By Richard Edmondson
A former church pastor who now has a regular column at the Huffington Post seems to have an inordinately high esteem for the moneychangers Jesus chased out of the Temple. In fact, he seems to view them as…God.
“One day, Jesus went into the Temple and began throwing people out,” the gentleman writes in his most recent column. The piece, published September 11, is entitled “The Day Jesus Threw God Out of Church.”
Who is this keenly perceptive religious pundit? Well, his name is Steve McSwain. You can add the title “Dr.” if you like; that’s what the Huff-Po does. For some twenty years he served as pastor to a number of churches, but now it seems he has moved on to bigger and better things. Huff-Po touts him as a “Human Potential Guide, Interfaith Ambassador, Spiritual Teacher, Counselor to Congregations, and Fundraising Executive.”
In his most recent column he reflects back to the old days when he was a “young minister,” a time in which he says “almost everyone” misinterpreted the gospel story about Jesus turning over the tables of the moneychangers, many of these poor, confused Christians, he tells us, construing it as a prohibition against fundraising for the church.
“Bake sales were discouraged. Spaghetti dinners as youth fundraisers, as well as church wide yard sales, were almost universally condemned,” he asserts.
In my 60-plus years on this earth I have never met a single Christian who expressed to me the view that the story of Jesus and the moneychangers forbade the holding of church bake sales, but be that as it may–McSwain’s views on what the gospels relate about the encounter in the Temple that day will probably strike you as a bit rambling and inconsistent.
On the one hand, he says, “Jesus was infuriated over what had become a very corrupt religious system.” True enough! But then he goes into a description about how the Jerusalem Temple was divided into separate sections for men, women, and non-Jews–and then proceeds to conflate that with modern-day church congregations in which some members, based upon how much money they toss into the collection plate, are valued, or ostensibly valued, above others.
“Almost every church I enter these days declares, for example, ‘Everyone is welcome here,’” he says, and then adds: “Look around, however, as I do, and you’ll likely want to ask, ‘Really?’”
The point he seems to be trying to make is that the poor, misunderstood, tossed-out-on-their-cans moneychangers are in reality commoners. They’re just like the rest of us! They really shouldn’t be looked down upon!
It’s an obfuscation (seemingly deliberate) of the central point of the gospel story and the rather obvious implications it has for the world we live in today–a world in which bankers are able to loot the economy, print fiat money out of thin air, and get bailed out by the taxpayers when, as happens every so often due to their own lust and greed, they find themselves in a tad bit of a financial bind.
So in other words, the moneychangers are equated with the poorer church members who show up for Sunday morning worship services but can’t afford to put a $5000 check in the collection plate–this seems to be McSwain’s logic. But then the Huffington Post’s officially-designated “spiritual teacher” takes it all a step further by adding a bizarre twist.
The words “The Day Jesus Threw God Out of Church” are found not just in the title, but are repeated three additional times throughout the body of the commentary. McSwain is using a literary device known as a syllogism. If, a) Jesus threw the moneychangers out of the temple, and, b) Jesus threw God out of the temple, then it stands to reason that, c) the moneychangers must be God. This seems to be the point he is trying to make–or at least the conclusion he hopes to lead the reader to–and the Huffington Post evidently is happy to allow him to do so.
On Friday, September 16, I invited McSwain to engage in a discussion with me on this issue. By Monday, the 19th, he still had not responded.
A little more on McSwain shortly, but allow me, if you will, a momentary diversion.
Christianity is not only ridiculous and repugnant. It is also deeply dishonest.
The above words were written by Gregory A. Clark, an associate professor at the University of Utah, and published September 10 in an op-ed piece in the Salt Lake City Tribune. Suppose Clark had said the same thing, only substituting the word “Christianity” with “Judaism”? How long do you suppose he would have kept his cushy university job?
Clark’s acrimonious but cowardly outpouring is focused on the Catholic Church’s recent elevation to sainthood of Mother Teresa–but in essence his screed is an attack on Christianity as a whole. He doesn’t bother to mention the numerous sex scandals at Jewish yeshivas or rabbis who have been arrested on child sexual abuse charges; the Jewish counselor in Brooklyn who was convicted of molesting a young girl he had counseled over a period of years; the similar case of a Jewish psychiatrist in Calgary; or the rabbis such as Britain’s Ephraim Padwa, who have told child sex abuse victims never to report their molesters to the police–none of this is mentioned by Clark. Ah, but he does harp plenty upon similar scandals which have rocked the Catholic Church.
“The reality is that the priests really did rape altar boys. And the reality is God didn’t stop them,” he says. A bit later he adds:
Christianity is not only ridiculous and repugnant. It is also deeply dishonest. No reasonable earthly father would allow his children to be raped, if he could readily intervene to stop it. No reasonable person would praise an earthly father who willfully let such rapes occur.
But substitute “Heavenly Father” for “earthly father,” and now His faithful supplicants shout, “Laus Deo!”
Since God didn’t stop the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church (or in Jewish yeshivas for that matter) then there must not be a God. I have no problem with atheists expressing their views. What I have a low tolerance for is hypocrisy. Christianity in its earliest years was an offshoot of Judaism–which means (at least theoretically) that Christians and Jews worship the same God. But where Christians tolerate insults to their faith, Jews do not. And Jews presently hold power in America. This is something most Americans are conscious of on some level, including, I would dare say, professor Clark. Perhaps at some point Clark will publish a column expressing similar disdain for Judaism, but of course I’m not going to hold my breath. In the meantime, I suppose about all I can do is pity any students who sign up for his classes at the University of Utah.
Like McSwain with the Huffington Post, Clark has a regular column in the Salt Lake City Tribune. Both writers, in their respective ways, are providing useful fodder in what is in essence a war against Christianity. The only difference is that one attacks the faith from without, while the other undermines it from within.
In his piece in the Huffington Post, McSwain asserts the following:
Jesus would hardly need to throw anybody out of church today. They’re leaving the church on their own. And, actually, for many of the same reasons.
The number of active church members does indeed seem to be declining in America, but it’s not because of Jesus (or anyone else for that matter) throwing anyone out of church. Christian leaders have virtually nothing to say about a host of ills confronting us–they don’t discourse upon the cancer of corruption gripping our nation’s political leadership; they seem to have no grasp on the problem of the pro-Israel lobby; they’re mum on the subject of the global banksters and the endless wars they have financed…while discussion on the wars themselves is reduced largely down to saying a prayer for the troops and leaving it at that.
Church pastors do a good job of visiting people in hospitals and presiding at weddings and funerals, but by failing to “connect the dots,” and by eliminating any discussion on why the nation is in the diseased state it’s currently in, they have managed to render the Christian faith irrelevant for the most part to increasing numbers who might otherwise find something meaningful in it.
Spirituality is certainly the way out of the morass in which we presently find ourselves, but it has to be a spirituality that is meaningful, and that moves people in powerful ways. This is the kind of Christian leadership–these are the kind of church leaders–we direly need in America today.