"[Wallis'] ideology is not Christian... It is, in fact, what Paul would call the doctrine of devils."
-- Bishop Harry Jackson
Wow. Strong words.
So, how did we get to this place?
A story titled "Preachers confront 'last taboo': Condemning greed amid Great Recession" by John Blake appeared on CNN and opened with some quotes from Bishop Harry Jackson.
Jackson is not shy about stirring up controversy, but he stops short when it comes to preaching about greed. The Maryland bishop said he encourages his congregation to get through the great recession by saving and sharing. But he doesn't want to alienate well-off members by talking about what's behind the nation's economic woes.
"I've got to watch it," said Jackson, pastor at Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland. "I could get into some big teaching on greed, but the reality is that a lot of that teaching may wind up creating anti-economic-growth and anti-capitalism concepts (in people's minds)... I always talk about personal responsibility so we don't get into the blame game."
Later in the article, Blake features Sojourners CEO, the Rev. Jim Wallis, saying:
"History shows that an increasing gap between the rich and the poor is a prime indicator of imminent collapse," Wallis wrote in his recent book, "Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street."
Wallis said he hoped his book, written right after the 2008 meltdown, would spark a movement among the nation's churches to re-examine the country's economic values. But he said many of the nation's pastors operate like politicians, afraid to alienate their wealthy donors.
"We said the public is ready for this. The church is ready for this," a weary Wallis said of his hopes for such a movement.
"Boy was I wrong."
The article cites a variety of perspectives and approaches from mega-church pastors Andy Stanley and Joel Osteen, to thinkers such as Jay Richards (senior fellow at the conservative think-tank the Discovery Institute) and Vincent Miller (a Catholic theologian at the University of Dayton in Ohio).
While, Bishop Jackson and the Rev. Wallis don't directly engage with each other in the article, it seems that Bishop Jackson took offense at what Wallis said.
In a piece appearing on One News Now, Bishop Jackson said:
"[Wallis'] ideology is not Christian," he contends. "It is something else, and it's being veiled and presented as though -- wow, here's a really Christian approach!" But he says it is actually a carnal, secular approach.
"It is, in fact, what Paul would call the doctrine of devils [1 Timothy 4:1]," he cites. "Paul said very clearly in the last days there would come all these so-called 'biblical doctrines' that sound good on the surface, but they've been engineered in the councils of hell to try to deter God's people from keeping with God's Word."
And the article further explains that, "a pastor is taking exception to the idea of 'economic justice' and the redistribution of wealth," and "Jackson does not believe the church itself has proven it has a greed problem, as he points to the foreign missions field being awash with money because of the believers' generosity."
Wallis has responded to Jackson with the following statement:
My friend, Harry Jackson, said that my ideology isn't "Christian" but I suspect what he really means is that it isn't Republican and that's why he disagrees with the things I have said. It's important for Christians to understand those aren't the same thing. I think Bishop Jackson's economic ideology is indistinguishable from Republican and Tea Party talking points, but I would rather have a civil discussion together as Christians about our differences; rather than his accusing Christians who don't share his conservative economic opinions as coming from "the councils of hell." C'mon, Harry. I believe the Bible's teachings on wealth and poverty challenge both Republican and Democratic economic views which, sadly, are both often sold out to the interests of the wealthy and large corporations, when they should be focused on the ones Jesus calls "the least of these." Can we discuss that Harry? I don't think Bishop Jackson is offended by my ideology but by scripture itself. If he wants to toss out what the Bible has to say about wealth and poverty he might as well toss out the whole book and find a new religion in the Republican Party.
Not only is Bishop Jackson wrong about scripture but he's got his facts twisted about Christian giving.
While Christians tend to give more to charity than the general population, what is the median standard giving for an American Christian? Just $200 dollars a year or about 0.5 percent of after-tax income. It's just 5 percent of American Christians that make up 60 percent of the total giving.
It's only getting worse. A new reportshows that for many churches charitable giving is at a 41 year low, and that the average church is only putting .34 percent of their budget to ministries outside their own four walls.
The most interesting exception to the general lack of generosity in the church comes from a 2008 Christianity Today article:
"Americans who earn less than $10,000 gave 2.3 percent of their income to religious organizations," Smith, Emerson and Snell write, "whereas those who earn $70,000 or more gave only 1.2 percent." While the actual percentages are slightly higher for Christians who regularly attend church, the pattern is similar. Households of committed Christians making less than $12,500 per year give away roughly 7 percent of their income, a figure no other income bracket beats until incomes rise above $90,000 (they give away 8.8 percent).
Rather than lift up the wealthy who tithed as moral exemplars, Jesus lauded the widow who gave her mite.
It's that kind of thing that doesn't make sense to the "world," but is at the heart of Christianity.
Two thousand years ago a rich man turned away from Jesus because he couldn't stomach what Jesus had to say about wealth.
It still happens today.
Follow Timothy King on Twitter: www.twitter.com/tmking