“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.” Captain Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”
I expect that this article and subject might make some people uncomfortable but it is something that I need to return to yet again. I fear what is happening to our country, and the agenda of the politically motivated Christian Right and its leaders, especially those who are using what is known as Seven Mountains or Dominionist theology to implement laws at local and state level. These laws damage the fabric of society and encourage discrimination in order to solidify the political power of a minority of conservative Christians.
I get very frustrated and tired of the way many leaders of the American Religious Right, that political animal that only thinks of itself have worked so fervently to poison any sense of unity and community that we might have as Americans regardless of our religious faith, or lack of faith. Back in the 1940’s through the 1970’s that was unity was referred to as “American Civil Religion.” Robert Bellah defined it “at best” as a “genuine apprehension on universal and religious reality as seen in, or as one could almost say, as revealed through the experience of the American people.” (Huntington, Samuel P. Who are We? America’s Great Debate p.103) While I do have a lot of issues with the concept of American Civil Religion, and h0w it has been used to justify some pretty horrible actions undertaken by leaders of this country, as well as some harmful myths as to our system of government and God’s blessing of our actions, even the immoral ones, it did provide some positives in regard to how Americans of different faiths treated each other with respect in the public square. As Huntington noted: “America’s civil religion provides a religious blessing to what Americans feel they have in common.” (Huntington p.104)
In the decades since the United States has undergone a seismic transformation in terms of religious makeup, and while those faith traditions who dominated the religious history of our first two hundred years are still dominant in many ways, they are in decline, especially in terms of the fastest growing segment of the population, those who identify themselves as The Nones those with no religious preference. In response the more conservative and politically minded Christians of the Christian Right have launched a culture war to ensure their dominance in all areas of society. Known as Christian Dominionism, Reconstructionism, or the Seven Mountains theology it is a blatant attempt to legislate a particular type of Christianity as the law of the land. As Gary North, an adviser to Ron and Rand Paul as well as other conservative Christian political leaders 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.”
You can see the influence of this theology in many of the state legislatures of what are called Red States where laws specifically intended to solidify conservative Christian dominance of government which allow for legal discrimination against others, by public officials and private businesses are becoming law. Likewise, such legislatures pass laws which crush the ability of local communities to pass non-discrimination ordinances against gays. This has happened in both Arkansas and West Virginia and similar proposals are being put forth in other states.
One of the leading proponents of this theology is Dr. C. Peter Wagner who wrote a number of influential books on evangelism used in many conservative evangelical seminaries and churches. Wagner is credited with beginning what is called the New Apostolic Reformation and taught at Fuller Seminary until his retirement from teaching in 2001. Wagner has written:
“Our theological bedrock is what has been known as Dominion Theology. This means that our divine mandate is to do whatever is necessary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to retake the dominion of God’s creation which Adam forfeited to Satan in the Garden of Eden. It is nothing less than seeing God’s kingdom coming and His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven.” Letter dated 31 May 2007
I am a Christian, albeit one with many doubts and concerns. I am a Priest and I am a Navy Chaplain, I have grown up and seen this transformation of our society, especially over the last twenty years as a chaplain in both the Army and the Navy, I have concerns in the trends I see but mostly I am concerned about this radical theology that has helped turn faith into a war zone and is destroying the fabric of American life. In fact if you wonder why so many of these “Christians” are doing their best to disenfranchise voters and supporting policies that have turned this country from a republic that functioned on the basis of democracy, to an oligarchy controlled by a few one only has to look to the words of the original Dominionist, the father in law of Gary North, R.J. Rushdooney:
“One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state . . . Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.” (R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law p.100)
That being said, with all the change in the composition of the population of this country I really don’t fear that change. But for the most part I fear these politically minded Christians who are bent on imposing their form of Christianity on the people of this country. There are many reasons for this. Some are more general in the way I see Christians treat others; their own wounded as well as non-believers, the political machinations of pastors and “Christian” special interest groups masquerading as ministries. Wagner once said:
“See, the problem is, is that Satan has had too much of his way in our society because he has a government! And the only way to overthrow a government is with a government. It won’t happen otherwise.”
This is radical, for it is the basis of theocracy. Franklin Graham, son of Billy used words of fear to motivate his base saying at the Liberty Counsel Awakening Conference “But we’re going to lose everything if we don’t win in this next election – and we only have this next election, I think for our voice to be heard.” I think that it is pathetic that Graham has to resort to such fear and loathing in order to galvanize people to fight against the rights of others not to be discriminated against.
These groups have turned the Chaplain Corps into a political football. I once found the chaplain ministry to be the epitome of how ministers of various denominations or religions should be able to work together for the benefit of others. Some of the Chaplains that I served with from across the denominational and religious spectrum helped ingrain a respect and care for others that I would never had received working in a civilian parish. While I can do this with some chaplains even today they are few and far between. The highly politicized environment is destroying the effectiveness and community of the Chaplain Corps. As a result I plan on retiring without seeking a promotion to Captain, which I would be eligible for the promotion boards in 2016. While I may help other priests and ministers in their parishes I have no desire to work in any other form of chaplaincy when I retire.
I have been worn down by all of this and sadly the controversies are now unavoidable. As a result I have experienced a lot of pain, heartache and rejection at the hand of many Christians, some of whom I had counted as close friends, and many of whom are pastors, priests or chaplains. To experience rejection or being shamed by people that you thought were friends is very hard, especially when that at one time you trusted them implicitly to care for you. However to be rejected by those that you trusted “in the name of God, ” or rather because you violated supposedly “correct” doctrinal beliefs about God is frightening.
It seems to me that with many Christians and churches that the “unconditional” love of God that they proclaim not really unconditional. It is totally conditional on believing what they believe or behaving in the way they think that you should.
For those that do not know me or my story I am a career military officer with over 30 years of service between the Army and Navy. I have been a chaplain since 1992 and served in the National Guard, Army Reserve, Active Duty Army and the Navy. I am a trained hospital chaplain; I have a great academic background. I went to Iraq in 2007 and came home with a terrible case of severe chronic PTSD. I still suffer from some anxiety, depression and plenty of insomnia. I find mental health care hard to get in my new assignment and I realize how woefully unprepared that our medical system, military, VA and civilian is to care for that vast numbers of veterans like me.
After Iraq I suffered a collapse of my faith and for close to two years was a practical agnostic. Only my deep sense of call and vocation kept me going and there were times that I wondered if I would be better off dead.
When faith returned through what I call my Christmas miracle it was different. I totally relate to author Anne Rice who said:
“My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”
I have always questioned a lot that is taught by the church, but after my crisis of faith I really began to see through the bullshit. I began to not only question things my former church taught, but openly stated my convictions about how we treat others as Christians, the equality of people in general and tolerance for those different than us including gays and Moslems who for some Christians are rather low on the scale of those that God might love. As such I openly support the LGBT community, American Moslems and Arabs in general, as well as those who adhere to other non-Christian religions, are agnostic, or even atheist when they are attacked in the media, or by supposedly Christian politicians, preachers and pundits.
After Iraq I was sickened by the crass politicization of conservative American Christianity and many of its leaders. Men and women who advocate war without end, be it real wars against “enemies” of American, or promote a culture war even against other Christians that they do not like or agree with. Of course this is all done in “Jesus name.”
Likewise I question the opulence and materialism of the church. I question the nearly cult like focus and near worship accorded to the Pastor-CEOs of the mega-churches and the television preachers and teachers. I wonder in amazement about how many of these leaders live like royalty and have devoted followers who despite repeated scandals treat them as the voice of God.
Along with the that I question the preference of many American Christian leaders for the rich and their disdain for the poor, the alien and the outcasts among us. This actually comes from baptizing capitalism and objectivist philosophy as Christian and leaving the Gospel behind.
All of that got me thrown out of a church that I had served 14 years a priest and chaplain back in 2010. I thought I had a lot of friends in that church. I still have some that keep in contact with me but after my dismissal most abandoned me. That hurts worse than anything.
In fact when I came home from Iraq in crisis and falling apart the first person who asked about how I was doing with God was not clergy. It was my first shrink. I was asked by a commanding officer after Iraq “where does a chaplain go for help?” I told him “not to other chaplains.” The sad thing is that man who did care about me suffered untreated terrible PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury and committed suicide in January 2014.
I have had a few experiences the past few weeks that have opened that wound again and reminded me of why I am afraid of many that call themselves Christians. I have shared some of those so I will not belabor them here.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.”
That being said I am thankful that I have a number of friends, including a good number of Christians from various backgrounds and some chaplains who have stood by me even if they disagree with my theology, politics or favorite baseball team.
That being said with the exception of such people who have been with me through thick and thin I am mostly terrified of being around conservative Christians.
Church in most cases is a frightening place for me, and the sad fact is that if I were not already a Christian there is little in American Christianity that would ever cause me to be interested in Jesus. I can totally understand why churches are hemorrhaging members, especially young people whose religious preference is “none,” for I too am in some sense an outcast.
I would like to think that we have come so far in our understanding of people, and of civil rights. But as Jean Luc Picard said, it is threatening to happen again.
Pray for me a sinner,