If you had been a member of the church congregation that I was attending in 2007, you might have seen a strange sight. A large man walks up to the church. Unfamiliar with the surroundings, he enters the building towards the end of the service, writes a check for more than ten thousand dollars, puts the check in the offering plate and leaves. If the amount of money was timely in meeting some need of the church, this mans actions might have been considered to be a miracle and the man himself to have been a messenger from God, an angel. The story behind this action is the basis for this post.
As I examine my life over the last six years, I see a tremendous sin. In 2006, I became ashamed of my fellow Christians and, for all intents and purposes, left the church. For several years, I did not attend church service and had no real contact with Christian people. Because I did not want to rob God and because I believe that a Christian should tithe with gratitude and thanksgiving, I went to church a few times during this period and gave my entire tithe at that time. I was the man who showed up, wrote the large check and left. I consider my actions to have been understandable yet at the same time sinful. I should have remained in the church no matter how much I disagreed with it.
So why was I ashamed of the church? I need to be clear that I was not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I still believed that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and that human beings needed Him to be forgiven and I was not ashamed of that belief. I was ashamed of the substitute gospel that I saw all too frequently in the church at that time. Christians were preaching the gospel of the Republican Party platform and of that gospel I was deeply ashamed. It made me sick and I chose not to be affiliated with Bible believing churches because of it. How can one attend a church that is guilty of idolatry and blasphemy?
Ultimately, my anger at the idolatry of the church caused me to leave the United States entirely. I left my lucrative position as a defence contractor at Northrop Grumman and wrote A Rational Faith wherein I defended what I believed as opposed to what mainstream American Christianity was teaching. Over the last eight years, that decision has cost me more than a quarter of a million dollars as my jobs here in Canada have paid a great deal less than what I made in the U.S. Still, I consider this a very small price to pay as the churches that I have found in Canada have been almost entirely free of the rot of the Republican party gospel. Why does this gospel offend me so much? Let us examine the history.
An Experience with Usury
As a graduate student at UCLA in the 1990s, I became aware of the sin of usury when I was entrapped by high interest debt. Ironically, my desire to get through graduate school without any debt at all made me avoid applying for student loans at all costs. I thought that I could make it through on my student stipend and, when expenses would occasionally go beyond the amount that I was making, I would pay for them with credit cards. Burying my head in the sand with optimistic thinking, I didn’t see that I had a problem until I had accumulated a debt of thousands of dollars. This wasn’t a problem until I missed a payment for some reason (I cannot remember why) and my interest rates were doubled. From then on, the problem compounded at an alarming rate. By the end of my UCLA experience, I hated big corporate banks and their unfeeling, evil, sinful, counter-Biblical and usurious policies. I considered bank executives to be a criminal class like pimps or prostitutes, even if their particular brand of sin was lawful according to human statutes.
It was this intense anger that caused me to start watching what the banks were doing with bankruptcy law with a keen interest. Since the only leverage that customers had when dealing with gigantic banks charging 24% interest was the possibility that they would declare bankruptcy, the banks naturally wanted to close off this avenue of escape in order to maintain a high level of profitability and keep their customers on their knees. They began circulating stories about how a young man would quickly rack up a large credit card bill and then declare bankruptcy getting off scot free. “Protect us from this horrible predation”, these multi-billion dollar corporations cried while earning record profits, “and change the bankruptcy law so that they must pay off every dime at 24% interest.” In the meantime, more sober observers published studies that showed that most people who declared bankruptcy did so because they had experienced severe health problems and could no longer afford to pay.
Now you must understand that I never declared bankruptcy. From my position as an abused customer, however, I could quite clearly see that the only incentive the banks had to negotiate with me was that I had that option. Change the law so that it was all but impossible for me to escape credit card debt and my position would have been a great deal worse. The idea that the state would aid the credit card companies in the collection of debt in this way made me intensely angry.
While I was angry, I was also confident that the banks would fail to pass their reform. The Democrats were against it because of its impact on their constituents and I believed that socially conservative Republicans like myself would be against it as well. The Bible, after all, is clear that usury is a sin and the idea that good Christians would allow banks to charge people rates as high as 30% and then shut off the only avenue of escape that those people had was ridiculous to me. If you read the book of Nehemiah, you will find that while undertaking a critical project he found time to decry the practice of usury that was evidently common in Israel at that time. Since the principle is so clearly defined in the Bible, I thought surely my brothers and sisters would rise to its defence and that the bankruptcy reform legislation would be defeated.
After repeatedly being rejected by Democrats for a number of years, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act was finally passed by a Republican congress in 2005 on a party line vote. Every single Republican voted for it and every single Democrat voted against it. This abandonment of Biblical principles made me intensely angry and I began to examine my allegiance to the Republican party. When I did, I found that on virtually every issue I thought was important the Republican party of George Bush was on the wrong side.
The Gun Issue
I don’t like guns because they scare me. I do, on the other hand, believe that people should have the right to own hand guns, shotguns and rifles for protection, sport, and hunting purposes. To my way of thinking, the reason that a burglar leaves a house in a panic when the light goes on upstairs is because he doesn’t know who is up there. Is the person who just turned on that light a defenceless old person who could easily be overpowered before she calls for police? Or is it an NRA gun nut who has practiced all his life at the gun range hoping for the opportunity of blowing away a criminal? The uncertainty causes the perpetrator to flee in all haste. Take away that deterrent factor and I believe crimes against the innocent would inevitably get worse.
On the other hand, the unfettered right to own assault rifles and cop killer bullets without any kind of legal regulation seems to me to be crazy. Limited measures (making the sale, manufacture and import of assault rifles illegal, for example) consistent with a small government philosophy seem to be to be the only rational approach to the gun issue and it seems like I disagree on this with the Republican party.
The Abortion Issue
I am pro-life and I believe that every life is precious to God and that God wants every woman to choose life and not abort a fetus even in the case of rape or incest. I have outlined my position in another essay. On the other hand, I also believe that God has given to every human being moral choices and that the only a totalitarian state can make all of those decisions for its citizens. Despite paying lip service to the idea of limited government, however, the Republican party seems to believe that the Federal Government should be involved in every decision that human beings make during the course of their lives.
God made us stewards of the earth and human beings have an obligation to protect and serve our environment. Additionally, one of the legitimate roles of limited government is providing essential services that individuals cannot do on their own and that cannot be provided by corporations seeking a profit. To my way of thinking, therefore, environmental protection is a vital government function that protects human health and well-being. Any examination of the Bush record on the environment in Texas or at the Federal level would lead to the conclusion that the Republicans do not believe that environmental stewardship is important.
The War in Iraq
I supported Operation Desert Storm where the U.S. rolled back the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. I supported Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 where the United States took action against Afghanistan in order to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice. I even thought that George Bush Sr. should have removed Saddam Hussein in 1991. When I considered the justification and aims of Operation Iraqi Freedom, however, I opposed it. This was firstly because I did not find the evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction compelling and secondly because I thought the attempt to make Iraq a democracy would be a waste of U.S. blood and treasure. Neo-conservative thinkers like Paul Wolfowitz might think that democracy can tame the forces of ignorance and take root in a soil dominated by Islamic belief, but as a Christian I believe that democracy is fragile and can only take root in the soil of a Christian nation that believes in the principles of the New Testament. For this reason, I strongly disagreed with the Republican party of George Bush.
The National Debt
For as long as I can remember, I have considered the number one issue facing the United States to be the issue of our national debt. I think even a simple examination of the record of the Republican party between 2000-2008 in this regard would indicate why this was the largest basis for my disagreement with the Republican party.
The Health Care Issue
As a person who was moved to Canada and lived under a public single-payer health care system, I strongly disagree with the opposition of the modern Republican party in their stance against health care reform in the United States. To me, one statistic explains this strong disagreement. In the United States some fifty cents of every dollar spent on health care goes to pay for the professionals and equipment that provide the actual care. In Canada, that efficiency is much higher. Call me a heretic, but providing a basic set of health care services as efficiently as possible makes sense to me.
The Gospel According to the Republican Party
Political issues are very hard and it does not bother me that I disagree with other Christians on these issues. What bothered me and caused me to leave the United States was not that Republicans were on the wrong side, but that many of them tried to make being on the wrong side a matter of Christian salvation. I actually heard people say things like, “If you do not vote for George Bush and the Republican party, then you are not saved.” This is absolutely ridiculous tripe and those Christians who said it should have been shunned by every true Christian in the country. Are you serious? The turd of voting for a political party at the same level as the blood of our glorious Savior in terms of salvation? This is nothing short of idolatry and blasphemy and the tolerance of these attitudes within the church sickened me. It was almost as if Christians were preaching the Gospel of the Republican Party:
Therefore thus saith the Lord! If thou knowest the righteousness of the Republican Party and if thou votest for Republicans, then thou shalt be saved! But if thou disagreest with the Republican party and think that wicked sinners should be spared from usury charged by large corporate banks, then thou shalt burn in the eternal fires of hell! If thou thinkest that large corporations should be restrained from despoiling the environment, then thou shalt burn in the eternal fires of hell! If thou thinkest that guns should be regulated, then thou shalt burn in the eternal fires of hell! If thou thinkest that democracy requires Biblical principles, then thou shalt burn in the eternal fires of hell! If thou opposest the Republican party because thou thinkest that the government should be fiscally responsible, then thou shalt burn in the eternal fires of hell!
Fifteen years ago, I was a very conservative Republican and I voted for George Bush in the 2000 election. After examining these issues and deciding that the church was entirely too politically oriented, I swore I would never vote for another Republican as long as I should live and eventually moved to Canada to escape the Republican gospel. Thank God for Mitt Romney who (I hope) has single-handedly ended the unholy marriage between the church of Jesus Christ and the Republican Party!