Dealing With “Christian” Political Extremists: My Recent Experience

img_0535

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I wrote about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his newly formed Religious Tyranny Task Force. The goal of that task force is to make sure that white conservative Christians can impose their beliefs on other and suffer no recriminations from discriminating against Gays and others that they do not want to serve or care for, even if their religious rights trump the civil rights of others. It is perhaps one of the most incestuous and dangerous displays of marriage of the Church and the police power of the state in the history of the United States.

Likewise, last month I wrote an article about having been accused by a chapel congregation member of conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt towards the President of the United States. I wrote the article after I was cleared of the charges during the preliminary inquiry. But it left me with many questions about the people of my congregation; questions that I have been wrestling for the better part of the month.

Since I am the senior supervisory chaplain on my base and come from a tiny denomination of the Old Catholic tradition that is stuck in the middle between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism I am an odd fit. My denomination is orthodox in its theology of God and Christ but very much a part of the the understandings of the Protestant Social Gospel of the early 1900s, the social teachings that came out of the Roman Catholic Church during Vatican II, and the Civil Rights Movement. I am also informed by being a trained historian.  This includes having a strong understanding of influence of the early Baptists in the United States on religious liberty as it came to be written into the Bill of Rights. The Baptists of that period were highly persecuted, in Europe and in the North American colonies by state churches. As a result they were much more progressive and tolerant of the rights of all religious minorities and even non-believers.

These men included Roger Williams who founded the colony of Rhode Island as a colony with no state religion and Virginia Baptist John Leland who was the inspiration for James Madison drafting the Bill of Rights.

I do my best to support the congregation and my junior chaplains regardless of their theological beliefs or political viewpoints. As such I try to allow my junior chaplains the chance to do good by pastoring the congregation while I support by them substituting every four to six weeks so they can get a full weekend off once in a while. In fact my policy is that I will not police their sermon content or how they do ministry so long as they care about the people, are not abusive, do not violate the rights of others, or commit crimes. So if a congregation member were to complain to me about their sermon I would tell that congregant to talk to them and if they could not work it out to contact that chaplains church or religious organization. I cannot police the beliefs

Since the accusations were leveled and I was told that I was exonerated I have been thinking of how next to approach the congregation, and today I got a copy of the investigation. I was heartened by some of the statements given by members of the congregation, while others troubled me. In the investigation was a copy of the letter the complainant sent to my commander. The difference between his letter and even the even the most prejudiced other congregant was amazing for even those somewhat critical of the sermon admitted their prejudices and gave me some benefit of doubt. In fact his letter was over the top and in opposition to what everyone of the others said that the investigating officer decided not to get a statement from him. But I could never believe that someone could make up such venomous lies in an attempt to destroy my name, reputation and career in such a despicable manner.

My review of the investigation and the statements has made me even more concerned about going before the congregation again. Knowing the attitudes of many it feels like by doing so I will be exposing myself to other charges from people who are little different than the Gestapo, Stasi, and KGB informants who routinely denounced priests and pastors. Sadly, with the Justice Department now behind them such people will have free reign to denounce people simply based on their often quite shallow and narrow theological understandings which are far more informed by their right wing politics than by Scripture, Tradition, or Reason.

So in the next few weeks I have a decision to make on how I will deal with this. I have a few ideas and I discuss them with my Protestant pastors who are much more conservative than me are incredibly supportive. I also am thinking and praying about what to do. Whatever I do I will script my remarks and have at least one of my other chaplains in attendance. I may even record it because I don’t want to give any of these Trump cultists to make up anything that cannot be refuted.

The sad thing is that I even have to be concerned about this. I never in a million years could have imagined being denounced by retired military officer for my sermon content. That gives me pause and frankly makes me very concerned. The experience has embittered me.  Don’t get me wrong. There are a few people in the congregation who have stood behind me and encouraged me, but most have either turned their backs on me or remained bystanders.

So I ask for your prayers, thoughts, encouragement, or wisdom in what I should do next. I am struggling with anger while trying to love and forgive the people who hurt me that God still loves and who Christ died to save.

However, there is one thing that I do know. It is something that both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood. Dr. King said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  While Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

So I know I cannot remain silent because what is happening in the church in the United States not to mention the country is a manifestation of evil.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

Advertisements

21 Comments

Filed under christian life, civil rights, culture, ethics, faith, History, leadership, LGBT issues, Military, ministry, nazi germany, Political Commentary, Religion, US Navy

21 responses to “Dealing With “Christian” Political Extremists: My Recent Experience

  1. Carmen

    Padre Steve,
    I don’t know if what’s happening in your country is a manifestation of evil (because I don’t believe in it) but I certainly can recognize the blatant force of power , both in the individual’s case (the fellow who wrote the scathing letter) and the power being exerted by the Christian Right — it’s disconcerting. With a useful fool at the helm, it’s exhaulting for those who have been poised – and who believe they deserve to lead – for years.

  2. Carmen

    . . .that should be exalt.

  3. Matthew

    Steve, I share your struggle. In the mid – 70’s I was confronted with the beginnings of the literalist evangelical movement while at Christian Theological Seminary. I came to realize that, if I continued on in the professional ministry, I would be called upon to give lip service to a variety of theological perspectives that I had either come to doubt or found to be inconsistent with my faith in a living God. I became an Early Childhood Educator and it has been, for the most part a good ride.
    When Trump was elected, I asked a good friend of mine who pastored a Disciple congregation in southern Indiana how he was going to handle a congregation that had supported this sharp turn from the loving Christianity we had grown in and represented. After struggling for nearly a year to gently challenge his congregation, he had to admit that the struggle was not worth the lack of results he was seeing. He retired and is now working with Habitat for Humanity on a regular basis.
    There may be times when the ears of those who should most hear the message are going to be stopped. I believe it is at those times when a more effective medium maybe to find a place to be of service and speak through example. I hope you are still spending some time with the basketball youth, because they will be the voices and votes that put an end to this nonsense!
    You have my prayerful support. Matthew

  4. Reblogged this on The Secular Jurist and commented:
    I’m recommending this as a MUST READ.

  5. It is easy for me to say that you should say what you believe. I don’t see that you have any other choice. The person or persons who don’t agree can try to get you removed or they can go to another chapel. Or not attend on the days you speak. In some church e. g. Baptist, Presbyterians the congregation hires and fires the minister. In the Methodist Church we go to the bishop and recommend a change. The bishop will reassign the minister to another church. I fit know how that applies to you or what your options are. But to continue the ministry one way or another you will have to find a church with whom you can be honest.

    • padresteve

      Thank you. The problem is with military chapels in the continental US with the exception of the big training centers is that a majority of the congregation are retirees. While some are there because they like remaining in a military environment and want to help the young service members, the majority are there because they don’t have to do anything. The government pays for everything. If they were in a real church they would have to put a lot more money and time into it. But instead of being grateful they bitch about everything. This chapel’s congregations have a long and toxic history. So I do my best and will try to get through this last assignment of my military career without a shipwreck. Pray for me a sinner.

      • Carmen

        You’re not a sinner. We all make mistakes, though. You sound like an extraordinary guy to me, with a lifetime of experiences.
        I didn’t realize that about military chapels. One learns something every day! All he best to you, Padre.

      • I was afraid I was coming across as too judgement. That is why I started off with “it’s easy for me to say.”

        Some congregations are hard to please. On your situation it may be best to keep your head down and not say a anything controversial and get throug it. It is good, and feels good, to do battle, but you have to be realistic and choose your battles.
        Some positions are untenable and that may be where you are.

      • padresteve

        I will say something and let them know that because of their attitude and actions that I “may” never preached three again. I won’t say never because I Never Say Never Again.

  6. Steve,

    This was a great read. As I am new here to your blog — from Robert’s blog (TSJ) — I am just getting to learn about you. I did not know about this background. What a fascinating position you find yourself. We have similar backgrounds, but today? Not so much. Hahaha. When I have the free time over the next coming days I will peruse your blog and see what trouble I might be able to find and stir up. 😉

    Have a super rest of your week Sir!

  7. Padre Steve, you have my prayerful support.

  8. maryplumbago

    Steve, out are a decent man and if most Christians were like you, Trump would have never been elected and none of us would be having this problem in our country today.

  9. maryplumbago

    You not “out”….auto correct gone wacko

  10. francese D Wilocox

    You hang in there!
    I spent a years as an Air Force Officer’s wife….I played the organ and worked with the kids choir …..had some dust up with those that wanted to change that wasn;t ready for the Catholic Church version of ” change” my family was close to the priest…who used to spend a lot of time with our family.. He went through something similar to what you are going through now. , My words for you are to keep on what you know to be right. …no matter who doesn’t like it. Keep on the path that you know and the dust will eventually calm down. You are in the hand of the the Lord… let him stay in your heart and so that you can stay close to those who need ( and some that need it more like the jerk that has been the thorn in your side) Keep writing and sharing and things will eventually change….they can’t stay the same. Chang is God’s weapon.. You are Gods ” weapon” against the ego hounds ….God won’t let you fall.

  11. francese D Wilocox

    Who died and left you boss??? while you are entitled to your opinions, remember that your self ego is getting in the way of your christian perspective . You are attempting to dishonor a good Priest and man because you assume that your opinions are the only correct ones. Peddle your poison some place else.

  12. francese D Wilocox

    I was attempting to reply to the jerk that was giving you a hard time …..he is arrogant and ignorant . You hang in there!!

  13. Wow. This is terrifying. I’m not religious, I prefer to live with moral integrity that I know in my heart. It has prevented me from becoming what Capitalists call “successful” – but I’ve made peace with being a person of limited resources. Stay courageous.

    Peace and Love.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s