Jesus at Home in the Corporate Boardroom
by Pastor George Van Alstine
Tony Perkins has been the president of the Family Research Council since 2003. At present, the media seem to see him, as much as anyone, to be the voice of the evangelical “religious right.” If you follow national news at all, you’ve probably seen him quoted regarding moral issues of various kinds. So, when Tony Perkins makes a statement, he appears to be speaking for all Christians who consider themselves evangelical.
On December 6, Perkins wrote an article on CNN’s “Belief Blog,” entitled “Jesus was a Free Marketer, not an Occupier.” Pointing out an interesting coincidence in use of the English word “occupy,” Perkins portrayed Jesus as the defender of the 1% who hold a disproportionate amount of wealth against the challenge of the 99% whose ownership of wealth or property of any kind has been rapidly eroding. In the Parable of the Pounds,” which is recorded only in Luke’s Gospel (19:11-27), Jesus tells the story of a nobleman (certainly a 1%er) who went on a journey, leaving each of his trusted stewards (certainly all 99%ers) with one “pound” (about three-months’ wages) to use wisely in his absence. Most modern versions translate his instructions to them as “Do business with this until I come back,” but the old King James version has the quaint and enigmatic “Occupy till I come.” The fact that “occupy” is also the word chosen by those demonstrating against economic disparity in many US cities is what gave Tony Perkins the idea for his article.
In the story, the nobleman returns to find a variance in how successfully three of his stewards had managed their money. One had invested wisely, and his pound had become ten pounds; he was rewarded with rule over ten cities. The second was also successful, though his pound had grown only to five; he was made ruler of five cities. The third wanted to make sure he didn’t lose the nobleman’s pound, so he buried it for safekeeping. The nobleman was angry and punished him by taking away his pound and giving it to the ten-city steward.
Tony Perkins applies the lesson of this story, not in a spiritual way, which was Jesus’ obvious intention, but in an outlandish claim that Jesus was defending modern day capitalism: “Jesus chose the free market system as the basis for this parable.” He writes that this parable teaches that “each of us is given the same opportunity to build our lives,” though evidences of inequality of opportunity are all around us. He says, “There are winners and yes, there are losers; and wins and losses are determined by the diligence and determination of the individual.”
Perhaps the most distorted implication Perkins draws from the parable is one expressed in these words: “Parables generally have a twist near the end, a final jolt to drive the point home. This one is no exception. The ruler orders that the capital, or opportunity, given to the lazy servant be taken away from him and given to the most productive servant. ‘To everyone who has, more shall be given,’ the Bible reads, ‘but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.’”
That’s Perkins free market answer: further widen the wealth/income gap in the name of Jesus. Take the increasingly small amount from the hands of the poor and give it to the rich. That’s what Jesus was teaching! That’s what Tony Perkins’ Jesus was teaching. But Tony Perkins’ Jesus is not my Jesus, or the Bible’s Jesus, and I resent his pretending to be a spokesman for the true Jesus who came to seek and save the lost and downtrodden, not to pad the wallets of the wealthy.
Since Tony Perkins wrote this article, many voices in the mainstream press have called him out. The writers of these responses have been shocked that a Christian leader would take such a position. If the secular press reacts with shock, true Christians should be scandalized.