Melvin Benson of the Cinematic Doctrine podcast asks Chris Staron about the Truce Podcast
Truce usually uses research, music, sound effects, and expert interviews to tell complicated stories about the Christian Church. We’ve made something like 100 episodes! Our listeners recommended that we celebrate by asking Chris questions submitted by audience members.
What the richest town in the United States can teach us about the rich young ruler and the potential evils of wealth
Jackson, Wyoming is a small tourist town in the middle of nowhere. It is just a few miles south of Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone. Millions of people pass through each year as tourists. It’s a vacation hotspot. But for those who choose to stay in this region, Teton County is anything but a vacation. Rising income inequality and housing costs have created a hostile environment for working people. The median home price in Jackson went up 47% in 2020 alone, rising to $2.2 million while wages remain stagnant.
We’ve been talking for the last few episodes about myths of the American West, how cowboy myths about a lone rugged individual have shaped the US. Now it’s time to understand how cowboy myths have impacted American Christianity.
Our guest today is Justin Farrell. He’s a sociologist and professor at Yale. His book is Billionaire Wilderness. In it, Farrell recounts his studies of the ultra-wealthy. What makes them tick? What are they afraid of? Why do they dress the way they do? And what draws them to the far western border of Wyoming?
Read the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27). What do you think of Jesus’ warning about wealthy people entering the kingdom of God?
Many of the tax avoidance practices discussed in this series are legal (except pretending to live in one place while living in another). Do you think that legality and morality are tied together?
Are these practices moral?
What types of friction do you experience in your own life?
How would more money change the level of friction you encounter?
How would less money change the level of friction you encounter?
Do you think that friction is a valuable thing to pay attention to in our lives?
What is the role of empathy in a Christian’s life?
How do you use money to benefit yourself as opposed to others?
How the ultra-wealthy use government funds to finance their backyards
Some of the wealthiest people in the world live (or pretend to live) in Jackson, Wyoming. That includes some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Digging into the property tax records, we discovered that one of the most successful actors in film history pays less in property tax than a single mom living on less land. What gives? Why are rich people paying less in property tax than working people?
The answer has to do with a thing called a conservation easement. A conservation easement is essentially an agreement between a landowner and the government that says, “I promise I’ll keep my property from certain kinds of building projects”. In return, the government gives the landowner massive tax benefits on the federal and local levels.
In this episode, Chris digs into the history of these instruments to understand what they are and how they are impacting rural Wyoming and the rest of the country.
UPDATE: The original version of this episode contained an error that has since been corrected. The original version stated that getting an $800,000 tax deduction was essentially the same as getting an $800,000 refund. That is incorrect. My apologies.
The myth of the American cowboy features a lone man who makes his fortune on the open plains. He doesn’t need the government, and he doesn’t need some big corporation telling him what to do. But that myth is far from the reality in the west. Many cowboys worked for large corporate cattle operations. And when those operations were in danger, he relied on the government for help.
The Johnson County War started when the Homestead Act of 1862 brought new people to central Wyoming. The area just west of the Big Horn Mountains had been free-range grassland where anyone could let their cattle run free. The large cattle operations loved this setup because it saved them an immense amount of money and infrastructure. The new homesteads threatened their empires because they divided up the land and restricted their access. So the Wyoming Stock Growers Association banded together to send a message: get off our land. They send a murder squad to Johnson County, Wyoming to scare the people of Buffalo with a series of brutal murders.
What followed was one of the darkest chapters in Wyoming history. Where big businesses murdered with impunity, aided by the governor and sitting president.
How the myth of the cowboy encouraged Christians to vote for Donald Trump and changed Christian masculinity
What do you think of when you picture a cowboy? A rugged, handsome individual? A lover? Someone who doesn’t need the government’s help? Evangelicalism has long pushed this as the ideal model for the Christian man. What is the impact of that set of ideas?
John Wayne and Ronald Reagan have both become popular figures in American men’s ministries. Their names come up often, they both played cowboys in Hollywood. But they are unlikely heroes. Both men were divorced. Wayne wasn’t an evangelical, and Reagan had once been a democrat. But both men were instrumental in whipping up anti-communist sentiment in the US, building credibility with a religion focused on individualism.
You can draw a line from them straight to former president Donald J. Trump. All three had questionable public morals but were seen as strong, uncompromising figures. They are seen in many men’s books as the epitome of masculinity. That idea, though, comes in contrast with Jesus’ own words about turning the other cheek, forgiving our enemies, and loving our enemies.
Christians throughout history have responded to politics in different ways. In our modern era, it can seem like Christianity and Republican politics are one and the same. But what do we do when the Bible clashes with our political party? What if our economic model leaves no room for the poor?
Author and theologian Kaitlyn Schiess joins us to talk about her book, “The Liturgy of Politics“, as well as how we can heal as a church. Can Christianity and politics mix? The answer depends on how we see that pairing.
How have you seen politics and Christianity mixing in the US?
Is there are healthy way for Christians to engage in politics?
How have your politics informed your ideas of the poor?
Do you think that all poor people are lazy?
How can your local church reach out to people who look/speak/act differently that you do?
How have you see Kaitlyn’s four false gospels play out in your life and church?