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Cost of Preaching Jesus' Gospel: $3,000,000

Probably the single best and most important thing I've ever written in this journal was a series of essays entitled "Christians in the Hand of an Angry God." (If you haven't read it yet, please, do.) In it, I made the argument that in an attempt to persuade people to vote Republican (for anti-communist reasons), the churches have been knowingly and explicitly teaching a false gospel, a gospel that has more in common with the teachings of the Temple of Set than anything in the Christian Bible. And when I wrapped that up, the leading question I got was, "What should I do about it?" And I had to explain to my readers that neither guys like me who aren't Christian, nor Christians who hold the Bible in low regard, can do anything useful about it. The only people with any credibility to confront the preachers of Satan's gospel are those who revere the actual teachings of Christ and the rest of the Christian scriptures, which are more than adequate to the task of refuting the Republican pseudo-gospel, the one that says that the Great Commandment is, "Thou shalt vote Republican."

Well, other than my insight into how this false gospel was sold to the current generation of evangelical Christians (for which, see the articles), I wasn't the only one who noticed. It turns out that seven months before I wrote "Christians in the Hand of an Angry God," Minnesota megachurch pastor and published theologian Gregory Boyd was preaching the same thing, more or less. His series of sermons, entitled "The Cross and the Sword," came about because all through the early part of 2004 people in his church were taking it for granted that since he was an evangelical Christian, preaching from the pulpit of a huge suburban megachurch to a middle class and upper middle class congregation, that he obviously had to be 100% in support of Republican candidates and the whole "Christian Right" social agenda. From this Sunday's article about it in the NYT: "The requests came from church members and visitors alike: Would he please announce a rally against gay marriage during services? Would he introduce a politician from the pulpit? Could members set up a table in the lobby promoting their anti-abortion work? Would the church distribute “voters’ guides” that all but endorsed Republican candidates? And with the country at war, please couldn’t the church hang an American flag in the sanctuary? ¶ After refusing each time, Mr. Boyd finally became fed up, he said."

So he preached a series of six weekly sermons whose point was that no, it is not a commandment from God that you vote Republican. No, matters of sexual morality, in particular other people's sexual morality, are not central to Jesus' message. No, God does not call you to sit in judgment over others. And in particular, no, it is not God's will that Christians take over the government qua Christians and run it according to Christian principles, that theocracy is not God's will for America and that around the world, theocracy has been a bad idea for Christians. So, if this happened in April and May of 2004, why is it in the news? Because Boyd just released those sermons in book form, as The Myth of a Christian Nation, and is doing the book tour for it. And one of the things he said in the interview he did for the NYT struck me as really, really interesting.

Those of you who aren't from the USA probably don't have the first clue what megachurches are, or (the relevant point to this) how they work. A megachurch is a single church building the size of a Walmart Supercenter or a small shopping mall. It's built around an auditorium with a better sound and light system than most Broadway shows or major rock concerts, that can comfortably seat 4,000 people or more -- and does so not just on Easter and Christmas, but week after week. To support 2000 families' needs, and in particular 2000 families who are used to receiving a certain level of professional service from everything else in their life, takes big money. But with megachurches mostly being located in or near prosperous "edge city" exurbs, it turns out to not be a problem funding, oh, for example, a food pantry that's bigger than most inner-city grocery stores, or a Sunday School bigger and better equipped than most suburban schools. And as it happens, when Boyd preached "The Cross and the Sword," the church was in the middle of a fund raising drive that was forecast, based on past experience, to bring in an additional $7,000,000.00 to fund normal operations. But by the end of the sixth sermon, 20% of the congregation -- and in particular, apparently the wealthier and more supportive members -- had quit in anger at the pastor for preaching something other than the Republican gospel. And they took with them the $3,000,000.00 in pledges they had been expecting to make. So now we know, in at least one case, what it costs to preach that George Bush isn't God's prophet on Earth, Jesus doesn't say it's OK to hate the poor, and that wealthy people don't usually have all of that money because God recognizes their virtues: $500,000.00 per sermon.


Jul. 30th, 2006 05:55 pm (UTC)
Aloha, Brad!

I've got a few of these types in my home town, and I'd love to present your "Christians in the Hands of an Angry God" to them, but they seem to think that the Internet is a kind of web made by spiders that live on highways.

May I please have permission to compile those posts in a dead-tree format, with a bibliography so they and anyone else who reads it can follow the links themselves?
Jul. 30th, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)
As long it includes the phrase "Copyright 2004, J. Brad Hicks. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution, NonCommercial, ShareAlike 2.5 License," and don't charge money for it (that's the NonCommercial clause in the contract linked in the left column), you may do anything you want with it. That's the point of the Creative Commons copyright blanket license.
Jul. 30th, 2006 11:16 pm (UTC)

Despite the terms of the Creative Commons Clause, I'll still generate the article and submit the finished product to you for review as a courtesy.

Aug. 6th, 2006 03:18 pm (UTC)
Send me a copy too, or let me know when you publish it so I can buy one.

I've linked to the cost thread from my blog (which I suspect would enthuse no one here, so no link from me in the post).

Just saying thanks, and interested in copies.

Aug. 7th, 2006 03:26 am (UTC)
Just awaiting the word from Brad right now. And it's not going to be sold. If anything, it'll be published in PDF format for the internet, and any hard copies will be made at my own cost.