Category Archives: LGBT issues

Not Just Words but Actions: My Support for LGBTQ Civil Rights

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am often asked why I write on the topics of civil rights and human rights and why I have over the past few years gone beyond writing but speaking and engaging in peace public protests for these rights. I guess it is because I have to. Writing is easy for me and apart from the occasional death threat from a Neo-Nazi or KKK sympathizer there is little risk. However, getting out in public and speaking or marching with others in support of their rights is not without risk.

As a historian I have always impressed by the struggle for equality and resistance against tyranny. It matters not to me if the cause is that of the African American fighting against slavery, Jim Crow, and continued discrimination; the Native American against whom genocide was committed in the name of a supposedly “Christian American” Manifest Destiny; the Jew targeted by Nazi Race hatred and genocide, or so many others who due to their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or political beliefs have been targeted for subordination or elimination by governments, or mass movements.

One man who inspired me is Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham Alabama had the courage to confront the people and the culture that allowed the brutal bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that killed four little girls attending Sunday school and wounded many more. Morgan noted: “It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.” I have embraced his example to speak out publicly when I see the rights of my fellow citizens and other human beings trampled by those who only care about their power and privilege.

On this site I have frequently written about those subjects. Likewise, within the confines of still being a commissioned officer in the United States Navy I continue to support those discriminated and oppressed by people whose political, religious, or ideological beliefs support policies, measures, and ideas that go against the basic guarantees of the United States Constitution, as well as the bedrock ideal of the American experiment, the belief written in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” and reinforced by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg address that this Republic was dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” 

I know that there are many times that people wonder why I continue to write about and even take an active role in promoting the liberties of people who because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity are the targets of discrimination, legislative actions, threats, and violence. As such I write about these issues all the time, however, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I became an actual participant in rallies and marches on behalf of any persecuted group. In my case it was making a deliberate move to openly support my friends in the LGBTQ community.

My support of my LGBTQ friends has perplexed many people who predominantly knew me through church or military settings. The sight of a Christian Navy Chaplain and carer military officer supporting people who until 2012 were forbidden to even reveal under threat of criminal prosecution and discharge from the military that they were Gay, or condemned by the church to discrimination in this life and damnation in the next was anathema to many people who I counted as friends. Since I came out as a straight ally to my LGBTQ friends, many people who I believed were friends have long since written me off simply because my stand contradicted their religious beliefs. That bothers me by I have to move along. Likewise there are others who regardless of their beliefs have remained close friends and been supported even if they disagreed with me. That is a hallmark of true friendship. I honestly believe that if friendship is predicated on religion, political beliefs, or anything but on true care for one another it is not friendship.

It is interesting that almost all of my LGBTQ friends are people who I went to high school, college, attended church with, or served alongside in the military. In fact I didn’t know that most of them were Gay for years because the were closeted and that the act of coming out could cause them incredible harm. Over the years as I came to support them more and more have let me know that they were Gay, knowing that I would both protect their confidence and fully support them and they have come to trust me, and I cannot betray their trust by failing to support them in my words and in my deeds.

Knowing their stories and holding them sacred is important to me. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hold fast to the creeds of the church yet suffer the pain of excommunication because of my sexual orientation. I cannot imagine what it would be like to swear and oath to defend my country and go to war yet still be forced to be silent about the people that I love under the threat of punishment and discharge. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be evicted from my home or denied the opportunity to buy a house because I loved someone of my gender. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be able to be fired from a civilian simply because I was Gay. I don’t have to imagine what it would be like to have your best friends and your life partner forbidden to be with you on your deathbed, because as a hospital chaplain I have seen it happen even as the pastor of the man’s parents screamed at him to repent as he died with a ventilator in his throat.

Sunday I participated in the Equality March in Washington D.C. I was with friends and I represented friends that could not be there. It was important. I have been to D.C. many times but I have never experienced it in such a way, I never dreamed that I would be in any civil rights march that went past so many places that symbolize who we are as Americans including the White House and in front of the Capital building. On the way back home yesterday Judy mention how proud she was that I marched. That meant a lot to me, she is an amazing woman who cares so deeply about others that it humbles me. As we talked I remarked that had I been an adult in the 1960s I would have very likely been marching in support of the civil rights of African Americans.

John F. Kennedy said “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” This is something that I believe with my whole heart and now have decided to back my beliefs and words with action instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Yesterday I had friends who took part in the commemoration of the slaughter of 49 people, including an Army officer at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was a crime directed at them because they were LGBTQ people and Pulse was a place that they felt safe. Sadly they were not the first to die violently because of their sexual orientation in this country, nor will they probably be the last. That is a reason that I have to speak out. If I don’t I would be complicit in the crimes committed against them by my silence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I will not be a silent friend ever again. This week was for my LGBTQ friends, but I will do so for others as well. I cannot be silent in the face of hatred, even that legislated against already marginalized and despised people by supposedly Christian majorities in various statehouses and Congress. I remember all too well the words of the German pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote:

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.

As such, I cannot be silent. To do so would betray all that I hold dear.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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A March for the Civil Rights of LGBTQ People in the Nation’s Capital 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I posted an article that I think is one of the most important that I have ever written and the heart of it came from the sermon of Rabbi Roland Gittlesohn, a Navy Chaplain serving with the 5th Marine Division on Iwo Jima. It is one of the most remarkable sermons that I have ever heard or seen. It says far better than I think I ever have just how important the rights of every American citizen no-matter what their race, creed, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or political beliefs have a right. It is the promise of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence 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 statement is the bedrock of the American ideal, an ideal that we as a people have often fallen far short of embracing too many times, but it is still the idea that was so revolutionary for its time that even Americans, especially slave owners condemned it. 


When one actually looks at those speeches and writings, by slave power proponents as well as others who legislated against liberty for anyone but White Protestant men, they are chilling. Sadly, the same philosophy of trampling the liberty of all but a few remains a part of our national fabric. We see that manifested daily by people, including politicians, preachers, and pundits in regard to people of color, Muslims, women, and of course the LGBTQ community. Alone of all minorities the LGBTQ community is often attacked by others who are also the victims of racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination, often because their religion informs them that Gays are deserving of damnation. Sadly those who do such things cannot see that LGBTQ civil rights are part of the same struggle that their ancestors pioneered and that they still face themselves. 


But the fact is, that if you are an American, that these rights have been paid for by the blood of Americans of every race, religion, and ethnicity, including Gays. Rabbi Gittlesohn said it so well at Iwo Jima. He spoke for the rights of every American at a time when many ministers, including his fellow Chaplains would never have the courage to do. He spoke for Protestant, Catholics, Jews, Blacks, Asian Americans, Mexican Americans, and Native Americans. He recognized that fighting for freedom and democracy” abroad does not automatically guarantee that those rights will be protected at home. He said: 

Any man among us the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, them, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price….

We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home…. 

I am a Navy Chaplain, a career officer of almost 36 years of service. I am a Christian and I am a straight ally of my LGBTQ friends. I marched in the nation’s capital yesterday with and for my fellow citizens in support of full equality for my LGBTQ friends. I marched with Section 93 of the Key West Coast to Coast flag, the largest and most historic artifact of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. It is known by many victims of anti-LGBTQ violence and discrimination as The Sacred Cloth and it has symbolized the struggle for LGBTQ rights around the world. Today my friend Mark Ebenhoch will take it to Orlando to commemorate the victims killed in the massacre at the Pulse nightclub. It is a part of American history now, not just LGBTQ history. 

I have continued to read Rabbi Gittlesohn’s sermon over the weekend. Like him, I am determined not to let prejudices spawned by ill-informed minds not to stand in the way of equal rights for anyone. As Rabbi Gittlesohn and Abraham Lincoln noted, it is for all of us to labor for a new birth of freedom, one that encompasses every American as well as those people who come to the United States yearning to be free. If I cannot do that, if you cannot do that then we are a contemptible lot and do not deserve the liberties that far too many men and women have sacrificed their lives, reputations, and sacred honor to defend. 

This my friends is all about the liberties that so many others have done their best to defend. If someone wants to espouse the race based White Supremacy that has been a part of our nation since the beginning, that is their right: but history, liberty, and equality show that theirs is a misguided and immoral philosophy doomed for the ash heap of history. I cannot state that in any clearer terms. The rights and civil liberties of LGBTQ people need to be defended by everyone, even those that do not agree with their lifestyles or sexual preferences, especially those that will fight for their so called religious freedoms that they would deny to others simply because their faith or lifestyle is different. I believe that people who do this either have no concept of civil rights, the Declaration, or the Constitution, or that they fully understand them but willingly would trample them in order to secure their primacy. Either way it is not good.

I was pleased to march for civil rights with my LGBTQ friends yesterday. This really is the crux of them matter. If we believe in the American experiment it is either for all of us or none of us. Rabbi Gittlesohn understood that; the question today is will we? 

So until tomorrow I wish you the best.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Howling at the Moon and Ministry at the End of a Long Military Career

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

The past few days I have been quietly reflecting on ministry as I get ready to transition out of my current assignment at the Staff College to be the senior base chaplain at one of the bases nearby. Fortunately I will be able to continue conducting the Gettysburg Staff Ride for the college but the transition to being a base chaplain for the second time in my career, the first some twenty years ago when I was in the Army, has caused me to ponder the form ministry again and why I am here. It also has made me think of my long career and my transition from being a rising star, to a old and bit sore veteran who still has something to give, I’ve been in the military now for almost 36 years, not much left to prove but some left to give.  A younger friend and chaplain once said I reminded him of Kevin Costner’s character in the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis. I like the analogy, as Crash said: “I have been known on occasion to howl at the moon.”

I like hard questions and hard cases. My life has been quite interesting and that includes my faith journey as a Christian and human being. It is funny that in my life I have as I have grown older begun to appreciate those that do not believe and to rather distrust those who proclaim their religious faith with absolute certitude, especially when hard questions are asked.

Paul Tillich once said “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.” 

I get “trolled” a lot and I find it amusing when trolls come by to condemn my “heresy.” When they do I realize that most of them must have some kind of psychological need to be right. I say this because for all of their certitude I sense a deep fear that they might be wrong. I think that is why they must do this.

I think that the quote by the late theologian is quite appropriate to me and the ministry that I find myself. I think it is a ministry pattern quite similar to Jesus in his dealings with the people during his earthly incarnate ministry.

Jesus was always hanging out with the outcasts, whether they be Jewish tax collectors collaborating with the Romans, lepers and other “unclean” types, Gentiles including the hated Roman occupiers, Samaritans and most dangerously, scandalous women. He seemed to reach out to these outcasts while often going out of his way to upset the religious establishment and the “true believers” of his day.

There is even one instance where a Centurion whose servant he healed was most likely involved in a homosexual relationship, based on the writer of the Gospel of Matthew’s use of the Greek word “Pais” which connotes a homosexual servant, instead of the more common “Doulos.” That account is the only time in the New Testament where that distinction is made, and Pais is used throughout Greek literature of the time to denote a homosexual slave or “house boy” relationship. Jesus was so successful at offending the profoundly orthodox of his day that his enemies made sure that they had him killed.

I think that what has brought me to this point is a combination of things but most importantly what happened to me in and after my tour in Iraq. Before I went to Iraq I was certain of about everything that I believed and was quite good at what we theologians and pastors call “apologetics.” My old Chaplain Assistant in the Army, who now recently serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Chaplain Corps called me a “Catholic Rush Limbaugh” back in 1997, and he meant it quite affectionately.

I was so good at it that I was silenced by a former Archbishop in my former church and banned from publishing for about 7 years after writing two articles for a very conservative Roman Catholic journal, the New Oxford Review.

The funny thing is that he, and a number of my closest friends from that denomination are either Roman Catholic priests or priests in the Anglican Ordinariate which came into communion with Rome a couple of years back. Ironically while being “too Catholic” was the reason I was forbidden to write it was because I questioned certain traditions and beliefs of the Church including that I believed that there was a role for women in the ordained ministry, that gays and lesbians could be “saved” and that not all Moslems were bad that got me thrown out in 2010.

However when I returned from Iraq in the midst of a full blown emotional, spiritual and physical collapse from PTSD that certitude disappeared. It took a while before I was able to rediscover faith and life and when I did it wasn’t the same. There was much more mystery to faith as well as reason. I came out of that period with much more empathy for those that either struggle with or reject faith. Thus I tend to hang out at bars and ball games more than church activities or socials, which I find absolutely tedious. I also have little use for clergy than in dysfunctional and broken systems that are rapidly being left behind. I am not speaking about belief here, but rather structure and methodology.

I think that if there is anything that God will judge the American versions of the Christian church is our absolute need for temporal power in the political, economic and social realms and the propagation of religious empires that only enrich the clergy which doing nothing for the least, the lost and the lonely. The fact that the fastest growing religious identification in the United States is “none” or “no preference” is proof of that and that the vast amounts of money needed to sustain these narcissistic religious empires, the mega-churches and “Christian” television industry will be their undoing.  That along with their lack of care for anyone but themselves. Jesus said that his disciples would be known by their love for one another, not the size of their religious empire or temporal power.

The interesting thing is that today I have friends and colleagues that span the theological spectrum. Many of these men even if they do not agree with what I believe trust me to love and care for them, even when those most like them in terms of belief or doctrine, both religious and political treat them like crap. Likewise I attract a lot of people who at one time were either in ministry or preparing for it who were wounded in the process and gave up, even to the point of doubting God’s love and even existence. It is kind of a nice feeling to be there for people because they do not have to agree with me for me to be there for them.

In my darkest times my only spiritual readings were Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries which I began reading in Iraq to help me get through the nights in between missions in Iraq and through the nights when I returned from them.  In one of those books, the last of the series entitled “The Archbishop goes to Andalusia” the miscreant Auxiliary Bishop to the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago goes to Seville Spain.  In the novel Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

In my ministry as a military chaplain working in combat units, critical care hospital settings, and teaching, I have found that there are many hurting people, people who like me question their faith and even long held beliefs.

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So, I guess that is why I stay in the game, I still love it, and why when I go to my new assignment I will do my best to care for all who come to me for any kind of guidance, respecting who they are and what they believe, while mentoring the junior chaplains who I will supervise so that they blossom as minsters of their faith groups, and chaplains to our diverse community. More than likely this will be my last assignment before I retire, and for me the job is not about me or any promotion, it is helping the next generation, because they are the future.  They must increase, and in the military sense I must decrease, I mean for God’s sake, 39 or 40 years of military service should be enough for me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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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“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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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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