Category Archives: civil rights

A Watershed Moment: Jackie Robinson and Civil Rights in America

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“He led America by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong. I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robinson made the United States a better nation.” – American League President Gene Budig

April 15th 2014 was the 67th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first game in the Major Leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Jim Crow was very alive and well when Jackie stepped onto the field that day and no matter how much we want to distance ourselves from those days there are still some in this country who want to go back to that kind of society. Robinson’s first game with the Dodgers came a full year before President Truman integrated the military, a move which infuriated many in the South.  Likewise it occurred a full seven years before the Supreme Court ruled school segregation unconstitutional in the Brown vs Board of Education decision.  It came a full 17 years before Congress passed the Voters Rights.

When Jackie Robinson stepped onto the field it was a watershed moment in Civil Rights for African Americans and paved the way for a change in American society that has continued since his Major League debut. Blacks had struggled for years against Jim Crow laws, discrimination in voting rights and even simple human decencies like where they could use a rest room, sit on a bus or what hotel they could stay in.

In baseball many white fans were upset that blacks were allowed to see Robinson in stadiums that they would not have been allowed in before.  Players from other teams heckled Robinson, he received hate mail, people sent made death threats, he was spiked and spit on.  But Jackie Robinson kept his pledge to Dodgers owner Branch Rickey not to lash out at his tormentors, as Rickey told him that he needed a man “with enough guts not to strike back.”

Jackie Robinson played the game with passion and even anger.  He took the advice of Hank Greenberg who as a Jew suffered continual racial epithets throughout his career “the best ways to combat slurs from the opposing dugout is to beat them on the field.” He would be honored as Rookie of the Year in 1947. He was a MVP and played in six World Series and six All Star Games.  He had a career .311 batting average, .409 on base percentage and .474 Slugging percentage. He was elected to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1962.

Today Jackie Robinson’s feat is history, but it should not be forgotten.  He was a pioneer who made it possible for others to move forward.  He would be followed by players like Roy Campinella, Satchel Paige, Don Larson, Larry Dobie and   Willie Mays.  His breakthrough had an effect not just on baseball but on society.

Jackie Robinson would have an effect on my life.  In 1975 the Stockton Unified School District voted to desegregate.  I was in the 9th grade and preparing for high school.  As the school board wrestled with the decision anger boiled throughout the town, especially in the more affluent areas.  Vicious letters were sent to the school board and to the Stockton Record by parents as well as other opponents of the move.  Threats of violence and predictions failure were commonplace.  In the summer of 1975 those who went out for the football team, both the sophomore and varsity squads began to practice.  Black, White, Mexican and Asian, we bonded as a team, the Edison Vikings.  By the time the first buses pulled up to the bus stops throughout town on the first day of school, the sense of foreboding ended.  Students of all races discovered common interests and goals.  New friends became guests in each others homes, and all of us became “Soul Vikes.”

30 years later the Class of 1978, the first class to be desegregated from start to finish graduated from Edison held a reunion.  Our class always had a special feel about it.  Looking back we too were pioneers, like Jackie Robinson we were far ahead of our time.  When I look at my friends on Facebook from Edison I see the same faces that I played ball, rode the bus and went to class with.   Things have changed.  Even 30 years ago none of us imagined a African American President, we believed in each other and we saw potential, but I don’t think that anyone believed that we would see this in our day.

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I think that Jackie Robinson prepared the way for other pioneers of Civil Rights including Dr. Martin Luther King.  Today, 67 years later Jackie Robinson looms large not only in baseball, but for the impact of his life and actions on America.

His number “42″ is now retired from baseball. The last player to wear it was Mariano Rivera of the Yankees. Rivera had been granted an exemption to wear it until he retired. At least the last Major League ball player to honor the number was a class act who will certainly be in the Hall of Fame.

Robinson said something that still resonates with me: “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” It is something that I take into account every day of my life.

So here’s to you Jackie Robinson.  Thank you and God bless.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Plays Devil’s Advocate: The Complex and Often Confusing Issue of Religious Liberty

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“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

Religious freedom is a central tenant of the Bill of Rights and has been a central facet of American life since our inception as a country, in fact pre-dating our founding in some of the original 13 colonies most notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Now before anyone gets the idea that I am about to write something in favor of limiting the freedom to worship or for that matter any limitation on religious practices I am not in fact I am a stalwart supporter of religion in the Public Square and not just mine. You see I am a bit of a purest about this and my view is as long as the religious practice is not harming anyone who cares?

I believe like Thomas Jefferson who wrote in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Some might take me to task for that as a Christian, but my point is not to argue for the Christian faith in this article. Instead my intent is to point out some of the inconsistencies of those who proclaim their rights also seek to limit the religious and even the civil rights of others based on their religious beliefs.

What I will do in this essay is to play the “Devil’s advocate” in the matter of the free exercise of religion as it currently exists in the United States.

This has to be done because of the number of laws being passed by various states which are labeled as acts to protect religious liberty. Unfortunately the reality is that these laws grant license for the Christian majority in those states to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs. These individuals and religious organizations loudly proclaim their defense of the right to free exercise, but it is more their free exercise rights that they are defending than the rights of others.

In fact those that shout the loudest are also those who seek to limit the religious rights of others using the laws of the Federal Government and the various States and Commonwealths that make up the United States. Since law in the United States is based on legal precedence everything that goes to court on matters of religious liberty as well as the actions of various legislatures matters. Precedent matters and once legal precedent has been established it is very hard to change. Thus each decision sets a precedent and these precedents can effect decisions in entirely unrelated matters.

Our First Amendment Rights are marvels which are envied by the citizens of most of the rest of the world and why shouldn’t they be?

In many nations simply being born as a member of a minority religion, or other hated minority group is enough to ensure that you will never have full legal rights and may even face persecution and death at the hands of those in power. The list is long. Some of the countries include Sudan, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uganda, Nigeria, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Of course there are many more but those are just some of the places where members of minority religious face discrimination, persecution and even death.

The rights we have as Americans provided the opportunity for churches that were suppressed on the European continent and elsewhere to thrive free of government persecution. The Baptists are a good example. In the early 1600’s the first Baptists, English Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs by the English Crown in particular by King James who despite authorizing the Bible given his name and loved by many Baptists as the “only” valid English translation was a notorious homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that, hated those early Baptists and persecuted them throughout the land.

On the continent itself the Anabaptists and Mennonites as well as others referred to as “enthusiasts,” the forerunners of the Pentecostal movements of the 20th Century were brutally suppressed in many European lands. The example of the siege and destruction of Munster Germany by combined Catholic and Lutheran forces after “enthusiasts” seized power is just one example.

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The Jews were persecuted often brutally almost everywhere in Europe for centuries. They were the “Christ killers” and that was even enshrined in the liturgies of churches. But the Jews had a surprising amount of freedom and influence in the Ottoman Empire where in places like Baghdad they composed a rather sizable part of the population and were quite prominent in the Empire.

Catholics were heavily persecuted in England and could not hold public office for many years following the English Reformation. Hundreds of Catholics martyred for simply practicing their religion in private, simply celebrating Mass could get them a death sentence.

Then there were the Huguenots in France. They were French Protestants who had gained a great deal of influence and power that were brutally suppressed and many killed by the French Crown and the Catholic Church.

The Lutherans were not big fans of other religions in Germany and worked with their archrival Roman Catholics to kill off the Anabaptists and the Enthusiasts.

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Spain was another brutal place for religious liberty. Even some Roman Catholics now canonized as Saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila were brought before the Inquisition. Protestants, Jews, Moslems were all persecuted in Spain, and Spain was equally repressive of native religions in the lands that it colonized in the “New World.”

The Russian Empire was known for its toleration of Catholics, Protestants and Jews especially in the equal treatment given to them in various Pogroms conducted by the government and the Orthodox Church.

The Ottoman Empire had a limited amount of religious toleration so long as you didn’t make trouble and paid your taxes. One cannot really call it liberty for the Empire and persecuted anyone equally that threatened the Caliphate or that they thought were heretical. These included the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

Then along came the United States where our forefathers ensured religious liberty in our Bill of Rights along with freedom of speech, assembly and the press. It is a wonderful thing, but we have not always done well with it and there are always those trying to carve out addition “rights” for themselves or their faith communities. Sometimes the more religious people have had a negative influence in this experiment, often being involved with acts of religious and civil intolerance worthy of our European ancestors.

That being said many religious people, particularly Christians and churches have done many good things in promoting human rights, religious rights and the civil rights of all in our country.

In Colonial America most of the colonies had official state religions. In Massachusetts that was the Congregationalist Church and it conducted many of the witch trials and the persecution of people deemed heretic including Quakers and Baptists.

dyer-hanging1Hanging the Quakers in Massachusetts

While Christians were in the forefront of the Abolitionist movement whole denominations split on the issue of Slavery. These denominations included the Southern Baptists, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Curiously neither the Episcopalians nor the Catholics split over the issues although the war found them heavily engaged on both sides of the conflict.

After the war many American Christians worked for the rights of workers, the abolition of child labor and even something that I oppose, Prohibition. Some Christians and churches advocated for the full civil rights of African Americans though few spoke up for rights of the Native Americans and the Chinese immigrants to California who were frequently mistreated and worked for almost nothing on the most demanding jobs like building the trans-continental railroad, mining gold and building stone walls for ranchers.

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While enshrining the right to the free exercise of religion the Founding Fathers kind of ignored the human rights of a whole class of people, African American slaves. They allowed the practice of slavery counting Blacks as 3/5ths of a person, which 3/5ths I don’t know but nonetheless only 60% of a full human being. my own family owned slaves and the family patriarch who fought as a Confederate officer in the American Civil War and after the defeat of the Confederacy refused to sign the loyalty oath, which good honorable men like Robert E Lee did and lost the family lands to the Federal Government.

We drove the Native Americans off of their lands, hunted them down and confined them to reservations all while ignoring the treaties that we made with the various Indian Nations. This practice was actually recently defended by the faux “historian” of the Christian Right, David Barton.

If we believe Barton’s “history” the vast majority of the people perpetuating these acts were solid Bible Believing Christians. But then how do we reconcile these crimes against humanity, even crimes against fellow Christians with the Christian faith? If you are Barton you assume that what happened was due to the sin of the Native Americans who had to be subjugated by Christians.

Likewise nearly every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States has experienced some form of discrimination, often religious from the good citizens of this land. It turns out that throughout history we have had some problems in the matter of religious liberty and toleration, especially of those whose customs, language, culture and religion are different than our own.

But the crux of all of this comes down to religious liberty which as Americans we hold dear, at least our own religious liberty. The problem is that those who fight the hardest for their religious liberty frequently want to deny the rights that they have to others that they disagree with in belief, practice or even politics.

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Now everyone is for religious liberty in the Public Square until a loathsome man like Fred Phelps and his family owned and operated “Westboro Baptist Church” shows up to protest and hurl vile epithets at those grieving the loss of family members killed in war, taunting these people in the most abhorrent of ways.

However, as grievous as these people are they do this under the right to the free exercise of religion. Some Fundamentalist Moslems have as a stated goal of instating Sharia Law in this land, at least for Moslems. This they proclaim under the banner of religious liberty, however the imposition of Sharia Law on Moslems in the name of their religion also takes away their civil rights under the Constitution and the various laws of the Federal Government of the States that make up our fair land.

The Roman Catholic Church at the direction of the Vatican has attempted rather successfully until a recent Supreme Court ruling to shield Bishops that were complicit in personnel moves and cover ups regarding Priests accused or convicted of sexual misconduct and the sexual abuse of minors from criminal prosecution and civil suits under the guise of diplomatic immunity as the Vatican is a nation state. Could any other religious organization shield its clergy from the laws of the land that any other citizen would be subject to? Not on your or my life, but in the past the Vatican has blatantly done so and hopefully under Pope Francis this too will change.

One of the key issues of religious liberty is the right of those of various beliefs and practices that use television, radio and the internet to espouse hatred and violence in the name of their religious beliefs and under the banner of religious liberty? I may not agree with what they broadcast but they have the right to do it.

Many Conservative Christians, especially Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are keen to support their rights to publicly exercise their religion, even in the government. But they are not good when it comes to other branches of Christianity or non-Christian religions.

The Metropolitan Community Church comes to mind. It is a predominantly Homosexual Christian church many of whose members were driven from their home churches due to their sexuality. Many, except for being gay are very conservative in their theological beliefs. That church has been in the forefront of the fight for marriage equity as well as the right for homosexuals to serve openly in the Military.

The part about marriage is particularly fraught with peril because both the Church and the State have interests in marriage. For many marriage is primarily a religious act with civil overtones, in fact ministers of all denominations are licensed by the state to perform marriages on behalf of the State becoming in effect de-facto officers of the courts and at the same time most states deny homosexual couples the right to marry, regardless of one’s position on the legitimacy of such unions who could say that it is right for the states to approve and license the clergy of almost every religious tradition to conduct weddings that have the full civil effect, including tax breaks for all but a certain group? We have this enshrined in our culture but would deny it to the Metropolitan Community Church to perform weddings for its members. What if someone said that any other minister could not marry members of their own church under their church laws, ordinances and beliefs? There would be a public outcry, but not for the Metropolitan Community Church or other denominations that sanction Gay marriage.

There are so many issues regarding religious liberty. What about adherents of Wicca and other Earth based religions or Native American religions? Some of their practices would not be welcomed by those of many Christian denominations as well as secularists and atheists but if they are not hurting anyone else why should others object?

Likewise why should people object if a religious symbol is displayed on private property or on state property where it has been displayed for decades or longer? Is it hurting anyone? Not really but hurt feelings and being offended count as much as real injury to the litigiously minded. Usually these cases are long, expensive and divisive court proceedings that have served little purpose. I am not in favor of government using such symbols to advance the rights of any given religion, even Christianity. But that being said there are times where religious symbols are part of our American culture where we have memorialized our war dead without the intent of promoting a religious cause. However, if one symbol is present we should not object to others.

Likewise there are those that would attempt to limit the free speech rights and religious rights of Christians and others that protest the practice of abortion using civil disobedience to do so. Some in polite and well-mannered but others are pretty unseemly. That being said I do not think that the religious beliefs of anti-abortion people should be the law for unbelievers or for that matter a believer with different views on abortion.

The problem is that many who call themselves “pro-life” are not pro-life at all but simply anti-abortion. Many Christians who call themselves “pro-life” bless and baptize practices condemned by the same Church Fathers and Biblical writers who they use to support the rights of the unborn. They support the death penalty despite the aversion and opposition to it by the Early Church a and the evidence that in many states that the practice is abused and sentences often wrong. Many advocate for harsh treatment of aliens and exhibit a xenophobic attitude towards some immigrant groups, especially those that are not Christian. Likewise the belief that the economic Social Darwinism of unfettered Capitalism is not only Biblical but God’s best ordained economic system is promoted as the Gospel. The same people often treat the poor and the elderly with distain and treat their political opponents as agents of the Devil rather than people that God might actually care about.

Local governments and even home owners associations have acted to quash home churches and Bible studies. Some have acted to zone land so that the construction of religious buildings, edifices or displays is illegal all of which have been protested and fought in the courts by the groups involved particularly Evangelical Christians of various denominations. Even churches that neighbors have deemed to be too loud in their expression of worship have been penalized by local governments and courts.

Yet many Christians had little problem with using the government to suppression other religious or splinter groups. The tragic example of the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound looms large. David Koresh was a labeled as a “dangerous” cult leader. Nor do many Conservative Christians have a problem in limiting the rights of American Moslems and protest if a Moslem clergyman becomes a military Chaplain or if Moslems want to build a Mosque in their neighborhood. I think that religious intolerance is often in the eye of the beholder. As David Barton the President of “Wallbuilders” an organization that seeks to promote America’s “Christian heritage” quoted William Penn “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal.”

Barton’s friend and ally Gary North wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

So as you can see the subject of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our religions is one that is not as clear cut as we would like to admit.

To play the Devil’s advocate here let me ask this question: “Should we limit the rights to the free exercise of religion for any group?” If we do so where do we draw the line? If we say “everything goes” does this mean for everyone or just us? Could it be that in the enshrining of this right that the Founders actually meant the expression of rational and enlightened religion and not religious expression that limits the rights of other groups or supports the abolition of others Constitutional Rights? Those are all hard questions. As you can see there are a tremendous amount of issues at play when we attempt to legislate or regulate religious practice.

I think that our religious liberty is something to be cherished. But I can see times and places where there would be a need for the community or state to limit such expression. This would not be to take it away but to ensure that such expression is not used as a weapon against others, just as religious beliefs have been used in the past and present by people and governments around the world.

You see the lawyer that dwells deep within my heart that my fellow seminarians saw could argue the point for any position in this debate, which I guess kind of, makes me a bit of a prostitute. But still there are valid points to be made on all sides of this issue and to the extenuating civil, social and even economic and national security concerns that the absolute right to the freedom of religious expression impacts.

The waters get pretty muddy and my concern is that those on various sides of this issue are more about promoting their agenda, be it religious or secular. As I said at the beginning of this essay the issue is about legal precedence and sometimes the unintended consequences of decisions reached hastily when those on the various sides of an issue go to court or establish a new law which enshrines any group with the ability to discriminate against others based on the majority’s religious beliefs.

The question of religious liberty and the tension between competing Free Exercise rights and concerns about the “excessive entanglement” of religion in government will be with us for a long time. I think the result of the heated and often litigious nature of the debate will actually turn people away from the Christian faith and will actually do great damage to the First Amendment protections that we all enjoy.

This causes me great concern as I value the right to the free exercise of religious expression and the right of others not to have the religious views of any group made the law of the land.

Religion can and often has been abused and used by the faithful as a dictatorial bludgeon and those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, laws and legislation, pro-life anti-abortion, Religion

The Freedom of Living on the Margins of American Christianity

1622612_10152232336042059_727365308_nMe and my Littlest Buddy, Minnie Scule

I have been living on the margins of American Christianity for a bit over six years now. The watershed moment was when I returned from Iraq in February 2008 my faith shattered and my soul wounded suffering from severe PTSD. I was not in good shape then and two years later after faith returned, albeit in a different form I realized that I no longer fit in the mainstream of conservative American Christianity.

When I began to express some of those changes, which mainly had to do in the manner of how I viewed others I got in trouble. At the time I was part of a pretty conservative Episcopal-Catholic denomination with very strong Evangelical and Charismatic leanings. I wrote that I thought that homosexuals could be Christians and not automatically damned to hell. I wrote that not all Moslems were bad. I expressed a great deal of empathy for non-believers, particularly Atheists and Agnostics having recently come out of a period where for all intents I was an Agnostic praying that God really did exist and care. I also asserted that I saw no reason why women could not or should not be ordained to the Priesthood and the Episcopacy and I expressed other views that while not connected with anything to do in the Christian faith was not politically correct in conservative circles.

During that time period I found that I was getting slammed and “unfriended” on Facebook by people I had previously considered friends whenever I had the nerve to disagree with them, or innocently post something that they disagreed with on my Facebook page. I think that was the hardest part for me, I was shocked that people who I had thought were friends, who knew what I was going through were so devoted to their ideology that they condemned me and threw me away. I found that I agreed with Mahatma Gandhi who observed: “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Of course I say that with a fair amount of humility because most of the time I am not a very good Christian, if that means actually trying to emulate Jesus.

Of course that is not uncommon in the annals of Christianity. Ulrich Zwingli, the Reformer of Zurich was so upset when his students and closest associates became Anabaptist that he had them drowned in the Rhine River. In fact any time Church leaders have had significant powers over people through the levers of the State they have quite often used that power to crush anyone that did not believe like them or questioned their authority.

In a sense for two millennia various groups of Christians have been creating God in their own image and inflicting their beliefs on others. Anne Lamott has a pithy little thought that I love: “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

In September of 2010 I was asked to leave that church, even though my actual theological orthodoxy, as to what I believed about God and Christ was unchanged. Thankfully another church, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church, a denomination of the Old Catholic tradition took me in. It is a tiny denomination, much like the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands, but very affirming and I fit well in it.

As far as my old church, it was going through a difficult time and the Bishop who threw me out was a big part of the problem. He was removed a few months later when it was revealed that he was plotting to take all of the military chaplains out of the denomination to another without consulting the other bishops. One friend who is still in that church speculated that I was asked to leave by the bishop because he thought I might reveal his plans, even though he had not told me directly about them.

What was odd about that church was that in 2004 I was censured by the then second ranking archbishop in that church, forbidden from publishing and even having or having any personal contact with his clergy where I was living because I was “too Catholic.” The irony was that this bishop was a big cause of the trouble that the church went through including the massive splits that occurred in 2005-2010. He left that church, became the editor of a conservative Catholic website and now is a Priest in the Anglican Ordinate and effectively a Roman Catholic Priest.  I love irony.

Thankfully I still have many friends in my old church, and thankfully there are good people there doing their best to live the Gospel. I can’t say that I would fit in there anymore, but I have no residual animosity to the current leadership of that denomination and pray that they continue to recover from the tumult and division that marked their struggle from 2005-2011. I admit that it was a painful time and for a while I was quite bitter about how I had been treated, but it has been easier to live by forgiving. C. S. Lewis noted: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Since I have been forgiven for so much how can I not at least try to live in a forgiving manner?

Last night I wrote about my frustrations with American Christianity in particular the conservative Christian subculture. Looking at what I wrote I can see that I definitely exist on the margins of that world. But that is not a bad thing, there is a certain amount of freedom as well as intellectual honesty and integrity that I have now that I could not have being for all intents closeted in my former denomination.

Living on the margins allows me to echo Galileo who wrote: “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” It allows me to be at the intersection of faith and unbelief and allows me entry into both worlds, both of which I believe to be sacred and both need to be heard, as well as protected.

Thus when I champion religious liberty, it is not the liberty to use religion to bludgeon others or to use the police power of the State to enforce their religious views on others. Unfortunately that is what I see going on in this country as conservative American Christians especially Evangelicals, Charismatics and conservative Roman Catholics wage a Kulturkampf against modernism and secularism. It as if many of the leaders of that movement desire to set up a Christian theocracy. Gary North, a longtime adviser to Ron Paul and many in the Tea Party movement wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

Personally, and with no invective intended I have to imagine that if a Moslem leader in this country said somethings similar that the Religious Right would be screaming bloody murder and that Bill O’Reilly and Fox News would be leading the charge.

Thus we see a reprise of the Scopes Monkey Trial in efforts to diminish the teaching of real science in schools and replace it with various religious theories of origins such as Young Earth Creationism. It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is: equality for women, minorities, gays, teaching science, caring for the poor, the sick and the weak, acknowledging the value of other cultural traditions and religions it seems that many politically charged conservative Christians have no tolerance for anyone outside their often quite narrow belief system. North wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

I’m sorry but again this sounds not too dissimilar to the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, without the sheep and the comfortable clothes, or the Moslem Brotherhood types, Hezbollah or the Iranian Imams. The religion of North might be different from the Taliban but the goals are eerily similar, and only a fool would not see that. But then we Christians are quite good at ignoring the hate being preached by those that claim to be defending us from those “evil” Moslems.

This is no empty threat, throughout the country Christian Conservatives and their political front men are ramming through laws that have but one intent, the establishment of a Christian theocracy and the persecution of those who do not agree. Allegedly all of these laws are designed to “protect religious liberty” but in fact are nothing more than a legislative attempt to disenfranchise non-believers or others that the majority does not approve. Unfortunately the people pushing these laws do not understand that once the become law they can be used against them if another group comes into power. They set precedent and under such precedent even Sharia Law could could be enacted in Moslem dominated areas of the country, such as Dearborn Michigan, or polygamy in separatist Mormon communities in Utah and Idaho.

I am sorry but that is antithetical to the thoughts of our founders and the real defenders of religious liberty in the early days of our republic. John Leland, head of the Virginia Baptists and a key player in the drafting of the First Amendment and religious liberty protections in Virginia wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever…Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Leland understood what he was talking about, because in Virginia Baptists and others were being persecuted by Anglicans who before the Revolution had been the State Church of Virginia and wanted to be again in the new republic. James Madison wrote of the danger:  “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

I will defend the right of religious conservative to believe what they want, including the right to teach it in their churches, church schools and homes and to express those views in the public square as part of real dialogue. I may not agree with them, but if I want my views to be protected I should grant others what I would want. What I cannot support is the attempt of some politically active Christian conservatives to force those views on others through the power of the State, the public schools or any other place where the citizens of our very diverse and pluralistic society have to co-exist.

I love the movie Inherit the Wind. I especially love the scene where Spencer Tracy playing the fictionalized version of Clarence Darrow gives a logical yet passionate defense of religious, civil and intellectual liberty.

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

Since I don’t want to go back to the 16th Century I will be content to live in the freedom that I have on the margins of contemporary American Christianity. Personally I would rather be there than in the 16th century.

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Back in 2010 when I was getting kicked out of my old church and suffering the rejection of friends it wasn’t something that I enjoyed. However, I am grateful to be where I am now and to have the freedom that I enjoy. I certainly didn’t plan it this way, but I am definitely okay with the way things have turned out.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Never Ending Struggle Against Racism and Its Terrible Effects

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On the 149th Anniversary of Pickett’s Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg washed up rocker and right wing political activist Ted Nugent wrote in the Washington Times: “I’m beginning to wonder if it would have been best had the South won the Civil War.”  I found his remark appalling and disgraceful but I have come to expect such comments from him and and others who voice similar sentiments. If Nugent’s rant was a one time slip of the tongue there might be some grace, but even last week he called President Obama a “subhuman mongrel” a term so load with Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow and Nazi imagery it defies imagination to hear it used today. When I hear such words spoken towards anyone I can only believe that the man that utters them is an unrepentant racist bent on the reestablishment of White Supremacy.

When I hear such sentiments, I think of men like Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was a college professor who served in the Union Army and won fame and the Medal of Honor for the defense of Little Round Top at Gettysburg. There is a quote from the film Gods and Generals which I think about when I hear anyone suggesting that it would have been better for the Confederacy to have won the war:

“Now, somewhere out there is the Confederate army. They claim they are fighting for their independence, for their freedom. Now, I can not question their integrity. I believe they are wrong but I can not question it. But I do question a system that defends its own freedom while it denies it to an entire race of men. I will admit it, Tom. War is a scourge, but so is slavery. It is the systematic coercion of one group of men over another. It has been around since the book of Genesis. It exists in every corner of the world, but that is no excuse for us to tolerate it here when we find it right in front of our very eyes in our own country. As God as my witness, there is no one I hold in my heart dearer than you. But if your life, or mine, is part of the price to end this curse and free the Negro, then let God’s work be done.”

There is a spot near the Copse of Trees along Cemetery Ridge which is referred to as the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” It is close to where Confederate Brigadier General Lewis Armistead fell mortally wounded as the decimated remains of his command were overwhelmed by Union forces shortly after they breached the Union line. It is a place immortalized in history, literature and film. It is the place that marked the beginning of the end for the great evil of slavery in America.

My ancestors lived in Cabell County which in 1861 was part of Virginia. They were slave holders along the Mud River, a tributary of the Ohio River just to the north of what is now Huntington West Virginia. When war came to the country the family patriarch James Dundas joined the 8th Virginia Cavalry Regiment in which he served the bulk of the war as a Lieutenant.  When the war ended he refused to sign the loyalty oath to the Union. As a penalty his lands, which are now some of the most valuable in that part of West Virginia were confiscated and sold by the Federal Government. James Dundas was a true believer in the romantic and confused myth of the “Lost Cause.”

Because he served I am eligible for membership in the Sons of the Confederacy. But that is something that I will not do. While some join that organization to honor their ancestors, others that take that devotion to places that I cannot go.  As much as I admire the valor and personal integrity of many military men who served the Confederacy I cannot for a moment think that their “cause” was just.

It has been said that the North won the war but that the South won the history.  I think this is true. Many people reduce the reasons for the war to the South protecting its rights.  Sometimes the argument for the South is “states rights” or “economic freedom.” Those that make these arguments frequently romanticize the valor shown by Confederate soldiers on the battlefield. But sadly they often ignore or obscure the racism and evil of the Southern economic system.

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The “rights” and the “economic freedom” espoused by those that led the secession and that are lamented by those like Nugent were categorically evil. Those rights and freedoms were built upon the rotten edifice of slavery. The South fought to maintain their rights to enslave and exploit Blacks to maintain an archaic economy based on agriculture, particularly the export of King Cotton. Thus I have no desire to become part of an organization enshrines the myth of the “Lost Cause” no matter what my family connections.

Some attempt to place the blame on the North, to turn the Northern States into economic predators’ intent on suppressing the economic rights of Southerners. These arguments serve to show the bankruptcy of the idea itself. The fact that the “economic and political freedom” of Southerners was founded on the enslavement of a whole race of people matters not because to such people the “cause” is greater.

The fact was that the longer the Southern economy relied on agriculture supported slavery it deprived itself of the means of economic progress. The same progress that propelled the North to prosperity. Because it cast its lot with King Cotton and slavery the South lagged in all industrial areas to include transportation infrastructure. Most non-slave owning whites lived at the poverty line. They were disrespected by the wealthy Plantation owners only enjoyed some elevated social status because the slaves ranked beneath them in the sociological and economic hierarchy.

To support its slave economy the South depended on cheap imports from England, which then was still considered an enemy of the United States. When tariffs to protect newly establish American industries were enacted in 1828 South Carolina attempted to nullify the Federal law and even raised troops and threatened to revolt in 1832.

The Southern economic system was immoral and antiquated. It enslaved blacks and it impoverished most rural Southerners.  The only exception to this were those that owned the land and the slaves, and small numbers of entrepreneurs. It was a hateful, backward and loathsome system which even Southern churches attempted to justify from Scripture.  Southern Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians all broke away from their parent denominations in the 1840s over the issue of slavery.

So many died and so much of the South was destroyed in the defense of  the “cause” that one has to wonder just why Southern political and religious were willing to defend such an inadequate and evil economic system. Perhaps it was an innate sense of racial superiority that ran deep in the South, perhaps it was a misplaced sense of political pride and honor. Regardless of the reason, the war that they brought about devastated their homeland. The radicals that ran “Reconstruction” after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln ensured that Southerners suffered terrible degradation and impeded any real efforts to promote reconciliation between the races and between the regions.  Their misguided and often brutal rule ensured that Southern blacks would have even more obstacles raised against them by the now very angry and revengeful whites.  It would take another 80-100 years to end segregation and secure voting rights for blacks.

I was raised on the West Coast but have lived in the South much of my adult life due to military assignments. I served in National Guard units that trace their lineage to Confederate regiments in Texas and Virginia. Despite my Confederate connections both familial and by service I can find little of the romance and idealism that some find in the Confederacy and the “Lost Cause.” I see the Civil War for what it was, a tragedy of the highest order brought about by the need of some to enslave others to maintain their economic system.

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Today there are many that use the flags of the Confederacy outside of their historic context. They are most often used as a symbol of continued racial hatred or of defiance to the Federal Government by White Supremacist or anti-government organizations.  Many that use them openly advocate for the overthrow of the Federal Government.  The calls for such “revolt” can be found all over the country even in the halls of Congress much as they were in the 1830s, 40s and 50s.

Some of this is based on libertarian economic philosophy which labels the government as the enemy of business. Some is religious opposition to some social policies, while some is based in xenophobic racial hatred, not just of Blacks, but also Latin Americans, Asians and Middle Eastern immigrants. The divisions in the country are probably as great as or greater than they were in the 1850s as the country lurched inexorably to Civil War.

I often see the symbols of the Confederacy, particularly the Battle Flag displayed in manners that can only be seen as symbols of defiance.  Somehow I find the display of that flag outside of its historic context revolting.

For such people the Federal Government is the enemy. I know that our system of government has its flaws. Likewise I cannot agree more about the corruption of many in political office, regardless of their political allegiance or ideology.

Today quite a few people on the political right call for revolt or secession. Some moderate politicians have attempted to compromise with such radicals, but those efforts only make things worse. Radicals are never satisfied and view compromise as weakness. Thus Thomas Jefferson said of the Missouri Compromise of 1824: “but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment, but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.”

We have allowed the issues of our time to become a fire of unbridled angry passion. We have allowed those with almost no historical understanding and who promote myth stake claims and promote ideas that are destructive to our union. Unfortunately I do not think that we have reached the high water mark of this movement. I fear like Jefferson that the hatred and division will only grow worse as some prepare for conflict.

A few months after the Battle of Gettysburg Abraham Lincoln made a few remarks at Gettysburg war cemetery.  Lincoln is reviled by men like Nugent and others that romanticize the Lost Cause. He is often demonized by many “conservative” politicians and pundits today, but his remarks are still remarkably pertinent:

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate—we cannot consecrate—we cannot hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Today with so many radicals doing all that they can to plunge us into yet another civil war we should remember Lincoln’s words. We need to rededicate ourselves to this Union.  Tony Blair the former Prime Minster of Great Britain remarked in 2011:

“It may be strange for a former British Prime Minister to offer thoughts on America when the country will be celebrating its independence from Britain. But the circumstances of independence are part of what makes America the great and proud nation it is today. And what gives nobility to the American character.

That nobility isn’t about being nicer, better or more successful than anyone else. It is a feeling about the country. It is a devotion to the American ideal that at a certain point transcends class, race, religion or upbringing. That ideal is about values, freedom, the rule of law, democracy. It is also about the way you achieve: on merit, by your own efforts and hard work.

But it is most of all that in striving for and protecting that ideal, you as an individual take second place to the interests of the nation as a whole. This is what makes the country determined to overcome its challenges. It is what makes its soldiers give their lives in sacrifice. It is what brings every variety of American, from the lowest to the highest, to their feet when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played.

Of course the ideal is not always met – that is obvious. But it is always striven for.

The next years will test the American character. The world is changing. New powers are emerging. But America should have confidence. This changing world does not diminish the need for that American ideal. It only reaffirms it.”

I think that the Prime Minister got it right and that Ted Nugent and those like him or defend his hateful ideology are ignorant racist fools. But hatred, ignorance and the belief in myth are often quite powerful in the hands of those who desire to maintain their power at any cost. History proves this, thus we must always confront them and not back down until we truly know that “new birth of freedom.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Matter of Degree: The Taliban, Kansas, Jim Crow and Nuremberg

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“The segregation laws in your country and the anti-semitic laws in mine, are they not just a difference of degree? Herman Goering (Brian Cox) to Captain Gustav Gilbert (Matt Craven) in the film Nuremberg)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjbsD-TYi3s

Over the weekend I posted a link to an article about the attempt by the Kansas State of Representatives to pass a law entitled the “Religious Liberties Protection Act.” The Bill, which seems innocuous was actually a law written to enshrine the discrimination against Gays in the public and private sectors by anyone claiming that serving them would infringe upon their “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The law was held up in the State Senate, and today the Bill was shelved, but it’s author Representative Charles Macheers, insisted that in order to protect Christians and other religious people that anyone claiming that their religious beliefs were infringed upon should be legally able to discriminate against others.  Though specifically directed against Gays it would have set a terrible legal precedent.

I posted a link to an article about the Bill on my Facebook page. Most people, even many of my more conservative Evangelical Christian friends, who are not big fans of Gay rights or Marriage Equity, to their credit were appalled by the law and by the attitude of my former colleague.

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When someone asked me about it on my page, I made a comment that the law was a product of “the Kansas Taliban.” The comment was deliberately designed to be provocative. It was loaded and it did what I intended.

I honestly believe that there is little difference between the religious zealots of the Taliban and those that introduce such religiously based laws here. Such laws enshrine discrimination and differ from the Sharia of the Taliban only in a matter of degree. The attitude exhibited by such zealots, be they Christian, Moslem or any other religion is so strikingly similar it is frightening.

My comment elucidated a response from a man who I had worked with years ago at a Evangelical Christian television ministry. The head of that ministry has become one of the leading figures in the politically active Christian Right and is quite active politically, especially in Texas. The man who jumped in on my conversation has been working for that ministry for over 20 years.

His comments were so hateful, disrespectful and ignorant that my friends, who range from very conservative Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians to devoted secularists, Gays and Lesbians and even an Atheist jumped in to defend me and what I said. The fact that my friends really know me and understand me, and even if they disagree with me they are willing to defend me. That is remarkable tribute to American values. It was a testament to the good nature of most Americans, as well as Brits who commented on the post. The fact is I would do the same for them.

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My comment about the “Kansas Taliban” was not about religious people who despite their strongly held beliefs are respectful of others and hold the rights of people who believe differently than them to matter. It was directed at those who use fear and hate to promote an agenda that vilifies and demonizes others based on their religious or ideological beliefs. The fact that the people promoting the Kansas law were conservative Christians is only important as it demonstrates that some Christians can be just as brutal and thoughtless as the Taliban.

That is a nuance that people driven totally by ideology miss. Some might think I am attacking Christians. That is not the case. The attack is on any group that would attempt to enforce their religious beliefs on others through the police power of the state.

The real fact of the matter is that the Mullahs of the Taliban have much in common with Christians and others who desire to impose their beliefs by the law of the state on those that do not agree with them, be it in religious beliefs, political ideology or racial, ethnic, cultural or linguistic differences.

My former colleague called me many things before he dropped me as a Facebook friend. He made himself look foolish. It was his loss. I would have been willing to listen, care for and respect his views had he not resorted to name calling and character assassination in his attempt to shame and silence me. Anyone who really knows me knows that for me life is more about caring for and having relationships with people, even if we differ in our beliefs than attempting to argue them into my position or abandon a relationship with them because they do not agree with me.

Sadly for him my former colleague did not understand that. It was a loss that he brought about, and in that sense it is his loss, because I actually do care for him and remember him fondly from when I knew him 20 years ago; but in the end of the day it is probably a loss for both of us.

Unfortunately that is the cost of those more committed to their ideology than they are to people. It matters not if they are Christians, Moslems, Jews, Hindus, secularists, or others that hold the purity of their political, social, ideological, racial or economic theories as more important than people.

My comment about the Kansas Taliban was fitting, and like Hermann Goering’s comments at Nuremberg to Gustav Gilbert the difference between the ideology and actions of the Taliban as opposed to militant Christians who attempt to use the power of the State to suppress, control and persecute those that they find offensive is only a matter of degree.

That may not seem important to some. But it is the difference between a divided society that can agree to disagree respecting the differences within it, and one for which factions attempt to use the police power of the State and the law of the land to persecute those that are different.

Goering in his critique of America in the 1930s and 1940s was correct; what we as a society enshrined in law and in our culture to discriminate against others differed little from what the Nazis did, only in the matter of degree.

It is something for us all to think about.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Orangeburg Massacre and the Uncertain Memory of Justice Clarence Thomas

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On Tuesday Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas lamented the “race consciousness” and “sensitivity” as compared to growing up in Savannah Georgia in the 1960s.

If he were not in a position of nearly unlimited power and influence where he can through a legal opinion overturn established laws regarding voters rights, equal opportunity and discrimination it would be laughable. However, Thomas seems to have missed so much of what was happening to African Americans and others during the Jim Crow Era, the campaigns for resistance in the “segregation forever” movement and the wanton violence used on African Americans who simply wanted the same rights that other Americans enjoyed.

How a man as educated and supposedly aware as Thomas can make such an absurd statement is beyond me.

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The brutality of those in power against those who demonstrated and campaigned for civil rights was widespread. If Thomas did not hear about it in his childhood it was more likely that it was because Blacks had no voice in local or state government, no support in the local media and those who spoke out were brutalized, their homes, churches or businesses burned or or bombed, and for their trouble many went to jail. It took extraordinarily courageous men and women to stand up to the tyranny perpetrated by politicians, police and businessmen at the local and State level,often directly connected to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan in many parts of the South.

Thomas said that he was treated worse by the Northeastern Liberal Elites, than he was in his home town. That may be so, racial prejudice was not unique to the South, in fact some of the worst riots against desegregation occurred in Boston, not far from Thomas’ college Alma mater. Likewise there were incidents of violence in Watts California by the Los Angeles Police Department that helped trigger the Watts Riots. That being said there can be no doubt that in terms of organized systemic discrimination, persecution and violence that the South was the unparalleled hotbed of resistance to change, resistance to the simple desire of people to receive equal treatment under the law.

We remember some of those incidents; the burning of the Freedom Riders bus in Anniston Alabama, the baring of James Meredith from the University of Mississippi, the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in which four little girls going to Sunday School were murdered, the brutal attacks on protestors in that same city that sent Dr Martin Luther King to jail, the murder of Medgar Evers, the murder of the Mississippi Civil Rights Workers, Bloody Sunday on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma Alabama, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

We know about those, well at least some of us do. They all occurred in my lifetime and certainly if Thomas didn’t know about them as a child he either chooses to ignore them now.

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But for each of those incidents there were many more, some very bloody which have been forgotten. I was reminded of one of those today when a speaker talked about an incident that occurred at his alma mater, South Carolina State University in Orangeburg South Carolina, the Orangeburg Massacre. I think I had read about it once, but I had forgotten about it.

It was on February 8th 1968 when students at the college began to protest for equal access to local businesses, especially the only bowling alley in town, the All Star Lanes. The owner refused to allow Blacks to patronize his establishment. In the days leading up to the massacre students were beaten by police as they engaged in peaceful protests.

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Protests continued on campus, hundreds of police and state troopers were dispatched as well as armored vehicles from the National Guard. On campus about 200 students milled around a dying bonfire.

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During a protest the local and state police opened fire on a crowed of students at a bonfire. Contrary to the claims of the police no student was armed, three students were killed, and twenty seven wounded. Many were shot in the back. The dead included a college Army ROTC Cadet named Henry Smith, a member of the college football team, Samuel Hammond who died reciting the 23rd Psalm with his mother at his side, and Delano Middleton, a local high school student who had joined the protest.

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J. Edgar Hoover ordered agents to make false statements to Justice Department officials to cover for the State Troopers involved. When nine of the police officers went to trial for excessive use of force all were acquitted. But how could they be? Evidence was suppressed, false statements made and testimony of the victims discounted.

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For years the subject was covered up, and disinformation spread by elected and police officials, including the governor who blamed the protest on outside “Black Power agitators” and said that the protest took place off campus. Activist Cleveland Sellers was convicted of “inciting a riot” and spent seven months in jail. Twenty five years later he was pardoned. It was not until 2001 that a Governor, then Jim Hodges attended the school’s annual memorial and it was not until 2005 when then Governor Mark Sanford made a formal apology for the massacre.

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The massacre received almost no coverage in the national media and was forgotten. The energy of most Americans was focused on the Vietnam War, the Kent State Shootings and the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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Justice Thomas may have historical amnesia, but history is history, even history that those in power desired to cover up.

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History and justice, even belated justice matter because there are those in our country, not all in the South, who would like to roll back the protections that exist in law to protect African Americans and other minorities from institutional discrimination in matters of voters rights and equality. There are business owners who openly boast of their refusal to serve minorities, and are hailed by some for doing so.

I encourage my readers to explore this subject, the book, The Orangeburg Massacre by Jack Bass and Jack Nelson published by Mercer University Press, a number of websites as well as a video that I have provided a link to here http://www.democracynow.org/2008/4/3/1968_forty_years_later_a_look are good places to start.

Like Montgomery, Birmingham, Anniston, Memphis and Selma, Orangeburg though forgotten by most, still matters. Never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Dream: Keeping Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Dream Alive in 2014

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“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation.”

Over the past week I have been pondering the importance of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is important to not forget this man and what he stood for, his life and sacrifice.

You see King, like many Black clergy of his day could have played it safe. Many pastors, for good reason remained quiet about the conditions of segregation and the racism of the day. Many just hoped to see things slowly improve without rocking the boat and without endangering themselves or their families. They had seen what happened to blacks who spoke up or confronted the evil, lynchings, cross burnings, threats and murder. They had contented themselves with just trying to get along. Many pastors did not support or gave only lukewarm support to King, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth and Ralph Abernathy. going into 1963.

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King did not start out to become a Civil Rights leader. However, he was inspired to actively join the movement through the example of Rosa Parks, who defiance of the law for blacks to sit “in the back of the bus” in 1955. He led the Montgomery Bus Boycott which last 385 days. Reaction among segregationists against King was violent, his house was bombed and his life threatened.

The leadership of the boycott brought the young pastor to national prominence. However, by 1963 much of the Civil Rights movement and the African American community was despairing of the lack of progress. Many had become disenchanted with King, not considering him bold enough despite his rhetorical abilities.

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But in April 1963, working with other Civil Rights leaders in Birmingham Alabama King relit the fires of the movement. Montgomery Police Chief “Bull” Conner used his force to violently attack the demonstrators, unleashing dogs and using high pressure water cannon on them, including women, children and the elderly. The violent reaction to the protests shocked much of America and the world.

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King was arrested and in the Birmingham jail composed one of his most famous works, the Letter from the Birmingham Jail.  The letter was a social, political and theological masterpiece. It it some of his harshest criticism was of white, as well as black moderates:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season”

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King continued his activism until his assassination. In August 1963 he led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where before a crowd of an estimated 200,000-300,000 he gave his I Have a Dream Speech.

http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

The crescendo of the speech was remarkable and is perhaps one of the most remembered speeches in American history.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

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King knew the dangers and the risks of appealing to a strategy of non-violence based on love of his enemies. King spoke to the world when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964:

“Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that those who pioneer in the struggle for peace and freedom will still face uncomfortable jail terms, painful threats of death; they will still be battered by the storms of persecution, leading them to the nagging feeling that they can no longer bear such a heavy burden, and the temptation of wanting to retreat to a more quiet and serene life. Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men.”  http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-lecture.html 

Dr. King understood how easy hatred could consume people and movements and urged  people not to follow the course of hate, he wrote:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

The day before his assassination in Memphis, Dr. King still recognized what he might face. His “I have been to the Mountaintop” speech http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkivebeentothemountaintop.htm recounted many of the things that he had encountered, including an assassination attempt in 1958 which had come close to killing him. It was an amazing speech and one wonders if having lived under threat so long that he almost had a premonition of his death the next day.

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And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

Dr. King’s dream is not dead. There is still much work to see justice done for all Americans as well as those suffering from violence, persecution, discrimination and poverty around the world.

It is 2014. It has been 51 years since Dr. King sat in the Birmingham jail and some still long for a return to the day of Jim Crow, and some who through legislation in some states are attempting to return it by stealth. Racism is not dead, nor are so many other “isms.”

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Dr. King and many of the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement have passed on, and many people today are complacent about the injustices present in our society, injustices experienced by many people. We need a generation of new men and women with hearts like Dr. King’s, who will be the conscience of the nation and confront these injustices.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Conscience and Hard Solid Thinking: Two Things We Lack, A Reminder from Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

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Today I am reminded of the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. as he addressed issues prevalent in the 1960s which unfortunately are still with us today. A lot of people today seek to marginalize Dr King’s life and work by simply relegating him to the pages of history. The attitude of such people seems to be that maybe Dr King was important in his day, but that we have advanced to the point that we don’t need to see beyond the King of history. Thus we miss so much of what he still teaches us today.

Dr. King was a man of tremendous personal courage. Nearly every day of his public ministry and advocacy for the rights of African Americans and the poor his life was in danger. Of course he, like so many other men who throughout history understood that those that champion the cause of justice and peace must ask hard questions. They must engage in hard thinking. They must challenge their own beliefs as well as those that they come in contact, and they must do so from the least safe place to do so, the place of conscience which commands us to do what is right.

In 1968 Dr. King said something that should make us all look in the mirror and ask who we really are and what we represent. He noted how cowardice, expediency and vanity all vie with conscience. He said:

“On some positions, Cowardice asks the question, “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And Vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” But Conscience asks the question “Is it right?” And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.” 

If you look closely at what Dr. King said one can almost see every political, business or religious leader make decisions about things which matter to people, but without facing the demands of conscience.

It would be easy just to say this of our leaders. However, it is also true of most of us, for regardless of our protestations most of us follow the demands of cowardice, expediency or vanity rather than conscience. We do it not because we are bad people, but because we fear the potential negative consequences of doing the right thing, we count the cost and decide we cannot pay it.

Every time we make these decisions not to do the right, but to shrink in cowardice, appeal to the calculation of being politic, or choose to go with what is popular, something in us dies.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and martyr wrote about the results of such equivocation from prison:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds: we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?”

But to follow the demands of conscience requires us to think, and think critically. Too often we simply do things or support causes because we are comfortable with the ideas, and because we do not want to face inconvenient or uncomfortable ideas. We do not like to be challenged. I think that is why there is such a great appeal to often ignorant loud mouthed politicians, pundits and preachers, the Unholy Trinity, to do our thinking for us. The pundits, preachers and politicians often appeal to the must base human instincts to turn citizens against each other, or to drive up support for their ideology. Such ideas are made more destructive when they appear as “memes” on social media, attached to pictures which are designed to invoke an emotional response of anger, hatred and resentment at person or group being demonized. In following them we can become unthinking fanatics, convinced of our rightness without ever examining examining what we believe to see if it really true.

This is not thinking when we follow the lead of such people, regardless of their ideology. In doing so we give up our right and responsibility to think for ourselves and ask the hard questions. Eric Hofer noted how ideology blinds us:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Dr King’s words spoken in 1963 are equally true today:

“Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.”

As we honor the memory of Dr. King this weekend may we do so by not just relegating him to the pages of history, but may we find in his words inspiration to be people of character and conscience today. May we start doing the hard thinking that allows us to follow the demands of conscience and not cowardice, the hard thinking that places justice over popularity and the hard thinking which exposes the emptiness of political calculation.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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For Bucks and Ducks: The Brilliant Cynicism of A&E Network Regarding Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson

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Less than two weeks ago the A&E Network put Phil Robertson, the 67 year old “Patriarch” of the Robertson Clan of Duck Dynasty and Duck Commander on an indefinite suspension. When it occurred I waited to comment because I had suspicions that things were not entirely as they seemed.

The controversy was born in reaction to an interview in GQ magazine where Robertson made comments which equated homosexuality with bestiality. The interview was much more far ranging than that and if you want you can check it out here http://www.gq.com/entertainment/television/201401/duck-dynasty-phil-robertson?currentPage=1

Unlike Sarah Palin I actually decided to read it before making any comments and you should too. The fact is whether you agree or disagree with Robertson you owe it to him and more importantly your principles whatever they may be, to read it.  To be fair Robertson’s beliefs are not out of the Evangelical mainstream, especially the traditional Fundamentalist, the activist culture warrior and Christian Dominion crowd. Honestly I don’t think that Phil Robertson meant any harm to anyone in making those comments, it is just a big part of what he believes and he is not ashamed about what he believes. That is his right. From what I read about Robertson and his family they are generous and contribute much to an otherwise poor community.  As far as Robertson’s comments I don’t agree with them, in fact I strongly disagree with them from a theological and social standpoint as a Christian.

That being said Robertson has the right to his beliefs including the right to speak about them publicly in whatever forum he desires. Everyone has that right. However employers can restrict those rights. All of us if we work for someone else have constraints on our free speech rights in the workplace, either implicitly by contract or even the unwritten expectations of our employers. Likewise people have the right to watch or not to watch his show or buy or not to buy his company’s products. That is the free market. So if A&E wanted to suspend Robertson or to cancel the show based on his actions that would be their right and not be a violation of his rights. If the government did it that would be another matter.

When the controversy erupted and LGBT and other progressive and liberal advocacy groups protested the comments, A&E quickly announced Robertson’s suspension. That was on December 18th. In fact the suspension came so quickly that it surprised me. There was none of the usual hand-wringing that often accompanies media controversy around the star of a hit program and that puzzled me.

The first thing that triggered my suspicion was that Duck Dynasty had already finished filming for the season. Thus any suspension, unless it was a permanent cancellation of the show was only until the next season began. In other words it was a suspension of the off season. So in other words Robertson was not harmed in any way by the suspension. A&E did not fine him or take any money from him. The suspension appeared to me to be a ruse.

However, within moments of the announcement Evangelical Christian pastors, pundits and preachers went into action. Robertson was the “victim” of demonically inspired homosexuals, liberals and secularists. Even those that never read what Robertson said like “Governor half-term” Sarah Palin came to his defense.

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The outcry was amazing. Facebook and Twitter groups rallied to Robertson’s defense threatening A&E with boycotts and calling for his restoration. Likewise politicians introduced legislation to anoint him an “American hero.” Pundits and cable television commentators covered the story more heavily than they would actual issues dealing with the economy, unemployment, national security or events overseas that could harm the country. Preachers rallied their flocks to the cause and many used the controversy to condemn those who were the real victims of Robertson’s actual remarks.

The cry that Robertson’s Constitutional “free speech rights” were being violated and that he was being “persecuted” for his beliefs were oft repeated. The fact of the matter was that A&E never  penalized Robertson, never took any money from him and still allowed him to continue to speak, and even double down on what he said even after the suspension without penalty. In fact A&E aired a Duck Dynasty Christmas marathon on Christmas Day in which Robertson was in every show. How that qualifies as persecution or restricted Robertson’s free speech rights is beyond me.

Conservative media, especially Fox News jumped to Robertson’s defense, proving what Susan Jacoby said in her book The Age of American Unreason: 

“If enough money is involved and enough people believe that two plus two equals five the media will report the story with a straight face always adding a qualifying paragraph noting that mathematicians however say that two plus two still equals four.”

The nine days of unremitting media hysteria came to an end today when A&E announced that Robertson would return for the next season, without penalty and without missing a show.

I was not surprised by today’s announcement. What it showed me was that A&E which had dealt with a similar situation with “Dog the Bounty Hunter” a couple of years ago used the controversy for its own benefit and bottom line. It quickly acted to “suspend” Robertson ensuring that during the so called “War on Christmas” that conservative media that media coverage would provide more free publicity than they could ever spend  on a reality television show. They used the suspension to work up Evangelicals who reacted to fully support Robertson ensuring renewed interest in the Duck Dynasty series and product lines offered by many major retailers.

All in all the controversy and suspension was a successful enterprise for the A&E network and the Robertson clan. There was massive free publicity for the show and no penalties for Robertson. Even better the suspension was cloaked behind the veneer of a network acting like it was doing something to penalize a man for saying things that offended a minority that the viewers of the show despise and then after a carefully scripted “apology” reinstating him. In the statement announcing Robertson’s reinstatement A&E promised to “launch a national public service campaign (PSA) promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people…” It was cynical as hell but brilliant from a business standpoint. You see for A&E it really isn’t about ideology it is about profit. If Duck Dynasty was a failing show they would have cancelled it without questions and tossed show’s Evangelical viewers in the ditch. But there is too much money to be made. In the first 9 months of 2013 the show made $80 million in advertising revenues and merchandise sales have added another $400 million, about half of which went to Wal-Mart. It would be hard for a niche cable network to make up those kind of losses.

I resisted writing anything about this when the controversy erupted because I sensed something fishy. It seemed that given the circumstances that this was a carefully orchestrated event on the part of A&E. When they announced that he would return so soon after suspending him after milking the controversy for all it was worth I realized that my initial gut reaction was right. 

Liberals and the LGBT community who protested actually fell into the A&E trap. Their protest was used as fodder for the network and for the Right Wing media for two different purposes that became a perfect storm: First the controversy fulfilled A&E’s need to bolster the show going into the next season by providing free publicity and reenergizing the viewers. Second it gave the Right Wing media and politically minded preachers the chance to demonize gays and their supporters as being intolerant and hateful, for simply reacting to words that can only from an LGBT point of view be seen as prejudicial, unfair and harmful.

It also gave A&E and the right wing media the chance to avoid Robertson’s other equally repugnant comments about pre-civil rights era black share-croppers which he had made previously.

All in all it was a cynical and brilliant scheme that worked all too well. Machiavelli and Goebbels would have been proud of the PR folks at A&E and Fox News who used Robertson’s unfortunate comments to create a controversy that enriched them and inflamed their supporters.

Progressives, liberals, activists and political moderates like me as well as the LGBT community have to learn to step back from our immediate emotional response to situations like this in the future. We have to be smarter at strategy and look at the big picture. Things like this do not happen in a vacuum. A&E probably assumed that at some point one of the Robertson’s would say something like this and that there would be a backlash. That is why they were able to react so quickly and carefully scripted their response culminating in today’s announcement. Likewise the right wing media sees this kind of controversy as grist for their political and ideological mill.

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Tony Perkins the KKK supporting head of the American Family Association demonstrated this in his press release tonight:

“The attacks on Phil Robertson revealed to the American people that the push to redefine marriage is less about the marriage altar than it is fundamentally altering America’s moral, political and cultural landscape. A&E Network’s reversal in the face of backlash is quite telling to the American people who are growing tired of GLAAD and cultural elites who want to silence people and remove God and His word from every aspect of public life….”

When a situation like this occurs we need to be suspicious and ask “why this? why me? why now?” If we ask those question we can keep from being suckered into no-win situations that those who want to take away our rights to dissent use to set us up and demonize us. In the cyber age of instantaneous communication this is hard to do and we do have to get better at doing it.

If you don’t believe me just look at Perkins. He took this as a way to propagandize his prejudice and hatred of the LGBT community and progressives, for that matter all who disagree with his theocrat machinations including other Christians.

The A&E network and people like Perkins have different goals. For A&E it is profit, for Perkins it is the use of religion and the state to persecute and discriminate against easily demonized minority groups, appealing to the worst aspects of human nature. In this case those often conflicting goals coalesced into the perfect storm.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christian Culture Warriors Versus Pope Francis and Boarding the Wrong Train

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“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It has been amazing for me to watch and listen to influential leaders of the Christian Right vilify Pope Francis for “being liberal” and “surrendering in the culture war.” I find it amazing because for the past 30 years I have been watching the culture warriors fight this war.

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It was in 1992 when Pat Buchanan announced at the Republican National Convention that “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

I had deep ambivalence that speech back then and I was a conservative Republican and moderately conservative Christian. I had already seen how vicious the politically driven Christian conservatism was when I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the early part of the Fundamentalist takeover of that school.

When I was ordained as a Priest in a more conservative Episcopal denomination back in 1996 I became part of a denomination at the time that had fully embraced the ideas of the culture war. When we went to clergy conferences our textbooks were those of Buchanan, Robert Bork, and Thomas Sowell as well as many others which espoused the necessity and rightness of the religious and culture war. Leadership indoctrinated us in this.

However as a military chaplain I had deep qualms about what was going on in this because I was already seeing the practical effects this was having on those who I served. I remember talking to some of the other chaplains in the denomination, a number who had similar concerns.

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So for many years I operated in the nether world of representing a denomination which by the day was growing more deeply aligned with the culture warriors. It began to come to a head in 2006 when Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Navy Chaplain on active duty began a campaign which ended caused a great uproar among religious conservatives and caused chaplains from many conservative denominations great grief as people in our churches looked to Klingenschmitt as a some kind of hero. In fact he was not. He was and is a pathological liar who has been on a Jihad since even before he entered the Navy as a Chaplain in 2003. I saw the unbridled vicious and unethical behavior exhibited by Klingenschmitt and his allies in the extreme Christian right and the right wing political hacks and pundits who use the Christian faith and unwitting but sincere Christians to advance an agenda which is neither Christian nor faithful to the vision of our founding fathers.

It was after that that I deployed to Iraq where what I saw and experienced changed me in profound ways. Suffering from chronic and severe PTSD I suffered a collapse of faith and for two years was for all intents and purposes an agnostic just hoping that God existed. Only my strong sense of vocation and the grace and mercy of God kept me going. But when faith returned it was different and as I began to write about it I realized who much I had changed. In September 2010 I was told by my Bishop that I needed to leave the church because I was “too liberal.”

So now when I see the same right wing political hacks, pundits, preachers and politicians who have been stoking this Christian version of Jihad against a plethora of enemies, Moslems, Gays, women, Liberals, progressives in fact anyone that they want to label as different then them or “enemies” of God or “America” I get my hackles up.

When I heard Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin condemning Pope Francis for his alleged liberalism I realized that no Christian leader was safe from their foolish and shortsighted agenda. Pope Francis has chosen the way of Jesus, he is embracing people that conservative Christians have not only marginalized, but have persecuted for years and are still attempting to do so in the United States and elsewhere. There are times that I fear for the life of Pope Francis because there are people who believe so strongly that they would kill him if they believed that God wanted them to, and when people like Buchanan accuse Francis of surrendering in the culture war they help justify people wo will kill in the name of God.

What seems to me that most of these people lack is a real sense of historical context, not only of the importance that the founders of the United States placed on the freedom of religion and freedom from religion as well as the history of other countries.

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One of my special areas of study is the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period of German history. Religious conservatives were often willing partners with Hitler and the Nazi movement because of their opposition to socialism and what they saw as an atheistic movement in Germany, which many lamed on the Jews. Martin Niemöller was a prominent pastor in that era. His writings reflected the feelings of many. He wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

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Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.

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All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against inGermany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat toGermany.  Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked inGermany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well inGermany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

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When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they leftGermany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

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Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Homosexuals, and “Liberals” who are the targets of the xenophobic and ideological rage vocalized by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.

Their support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible Project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities as did Timothy Rollins of “The American Partisan.”

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….”

Glenn Beck made this comment about a people reacting against Moslems:

“When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”

Doug Giles a seminary educated columnist for Townhall.com a leading conservative opinion site made this comment

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants especially those from Mexico or Latin America.  I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican.   Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals and even deporting them. Some Christian political action groups are going overseas to Russia and Africa to help enact laws against homosexuals and recently the same people have been hosted by members of Congress to promote their ideology.

These actions and proposed laws are so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

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This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

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I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

What the good people who suggesting these “collective guilt” actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but ultimately for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.

So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place.  It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems, Gays, Secularists and others and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political or religious affiliation, sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Christian culture warriors have become so enamored with political power and using the state to enforce their beliefs. They  have forgotten that the people are not converted by religious laws enforced by the police power of the state but on the love shown by God’s people to others. They have forgotten that the sword that they desire to use against those that they despise can easily be turned against them. Many German Christians found this out far too late.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If Christians would only learn that lesson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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