Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Response to Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council and recently put an editorial up on CNN.com called "Jesus was a free-marketer, not an occupier." There's a lot to discuss as a response to this editorial. To start with, I dislike anyone stating what Jesus would think or do as if it were some how predictable. But I suppose "most likely" and "probably" are out of vogue in editorial journalism. Absolutes and for-sures are the thing of the day.

I also think it's silly to pretend we would know how Jesus would act if he were here today. I'm pretty sure I know what his opinion would be on the financial elite that caused the mess back in 2008 -- not a single one of whom has been charged with a crime. Compared to the thousands that have been foreclosed through no fault of their own (yes, I'm purposely leaving out the minority who were foreclosed THROUGH fault of their own -- i.e. they walked away from underwater mortgages or they knowingly bought more than they could afford in hopes of "flipping"). I think he would be disgusted at the dichotomy there.

I also think I know how he'd probably feel about the increasing income polarity in this country. What he would DO however is much harder to identify. Would he march down to the DOJ and demand CEO heads on a platter? Would he put the golden roads of Revelation on the market and use the profits to re-purchase the homes lost to foreclosure and give them freely back to the evicted? Or would be pitch a tent in lower Manhattan? I have no idea.

But now for a look at Mr. Perkins's post in specific. Point/counterpoint style.

Here's the direct quote from Luke: "He called his ten servants, and gave to them ten minas, one mina each (a mina today would be worth around $225), and he then told them to 'Occupy till I come.' " (Luke 19:13, King James Version)
Beware of anyone attempting exegesis using only the KJV. NRSV uses "do business." I know, it doesn't tie in as nicely with the #ows movement, but this verges on cherry picking.

 Does it mean take over and trash public property, as the Occupy movement has?

Or as Jesus did to the money changers in the temple?

Does it mean engage in antisocial behavior while denouncing a political and economic system that grants one the right and luxury to choose to be unproductive?

Jesus entire message rests on actions that were viewed as "anti-social." I'll be honest, I don't even understand what the second half of this means. If he's referring to unemployment insurance or welfare, I think it's pretty clear where Jesus would side on those issues. Perhaps that's the stance with the least need to nuance or hedge our wording. Jesus would almost assuredly support unemployment insurance and welfare support.

From a spiritual perspective, the mina in this parable represents the opportunity of life; each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives, and each of us shares the same responsibility to invest our lives for the purpose of bringing a return and leaving a legacy. Jesus gave equal responsibility and opportunity to each of his 10 servants.

This is true. And hard to argue with. I hope Perkins also realizes that what we do with what we're given is not based solely on merit or hardwork. That is clear in the Bible as well. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Out of work people aren't out of work simply because they wasted their "mina." Admitting that would in no way undermine the importance of hardwork.

The fact that Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable . . . He used a free market system to bring a tenfold return on investment.

Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa . . . Jesus chose the free-market system??? The Jerusalem of Jesus's time was a free-market democracy? That is anachronistic to the point of hyperbole.
 Jesus rejected collectivism
Interesting non-sequitur. I'm not sure he Perkins gets here. If anything, the Gospels and Acts point to a world that was moving more towards collectivism than away.

There are winners and yes, there are losers. And wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual.

And if we read the parable in the way Perkins is expecting us to, ENRON would be at the Lord's right hand when his kingdom comes! Again, we should not . . . we MUST not measure merit by success.

Some would argue that such an approach encourages abuses, the likes of which we have seen on Wall Street. While some egregious abuses have taken place, they are not inevitable or intrinsic to free enterprise.
Now Perkins lays out the exception to his rule.  Sometimes the winners AREN'T deserving. But then he twists it so that these undeserving winners didn't win because of the system, but because of something else. Apparently he believes that #OWS is against free enterprise. This is a strawman. #OWS seeks justice, not a revolution from free-market capitalism to socialism. They (we) seek a shift from crony capitalism to democratic capitalism. From stockholder-centric management to stakeholder-centric management.

The parable of the king and the servants endorses the principles of business and the free market when properly employed.
Here is where I have to ask, "Who is Tony Perkins?" This man is attempting an exegesis of a parable and is on CNN.com's front page educating the nation to what Jesus is saying. Look no further.  Tony Perkins is a career politician and now a lobbyist. He is not educated in theology, homiletics, hermeneutics or any other subject that would help him expound upon what Jesus meant anymore than Joe Blow.

Yes, I believe in the priesthood of all believers. That doesn't mean, however, that we all have the appropriate credentials to be interpreting scripture on the front page of CNN.com.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like you are doing some important thinking on this subject. Keep up the good work! let me know if you ever want to write a guest article for my site: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/contribute/

    Peace to you Curtis... from another Kurtis

    Kurt Willems