Fred Beuttler on the First Federal Thanksgiving – Thanksgiving 2019

Today’s guest post is by Fred W. Beuttler, Ph.D., the former Deputy Historian of the U.S. House of Representatives. Fred is Associate Dean of Liberal Arts Programs at University of Chicago, Graham School.

The First Federal Thanksgiving
Today, November 26, 2019, marks the 230th anniversary of the first Federal Thanksgiving in 1789, “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” to “Almighty God” for the U.S. Constitution.

In late September, 1789, on one of the last days of the first session of the First Federal Congress, the most productive in history, Congressman Elias Boudinot of New Jersey proposed that the American people should “with one voice” give to “Almighty God their sincere thanks for the many blessings he had poured down upon them.”   Boudinot  introduced a resolution for the President to recommend “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a Constitution of government for their safety and happiness.”

Predictably, as it was Congress, there was some grumbling.  One congressman complained that it was “mimicking of European customs,” while another suggested that maybe the people were not inclined to give thanks for the Constitution, at least until they could see if it did give them safety and happiness.  It was a state, not a federal function, one argued, “a business which Congress have nothing to do; it is a religious matter, and, as such, is proscribed to us.”  This could have been a significant objection, as the previous day the House had passed what would become the First Amendment, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”

But the members of Congress did not see this call for a national day of thanksgiving as at all contradicting religious freedom.  Roger Sherman of Connecticut justified the practice of a day of thanksgiving as laudable in itself, referring to “holy writ” at the dedication of Solomon’s temple, an example “worthy of Christian imitation,” and Boudinot cited precedents “from the practice of the late Congress.”

The House of Representatives carried the resolution in the affirmative.  The Senate agreed a couple of days later, and that same day they also agreed to transmit copies of the Bill of Rights to the several states.  A joint committee of Congressmen and Senators called on President George Washington to recommend a day of national thanksgiving to “Almighty God” for the Constitution.

A few days later, President Washington submitted the following proclamation, calling upon the American people to assign Thursday, November 26, 1789, as a day of public thanksgiving for the national Constitution:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
georgewashsign

So this Thanksgiving of 2019, remember that the First Congress and our first President called upon all American citizens to observe “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer” to “Almighty God” for the U.S. Constitution and our civil and religious liberty.  That is something for which truly to be thankful.

(End of Dr. Beuttler’s post)

My (Throckmorton) sentiments would have been with the Congressman who objected on grounds that Congress should not direct religious activity. In fact, I think this was a mistake and not in keeping with the First Amendment passed just the day before. However, as Fred documented in his post, the Congressmen had their justifications and the majority prevailed.

My view is that Jefferson and Madison (after he left the presidency) were correct about national days of thanksgiving as religious observances. Jefferson refused to commemorate them saying:

I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of affecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it.

Although Madison observed days of prayer during his presidency, he later expressed regret about it.

They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erroneous idea of a national religion. The idea just as it related to the Jewish nation under a theocracy, having been improperly adopted by so many nations which have embraced Christianity, is too apt to lurk in the bosoms even of Americans, who in general are aware of the distinction between religious & political societies. The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one government in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea. But reason and the principles of the Christian religion require that all the individuals composing a nation even of the same precise creed & wished to unite in a universal act of religion at the same time, the union ought to be effected through the intervention of their religious not of their political representatives. In a nation composed of various sects, some alienated widely from others, and where no agreement could take place through the former, the interposition of the latter is doubly wrong.

I do understand how judges now interpret the First Amendment through the actions of the Congress. However, I think Jefferson and Madison had the right application.

Note:

In 2014, I asked several historian colleagues to opine about what the public should know about Thanksgiving. This is one post in that series The series will run through at least Thanksgiving Day.

To read all articles in this series, click Thanksgiving 2019.

Dear Rev. Graham: If the Tax Cut is So Good for Churches, Then Why is Giving Down?

On the November 21 edition of the Eric Metaxas Show, Metaxas interviewed Franklin Graham and the two literally demonized Trump’s opponents. Watch:

Graham first suggested an “almost demonic power” is behind opposition to Donald Trump. Metaxas interrupted to say that such opposition is demonic and the product of a spiritual battle. I could talk for paragraphs about this idolatry, but I will refer you instead to a tremendous article by Peter Wehner in The Atlantic out today. Wehner deftly makes the point that Graham and Metaxas degrade political and religious discourse with their demonization of opponents. Instead of disagreement with contrasting ideas, we have damnation of an opponent’s character.

Did Trump Raise the Economy from the Dead?

And speaking of ideas, Metaxas and Graham threw out a couple I want to address. Metaxas first declared that “literally three years ago the economy was dead in the water” and then agreed with Graham that now it is “screaming forward. That’s a fact.” But is it a fact?

The economy is pretty good by some measures. However, as I pointed out on Twitter yesterday, it wasn’t dead in the water when Trump took over.  In his The Atlantic piece, Wehner expanded on this today.

At the same time, economic growth under Trump has been so-so. GDP growth—which, under Trump will not reach even 3 percent during his first three years in office—is decelerating. The deficit has exploded. The manufacturing industry is in recession. And job growth during the last 33 months of the Obama presidency was higher than job growth during the first 33 months of the Trump presidency.

A good analysis of before and now was done by Heather Long who examined 15 indicators during the Obama years and the Trump administration up to the present. No, Eric, the economy was not dead in the water. Your Dear Leader hasn’t completely tanked it yet, but he had a healthy starting point.

Do Big Tax Cuts Lead to Big Tithes?

After Metaxas’ incomplete economic analysis, Graham suggested that the good economy has a special benefit for churches and Christians. As the leader of two huge nonprofit ministries with somewhere around a million in salary per year, this is something Graham surely knows about. Graham said more people are working so more people are tithing. Graham attributed the economic growth to the tax cut.

However, are religious contributions up since the tax cut? The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 was signed into law on December 22, 2017. Many provisions went into effect in 2018. Was there an immediate impact on religious giving?

According to the Nonprofit Quarterly, “giving to religion is estimated to have declined by 1.5% (a decrease of 3.9% adjusted for inflation).” Specifically in conservative churches, nearly half of churches in a Lifeway 2019 poll saw their giving decline or remain the same from 2017 to 2018. The tax law increased the standard deduction so many people may not have donated as much because they didn’t get a deduction for reporting it. Some may be saving up deductions for the 2019 tax year so the immediate effect won’t be known for awhile. However, there was no immediate obvious bump up in religious giving.

Furthermore, in Graham’s own Samaritan’s Purse ministry, giving was down significantly in 2018. Giving in 2018 was down $88.5-million which represents an 11% decline in giving over 2017.

So in short, opponents aren’t demons and perhaps things aren’t as good economically as Dear Leader and his followers suggest.

 

Jared Burkholder on Thanksgiving and Politics – Thanksgiving 2019

In 2014, I asked several historian colleagues to opine about what the public should know about Thanksgiving. Five years later, they are still good words to us. The series will run through at least Thanksgiving Day. Today, Jared Burkholder briefly discusses the political aspects of the first thanksgiving.
……………………
Jared S. Burkholder is Associate Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History and Political Science at Grace College, Winona Lake, Indiana. He co-edited The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Anabaptism and Evangelicalism (Wipf and Stock, 2012) and Becoming Grace: Seventy-Five Years on the Landscape of Christian Higher Education in America (BMH Books, 2015).

It is good to remember that the “First Thanksgiving” probably had more to do with politics than fellowship, especially if seen through native eyes. Although we might be tempted to think of New England’s native residents as falling into categories of either “friendly” or “hostile” depending on how they got along with Europeans, Indians were, like most of us, intent on protecting their assets and gaining advantages. Treating foreign peoples, including Europeans, as either friends or foes was based on strategic self-interest.

Constructing their settlement at Patuxet (Plymouth) in 1620, the pilgrims had thrust themselves into the middle of a complex system of tense rivalries and alliances among various Indian nations. The Wampanoag, which had been devastated by sickness as a result of earlier contact with Europeans, likely saw their interaction with the pilgrims as an opportunity to garner allies that could help defend against the neighboring Narragansett, who had escaped the plague of 1616 and were powerful enemies. Even Tisquantum (“Squanto”) was playing politics, as Governor Bradford admitted, likely attempting to leverage relationships for his own purposes. Thus, the first thanksgiving was not so much a Sunday afternoon potluck of food and good feelings, but rather an opportunity for testing boundaries and political posturing.

Want a good read on the political angles of the “First Thanksgiving”? See this engaging Smithsonian article, Native Intelligence.

I echo Jared’s recommendation of the Smithsonian article. It paints a substantially different portrait of the first Thanksgiving as a kind of standoff with benefits. From the article:

By fall the settlers’ situation was secure enough that they held a feast of thanksgiving. Massasoit showed up with “some ninety men,” Winslow later recalled, most of them with weapons. The Pilgrim militia responded by marching around and firing their guns in the air in a manner intended to convey menace. Gratified, both sides sat down, ate a lot of food and complained about the Narragansett. Ecce Thanksgiving.

Here’s hoping your Thanksgiving is less tense.

For all articles in this series, click Thanksgiving 2019.

Lawyer Takes James MacDonald and Harvest Bible Chapel to the Woodshed (UPDATED)

I don’t know any other way to describe the report written by Sally Wagenmaker about the financial and governance practices of Harvest Bible Chapel during the tenure of former pastor James MacDonald.

MacDonald recently defended himself against the church action of declaring him disqualified as a pastor.  He may have to write another Facebook post or ten with asbestos gloves to handle the fire in this report.

If interested in a blistering report about a megachurch in disarray, you must read it for yourself. Here are some spicy appetizers to help you decide:

Based on our law firm’s review of available information, we determined that a massive corporate governance failure apparently developed over several years at HBC, primarily due to the following factors:
• MacDonald’s powerful and subversive leadership style;
• His development of an inner-circle leadership group through which he could control HBC;
• His marginalization of broader leadership, particularly the former HBC Elders; and
• His other aggressive tactics that thwarted healthy nonprofit governance.
Directly resulting from such problems, MacDonald appears to have extensively misused HBC’s financial resources for improper financial benefit.

MacDonald’s strong and persuasive role as authoritative senior pastor, along with his close inner circle, insulation from proper accountability mechanisms, and key changes to the church’s operational structures, resulted in a highly problematic culture. Policies, formal and informal, were put into place to reinforce this unhealthy power structure.

We were provided with extensive salary information for MacDonald and the HBC Compensation Committee’s year-end meeting minutes, reflecting summary approval for executive compensation, housing, deferred compensation, and the housing allowance for MacDonald. The Committee unanimously approved an overall 2015 compensation amount
of $1,240,000, a 2016 compensation amount of $1,370,000, and a 2017 compensation amount of $1,387,500. For year-end 2017, we provided with a “Memorandum of Understanding and Documentation” dated December 19, 2017, reciting “commitments and pledges given in good faith [that] represent a contractual and covenant commitment” to MacDonald, plus a statement that “Walk in the Word and the respective assets are a bible teaching ministry of Dr. MacDonald.” For year-end 2018, the minutes of the “Elder Executive Committee Compensation Committee,” reflecting a total compensation package of $1,270,000 for 2019.

In a word, this is obscene.

Within this context, a leader who receives a tangible personal benefit as a result of a decision affecting the church’s operations or assets has an inherent conflict of interest that must be fully addressed through disinterested, independent leadership decision-making. Based on our legal evaluation, MacDonald seems to have acted in his own personal interests – reaping significant personal financial benefits, avoiding accountability to any governing board, and with heavy-fisted exclusionary leadership. His close inner circle of HBC leaders helped him to do so and without the important accountability measures needed for effective nonprofit ministry governance.

Although I am not an attorney, I would be worried about my legal liability were I formerly involved in leadership at HBC.

UPDATE: James MacDonald responds:

Gospel for Asia and Compliance with ECFA’s Standards: The 2015 Letter, Part 8

In CEO and founder K.P. Yohannan’s recent “exclusive personal response” to the fraud lawsuit settlement involving Gospel for Asia, Yohannan traces GFA’s problems to a 2015 “confidential letter from a financial standards association we were part of, and of which we were a charter member.” That letter was from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and outlined 17 potential violations of ECFA financial standards. In October 2015, ECFA evicted GFA from membership. To help donors understand the nature of the concerns ECFA had about GFA, I am posting the concerns one at a time with commentary. You can read all of the posts by clicking this link.

Read the entire ECFA letter on GFA’s compliance issues here.

From that letter, here is the eighth compliance issue:

8. Use of funds restricted for the field for other purposes.

On June 3, ECFA discussed GFA’s claim that 100 percent of field funds are sent and used in the field. GFA staff confirmed that this was accurate. On August 24, ECFA was informed that GFA India made a gift to GFA of $19,778,613 in 2013 to complete GFA’s new office. On August 27, GFA’s staff confirmed that the funds relating to this donation were originally received by GFA as gifts restricted for the field and GFA transferred to field partners to fulfill donor restrictions.

Two important issues are raised:
A. Reallocating gifts donated for field purposes and using them to pay for headquarters construction appears to be a violation of ECFA’s Standards 7.2. GFA staff stated in a recorded GFA staff meeting that you approached the field partner and explained that GFA could borrow the funds in the U.S., at less than desirable terms, for the headquarters construction. However, a gift from the field partner, in lieu of GFA borrowing the funds, would allow GFA to complete the new headquarters and thereby save interest. Therefore, GFA would be able to send more money to the field in future years.

ECFA believes that the potential savings resulting from the GFA India gift is an inadequate basis to reallocate gifts donated for field purposes.

B. Reallocating gifts donated for field purposes contradicts GFA’s claim that 100 percent of funds are sent to the field. In fact, a significant amount of donations restricted for the field made a circuitous trip back to GFA and were used for the headquarters construction, as though they had never gone to the field. This appears to be a violation of Standard 7.1.

In a GFA staff meeting, GFA indicated the field partner took out a loan to cover the use of the $19,778,613 gift and GFA staff confirmed on August 27 that India-generated income was used to repay the loan. Our review of the board minutes did not indicate the GFA board had approved, or even been notified, of the $19,778,613 reallocation of donor-restricted gifts.

The lawsuit settlement between Garland and Phyliss Murphy and GFA included this agreement:

The Parties also mutually stipulate that all donations designated for use in the field were ultimately sent to the field.

Some, including GFA in their promotional material, have portrayed this as an admission that they did no wrong with donated funds. However, this is not the case. GFA did use donor funds in an elaborate scheme to help fund their corporate headquarters in Wills Point, TX. The donations were solicited to help needy people in India and were originally sent to “the field” but then sent back from “the field” to GFA in Texas. The ECFA letter outlines the circuitous route of those funds.

Originally, GFA leaders told staff that an anonymous donors gave the $20-million to complete the construction of the Wills Point headquarters. Then, in a staff meeting (that I first revealed on this blog), Yohannan and David Carroll disclosed to the staff that a field partner under the authority of Believers’ Church gave the money to GFA in the U.S. In that staff meeting, the staff were not told that the funds were originally given by donors.

GFA was so worried about the truth coming out about this point in the ECFA letter that they threatened to sue my former blog host, Patheos, to remove the staff meeting audio.  GFA is a nonprofit organization which requires a certain transparency. They claim to maintain financial integrity but threatened to sue to attempt to cover up aspects of their financing concerning their headquarters.

Thus, one of the key reasons GFA lost their membership in ECFA was reallocating field funds back to headquarters. So the funds were sent to the fields, but they didn’t stay there. If the Murphy suit had gone to trial, there is no doubt in my mind that the Wills Point headquarters transaction would have been a central component of the plaintiffs case.

Next: GFA’s financial statements presentation of restricted funds.

Gospel for Asia and Compliance with ECFA’s Standards: The 2015 Letter, Part 7

In CEO and founder K.P. Yohannan’s recent “exclusive personal response” to the fraud lawsuit settlement involving Gospel for Asia, Yohannan traces GFA’s problems to a 2015 “confidential letter from a financial standards association we were part of, and of which we were a charter member.” That letter was from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and outlined 17 potential violations of ECFA financial standards. In October 2015, ECFA evicted GFA from membership. To help donors understand the nature of the concerns ECFA had about GFA, I am posting the concerns one at a time with commentary. You can read all of the posts by clicking this link.

Read the entire ECFA letter on GFA’s compliance issues here.

From that letter, here is the seventh compliance issue:

7. GFA’s financial statements do not appropriately report transactions with foreign partners.

During our review on June 3, GFA staff indicated that funds transferred to GFA India were actually transferred to a number of related entities instead of the single entity reflected in the 2013 audited financial statements. Additionally, on August 24 we learned that GFA received a $19,778,613 donation from GFA India, which was classified as a related party elsewhere on the 2013 audited financial statements (also see #8 below).

On August 27, GFA staff confirmed that this donation was neither disclosed in the footnotes of the 2013 financial statements as a related-party transaction nor to the GFA board of directors. This inconsistency within the financial statements and lack of disclosure to the GFA board of directors about a significant related-party transaction appears to violate ECFA Standards 2, 3, and 6. On July 20, ECFA was informed that GFA engaged a new audit firm and they are in the process of reviewing related-party transactions.

This is one of several problems related to the nearly $20-million in donations which was sent to “the field” but then sent back to Wills Point, TX to complete the GFA headquarters complex. Apparently, GFA leadership tried to obscure this transfer of funds from their board and auditors. It has never been made clear to the public whether or not the auditors (Bland Garvey) knew the full circumstances of this transaction.

In the first paragraph, ECFA refers to the fact that GFA sends funds to multiple shell organizations in India. These organizations are incorporated as charities there with Yohannan and his family in control. However, they have no other purpose but to funnel funds to Believers’ Church.

This point is a reminder that GFA has not released audited financial statements to the public since 2013. Actually, they did not release that statement willingly. I requested it and published it in stages to demonstrate the problems with this “related party transaction.”

 

Next: Use of funds restricted for the field for other purposes.

Gospel for Asia and Compliance with ECFA’s Standards: The 2015 Letter, Part 6

After about a month break, I am resuming this series.

In CEO and founder K.P. Yohannan’s recent “exclusive personal response” to the fraud lawsuit settlement involving Gospel for Asia, Yohannan traces GFA’s problems to a 2015 “confidential letter from a financial standards association we were part of, and of which we were a charter member.” That letter was from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and outlined 17 potential violations of ECFA financial standards. In October 2015, ECFA evicted GFA from membership. To help donors understand the nature of the concerns ECFA had about GFA, I am posting the concerns one at a time with commentary. You can read all of the posts by clicking this link.

Read the entire ECFA letter on GFA’s compliance issues here.

From that letter, here is the sixth compliance issue:

6. GFA solicits funds for narrower purposes than the eventual expenditure of the funds.

During ECFA’s review on August 12, GFA staff provided a document to demonstrate the flow of funds from GFA to field partners. ECFA learned that donor-restricted donations are appropriately tracked by particular revenue classifications. However, we also discovered, and it was confirmed by GFA staff, that the disbursement of the gifts are tracked in much broader categories. For example, donations were received and tracked for 38 different specific items including kerosene lanterns, bio sand filters, chickens, manual sewing machines, blankets, bicycle rickshaws, and others, but related expenses were only tracked as “community development.” In other words, donations were raised for 38 specific items, with the donations pooled for expenditure purposes instead of expending them specifically for the purposes raised.

ECFA did not find any evidence that donors to the 38 different giving categories had awareness that their gifts were grouped and used in a broader category than the specific categories in which the gifts were raised. ECFA’s staff raised concerns regarding GFA’s compliance with ECFA Standard 4, 7.1, and 7.2 in raising funds for a particular purpose but then failing to document the actual use of those funds by the particular donor-restricted purpose.

Subsequent to this conversation, on August 16, GFA staff indicated that GFA field partners will begin tracking expenditures by specific item accounts to provide adequate transparency as to the use of designated funds.

Our review of the board minutes did not indicate the GFA board had approved, or even been notified, that gifts solicited for very specific purposes were not being expended with the same specificity as the gifts were raised.

GFA led donors to believe their funds had been spent for specific items but there was no way to know if such intent had been followed since there was no documentation of that use. This policy had not been approved by the board. However, after this the board would have been alerted via the letter.

Francis Chan was on the GFA board by this time and had reassured people that he had sent in personal auditors to make sure funds were being spent as intended. Here is a May 15, 2015 email from his organization Crazy Love to me:

He has even gone to the lengths of sending two different auditors/accountants to research their financial practices. Both have come back with glowing reports.

His auditors/accountants missed a whole bunch of violations of ECFA standards. Chan continues to use this story. However, we know that GFA was kicked out of ECFA in October for numerous violations. GFA promised that they would reapply for ECFA membership which they have not done. GFA has not released audited financial statements. They have not disclosed to donors that their charity registration in India has been revoked.

Next: GFA’s financial statements do not appropriately report transactions with foreign partners.

James MacDonald Responds to Disqualification Decision

Last Sunday, the elders of Harvest Bible Chapel announced that they had found former pastor and church founder James MacDonald to be biblically disqualified for pastoral ministry.  Today, MacDonald posted what appears to be a response to that announcement on his Facebook page.

MacDonald begins with a vague reference his “former church”:

I trust this timing finds you well in the Lord and growing in your awareness of how good He truly is. Our efforts to work through existing channels in our former church have reached an unsuccessful end, leading to this release of words we have long sought to express.

MacDonald addresses various concerns raised by Harvest’s weekend statement. Specifically, he confesses “sinful patterns of fleshly anger and self pity that wounded co-workers and others.” He adds that his decisions involving the lawsuit against Julie Roys, two former elders and their wives, his media ministry and Harvest Bible Fellowship were “regrettable.”

In the end, however, he continues to contest the statements from Harvest and remains in arbitration.

Decisions by the current Elder/staff, along with inaccurate announcements and recent public condemnation, signaled clearly the timing to communicate our message directly. With sadness we accept that no face-to-face confession or truth-advancing interaction will be forthcoming.

The above matters are now in Christian arbitration where impartial believers will hear and give a written, objective ruling. As we cannot give specifics, we are trusting the Lord for truth to be revealed in His time, and we covet your prayers.

Despite the words of confession and findings of HBC, it appears MacDonald is gearing up for a return to ministry of some kind.

After waiting many months in hope of a pathway toward restoration, we have been welcomed into the congregation of New Life Covenant Church in Humboldt Park, Chicago. A multi-ethnic church under Pastor Wilfredo DeJesus, New Life has embraced us in love, offering us a place to serve and the beginnings of healing community.

In a recent Naples Daily News article, I was quoted as saying that James MacDonald would be back in the ministry saddle.  That interview was conducted in May. It is not that I think disqualified pastors should go back into the pulpit. I don’t; but this is the pattern that has become well traveled.

Gospel for Asia Update: First Lawsuit Settlements Checks Go Out; Foot Washing for the Metropolitan; Still No Audited Financial Statement

Gospel for Asia news:

Refund Checks

During the week of October 28, former donors to Gospel for Asia received the first of two checks as a part of the massive $37 million fraud lawsuit settlement. The second check should go out sometime in the first half of next year.

Shortly after receiving their checks, those same donors promptly received a mailing asking for them to re-gift those funds to GFA. One such donor posted a partial photo of his letter.

I heard from nearly a dozen donors who were upset with this tactic. On the other hand, because GFA continues to do it, I suspect that it is working for them.

Foot Washing Up

According to a witness to this scene, it is customary for people of a lower caste to wash the feet of visitors of a higher caste. Apparently, the Metropolitan, aka Moran Mor Athanasius Yohan I, aka K.P. Yohannan is of a higher caste.

I asked the witness to this if Yohannan returned the gesture but according to this informant, he did not.

Audited Financial Statement and Charity Registration

Gospel for Asia continues to solicit funds from former, current, and new donors. However, they have not released an audited financial statement since 2013. They have not disclosed to donors that their field partners (Believers Easter Church and Ayana Charitable Trust — formerly Gospel for Asia India) had their charity registrations revoked in 2017. This means those two field partners cannot receive charitable donations from outside of India.  Gospel for Asia has never disclosed how American donations are getting to needy people in India. Given GFA’s history, donors should demand an answer to this question.

I am aware that there are other charitable shell organizations in India which GFA-USA can send money to. However, they have no web presence or track record, there is no way to examine their practices. There is no way for a donor to know if they are reliable or are spending funds according to good practices or donor intent. GFA refuses to release audited financial statements. They are not required to file IRS 990 forms since they are classified (inaccurately in my opinion) as a fraternal/religious organization.

Since GFA was removed from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability for violating financial management standards, the limited oversight involved in that membership is now absent. There is no transparency for donors. Donors should ask themselves why an organization that claims to have nothing to hide hides everything.

Gordon Allport on the Program of the Demagogue

In 1949, Leo Lowenthal and Norbert Guterman wrote a book titled Prophets of Deceit. In his 1954 book The Nature of Prejudice, personality psychologist Gordon Allport summarized Lowenthal’s and Guterman’s findings into a section he called “The Program of the Demagogue.”

If you have ever been able to get through a Donald Trump rally, you will recognize the points Allport summarized. It is as if Trump is reading from a script. Here is the excerpt from 1958 version of The Nature of Prejudice (p. 389-390).*

The Program of the Demagogue

In their volume Prophets of Deceit, Lowenthal and Guterman have analyzed a large number of similar speeches and tracts. There is a sameness of protest and hatred in all of them. What the demagogue is saying seems to boil down to the following points. 2

You’ve been cheated. Your social position is insecure because of the machinations of Jews, New Dealers, communists, and other agents of change. Sincere and plain folk like us are always dupes. We must do something.

There is widespread conspiracy against us. It is being engineered by devils — by Wall Street, Jewish bankers, internationalists, the State Department. We must do something.

The conspirators are sexually corrupt too. They “roll in wealth, bathe in liquor, surround themselves with the seduced daughters of America.” “Oriental erotics debauch youth for the purpose of wrecking gentile morale.” Aliens enjoy all the forbidden fruit.

Our present government is corrupt. The two-party system is a sham Democracy is a “trick word.” “Liberalism is anarchy.” Civil liberties are “silly liberties.” We cannot be universalistic in our ethics. We must look out for ourselves

We can’t trust the foreigners. Internationalism is a threat. But we can’t trust our own government either. Alien termites bore within. Washington is a “Bolshevik rat’s nest.”

Our enemies are low animals: reptiles, insects, germs, sub-human. Extermination is called for; we must do something.

There is no middle ground. The world is divided. Those who are not for us are against us. It is a war between haves and have-nots; between true Americans and “foreigners.” “The Talmudic philosophy of Europe- Asia-Africa and Nudeal is directly opposite that of Christian.”

There must be no polluting of blood. We must keep racially pure and elite. Vile contamination comes from dealing at all with the moral lepers of liberalism.

But with disaster around the corner what can you do? Poor, simple, sincere people need a leader. Behold I am he. It isn’t the American nation that is wrong, it is the corrupt men in office. Change the personnel. I am available. I’ll change the whole smelly mess. You’ll have a happier and safe life.

The situation is too urgent to permit the luxury of thought. Just give me your money, and I’ll tell you later what to do. Everybody is against me . I am your martyr. The press, the Jews, the stinking bureaucrats are trying to shut me up. Enemies plot against my life, but God will protect me. I’ll lead you. And I’ll ignite the public mind everywhere. And I’ll liquidate millions of bureaucrats and Jews.

Maybe we’ll march on Washington . . . 

This is the playbook of the Trump GOP. He and Fox News have convinced his base that they have been cheated and threatened by immigrants and the Democrats. Immigrants are devalued and debased. They are the problem. He will stop the invasion. The country was a disaster before he came along and we needed him to make America great again. He alone can save us. He alone can drain the swamp. We must stick together against the attacks of a liberal press, the enemy of the people. They are godless but God is on my side.

Allport said in the 1950s that the aim of this kind of demagogue is “a totalitarian revolution following the pattern of fascism.” With hopefulness, he added:

American democracy has a remarkable resiliency, for it has with stood such demagogy for decades, in fact, since before the founding of the nation. But today, the aggravating of strains, the cultural lag (i.e., the failure of social skills to keep pace with technological) have made the appeal greater than ever before. It is not a movement that is born overnight. Its seeds are always present, and its growth may be gradual and imperceptible up to a point, and then sudden and alarming. It waxes and wanes with the rise and fall of particular demagogues. But sometimes its roots gain a firm hold in congressional committees, in local and state political groups, in certain newspapers, and among certain radio commentators.

On the whole, the democratic tradition seems still in the ascendancy. Each fascistic movement generates a strong counter-current. Yet the mounting of social strain and the acceleration of social change in our day create a precarious condition. The question is whether realistic diagnoses and policies can be evolved to ameliorate domestic and international ills and to improve men’s outlook before panic and fear drive them in larger numbers to embrace demagogic nostrums.

Allport’s question haunts me. I think he has the situation diagnosed but I don’t believe our psychology or our policies have kept up with the pace of social and technological change today. Panic and fear drove a sufficient number of presidential voters to elect a spectacularly ill-equipped reality television actor and businessman of questionable success. Panic and fear appear to be driving a defense of Trump’s abuse of power based on something other than reality. Evangelical placation of everything Trump does is almost certainly driven by panic and fear. Surely they are not walking by faith.

I hope our democratic institutions will survive the panic and fear whipped up by Trump. The social strain is here, accelerated social change is here and I believe we are in a precarious condition.  Here’s hoping that our democratic tradition remains the ascendant attitude with enough of us to thwart The Program of the Demagogue.