Gordon Klingenschmitt after his Court-Martial Conviction (Virgina Pilot Photo)
Just about a year ago, I set out on the road,
Seekin’ my fame and fortune, lookin’ for a pot of gold.
Things got bad, and things got worse, I guess you will know the tune.
Oh ! Lord, Stuck in Lodi again.
“O Lord Stuck in Lodi Again” Credence Clearwater Revival, words and music by John Fogarty
Failed Navy Chaplain defrocked Evangelical Episcopal Priest, Convicted Criminal, Right Wing D-Lister and narcissistic professional protester Gordon James “Chaps” Klingenschmitt pops up in the most unlikely of places. If it was not pathetic it would be really funny.
The reason that I write this today is irony of Gordon getting stuck in Lodi and the my relationship to Lodi. You see Gordon showed up at yet another protest in a small town to battle a city council about people praying “in Jesus Name” as part of official city events such as city council meetings. The city is Lodi California, just up the road from where I went to junior and senior high school, where I got my one high school football tackle in a real game and where my dad is finishing his days in a nursing home going through the ravages of end-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Lodi is a small town, with historic German and Italian communities which is famous for wines and sits in the heart of the San Joaquin valley. It is the home of the very popular Lodi Grape Festival. It was a pretty conservative town; well let’s say it used to be a town that had strong ties to the John Birch Society and other ultra-conservative organizations. It was not very welcoming to outsiders and minorities. Well times are changing in Lodi. It mow has significant Hispanic and Asian populations as well as other minorities including Moslems. Lately tension has been building and once again a battle is going on about faith in the public square.
Now I’m an easy guy. I really don’t get offended by anyone praying in whatever name they choose to do so as long as they are respectful of others and don’t try to use the government to promote or enforce their particular religious views on others. Unfortunately this happens all of the time and people who do it world-wide to be on the more evangelical and fundamental wings of their religion. Personally I wish the climate were such that anyone of any faith could pray in whatever name that they chose to do without everyone getting their BVD’s in a wad.
Until the advent of the Moral Majority and other conservative Christian political-social activist groups there was an understanding in the United States of getting along in the public square. Protestant-Catholic-Jew we were all Americans. Only groups such as the Ku Klux Klan had problems with this. Our tolerance extended to others who came to this country as immigrants resulting in what was called the “Melting Pot.” We were an amazing society and our ability to have people of widely differing religious and political beliefs living together in peace was the envy of the rest of the world.
Our societal demographics have changed. Minority populations have increased and with them a corresponding increase of religions which were not part of the historical “Protestant-Catholic-Jew” paradigm of American religious and cultural life. This has brought about a clash between the more conservative and fundamental Christians who see this as a threat to the United States being a “Christian Nation” and undercutting its historical and cultural foundation. My purpose here is not to argue that at all. I can see the positive benefits of and want to maintain the underlying western cultural foundation of our country. At the same time I want others to enjoy the right to practice their own religion freely and not have individuals of any religion use the government to enforce their religious or non-religious beliefs on others. I think what made us such a great country was our ability work through these things peacefully. The greatest example in my mind of religious people working together were the “Four Chaplains” of the troopship Dorchester when it was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1943. There were two Protestants, a Catholic Priest and a Jewish Rabbi on the ship. At the time most Protestants either did not believe Catholics to be Christians and saw them as an Alien and possibly hostile religion. Catholics had not yet admitted that Protestants were “separated brethren” and Jews where just kind of tolerated. When the ship was torpedoed and began to sink there were not enough life jackets. So the chaplains gave theirs to soldiers in need and were last seen praying with arms linked as the ship went down. Such actions as this are what made our country great. We need men and women like the Four Chaplains and not Gordon “Chaps” Klingenschmitt. On a side note to this you can call me a heretic but I doubt that God is sending any one of these men to hell because they did not fit somebody’s theology of how someone is saved when they died doing what Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NIV) I think anyone who has served in combat understands this better than people who enjoy the fruit of liberty without ever having paid more than taxes for it.
The Four Chaplains
I have served in an ecumenical setting with a wide variety of ministers for almost twenty years. In the setting that I work mutual respect of each other as clergy, respect and toleration of differing views are essential to ensuring that those who serve together in war are not trying to kill each other in peace. For the most part we do this pretty well and it is a joy to serve with clergy from different faiths and care for God’s people regardless of their faith. I heard the story of a man who is a bishop in his church who when he was in Navy basic training received a phone call from his mother at the administrative office. While talking to her she died. He credits a Jewish Chaplain with caring for him and helping him through that difficult time. When my dad was deployed to Vietnam and I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that he was a “baby killer” it was a Roman Catholic Navy Chaplain that cared for me and my family and helped me not give up my faith and a Latter Day Saint (Mormon) Chaplain who ensured that I didn’t get thrown out of the Army in Chaplain School due to my big mouth and temper. In none of these cases did the clergyman attempt to use the opportunity of crisis to convert us or to denigrate our faith. Unfortunately this is what Gordon did in his Navy career and other like him do in whatever environment the live and serve.
What I see happening today is that the extremes, be they religious fundamentalists or all varieties, strident secularists or aggressive atheists all want the government to enforce their beliefs on everyone else. Such is a recipe for disaster. One only has to look to Nazi Germany, Theocratic Iran, Saudi Arabia, the former Yugoslavia and the ex-Soviet Union and post invasion Iraq to see what happens when one group or another chooses to use the government or violence to enforce or propagate their religious, political, social or racial beliefs on others. Having been to the Balkans and Iraq I have seen the results of this. If you go to the Rhine River Valley in Germany you can still see the ruins of castles destroyed during the 30 years war, a war based on governments using religion or region using government to enforce their will on others. We are now seeing a rise in private militia groups and others who are arming themselves for conflict. Likewise there are those stoking the fire by urging secession or even revolt and these include people who call themselves Christians. A current of discontent kind of like the toxic sludge under New York in Ghostbusters II is bubbling under our feet and is now beginning to burst to the surface as people from the left and right clash at their Congressional representative’s town hall meetings. The fact that these are turning violent means that we are crossing a line that we may not be able to turn back from. Voices of moderation and those seeking compromise, accommodation and tolerance are being drowned out, just as they were in Wiemar Germany when Nazis and Communists battled in the streets and attempted to take over the power of government.
Now I do see how people can feel threatened when there is rapid sociological and demographic change in a country. So in some ways I can understand why people are protesting in Lodi. My problem is that the leaders of this “movement” are fringe players using fear to fan the flames of their cause. This is the case with Klingenschmitt who has routinely obfuscated, distorted and spun things to promote a fiction that he has been persecuted for his beliefs when in fact he was constantly using his public office to promote himself, his personal (not even his church’s) beliefs and denigrate those of others while giving lip service to toleration. Since being convicted by court-martial, not for “praying in Jesus Name” but for disobeying a lawful order not to speak at a partisan political event, Klingenschmitt has constantly painted himself as a victim of persecution and spokesman for a movement. In doing so he has engaged in character assassination of former commanding officers and command chaplains and launched a campaign of “imprecatory prayer” (prayers of harm and judgment) upon his opponents. I am sure that he has significant financial benefactors who make these possible; benefactors who share his goals of a Christian theocracy among them the Ultra-conservative “News” site World Net Daily.
The irony and sadness of Gordon’s trip to Lodi is that like the character in the song Oh Lord, Stuck in Lodi Again he is stuck and will unfortunately pursue this until he destroys himself, his families and others. Unfortunately, Gordon and those like him as well as his opposites on the extreme left are leading us to destruction as a society unless the moderate majority that wants to live in peace begins to stand up before it is too late. God help us all and bless our Great Country.