Category Archives: Economic Justice

The Messy, Dirty, and Beautiful Birth of Jesus

by Greg Boyd, originally published on his blog and in the Minnesota Christian Chronicle, Volume #28 No.21, December 3, 2006.

Few things capture the spirit of Christmas better than a traditional nativity scene for many people. The star shines down on the serene baby Jesus, sleeping in a nice little manger with golden straw spilling out from the edges. He’s surrounded by Mary, Joseph, three wise men and several shepherds. They are all radiantly peaceful as they gaze in wonder at the newborn Christ child. Even the animals lying in their nice clean hay seem almost Spirit-filled as they look serenely upon the infant Savior. As the song goes, even when the cattle start lowing and the poor baby wakes, the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. It’s a cute, quaint scene, capturing the spirit of a cute, quaint holiday.

Now, I don’t mean to be a scrooge, and I’m not suggesting there’s anything heretical about this cute, quaint scene. I’m all for tradition – our family sets up a nativity every year. On the other hand, I think it’s important to realize that this scene is not completely accurate.

Try to imagine for a moment how things most likely unfolded the night Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph were probably teenagers when they traveled to Bethlehem, for in first century Jewish culture girls were usually engaged around the age of 12 or 13 and boys around 16 or 17. The two were undoubtedly exhausted from their long journey when they arrived at the inn, but all the rooms were taken. The two decided to bed down with the animals in the inn’s stable, which must have been an act of utter desperation (was Mary beginning to have contractions?). They really had no choice, since the possibility of Mary giving birth in public was (especially in first century Jewish culture) completely unthinkable.

Plus, an early church tradition tells us that the stable was a cave, a suggestion many scholars find plausible. So the young, unwed mother and her fiancé make their way to this cave, which was probably animal-packed if the inn was full. We should probably imagine these two exhausted and desperate teenagers squeezing past livestock, stepping over animal droppings, making their way to a corner of an unventilated, smelly, dimly lit cave so Mary can have her baby with some degree of privacy.

Suddenly the manger scene is beginning to look a bit less cute and quaint.

Nativity scene in an Iraqi refugee camp

Now try to imagine what the actual process of giving birth might have been like. Even with the best preparation and medical assistance, the birthing process is painful, “messy” and, at times, terrifying. Yet, Mary and Joseph would have had little preparation, and likely no medical assistance. They were alone.

When the child was born, they placed him in a manger – which in this context can only refer to a trough the animals ate or drank from. This certainly couldn’t have been their first choice! It’s hard to imagine anyone remaining calm and serene given these circumstances.

If even half of these assumptions are accurate, they suggest a nativity scene that was much less cute and quaint than what we traditionally picture. We should imagine two desperate, exhausted teenagers passed out on bloody, manure-filled hay in a crowded, smelly, dark cave while their baby sleeps – and sometimes wails – in a slimy feeding trough. The original audiences of the Gospels would probably have imagined something like this, and it would have shocked them. I believe this is a central point of the story.

Our God uses his almighty power to dive into the worst this world has to offer. He dives into the shame of an unwed Jewish mother. He dives into the rejection of an already-full inn and the darkness, odor and inconvenience of an overcrowded stable. He dives into the desperation and fear of a young, ostracized couple. He dives into our humanity; and not humanity at our best, but humanity at our worst. He’s not a God who gravitates toward the cute and the quaint, but a God who immerses himself in our mess, our manure, our pain, our fear, our sin and our shame.

He is a God who takes on himself everything that is shockingly ugly and redeems it all – and by doing so, he reveals himself to be a God who’s shockingly loving and beautiful.

This Christmas if you set up a nativity scene, don’t worry too much about what it looks like. There’s a place for tradition, and I doubt many stores sell “realistic” manure-filled caves to put on your end table! But remember that our God isn’t cute and quaint. He is a God who’s beautiful because he takes on our shocking ugliness and lovingly transforms us.

And I’ll take that Christmas story over cute and quaint any day.

Greg Boyd is an internationally recognized theologian, preacher, teacher, apologist, and author. He has been featured in the New York Times, The Charlie Rose Show, CNN, National Public Radio, the BBC, and numerous other television and radio venues.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

Why Millionaire Televangelist Kenneth Copeland is Suddenly Begging You for Money to Buy His Fourth Private Jet

The prosperity preaching televangelist and multimillionaire Kenneth Copeland has stirred a lot of controversy lately. He tried to blow away the coronavirus, was one of the first pastors to deny that Joe Biden won the election (in an extremely bizarre way) and now he is begging people who are millions of dollars poorer than him for a new private jet.

Now, if you’re familiar with Copeland you know that he already has a private jet. In fact, he has three. He stores them at an airport called Kenneth Copeland Airport, right next to his million-dollar mansion in Texas.

The motivation he recently gave at the extremist Christian show Flashpoint is that he can’t fly commercial because he refuses to get vaccinated for Covid and many airlines require vaccination these days. “That’s the mark of the Beast”, he said.

This is clearly not the real reason Kenny is begging for your money, as there are several airlines in the US that does not require vaccination (even though it definitely can be argued that they should), and we know that Copeland argued against flying commercial long before the pandemic in order to motivate his love for private jets. Then, the reason was that that commercial planes are “tubes full of demons“.

The real reason Copeland is acting like this is, I think, that his self-worth is in those jets, they communicate success to himself and to a huge part of his audience. Practically, he doesn’t need four private planes any more than you and me, but on an existential and spiritual level he they are like oxygen to him. He is terrified of the thought of not being able to buy luxuries and status objects with other people’s money, since he himself has been preaching for decades that such a lifestyle is the ultimate evidence that God is with you.

It is just as the apostle Paul expressed it thousands of years ago:

“Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this!” – 1 Timothy 6: 9-11

Kenneth Copeland is stuck in this trap of wealth, and it is consuming him. Like most other preachers, he has likely lost a lot of income during the pandemic—he warned his audience early on that even if they lose their jobs, they should continue tithing.

I’m guessing most of them didn’t.

And as Kenny has become one of the primary laughing stocks on the internet due to his bizarre statements and performances, he has a hard time attracting a younger audience. His empire is crumbling, and it destroys his self-worth.

That is why his friend Jesse Duplantis lied about how gifts to Copeland’s will “speed up” Jesus’ return. In their world, that’s true. Now, I’m not defending this craziness. It is unbiblical, catastrophic spiritual abuse. But my point is that these men are broken, afraid and have plunged themselves into ruin and destruction, and they’re so addicted to their wealth that they think that only more wealth can solve their problem.

We need to pray for them, for healing and repentence. But whatever you do, don’t give these millionaires more money. That’s just like handing a bag of cocaine over to a drug addict.

Micael Grenholm is editor and contributor for PCPJ.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

The Economy of the Holy Spirit

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”  Acts 2:42–45, NRSV

How often do Christians think about radical sharing as a miraculous demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s power? Pentecostals and charismatics believe that the Holy Spirit endows believers with spiritual gifts and that signs and wonders continue to be part of Christian experience today. Sometimes the “flashier” gifts, like tongues, healing, and prophecy, can take precedence over more seemingly “mundane” gifts, like forms of assistance (1 Cor 12:28). This is understandable. If Christ is really present with us through the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit empowers us to heal and perform miracles, why wouldn’t we be out demonstrating the amazing works of God? One thing we must take care to consider is our motives, and the passage above shows us why. When we hold a distorted view of “signs and wonders” that separates us from how Jesus calls us to live, we fall into a warped practice of the gospel.

Continue reading The Economy of the Holy Spirit

The Gospel is a Social Gospel

An article recently appeared in the Christian Post entitled, “Why is the country moving left? The social gospel”. In this article, Nathan Cherry argues that the American church and society has moved to the “left” as a result of mainline churches embracing what is known as the “Social Gospel”. He also states that the Social Gospel is a “reimagining” or “replacement” for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Mr. Cherry says:

Many years ago, mainline Protestant churches began to embrace what is now understood as the social gospel. This reimagined understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ centered on social and economic equality, as well as racial reconciliation and poverty. This new gospel replaced the atoning work of Christ on the cross for the sins of people with a politically charged version of the gospel in which correcting social ills was the highest good and ultimate goal.

I want to offer a brief rebuttal to Mr. Cherry’s article. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has and will always be partially political or social, and the Social Gospel is not a replacement for the Gospel.

Continue reading The Gospel is a Social Gospel

Why Justice activists need spiritual healing

(This article also appears at Just Theology.)

Christians who take Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats seriously understand that we are called to serve “the least of these” in love. In addition to individual acts of mercy, many have come to understand that providing aid to “the least” means addressing the systems of inequality that skew our collective resources toward “the most” instead. This leads to various expressions of justice activism.

I am by no means a fervent activist. While I have attended some protests, I am more likely to express my convictions through letter writing, phone calls, donations, conversations, prayer, and service. Yet I know members of my seminary, friends, and those in local activist communities give more of themselves and take much greater risks. And I know activist efforts take a toll. My friends have suffered compassion fatigue, burnout, and shame and guilt at not being able to offer more when community demands are pressing. Working for justice takes a physical and emotional toll. It takes a spiritual toll as well.

Continue reading Why Justice activists need spiritual healing

6,000 Children Die of Hunger Caused by Corona – Every Day

About 6,000 children will die today due to food shortages caused by the pandemic.

They do not die from the virus. They die of starvation and malnutrition.

Just as many will die tomorrow. And as many the day after that.

The UN warned this spring that corona would cause a famine of biblical proportions. Now it’s here.

The number of people affected by food insecurity has risen by 120 million due to the pandemic and its economic effects.

That is why I am so happy that the World Food Programme (WFP) receives the Nobel Peace Prize this year. While the streak of Pentecostal Nobel peace prize winners is over, I couldn’t be happier of the choice of the Nobel committee. 

The media does not seem to think it is as exciting and controversial as if Donald “Fire and Fury” Trump had received it. But WFP is needed more than ever.

They do an incredibly good job of identifying hunger crises before they break out and fighting for as many as possible to survive.
The problem is that, like most UN programs, they are underfunded.

Feel free to give a gift to WFP here! you can also download the Share the meal app and get reminded every day as you eat your lunch that a child somewhere else can enjoy the same for less than a dollar.

Micael Grenholm is a Swedish pastor, author and editor for PCPJ.

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Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!

Why Pentecostal Churches Managed to Fight COVID-19 Better than the United Nations

Why are many American Pentecostals disobedient regarding efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19? Are Pentecostals and Charismatics in other parts of the world behaving differently? How was the strong faith in healing that characterized early Pentecostals impacted by the pandemic known as the “Spanish Flu”?

A few weeks ago, PCPJ gathered a panel of scholars and Pentecostal leaders to discuss these important questions. The panel consisted of:

Jörg Haustein, doctor of World Christianities, University of Cambridge.
Erica Ramirez, president of PCPJ, director of applied research, Auburn Seminary.
Daniel Isgrigg, director for the Holy Spirit Research Center, Oral Roberts University.
Niclas Lindgren, director, PMU Interlife.
Andrea Johnson, Assistant Professor of History, California State University DH.
Micael Grenholm, pastor, editor at PCPJ.

Everybody brought interesting food for thought to the table. Isgrigg compared Pentecostal reactions to the Spanish Flu with what we see today. Ramirez spoke about what aspects of the Pentecostal faith makes it vulnerable to conspiracy theories. Haustein pointed to the nuance between different Pentecostal and Charismatic groups even in the same country. Johnson gave a historical backdrop to how American Pentecostals view politics.

Continue reading Why Pentecostal Churches Managed to Fight COVID-19 Better than the United Nations

Biblical Justice: Making Things Right

by Katie McRoberts. Originally published at the blog of Churches for Middle East Peace, reposted with permission.

Jezebel, Ahab’s wife, said, “Is this how you act as king over Israel? Get up and eat! Cheer up. I’ll get you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite.”

So she wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote:

“Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them bring charges that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”

As soon as Jezebel heard that Naboth had been stoned to death, she said to Ahab, “Get up and take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite that he refused to sell you. He is no longer alive, but dead.” When Ahab heard that Naboth was dead, he got up and went down to take possession of Naboth’s vineyard. 1 Kings 21:7-10, 15-16

While many consider the stories of the Old Testament, often framed by punishment and retribution, to be an example of God’s justice, the reality is that a comprehensive picture of justice is much more complicated. The Bible shows justice as not only an appropriate consequence for sin but also as an expression of appropriate concern for others. Righteousness before God means being in right relationship not only with God but others as well. Continue reading Biblical Justice: Making Things Right

Biblical Prosperity: Why the Prosperity Gospel Is Wrong

My grandmother and aunt were both charismatics, and they worked at the local Christian television station. There were many times when I was growing up that I would watch that television station simply out of curiosity. This was before I became a committed Christian, and some of the theology that I saw on this station seemed very strange to me. It was through this television station that I was first introduced to the Prosperity Gospel.

I came across many shows featuring Mike Murdock, Rod Parsley, Jesse Duplantis, and Joel Osteen. I distinctly remember being turned away by their preaching. I was a big fan of Jesus at the time, but I wasn’t comfortable with Christianity. And they were a big reason why. I remember seeing their fame and fortune, and I had a very difficult time reconciling that with the poverty and humility I read about in the Gospels.

Unfortunately, for the last one hundred years or so, the American Church has become captivated by the Prosperity Gospel. This has especially been the case within Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Continue reading Biblical Prosperity: Why the Prosperity Gospel Is Wrong

Why Not Say “Justice” Instead of “Social Justice”?

Whenever I mention the term “social justice”, many American Christians freak out. They desperately do not want me or anyone else to use that word, as if it had the power to summon a dark lord or something.

Even when they agree with me that the content of what “social justice” typically signifies (economic equality, no oppression, no racism, etc.) is important, they don’t want me to call it social justice. If I should call it anything, it should be just “justice”. Period.

It goes to show how focused our social media culture is on the words we use, rather than the lives we live.

The reason for this censorship is that, apparently, “social justice is socialism in disguise”, “when you put ‘social’ in front of justice, you have an agenda”, “social justice has been hijacked by leftists”, and so on and so forth.

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These claims are always stated without any form of reference or source. Because they are not true.

Evangelical leaders like Billy Graham, John Stott and John Wimber all used the term social justice and deemed it to be central to Christian living. The Lausanne Movement, that helps thousands of evangelicals coordinate for global mission, has tonnes of resources regarding social justice. Continue reading Why Not Say “Justice” Instead of “Social Justice”?