I-Dollar-ity

I-Dollar-ity from Shutterstock

I see a strange kind of Christianity around us.

I am not a Christian. But I know a thing or two about Christianity, having learned it at the feet of figures like Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Desmond Tutu, and Latin American liberation theologians.  The Jesus that I have come to see—and love—is the Christ who suffers not just for the poor, but with the poor, with the marginalized, with the immigrants and the strangers and the ostracized.

And this is why I see a strange kind of Christianity around.

I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the Market.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the Nation.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the Empire.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the Unearned Privilege.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the myth of individualism.
I see a strange kind of Christianity, cozy with the myth of American Exceptionalism.

I am not a Christian, though I wonder where is the Jesus that I have come to know–and love.

Joel Osteen and the Gospel of Prosperity

Joel Osteen and the Gospel of Prosperity Joel Osteen Ministries.

I watch in horror Christian preachers talk about how God wants you to be “blessed” with faith, wealth, health, and victory.  And I wonder about the poor and the homeless, and where they fit into this false gospel of prosperity.  I wonder about the mothers and fathers holding the hands of their cancer-stricken children in the hospital.   I wonder about the mothers and fathers whose children cannot afford to be in the hospital, because they have no health insurance.  I wonder about the immigrants and strangers who are cut off from their loved ones on the other side of a border.

I wonder if these preachers of the “gospel of prosperity” would describe these folks as being bereft of God’s blessing.  I wonder what the Jesus that I know would say to these preachers selling the gospel of wealth and prosperity.

I wonder about the Jesus that I know, who comes out of the Jewish Prophetic tradition, and wonder what he would have to say to those who sell this combination of capitalism, individualism, and a Marketized Christianity?    I wonder if he wouldn’t be kicking them out of the temple as he chased the moneychangers out of Temple in the bible.

If God wants you to be rich, are the poor un-“Blessed”?

If I care for the poor… If I ask why are there poor people?

If I care for the poor… If I ask why are there poor people? widely shared on social media.

If these preachers tell us again and again to take the Bible literally, I wonder why they are not taking the Bible literally when the first time we meet Jesus as Christ, he is talking about coming to liberate:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He has anointed me
 to preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.”

This is the Christ that I know.  I know this Jesus as one who comes to heal the brokenhearted, to liberate those who are imprisoned and under occupation, to bring the evangel to the poor.   And the good news he brings is not that they are going to move up in the tax bracket.

The good news is that the kingdom of God is here at hand.
The good news is that Jesus brings both redemption from sin and the restoration of justice into this kingdom here and now.

The Christ that I know would stand with the poor, not just bleeding for them, but here to liberate, to restore dignity and nobility to the poor and the marginalized and the downtrodden, to the immigrants and the strangers.

Jesus crucified against background of money

Jesus crucified against background of money from Shutterstock

What does the Christ who dwells among us have to say to a society in which the top 1% owns 42% of the wealth?  What does that Jesus who loves the poor have to say to a nation where 400 individuals own more than the bottom 150 million?     Would he not say, as he does in the Gospel according to St. Matthew that:

And again I say unto you,
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,
than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
[Matthew 19:24]

Why are we told to take the bible literally, except when it comes to these verses that serve as a condemnation of those who possess wealth in an almost obscene concentration?

Every time I see a Joel Osteen selling a product called “The Lord Gives”, I remember that the bible promises not only that the Lord Gives, but also that the same Lord Taketh Away:

“Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither.
The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Don’t tell me and don’t sell me that the Lord Gives, without also telling me that the Lord Takes Away.

The God that we know is the God of the sunlit mountaintop and the God of the desolate valleys.
The God that we know is the God of heartaches, and the God of healing.

I am not a Christian, but I know that God is to be found in both the resurrected Christ and the puddle of blood at the bottom of the Cross.

God is to be found in both the triumph and in the suffering.

Christ driving the Traders from the Temple

Christ driving the Traders from the Temple from Wikipedia

Give me the real God, a God that acknowledges suffering and redeems, instead of the God of the Market, the false God of higher tax brackets, the God of the good times.

Shatter the idol of false gods, the golden calf of the Market-god, the Nation-god, the wealth-god, the health-god, the drive-through-god, and give me the real God.

I see a strange kind of Christianity.
I see a strange kind of Islam.
I see a strange kind of Judaism.
I see a strange kind of religion.

May we see through the false idols and deluded preachers, and be willing to find God through sacrifice and the need for radical personal and communal transformation.

41 Comments

    • Anon Christian

      Amen, when I heard on a commercial that God wants me to be rich, I shuddered. What kind of false Christianity teaches this? Where is the Christ that cleansed the temple of money changers? And to some commenters, Muslims may not see Jesus as the son of God, but they still see him as a prophet of God. Muslims also study and respect Jesus. Let us be true Christians and show respect to all humans no matter their chosen path to God.

      • Very well said. Not even being a believer of any faith I recognize that every major religion is the same!! They have differences of course but the underlying message of them all is being good, treating others well, helping those in need. If anything people who believe in any religion need to unite for people like me who do not believe. While I would never try to convince a believer of any religion they were wrong, I could see how being a believer and showing another and having them believe would be powerful. I have effected this person for as long as they live, very powerful reason to try to promote your faith. Thank you for your well thought comment, one I believe in.

    • Since he said he is not a Christian, he could not possibly know anything about it, except for his own opinions. Let him keep,”watching in horror…” as he mantains….like all the rest of the infamous ignoramous ” critics” that litter the internet….and remain ignorant…and very stupid also.

      • ….I don’t mean to sound demeaning, but spiritual ignorance keeps this world from realizing the inheritance available in Christ in every way….but this man does not even believe that Christ is God as a Muslim, so how can he give views on what he thinks Jesus would do or IS doing in people’s lives? Spiritual blindness is spiritual blindness..and only The Holy Spirit can teach….and mature…..

        • Did you read the article? The author uses numerous passages of scripture to defend his argument. I don’t think he is the one struggling with “ignorance” and “stupidity”. Using your logic, since you are not Muslim, you could not “possibly know anything about it”.

      • Ad hominem argument.

        He is a Muslim, therefore his argument cannot be taken at face value?
        Any comment on what he actually said or how it relates to your own religious faith? No. Just childish insults.

      • Your statement that, since he is not a Christian, he could not know anything about it is just plain illogical and absurd. He has demonstrated an excellent understanding of a current problem in Christianity, one that has consequences for all of America, as Economic Calvinism has taken over the Republican Party, and is driving a move to not only not help the poor, the sick, the elderly, the children and more, but to do them actual harm.

        • M.B.’s rather ignorant argument ignores the fact that Muslims also incorporate the New Testament into their scriptures.

          Its akin to saying a Christian has no business talking about the Old Testament since it is not the part of the Bible they take as the most serious one.

  1. I agree with much of what you have to say about the wrong emphasis of the “health & wealth gospel.” Nevertheless, I find this criticism ironic coming from someone who follows Islam. I know that special taxes on Christians in some Islam-dominated lands have a purpose of ensuring that Christians not prosper economically. I can’t imagine your thinking that such Muslim policies are in place to help Christians acheive the humility to which Christ called us all. But your blog post, in light of these Muslim practices, gives room to think that.

    David Moore
    On Twitter @Moore_DavidL

    • Mohammad Magout

      I don’t know of any Muslim country that currently imposes taxes on Christians. This is a historical practice that disappeared long time ago. If you would like to compare this practice with Christian countries, then you should go back few hundreds of year, and see that Christians (and Jews) prospered under Muslim rule much better than did the Jews, for example, under Christian rule during the same period of time. I’m talking here historically and not making any argument about the current conditions of Christians in some Muslim countries who suffer discrimination in other areas.

      • Islamic countries that are not secular in their government are fairly uniform in discriminating in one way or another against Christians. If you look into it, you should find that countries that have instituted Sharia, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, apply a dhimmi tax on Christians. Seems to me I recall Islamic forces in Egypt recently imposing dhimmi taxes on Christians in the areas they controlled.

        One would think that Muslims should trust God to show that his people have his blessing without their having to practice descrimination and unequal justice.

        David Moore

        • Dear David,

          They paid the tax but were exempt of many social responsibilities, such as the military service, which was terrible and lasted long years. More importantly, the richest people in the last three hundred years of the Ottoman Empire were non-Muslims. The “religious freedom” of minorities was used to intervene in the politics of the empire, to dominate and exploit it in all means. Things changed very little. You mention of Egypt, dramatically unaware of how the US supported a coup (killing hundreds, wounding thousands, costing millions of dollars) with the same pretext of protecting religious minorities. Ridiculously ignorant. We should know this political & historical background to understand the contemporary problems of religious minorities unfortunately seen as a threat in many countries. Mostly western political intervention creates these sufferings, reproducing your weird arguments.

          “Islamic countries are not secular” is an oxymoron. If a country is ruled with reference to religion, then it is of course not secular. If you mean “Muslim-majority countries,” then you will find that many of them have secular systems!

          Most disappointing is your usage of the term “Muslims,” while Omid is so careful and respectful to distinguish various interpretations of Christianity. There are many things that we can attribute to Christianity, but we know that the world is not black and white. How is your world, David?

          • Dear Sleepless:

            The references I gave were contemporary; it might have been more pertinent if you had considered how Christians are treated under such contemporary regimes.

            About the situation in Egypt: if the coup there was engineered by Western powers, it’s news to me. To tell the truth, I’ve been rather disappointed with the effects that the US’s (my country’s) mideast policies have had on Christian communities in the area. Their wellfare seems to have been relegated to secondary or tertiary importance.

            I know there are different streams within Islam and that it is not monolithic. But is there an Islamic state or a land of islamic majority where Christianity is not supressed, and where Christians are not descriminated against? I would like to say that I have heard Islamic voices calling for Muslims to refrain from targeting non-combatant Christians, but churches are attacked in Nigeria and wells are blinded with the bodies of Cristian civilians in Syria, and if there are voices among Muslims which decry such works of Cain, thy are not audible to the rest of us. I would like to hear such voices; it would give me reason to hope that our differences are family differences that will one day be resolved.

      • > I don’t know of any Muslim country that currently imposes taxes on Christians.

        Unless by “taxes” you mean rape, pillage, imprisonment, murder and burning down Christian churches… In which case, there are quite a few Muslim countries which “tax” Christians.

  2. This article is absolutely deceptive. God absolutely wants his children to prosper and He has already provided for that. The problem is not God, but our choices. We make wrong choices mostly because we don’t know better. What kind of father wont’s his children to live in despair. Certainty suffering, poverty, sickness are all real. But its sad that God gets the credit for something he has nothing to do with. We should seek God first and we won’t fall for these deceptive lies Omid has written in his article. He just needs to know Jesus.

    God Bless

    • So, your copy of the Bible does not have in it the passages that Professor Safi quoted? Or how about this one: From Matthew 19:21 ‘Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ Does your Bible have that one?

      You confuse being poor in material goods with despair.

      More critically, you say that God has nothing to do with the evils of the world. Wow. I guess you have not read Job or Jonah.

  3. I am a Christian. I listen to Joel O often. I find his sermons to be both inspirational and bible-based. What he is doing for people is amazing. He delivers a message from Christ, he offers hope, he is non-judgmental.

    I have no dreams of God providing me huge homes, big cars, diamonds and things. And I do believe God wants us all to prosper in our own ways. I interpret the blessings from God to be so many other things such as inner peace, love for others, kindness, happiness, contentment with what I have, and other non-material things.

    While some may interpret “blessings” to mean material things, that is not how many interpret the blessings. I will not criticize a man who brings such glory to God and hope to people. He does far more to heal and help mankind than so many others.

    Lyn R

  4. Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?

  5. Wow. Sometimes I feel that educated non-Christians know more about Jesus than some people who profess to be Believers.

    Let’s remember how much Paul suffered in his time preaching the gospel. About how profuse his suffering was. remember when Paul speaks of the awful “thorn in his side” causing him anguish? read 2 Corinthians 12:5-10. But he accepts that if God so chooses to allow this pain in order to fulfill a purpose then Paul accepts that. Paul states in Philippians 4:11-13 that he has learned how to be content in all things whether RICH or POOR or HUNGRY or FULL because we can do ALL things through Christ. James as well talks about finding joy through trials and suffering, and how determined he was to “count it all joy” (see James 1:2-8).

    It doesn’t say in the Bible anywhere that God just wants us to be happy and rich. We need to take up our cross and follow Jesus, whatever that means for each of us, and it will require sacrifice, and it will produce persecution, but God is with us, and the Holy Spirit inside us, so we need not fear.

    Christ is Lord! Woooooo!

    • It is written there is a time to be sad and a time to be joyfull, there is a time to be sick and a time to be heathly…

      All things come from God, yes it is difficult for a rich to get in heaven, but the author forgot something here.

      after saying this: And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. [Matthew 19:24]

      He said but nothing is impossible for GOD, if you realllllllllllyyyyy know the bible, you understand than a lot of rich people won’t go to heaven but only a small amount of them. It’s depends on what you do with your money.

      Salomon, David were very rich man, too.

      And Joel is not saying you have to earn more than 1 million per year to receive grace for God.

      His own mother had the Cancer. A lot of people who are born very poor become weathly with the faith. Of course it’s difficult, because you are use to your condition. Joel teaches this also. He teaches than in wathever condition you are, if you believe you can receive God mercy.

      The author seems to focus only on money….

  6. ” What does that Jesus who loves the poor have to say to a nation where 400 individuals own more than the bottom 150 million? ” He has nothing to say to the nation. He would have much to say to the 400. I hold that if you truly were more concerned with Christ and his teachings, you would be more concerned for the souls of the 400 than for the bottom half of society whose wealth pales in comparison. This article is another sidewinding attack on America by another envious socialist. The fact that he uses the name of Jesus in this thinly disguised assault is despicable. The unspoken premise is that individuals should be permitted to own nothing. The problem with that premise is that someone must enforce the redistribution of wealth. Has Stalin been dead long enough for us to actually buy this trash?

  7. Thomas Palmieri

    Yes, Jesus would decry the false gospel of materialism that is preached in so many American ‘Christian’ assemblages. But Jesus was not a liberal. He would also have warned about the flip side of the coin, sexual immorality, abortion, divorce, blasphemy against the holiness of God rampant in the popular culture, all of the ‘liberal’ sins that are equally on display in our modern culture. Western Europe has all of the social programs that Mr. Safi equates with the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, but they have almost lost their faith entirely. Is that the kind of society that Jesus wanted for mankind?

    • It’s immaterial. Salvation isn’t granted to nations, but individuals. Though you are factually correct, by answering this way you play right into the author’s hands: you give credence to the idea that government can force us into being worthy of eternal life. When we stand before God, we won’t be asked which system we lived under or if we voted for our neighbor to pay higher taxes.

  8. I don’t see anything in the scriptures saying God doesn’t want his people to prosper, but I see a lot said about “the love of money” falling into the realm of idolatary. There is nothing “evil” about money, but to worship it is wrong. How are we to help the poor if we are ourselves, poor and needy?

    Rightly dividing the Word of God involves placing proper emphasis on the right things in their context. I don’t see that being done in this article, it’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

  9. Jesus said (Mt. 19:21), “If you would be perfect, go sell all that you have and come follow Me.”

    What in that command does one in this blog not understand? Olsteen’s nonsense about wealth accumulation and the good life as Christ’s message is metaphysical crap.

    Again, Christ said, “Take up your cross and come follow Me.” (Lk. 9:23) There is nothing in the notion of cross that implies or indicates good times, good eats, good sex, good buddies.

    I didn’t write the Gospels, and I didn’t say what Christ said. I am just telling you what’s in those Gospels which recorded His teaching, with the citations provided.

    The notion of Christian life being a way to happy days, summer nights, and breezy feelings is totally false, and never what Christ promised for this life.

    Period.

  10. Given that Mr. Safi espouses a religion in which the disparity between rich and poor is astounding, I find his critique of Christianity self-serving, to say the least.

    That’s not to say he’s totally off the mark on all counts. There is nothing contradictory with being wealthy and a Christian. What is contradictory is accumulation of wealth for wealth’s sake, cheating others to enrich ourselves, and well as placing worldly goods before God. However, those of us who’ve been granted success must do what we can to share it with those who cannot help themselves (note: this does not mean those who WILL not help themselves — there’s a big difference).

    God wants us to use the talents he has given us to their fullest extent. But from those to whom much is given, much is expected, God does not wish everyone to be poor (in the Beatitudes, he said, “Blessed be the poor in spirit”). He does want us to share the wealth he has given us (on our own, not at the mandate of a government). This is a vital part of Christianity.

  11. Krissy Doiron

    I am not a Christian either, but I absolutely believe in the value of following the teachings of Jesus. In the Christian Bible there are over 300 references that clearly show God’s view on the poor, on poverty, on wealth, and the responsibilities expected of any who claim to worship Him. Here are just a few:

    Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.

    Prov. 31:8ff. [Commandment to kings.] Open your mouth for the dumb, for the rights of all the unfortunate. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and defend the rights of the afflicted and needy.

    Ezek. 16:49ff. “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”
    Is. 10:1-3. “Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who continually record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights… Now what will you do in the day of punishment, and in the devastation which will come from afar?”

    Luke 1:52ff. [Mary’s Magnificat.] “He has brought down rulers from their thrones, and has exalted those who were hungry. He has filled the hungry with good things; and sent away the rich empty-handed.”

    Ezek. 22:29,31. “The people of the land have practiced oppression and committed robbery, and they have wronged the poor and needy and have oppressed the sojourner without justice… Thus I have poured out My indignation on them; I have consumed them with the fire of My wrath; their way I have brought upon their heads,” declares the Lord GOD.

    Jer. 5:28f. “[The wicked] do not plead the cause, the cause of the orphan, that they may prosper; and they do not defend the rights of the poor. Shall I not punish these people?” declares the LORD. “On such a nation as this, shall I not avenge myself?”

    Prov. 29:7. The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor; the wicked does not understand such concern.

    1 John 3:17. But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

    Is. 58:10. “And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the LORD will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail.”

    Luke 14:12-14. “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and repayment come to you. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

    Luke 12:44. “Sell your possessions and give alms; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

    Luke 3:11. And [John the Baptist] would answer and say to them, “Let the man with two tunics share with him who has none, and let him who has food do likewise.”

    Mt. 5:42. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

    Prov. 19:17. He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.

    Prov. 14:31. He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.

    Mt. 25:31-46. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. And all the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on His left.
    Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’
    Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’
    And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
    Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’
    Then they themselves will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’
    Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

    And to the author:
    Matt. 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers,For they shall be called sons of God.” and
    Al-Baqarah 2:277 “Surely those who believe and do pious acts and establish Prayer and pay Zakat regularly have their reward with their Lord. And they will neither fear nor grieve.
    May God’s grace and blessings shine upon you, Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

  12. Hey, nice post. But I have a question for you, or for any Islamic or Muslim believer. I understand your views towards Jesus Christ are simply that he was a prophet of God, so how do you explain the miracles he did; like the sight to the blind man, the ability to walk to the crippled man, the feeding of thousands off of a few bread and fish alone, the death and resurrection from the grave? These types of things would certainly seem to convince someone that just maybe he WAS the Son of God almighty, but what’s your take on these things?

  13. Very well written and put out! I’m Christian and I agree that Jesus did not guarantee wealth. We don’t need to be super wealthy on this Earth, but spiritually wealthy, but general human needs should be guaranteed. I’m surprised that you’re not a Christian because you believe that “the good news is that the kingdom of God is here at hand. The good news is that Jesus brings both redemption from sin and the restoration of justice into this kingdom here and now.”? Any clarification on this? I’m just confused because it seems that you really believe in the Lord and what Jesus has done for humankind.

    • Omid Safi

      Dear Sidney, thank you for your kind words. My love and respect for Jesus is based on both my years of study of the Christian tradition, and just as importantly on my own faith as a Muslim, which demands respect for Christ. May God bless you.

  14. The truth is we cannot raise the good children of God when we are affluent because wealth spoils children. To raise the good children of God we must avoid wealth and live a simple life in poverty while teaching our children about the Bible in a focus manner without the many distractions created by wealth. This is the very reason I see why Jesus wants us to be poor because Jesus Himself is raise by His parents in poverty.

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