Calling Out False Teaching

David Jeremiah’s book, Where Do We Go From Here, promises to reveal what the Word of God says about the times in which we live. The first chapter (A Cultural Philosophy – Socialism) aims to explain the dangers of socialism and how socialism differs from the way Jesus wants us to live.

The selected scripture for this chapter is a quote from Jesus about the times of Noah. The Bible tells us that in the days of Noah, people were so wicked and the human heart was so inclined towards evil that God wiped out most of the human race with a great flood.

As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.

Matthew 24:37 (NIV)

Jeremiah also shared the first verse of 2 Timothy 3 about the terrible times of the end days. Apparently, in Jeremiah’s mind, difficult times can only mean one thing – socialism. He says, “socialism creates great stress and trouble, difficult days that are hard to bear.” In verses 2-5, Paul describes the way people will be in these terrible times – self-loving, greedy, proud, disobedient, hedonistic, etc.

It’s illogical to conclude that Jesus or Paul were speaking about socialism.

1But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NIV)

I am not an advocate of socialism; I am merely a defender of fairness and truth. I take issue with the truthfulness and fairness of Jeremiah’s teaching because his comments about socialism are not supported by scripture, he presents only one side of a complex economic issue, and makes unsupported, disparaging claims about people who want government to play a more active role in society.

Jeremiah does not directly define socialism but in discussing wealth redistribution, he says, “[t]his ideology teaches that all human assets should be claimed by the government and redistributed to the masses by a more equitable formula.”

Socialism is defined as an economic and political philosophy that advocates for collective or government ownership of the means of production and distribution of goods (not all human assets). This contrasts with capitalism, in which trade and industry are owned privately for profit.

The U. S. system of capitalism mixed with government ownership of some assets is all I have ever known. The government owns roads and bridges, some utilities, the US Postal Service, law enforcement agecies and the national defense industry. To the consternation of conservatives, the government provides a safety net for the poor and disabled. Under the Obama administration, the government made health insurance more affordable for people like me who are not covered by employer plans.

Jeremiah claims that socialism demands a “one-world system.” I had never heard this claim. Is Jeremiah peddling conspiracy theories? Well perhaps. He does sell a video, The Coming of the Economic Armageddon/The New World Order.

After discussing socialism, Jeremiah said that America has made a “seismic shift toward a Marxist agenda.” He then listed the reasons Marxism is bad.

1. Marxism is totatalitarian. Since Jeremiah didn’t define the word totalitarian, I will. A totalitarian government does not tolerate different opinions or opposing political parties. It exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life. It can also be described as authoritarian. Hmm. Where have I seen authoritarian tendencies and attempts to suppress opposition?

2. Marxism causes division by setting up classes of people based on race and gender. “Whenever a socialist or Marxist can’t figure out how to respond to an issue, they call it racist.” Examples, please. If David Jeremiah is opposed to people who cause division, then why did he serve on the evangelical advisory board of an authoritarian who caused division by demeaning half the country?

3. Marxism is deadly.  Yes, but the same can be said of other totalitarian systems.

The evidence of America’s supposed turn towards Marxism are:

1. Destruction of monuments. In taking down monuments, Jeremiah says that people are trying to erase the past. No, people are saying America should not honor people who fought for the right to own black people. And isn’t trying to prevent schools from teaching about institutional racism an attempt to erase the past?

2. Cancel culture. Jeremiah says that there is no room for dissenting opinions today. The left isn’t alone in silencing dissenting voices. Look what happened to Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for investigating and speaking out against an attempt to overturn a democratic election. Look at all the books that are being banned because someone finds them offensive.

3. Dismantling of the nuclear family. “Socialists know that as long as the family remains strong, socialism cannot flourish. So there is an ongoing attempt to subjugate the home to the government.” This is an astonishing claim with no proof.

4. Redistribution of wealth. Jeremiah says that when the government redistributes wealth, the poor get poorer and “the few elitists who have been assigned to redistribute the wealth have themselves become filthy rich.” Who are these elitists in charge of wealth redistribution? Graduated tax rates are the method used to redistribute wealth in the U.S. Is Jeremiah saying that IRS officials become filthy rich enforcing the tax codes?

There has always been wealth inequality but the gap between rich and poor is growing. The Pew Research Center reports that “[t]he wealth divide among upper-income families and middle- and lower-income families is sharp and rising.”

As a result, the wealth gap between America’s richest and poorer families more than doubled from 1989 to 2016. In 1989, the richest 5% of families had 114 times as much wealth as families in the second quintile, $2.3 million compared with $20,300. By 2016, this ratio had increased to 248, a much sharper rise than the widening gap in income.

Pew Research Center

5. Defunding the police. Jeremiah says that cutting police budgets will result in “gangs ruling the streets…while progressive politicians go to and from work in their limousines.” It’s rich (pun intended) for a millionaire like Jeremiah to attempt to stir up class resentment against democrats. No one wants gangs to rule the streets but the truth is police are increasingly being called to respond in situations that may be better served by mental health professionals.

Where do we go from here?

Jeremiah concluded the chapter on the dangers of socialism by advising readers to review what the Bible says but he was selective in the verses he shared. He then quoted Dr. Albert Mohler (President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) who listed several valid biblical principles and claimed that socialism contradicts and subverts these principles. In using these scriptures, he implied that socialists do not respect the dignity of work and refuse to work. He implied that socialists are guilty of theft and covetousness. Even in a socialist system, people have to work!

Jeremiah made no mention of the economic principles of Jesus – about how the love of money is the root of evil, about how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, how Christ’s followers should take care of the least among us. No mention was made of Jesus’s challenge to the rich man to sell everything he owned and to give it to the poor.

Since the Obama administration, I have learned that the right loves to use the threat of socialism as a fear tactic. If you disagree with the government providing affordable health insurance, then you call Obama a socialist. If you disagree with the idea of government providing free community college education, then you call its proponents socialists.

Of racism, Jeremiah said, “[i]f everything is racist, nothing is racist ” Well then, if everyone is a socialist, then no one is a socialist. And whenever a Republican can’t figure out how to respond to an issue, they call it socialism.

I had second thoughts about calling out David Jeremiah as a false teacher. It seems audacious. I completed his Bible study on the book of Acts and it was not the least bit political. But in this study, David Jeremiah uses political propaganda and selective scripture to mislead his audience.

Jeremiah’s second piece of advice is to refuse to live by lies. He says that so much of what we hear today “has no connection to common sense” and it’s easier to ignore the lies. As he rightly says, ignoring lies allows falsehoods to continue and even thrive.

Pillars of Caste: Terror and Cruelty

Several months ago, I committed myself to writing about the eight pillars of caste systems identified by Isabel Wilkerson in Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Pillar number seven is one I would prefer not to think about – Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a Means of Control. I abhor the cruel tactics used by dominant castes to exert control over subordinate castes.

The Holocaust and the enslavement of Blacks both provide ample evidence of the dominant caste using its power to cruelly enforce caste hierarchy. To control the subordinate caste, unimaginable horrors were inflicted on human bodies – genocide, kidnapping, starvation, whippings, hanging, branding, rape, etc.

Black slaves were brutally punished for minor infractions or breaches of caste. Wilkerson told the story of a slave owner who criticized a slave for planting a crooked row of corn. When the slave replied by saying that as much corn grows in a crooked row as in a straight one, he was whipped to the brink of death.

Learning to read and write was a breach of the caste system, backed up by anti-literacy laws. Literacy represented power and social mobility. Literacy took away the justification for dehumanizing Blacks. Anyone caught teaching Blacks to read or write was punished. The slave was punished by whipping or amputation.

Making it illegal for black people to learn to read and write reinforced the notion that Africans were inferior to whites. In the antebellum South, literacy was a sign of intellectual development and, potentially, social mobility—in fact, many white southerners were illiterate, so it was imperative to prevent the blacks from learning to read in order to maintain the myth of white supremacy.

Encyclopedia.com, Literacy and Anti-Literacy Laws

It’s hard for me to imagine such cruelty. How can human beings inflict such pain and suffering? How can decent people stand by and do nothing when another person is being tortured?

Evil asks little of the dominant caste other than to sit back and do nothing.

Isabel Wilkerson

Dehumanization (pillar number six) desensitizes people to the pain and suffering caused by inhumane practices. When a human being is seen as less than human, it is easier for some people to excuse cruelty. I personally don’t get it; only a hateful heart callously inflicts pain and suffering.

Wilkerson noted that all civil societies have laws against murder, rape, torture, assault and battery. Yet these acts have been permitted when committed against Black bodies.

Unfortunately, Emancipation did not bring an end to the atrocities inflicted on Blacks in America. Jennifer Rae Taylor, an attorney for the Equal Justice Initiative, wrote an article describing the horrific injustices Blacks faced after Emancipation: A History of Tolerance for Violence Has Laid the Groundwork for Injustice Today.

Often committed in broad daylight and sometimes “on the courthouse lawn,” racial terror lynchings were directly tied to the history of enslavement and the re-establishment of white supremacy after the Civil War. These lynchings were also distinct from hangings and mob violence committed against white people because they were intended to terrorize entire black communities and enforce racial hierarchy.

Jennifer Rae Taylor

Vigilantes targeted Black men, accusing them of sexual assault or other crimes. Blacks “were presumed guilty and dangerous.” Allegations against Blacks were not investigated. Blacks were lynched without the benefit of a trial. Blacks were also lynched for fighting for political and economic equality.

Importantly, these lynchings were not isolated hate crimes committed by rogue vigilantes; they were targeted racial violence perpetrated to uphold an unjust social order. Lynchings were terrorism.

Jennifer Rae Taylor

Reflecting on this pillar of the caste system and America’s history of violence against Blacks helped me understand how we got to where we are today. From the brutal violence inflicted on slaves to vigilante lynchings of innocent black men to violence against Civil Rights activists to the beating of Rodney King by the LAPD, we have a long history of using cruelty and terror to enforce the racial caste hierarchy. Jennifer Rae Taylor helped me see how the “criminalization of black identity” has been used to further dehumanize Blacks and to justify the unjust treatment of Blacks in our criminal justice system.

Pillars of Caste: Dehumanization and Stigma

Isabel Wilkerson rightly described the sixth pillar of caste systems, Dehumanization and Stigma, as a war against the truth, a war against what the eyes can see. It is easy to recognize other members of the human species. Yet human beings have used ethnicity and meaningless physical differences to deprive other fully human beings of the benefits of being fully human.

Dehumanization is the denial of full humanness in others and the cruelty and suffering that accompanies it.

Wikipedia

Dehumanization allows the the perpetrator to avoid the stab of conscience that should come with being cruel to another person. If the marginalized group is seen not as the humans they clearly are but as something less than human, then it becomes easy to justify treating them inhumanely.

David Livingstone Smith says that “thinking of humans as less than human paves the way for atrocity.” Yes, it leads to the horrifying atrocities of slavery and genocide.

The Holocaust epitomized dehumanization. Nazi Germany made Jews their scapegoats, blaming them for the country’s troubles. Their heads were shaved and they were stripped of their clothes, their jewelry, their identities. The bodies of prisoners were tattooed with numbers. They were starved. Their bodies were used for experiments without their consent. They were systematically exterminated, like vermin.

What’s most disturbing about the Nazi phenomenon is not that the Nazis were madmen or monsters. It’s that they were ordinary human beings.

David Livingstone Smith

What’s most disturbing about the enslavement of Africans is that white slave owners were not madmen or monsters. They were ordinary human beings. Slaves were stripped of their given names. Their bodies did not belong to them; they were auctioned off like cattle. Children were taken from their mothers at a young age because they were just another commodity to be sold and put to work. Slaves were not allowed to learn to read. They were not even free to express normal human emotions.

Wilkerson noted that it is difficult to dehumanize an individual but if you dehumanize a group, you dehumanize the individuals in that group. When we dehumanize other people, we deprive them of human qualities like intelligence or personality. When we dehumanize, we deny others their human dignity. When we dehumanize a group of individuals, they become nameless, faceless scapegoats.

When we dehumanize others, we separate ourselves from our own humanity. We stop feeling what humans should feel when another person suffers.

Wilkerson didn’t write about how stigma is used to uphold caste systems. Wikipedia defines social stigma as “the disapproval of, or discrimination against, an individual or group based on perceivable social characteristics that serve to distinguish them from other members of a society.”

Blacks have been freed from the dehumanization of slavery but they have not escaped the stigma of being Black in America. Laura Cathcart Robbins wrote an article, A White Woman Told Me She Doesn’t ‘Think Of’ Me As Black. When a white woman said that to Robbins, she thought to herself: Do you imagine that affluence trumps race out there in the real world? Because honestly, it is the other way around. Despite her success, Robbins has been stigmatized and called nigger because she is black.

Even people who are not of African descent are not free from the stigma of being a person of color in America. Amelia Zachry, an immigrant from Malaysia, wrote about a racist incident she experienced at a restaurant in Kentucky: A Man Spit On My Toddler And Called Her The N-Word. He walked away, “oblivious to the inaccuracy of the insult.” Zachry did not retaliate against the man, saying “I would have been the angry Black woman who doesn’t even self-identify as Black.” Does it matter that she doesn’t even identify as Black? Of course not. People who do identify as Black do not deserve to be treated as subhuman.

It is disturbing to read about the cruelties and atrocities that result when human beings see other human beings as less than human. It disturbs me because I am fully human and have the capacity to empathize. But I think it is important to face the horrific things human beings have done to each other (and continue to do to each other) so we don’t forget our capacity for evil. It starts with treating someone as “other.” It starts with blaming and shaming and stigmatizing.

In this war against the truth of what the eyes can see and what the heart can feel if we let it, be the one who defends the dignity of fellow human beings.

Pillars of Caste: Occupational Hierarchy

Isabel Wilkerson began her discussion of the fifth pillar of caste systems by comparing the bottom tier to a mudsill. The mudsill, or “sill plate,” is the first layer of wood installed on top of the foundation wall. The floors and walls and everything else that makes a house are built on top of the mudsill.

In a caste system, the mudsill is the bottom caste that everything else rests upon.

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

Wilkerson quoted James Henry Hammond, a U.S. senator from South Carolina, who said (in 1858): “In all social systems, there must be a class to do the menial duties, to perform the drudgery of life. That is a class requiring but a low order of intellect and but little skill.” Hammond described this low class as “the mud-sill of society.” He said that blacks are an inferior race and that being made slaves was actually an elevation over the status “in which God first created them…”

Hammond was a monster. But as Wilkerson noted, he gave voice to the economic reasoning behind a caste system that was initially based on slavery. Well into the twentieth century, Blacks did the hard, dirty, menial work that Whites didn’t want to do.

As Wilkerson wrote in chapter four of Caste, this is a long-running play. “The actors wear the costumes of their predecessors and inhabit the roles assigned to them…The roles become sufficiently embedded into the identity of the players that the leading man or woman would not be expected so much as to know the names or take notice of the people in the back, and there would be no reason for them to do so. Stay in the roles long enough, and everyone begins to believe that the roles are preordained, that each cast member is best suited by talent and temperament for their assigned role, and maybe for only that role, that they belong there and were meant to be cast as they are currently seen.”

It makes me sad to think about the millions of Black bodies and souls abused by the American caste system. It is a shame that so much human potential has been squandered because of occupational discrimination. I feel for Blacks who have been denied equal opportunities because of our caste system.

When I think about some of the jobs I had before I earned my degree, I am very grateful that I was not pigeonholed into a role that didn’t fit my talents and interests. Even though I was poor, no one expressed doubt that I could be anything I wanted to be.

While more roles are open to Blacks today, thanks in part to the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, progress has been very slow. Blacks are still underrepresented in managerial or white-collar jobs. Whites still act surprised when they hear that a black person is enrolled at an elite university or that a Black person occupies a role dominated by whites.

My company and many others have launched diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in response to the racial unrest of 2020. I hope that these efforts bear fruit. I commit to listening to people of color and to acknowledging the ways Whites have kept Blacks on the lowest rung of the ladder.

Why aren’t black employees getting more white-collar jobs?

Barriers for Black Professionals

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Photo by Josh Miller on Unsplash

Pillars of Caste: Purity versus Pollution

I continue to reflect on the eight supporting pillars of caste systems described by Isabel Wilkerson in Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. The fourth pillar, Purity versus Pollution, is based on the belief in the purity of the dominant caste and impurity of lower castes. This belief causes the dominant caste to take extreme measures to ensure that it is not polluted by lower castes, including physical segregation, excluding the lower caste from public places, denial of citizenship, etc.

It is upsetting to read about the ways white people have historically enforced racial purity. I can only imagine how difficult and dehumanizing it was to be on the receiving end. “All private and public human activities were segregated, from birth to death…” White and black school kids studied from separate sets of textbooks, blacks were prohibited from drinking from the water fountains used by white people, schools and hospital wards were segregated. “In southern court rooms, even the word of God was segregated.” Whites and blacks swore to tell the truth on separate bibles.

Well into the twentieth century, African-Americans were banned from white beaches and lakes and pools, both north and south, lest they pollute them, just as Dalits were forbidden from the waters of the Brahmins, and Jews from Aryan waters in the Third Reich.

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

Since water is often used as a symbol of purity, Wilkerson wrote about America’s history of using “the sanctity of water” to keep white people from being polluted by blacks. In 1919, a black boy in Chicago was stoned and drowned for inadvertently breaching the boundary that separated the white swimming beach from the black one. The town of Newton, Kansas went to court to keep African Americans from using the pool it built in 1935. The town argued that white people wouldn’t go into water that had touched black skin. The state supreme court sided with the town and the public pool continued to exclude blacks until 1951.

In 1951, Al Bright, the only black player on a little league team in Youngstown, Ohio, was not allowed to celebrate at the city pool with his teammates after the team won the city championship. Eventually, a lifeguard agreed to let him in the pool, but only after all the white people got out. A lifeguard pushed the boy around the pool on a raft, telling him “don’t touch the water,” while a hundred or so people watched from the sidelines. He never forgot this humiliating experience.

How did America get to point of treating black people as “untouchables?” Wilkerson described the American caste system as an accelerated system because it is relatively young compared to India’s caste system. America’s founders used the biblical account of Noah cursing Ham as justification for placing Africans in the bottom caste, then “they shaped the upper caste as they went along.” The United States based its caste system on racial absolutism, a “hierarchy of trace amounts.”

Even a drop of African, Asian, or Native American blood would taint the purity of a person who would otherwise be accepted as European and would disqualify the person from being admitted to the dominant caste. Wilkerson wrote that Louisiana had a law on the books as recently as 1983 defining a negro as having more than 1/32 negro blood. Louisiana further defined its sub-castes based on the percentage of African blood – mulatto, quadroon, etc.

Many people who are considered white today would not have been deemed white by America’s founders. In 1790, Congress restricted citizenship to “free white persons.” But whiteness had not been defined. Immigration and marriage laws were used to control who could be in the dominant caste. Immigrants from Ireland, Germany, Italy, and Poland were not considered white enough.

Wilkerson also discussed “the trials of the middle castes” or “the race to get under the white tent.” Because the rewards of citizenship and the privileges of the upper caste were extended to people who met the definition of white, immigrants from Asia or India tried to qualify as white because their skin was white.

No matter what route a borderline applicant took to gain acceptance, the caste system shape-shifted to keep the upper caste pure by its own terms. What a thin, frayed thread held the illusion together.

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

Another point Wilkerson made about caste purity is that the dominant caste has constantly worked to keep the lowest caste on the bottom. “Well into the civil rights era, the caste system excluded African-Americans from the daily activities of the general public in the South, the region where most of them lived.” The exclusion of African Americans “was used to justify their exclusion. Their degraded station justified their degradation.”

I am disgusted with America’s history of treating people with dark skin as impure. Only hypocrites consider themselves pure because of the color of their container. What matters is not the purity of your blood but the purity of your heart.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Matthew 23:27-28

As I read about these pillars of caste, the fact that some of these supports have crumbled tempts me to take comfort. I’ve never heard anyone say that the slavery of Africans was God’s will. Interracial marriages are no longer prohibited. We’re making progress in the fight against racism, aren’t we? But the last decade or so has shown me that we have a long way to go. The toxins are still there.

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Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash