Time to Out-Amos Even Amos
In the late ’60s and ’70s, my father was a Professor of New Testament in the Religion Department at Concordia College.
Dr. Lester Meyer was his Old Testament counterpart, and his good friend. Dad was, in style and approach anyway, a bit Oscar Madison to Les’ Felix Unger.
Soon after Les arrived, he gave a new faculty lecture, and decided to do a bit on the prophet Amos.
Amos, of course, lived in a time of economic prosperity, in early-to-mid 7th Century BCE.
Precisely when the going was good for the elite few, God called Amos–previously a shepherd and a fig tree farmer–to preach justice and equity: balm to those who were oppressed, but really irritating to those who were the oppressors.
A few choice passages:
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan who are on Mount Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘”Bring something to drink!” the Lord God has sworn by his holiness: The time is surely coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you weigh fishooks… (4:1-2)
That exquisite example of righteous fury was directed to wealthy women of Samaria, those who lounged while the poor languished.
(Imagine a pastor calling rich women in the congregation such a thing from the pulpit today…and how long it would be until the commentaries on Amos and the pastor would be sailing away on a moving truck.)
Or this one, God’s fury at religious leaders and followers who simply went to church and called their faith life good, believing that they and God were therefore square and fair:
I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:21-23)
(It is worth noting that Martin Luther King Jr. depended on this text for his “I Have a Dream” speech, as did the candidate I hoped would win the White House, Bernie Sanders.)
Here’s a healthy handful of judgment on ordinary people who engage in economic injustice:
Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat”…On that day, says the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.” (8:4-6, 9-10)
Amos, in other words, wasn’t known for euphemism.
So, back to Les and Dad.
After Les’ presentation, a lecture that was a resounding affirmation of Amos’ chutzpah, the crowd began to filter out of the room, and across the campus lawn.
Dad, surrounded by other faculty, took the public moment, a perfect one to play with the New Guy, and hollered out to Les: “Amos was a milksop!”
Amos, of course, was anything but a milksop, which was precisely Dad’s point.
MY point is that after the election of Donald Trump on Tuesday, we need to out-Amos even Amos.
I am convinced that God is really, over-the-top furious that Donald Trump won, and furious in the wrathful way that only God can do with those who made it happen, and who let it happen.
Amos tells me that.
Hosea tells me that.
Isaiah tells me that.
Micah tells me that.
Jesus tells me that.
Hannah and Mary and the Samaritan woman tell me that.
But now that it’s happened, it’s time for modern-day Amoses to step up to the plate.
Note the plural, there.
We need more than one.
As religious leaders and religious people, we are called by God, called by the very gospel, in the name of God and the Gospel to denounce sexual predator Donald Trump and the support of religious bigotry, homophobia, racism, the degredation of the environment, misogyny, and the vile rhetoric against the Least of These that got this man in the Oval Office.
I have heard those who voted for him protest that they aren’t bigoted, or racist, or a misogynist, or homophobes, or accepting of demeaning words against the disabled and approving of sexual assault against women.
I say bull-pucky.
If you voted for him, you are, because you voted those stances into power.
All the worse if you are a person of faith who backed him with your ballot.
Putin, the KKK, and ISIS are thrilled with you. If that’s the sort of company with whom you want to keep, you all can kick up your heels and and raise your glasses together.
Your vote pleases people like these immensely, and your vote approved all of the above.
As furious as God is with you, I find comfort in knowing that after you are judged, my faith assures me God will have mercy on you.
HOWEVER, I’m not only calling you out.
I’m also calling out the Democrats, my party.
I’m calling out me, therefore, too.
We are the party who should have been for the poor white rural voters who threw in their vote, and, I would argue, threw in their towels to Trump too.
We should have been there for them.
We should have perceived their anger and their disdain.
We should have heard how we weren’t attentive to their concerns.
We should have done a better job of pointing out how they may be disillusioned with the Dems, but they are even more disillusioned by Trump, who habitually, gleefully, and unrepentantly tramples on their lives and livliehoods.
They have been fooled, duped, and exploited.
We should have made that clearer.
God bless Bernie.
And I am calling out the Church.
I am, for the record, part of the Church I’m calling out.
Some time back, a Republican legislator in SD was striving to protect payday lenders, lenders who were just thankfully defeated, thanks to a movement to cap the rate. Prior to the legislation, these usurers were charging an average of 574% interest.
Turns out that this woman was also a Lutheran.
So in my correspondence with her, I made reference to that, Lutheran-to-Lutheran, and said that nothing in our shared faith, nor in our shared denomination, supported or affirmed usurious practices.
Her response was to say, simply, “The churches have failed the poor.”
That struck me to the core.
She was right.
But she wasn’t right in the way she thought she was.
In my reply to her, then, I said this:
The churches have failed, but not in the way you have suggested.
We are strapped financially to do all that needs to be done on behalf of the Least of These, not least of all because of all the programs for the poor being whittled away by the SD government: your vote against Medicaid Expansion is yet another instance of your abdication of the principles of Matthew 25.
Where we, the Church, have failed, then, is making more clear and concrete the direct connections between faith and life and politics.
Your vote matters, and is a reflection of that in which you truly trust.
In this case, I assure you, it is not God as understood by the Christian tradition.
We, the Church, have failed. We the leaders, the ones who are supposed to be preachers and prophets, have failed.
In our fear about (and misunderstanding of) the separation of Church and State, in our fear of offending the cows of Bashaan in our congregations, in our fear of calling out false and flimsy religiousity, in our (extremely understandable) fear of losing our calls, we have failed to announce that homophobia, sexual assault, misogyny, racial bigotry, the denial of human-caused climate change, and the mocking of the disabled are essentially, unequivocally, undeniably not welcome or part of the expression of our faith.
Our historical inability to out-Amos Amos has led Donald Trump straight to Washington DC, perhaps the safest place to be on Inauguration Day, because so many ISIS leaders will be there to offer their congratulations to the new President.
We have been milksops.
Judgment needs to be sounded: sounded against Trump, sounded against those who supported him, sounded against the Democrats, and sounded against the Church.
I appreciate all of the calls for healing and for reconciliation.
But as another OT writer said, Quoholeth, a cranky buzzard, “For everything there is the time.”
This is not the time to speak of that.
This is the time for righteous indignation.
This is the time for naming the dasterdliness that has occurred, and lingering there, so that we begin to comprehend it.
Those who encourage reconciliation may have the best intentions in mind, but the urge to reconcile is all too often a veiled urge to avoid the hard truth of terrible damage done.
Blanket absolutions and pretend happy gatherings where there are more elephants than people in the room are shams.
Trump and his ascendancy put people already at risk–GLBTQ, women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, the disabled, the environment, and, thanks to Trump, journalists–all the more terrified now.
Time for us to tap into our inner Amos. To make the ancient Amos proud. To out-Amos Amos.
Those who voted for Trump should repent by, now that they’ve voted him in, committing to speak out when–not if–Trump endorses and enacts the very things for which they claim they did not vote (but, quite actually, did).
Democrats should repent, by figuring out how we missed the signs, missed the voices, missed the courage to call out the leaders in our own party who couldn’t hear, who refused to hear, who sought to stifle the Amos in our party, like Bernie, who called it years ago.
And the Church should repent, by figuring out how to raise up both lay and clergy Amoses, and how to support theses Amoses, and how to protect Amoses, and how to help the Amoses be heard.
This is not about GOP vs. Democrat. This is about rebuking hate-mongering, exploitation, and oppression, and doing so in the name of God.
Given the stakes, perhaps exorcism is not too strong a word here.
I realize that to do so, one invites a real threat of death: vocations can be lost, congregations can break apart, feelings can be hurt.
Freelance though I am, I am not immune to this threat: my income is based on OMG-related work. I realize that this post alone could cost me presentations and consults and writing invites, let alone friendships.
I get it.
But I also get this: death happens if we don’t.
With the election of Donald Trump, our nation voted in an intensely dangerous and dark and deadly Good Friday. Talk even of Holy Saturday is premature. The Least of Those–including even our planet–who were already vulnerable, are even more so now, wondering when the tomb of his policies and rhetoric will be opened for them.
The situation in our nation, and in the Democratic party (I haven’t even mentioned the Republican party, who, as my daughter said, helped create the monster they have been trying to kill), and in our Church is dire.
Amos wasn’t known for words of hope. But there are a few at the tail end of his book.
Perhaps, with God’s mercy, Amos’ near-final announcements from God will be spoken to us in the USA too:
The time is surely coming, says the Lord, when the one who plows shall overtake the one who reaps, and the treader of grapes the one who sows the seeds; the mountains shall drop sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them. (Amos 9:13-14).
AN ADDITIONAL COMMENT
Given the way that this blog has generated much attention and many lies, I feel compelled to add another few words to it here.
I understand that many have been offended by my words, not least of all those directed to those who voted for Trump.
I also understand the reason for offense.
Here’s the challenge for those of all called to be ordained preachers:
Our call is to comfort, and also to call out.
It has been said that we are to follow the maxim to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.
There is a long history within Scripture of prophets and teachers and preachers directing offensive language at those who threaten or actually do harm the Least of These.
Amos was but one such man: precisely why I lead with him above. Hosea was another. Jesus was another (have you read how he called those who believed themselves to be faithful a “brood of vipers?” How about when he upturned the tables in the temple? The man was hardly meek and mild, all Christmas carols to the contrary, and he offended enough people that he got himself crucified).
I have found not one thing that Donald Trump has said or done that consistently reflects the God of Amos, of Jesus, of Luke, of Paul.
Instead, his rhetoric and behavior–and the rhetoric and behavior that he has condoned and inspired–has been consistently belittling, derogatory, demeaning, and threatening to the very ones we are called by Christians to most protect.
As a Christian, and as a pastor, I am called to name that uncomfortable truth, to, as Martin Luther said in his Heidelberg Disputation, call a thing what it is.
And, it is worth noting, particularly in light of those who seem to be most agitated by this post, I stand with conservative, evangelical Christian leaders in this regard too.
We, conservative and liberal Christian pastors alike, are called to be preachers of the Good News.
Sometimes, however, Good News sounds like Bad when it insists that we give up something we have come to love and trust, or hold dear, or believe to be true, when, it fact, it isn’t.
By no means am I untouched by the hard words and implications of faith.
I, too, cringe about any number of texts and the consequent expectations of my religious beliefs.
But my religious beliefs trump, if you will, everything else, even my personal privilege and preferences.
No vote offered is for some sinless saint.
But when one votes, one has to choose between the choices one has.
And your choice, as a person of faith, is not about what makes you feels safest, what is most helpful for you, what protects your interests most: your choice, as a person of faith, is to choose the one who most closely reflects your God and the agenda of that God.
Mocking disabled people, shamelessly and repeatedly groping women, registering people on the basis of religious belief, bullying people on Twitter, disputing climate science, currying the favor of dictators like Putin, urging violence on those who disagree, establishing walls against people maligned as criminals and rapists, and claiming to be a Christian who brags that he doesn’t ever need or ask for forgiveness, and not knowing that it is 2nd Corinthians rather than Two Corinthians: all of these and more are impossible to reconcile with the God of the Old and New Testaments, and most certainly the one to whom Mary sang when she found out she was pregnant with the Jesus whose birth we are about to celebrate:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
or the one to whom John the Baptist’s father Zechariah prayed:
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
May, now, our feet be guided in just that very way.