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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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Trayvon Martin and the Pro-Life Movement: Do the Post-Born Matter at All?

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I am perplexed tonight. I see people, many of whom are friends fight stridently against all abortion. I am not for abortion, but I do not think that it should be banned. That aside what I think the pro-life movement as a whole in the United States has become is simply an anti-abortion movement. Sometimes one where demented individuals in it feel justified in killing people who work in abortion clinics, even murdering them in church.

I am perplexed because I seldom see any of the high level culture warriors that fight the abortion battles ever raise a cry about issues of justice concerning people that are already born.

The Trayvon Martin murder and acquittal of the man that killed him should send a chill down anyones spine. In some places like Florida all someone has to claim is that they “felt threatened” to justify the use of deadly force against unarmed people. That is the law, and if there are no videos of the incident or eyewitnesses willing to lay it all on the line then there is a strong chance that the killer will go free. That is a fact and I will not go deep into the racial component of this but it doesn’t seem to me that we have advanced that much since young Emmett Till was murdered and his murderers also acquitted.

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But going back to my main point I don’t think that we really have a true “pro-life” movement in this country. We have an anti-abortion movement which to some degree say that they are fighting for the lives of unborn babies. One does not have to agree with the theology, philosophy or science that they use, but that certainly has to be considered a part of a comprehensive pro-life ethic, abortion for the sake of eugenics including the selection of the sex of an unborn child or solely as a means of birth control are ethically problematic. That being said there are many times, more so than we would want to admit that abortions are tragically necessitated for the life and health of the mother. Sorry, the woman carrying the child should also have the right to her life.

You see I don’t think that simply being anti-abortion is being pro-life, unless you are willing to apply that right to life to already living people.

I have a hard time with people that claim to be pro-life not fighting against the death penalty, against unjust wars of aggression, against targeted assassinations, against the use of drones to kill supposed militants in the remote parts of Pakistan notwithstanding the fact that many infants and pregnant women carrying unborn babies are killed as well. But then I guess that they are just collateral damage and don’t count. After all they are all Moslems and not Americans.

I have a hard time with those that are anti-abortion who would fight against government programs designed to care for pregnant women such as good pre-natal care for the child and primary care for the medical needs of the mother.  I wonder why they are not fighting for the medical and nutritional needs of babies born to poor people and assist young families from impoverished areas get decent jobs and ensure that affordable child care is available. I wonder why supposedly “pro-life” people are not out marching against gun violence, why many will not lift a finger to help the poor, care for the needy, care for the sick and dying, including the elderly who our society seems to be throwing under the bus in every imaginable way unless they are fabulously well off.

Why does it seem that many pro-life leaders are not concerned about issues that effect the lives of pro-life people who happen to be poor, or members of racial or ethnic minorities? But what seems to be the case is that the most vocal and prominent leaders that call themselves “pro-life” or “family values” conservatives both the preachers and the politicians are more concerned about low taxes for the wealthiest people and corporations than they are about people.

Some conservatives and libertarians will say that these are not government responsibilities but the responsibility of churches and charities. I understand the philosophy and in fact I would love to see more churches doing more to alleviate the need for the government to step in. But by and large churches in general and especially conservative evangelical Christian churches have abdicated this responsibility which is mandated in the Gospels and exemplified in the lives of people like Saint Francis of Assisi and so many others. But now even churches that run hospitals frequently subordinate care to the insurance industry and while considered “not for profit” are as for profit as any non-religious hospital.  If evangelicals put half the money that they did into Sunday morning entertainment sessions masquerading as worship and building massive mega-church, media and television empires dominated by the families and friends of their pastors maybe I would have some faith that they were indeed “pro-life.”

I know that some of my conservative friends will see this as some sort of liberal screed. I get that but please, I ask that if people only want to be anti-abortion and not rest of the pro-life ethic then be honest and say that.

The fact of the matter is we are not a pro-life society now in any way shape or form and from our history including slavery, the genocide committed against native Americans, the exploitation of poor countries for the sake of our economy I have a hard time believing the myth that we ever were such a society.

Trayvon Martin is dead. The Florida law was followed, but justice was not done. A young black man was denied his right to life and it doesn’t seem to matter to the “pro-life” movement as a whole. I can’t wait to hear some of the political preachers and politicians that claim to be pro-life defend this verdict.

I guess that is why I am perplexed. It just doesn’t seem to me that the post-born matter to supposedly pro-life people.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Be Careful of What you Vote Against: A Warning from History

“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.” Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller

Martin 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.

Herman Maas

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 Israelin 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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

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.

Bernard Lichtenberg

Catholic 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.  Some like Meyer would end up in concentrations camps with some like Canon Bernard Lichtenberg of Berlin dying at the hands of the Nazis.

Rupert Meyer

All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany.  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 to Germany.  A sentiment harbored by many non-Nazi conservatives and Christians.

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 in Germany.  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 in Germany.  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.

Nazi Political and Religious Opponents in Concentration Camps

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 left Germany.  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.

Hitler portrayed himself and his movement as defenders of Christianity. He was not the first or last to do so but his speech of February 1st 1933, the day after he was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg made it abundantly clear that he was bent on securing the support of Christians to solidify his grip on power: “The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life. . . .”

The Sturmabteilung (SA) at Church

Churches became sponsors of Nazi meetings, the Swastika banner hung in the sanctuaries of churches throughout the Reich and Bishops, Priests and Pastors joined Nazi organizations and gave the Nazi salute. They had sold their soul to Hitler and the Nazis out of fear of the Communists, Socialists, Jews and Slavs.

Eric Hoffer noted that “It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable.” Hitler and his enablers spread fear and took advantage of it to bring those fearful of the left to his support.

Hitler leaving a Church

Today we face a similar phenomena in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Gays, immigrants and racial minorities who are the targets of the xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.  Their popularity in voicing 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 and anti-Gay 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. Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants, legal and illegal alike 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 or putting them in concentration camps, deporting them or even punishing gays with the death penalty.

This is so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems or Gays 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?

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.

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.

The persecution of American Moslems, minorities, Gays and others is dangerous, not just for those minorities but ultimately for Christians who endorse and advocate against those groups.  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.

During the Republican Presidential primaries major leaders of the Evangelical movement and churches did all that they could to paint Mitt Romney as a religious cultist because he is Mormon. When Romney secured the nomination those same people started backtracking and committing their support to him because they believe that President Obama is an enemy of the country. They don’t like Romney, they are just against Obama. Romney will remember what they called him and their tepid support. If he becomes President he will not be beholden to them and will govern as he desires. Laws and Executive orders that give expanded power to the Executive Branch will not be overturned and if Evangelicals decide that they don’t like what he is doing and act toward him as they have President Obama they could find themselves on the outside and abandoned by the man that they supported.

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 Constitutional 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.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic Americans of all faiths 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, religious affiliation or sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

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.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

8 Comments

Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion, Religion

The Manhattan Transfer: Why I Cannot Sign the Manhattan Declaration

“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.” Thomas Jefferson

Note: I do not expect that everyone will agree with my views on this subject.  Thus it is good that I am neither the Pope nor even a bishop.  I fully support the rights of all who have signed this declaration to do so and have the utmost respect for Chuck Colson as well as the Bishops of my Church who have signed this declaration.  I would never impugn the earnest beliefs or motives of these men and women.  However I do not believe that the Manhattan Declaration is fully reflective of the preponderance of the Gospel being that it does not address any traditional theological distinctive of the Christian faith.  It addresses instead moral, social and political issues that are used as wedge issues in contemporary American society.  While I believe that every Church has a right to comment on such issues to use them in their own realm that in a democracy or constitutional republic that such statements serve little purpose other than to rally the troops who already are convinced of them and do little to change the hearts and minds of those who do not.

Recently a fairly sizable number of Christian Leaders from Evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches have drafted and signed a document called the Manhattan Declaration.  It is a statement of four basic sociological and political issues with significant religious and theological overtones.  Let me provide a brief synopsis of the major points of the declaration:

1. The sanctity of human life.
2. The sanctity of marriage.
3. The protection of religious liberty.
4. The rejection of unjust laws.

To be honest these are all worthwhile goals and I can agree with them.  In fact I agree that the right to life of the unborn as well as the born must be protected.  I believe in sanctity of Christian marriage but recognize that the institution of marriage pre-dates the Christian Church and that descriptions of “traditional marriage” in the Old Testament do not reflect a Christian understanding of marriage but rather a ancient Near Eastern Culture of marriage that is more reflective of Islam than Christianity.  I believe in the protection of religious liberty as defined by the founders of the United States in our Constitution.  While I am a Christian every citizen in the United States has a Constitutional right that protects their religious liberty even if offends and is in contradiction to the Christian faith.  The United States was the first nation of the Enlightenment and the drafters of the Constitution would not allow any denomination to impose its interpretation of the Christian faith on any citizen.  Finally there is the rejection of unjust laws; who can be against that?  At the same time who determines what law is unjust? Or is it a matter of political dogma and not the faith that defines what is or is not an unjust law?

By definition Christians should strive to protect life as a matter of course.  Defending the rights of the innocent both the unborn and the born are essential if one truly is pro-life.  As such simply being anti-abortion is not enough to call oneself pro-life.  Unfortunately the vast majority of those who have signed the Manhattan Declaration would limit it to that and pay lip service to everything else that would make one pro-life including the provision of adequate health to those of inadequate means or access to healthcare, the use of the death penalty and the proper application of the Christian understanding of the “Just War” which prohibits preemptive wars or attacks against nations that have not attacked us. Pro-life would also include the implicit command for the Church to be leading the way in caring for the poor, indigent and the foreigner among us.  Likewise such would assume that the government would also have some responsibility to care for its citizens as the institution that God has raised up to maintain public order and maintain a just society.

Likewise it is within the context of the Church define marriage recognizing that while the vast majority of Christians would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, that is the understanding of the vast majority of people who have signed this document.  No church or religious body should be required to perform rites that are in contravention to their beliefs. At the same time they cannot under the laws of the land impose those beliefs on others or force the government to do so.  The understanding of religious liberty as defined by the Constitution does not allow this.  One of the good things about going to a Southern Baptist Seminary before the Fundamentalist takeover of the denomination was the deep understanding of religious liberty and the freedom of conscience that is given to all citizens.

Likewise defending religious liberty, both to practice one’s religion as well as respect the rights of others to practice theirs is a sacrosanct principle of being an American.  This is especially true for those who serve as Chaplains in the Federal government.  To use a Star Trek metaphor, such is our “Prime Directive.”  Religious liberty is essential and protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution which also guards the rights of free speech and association.  It is my hope that what I model to others in word and deed, and definitely helped by the Holy Spirit, will allow people, even those hostile to the Church or the Christian faith to maybe reconsider, especially if they have rejected the faith because of the intolerance of other Christians or our sometimes sordid history in regard to the treatment of people.

Finally the rejection of “unjust laws” is a bit of a Red Herring.  An unjust law is in the eye of the beholder. The founders of the country believed that a African American only counted as 3/5ths of a person. Which 3/5ths I don’t know, but certainly this cannot be considered a “just law” however it was supported by many Churches including those that resisted anti-slavery provisions adopted by their denominations and left those denominations in the years preceding the Civil War.

However it is not the theological principles of the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage, freedom of religious expression and resistance of unjust laws that is the problem.  Rather it is the tacit political emphasis of the document in spite of the comments by major supporters such as the President and CEO of Focus on the Family:

“It is important, first off, to note that the Manhattan Declaration is not a partisan or political statement…Instead, it addresses and elevates four specific areas of universal consensus. Some have referred to these as “threshold issues,” meaning they represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows. This is the bedrock. If we can’t agree on these areas of doctrine, everything else will be of reduced value.” Jim Daly, President and CEO of Focus on the Family

As a Christian of the Anglo-Catholic tradition the bedrock of the faith resides in the Bible and the testimony of the Church in the Creeds and the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church. These are not areas that “represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows.” I dare anyone to show me this in scripture or church tradition.  While there are places that one can draw inferences of these issues to be scriptural one can claim that the Scripture at no point forbids abortion. In fact the one place where these is even an inference of this is in Exodus 21:22-25 where a man injures a woman to cause a miscarriage is fined and not treated as a murderer.  Likewise the “imprecatory prayers” in the Psalms calm for dashing infants against stones.  If one looks at marriage it is obvious that Israel, like all Middle Eastern cultures of the day and many of the Moslems condemned by many supporters of the Manhattan Declaration practice was more of a property transfer than a true union of husband and wife as we now understand it to be. As far as freedom of religion one can cite numerous examples in the Old Testament where there is no religious freedom or rights given to non-Jews.   So to claim any of these as universal and foundational is inaccurate, even if they are worthy goals.

The drafters of the document refer to the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church during the Nazi era as a precedent for their work.  This is a bad analogy and bad history.  The Barmen Declaration was a statement of faith. The bulk of the declaration dealt with historic Lutheran and Reformed beliefs in the context of bearing witness and being faithful as members of a State Church which was falling in line and becoming a political instrument of the Nazis sacrificing its actual Christian faith and adopting a Nazi-Aryan faith.  This was viewed as heresy and apostasy by the members of the Confessing Church.  These men had no political party to support them, they were alone.  This is not the case with those who sign the Manhattan Declaration.  It is not a statement of orthodox Christianity against the apostasy of a church but a statement of political and social beliefs that have a religious component.

The partisan nature of the document is shown in the timing.  It now occurs with a President who is a liberal Democrat.  It well could have been issued during the Bush administration where little than political speeches were made in support of pro-life or anti-abortion causes.  In fact the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in his confirmation hearings referred to Roe v. Wade as “settled law.” Likewise the Bush administration adopted the policy of pre-emptive warfare as a matter of doctrine.  This is blatantly in contravention of both international law as well as the Christian understanding of the Just War.  One has to remember that the United States prosecuted the Nazis for wars of aggression; wars that the Nazis believed were justified.  Likewise the open support of Gay marriage by the former Republican Vice President was never criticized by many of these people.  It seems that such a document would have had much more credibility has the writers published it during the past administration.

The point of this article is to reaffirm actual Christian doctrine defined by the Creeds, Councils and Scriptures as the standard of the Christian faith and not a list which is not and has never been the central component of the Christian faith.  It is my belief that the Manhattan Declaration is well meaning but ill-conceived and can and is being construed as the litmus test of what it means to be a faithful Christian.  I have seen two friends this weekend, who are totally orthodox in their denomination’s understanding of the Christian faith, theological conservatives who have difficulty with such declarations attacked as liberals and unbelievers.  I expect that some will do this with me.  It is my belief that this statement will serve to ghettoize Christians into a particular wing of the Republican Party providing their critics with the opportunity to simple count them as a subgroup of that party.  That is a real and present danger.

I do find that the preamble to the declaration has much that I can agree with, however it is the focus on a narrow band of issues that concerns me, issues that have been for the past 30-40 years hot button political issues where both major political parties play upon religious groups to further their agendas.

Again, I am totally pro-life and orthodox in my faith as a Christian.  I just believe that such declarations serve only to reaffirm the previously held positions of those who support them and have little effect on the vast majority of people and almost none on the government.

My friends Joel and Jared have made some interesting observations on their own sites.  Joel is at

http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/ and Jared at

http://jzholloway.wordpress.com/

The text of the Manhattan Declaration is here:

http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/images/content/ManhattanDeclaration.pdf

Peace,

Padre Steve+

4 Comments

Filed under marriage and relationships, philosophy, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion, Religion

Where were You When…? The Death of an Icon and Its Impact in Our Lives

Note: This post is one where I invite readers to share any memories they have of Michael Jackson’s death or other events that involved the deaths of cultural icons as well as significant events that either affected you or made a deep impact on your life or that of people that you know.  I will approve all comments except those identified as spam by WordPress.

The death of Michael Jackson yesterday was one of those events in life that when they occur leave a lasting impression on people. Even people who were not fans of Michael will remember because Michael Jackson was a cultural icon.  When icons die, or tragedies occur they tend to leave a lasting mark.  You can be talking to anyone and if they were alive when one of these events happened and quite a few or most people will be able to tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing at the time of the event.

I am 49 years old, though patently I don’t really look my age, nor do I act it.  Being that I am nearly half a century old it means that I have seen a fair amount of life.  Since I am passionate about life and a keen observer of life, society and culture being a historian as well as member of the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park parish I remember a lot.  I’m told by some that I have one of those phonographic memories.  You know the kind where you get a thought in your head and it keeps going and going round and round at 33 1/3 RPMs.  I will remember this because we had just arrived at the Capital Hilton and were preparing to go out for dinner with Judy’s cousin Becki at Murphy’s of DC to celebrate our anniversary.  I had just checked the news when I heard that Michael had been found down and was in cardiac arrest.  Since I have seen a lot of these cases roll into ERs that I have worked in I knew that Jackson had very little chance of coming out of this alive.  Most news sites were reported that he was getting CPR and had been taken to UCLA Medical Center.  Then I checked the website of Matt Drudge, the Drudge Report following a look at CNN.  I opened the page and Drudge’s trademark old fashioned police siren light was flashing and below it in red was “WEBSITE: JACKSON DEAD!” and had a link to the celebrity gossip site TMZ.  TMZ actually reported the death over an hour prior to most of the networks.  It also turned out that TMZ’s report was pretty accurate.  Later other sites began to announce the news pretty much confirming TMZ’s initial report. I saw the report on CNN as we walked to get a cab to the restaurant with Becki.  It was kind of surreal as Michael Jackson, despite his eccentric actions and nearly continuous controversy surrounding his life, was a larger than life figure.

So events like this get etched on people’s memories like images of the Virgin Mary on grilled cheese sandwiches or pizzas.  These have been reported by the faithful and offered for sale on E-bay so they must be authentic right? They are something that you reallymust  remember. Talking with Judy and Becki at dinner we began to recount where we were at different moments events over the past 30 years or so.   For me the events are often linked to other seemingly inconsequential events going on in my own life. As I have said before we have lived a life  much like the characters in the show Seinfeld so some of these things may not be as funny to you as they are for me.

Some of the things that I remember which stand out include the following events.  If you remember where you were at these events please feel free to comment or add your own in the comments section.  This is one of those rare times when almost everyone has a memory that surfaces because a current event triggers the memory of that particular event.

For me I’m going to first each back to is the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King on April 4th 1968.  That was strange because we lived in the little town of Oak Harbor Washington where my dad was stationed.  The town was small and isolated by being on an island.  We saw the news reports that night this time I believe we were watching NBC’s Huntley and Brinkley give the news. This was way before Cable news and so it took a while to get the story out.  As a little kid I was astounded that anyone could kill a minister and I knew that Dr. King was a leader in trying get blacks the same rights that whites enjoyed.  The next day our teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs. Jackson talked about it with us.  This was follow just two months later by the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy following his California Primary election victory.  I remember the news reports the next day and how upset that my parents were about his death.

The next event was Apollo 11 Moon landing, the “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind” moment on July 20th 1969 where Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the Lunar Module on the “Sea of Tranquility.”  I was a kid and on summer vacation still living in Oak Harbor.  We were at home watching Walter Cronkite report the event live when it happened.  That was an amazing event.

The next really big thing for me was the Marshall University Football team plane crash in Huntington West Virginia where at 7:35 Pm EST a Southern Airways DC-9 crashed into a hillside just short of the runway killing the team as well as numerous boosters, alumni and Huntington notables.  This was kind of person for us.  I had seen that team practice at the old Fairfield Stadium across the street from my grandparent’s house the previous spring before we returned to California to rejoin my dad after he had found us decent housing.  We were watching the evening news in Long Beach California when the local announcer interrupted the story he was working on and announced the crash.  My mom knew a number of people on the aircraft and was devastated.

I’m going to jump forward a bit, to the fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975.  This was a bitter day for me.  My dad had fought in Vietnam and I knew kids who had lost their fathers in the war.  I had experienced a Sunday School teach telling me that my dad was a “baby killer” for being in Vietnam in 1972 and I felt that we had let the South Vietnamese down and that it was the fault of those in the media, on the street and in Congress that had ensured that our men died in vain.  I think that was the point that I decided that I was going to enter the military.  I still cannot look at Jane Fonda and some of her fellow travelers without feeling a sense of anger.

Jumping again a few years I remember the fall of the Shah of Iran and the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran by so called “students” on November 4th 1979.  The takeover which lasted 444 days began in my sophomore year of college.  The humiliation of the country and the poor response of President Jimmy Carter confirmed that I would enter the military after college.  I won’t forget the nightly updates on ABC hosted by Ted Koppel which became the long running show Nightline. I would stay up every night to get the updates.  When the hostages were released this was cause for celebration, but the damage was done.  Of course we saw the pro and anti-Ayatollah  protesters on our university, Northride a big business school responded to a pro-Ayatollah by driving the protestors off campus.  So much for riled up MBA students and Science geeks huh?

When Elvis died on August 16th 1977 I was a getting ready to enter my senior year of high school.  In fact only a week before I had won a copy of a blue vinyl copy of his last album Moody Blue in a local pop radio station give away.  I was on a church high school trip when the news came over the radio.  The man driving the car a real estate agent who was a deacon in the church started to cry, I mean like really cry almost like Middle Eastern mourning kind of crying.  As someone who is less expressive of such emotions being a Romulan at heart I was mildly taken aback, after all it wasn’t like they had dated or anything.  I had seldom seen men cry before and this was some pretty emotional stuff.  My mom had the same kind of reaction I discovered on my way home.  I guess it was the generation thing.  He was the icon of his generation and changed both the style and the performance of music.  It was Elvis that I immediately thought of when I first saw the news of Michael Jackson’s death.  I guess the fact that both were known as the “king”, that both died young and unexpectedly and that Michael was briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley makes their connection a bit stronger than otherwise expected.  I wonder if there will be stories that Michael is really dead or if it was staged to get him some privacy.  I’m sure that conspiracy theorists will be looking into this as both a death and a disappearance.  On a side note I visited Graceland in 1983 on my way to Fort Knox Kentucky and sat in the “pink Jeep.”  Judy had a Tonka pink Jeep when she was a kid.

The attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan on March 20th 1981 stands out.  I was a junior at cal State Northridge and was taking my lunch on the lawn outside of the office where I worked as a peer counselor.  I was getting ready to go to class as I watched to really good looking girls go walking by me talking.  I didn’t notice anything unusual until the past me and continuing to watch I noticed that each had their hand down the back side of the pants of the other one.  I had never seen this before.  Of course having grown up in California I knew homosexual men and I had heard of lesbians but this was the first time that I ever noticed women of that persuasion like doing some affection or foreplay in public.  Since then of course I have had many friendships with both male homosexuals and lesbians but this was one of those moments that sticks out in my mind.  Anyway, as I walked back into the office to grab my books for class the office TV was on announcing the attempted assassination and what I will never forget is watching retired General Alexander Haig as Secretary of State have a news conference where he stated “I’m in control.”  Of course he wasn’t the next in line and though he thought that he was he was not in control, even of himself that that point.  I don’t think that then Vice President George H.W. Bush was very impressed nor were the actuals in the line of succession.  So the shooting of President Reagan is intermixed with my first view of lesbian touching and seeing a General go out of control to be in control.  As Mr. Spock might say to Captain Kirk, “Captain I find this fascinating.”

In January 1985 I was a young company commander in Wiesbaden Germany.  The Space Shuttle Challenger with 7 Astronauts aboard blew up shortly after launch.  It was already the close of the business day in Germany when this happened.  I had the First Sergeant release the soldiers a bit early and set the duty, the Charge of Quarters, the Assistant and the Duty Driver.  I was staying late as always to take care of maintenance management and personnel reports when Specialist Lisa Dailey rushed into my office.  Lisa was the Charge of Quarters or CQ that day.  She knocked on my door and said “Sir the space shuttle just blew up.”  She had been watching it live on the new AFN broadcast of live stateside TV news broadcasts.  If I recall this was the time slot of the Today Show, and yes it was when there was only one AFN broadcast channel.  I looked up from my mountain of reports and said to her, “Specialist Dailey, space shuttles don’t blow up.”  And she said, no sir it just did, I was watching it and it is on TV right now.”  So I got up from my desk and walked at a brisk pace down the hall with my spun up specialist and looked on in horror as I saw a replay of the launch.   I was stunned as like I had told Lisa “space shuttles don’t blow up.”  However this one did and it was sobering.  I should have believed Lisa, she was a great soldier and the last time that I heard from her is doing well working as an RN in Southern California.  I had an eerie reprise of this when the Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry.  At the time I was waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace who was to be our guest speaker at the Battle of Hue City Memorial Weekend in Jacksonville FL. He was delayed a couple of hours by an emergency meeting of the Joint Chiefs.

Fast forward a few years to the bombing by Libyan agents of Pam Am flight 103, the Clipper Maid of the Seas over Lockerbie Scotland, on December 21st 1988.  I had left active duty for seminary a couple of months previously and was engaged in a nearly futile job search in oil and real estate busted Texas.  I had completed the share of my morning futility mailing our more resumes, making more calls and picking up more job applications.  As always I would take a football out and punt it as far as I could to relieve the stress.  I had already found out that breaking things that you actually need when being accosted by bill collectors is not good a good way to deal with stress.  In today’s current economy I suggest anyone is such straits pick up a football and punt the crap out of it rather than taking anything out on home appliances, electronics or loved ones.  Eventually things will work out as sucky as they may seem now; the Deity Herself has assured me of this.  Anyway, back to the plane crash.  This really was weird for us because barely two years prior we had flown the same aircraft back from Germany when we were reassigned to the states.  We remembered this because then they showed the photo of the nose and cockpit area we saw the name of the aircraft.  I looked at Judy and said, does the name of that airplane look familiar?  If I recall correctly she said something like “Oh my God” and I said: “Remember back in Frankfurt when I saw the name of the aircraft prior to boarding?” and how “l liked the way Pan Am gave pretty names to its aircraft.”  It was funny because we both vividly recalled waiting for our flight and what we said about the aircraft.  That was totally weird and surreal almost like an X-Files thing as I thought back to details inside of the aircraft and the trip home from Germany.

We were in Fort Worth for the first bombing of the World Trade Center and the destruction of the Branch Davidian Compound outside Waco.  Both times I was at work and watched the events unfold on the televisions of our ministry’s television production department.  The Branch Davidian stand-off and attempted seizure of by Federal Agents used M-751 Combat Engineer Vehicles from my National Guard unit.  The vehicles were not manned by Guardsmen but Federal agents.  Later that summer I saw a couple of the vehicles which still had white paint scratches on them from the Branch Davidian building.   In 1995 I was home getting ready to go to work in Huntington West Virginia when the Murrow Federal Building was destroyed by Timothy McVeigh.

There are quite a few others that I could mention but will finish with the destruction of the World Trade Center twin towers on September 11th 2001.  I had finished a couple of counseling cases and put out some other brush fires as the Chaplain for Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division.  Leaving my office for a belated PT session at the French Creek gym I was closing out my internet explorer.  On the Yahoo home page there was a small news line that said “Aircraft crashes into World Trade Center.” I shrugged and figured that some idiot private pilot had flown his aircraft into is by mistake and when out to my car.  I got in my 2001 Honda CR-V and some guy on the radio was blathering about it being an airliner and then I heard a chilling line that I will never forget. “Oh my God another aircraft has hit the second building.”  I went over to the gym and stood staring in disbelief at one of the TVs with a bunch of Marines and Sailors.  I shook my head, ran back to the office and changed over to my cammies and when to the Battalion Headquarters where we were informed of what the command knew and then set to work taking anti-terror precautions as no one knew what might happen next.  Camp LeJeune became a fortress.  There were checkpoints at key locations throughout the base.  Patrols were set up and we remained in lock-down for almost 4 days.  That is a day that I can never forget, over 3000 Americans and others killed by Islamic extremist terrorists out to ignite a world war.

So those are some of mine.  What about yours?  Feel free to add your posts here and get a discussion of these and other notable events including the death of Michael Jackson going.  It will be interesting to see and I will approve all posts to this article, excepting of course spam posts.

Peace, Steve+

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Mid-Week Review-The Loss of a Shipmate, Hospital Duty is Not Easy and No Rational Thought Goes Unpunished

Today has been tough, actually it began yesterday.  We lost a dear shipmate this week. Hospital Corpsman Chief Pam Branum passed away while deployed on the USNS Comfort while on a humanitarian deployment.  She was the Leading Chief Petty Officer for our Critical Care Department, a great leader, genuinely nice person, and dear friend to many in our department.  She was passionate about her work and her people.  She set high standards for herself and worked hard to make sure that her Corpsmen were trained and became good not only what they do, but to help develop them as leaders with character.  She supported the nursing staff that she worked with as a friend and mentor.  She was like a mom to a lot of our staff.  Her loss at the age of 41 was shocking.  This has been a tough year for us in the Medical Center, back in April we lost a 4th Year Medical Student who just in a few weeks would have become a physician and started his internship and residency here.  We have lost a number of other staff members, active duty and civilian since December.  When we lose them we lose part of our family.  Those who have never served in the military cannot fully fathom how losses like this affect the rest of us.  I will be working with our staff and helping to plan Chief’s memorial service and maybe depending on the location the funeral.  Chief Branum will be sorely missed, I am still somewhat in shock.  Please keep her family, friends and co-workers in your prayers.  A link to the Blog of the Executive Officer of the USNS Comfort is here:   http://comfort-xo.blogspot.com/2009/06/thank-you-chief-may-you-rest-in-peace.html?showComment=1244112525886#c1602797664780974312

Another aspect of this difficult year is the number of our military staff being deployed.  Our “deployers” support current operations in Iraq, the Gulf, Horn of Africa and the Afghanistan surge.  Many have already been deployed, are getting ready to do so or are waiting for word.  Many have made other combat deployments in Iraq either with the Marines, Expeditionary Medical Facilities and Shock and Trauma units.  Sometimes they are sent on joint assignments helping train Afghan and Iraqi medical personnel.  Additionally they do humanitarian work in the combat zones in cooperation with Army and Air Force medical personnel.  Some of these Sailors have lost their lives after leaving home and the supposed security of a hospital assignment.  It is sometimes frustrating to listen to those who do not work in a place like this refer to hospital duty as easy.  Our clinicians deal with life and death every day here and are called upon to deploy at a moment’s notice.   They fight for life every day and sometimes when things go badly are as traumatized by the events as people in combat.  It’s hard to watch someone die or suffer and realize that sometimes you can’t win.  There are deaths, especially of children that I cannot get out of my head and I know from my relationships with physicians and nursing staff that they also have similar experiences.   Programs are being developed to help people before they become victims of operational stress, but these are just getting off the ground.  Please keep these heroes in your prayers.

I think today I was also a victim of my logical and reasonable brain.  I am now a declared enemy of at least one person in the anti-abortion movement.  I invested myself heavily the past three days in discussing the events of this weekend in Kansas.  I will not regurgitate this here, read those posts.  However there is something interesting.  I basically had someone comment that “they knew whose side I was on” and pretty much labeled me as someone who is not pro-life.  If they knew me they would know otherwise, but some people cannot take even constructive criticism of tactics and strategy.  Sorry but the confrontational strategy has not worked over a 30 year period and the escalation of rhetoric and violence will get the whole pro-life movement labeled as a domestic terrorist organization. Hell, even David Kupelian of the ultra conservative news site World Net Daily and I agree on this.

The guy who posted to my blog even used a line that was eerily reminiscent of Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men.  “What happened to the “doctor” was wrong, it probably saved hundreds of lives.”  (Comment on yesterday’s post) The person who wrote this has adopted an end’s versus means situational ethic to make the leap that the murder while wrong is okay because it stopped one person from doing abortions.  Unfortunately that strategy will not stop others from doing abortions and may very well in fact lead to the dismemberment of the legislative gains of the mainstream pro-life movement which guess what will happen?  It will lead to more abortions.  If you make your living by fighting abortion like Randall Terry does this is a good thing.  You won’t lack for work or money unless however you are doing time in a Federal penitentiary as a domestic terrorist.   That aside it means as long as abortion is legal you can keep drawing a paycheck to fight it.  That is the kind of thing that makes me suspicious of Mr. Terry’s motives.  You use the same tactics for 30 years without any real change to the situation and then say we have to keep doing this.  I have to wonder when I see this. Is Mr. Terry truly committed to life or is this a means to stay in the spotlight?  I’m not accusing, just wondering.  I have met Randall on a number of occasions, never by the way at any rally or event, and he can be charming.  Personally he seems like a good guy to go out and get a beer with and maybe even engage in spirited discussions. However, his actions have planted a seed of doubt in my mind about his motives.   If he is really committed to the pro-life cause of saving babies why does he stick with tactics that only drive potential supporters away from him?  He seems to me  like Generals in wars who decide to take some enemy strongpoint.  They make an attack and it fails and they continue to do so until they bleed themselves dry and eventually lose the battle.  The real progress in the right to life movement has not been through protest. Instead it has been through prayer, practical help to women in need and legislative efforts of pro-life men and women committed to working through legal means.  These people do not vilify thier opposite numbers but seek engagement and redemption and reconcilliation.    I made sure that I allowed the comment so others can see just how this mindset plays out when guys like this judge people on the pro-life who advocate less incendiary tactics.

Well I chased that rabbit for what it was worth.  Anyway, things with my family in California still are difficult. My dad continues to worsen, the insurance company has been a pain in the ass causing my mom and brother much grief.   I covet your prayers for them.  The hospital is very busy and I have a number of very sick patients that I am caring for their families, both adults and children.  Likewise, I will be trying to make sure that I care for my ICU staff and help them get through this period of shock, grief and loss.  There may be a possibility of activating our SPRINT team to assist sailors in the medical center or on the Comfort and this could make things even more interesting.

In the midst of this I still deal with my own stuff.  In times like this I get the “electrical current” sensation running through my body.  I become more edgy, hyper vigilant and at times anxious.  Sleep is still difficult.  However, this too I will get through.  I have completed day three in a 12 day “home-stand” at the hospital.  I’ll have duty this weekend.  At least the Tides are in town. I’m taking Judy to the game against Buffalo tonight.  While there I will be keeping an eye on the scoreboard to see if Randy Johnson will get his 300th career win pitching for the Giants aganst the Nationals.  Only 24 major league pitchers have reached this mark and only one is active, that being Tom Glavine.  I’ll post a game synopsis later.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: In spite of the threat of thunderstorm we got through the game with barely a sprinkle. The Tides beat the Bisons 5-3. Kam Mickolio got the win in relief and Jim Miler got his 13th Save.  Bobby Livingston pitched 7 shutout innings but went away with a no-decision.  Jolbert Cabrerra of the Tides hit a 2 run double in the bottom of the 8th to give the Tides the win.  The Tides improve to 35 and 17 and lead the Durham Bulls by a game and a half in the International League South,  Despite the loss of several pitchers as well as Outfielder Nolan Reimold and Catcher Matt Wieters to the Orioles the Tides with a bunch of AA promotions from the Bowie Baysox continue to win.  It is fun to see a team that plays in an organization that has a solid farm system.

Speaking of teams that don’t the Bison’s are now the AAA affiliate for the NY Mets.  They have the worst record in the International League. The Mets as they did in Norfolk have no hot prospects and many of their players are former major leaguers  The sad thing is that Buffalo under the Indians had a consistently good team. The city is not happy with the Mets.  Join the club Bison fans. It sucks to be the Mets AAA affiliate.

Second Post Script: The “Big Unit” Randy Johnson and the Giants had their game with the Nationals postponed by rain.  The game will be made up Thursday as a part of a double-header.  Johnson will get his chance for 300 tomorrow. Meanwhile the Braves released Tom Glavine. This could be the end of the line for the future Hall of Fame Pitcher.

Third Post Script:  The rain which held off throughout the game decided to hit after we got home. This happend to coincide with our little dog Molly’s trip to hunt for squirrels and do her evening business. She hates rain and started barking to be let back in.  The wet little dog got the payment of her cookie, gave us a good laugh and started playing with aplush toy fox that looks somewhat like her.  She is funny.

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You Arrogant Ass, You have Killed Us! Randall Terry and the Destruction of the Pro-Life Movement

“You arrogant ass. You’ve killed us!”  Andrei Bonovia, First Officer of Soviet Alpha Submarine Konovalov in The Hunt For Red October.

I have few thoughts about the past few days.  In the past several days we have seen a watershed event take place.  This was the killing of Dr. George Tiller in Reformation Lutheran Church, Wichita Kansas, by one Scott Roeder.  A large part of Teller’s practice was late term abortions, which made him and his clinic a target not only of peaceful protest, but threatening protests and violent acts.  Teller himself was shot and badly wounded in a 1980’s assassination attempt.  His death in his church on Pentecost Sunday by a man who appears to be fringe player in the anti-abortion movement with long ties to various violent anti-government groups was a watershed.  The pro-life movement will never be the same after last Sunday. It will both adjust and stop using vitriolic and incendiary language; graphic images, bullying protest tactics, or it will continue down this path and be rightfully declared a domestic terrorist movement.  The label will not only apply to the violent who conduct such acts as the murder of George Tiller but it will be hung on those who believe that they are engaging in peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience.

Unfortunately this is the culminating point of the pro-life movement. It actually was the logical outcome of radicals who raised the rhetoric so high that they could not back down.  It is the high water point much as Pickett’s charge was the high water mark of the Confederacy.  All the legislative gains of those who patiently and diligently within the law, those who treated their opponents with grace and compassion, those who actually tried to assist and give options to women who might have had abortions will be lost in the coming years.  From now on the pro-life movement will fight a rear guard action trying to protect whatever gains that it has.  It is a sad end to the movement and it can be laid squarely at the feet of Randall Terry and others who engaged in this use of confrontational and de-humanizing rhetoric to the debate.

The reason for this is clear.  Many anti-abortion leaders decided to adopt the tactics of the 1960s, only instead of emulating Dr King, they emulate radical revolutionaries such as the “Weathermen” or groups such as the German “Red Army Faction.”  They adopted a strategy of open confrontation and belligerence toward their opponents. Likewise they attacked people who were somewhere in the middle, opposing abortion but having legitimate questions and concerns about actual medial ethical problems, such as when the fetus is killing the mother.  The leaders of the radical wing of the movement led by Randall Terry and groups such as Operation Rescue have set a tone where people who would probably support their goals now want nothing to do with them.   Without these people, the pro-life movement becomes irrelevant in the national debates about life, not only abortion, but all life.  The language and behavior of Mr. Terry after the shooting of Dr. Tiller has shown that Mr. Terry intends to go down fighting and take the movement with him.

Like the First Officer of the Soviet submarine pursuing the Red October tells his Captain when the sub is about to be struck by its own torpedo which has had the safety’s removed “You arrogant ass. You’ve killed us!”  The leaders of the mainstream and peaceful pro-life movement should say the same to Mr. Terry and others like him. Terry and others pursue a jihad against all who oppose them.  This weekend was the logical outcome of a pattern of persistent escalation of both rhetoric and protests which often showed no grace, no love, and no redeeming purpose other than to hurl epitaphs and curses at abortion providers and their traumatized customers.  They have ensured the irrelevance and demise of the pro-life movement as we know it today.  They have ensured that even peaceful and law abiding demonstrators will be seen in the same light as them.  It was a suicidal strategy which can only end badly. Though the tactics helped Terry and others raise funds, support themselves and build an anti-abortion industry, they did not advance the cause of life. That cause was advanced by those who prayed, worked through legal and legislative means and those who offered loving and caring help to women considering abortion.  Their efforts have been dealt a devastating blow by the radicals.  The radicals thrive on confrontation and actually needs for Roe v. Wade to remain on the books to justify their existence and their paychecks.

In light of last week’s actions, and the subsequent comments by Mr. Terry at the National Press Club, any pro-life group which is foolish enough to protest this weekend is asking for trouble.  No matter how peaceful, law abiding and correct they are now pained with the same brush as Mr. Terry and radical groups.  The leaders of mainstream pro-life groups need to do some serious soul searching.  If they do not in thought, word and deed condemn the radicals, call their own members into account to behave peacefully, lawfully and in a manner consistent with the redemptive message of the Gospel, they will end up shipwrecked with Mr. Terry.  It will take only one more violent act which can be traced to a member of a anti-abortion group, or attributed to the exhortation of radicals for the government to declare all of them to be domestic terrorist groups.  If this happens the government will be well within its right.  No one, no matter how righteous they believe their cause to be can take the law, especially capital punishment into their own hands.  Mr. Terry’s remarks were chilling and if he continues down this path of bellicose confrontation without the Catholic Church or other pro-life leaders stopping him, they will all suffer the consequences of his foolishness.

It is a sad day.  Randall, you arrogant ass, you have killed us.

Peace, Steve+

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Randall Terry and the Death of the Pro-Life Movement

Randall Terry continued his reckless campaign of self-promotion today following the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas City.  While continuing to refer to Tiller as a mass-murderer Terry spoke of the tactics that he believed were necessary for the anti-abortion movement to succeed.  At the National Press Club Terry is quoted by the Washington Post as saying:

Terry said abortion opponents “have to be confrontational” and “have to use highly-charged rhetoric” to advance their movement.

“The pro-life movement right now is at a crossroads,” Terry said at a midday news conference at the National Press Club. “We have become steadily politically irrelevant, our leadership is graying, retiring and dying, and many of the new leaders do not have the fortitude and clarity of thought to not flinch in an hour of crisis like this. So the words that I’m going to say today are specifically geared towards shoring up the pro-life movement.”

Terry has become a liability to the Pro-Life movement.  His actions and statements convey sentiments that are harming the movement as a whole.  He has driven those in the middle of the country who are pivotal to the success of legislative efforts away from mainstream and non-violent pro-life groups because all people see is Terry.  These groups have had some measure of success in their lawful and peaceful efforts to enact laws to limit abortion at the state level.

Terry’s comments today show that he is either totally ignorant of the effects of his rhetoric or is desperate to keep himself in the limelight.  I do not believe the Mr. Terry is ignorant of anything. He is a shrewd political operator who has kept himself in the limelight for over 20 years.  From his actions over the past few months in which he has protested Catholic Bishops in Washington DC and Baltimore being arrested for “leafleting” at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Washington DC.  Following this Terry went to Rome interviewed Archbishop Burke and then came back to the US to misuse the footage of Archbishop Burke against his fellow bishops, something for which Burke had to apologize to them. (Catholic News Agency Column at:  http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=717 )  His actions showed a callous disregard of his own Church and make me wonder if Terry believes himself superior to the Bishops of the Catholic Church.  I am wondering why he has not been silenced or censured by them for these actions.

Terry’s actions at Notre Dame to attempt to disrupt the graduation speech of President Obama only made Obama look more reasonable to many people than Terry.  Since Terry has been the “face” of the pro-life movement his every action, positive or negative affects the movement as a whole.  His protests at Notre Dame, where he and others attempted to shout down the President showed a reckless disrespect for the office of the President.  There was a time that Christians held the office of the President in respect even if they disagreed with the policies of the man in office.  This too, an interruption of the graduation of college students showed a lack of civility that has been his trademark.

Likewise fellow travelers in the anti-abortion movement including past and current leaders of Operation Rescue, the group that Terry founded and then left in 1991 years ago.  They and Terry have had a running battle of words which moved into to courts in 2008 when Terry sued them over the rights to the name Operation Rescue.  I will not weigh in on the merits of either side, except to note that this seems to be the battle over a name that brings with it real and potential monetary donors.

I do believe that Terry is wrong in stating that the pro-life movement must “be confrontational” and “have to use highly-charged rhetoric” to advance their movement. It is clear to me that the most successful tactics of the pro-life movement have been genuine efforts to provide alternative services to women undergoing unplanned pregnancies.  The best of these include actual care for the woman after delivery.  The other is the use of the legislative process.  While slow this is the legal way to change things in the United States.  As an example the actions of William Wilberforce to eliminate slavery in England used the parliamentary process.  It took time but slavery was eliminated without the trauma of the Civil War.

It is my belief that the type of protests favored by Terry to include the confrontation and highly charged rhetoric has contributed to the violence that occurred this week.  As such he is contributing to the marginalization and “political irrelevancy” of the pro-life movement.  In light of his actions I hope that Catholic Bishops will silence him for the good of the movement as a whole.  Fellow pro-life activists should distance themselves from him and find alternatives to the strategy of confrontation which do not compromise their beliefs but find a way to be redemptive and forgiving to those that practice abortions.

Unfortunately I think that what happened on Sunday was a watershed.  The Rubicon has been crossed.  As I said in my post yesterday, it will be the end of the pro-life movement because Terry and people like him will keep pushing until the entire movement is declared a domestic terrorist organization.  It is incumbent upon leaders of the pro-life movement to try to correct course now, if they do not it will be too late.  Daniel Kupelian or World Net Daily, with whom I seldom find any agreement states the danger quite well and pro-life leaders should take this and quickly change the tactics of their organizations.

“pretty soon some group may decide it can’t take it anymore. Its members might become so enraged that they conclude it’s time to start the next armed revolution. Seeing their nation being raped and envisioning no solution other than violence, they delude themselves that they’re the modern counterparts of America’s revolutionary founders. Making explosives and conspiring in secret – all the while quoting Jefferson to each other about “watering the tree of liberty” from time to time with “the blood of patriots and tyrants” – they murder some federal judges or blow up a government office building in an attempt to fight back. In reality, all they succeed in doing is murdering and maiming a bunch of their fellow Americans (or, as McVeigh did in Oklahoma City, massacring a room full of toddlers in daycare – which he later coldly termed “collateral damage”).

And what would follow? A massive official crackdown on “domestic terrorists” and a severe assault on freedom in America.

Amazing what hatred can accomplish, isn’t it? Exactly the opposite of what was supposedly intended. The “dark side of the force” is very clever.

As the blood-drenched, vengeance-driven French Revolution proved, when “patriots” are full of hate, they’re no better than the corrupt government they’re rebelling against – and maybe worse. Therefore, whether their uprising succeeds or fails, either way they usher in a new “reign of terror.” (See World Net Daily: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=99787 )

Peace, Steve+

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Crossing the Rubicon- The Killing of Dr Tiller and the End of the Pro-Life Movement

How can people who are allegedly pro-life promote an attitude of belief that dehumanizes their opponents and tolerates uncivil and at times inflammatory rhetoric which crosses all bounds of Christian conduct, leading to the murder of other people?  This happened today in a Kansas Church where Dr. George Tiller was gunned down in cold blood by someone at least on the fringe of the pro-life movement.  I think the answer is found at least in some part in yesterday’s post on Gordon Klingenschmitt and what I term the “Klingenban.”

A little over a month ago I published a piece called How Pro-Life People Make Themselves Look Like Idiots. This post dealt with the potential public health threat of the H1N1 Flu and posts that I had seen written by supposedly “Pro-Life” people condemning the government response to the threat.  The people who posted this on a social networking page chief complaint that the government funded abortion, thus it was hypocritical to fund a response to H1N1.  The argument made no sense and I rightly referred to them not as “pro-life” but “anti-abortion.”  I phrased it in this way because I believe that people who think and talk this way have no respect for the lives of we, the “post-born.”

Many in the pro-life/anti-abortion movement have regularly used highly inflammatory rhetoric, referring to abortion providers as “murderers.”  Used the images of the Holocaust to describe abortion and routinely show pictures of aborted babies in their protests, literature and websites.  Now I am in no way saying that I am pro-abortion.  I am pro-life.  However, after I came home from Iraq I started seeing just how perverted some in the pro-life/anti-abortion movement had become.  Not that I hadn’t noticed this prior to Iraq, but when I came home I became a lot more sensitive to people who routinely use the language and images that I described above.  The use of such language imagery and often strong arm and bullying tactics by some in this movement has created a situation where they dehumanize their opponents.  When this is done through the regular use of such language and imagery it creates a culture of hatred and draws often violent or psychologically disturbed people into it.  It is true that people like these are often on the fringe of pro-life groups, but they have connections.  These connections will be the end of the pro-life/anti-abortion movement as we know it today.

There have been a number of times that anti-abortion people have killed abortion providers or bombed abortion clinics.  This was seen again today with the slaying of Dr. George Tiller who performed late term abortions in his Wichita Kansas clinic.  Tiller was killed in his church.  The man suspected, a Scott Roeder had posted on a number of occasions to the Operation Rescue website, even suggesting that Tiller be confronted in his church.   That post is here.  It was taken from a Google cache before Operation Rescue either took it down or blocked access to the site.

Scott Roeder Says:
May 19th, 2007 at 4:34 pm

Bleass everyone for attending and praying in May to bring justice to Tiller and the closing of his death camp.

Sometime soon, would it be feasible to organize as many people as possible to attend Tillers church (inside, not just outside) to have much more of a presence and possibly ask questions of the Pastor, Deacons, Elders and members while there? Doesn’t seem like it would hurt anything but bring more attention to Tiller.

Roeder had also has ties to the Sovereign Citizen movement and was convicted in 1996 of having bomb components in his car.  Likewise he is a veteran tax protester and was sentenced to 16 months in 1997 prison for breaking terms of his parole.  We don’t know a lot more about him but at the best he is a troubled lone operator.   Roeder followed up the post with this a few months later:

Scott Roeder
Mon September 03, 2007, 09:49:40

It seems as though what is happening in Kansas could be compared to the “lawlessness” which is spoken of in the Bible. Tiller is the concentration camp “Mengele” of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgement upon our nation.

The unintended consequences of the extreme rhetoric found in much of the pro-life/anti-abortion movement are seen in today’s action.  When a movement describes their opponents as “murderers” “mass-murderers” and compares them to Nazi War Criminals such as Dr. Mengele it can and often does create a climate where the killing of someone is justified.  Now admittedly I’m sure that the vast majority of those in the pro-life movement are not this kind of person.  The problem is that within the movement there are people who think like this precisely because they have been spoon fed this rhetoric for years.  Likewise there are those who oppose the government in other ways who affiliate themselves with pro-life/anti-abortion groups.  This appears to be the case with Mr. Roeder.

Thus the problem, pro-life and anti-abortion groups have by their continual repeating of such language to describe abortion supporters and providers de-humanize them.  By doing this they provide encouragement to people who are actual criminals, such as Scott Roeder and Eric Rudolph.  The use of this rhetoric, imagery and sometimes threatening protests against abortion providers and supporters attracts people who are violent and unstable.  The pro-life movement must be very careful and look at history.  Groups like the Nazis in Germany associated with and co-opted otherwise law abiding groups in Weimer Germany.  The danger is that people in the militia movement, the Freemen and other extremists will in fact will infiltrate the pro-life movement and by their violent actions bring about a crackdown by the government on such groups.  Unfortunately I think that much of the pro-life and anti-abortion movement is patently unaware of the risks that their tactics entail.  I believe that the protest of clinics, homes and places of worship of abortion providers is not effective, drives people who might be in general agreement with the movement into opposition and provides ready material for those who want to malign the movement.

As a military officer I refuse to be a part of any group which uses the methods that I have described above.  While I may be pro-life, I believe that the movement has been compromised by actions of many of its leaders and that the linkage to radical right wing groups will be its downfall.  When, not if this happens it will be the fault of leaders such as Randall Terry and others who have taken a legitimate cause and turned it into a business.  From a position of faith, many in the movement are nothing more than Christian Taliban who will stop at nothing to see their interpretation of the faith is imposed on others.  I know a good number of people in the pro-life movement.  Most are good and loving people, concerned with the lives of both abortion providers and those who have had abortions. These too will be painted with the label of the Taliban because they tolerated this type of behavior from others in the movement.  In fact they are the antithesis of the radical fringe which thrives on confrontation in order to fill their coffers.  In fact I do not believe that many of the larger groups affiliated with the pro-life movement have any desire for Roe v. Wade to be overturned,  it was they would have to get real jobs instead of living off of the donations of their supporters.  We have crossed the Rubicon.  The pro-life movement has effectively committed suicide with the killing of Dr. Tiller.  God help us all.

Peace, Steve+

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