Why the Church Needs Bernie Sanders

Why the Church Needs Bernie Sanders

Why the Church Needs Bernie Sanders

I used to be a good church-going Republican.

Somewhere between 2004 and 2008, my eyes began to open to corruption in politics and religion. After hungrily devouring books, reading scholarly articles, and scouring the internet for info on church history, holy wars, and slavery, it became increasingly obvious to me how the Bible has been used for centuries to marginalize segments of the population, further oppression, and legitimize powers of darkness. In the United States of America, we would all like to think this is a problem of the past. Well, it isn’t.

Recognizing the wisdom of our forefathers in creating a clear distinction between church and state was one of the biggest reasons I changed my political affiliation from Republican to Democrat — not because I thought the Democratic party was any less corrupt than the Republican one, but because I felt like the Democratic leaders were more consistent in making decisions to maintain the separation of church and state.

It wasn’t long before I embraced my God-given calling (a physically-anointed-with-oil commission, actually) to expose and eliminate corruption in the church and to empower believers who feel like institutional church / organized religion is creating barriers for them to become who God created them to be in the body of Christ. And I’m not talking about pointing my finger at individuals for bad habits or poor choices on a personal level — the Spirit of God does a fine job of letting me know when I’m entering into dangerous moral territory, so I trust that He will do the same for others. No, I’m talking about calling out spiritually abusive behavior, perverse doctrine, and toxic orthodoxy. Naturally, this hasn’t gone over well with people in positions of power.

Eight years after reluctantly voting for Obama, I’m ready to cast my vote for another President. How pleasantly surprised and greatly relieved I am to find there’s a candidate who is absolutely determined to fight socioeconomic inequality perpetuated by corruption in politics, even if it ruins his chances of winning an election. In fact, that’s been his approach since the 1960s as an activist and since the early 1970s as a politician. Bernie Sanders, if elected, could be the best thing to happen to this country since FDR, if voters continue to follow his lead in the midterm elections to clean house and get rid of the old guard.

On a more personal note, I identify with Sanders. Maybe he doesn’t realize this, but I believe it is his God-given calling to expose and eliminate corruption in the political system. And I’m proud to join him in his altruistic determination to mobilize and thus empower voters so this great country can once again have a government that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Why I had to rewrite this blog.

Here’s what the blog was going to say. You can see how I wrote about criminal justice, and I had every intention of doing the same for the other issues listed. But then I had an epiphany. So I changed the name of the blog post from I‘m a Christian Voting for Bernie Sanders to Why the Church Needs Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders

HTML text (including source links) is available at the end of the blog post.

And here’s the epiphany. When Bernie Sanders took to the Senate floor for an eight-and-a-half hour speech to, as Sanders said, “put the agreement the president struck with Republicans [the Obama Administration’s agreement to reauthorize the Bush administration’s tax cuts for the wealthy] in a broader context,” the first part of the speech was about the agreement itself, but the second part of his speech was, in my opinion, “against the principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world” (Ephesians 6:12).

Before I continue, there is one important aside. Many believers are proponents of criminalizing abortion and choose their candidates on this issue alone, even if the candidate is the wrong candidate in many other ways. As someone who hates abortion, I understand and respect those who hold such views, but I disagree with their methods for protecting the unborn.

As it is right now, many women who choose life have a harder time economically, especially if they are trying to get through college. Maybe they can’t deal with the stress or the financial burden and drop out. Without an education, they get stuck in low-paying jobs like McDonalds or Walmart and live in a perpetual struggle just to put food on the table and keep the lights on.

Some people (many of them evangelical Christians and Republicans) stigmatize people on welfare, from teenage girls or women with “a child out of wedlock” to married women or couples “with too many kids,” looking down on them with paranoid skepticism, as if they are nothing but lazy trailer trash or ghetto trash scamming the system. No wonder some of these women, who live in constant shame and uncertainty, lose hope, end up on drugs, and lose custody of their children.

Their pregnant friends look at them and say, “No. I’m not going to choose a life like that for my children. I’m going to get my life on track first.” And with good, but terribly misguided intentions, off to the abortion clinic they go.

If abortion were criminalized, we would still have a lot of dead babies. Just look at the war on drugs. Heroine addiction is worse than ever. Making heroine illegal didn’t stop people from doing it. If abortion were criminalized, the next logical step would be to declare war on illegal abortion. We all know how effective that would be. With more women in jail, possibly even your daughter or sister or mother, and more women dead from complications of unlicensed/unregulated medical procedures, we would have much bigger problems on our hands than we currently have.

Being Pro-Life, in my opinion, is about creating a world in which women realize their incredible worth as mothers, where they do not need to live in fear of a society that will look down on them for needing financial help to raise a baby (possibly alone), where they are loved and supported long after the baby is born. Employers should be required to pay enough for a full time employee to meet basic needs, and for those who are driven to strive for a better life, free college tuition, SNAP, and financial help so that they can work less than full time and actually have the time and energy to study and spend a few quality hours with their babies or children in between classes and work.

Having said that, let’s take a look at Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is a preacher.

His sermons may be secular, but the underlying message is very, very similar to what I’ve been proclaiming to the church for years.

In the 2010 speech, Sanders first points out the problem at hand, that the “vast majority of the American people do not support that agreement in terms of giving tax breaks to the very rich,” and then addresses the real problem — “they have to make their voices heard to their Senators, to their Congressmen.”

The American people aren’t being heard. It’s not that they aren’t speaking.

Political offices all over the country were flooded with calls and emails from people opposed to the agreement. But the voice of big money prevails when the economic system is rigged in favor of corporations and billionaires. When the general population is upset, the corporate media does damage control, putting a spin on the story that leaves the people who voice their opinions feeling like they don’t have enough power or influence to make a difference.

The same thing happens in the institutional church, only it happens very quietly. When people voice concerns, pastors and deacons and leaders arrange to meet with them privately. This accomplishes two objectives: 1. Leave people who voice concerns with the impression that it’s them versus thousands of years of orthodoxy and tradition, and that they don’t have the power or influence to make any necessary changes. 2. Leave the congregation with the impression that everyone is united in agreement with the decisions of the leaders.

Broader Context

In the speech, Sanders says,

It is important to put the agreement the President struck with Republicans in a broader context. We can’t just look at the agreement unto itself. We have to look at it within the context of what is going on in the country today, both economically and politically. I think I speak for millions of Americans. There is a war going on in this country. I am not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people against working families, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country…

That is what they were able to do. The rich get richer, and they don’t sit on this money. What they then do is use it to elect people who support them and to unelect people who oppose their agenda and they use their political power to get legislation passed which makes the wealthy even wealthier…

To illustrate his point, Sanders contrasts the story of James Dimon, a major CEO on Wall Street (JPMorgan Chase) with that of seniors and disabled veterans. Dimon is awarded with $1.1 million in tax breaks, and his bank gets an $89 million bail out. Meanwhile, seniors and disabled veterans can’t even get $250 (a one time COLA Social Security compensation).

Sanders gives several more examples and says, “And on and on it goes. I did not mean to specifically pick on these guys.”

When it comes to a monumental and complex systems of fraud, sometimes it is necessary to name names and get specific in order to drive home the idea that you’re dealing with more than a random compilation of unfortunate events.

Similarly, when pastors cheat on their wives, priests molest little boys, leaders spiritually abuse or ignore complaints of spiritual abuse, and so on, P.R. people in the institutional church would have you believe (and probably even believe it themselves) that these are isolated instances, the offenses of individual people, completely separate from the preposterous idea that there is a fundamental problem with the system itself.

Information management is opinion management.

The institutional church is losing its foothold on believers who have quietly suspected for some time that widespread, systematic corruption is not something we have tolerate.

Rapid Growth of Religiously UnaffiliatedIn Driscoll, Mars Hill, and Why the Problem is Much Bigger Than One Church I wrote:

We are living in a time of pervasive and shared information. With free access to information on the Internet and social media opening the lines of communication, believers are beginning to form a true schema of perception where consensus is not manufactured and carefully maintained, but experienced as our souls are knit together in His love. Opinion can’t be as easily managed by a handful of fallible religious elite. They may clamor about and make panicked suggestions like “Don’t Google it, don’t blow your head up. We love Jesus, read your Bible, stay off the Internet. It’s all shenanigans anyways,” but opinion is beginning to form in a new way — deep within by the power of His Spirit. Perception is not so easy to control when most of the embarrassing facts are put on the table under the light of scrutiny. Believers have been blessed by God with a giant spotlight and megaphone. All of us can more accurately discern the gas guzzling, overheating Evangelical engine and the growing pile of discarded bodies behind it.

Likewise, the fat cat gazillionaires pulling the puppet strings of America are losing their foothold on citizens and someday-citizens who have quietly suspected for some time that widespread, systematic corruption is not something we have to tolerate.

Sanders explains how information management (and therefore opinion management) works in our rigged political/economic system,

What is very interesting is that the American people and the media have focused on the $700 billion Wall Street bailout now known as TARP. I happen to have voted against that agreement, but, in fairness, that agreement was pretty transparent. The Treasury Department put up on their Web site all of those banks and financial institutions that received the money. If you want to know where the money went, it is right up there on the Treasury Department’s Web site.

But at the same time, a bigger transaction than TARP was taking place, which got relatively little attention, and that was the role the Fed was playing in terms of the Wall Street bailout.

While the TARP issue was being debated during that period, Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Tim Geithner, who was then the president of the New York Fed, and a handful of other very powerful people were sitting behind closed doors getting ready to lend out trillions–underline trillions–of taxpayer dollars to large financial institutions and corporations, with no debate going on in Congress, no debate whatsoever.

On March 3, 2009–and I am a member of the Senate Budget Committee–I asked the Fed Chairman, Mr. Bernanke, to tell the American people the names of the financial institutions that received this unprecedented backdoor bailout from the Fed, how much they received, and the exact terms of this assistance. I will never forget that. I asked Mr. Bernanke for that information. He said: Senator, no, not going to give it to you, not going to make it public.

If it weren’t for Sanders, you would still be in the dark.

Sanders made sure that the actions of the Fed were put on the table under the light of scrutiny.

Well, on that day, I introduced legislation to make that information public, working with a number of Members of the House and the Senate. Some strange bedfellows–conservatives and progressives–came together on this issue. We managed to get in the Wall Street reform bill a disclosure provision, and on December 1–last week–that information was made public. Let me talk a little bit about what was in that information made public by the Fed.

After years of stonewalling, the American people have learned the incredible, jaw-dropping details of the Fed’s multimillion-dollar bailout of Wall Street and corporate America–not just Wall Street…

Here’s Sanders’ initial analysis (and he called for further analysis) of the now-public info on how the Feds handled the financial crisis:
  • Wealthy individuals received an “emergency response,” which Sanders describes as “socialism for the very rich and rugged free market capitalism for everybody else.”
  • Goldman Sachs – $600 billion
  • Morgan Stanley – almost $2 trillion
  • Citigroup – $1.8 trillion
  • Bear Stearns – $1 trillion
  • Merrill Lynch – $1.5 trillion in short-term loans
  • Central Bank of Japan – $380 billion
  • Korea Development Bank, the Fed purchased over $2 billion of its commercial paper
  • Central Bank of South Korea – $40 billion
  • Bank of Bavaria, the Fed purchased $2.2 billion of its commercial paper
  • Arab Banking Corporation – $23 billion in loans (at .0025% interest)
  • Central Bank of Mexico – $9.6 billion
  • Small business owners were being turned down for loans
  • (And during this financial crisis, unemployment benefits were not extended.)

Sanders explains the significance of the situation,

What is interesting about all of this is that we had a very vigorous debate here in the Senate and in the House over the $700 billion TARP program. Every person in America could turn on C-SPAN and hear that debate. They could hear what President Bush had to say, hear what then-Senator Obama and Senator McCain had to say. It was all pretty public. But what took place at the Fed, which, in fact, amounted to a larger bailout, was done behind closed doors. Over $3 trillion was lent with zero transparency.

…I think the question the American people are asking as they read about what the Fed did during the financial crisis is whether the Fed has now become the central bank of the world without any debate on the floor of the Senate or the Congress and without the knowledge of the American people.

If We the People had had a voice in this process, as Sanders suggests, perhaps we would have demanded that the Fed bailouts come with conditions and provisions to help ordinary Americans, such as providing affordable loans to small businesses.

Instead, Sander says,

Millions of Americans remain unemployed and have lost their homes, their life savings, and their ability to send their kids to college. Meanwhile, huge banks and large corporations have returned to making incredible profits and paying their executives recordbreaking compensation packages, as if the financial crisis they started never occurred… The goal of the bailout was not to make Wall Street richer; the goal was to expand our economy and put people to work.

In Privileged Slave I wrote, “When fear-based, authority-driven spiritual oppression is eliminated, enemies will discover they were actually friends all along.” I suspect that this concept rings true of the political/economic system, as well — when money-based, greed-driven political oppression is eliminated, Republicans and Democrats will discover they were actually on the same side all along.

I don’t need to brainstorm how to begin a tidy little conclusion for this blog post, since Sanders has done it for me:

We know every major religion on Earth–Christianity, Judaism, Islam, you name it–has always felt that usury is immoral. What we mean by usury is that when someone doesn’t have a lot of money and you loan them money, you don’t get blood out of a stone. You can’t ask for outrageously high interest rates when somebody is hurting. That is immoral. Every major religion, all great philosophers have written about this.

…How many more Americans could have remained in their homes if the Fed had required those bailed-out banks to reduce mortgage payments as a condition of receiving these secret loans?

Tim and I lost our home. We faithfully paid our mortgage for 12 years. His new real estate title business, which was off to a great start during the first year, collapsed when the housing market crashed.

About that same time I worked as a pastor’s administrative assistant. I was fired when I wrote blogs on my social media about corrupt doctrines and practices in the institutional church.

Like many of you, we have firsthand experience and knowledge of the powers of darkness at work in this world – both in political systems and religious systems. I know that Sanders can’t fight corruption in the political system alone. As a believer, I know I can’t fight corruption in the religious system alone. It is my responsibility, our responsibility, to sound the bullshit alarm for those who are still caught up in the system, ignorant of its inner workings.

In both cases, our fight is not against people, per se, but power structures.

Christ said, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” He willingly gave Himself to be crucified by the corrupt religious leaders and politicians of His day instead of instructing His followers to use violence to impose His Kingdom on the world.

But we can’t forget that when He saw religious and political systems rigged to take advantage of hurting people, He overturned the money-changing tables in the temple and made a whip to drive away the profiteers.

Related: On Abortion, Homosexuality, and Obama, Driscoll, Mars Hill, and Why the Problem is Much Bigger Than One Church, and America is NOT a Christian Nation… Guest Blog by Rachel Munns


I don’t usually ask this, but if you agree with this blog post, please share it. I think it is a really important subject, and I want to scramble some people’s eggs.


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UPDATE: A reader brought to my attention that mobile users can’t read the small print under the heading “Why I had to rewrite this blog.” The reason for this is that I inserted a screen cap image of the blog post there. A website with responsive design squishes the image to fit the size of whatever device you are using. Rather than telling readers who use mobile devices to go read it on a desktop, I have retyped that information here.

Personally, I don’t feel like I need to justify my decision, as a Christian, to vote for Bernie. But I know that there are many Christians still deeply immersed in the idea that your religious views must be in full agreement with your political decisions. And that’s why I want to explain why Bernie Sanders deserves the votes of Christians. (Please understand that I’m not dogging other candidates in any way. In fact, this is thinly time I will mention other candidates. Vote with a clear conscience before God, and agree to disagree, if that’s what you need to do.) The following issues are listed alphabetically.

Criminal Justice

If Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a democratic socialist, were alive today, he would likely have a lot to say about the state of the criminal justice system. More black men are behind bars or under the watch of the criminal justice system than there were enslaved in 1850. I’ve actually heard otherwise-loving, Christian white people say that it’s because black men are more likely to break the law. According to the ACLU, “white and black people use drugs at similar rates,” so one would assume the white and black people would be jailed at a similar rate, yet “black people are jailed […] 10 times more often,” and are “three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white people.” Similar statistics can be cited for non-drug offenses. Income inequality exacerbates the problem, because people who can’t afford to post bail, who haven’t even been convicted of anything, have to stay in jail until they can get a hearing. We all know the judicial system is slow. People who sit in jail are put at risk of losing their jobs, custody of their children – even their lives.

Sanders wants to demilitarize the police and hold them accountable for breaking the law, using excessive force (brutality) and bring them to trial for killing unarmed people. “Force should be the last resort, not the first resort,” Sanders says. He wants to end for-profit prisons, redirect some of the funds currently spend on incarceration to rehabilitation programs, job training, and education. Calling the War on Drugs a failure, Sanders calls for the decriminalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use and emphasis on treatment rather than incarceration for people who are addicted to heroin and other illegal substances. Regarding gun control, he favors a common sense approach, with Federal requirements for background checks and state governments deciding their own gun control laws. For more information on Sanders’ plans for criminal justice reform, read Where does Bernie Sanders stand on criminal justice?

Economy
Education
Environment
Health Care
Privacy / Data Security
Social Issues / Religion

Comments
  • Rachel February 12, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Alice, thank you so much for sharing this. I am inspired! To my journal…

  • Mary Vanderplas February 13, 2016 at 6:09 am

    I share your enthusiasm for Bernie Sanders – for his progressive politics and his emphasis on economic inequality and his exposure of the forces of greed and corruption that lie behind this unsustainable state of affairs in our country. I am not too optimistic, though, that a Bernie Sanders presidency, if it was to happen, would by itself lead to political revolution. I think that it takes more than the “altruistic determination” of a progressive president and grassroots activism to bring about the kind of change that Sanders is, rightly, calling and striving for. What it takes is the ability to win in Congress and in the states – to build a governing majority that can enact policy changes that will undercut the power of big money interests to drive political decisions. Still, I like Sanders and what he stands for, and I agree with your assessment of his candidacy as a refreshing and needed call to transform the system such that American politics is about people working together for the common good.

    I like what you say about Sanders being a prophetic voice against entrenched interests and their power to silence the masses and prevent them from making a difference. I would say here, though, that I think that individual citizens can and do have their voices heard at the local level of government and that more emphasis needs to be placed on local politics as opposed to focusing unduly on the top-ticket races and policies made at the national level. Still, though, I think you’re right to lift up Sanders as a voice calling for the abolition of the systemic evils of political power concentrated in the hands of the wealthy and self-interested at the expense of the masses having a voice in the governance of our country. And I think you’re right – and perceptive – to compare Sanders to those, including yourself, who are leveling criticism against corrupt and oppressive leadership in the institutional church – and against the structures that perpetuate inequality and suppression of dissenting viewpoints.

    I think Sanders was right on in working to make public the massive Fed bailouts and to expose the immorality of actions that contribute to the ever-widening gap between the wealthy and the middle and lower classes. While I agree that when corruption is exposed and eliminated, people on opposite ends of the political spectrum may find that they have more in common than they realized, I don’t think that political ideology is unimportant. Political and social conservatives who argue that government policies to benefit the poor are misguided and who see government action to bring greater economic equality as a threat to their freedom miss the boat, in my view. They fail to understand that individual rights are not unlimited, that individual rights always come with conditions and qualifications in light of the obligation to care about one’s neighbor and to put the welfare of the community above one’s own greater comfort. I would not minimize the very real differences between progressives and conservatives and libertarians when it comes to the economic issues in particular that are facing our country, even though I don’t disagree with your contention about people coming together across party lines to fight greed and corruption in government.

    Thanks for the super-stimulating (and super, stimulating! 🙂 ) blog.

    • Alice Spicer February 14, 2016 at 8:29 pm

      You’re absolutely right that “a Bernie Sanders presidency, if it was to happen, would by itself lead to political revolution” and that “it takes more than the ‘altruistic determination’ of a progressive president and grassroots activism to bring about the kind of change that Sanders is, rightly, calling and striving for.”

      Mid-term elections will play an incredibly important part of what can be accomplished in a Sanders administration. A big focus of his campaign is bringing people together to accomplish goals. This is a decades-long message of his, so I doubt he will stop talking about it if he is elected. Hopefully people will still be listening.

      Similarly, bringing in a new religious leader(s) won’t resolve the problems with see in organized religion. It takes people — a whole lot of people, and all at once — to say “enough is enough” to make dramatic changes. Personally, I don’t think the institutional church can be salvaged. I think it will continue to decline and become increasing irrelevant to what goes on outside the walls. In other words, I think the wineskin has already burst, and the real power of spiritual influence in this world (the salt/light) is no longer contained by and eventually won’t be controlled by spiritual corruption.

      • Mary Vanderplas February 15, 2016 at 5:10 am

        Let’s hope it happens: that the progressive energy around Sanders’ campaign is translated into organized efforts to elect candidates, including lower-ticket ones, who can and will act to bring about the kind of changes Sanders is pushing for.

        You may well be correct in your assessment of the institutional church. I’m not (yet) ready to give up, though. There are some good things happening in my own denomination – alternative structures and ways of being and doing church – that I think have potential. But I agree that the institution with all of its flaws doesn’t have the power to contain what the Spirit is doing in the world and that much of what is good is going on outside of the traditional structures.

  • Mary Vanderplas February 14, 2016 at 6:51 am

    I wasn’t going to comment on the abortion issue, as controversial and polarizing as it is typically, but I changed my mind. Your comments are so stimulating that I can’t just pass them by without saying something in response. I think you’re right on to point out that one reason some women choose the path of abortion is the undeniable difficulties that women faced with unintended pregnancies confront, both in terms of social stigmatization and economic insecurity. The implication, as you point out, astutely, is that any response that would aim to reduce the number of abortions must include a focus on loving concern and acceptance as well as on social-welfare policies that would make the choice to carry a child to term the more desirable option – things such as guaranteed income security, educational opportunities, affordable day care, counseling, etc. Even if one feels strongly that abortion should be made illegal, it is short-sighted, at the very least, to focus on changing abortion laws without at the same time working to reduce the number of abortions by promoting social-policy initiatives that make carrying a baby to term a viable option for those facing unintended pregnancies. I would add here that I think that we in this country could learn from our European neighbors about effective methods to reduce the number of abortions. The Dutch have the lowest abortion rate in the world (among countries where abortion is legal) – likely because they make it a priority to educate their youth about sex and family planning and because they provide easy access to contraception. The point is that if the goal is to dramatically reduce the number of unintended pregnancies that end in abortion, then we need to be creative and open to alternatives when it comes to ways of achieving this. It is also to say that when those who are part of the religious right summarily dismiss suggested alternatives, or refuse even to think about anything other than a legislative solution by which abortion is made illegal, I can’t help but question how sincere they are in their desire to reduce the number of abortions (as opposed to simply wanting to impose their moral values on others and to be self-righteously superior).

    While I agree that making abortion illegal wouldn’t solve the problem, that there would be a host of unintended consequences, I don’t think that this is necessarily a good reason to argue against changing abortion laws. For me, the issue is whether women should have the freedom and responsibility to decide this very personal matter. I come down on the side that they should, that the capacity of women to choose should be respected – which doesn’t make me on the side of abortion, but only for choice in this matter that is deeply personal and is surrounded by moral uncertainties.

    • Stephen Helbig February 14, 2016 at 1:17 pm

      Well said !!!!! And “I AM” in complete agreement with Mary’s above comment !!! I praise God for the privilege of gathering together with those of “like precious faith,” and rejoice in any assembling unto Him. ~ THANK”S FOR CHOOSING TO COMMENT

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  • Mary Vanderplas February 15, 2016 at 5:09 am

    Let’s hope it happens: that the progressive energy around Sanders’ campaign is translated into organized efforts to elect candidates, including lower-ticket ones, who can and will act to bring about the kind of changes Sanders is pushing for.

    You may well be correct in your assessment of the institutional church. I’m not (yet) ready to give up, though. There are some good things happening in my own denomination – alternative structures and ways of being and doing church – that I think have potential. But I agree that the institution with all of its flaws doesn’t have the power to contain what the Spirit is doing in the world and that much of what is good is going on outside of the traditional structures.

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