For the Roman Church, it was the French Revolution. For the Orthodox Church, it was the Russian Revolution. Whose revolution will be the temporary undoing of the Conservative Protestant Church?
Only time will tell but repeated historical mistakes occurring in America are causing some to shout, 'Spoiler Alert"! "Spoiler Alert"! What are those historical mistakes?
For both the Roman and the Orthodox Churches, the problem was the behavior of their best friends. Their best friends were those with wealth and power. In France, the clergy made up the First Estate and, in parliamentary proceedings, they had the back of the aristocracy. Note that just prior to the French Revolution, the aristocracy had the tax burden transferred almost totally onto the backs of rest of the populace even though France was already struggling with problems stemming from a high national debt.
Note the Orthodox Church had been under the control of the Tsars for a long time. In addition, close to the 1917 Russian Revolution, the clergy supported the Tsar's policies that so hurt much of the populace, but created and benefited the Capitalists who first took over for the Tsar in February of 1917. It wasn't until that October that the Bolsheviks took control, an event that triggered a civil war.
There were a couple of other factors here. Realize the difference in attitudes that the predecessor to the Bolsheviks, the Social Democrats, had toward the Church in 1905 (click here and read part 1 of Luxemburg's article on Socialism and the churches) from what the Bolsheviks had. And we should note the clergy's attitude toward the Social Democrats despite the fact that, according to Luxemburg, the Social Democrats did not speak against the clergy.
We should also note that, according to Orthodox Church sources, the Church had been somewhat prepared for the Revolution and some of the clergy was discontent with the current regime because of how it controlled the Church--a view that seems not to fully coincide with what Luxemburg observed. However, we should note that in 1918, the head of the Russian Church criticized the government for how it withdrew from WW I. That criticism followed a Bolshevik decree that took away the legal rights of the Church (http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/history7.aspx#Revolution ). The effect that both popular opposition to and Capitalists' support for WW I had on the revolutionaries cannot be underestimated here.
The key factor relating to the respective churches in both revolutions is that the clergy did not adequately speak against the exploitation and abuse of the people by those with wealth and power. Rather, the Church charged people with the responsibility of enduring the hardships and respecting authority.
Let's now go to the present and Conservative Protestantism here in America. First, like the Roman Church prior to the French Revolution and the Orthodox Church prior to the Russian Revolution, the Conservative Protestant Church is tied closely to the nation. Yes, it isn't controlled by our national leaders, at least from what we can see. But it still has close ties to our nation. In addition, the Conservative Protestant Church, for the most part, identifies with our national identity as described by our nation's Founding Fathers and key documents.
Thus, the Conservative Protestant Church strongly supports the economic system adopted by our nation without acknowledging the changes that have taken place in that system over the years. For example, our nation no longer depends on the same kind of capitalist system that existed just after WW II. The previous capitalist system allowed the governments around the world to exercise more control over their own economies. With today's neoliberalism or neoliberal capitalism, foreign investors have more and more control over a given nation's economy. And yet, many Conservative Protestants talk about these systems as if they were the same.
And what many Conservative Protestant leaders praise about our system is its emphasis and focus on property rights. But the problem here is that these property rights are celebrated without discussing what went into acquisition and accumulation of property. In other words, the contributions of others to the gaining of one's own property and the implied social contract those contributions carry are not considered. Regardless of how one gained new or more property, that property is seen as being wholly belonging to the property owner. An example of how property ownership could be questioned is to ask, during the days of slavery, how much property did a landowner really own when the bulk of the work that produced wealth was done by slaves?
Here, we could ask how much of James Madison's wealth morally belonged to him despite the fact that his slaves did the bulk of the work in creating and building his wealth--that is the wealth he didn't inherit.
Likewise, one of the popular slogans used at the 2012 Republican Convention was 'we built it.' The suggestion of the slogan was that the person of wealth was wholly responsible for their own wealth. The reality was that there were many interdependencies that contributed to the wealth of any single person and thus there were claims on some of that wealth because of those interdependencies. The Republicans, however, saw this issue as a private property issue only and sought to minimize, if not eradicate, those claims in the name of private property.
This kind of celebration of private property is rampant among Conservative Protestants. But there is a problem. During our current from of capitalism, commonly called neoliberalism, there is an ever growing consolidation of wealth towards the wealthy with a persevering stagnation of income for the middle class on down along with a shrinking of the Middle Class. In addition, many Conservative Protestants are more upset with government assistance programs than they are with the poverty wages that require these services for low-skilled workers. So we can add that many Conservative Protestants are demanding a drop in safety net programs and services claiming that such are unaffordable. At the same time, Conservative Protestants are not pushing for raising or even maintaining the current tax rates on the wealthiest and on businesses due to their beliefs in private property.
Many Conservative Protestants also lean toward being military hawks and insist on spending the necessary amount of money on keeping America the #1 military power in the world. However, many such Protestants don't see that the primary beneficiary of such programs are those with wealth. And there seems to be no widespread call for increased spending on veterans' services by these Protestants. Thus, the combination of military spending with the shifting of the tax burden from the wealthiest to either the rest or to debt is not challenged by Conservative Protestants.
As many Conservative Protestants are now willing to study and do something about the systemic racism that has plagued our nation from its beginning, they, like their French and Russian counterparts are not willing to preach repentance to the wealthy for the sins they commit in trying to maximize their own wealth. In addition, Conservative Protestants, for the most part, have great difficulty acknowledging global climate change and how human activity has contributed to that. Such a recognition would imply the necessity of significant changes in the lifestyles of all. And finally, what Conservative Protestants are most vocal about is the nation's changing sexual morals. Here again, Conservative Protestants are more than willing to pummel individuals regarding their sexual practices and orientations while they are ever so silent about the exploitive behavior of the wealthy.
America will follow of two paths and both concern Conservative Protestants. One path is that Conservative Protestants will become scapegoats if our nation collapses due to its current direction. The other path is that some type of revolution could occur and Conservative Protestantism will be deemed an enemy because of its stalwart support for and defense of the current status quo. We already see the latter in terms of the growing recognition of LGBT rights. In addition, many Conservative Protestants recognize that the current direction of our country now makes them feel as exiles in a foreign land.
The past can help us envision our future. And if that is so, we should note the similarities that many of us Conservative Protestants have with our Roman Church counterparts just prior to the French Revolution and Orthodox Church counterparts just prior to the Russian Revolution. The protection of and refusal to preach repentance to the wealthy along with its disregard for the system caused economic hardships suffered by those in the lower class are practices shared by Conservative Protestants in America with their pre-revolutionary counterparts from the other churches. What is new is the need for us Conservative Protestants to recognize the future environmental hazards we are leaving for those who will follow us.
In any event, as we survey the ties that the Church has historically had with wealth in power, as exemplified in the three periods reviewed above, is it any wonder why some on the Left believe that the Church is just another institution of indoctrination to maintain the status quo for the benefit of those with wealth and power? And because of that, it seems that the Church, the Conservative Protestant Church this time, is on the road to becoming the whipping boy of those in favor of revolution. And Conservative Protestants will have no one to blame for that except for ourselves.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10