The Rev. Jim Winkler, the general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, is a left-wing  theocrat. He wishes to impose his particular religious vision of society on America. Time to man the barricades!

Winkler writes in the latest edition of his agency’s newsletter that if we would just read the Book of Isaiah, we would see what God wants the United States to look like:

Hear these words from Isaiah 48:18: “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace (prosperity in the NRSV) would have been like a river, and your righteousness (success in the NRSV) like the waves of the sea.”

I confess to impatience and frustration that we continue to ignore scripture.

I take it from this that Winkler, like Rousas Rushdoony and the other “dominionist” boogeymen of the religious left, wants to apply the Old Testament law to America, since we’ve been neglecting those commandments.

The prophet Isaiah was awakened to two realities: the awesome holiness of Yahweh and the depth of his own nation’s sin. Like the prophet Amos, Isaiah furiously assailed the powerful, unscrupulous officials who governed the nation, as well as the venal judges who had conspired to rob the helpless of their rights. Read the first 10 chapters of the Book of Isaiah and you will find him condemning the upper classes who were rich and pampered, concerned only for material possessions and pleasures without moral standards or faith in God.

Does any of this sound familiar as we look at our present condition in the United States of America: in a land where the rich are getting incredibly richer; in a land where immigrants, the kind of people we used to welcome, are now being condemned, deported, denied health care and education; in a land where one in four children goes to bed hungry every night; in a land where we round up and incarcerate a remarkable number of black and brown men?

Actually, what he describes in the second of those paragraphs doesn’t sound all that much like Isaiah 1-10 (was Judah really jailing large numbers of racial minorities?), at least to the extent that Isaiah is describing the idolatry, faithlessness, and disobedience of what is supposed to be a unified, religiously homogenous people who were to be ruled by God’s law. Last time I checked, that didn’t fit the profile of these United States.

Isaiah is telling us that God challenges us to muster sufficient theological imagination to see how divine purpose is unfolding in ordinary events of the world. What is the “new thing” that God is about to do?

It’s informative as well as interesting that Second Isaiah does not try to “foretell” what God will be doing. Rather, Isaiah prods the attention of his audience backward into images of “the way in the wilderness” and “rivers in the desert.”

Not sure what “Second Isaiah” Winkler is reading. Isaiah 40-66 in my Bible is full of forward-looking prophecy regarding what God is going to do in the life of His people and the world, including prophecy regarding the Messiah, who is never once spoken of as working for the United States government.

Isaiah speaks to a people like us: a people in Babylon who live in the midst of a secular, pagan culture that promises its gods can give prosperity, success and happiness.

Funny thing about that: Isaiah never once says that the people in exile should try to take over the government of the Babylonian Empire and transform it in the image of theocratic Israel. Must be in the lost chapters to which only mainline bureaucrats have access.

Somehow, hope surrounds us. I believe the large majority of the American people support the agenda the Occupy Wall Street movement promotes:

  • Tax the rich and corporations
  • End the wars, bring the troops home, cut military spending
  • Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and improved Medicare for all
  • End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests
  • Transition to a clean-energy economy and reverse environmental degradation
  • Protect workers’ rights, including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages
  • Get money out of politics

Yes, that’s the great hope, the magnificent vision, the extraordinary future which Isaiah lays before us: Occupy Wall Street.  Campaign finance reform and green pie-in-the-sky. That’ll preach.

We are haunted by our lack of imagination.

A few days ago, a United Methodist pastor sent me an email that included these words:

Is there any way to retain democracy and a government by and for the people while eliminating capitalism at the same time? A free enterprise system based on capitalism and the concept of a democracy go hand in hand.It seems Moody knew what he was talking about, doesn’t it? [Winkler had earlier referred to Dwight Moody’s dismissal of biblical scholars dividing up Isaiah into three parts–Moody wondered why we should why bother with two more Isaiahs when most Methodists don’t know the first one?] I have no doubt this pastor should read Isaiah: “Oh you who make iniquitous decrees, who write oppressive statutes, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be your spoil, and that you may make the orphans your prey” (Isaiah 10:1-2)!

That last verse, written over 2000 years before Adam Smith, is obviously meant to indicate that capitalism is evil. It was–what’s the word?–prophetic.

Capitalism, as I explained a while back, is hardly a system of divinely revealed economics. Rather, it is the best system  human beings have been able to come up with to govern economic life in a fallen world. It is also, in its present form, an incredibly complex system that reflects the presence of literally billions of components–people, companies, governments, laws, etc.–and their countless interactions. But Winkler thinks we can throw that entire system out, replace it with a collection of abstract notions derived from the religious left’s idiosyncratic reading of the Israelite prophets sprinkled liberally with discredited Marxist bromides, and impose it all on a religiously and politically diverse population.

That, my friends, is the very definition of a theocrat.

UPDATE: My friend Joseph Slife corrects my ordination of Winkler. He is in fact a layman. I’ve fixed it in the first sentence.