In 2006, Mac Hammond endorsed Michele Bachmann from the pulpit of his megachurch. In 2008, she spoke from the pulpit at his Living Word Christian Center. On Sunday, he went further yet.
Hammond, senior pastor of Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, told his 9,000-member congregation Sunday that he is joining Bachmann’s team, “working with her political campaign.”
Hammond, audited by the Internal Revenue Service in 2008 after letting Bachmann speak at his Brooklyn Park megachurch, emphasized he is acting on a “personal basis” and not in his capacity as Living Word’s pastor.
“Of course, my tightrope is this has to be done on a personal basis,” Hammond said in a video of his remarks posted on the church’s website. He noted that his church could not formally endorse her without jeopardizing its tax-exempt status.
It is a tightrope indeed. The IRS audit was halted on a technicality having to do with how the agency interacts with churches, leaving the original issue–whether the political use of Hammond’s position met the requirements for the church’s tax-exempt status–undecided. It’s also a tightrope Hammond may have already fallen off of by announcing his intentions on the church’s web site.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said that after reviewing Hammond’s sermon online, he believes the preacher is endorsing Bachmann from the pulpit.
“He’s hedging his bets a little bit, but it’s still clear he’s endorsing Michele Bachmann from the pulpit. When he sermonizes about joining her political team, everybody knows he’s just endorsed her,” Lynn said.
Part of me is tempted to theorize that this is an attempt by Hammond to martyr himself for profit. There’s nothing like a showdown with the government over the ability of the religious to say any irresponsible thing that comes into their heads to start the donations coming in, and Living Word hasn’t been doing so well in recent years, not meeting their budgets and having to return a large amount of money that was obtained illegally before being donated to them.
The rest of me knows, however, that Bachmann and Living Word’s version of religion are a match made in shared delusions, right down to this:
Finally, Lynne Hammond, Mac’s wife, takes the stage. She steps to a clear plastic podium, lifts a wireless microphone and begins speaking in tongues. The sounds coming out of her mouth have the cadence of words and sentences. There are pauses, as if someone were answering back, strings of sounds that rise like questions, and flirtatious coos. It’s babble, but it sounds completely natural.
Am I being facetious? Well, slightly, yes. However, it isn’t that much of a stretch to suggest that Bachmann doesn’t care whether the words coming out of her mouth have meaning, as long as she’s testifying for the lord. The actual words themselves don’t count and mean only what she interprets them to mean, even well after the fact.
Still, there are better parallels to be drawn.
Living Word is among a subset of churches known as “Word Faith” institutions, a distinctly American variant that has spawned some of the best-known TV and radio ministries of the past 30 years (Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Paul Crouch, Benny Hinn) and is characterized, at least in many instances, by a seeming inversion of Pentecostalism’s traditional appeal to the downtrodden. To the contrary, Pastor Mac and others like him assure their believers that God wants them to be rich—and not in some next-world, metaphoric sense that only pays off at the gates of heaven.
Forget about camels and eyes and needles. Both Hammond and Bachmann have. Instead, they are offering the poor the spiritual equivalent of a lottery ticket (not monetary equivalent; theirs is much more expensive) while reassuring the rich that they have done all they need to do when they have taken care of their church.
Hammond’s Sunday sermons contain a not-too-subtle subtext: Once you’ve tithed, it’s okay to take the money God prospers you with and retreat to your cul-de-sac. Ostensibly, the gospel of prosperity does distinguish between being greedy and seeking prosperity in order to be able to minister to others—but according to this strain of theology, that need not include feeding war orphans or clothing inner-city urchins; it really means increasing the size of the church—a goal that can be realized through the influx of new dollars as well as new souls.
Hammond is pretty clear on the point in a pamphlet titled, “Winning in Your Finances: How to Walk God’s Pathway of Prosperity”: “Do we use our excess money to purchase a bag of groceries for someone that can’t afford any food?” he asks. “Do you fill up someone’s car with gas? Do we slip him a $20 bill when you shake his hand? Though these are all charitable things to do, they will not, however, meet the greatest need in a person’s life. No amount of money can purchase a man’s salvation. No amount of money can purchase a healing. The only thing that meets human need on every level consistently and permanently is the Word of God. So consequently, the seed that you have left over is best used to get the Word of God into the hearts of others.”
Yes, they really do believe–religiously–that helping people in this life is not what anyone should be doing with their money. In fact, it may be a sin to give to anyone or anything other than the church.
And if you are not rich? Well, that’s because you haven’t sacrificed faithfully enough.
What happens when you’ve tithed and contributed to the capital campaign and you haven’t been prospered with anything other than a stack of unpaid bills? The doctrine holds that you haven’t believed sincerely enough. And if you already possess all the tools for prosperity, then you can believe the failure’s all yours, too.
The poor are, like those failed by vitality-based “medicine,” those who are already poor in spirit. They are not…well…what we might hope, so we can forget about them or even add our own punishments to those visited upon them by the god of rich people. We can do, in fact, what Michele Bachmann already wants to have done. If we believe as she does.
I hope that Americans United succeed this time in drawing serious attention to pastors meddling in the same governments they wish to keep out of their churches. At the same time, however, I hope voters remember just how many gods are claimed by people. I hope they remember that the gods religious people choose to serve tell us what beliefs and values they hold most dear.
Not necessarily just for Bachmann; she’s very good at telling us where she stands, even if she rescinds it all later. Pay attention to those who support all the candidates–and whom the candidates support. That will tell you far more than any carefully crafted mission statement.