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Is John Boehner Right? Are There False Prophets in Congress?

Is Boehner Right? Are There False Prophets in Congress?

Just a day after welcoming Pope Francis, House Majority Leader John Boehner announced that he will step down from his role in Congress at the end of October. It’s a startling announcement that has caught almost everyone in Washington off-guard. Boehner’s resignation is being widely interpreted as a sign of just how irrational and divisive American politics has become.

This weekend, Boehner was making the rounds of TV news, explaining the current situation in Congress. He talked about how he plans to spend his last month in office, now freed of any need to protect himself politically. With nothing to fear at this point from far-right challengers, Boehner painted a dire picture of the spiritual state of the 114th Congress.

Boehner is engaging with this whole situation on a spiritual level. I was really struck by an interview that Boehner did with Face the Nation this Sunday morning, where he referenced the Bible, and referred to some of his fellow House members as false prophets. Check it out:

What Boehner is basically saying is that some Republicans are willing to say virtually anything to play to their far-right base. Despite the fact that they are clearly not going to be able to repeal Obamacare, or defund Planned Parenthood, for example, they’re publicly committed to doing just that. And they’re willing to shut down the federal government for prolonged periods, doing potentially huge damage to the US economy and reputation.

As I watched this video, I had several questions. First of all: How do we know the difference between false prophets and true ones? Prophets are uncompromising figures, and they’re often considered unrealistic. So how can we tell when someone has crossed the line from boldly challenging the status quo, to being a person who intentionally distorts reality and gains power through empty promises?

Another question: How much compromise should we want from our elected officials? For me personally, I’m happy when I see politicians who stand on principle and don’t back down from doing what is right, even when there are political costs. But there’s definitely a distinction between working strategically for justice and simply being obstructionist in order to create a self-serving spectacle. How can we tell which is happening?

And finally: Where is God in all of this? Clearly John Boehner feels that he’s been through some pretty significant spiritual discernment on this whole question, and he’s decided to walk away from the mess in Congress. Where does that leave us? What responsibility do you and I have to engage in the increasingly bogged-down world of US politics? What are other ways that we might find God calling us to make a positive impact in a world that is desperately in need of change? How can we find a path beyond the culture wars, coming to unity rather than compromise?

I the video below, I have a conversation with Nathan Hosler of the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness. During our talk, we consider what it means to be friends of Jesus in a society where false prophets hold positions of power and influence. We explore what each of us can do to be truthful and loving in the midst of a society that has largely lost its moral compass.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions, and whatever other reactions John Boehner’s resignation elicits for you. Please share in the comments below!

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The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

Full Transcript:

The Occupy movement exposed Wall Street and by extension our entire economic system as one of exploitation, as one that God does not approve of and that God is calling us to change.

The Ministry of Occupy Wall Street

My name is Micah Bales. I live in Washington, DC. I’m a part of Friends of Jesus Fellowship and I was one of the organizers of Occupy DC.

An Apocalyptic Movement

An authentically prophetic spirituality is going to be one that’s apocalyptic. The word apocalyptic, when I say that many people are going to think, “He’s talking about a nuclear war or climate change making the planet uninhabitable or a dramatic cataclysm.” That’s the popular use of the word, but historically and in scripture “apocalypse” comes from the Greek “apocalupsis”, which means unveiling; taking the veil back and seeing what’s actually hidden behind the curtain. It’s like when Dorothy goes to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz and she looks behind the curtain and sees that its just this guy talking into a machine. It’s not actually this powerful, God-like figure.

The early Quaker movement was an apocalyptic movement, a movement that deeply referenced the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings and interpreted them in a deeply spiritual sense. When we read about wars and conflicts and tribulations in the book of Revelation and other places in scripture, its not simply talking about the kind of wars that we humans are used to, it’s talking about an inward and spiritual warfare that’s happening between all the ways in which we enslave ourselves and those forces of spiritual darkness, and the power of God to redeem and heal.

An Unveiling

In the Occupy movement I saw an apocalyptic unveiling of – symbolically – New York city, but really of the entire economic system that we live in in this world, and especially in the first world, in the developed world.

This economic system that makes many people very, very rich, but at the cost of the lives of so many, that builds up luxury but deprives people of basic necessities.

The Golden Calf

When the Hebrews were in the desert after they had left Egypt but before they had gotten to the promised land, while Moses was away, the Hebrews got together and took all of their gold jewelry and made it into an image of a golden calf, and they bowed down to the golden calf and they worshiped it.

What was going on here was the Hebrews had just left everything they knew and they were scared and they didn’t know whether they were going to be able to make it out on their own, and so they worshiped a God of wealth and prosperity.

One of the coolest actions that we took part in as a part of Occupy DC and Occupy Church was to take a golden calf – a paper maché golden calf – and we marched it up Capitol Hill to the Capitol Building where congress meets and we delivered it to them.

The Fall of Babylon

In the book of Revelation, the city of Babylon is a code word for the city of Rome, which was the capital of the greatest empire the world had ever known, and the empire in which everyone was living. In the Book of Revelation, it talks about the city of Babylon (that is the city of Rome) being on fire and the smoke rising up to heaven.

There’s an image of all of the merchants of the Earth weeping over Babylon and weeping over the profits that would be lost and all the beautiful merchandise that was burning up and all the trade that would no longer happen. Included in that trade – there’s actually a list of all sorts of things that they were trading, and the list ends with, “…and human lives.”

Somehow – and I don’t think this was planned from the beginning – the Occupy movement unlocked a real need that we had, not to list demands, not to say what needs to come next, but instead to say, “Look at this burning city of Babylon. Look at the smoke rising up to heaven. Look at the utter destruction of this city.” And we’re living in it.

This video and transcript was produced by Jon Watts for the QuakerSpeak project. You can view the original posting here.

Foreclosure Resistance: An Answer to Prayer

Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
preserve me from violent men,
who have planned to trip up my feet.
The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,
and with cords they have spread a net;
beside the way they have set snares for me.
-Psalm 140:4-5

Bertina Jones lives in Bowie, Maryland, in a home that she purchased in 1997. She is a professional accountant and makes a liveable income. However, like millions of Americans, Bertina has been affected by the economic crisis. In 2008 she lost her job of 17 years and fell behind on her mortgage payments. Thankfully, she was able to find work again within several months.

Once Bertina had secured a new job, she contacted Bank of America and asked for a loan modification, and Bank of America eventually consented. The terms of the new agreement included an initial payment of over $12,000, and the reinstatement of regular monthly payments. Bertina paid Bank of America the huge lump sum, and resumed her regular payments. All the papers were signed, and everything seemed to be in order.

But Bertina’s nightmare had just begun. Though she had done everything that was asked of her, Bank of America repeatedly lost Bertina’s paperwork. Each month, she sent in her monthly mortgage payment, and whatever paperwork Bank of America asked for. Mysteriously, the bank always promptly cashed Bertina’s mortgage check – but they always “lost” her other paperwork.

I say to the Lord, You are my God;
give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord! […]
Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;
do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted!
-Psalm 140:6,8
Bertina worked in good faith with Bank of America, dutifully filling out whatever paperwork they demanded from her, but it was always “lost.” Finally, one month, the bank returned her mortgage check to her. They informed her that her loan remodification was no longer valid. Bank of America was going to foreclose.
Bertina soon learned that her house had been put up for auction. Though she makes just enough money to be ineligible for legal aid, Bertina cannot afford a lawyer. She tried to resist the auction of her house, filing the legal paperwork herself. She spent her precious free time in the Annapolis law library, trying to figure out how she might prevent Bank of America from selling off her home, but her efforts were unsuccessful. The auction went through, and her home was sold out from under her.
I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
and will execute justice for the needy.
Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
the upright shall dwell in your presence.
-Psalm 140:12-13

Today, Bertina’s home is owned by Freddie Mac, an enormous, government-sponsored mortgage bank. While an eviction notice has not yet been issued, it could come any day. Bertina lives each day under the shadow of eviction, the possibility that the corporations that have already taken so much will rob her of everything she has left.

Bertina has worked hard her whole life. As a single mom, she has struggled in ways that many of us can only imagine to raise her family. Today, she is nurturing her adult children and their families, even while continuing to work as an accountant. Her home represents her life’s work. And as Bertina nears retirement, it also represents a possibility of aging with dignity. Everything is at stake.
Apparently out of options, all Bertina has left is prayer.
We’re not about to lose my home. I’m believing in God, to tell you the truth. – Bertina Jones
But God is responsive to the prayers of the oppressed. In recent days, Occupy Our Homes DC has partnered with Bertina to resist eviction and seek a just conclusion to this shameful chain of events. Bringing together citizen activists from across the DC metro area, we are standing together to ensure that Bertina is able to stay in her home.
The Occupy Church movement is throwing its weight behind the effort to resist unjust foreclosure. In some small way, we are seeking to be an answer to Bertina’s prayers – to become a concrete expression of God’s love for the poor, and for those who are having their lives torn apart by entrenched, systematized greed.
We are learning to put flesh and bone on our prayers. We are praying with our eyes, really seeing the damage that predatory banks are doing. We are praying with our lips, bearing witness to the way in which mechanized corporate greed is stealing people’s homes out from under them. We are praying with our feet, rallying to draw attention to Bertina’s situation – and, by extension, the suffering of thousands of families who are in a similar spot. We are praying with our whole bodies, preparing ourselves for the possibility that we may be called to physically stand in the way of this unjust order, defying the legalized theft of Bertina’s home.
How is God calling us to stand with those who are being exploited and marginalized by our economic systems? How can we be faithful to the mission of Jesus, who preaches good news for the poor, liberation of those in bondage and the forgiveness of debt? Do we hear the Spirit’s invitation to convert our prayers into action, demonstrating God’s love and justice in the world?

The Universal Light of Christ

I recently came across this video by David Platt, pastor of Brook Hills Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In it, Platt explains why he believes that the 597 million people in northern India who are not Evangelical Christians face eternal torment in hell. Referencing the recent debate around Rob Bell’s new book, he speaks about what he sees as the dangers of universalism.

This video saddens me, because I realize that millions of Christians in the United States share Platt’s worldview – one in which God created a world where millions of people would die without ever having the chance to be in relationship with God – and who would be punished for their misfortune by eternal misery in hell. Because this worldview is so prevalent among Christians in my country, I felt moved to create a video response. In it, I attempt to explain my faith that the saving presence of Jesus Christ is available to all people, even those who have not had the opportunity – for whatever reason – to accept the doctrines of orthodox Christianity.

(PS: I know some folks will not want to spend their precious internet time watching me blab. For those who are more textually inclined, I’ve transcribed the video, below.)

Transcript:

I just got done watching a video made by a pastor in Alabama named David Platt. And in the video, he’s standing in India, and he’s responding, essentially, to Rob Bell’s new book, Love Wins, and the charges of universalism that have been leveled at Rob Bell – which, based on reviews of the book that are coming out now, and based on what I have read of it so far – I just got it – it doesn’t seem to be the case. It doesn’t seem that he’s a universalist in the true sense.

But, regardless, I watched this video and there were several different points he made that I feel strong issues with. I guess my initial reaction to the video is a sense of sadness and even shame, because I recognize that David Platt is my brother in Christ. He and I both serve our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And so, I have to take responsibility for him and for what he is preaching, in a certain sense, because we are both trying to serve Jesus Christ as we understand him, and I take responsibility for him as my brother in Christ. So, I feel sad, not only for what he is preaching, but for how it reflects on the Body of Christ, which I believe is God’s presence in the world.

To begin with, he starts out his video essentially saying, “if you’re not an Evangelical Christian, you don’t have Christ.” That needs to be wrestled with a little bit. What does it mean to “have Christ”? As a Friend – as a Quaker – I believe that all people have access to Christ. Maybe David would agree with that, that all people have access to Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. I believe that Jesus Christ has saving power in the lives of all people who accept that saving power, even if they do not know the gospel story.

David in his video puts great emphasis on the gospel story, on getting these stories – the biblical stories and the biblical commandments – to the people of northern India. And I think the stories are really important. Those stories are so foundational for me, and so much of what I know about Jesus I understand through my experience of him speaking to me through the Scripture, and in community around the Scripture. So, the Scripture is amazingly important to me.

But the concept that people don’t have Christ unless they have had the Scriptures delivered to them is just incredible to me, because all things hold together in Christ. Christ is in all and through all and creates all. All things were created through Jesus Christ, the Word of God. And so, the concept that people who haven’t – for historical, or cultural, or whatever reasons – received the gospel story, that they would all be condemned to eternal separation from God is just dumfounding to me. Because, Jesus Christ is there with them, whether or not they have heard that story. And I believe that it is possible to accept his lordship in their lives without actually realizing on an intellectual level what, exactly, that means historically, in terms of Jesus’ historical incarnation and coming into the world.

Another thing in David’s video that really disturbed me was his amazing presumption. He seemed to think that we as orthodox Christians can know who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. I think that’s blasphemous. It is not our place as Christians to determine who’s going to heaven and who’s going to hell. We are not the judge of that. For us to put ourselves in the seat of judgment is to set ourselves in the place of God. I hope that David will reconsider his apparent attitude of sitting in that seat of judgment, feeling like he knows – and we know as Christians – who is going where. I hope we as a Church can repent of that, because I believe it’s a sin.

Another thing that he says in his video that I felt was wrong was that he says, “…If we believe everyone is going to be OK in the end, then we are free to lead our lives however we want. We can sit back as easy-going Christians in comfortable churches, because, in the end, all of these masses are going to be OK.” I don’t think there’s a necessary correlation between belief in damnation of all those who have not heard the story and an apathy that David assumes, that if someone were a universalist – or simply didn’t believe that every person that didn’t hear the gospel story during their lifetime was damned – I don’t think that there’s necessarily going to be an apathy about missions.

I don’t believe that all people who have not heard the story are damned. I believe that Christ can work in their hearts, even in the absence of the Scriptures. So that’s where I’m coming from. But my entire life is devoted to mission. I want people to hear the story, to accept Jesus, not only in a vague spiritual sense, but in a real, intellectually satisfying sense, where they know – both with their hearts and with their heads – that Jesus is Lord, and they can confess that. That’s what I desire for all people.

But I desire this in a context of believing that people can be saved in spite of their lack of intellectual understanding of who Jesus is. So I would just like to challenge David a little bit on that concept, that if we believed that people weren’t necessarily going to be damned for not intellectually accepting certain ideas about Jesus that we would just give up on mission and go sit in our easy chairs and drink a beer. I don’t think that’s how things play out.

I think that many of us are motivated far more by love for others and wanting to see the redemption in their lives now, rather than a sense of, “all these people are going to hell and I’ve got to save them from that.”
Finally, there was one other thing in the video that disturbed me. David said that his response is the only one possible for those of us who really believe in the Bible. What really caught my eye was “believe in the Bible.” And we hear Christians today talking a lot about believing in the Bible, being “Bible-believing Christians.” That’s kind of a phrase: “Bible-believing Christians.”

I trust the Scriptures. I believe the Scriptures have great authority, and they are extremely important in my walk with the Lord. But, ultimately, I believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and he is sovereign over all things – over heaven and earth and that which is under the earth, and over the Bible. Jesus Christ is Lord and Sovereign over the Scriptures themselves, and he is the one who we must go to to be able to understand the Scriptures.

I don’t think the Scriptures themselves – without the Spirit, without Jesus Christ – have any power. I believe it is only as we listen to Jesus Christ as he is present with us today, through the power of his Holy Spirit, that we can understand the Scriptures and truly follow him. And I believe that if we get up into our own intellectual understandings and don’t rely on the Spirit, we will misinterpret the Scriptures. We will interpret them as human beings, rather than as sons and daughters of God.

I believe that many of the ideas that David Platt is promoting are reflective of a human understanding of the Scriptures, a human analysis of the Scriptures that does not rely sufficiently on the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

We Are Not In Charge Anymore

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. – James 4:8-10

I ran across this video recently, and I was struck by the state of the American Church as we experience the transition into a post-Christendom context.

On the face of it, I really like this video. I fundamentally agree with pretty much everything Mike Slaughter says. He’s right that we need to get serious about being disciples of Jesus rather than just striking a pose on Sunday mornings. I agree that the pseudo-gospel of “accept Jesus and go to heaven” needs to be challenged; and he’s right that our words are meaningless unless they are accompanied by transformed lives. Mike says a lot of good stuff that I can unite with. However, as the video ran, I began to feel convicted: Something is amiss here.

A couple of phrases really stood out to me. The first was when Mike talked about us being, “part of a movement that changes the world…” I was convicted of how big I like to talk sometimes. In my joy and enthusiasm, I am apt to run ahead, ready to make declarations about how I am going to change the world. As Jesus noted long ago, this is an easy way to miss all the change that needs to happen within my own heart.(1) The world is indeed in awful shape – but why am I so quick to assume that I am part of the solution, rather than a perpetrator of sin? When I open myself to Wisdom, I see that my own life is on the front lines of the struggle for change. I am humbled, seeing the world I want to change – with its greed, fear, pride and violence – reflected quite clearly in my own life. Changing the world must begin within.

The other part of Mike’s sermon that struck me was when he talked about the Church being “effective.” Hearing this, I was convicted about how limited my own conception of effectiveness is. When I place my focus on how to be effective, I often lose sight of the things God might be calling me to that do not seem very effective to me. When my primary goal becomes obtaining certain outcomes, I have moved beyond faithfulness and have put myself in God’s place.

As my friend Tyler Hampton has pointed out to me, the focus on being able to deliver results reflects how entrenched humanist market values have become in the thinking of the Church. Growth in church membership, number of people fed and clothed in church missions, Bibles translated and distributed, the quality of the music in our services – all of these things are important. If they become our primary focus, however, we have missed the mark. We have adopted a consumer model instead of a Kingdom model.
Of course, we want to be part of a movement that changes the world; we want to be effective. This is as it should be. We should seek to glorify God with our lives, having a positive impact on others. But when “results” become more important than waiting on Christ’s guidance and obeying the immediate promptings of the Spirit, we have made an idol of our own understanding. And make no mistake – our claims about “what Jesus would do” are often little more than cover for our own selfish desires.

That, I realized, is our condition as a people. We are still caught up in our long-established habit of using God to justify our own human motivations. We participate in the same triumphalist church culture that most of Christendom has been mired in for the last eighteen hundred years. We see that we are entering into an age of post-Christian culture, yet Christendom is still under our skin. We see the decline of Christian predominance in the West, and yet we believe that the Church is entering into a new phase of influence and high-impact ministry. This reeks of human ideas shrouded in the mantle of God.

And I stand as convicted as anyone. I confess that I would like to be powerful and respected in society at large. I would like my arguments to be persuasive, my methods to be viewed with approval, my assumptions to be validated. However, if we are indeed transitioning into a post-Christian culture, we as followers of Jesus Christ need to come to grips with the reality that our influence in polite society is diminishing.

This should be easier for Quakers to accept than for many Christian groups. We have generally been on the margins of Christendom – frequently persecuted by the wider Church, and, with a few exceptions, rarely permitted to wield much power. And yet, this transition will challenge us, too, because we have grown comfortable and respectable. We share most of the assumptions of the wider society, and as our culture becomes more secular, more focused on products than on people, we will be greatly tempted to follow suit. If we want to stay true to the Lord Jesus, we must embrace our powerlessness. We must allow God’s power to shine forth in our weakness, just as Christ did during his self-sacrificial life on earth.

How do we begin to accept the reality that we are weak and uninfluential? How can we embrace our place as a Church on the margins – not only in rhetoric, but in fact? What new opportunities can this afford us to truly be the Church of the Crucified Savior in a broken world?

Lord, show us the way of your cross.

1. Matthew 7:3-5

From a Lone Nut Into a Movement

I came across this video by Derek Sivers recently, and I found it helpful in thinking about how leadership functions in a movement. I wondered also whether there might be some lessons that we could glean as we look at how we as Quakers might reclaim the movement ethos that accompanied the dynamic energy and growth of the early Friends.

What stands out to me most about Derek’s video is its assertion that our tendency to glorify our most visible and outspoken leaders may be misguided. Certainly, we owe a lot to the first people to stand out and take risks for the sake of a new way of seeing and living in the world. They are the pioneers, and without their ridiculous boldness, there could be no movement. Nevertheless, as Derek points out, one person dancing to the beat of a different drummer is easily dismissed as a “lone nut.” It is the first followers that lend legitimacy to a pioneer. They transform the lone risk-taker into the nucleus for a movement.

Those who are first to join in with a pioneer leader take on almost as much risk as the pioneer herself. There are plenty of lone nuts out there, each with a the seeds of a movement in their message. But many of them really are nuts. The first followers, the first people to join forces with a pioneer leader on the margins, risk being ridiculed themselves for joining with the lunatic fringe. One person who insists on being different is written off as crazy, but a small group of markedly different people is often labeled a “cult.”

If the first collaborators are right, however, and this lone nut is less crazy than she seems, they will be able to play a critical role in the invitation of other, slightly less daring people to join in the movement. The more people who take part in the movement, the less social risk participation entails. Eventually, as Derek points out, a movement may become so widespread that it is more socially awkward to remain on the outside than it is to join.

We as Christians are ultimately followers of the ultimate lone nut, Jesus. How can we courageously follow him, even when doing so will put our relationships, livelihood and reputation at risk? How can we invite others to join in the movement of love, mercy and justice that he inspires?

Note: In email correspondence with Derek following this post, I learned that Derek is the author of the words of the video, but not the videographer himself. Credit for the video goes to dkellerm.