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Bernie Sanders: A problematic acronym, to say the least

bernie-sanders

Don’t hold it against me, but several days ago I watched CNN’s Anderson Cooper interview presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a town-hall forum. Someone in the audience asked Sanders how he would respond to critics who say he has no religious faith or spirituality. Sanders insisted that he does indeed have a religious/spiritual faith. He went on to elaborate that his spiritual faith is found in his strong desire to correct injustice in the world. Sanders said he has always been like that, even when he was a kid in school he stuck up for kids who got bullied by bigger kids. Sanders said he simply hates injustice in society and he’s dedicated his life to fighting it. I immediately felt sad for Sanders and his tragic confusion regarding good works. Why? The Bible verses below guide us on this topic:

James 2:17-18 (ERV)
“If it is just faith and nothing more—if it doesn’t do anything—it is dead. But someone might argue, ‘Some people have faith, and others have good works.’ My answer would be that you can’t show me your faith if you don’t do anything. But I will show you my faith by the good I do.”

At first glance the verse above seems to support Sander’s worldview, but it doesn’t. This principle is a sword that cuts both ways. Faith without good works is dead and meaningless. But good works without faith is also dead and meaningless. The two are essential to have any heavenly value. Don’t believe it? Read the following two verses:

Isaiah 64:6
“All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

Hebrews 11:6
“And without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Don’t get me wrong, some of the values Sander’s embraces are in alignment with those taught by Christ. But without embracing Christ first and foremost, those values fall squarely into the realm of the secular world, and that makes them subject to change and interpretation according to the whims of whoever happens to be in power. Some of the most horrible things imaginable throughout human history have been committed by men who perverted God’s values because those men did not really know God.

Sander’s strives to convince us to embrace elements of socialism, though he offers no assurance as to how socialism will not be corrupted by sinful people (as history has shown us) with the predictable result that a small segment of political and financially connected elites will siphon off the wealth of our country while the rest of us get the leftovers, if any. Sadly, many of my conservative brothers and sisters are in denial that capitalism is headed in the same direction as socialism because of fallen humanity’s ability to corrupt every socioeconomic system that a country embraces. The solution is not the adoption of another system of order such as socialism. The ONLY solution is for Americans to re-embrace Christ.

God gave Bernie Sanders the gift of hunger for justice. It would be a tragedy if Sanders never learned to worship the Giver of that gift. Without a relationship with the Giver, the gift can only frustrate. Flawed human beings can never enjoy complete satisfaction deep in our souls via our gifts unless we embrace the Giver. If you try to do it without the Giver, that’s vanity.

“He who seeks from God
anything less than God
esteems the gifts of God
more than the Giver.
Has God, then, no reward?
None save Himself.”

St. Augustine

Pope Francis The Red?

Pope Francis / Agencia Brasil

Pope Francis / Agencia Brasil

Pope Francis recently committed a cardinal sin (I crack me up) by criticizing unfettered capitalism and its effects on the poor. This earned him a bit of ire from conservatives across America. Then an Oxfam report came out claiming that 85 of the richest people have as much wealth as half the world. If true, it is an uncomfortable statistic, to say the least.

Conservative and liberal zealots read stories like these and double down on their preferred worldview. Within Christendom, conservative Christians cite Bible verses that promote personal responsibility, hard work, and freedom. Liberal Christians cite verses that have a socialist feel promoting the sharing of wealth for the benefit of all. For a sample of each, read 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and Acts 4:32-35. (Oh which to choose?)

Conservatives blame our economic and social woes on the ruling class within a growing, intrusive government that impedes free markets which could improve the lives of more people if allowed to function with less government meddling. Liberals decry the greed of big business, the wealthy, and systemic flaws that stack the economy against the little guy. My point is that elements of BOTH of these divergent worldviews—capitalism and socialism—are mentioned in the Bible as having value in the correct context. Therefore it is theologically shaky ground for Christians to embrace one worldview and demonize ALL elements of the other. There is an ethos behind each worldview that the Bible conveys to humanity—personal responsibility AND responsibility for our neighbors is not mutually exclusive in the Bible. Granted, there are good arguments regarding whether government is the best middleman for taking care of our neighbors who can’t care of themselves.

Each worldview has weaknesses because it exists in a corrupted world. Sinful people will take advantage in either of these worldviews. These days, leaders in Washington, business, media, and labor game the system for their own personal enrichment while pandering to followers of these worldviews.

Do I favor one of the two primary worldviews over the other? Yes! I favor capitalism. But the real source of our economic and social problems in America has more to do with deteriorating ethics among the general population and at the highest levels of our formerly venerable institutions. Some forms of unethical behavior in business and politics have become so pervasive that it is now just considered business as usual. We have become sophisticated in our unethical ways. Even if we adopt more of a socialist approach in America, we will still have big problems because our ethics and tolerance for unethical behavior sucks.

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and his wife recently pled not guilty to corruption charges. (Google “Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell” for some of the details on the case.) According to news reports, McDonnell has steadfastly insisted that he did nothing “illegal” in his dealings with businessman Jonnie Williams. This statement caused me to reflect on the possibility that many of us rely too much on the “legal” versus “illegal” benchmark when evaluating our actions. When making choices, perhaps considering “right” versus “wrong” is healthier and less problematic than leaning on the strict letter of the law. The law can’t lead us to a good heart, though a good heart can help us obey the law.

Of course, healthy ethics won’t prevail unless the majority of people believe pure ethics originate with God. Why? God doesn’t change and the Bible tells us that he is more concerned with the spiritual health of our heart. Without the higher and flawless authority of God, we adjust our ethics to suit ourselves or the culture around us.