Category Archives: LGBT issues

All Men are Created Equal: The Standard Maxim of a Free Society

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am very concerned with the future of civil liberties in our country and much of that is based on my experience with and observation of conservative Christian political activists who now have tremendous power to oppress those who they deem to be God’s enemies.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson noted in his dissent in American Communications Assn. v. Douds wrote:“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” — His words were true then and even more so today.

In December of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spoke these profound words to Congress prior to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln.

“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history….This fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation….In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”

His words in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free are part of an understanding of freedom, especially Lincoln’s radical understanding that the Declaration of Independence actually meant what it said that “all men are created equal.” For Lincoln this meant African Americans, including those that labored as slaves. Lincoln understood the Declaration in its most broad understanding; he saw it as a universal liberty. As early as 1854 Lincoln posed the idea that the Declaration of Independence was the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.”

Today there are a lot of people, especially the loudly political preachers, pundits and politicians of the Christian right and their allies who are committed to rolling back the rights of blacks, but also of women, and to prevent Gays, Lesbians and others of the LGBTQ community from having any rights commensurate with their status as citizens.

But that is not all. In many states we have seen the protections of the Voter’s Rights Act being eroded as state legislatures enact laws to restrict voting rights and make it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote. State legislatures are enacting laws that allow people to discriminate against others based on “a sincerely held religious belief” and while those laws are targeted against Gays they are in many cases written so broadly that they will protect just about any form of discrimination based on religion.

That is why what Lincoln said as he was preparing to sign the Emancipation Proclamation matters today. When we give freedom to people, we protect the freedom of everyone, but that my friends is not how many people in the so-called Christian Right see it.

For these religious ideologues the only freedom that matters is their freedom to discriminate against others in God’s name. This is because they, like the anointed lords of the Southern Aristocracy believe that it is God’s will for them to do this. Sounding like a Southern planter, preacher or politician of the 1850s the founder of the movement known and Christian Dominionism R.J. Rushdooney wrote: “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.”

British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath notes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.”

That is what we are dealing with today and why it matters, to all of us, regardless of our political or religious ideology. There is a party of Christians who have tremendous political power who are using it for the most nefarious of purposes, using the law and the police power of the state to deny rights to others while preserving their own while claiming to be the victims of persecution, just as did Southern slaveholders in the 1830s to 1861.

So that is all for now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary

“The Only Thing that Doesn’t Abide by Majority Rule is a Person’s Conscience” Standing Up to the Empowered Christian Right

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

One of my favorite films is To Kill a Mockingbird. I am a convinced that many people that call themselves “conservative Christians,” are so busy protecting their place and power in society that they despise anyone not like them. For decades before and now after the election of Donald Trump the same collection of conservative Christian Supremacists have played fast and loose with the truth, scammed billions of dollars from desperate followers, and drove almost every moderate there ever was out of the Republican Party with their ideology of Christian Dominionism.

I have written about this before. In light of my experience with them I imagine that some of these folks will, now that they have help a man that they belief will fully support their agenda, “kill the Mockingbird” in order to ensure that they keep their privileged position in society. Traditionally the Mockingbirds are those people that they have condemned to social inferiority and discrimination and eternal punishment simply because they are different. To today’s theocrats, the most frequent targets of their wrath are gays and the LGBT community, as well as Muslims, other non-white immigrants, women, and the disabled. The fact that just because someone else gets equal rights doesn’t mean that they lose any rights equality before the law, except to persecute them, seems to be beyond their capability to understand.

This is especially the case of the preachers, pundits and politicians that crowd the airwaves and internet with their pronouncements against Gays, immigrants, Arabs, poor blacks, political liberals, progressive Christians, and for that matter anyone who simply wants the same rights enjoyed by these Christians. This makes me fear them more far more than I fear Donald Trump. They represent a majority of the Republican House caucus and there quite a few in the Senate including, Attorney General nominee Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, whose racist sentiments were so reprehensible that kept him from appointment as a Federal Judge during the Reagan administration.

In the book there is a line spoken by Miss Maudie Atkinson, a neighbor of Atticus Finch and his children. She says to Atticus’s daughter Scout:

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in the hand of another… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

As I survey the world of Christian conservatives I become surer of this every day. I’ve often wrote about my own fears in regard to dealing with such people as well as the troubling trends that I see. Over the years I have written articles on the trends that I see in the church, trends toward greed, political power, social isolation and the active campaign of some to deny basic civil rights to people that they hate on purely religious grounds.

The language of some like Matt Staver of Liberty Counsel, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association and a host of others describe actions of governments and courts to ensure equal treatment of all people under the law as threats to Christians, affronts to them and of course to God. Their words are chilling. Before the Obergfell v. Hodges decision, Matt Staver that if the Supreme Court upheld marriage equity for gays that it would be like the Dred Scott decision. Of course that is one of the most Orwellian statements I have heard in a while, for the Dred Scott decision rolled back the few rights that blacks had anywhere in the country and crushed the rights of non-slave states. These men are now pushing to ensure that President-Elect Trump does there will, and some have pledged to turn against him if he doesn’t fully support their every demand. I hope that they become so onerous that Trump turns on them like he has on so many other past supporters. They would deserve it and this is a distinct possibility. If we look at history, every authoritarian leader of the past century has turned on supporters who think that they are more entitled than other followers, often with a vengeance.

Again, as a reminder to readers, especially those new to the site, I spent a large amount of my adult Christian life in that conservative Evangelical cocoon. I worked for a prominent television evangelist for several years, a man who has become an extreme spokesman for the religious political right. I know what goes on in such ministries, I know what goes on in such churches. I know the intolerance and the cold hearted political nature of the beast. I know and have gone to church with Randall Terry, the former head Operation Rescue who once said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” I have walked in those shoes, and at one time I was as whipped into a frenzy of hate by those preachers, and their colleagues in right wing talk radio. Thus I fully understand them.

As Atticus Finch told his children:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Thus I total reject the message of such people now, not out of ignorance, but because I have walked in their shoes. At times I supported their causes, not to any extreme, but all too often my crime was simply said nothing when I knew that what they preached, taught and lived was not at all Christian, but from the pits of Hell.

As far as them being entitled to hold whatever opinion they want, even if I disagree, yes that is their right. But as Atticus said:

“People are certainly entitled to think that I’m wrong, and they are entitled to full respect for their opinions. But before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The only thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.”

My conscience will not allow me to be silent when I see men like Staver, Perkins, Franklin Graham and so many others preach hatred towards those who are different than them. In 2010 that caused me to be thrown out of a church I had served faithfully from over 14 years as a priest and chaplain. These people are viscous and need to be opposed at all costs.

In the movie and the book the Mockingbirds were Tom Robinson, the black man falsely accused of rape and assault and Boo Radley, a shy recluse feared by his neighbors, a man who stories were made up about; stories that turned a simple man into a monster in the eyes of people who did not know him. Today they are others who fit the Mockingbird role, people who just want to get along and live in peace, but who endure discrimination and damnation from those who call themselves Christians.

Jem Finch, the son of Atticus asks his sister a question in the book and the film:

“If there’s just one kind of folks, why can’t they get along with each other? If they’re all alike, why do they go out of their way to despise each other?”

I ask the same question on a daily basis and I wonder how it can happen again and again.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Time to Stand Against Hatred

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past five years or so I have found myself becoming an activist. I am a straight ally of the LGBTQ community and I am becoming even more of one now with the surge of violence and threats directed at LGBTQ people and others in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. In quite a few of these incidents the perpetrators cite Trump’s victory for their actions. A young man I know was had his life threatened in his workplace recently and due to the circumstances I helped link him up with people who could help. My friend who is leading this effort told me that incidents like this are happening all over the country and that many of the people being harassed, assaulted, or having their homes, cars, or other property vandalized, are younger people who don’t fully understand their legal rights. This is not just happening to LGBTQ people, but other minorities and women. The hatred of the perpetrators is immense and is not going away anytime soon and it is not limited to fringe groups of professional anti-Gay protesters like Westboro Baptist Church (pictured above). 

Last year I took the time to re-read the late Randy Shilts’ book about the beginning of the AIDS crisis, And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. As I did so I was struck by a single sentence “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.”

In the book, Shilts, a journalist and author, discussed the impact of hatred on people. The part of the book I was reading was about the release from prison of Dan White, the San Francisco city councilman who murdered the legendary Gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone on January 7th 1984.

Shilts reflected on how reciprocal hatred between White, his militant-anti-Gay supporters, and the Gay community harmed the whole community, and the response to the AIDS epidemic. The Gay community was angry, and rightly so, about how White who had killed Milk and Moscone in cold blood based was acquitted of the First Degree Murder charge on the ludicrous defense diminished capacity based on White’s being consumption of Hostess Twinkies. That anger was compounded by how many Gays felt about the AIDS epidemic, which at the time the cause was still unknown, and which most government agencies were ignoring.  When White was released, angry Gays protested, some even calling for White’s death. White was out of prison but he was a prisoner of his actions, he killed himself a number of months later.

Shilts wrote, “Prejudice makes prisoners of both the hated and the hater.” In regard to White, Shilts echoed the words of Thornton Wilder who wrote, “There is no need for me to curse you -the murderer survives the victim only to learn that it was himself that he longed to be rid of. Hatred is self-hatred.”

At the time neither the Gay community, nor their opponents, especially conservative Christians could get around the hate. Many people, including men like Gary Bauer, a current leader of the Christian Right who was then an adviser to Ronald Reagan, believed that believed AIDS was God’s judgment upon Gays and fought against public health measures and research. A number of President Elect Trump’s cabinet nominees are stridently anti-Gay and have supported policies of overt discrimination against the LGBTQ people, and one, Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos, a very conservative Evangelical Christian, off contact with her brother in the 1990s when he came out as Gay and revealed that he had AIDS. 

Sadly, despite all the advances in civil rights that the Gay community has fought for and earned, there are still those who hate them just for being different.

When I read Shilts’s words I was struck with just how timeless they were. While Shilts was discussing the experience of the Gay community in 1984, the lesson can be applied in almost every instance where there is anger about real or perceived injustice; as well as in times like today when societies are deeply divided along political, ideological, racial, or religious lines.

As the numbers of hate crimes directed at LGBTQ people mount, we are beginning to realize that his words are truly timeless. It is time for people, including straight people and Christians to speak up for the civil and human rights of people in the LGBTQ community. If we don’t we will be as guilty as those did not speak up so many other times in history when minorities were persecuted and even killed because they were different or viewed as less than human. It is time to stand. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, leadership, LGBT issues, Political Commentary, Religion

A Reflection on HIV/AIDS for World AIDS Day

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thursday was World AIDS Day, and so today I am going to reminisce about the events in my life that helped bring me to not just care about the treatment of people infected with HIV or suffering from AIDS but for becoming an advocate for the Gay Community. This is kind of an emotional post as I have friends from high school, college, and the military who have died of AIDS, I have known far too many others who have been cut off from their families, and faith communities once they were discovered to be infected with HIV or came out and admitted that they were homosexual.

The role of right wing political Christians in condemning these men and women has been one of the most disgraceful aspects of my experience, and I am a straight, married, white Christian minister. Sadly, many of the people that I will mention in this article continue to condemn LGBTQ people, those infected with HIV, and those suffering with AIDS. Likewise, they have been involved with demonizing men and women infected with Ebola a couple of years ago. They are without compassion, and without empathy. Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist who worked with the Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg. Gilbert noted: “In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the
defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men.
Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”
It is the same lack of empathy demonstrated by supposedly Christian leaders that bothers me today, including Vice President Elect Pence, and several of Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, and many of his advisors. 

In 1986 the late Dr. C. Everett Koop, then the Surgeon General courageously went against the feelings of many people, especially his fellow Evangelical Christians by saying:

“At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic many Americans had little sympathy for people with AIDS…The feeling was that somehow people from certain groups ‘deserved’ their illness. Let us put those feelings behind us. We are fighting a disease, not a people.”

Dr. Koop reminded us all of the basic humanity of those suffering with AIDS and would go on to be a committed advocate for caring for the men and women infected, often going against the bulwarks of the Religious Right including James Dobson and Phyllis Schafly. As a young man he became an inspiration to me.

I met someone with AIDS for the first time, at least knowingly for the first time in the summer of 1987 while serving as a Medical Service Corps personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences, Fort Sam Houston Texas. I was the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade, which is the unit that all medical training courses fell under for administrative and command and control issues. My job normally was consisted of basic personnel administration, working with commanders and legal officers when court-martial proceedings were needed, appointing investigating officers for different purposes, reviewing line of duty investigations and running duty rosters. It was nothing to write home about.

But that summer, after years of ignoring the issue the Reagan administration, which had made light of the disease and refused to do anything about it following the initial clinical diagnosis of it in 1981, belatedly, directed the Defense Department to start testing servicemen and women for the disease and to develop personnel policies for infected personnel.

Since it was considered by most in the mainstream to be a “gay” disease the Reagan administration treated it with distain, during some of the White House press conferences, Press Secretary Larry Speakes mocked and laughed about it to reporters who asked questions about it.

On October 15th 1982 this exchange took place: in the White House Briefing Room.

Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement—the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?

  1. SPEAKES: What’s AIDS?

Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as “gay plague.” (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?

  1. SPEAKES: I don’t have it. Do you? (Laughter.)

Q: No, I don’t. MR. SPEAKES: You didn’t answer my question.

Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President—

  1. SPEAKES: How do you know? (Laughter.)

Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke? MR. SPEAKES: No, I don’t know anything about it, Lester.

Q: Does the President, does anybody in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?

  1. SPEAKES: I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s been any—

Q: Nobody knows? MR. SPEAKES: There has been no personal experience here, Lester. Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping—

  1. SPEAKES: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he’s had no—(laughter)—no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.

Q: The President doesn’t have gay plague, is that what you’re saying or what?

  1. SPEAKES: No, I didn’t say that.

Q: Didn’t say that?

  1. SPEAKES: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn’t you stay there? (Laughter.)

Q: Because I love you, Larry, that’s why. (Laughter.)

  1. SPEAKES: Oh, I see. Just don’t put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)

Q: Oh, I retract that.

  1. SPEAKES: I hope so.

Q: It’s too late.

Read more: http://www.alan.com/2014/10/18/that-time-the-reagan-white-house-press-briefing-erupted-with-laughter-over-aids-13-times/#ixzz3GcMPItu7

The late Congressman from San Francisco, Phil Burton told those seeking government help in diagnosing and treating the new disease that:

“I’ll introduce a bill. But if all the angels came dancing down to earth like the Rockettes, even they couldn’t get a dime out of this administration for anything with the name “gay” on it.”

I seriously doubt had Reagan’s friend, Rock Hudson, a closeted homosexual who was a cinematic idol in his day had not died of AIDS in October of 1985 if the administration would have even acted then. Their intentional disregard and negligence was criminal. But they finally did act, and the military acted to begin testing for the disease and to develop personnel policies for infected service members.

Back then no one wanted to deal with AIDS or the people infected by it. This was especially true in much of the military. Since I was the junior Medical Service personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences I was told that I would coordinate all services to those infected and work with those appointed by the Army Surgeon General’s office to develop appropriate personnel policies. People in the office joked that I was “CINC AIDS.” That was not a compliment.

When a soldier was diagnosed then they were given a form by their physician stating that they would let any partners know that they were HIV positive and that if they had sex they would only have protected sex. These were a host of other restrictions given in that medical “counseling” and all of these were reinforced as each soldier was then given an order by their commander to the same effect. The difference was that what the doctor gave was “counseling” and what the commander gave was an order, which if disobeyed could result in punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Following this they were sent to me to discuss assignment limitations and career options. When people saw a soldier sitting outside my door, they pretty much knew what the person was there to see me for, as my job became more and more about dealing with those infected with HIV. As I took the job I read everything that I could and discussed the matter with physicians dealing with the disease.

Despite that in the beginning it was a scary experience. I attended a local mega-church and much of what I heard, read and listened to on Christian radio was full of paranoia, conspiracy theories and an attitude that could only be explained as an almost joyful gloating that the “homosexuals” were being judged by God. Not only that since HIV was determined to come from Africa, there was a tremendous amount of “old South” racism interspersed with their theological pronouncements.

Dr. James Dobson and Dr. D. James Kennedy, early leaders of the political religious right were particularly vindictive. These unscrupulous leaders helped spread much disinformation about HIV from the a book published by a charlatan named Gene Antonio who wrote what was then a popular book called “The AIDS Cover Up,” They claimed that AIDS could be spread by kissing, mosquito bites or even by touching surfaces that had been touched by those infected. These men were bolstered by their allies in the Reagan White House, Secretary of education Bill Bennett and his assistant Gary Bauer who were the official administration spokesmen regarding AIDS.

These political preachers and activists marginalized Surgeon General Koop who noted in the early days of the epidemic how he was “completely cut off from AIDS” by Bennett and others in the Reagan Administration. They were so wrong that Koop, who was by no means a liberal took them to task on their hateful, dishonest and un-Christian proclamations. Koop told a journalist:

“the Christian activity in reference to AIDS of both D. James Kennedy and Jim Dobson is reprehensible. The first time that Kennedy ever made a statement about AIDS, I saw it on television. It was so terrible, so homophobic, so pure Antonio that I wrote him a letter.”

Koop said of Dobson, who he had worked with earlier on HIV/AIDS: “I don’t know what happened to him. He changed his mind, and last August in his paper he attacked me for two pages as leading people down the garden path. But again his arguments were full of holes. I just cannot believe the poor scholarship of so many Christians.”

But that was the world that part of me lived in. The other world was one of logic and reason, informed by human compassion, so unlike what I was being fed by church leaders and the “Christian” media that I immersed myself.

The sad truth of the matter is then, as today, that far too many Christians, especially influential leaders intentionally and malevolently spread lies to bolster their position. For them it is far easier to profit from demonizing people than it is to work with people they hate, to find solutions that help everyone. In my view many of these supposedly “Christian” leaders, apart from their fashionable clothes, are no different than the Nazis who blamed the Jews, Socialists and homosexuals for every ill in society; or the Japanese leaders who organized the Kamikaze Corps to send true believers to their deaths in a hopeless cause simply to maintain their power.

There is no love, there is no care and there is no empathy in any of them. As Army psychologist Captain Gustave Gilbert noted at Nuremberg “evil is the absence of empathy.”

When you do not know or have never have met someone being demonized by religious people it is easy to surround yourself in comfortable theology. However, when a family member, friend or colleague becomes one of those being demonized it tends to blow up your comfortable theology unless you are a sociopath.

I never will forget the day in the late summer of 1987 when an officer came to my office. He was the first person who I had ever met who was HIV positive. He was a medical professional, an Army Captain who had been selected for promotion to Major. He was married, had children and was a “born-again Christian.” He had contracted HIV when dealing with a combative drunk patient, who was HIV positive. The patient smashed glass, cutting himself severely and started bleeding. The shattered glass cut this officer as he tried to intervene and subdue the man. The officer was infected by the man’s infected blood, which entered him through his own wounds. Though he attempted to disinfect himself by normal protocols he became infected. I was looking at a man, just a few years older than me. A man who loved God, loved his family, who had did all the right things but had become HIV positive.

Even now I can see and hear this man, his face is etched deep into my memory, struggling to fit what happened to him into the message of God’s judgment that his fellow Christians and church members said was the cause of his disease. As I talked to him I realized that what I was being told by men who I was listening to every day on the way to work, as well as what I was reading by “Christian” authors and what I was hearing in church was a lie.

My worldview was forever changed that day. I realized that this man had done nothing wrong, in fact he was trying to do his job as a medical professional to keep a patient from further harm. I was able to help him get into a Master’s degree program in Healthcare Administration since he was no longer allowed to serve in a clinical environment. I have no idea what happened to him after I left the active duty Army to attend seminary in late 1988, but I presume since the mortality rate for HIV/AIDS was so high back then that he probably died years ago. I would hope that by some miracle that this man was fortunate and like NBA great Ervin “Magic” Johnson has not only survived but continues to do well. But I know that the odds were not in his favor.

When he left my office we shook hands, something that my fellow Christians said that I needed to avoid. Not only did I shake his hand, but I gave him a hug and I did not wash my hands or disinfect myself. I figured that God wanted me to get HIV from caring for and accepting someone infected with it than it didn’t matter.

Since that time I have worked with, cared for and ministered to more victims of HIV/AIDS, their families and their friends than I can count. Many of them have made significant impressions on me, my life, and my faith. Without them my life would not be as rich as it has been. I continued to deal with case after case and it is interesting to read the citation from my end of tour award for my time as the Adjutant of the Academy Brigade. It is almost all about AIDS.

So we fast forward to 2016. I’m still in the military, only now I am not a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army but a Navy Chaplain and I am now teaching Ethics. During my career I spent about eight years in the critical care environment of major medical center ERs, trauma departments and ICUs. I have a rather unique perspective having experience with AIDS and other highly infectious diseases, as well as the ethics of treatment.

Since I was previously qualified as a Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense officer when I served in the Army in the 1980s, I understand the importance of, as well as the limitations of personal protective equipment and decontamination procedures. Of course because I know a good number of physicians who specialize in critical care, infectious diseases and pandemics and try to remain current in regard to such diseases, their causes, and the vectors by which they spread.

Thus I realize when I see and hear the Trinity of Evil; the politicians, pundits and preachers who make their living promoting fear, panic and hatred to keep their jobs and obscene profits coming in are at work in demonizing President Obama, the CDC and NIH and poor Africans in Liberia, Ghana and other countries. Like the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s, the same cast of disingenuous, unscrupulous and dishonest preachers, pundits and politicians are at work today as we wrestle with the Ebola crisis, which is neither an epidemic nor a judgment from God.

Sadly, these people are not limited to their own religious networks to spread their lies, propaganda and hate. They have the full buy in from a major cable news network and countless political “news” services, “think tanks” and Political Action Committees; who are their fellow travelers in their quest to demonize those that they hate and dominate society.

The Ebola crisis of 2013-2014 provided these same people, this Trinity of Evil, and their followers; with the avenue to create havoc without taking any personal or corporate responsibility to demonize people, to hinder rational and reasonable solutions to meet the crisis and to ensure the political destruction of the Black man in the White House who they hate with a hatred beyond comprehension, and beginning in January these same people will have massive influence in the White House and Congress to do their worst in harming people by denying medical care, funding, and research into not just HIV/AIDS and Ebola, but any other disease that they choose to label as God’s punishment on people that they despise.

Their words and actions, often clothed in the language of faith may seem to some as a demonstration of righteousness; only now they are even more closely linked to political and economic entities that simply want more power and profit and use them to achieve their malevolent purposes.

The sad thing is that while the leaders of the “Religious Right” benefit from this deal, their followers do not. In fact should Ebola ever reach epidemic or pandemic status in the United States because of their actions which have helped to hinder the government’s response to it; they don’t have to worry, they have good healthcare coverage which is paid for by their followers; and little threat of exposure. On the other hand their followers will have to fend for themselves, paying exceptionally high insurance rates if they can even afford it all the while the people that they support fight to ensure that they do not have affordable, or reliable access to health care.

The sad thing is that Ebola, as bad is it is; is a hard disease to catch, unless you happen to get blasted by a load of the massively infected vomit or bodily fluids of someone in the final stages of it. In fact Ebola is a lot harder to catch many forms of the Bird or Swine Flu, which are airborne viruses and highly contagious. History has shown that both are far more deadly in terms of numbers killed than either Ebola or AIDS have ever been.

Sadly, the same people who fought against treating HIV/AIDS and Ebola are the same people who mock public health experts and agencies when they warn of potential Influenza epidemics or pandemics, and fight against reasonable vaccination and prevention programs and education.

The actions of these religious and political leaders and their media supporters are unethical, irresponsible and at odds with measure of human compassion. It is like they have a death wish for the planet. But truthfully I have to say that it does not look to me that they seem to care so long as they reap a political and economic benefit from it.

Dr. Koop was condemned by fanatical extremists like the late Phyllis Schlafly who said that Koop’s recommendations in his report about preventing AIDS looked “like it was edited by the Gay Task Force” and Schlafly, ever the loving, honest and ethical Christian that she is accused Koop of advocating that third-graders learn the rules of “safe sodomy.”

Koop replied in a very courageous manner to Schafly, who in my view was one of the most loathsome people to ever unite religion and politics: “I’m not surgeon general to make Phyllis Schafly happy. I’m surgeon general to save lives.”

In 1988 Dr. Koop said something that most people in positions of any public responsibility, be they public health officials, medical professionals, politicians or even loathsome preacher should abide:

“I separate ideology, religion and other things from my sworn duty as a health officer in this country.”

But then as it did in the 1980s, the band continues to play on… and those that unite religion and their hatred of others continue to do everything that they can to ensure that people die as they lie. As for me, I am glad that finally saw the truth about these people and I thank people like that HIV positive Army officer who walked into my office in 1987 who humanized that terrible virus, and for helping me see the light.

But our fight is not over, we have to continue to bear witness and speak the truth.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pride in Morehead


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a special day for me and a lot of other people. I was honored to have a very minor speaking role at the Morehead Pride Festival in Morehead, Kentucky. It was amazing event, the first of its kind in that beautiful Eastern Kentucky town and it was a big change from just one year ago where the city was surrounded in controversy when Kim Davis the Rowan County Clerk refused to issue marriage certificates in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in the case of Obergfell  v. Hodges which granted marriage equality to Gays, Lesbians, and other members of the LGBTQ community. At that time various wanna be presidential candidates including Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, as well as all kinds of other anti-LGBTQ leaders descended on the town turning it into a circus. Interestingly enough once these politically minded preachers and ant-LGBTQ professionals had milked Kim Davis for all the publicity they could get they abandoned here and Rowan County, but I predicted that last year. 


Timothy Love, Mark Ebenhoch, Me and Larry Love in front of Section 93 

In contrast to that time today was a joyful occasion for the many people in attendance, most of whom are from Morehead and the surrounding area. It was amazing, for them it was the first time that many of them could openly show who they are in a safe place. Last year with all of the out of town zealots present it was not safe. Today the local LGBTQ community, led by David Moore put on a wonderful event working with the leaders of the town. It was a safe, family friendly event which drew more vendors and participants than any other festival hosted by the town. There were young and old, male and female, gay and straight, and people of every color, quite a few from Morehead State University. It was really eat to see local people, especially seniors stayingfor the whole event. The love and kindness was wonderful.




There were musical performances by local musicians, including those who honor the great Bluegrass music which is a rich part of the local musical heritage, and there were some great Drag Queens, including Kentucky drag queen Cadillac Seville who served as the MC for the event. Speakers included Mark Ebenhoch who brought section 93 of the original Sea to Sea Pride flag which is an iconic piece of LGBTQ heritage; Timothy Love and a number of the other plaintiffs in Obergfell v. Hodges, Aaron Jackson, the founder of Planting Peace, and many others.


Like I said, I had the honor of speaking and I basically talked about things that have brought me as a Christian, as a Priest, and as a career military officer, and historian to become a vocal propponent for equally for all. Mark recorded my speech and once I figure out how to put it on the blog I will do it. 

So anyway, it has been a long day. I am back in Huntington, West Virginia with Judy and our friend Patty. We’ll be attending church Sundy at a local Methodist congregation that was formed from several churches which no longer could make it one their own, including Southside Methodist where my parents and grandparents attended and at which I was baptized as a baby back in 1960. My cousin Paula is the music director there as she was at Southside. 

Have a great night and a better tomorrow. 

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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Speaking Out for Pride


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday  I had the chance to speak at the Staff College’s LGBT Pride ceremony. I asked to speak because I felt it was important for people to get a historical and personal account from a heterosexual who has served continuously since 1981. I have recounted my story of how as a white, heterosexual, Christian, military officer and chaplain my journey to support the rights of LGBTQ people. 

Though I have written about this subject many times, today was the first time that I spoke in front of peers and colleagues. I was able to recount how things have changed since I entered the army in 1981. That was a time when it was easy to demean and even persecute LGBTQ people. The amount of anti-gay prejudice then was pervasive and so normal that it didn’t even seem wrong. Likewise, it was not permitted for Gays to serve in the military, and even if they were exemplary soldiers, sailors, Marines, or airman even an unprovable allegation by someone was enough to ensure that they were punished and discharged from the military under other than honorable conditions. 

After I was commissioned and sent to Germany to serve in a Medical company, I had soldiers in my platoon who were either Gay or Lesbian. They were exceptionally discreet and were some of the best soldiers in the company. These men and women were exceptional, they volunteered for duties beyond what was needed, and when others fell down on the job, the stepped in, doing extra work and taking field assignments. They were solid, dependable, and always ready to do more that required to get the mission done. At that moment I realized that Gays and Lesbians should be allowed to serve. 

When I became the company commander dealing far too many other real disciplinary issues ranging from sexual assault, drug use, robbery, vandalism, DUI, and other assorted issues, I realized that it would be stupid to punish some of my best soldiers, and to create a lot more work for me, so I began my own policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell over seven years before that policy went into effect. 

My next assignment was at the Academy of Health Sciences at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. There I served as the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade. I was a newly promoted Captain and recent graduate of the army’s Military Personnel Officer course. It was about that time that HIV and AIDS became a national concern, and military physicians and researchers, realizing that this was a threat to military health and readiness were in the forefront of the efforts to find out about this disease. Likewise, the military needed personnel policies that would allow servicemen and women infect with HIV to be able to continue their service. 

As a result, being that I was the junior medical personnel officer present, and senior officers wanted nothing to do with HIV or those infected I was assigned to work with Department of the Army personnel on developing personnel policies for those infected, and to be the point of contact for every soldier in our command who had tested positive for HIV. Those experiences with men infected with HIV gave me a compassion for their suffering, and made me question things that many of my Christian friends said about Gays. Instead of people to be scorned and consigned to hell, I realized that they were deserving of empathy and compassion. After I left active duty and went to seminary and became a chaplain I did a pastoral care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas, where I was immersed in the life and death struggles of men and women dying of AIDS related infections and cancers. I saw men who were dying who were treated shamefully by their “Christian” family members and had their partners forbidden to be with them in their dying hours. At the same time I saw other Christian families care for and love the partners of their dying sons. 

I was in the National Guard when the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy went into effect. It was a step in the right direction, but not enough. I knew Gays and Lesbians who served, but still lived in fear that something might lead to their removal from the service for simply being Gay. I remember one of my friends, now retired, who spent the first 18 years of her career in fear and on more than one occasion during the DADT era being investigated by her command due to allegations made against her. I cannot imagine what that would be like. 

Since returning to active duty in the navy in 1999 I have served with sailors and Marines, officers and enlisted who were Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual. Most were exemplary Sailors and Marines. Some are still serving, but now after the repeal of DADT are able to do so openly. Likewise, with ruling in favor of Marriage Equality in the Obergfell v. Hodges case, these men and women can now marry, and their spouses are considered military spouses. 

I a proud to serve alongside these men and women, people who swear the same oath that I have to support and defend the Constitution of the United Staates, and our nation in a time of war when under one percent of the American population serves in the military. They are part of my military family, my brothers and sisters who go into harm’s way to defend our way of life. 

So yesterday I was proud to speak out, not just giving my story in a nutshell, but recounting examples from history and connecting the most important thing for me; that being the radical proposition that is the heart of the Declaration of Independence, “we hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among men…” 

For me that is the most important thing, and it is something that I am always reminded of when I visit Gettysburg and read Abraham Lincoln’s univeralization of those rights in his Gettysburg Address. In that short speech, Lincoln noted that our founders created a new nation, “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Lincoln’s words were as revolutionary, and perhaps even more than those contained in the Declaration of Independence, because he was now fighting a war against fellow Americans who had seceded from the Union based on the proposition that blacks were not citizens, and for that matter were less human than whites, something specified in the Confederate Constitution and declared in each declaration of secession voted on by the states that made up the Confederacy. 

The truth that all men are created equal  and that this nation is  dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal is the basis of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution, the 19th Amendment, the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, as well as the decision to repeal DADT and the recent Supreme Court Rulings which gave LGBTQ people the right to marry. For me, this is the extension of Liberty, and finally I was able to speak publicly to affirm that I stand by my LGBTQ friends, realizing, like Lincoln, that this is still an “unfinished work” and I dedicate myself to continue to stand alongside them in an era where many still would attempt to restrict those rights, or even kill them simply because of who they are. 

Because of this I will continue to speak out and right in support of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who serve our country, as well as all people. 

So have a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Who Will Speak? The Aftermath of Orlando


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past few days I have written about the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando which killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 more, mostly male homosexuals. The massacre was committed by an American born man whose father came to the United States from Afghanistan in the 1980s. While the killer swore his allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State in a call to 911 during the attack, it also appears that he was also Gay and a patron  night club. He grew up in a family where his father believed and still believes that God will judge homosexuals, and his father talked of the extreme anger that the killer supposedly exhibited a few weeks before the massacre when he saw men kissing in public. The psychological dynamics, the probability that the killing was as much motivated by self-hatred directed at the people most like him, as it was by religious ideology is rich. 

If this is the case it is an instance where a man killed because his religion condemned him. That is not surprising, it happens all the time, not necessarily the killing, but the outward manifestations of physical and verbal hatred toward homosexuals by people who cannot accept that they too are homosexual. We see it in examples some of the most vehement anti-gay preachers and politicians whose secret lives are revealed.

If this case was not so tragic in scale it would have been easy to ignore, but it cannot be ignored. It cries out to be heard, and the hatred that caused it, motivated by religious self-hate, terrorist ideology, and a culture in which Christian and some Muslim and Jewish preachers routinely call for the persecution, death, and eternal damnation of Gays, while politicians at the local, state and Federal level promote thousands of laws specifically designed to persecute and limit the civil, legal, economic, and social rights of LGBTQ people promotes a perfect climate for such crimes to be committed. One cannot promote discrimination, persecution, and demonize a group of people without expecting violence to result. 

The question is when do good people finally speak up against this toxic climate of hate which produces such avoidable tragedies? Thankfully, some are now doing so, including Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox of Utah, a conservative Reupblican who delivered some of the most poingent remarks that I have heard in the wake of the massacre. His remarks can be found here:  Cox Speech I found them to be incredibly heartfelt and moving. I do hope that others will make the same kind of stand, not just in word, but in deed. 

We all have to make a stand as Americans to honor, respect, and care for each other; to defend the weak against the hated of those who will stop at nothing to harm them in any way possible, legal and illegal alike. If we do not we too may one day be faced with the words of the German pastor, Martin Niemoller, a war hero and conservative who initially supported Hitler because Hitler promised to “protect Christian values.” However, Niemoller, a man who despised Socialists, atheists, and had little love for the Jews, discovered that Hitler’s rule was tyranny. Niemoller ended up being sent to the concentration camps and imprisoned. After the war Niemoller wrote this penetrating verse:

First 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 for me. 

When we hate people for their lifestyle, sexual orientation, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, or political beliefs. When we allow demagogues to preach those hatreds and and even give them our vote and political power, we cannot expect that one day, once they are done with their first enemies that they will not someday come after us. Thus it is imperative that we stand against hate in all its forms. 

Over the next few days I will be meeting a group of Army officers at Gettysburg, so I do not know how much I will post the rest of the week. I do plan on doing another follow up article on my post A Pause to Think  dealing with the hard choices of the war that we will have to fight against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups who revel in the terror and carnage that occurred in Orlando, it is not a fight that we can spurn because there are more Orlandos waiting to happen. 

Have a great day, and I do wish you all the best.

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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