As I made clear in my last post, some things Doug Wilson has been saying lately have concerned me, seeming to be casting a blanket of complacency over the consciences of Reformed Christians, consciences that need to be gashed and laid bare over issues of mercy, justice, and charity. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God is this: that you visit orphans and widows in their affliction…”
Pondering back on my previous post, I had begun to wonder if I was perhaps tilting at windmills, making a mountain out a molehill…something of that nature. But Doug Wilson’s recent sermon on Amos 5 set my alarm bells blaring again. Of course, each of his sermons in Amos has left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable, and not the right kind of uncomfortable. Amos, for those of you just tuning in, is, of all the prophetic books, among those that rants most persistently against the rich and their perversion of justice and oppression of the poor. Pastor Wilson’s sermons have repeatedly dulled the edge of passages that go right for the jugular of comfortable affluent American Christians, but, in general, I was understanding of his attempt to navigate between Scylla and Charybdis. But this latest one…well, I just couldn’t go for it. The passage in question centers on the following warnings: “Therefore, because you trample on the poor and you exact taxes of grain from him, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not dwell in them: you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate.”
How did this come out after being filtered through Pastor Wilson’s sermon? “We need to remain faithful and wait upon the Lord even when confronted with the injustices of a court system that rewrites laws to allow abortion and homosexual marriage and the like.”
Huh? I’m serious, that was the gist. Now, how he got there was to reason that a major perversion of justice in our society that afflicts those who are weak and defenceless is abortion (and which also perverts justice in other ways that we aren’t happy with. Thus our society has this analogy to the situation Amos is critiquing. Now, I’ll grant that this might be a reasonable application by analogy, but it’s certainly not the most important thing Amos is trying to say, nor the most relevant and needful application. Much more central and relevant would be the message: “You—yes, you, right here in the congregation—are fat and happy and willing to not merely ignore the plight of the poor, but to be complicit in their oppression, simply for the sake of making your own lives easier. How great are your sins!”
Wilson has, however, deliberately evaded the seeming force of Amos’s condemnation of American Christianity through two main routes (explicit in his sermons): 1) The real thing Amos is after is bad worship, not economic oppression. We need to focus on fixing our worship more than anything else. 2) Amos is condemning people who consciously, intentionally seek to oppress the poor. Obviously we don’t do this, so it doesn’t really apply to us.
Both of these arguments, it seems to me, are highly problematic. To the first, I would reply that this simply does not seem to be the case by simple word count. Seventeen verses, by my count, explicitly deal with the problem of oppression and injustice; eight deal with perverted worship (and of these, for several, the main issue seems to be their evil in coming into the presence of the Lord with the guilt of their oppression of their brothers on their hands). Repeatedly we hear in the prophets, “I desire mercy and not a sacrifice.” It simply does not appear that the reform of worship has any kind of priority over the aid of the oppressed.
The second argument depends upon the claim that only conscious, intentional transgressors are actually transgressors. But when do we ever reason like this? Negligence and inattention to our duties are equally culpable. Is only the man who actively beats his wife a bad husband? No, the husband who pays more attention to his work than his wife, who ignores her needs, is still guilty, even if he may be well-intentioned. On what basis do we say that only the Robert Mugabes of the world are being blamed by Amos? How many people really go out of their way to oppress the poor? A pretty small minority…most do it in the name of some good cause, or by bowing to “the free market.” Are we really guiltless of the economic conditions of those in the world that suffer from our greedy consumer demands and blatantly selfish government policy?
What, I can’t help but wonder, is the motive for pronouncing over the heads of the parishioners the verdict “not guilty,” for saying “peace, peace,” when there is no peace?