or it might be the unbelievable reality that child poverty in America ranks 34th of 35 most economically advanced nations, exceeded only by Romania. In short, our highly selective biblical ethics too often resemble the ethic of Ducks Unlimited. When I belonged, we compassionately assured young ducks would be born in Canada but then treated them far less graciously after they matured and migrated to Florida.
So of course, the full page ads being purchased by the Grahams around our nation simply ask voters to consider "biblical values" regarding abortion and same sex marriage. I've asked several ministers from across the theological spectrum where Jesus talked about either and they can't tell me. But several politically progressive ministers did remind me that Jesus once told Pharisees, who the Bible says "loved money" but were about to stone a woman caught in a sexual misdeed, that "he without sin should cast the first stone." In essence, all the ads did for me was to cause me to reflect that in the fifty years I've admired Rev. Graham, I've never heard him discuss the eye of the needle or root of all evil. He even once confessed, to Reader's Digest as I remember, that the worst sermon he ever preached was why there would be pink Cadillac's in heaven. Given his character and gravitas within evangelicalism, I expect Rev. Graham was as embarrassed by such incompetence as he was over his famous misjudgment of President Nixon. He shouldn't have worried anyone in the Holy Huddle would notice. Very few seminaries teach anything about economics and personal finance anymore, even though they were favorite topics of Moses, Jesus, Luther and Calvin.
But after serving on too many Christian boards, I also expect "learned incompetence" plays a major role in shaping that God-sized hole in the Christian worldview, particularly in media intensive evangelicalism. For years, our refrigerator door was home to a cartoon from The Wall Street Journal. It showed a wife asking her husband who was lounging in front of the television with his remote to do something for her. He replied that he'd love to help her but he had perfected the art of incompetence in that area. The cartoon was funny only as we've all practiced such incompetent perfection. We're all, including ministers, more self-protecting creatures deep in our most deceitful hearts. We just don't acknowledge it as admiringly as the fellow in the cartoon. But while the selective Gospel according to Billy Graham reflects economic incompetence, the holistic Gospel according to Jesus Christ doesn't. But if money doesn't trickle down, influence does. So Joel Osteen, now probably destined to become America's most popular preacher, has told Sixty Minutes that he never discusses the hard financial teachings of Jesus as "it's not my gift." We know it certainly wasn't for Jim Bakker, and likely hasn't been for TBN, Pat Robertson, Creflo Dollar and so on.
In the years that I served on Robert Schuller's board, I never heard him once elaborate on those hard teachings. But he did often remind us that it was Billy Graham who first encouraged him to utilize the media. I quickly grew to believe a major reason Dr. Schuller never spoke about those hard financial teachings was the media burned so very much money he needed lots of wealthy and connected friends. They might be uncomfortable hearing Dr. Schuller discuss the rich young ruler who encountered the powerless Christ of the Cross. So our board included the notorious Ken Lay of Enron and a ruthless Wall Street operator who purchased a seat on our board with no more than a multi-million dollar pledge. He eventually reneged after attempting a hostile take-over of the ministry. I believed at the time, and continue to believe, that was the beginning of the end for Dr. Schuller's ministry. That hard reality should concern evangelicalism deeply as Dr. Schuller was highly influential in the ministries of Rick Warren, Bill Hybles and other evangelical leaders who built mega-churches rather than traversing the narrow way.
In other words, I now believe that by essentially cutting the hard financial teachings from the Bible, Rev. Graham may have played an unwitting but major role in creating a new religion for the affluent Christians of our capitalistic culture, just as Thomas Jefferson did for the rationalists of his enlightenment culture by cutting miracles from the Jefferson Bible. That may only be a popular road to hell paved with good intentions.
That most popular prosperity theology taught, or not opposed, has undoubtedly brought considerable power and money to those who have built media empires such as TBN, just as indulgences financed the building of St. Peter's for Pope Leo. That eternal and ego-driven temptation of religious life is most likely why Jesus knew his first act of Holy Week had to be the clensing of the Temple of the money changers. Today, he might also whip a few power brokers and over-turn a few tables containing Ralph Reed's voting guides focused on social issues. Yet even Dr. Timothy George stressed the Graham ads are "non-partisan" when he rationalized them for Chuck Colson's ministry. He must be the only intelligent person on the planet who believes that. Even The Wall Street Journal discerned the hard reality that America's black churches are distributing voting guides plainly endorsing Obama while "white evangelical" churches are distributing voting guides that endorse Romney.
The Journal has even detailed those are the two most "enthusiastic" voting blocs in America, which is surely ironic given our history with Pharaohs and Caesars. Yet WSJ readers most likely discerned that one group of primarily needy Christians hope Obama and Biden will coerce more compassion from another group of affluent Christians who are hoping Romney and Ryan will prevent it. Apparently, church being the most segregated hour of the week results in political contests that are largely racial and economic, as recently argued by The Financial Times.
There has long been considerable evidence for those evangelical leaders with eyes that will see that the love of money is still at the root of our nation's pathologies. In Jesus Among Many Gods, Ravi Zacharias observed that popular Christianity in America is "little more than self and greed at the center with strands of Christian thought at the periphery." Even Dr. George never discerned the Grahams' sin of omitting the biblical financial values that Christ put in bright neon lights. The irony is the best minds on Wall Street see things far more clearly. Bill Gross runs the world's largest bond fund for Pimco. He was even penning a new pledge of allegiance for secular America as evangelical leaders were encouraging voters to elect the wealthy former CEO of a Wall Street private equity fund and a running mate who said he entered public service due to Ayn Rand, a fanatical atheist who aspired for capitalism to replace Christianity as America's religion.
Perhaps the greatest irony of this campaign season is the money man's proposed new pledge more accurately reflects what Jesus actually taught. We might try to imagine our grandchildren reciting it one day soon while we try to explain our moral leaders had us totally focused on issues that Jesus never mentioned, thereby taking God out of the pledge ourselves. It goes like this:
"I pledge allegiance to the flag of
the fragmented state of America.
and to the plutocracy for which it now stands.
A red and blue nation
under financial gods,
with liberty and justice for the 1%."
Then reflect on this biblical value: "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, I [rather than any politician or televangelist] will heal their land."