Jim Bakker believes that God has raised up Donald Trump to become the next President of the United States. Thanks to the internet, you can see and hear for yourself. Somehow, in spite of being convicted of fraud, he still has a TV show funded by his viewers. I wouldn’t trust Bernie Madoff with my retirement investments any more than I would trust Jim Bakker with my charitable donations, but I digress.
There is a lot I’d like to say about Bakker. I met him as a young man, and he spent a significant amount of time with my family. I believed he was sincere in his repentance at that time, and because I believe in second chances, I took him seriously.
Suffice it to say, his TV program/ministry is the same song and dance as it was in the 80’s, and I was just a naive kid who got manipulated by a snake oil salesman. He manufactures panic and fear about the end of the world, and then sells food in bulk to those who want to survive God’s judgment on everyone else. He offers ridiculous merchandise that costs pennies to manufacture and then offers to his viewers for meeting certain donationa thresholds obscene profit margins (which is just a sleazy way to get around not for profit laws).
I could go on and on, and the list of abuses and lies could grow very long but I’ll stop there, because that’s not the point of this post.
I’ll get to the point, but first, please watch this clip, which at the time of writing, has over 1 million views:
My concern isn’t fundamentally about politics (although I am concerned about politics). There are good reasons to be a conservative and to vote for Republicans and/or Libertarians. I don’t always agree with those reasons, but I understand the rational thinking that leads to those conclusions. Moreover, it’s possible to have rational disagreements with people of opposing political viewpoints when both sides are willing to engage rationally.
My concern is fundamentally about theology and the implications of taking a position like “This is what God says about insert-political-issue/candidate-here.”
If you take that position, you have ruled out disagreement as a possibility by definition.
If God cannot be wrong, and Jim Bakker is speaking for God, then Jim Bakker cannot be wrong. And, if I disagree with Jim Bakker, then I cannot be right. It doesn’t matter what I think or why, because I disagree with God, and thus me being right isn’t even a possibility.
It gets worse for me, though. if I have a different view than Jim Bakker, I am not just someone with a different opinion on a political candidate or issue; I am someone who is in direct opposition to God.
And that scares me.
It scares me for all sorts of reasons. It scares me because being open to the possibility of being wrong is fundamental to rational thinking. It scares me because it is the ultimate form of tribalism, and in-group/out-group dynamics can be extremely powerful. It scares me because of the inevitable feedback loops that get created as a result.
And in the context of an election in a democracy like ours, it scares me because no real conversation can happen. Good-faith disagreement isn’t even a possibility. We can’t ever get to a debate about tax reform, or health care, or economics, or moral foreign policies, or insert-political-topic-here because the only option is to be for or against God.
And when you choose to think in those terms, there’s no real decision at all. It’s been eliminated as a possibility from the very start.