#75 – Dick Bernard: "Faith-based", as in Fraud and Politics

These comments need a disclaimer: I am a lifelong Catholic, and active in my faith life.  Anyone who knows me would so attest.  This would make me a “Christian”, at least it would in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s election as President in 1960, though I would guess that there are still plenty of “Christians” out there that would consider me otherwise.  So be it.  
“Faith” and “authority” are not always a good combination.  It is not hard to find examples of abuse.
1.  The Sunday, August 30, 2009, Minneapolis Star Tribune, a paper with a circulation of over 600,000, carried a major front page story with the banner headline “False Prophet, False Profits?” about a local alleged swindler who “told listeners to a Christian radio network he could protect their wealth.”  He “called his worldwide radio audience [on more than 250 stations nationwide] “Truth Seekers”. ”  His pitch preyed on their fear and their greed.
The truth finally outed, and hundreds of his trusting flock lost millions through his network of lies.  He was not the first man of the cloth to have feet of clay in my part of the world, recently.  He joins an all-star gallery of higher profile slick pitch preachers who prey on people’s faith to make a fast buck.  His story is likely repeated everywhere.  An aberration?  Certainly.  But should one be cautious?  You betcha. The Bible in the hands of someone unscrupulous can be a dangerous thing indeed. (The entire story is likely available for a limited time at  www.startribune.com.)  
The shameless radio preacher damaged individual lives, but there are, in my opinion, even worse examples, where innocent bystanders are recruited to spread lies. 
At about the same time the swindler was exposed, two other unrelated stories surfaced about what I would consider misuse of authority to make unwitting church people agents of church people with a less than holy agenda.
2.  The September 1, 2009, Washington Spectator (www.washingtonspectator.com) carried a most interesting two page commentary entitled “Preying on Fear and Predicting the Final Solution”.  
The reporter had spent some time traveling rural Oregon with a Congressman who was holding town hall meetings in many counties in his Congressional District. This is, of course, the time of controversy over certain alleged aspects of Health Care Reform (demonstrable myths), and predictably at each location some nice (or not so nice) person would ask about things like euthanasia (“death panels”), legislated abortion and the like, issues which have been shown to be false indictments of the proposed legislation.    
The reporter talked in person with some of those raising the allegations, and it came to be clear that they were talking points provided by an outfit connected to a major “Christian” university, and disseminated through the website of someone who bills himself as “the pastor on the Internet”.   
The so-called “pastor” admitted there were errors in the talking points and promised they’d be fixed, but that is like admitting the barn door needs fixing after the horses have escaped.  The damage was done, and, I think, it was done deliberately – to make foot-soldiers of people whose fear (and trust) was exploited for ignoble ends.
3.  At about the same time I received the preceding items, the local Archdiocese (Catholic) newspaper came (we’re on the subscription list).  The Catholic Church I know is historically a pillar of social justice, and should be four-square in favor of health-care reform, and is, mostly.
But the local Archbishop, in a front page column headlined “Approach to health care reform speaks volumes about our values” really emphasized only limited value “Abortion, euthanasia…” to his own flock.  Indeed, the Archbishop went beyond the formal statement of his brother Bishops in the United States by adding to their list of concerns the long debunked “euthanasia” word.    (It should be mentioned that “Catholics” themselves basically reflect the general body-politic on these issues.  The Archbishop reflects a relatively small minority of zealots but is considered an authority figure nonetheless.)
When it comes to Authority, some authority figures abuse theirs, regularly, with not always pleasant consequences.  
Be cautious.