Category Archives: LGBT issues

An Accidental Activist 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I would have never thought that I would become a civil rights activist. I’ve been in the military my entire adult life and grew up in it as a child. I was raised with the concepts of loyalty, obedience, and honor as being central to my life. Likewise I have been a Christian pretty much all of my life, and a minister, priest, and chaplain for a quarter of a century. Typically when you mix military, Christian, and clergy the combination does not lead to one becoming a civil rights activist. 

But the long strange trip that has been my life to dates has thrust me into places that people like me seldom experience, much less live.  When I was in high school I was part of a school district that desegregated. There was a lot of opposition to it in the community, but my class at Edison High School, Stockton California, was as racially diverse as anyone could imagine and unlike many other places where the experiment went wrong, our class came together and made it work. Many of us have stayed in contact throughout the decades and our reunions are always well attended, we were, and still are, Soul Vikes. 

When left active duty to go to seminary and went into the National Guard, came to know what it is to be poor, to wonder where the next meal, rent payment, tank of gas, or money for prescription medicine might come from. I know what it is like to have a home foreclosed on, to have a car repossessed, to have bill collectors harass one day and night. To work full time with a college degree and not make a living wage because “good Christians” didn’t think seminary students deserved a living wage because they were not going to stay around after they were done with seminary. I know what it is to have lived in a crime and drug infested area in a rented house that did not have heat during the winter. I know what it is like to lose a job when mobilized to serve overseas, and have those that did it blacklist me among my profession when I complained to the Department of Labor when I returned home. 

Likewise, my profession as a military officer, first as a Medical Service Corps officer, and later as a Chaplain in the military and as a civilian hospital chaplain brought me into contact with people and experiences that I would not have had otherwise. I was assigned to help write the Army’s personnel policy for people with HIV and AIDS in 1987 and because I was the junior personnel officer I because the point of contact for every officer diagnosed with that dread disease. The experience made me realize that the people who got it, regardless of whether they were gay or straight were real human beings faced what was then a certain death sentence. So I started speaking up for them. 

When I was in seminary I worked for a social service organization working in the slums and barrios of San Antonio before moving to Fort Worth and for a time working as the administrative coordinator for a homeless shelter. 

When I finished seminary I ended up doing my hospital chaplain (Clinical Pastoral Education) residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. While most of my time was spent in the trauma-surgery department and the emergency rooms, I still dealt with many AIDS patients, some whose families rejected them, and if they were Gay, were also condemned by their families, pastors, and churches. While at Parkland I dealt with death every day, much of it violent, and I saw the vast disparity between those who had insurance and those who had to rely on charity or some kind of minimal government provided heath care program. 

When I came back from Iraq suffering from full-blown PTSD I came to understand what it was like to suffer depression, hopelessness, struggle with faith, and contemplate suicide. I also came to know what it was like to be ostracized and then kicked out of my church, and be sidelined by other Navy chaplains. 

As I struggled during the early stages of returning home and dealing with the craziness of PTSD my first therapist asked what I was going to do with my experience. I told him that regardless of the cost I would be honest and speak out. I started doing that with PTSD but soon as I was struck by how unjust I felt that I had been treated, and seeing others being treated the same way because of prejudice, whether it dealt with mental health, race, sexuality, religion, social or economic status, I began to speak up for them as well. Speaking up for the LGBTQ community, women, and Muslims, got me thrown out of the church I had served for 14 years as a Priest, but that only hardened my resolve to fight for others, even in my own neighborhood. 

That has continued now for almost a decade since I returned from Iraq. All of the experiences I had before then came more sharply into focus, and if you read this site regularly or scroll through my vault of over eight years of articles you will see how over the years I have continued to become more of an advocate for civil rights. But I think that this is something that my faith as a Christian and oath as an officer to the Constitution demands I do. The German pastor and martyr to the Nazis Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself. That means that I have to fight the battle. 

Many of the causes that I fight for are not popular in Donald Trump’s America, but one cannot give up and be silent just because it is unpopular. Mahatma Gandhi said: “It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.”

I have become an activist, I didn’t plan to become one, it just happened as a part of a very long long strange trip; one that is continuing in ways that I could never had imagined. When people ask how that can be when I am still serving as an officer I believe that my answer is found in the words of the German General, Ludwig Beck who died in the attempt to remove Hitler’s from power in July 1944. Beck wrote: “It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

So anyway, here I am an accidental activist. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, healthcare, LGBT issues, Political Commentary, PTSD

The Transgender Soldiers of the American Civil War


Friends of Padre Steve’s World

President Trump let loose a series of tweets yeasterday morning saying, based on the advise of his generals,  that he was going to kick out transgender soldiers from the military. The irony was not only that the military, immersed in a six month long study of they issue was blindsided by the President, and yesteryear General Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced that nothing had changed regarding the treatment of transgender military personnel, and instructed the military to continue to respect every military member. 

So, today I am posting an article about the women soldiers of the Civil War, many of who based on their personal narratives would be considered transgender today. I hope that you enjoy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Of course when the Civil War broke out the logical end of this train of though was that should women be allowed to serve in the military. Legally and socially it was not possible for women to serve in the military in 1861, but this did not stop women in the Union or the Confederacy from doing so. Quite a few women on both sides of the conflict chaffed about not being allowed to fight for their countries, their families and their causes, and despite official prohibitions that kept women from serving in any capacity but nursing, a good number of women found their way to go to war. While men in the North and South “were expected to enlist, any woman actively participating in the Civil War was an oddity if not a renegade.” In some cases this involved hundreds of women taking male identities in order to fulfill their desires to serve their countries.

The motives of these women varied. In some cases women wanted gain the economic privileges of full citizenship, and for others the glory reserved to only to men. In our modern parlance those that took male identities would be considered transvestites or possibly transgender, but for them “transvestitism was a private rebellion against public conventions. By taking a male social identity, they secured for themselves male power and independence, as well as full status as citizens of their nation. In essence the Civil War was an opportunity for hundreds of women to escape the confines of their sex.” 

During the war hundreds of women went to war, taking on the identity of men. They enlisted under male names and pretended to be men. Unless they were discovered to be women, or unless they confessed to their wartime service either during or after the war, most women managed to serve without being caught. Sadly, most of their service records were lost. In 1861 Private Franklin Thompson “enlisted in Company F of the 2nd Michigan Infantry…unknown to comrades, Thompson actually was Sarah Emma Edmonds.” Edmonds served in the illustrious Iron Brigade until the disaster at Fredericksburg. Well known for her courage as Franklin Thompson, Edmonds participated in some of the bloodiest combats of the war. At Antietam she was caring for the wounded when she came upon a soldier who had been wounded in the neck. That soldier informed Edmonds that she was dying and after a surgeon came by and confirmed what the soldier said the dying soldier told Edmonds:

“I am not what I seem, but I am female. I enlisted from the purest motives, and I have remained undiscovered and unsuspected. I have neither father, mother nor sister. My only brother was killed today. I closed his eyes about an hour before I was wounded….I am Christian, and have maintained the Christian character ever since I entered the army. I have performed the duties of a soldier faithfully, and am willing to die for the cause of truth and freedom….I wish you to bury me with your own hands, that none may know after my death that I am other than my appearance indicates.”

That unknown woman was not alone, at least nine women, eight Union and one Confederate, fought at Antietam and of those five were casualties. Five women, two Federal and three Confederate took part at Gettysburg. All three Confederate women at Gettysburg were either killed or wounded, or captured, including two women who took part in Pickett’s Charge.


Sarah Edmonds published a book Nurse and Spy in the Union Army while recovering from malaria in 1863. The book, which was published the following year, sold 175,000 copies, the proceeds that she donated to care for sick and wounded Union veterans. After the war, Edmonds attended Oberlin College, married, had three of her own children and adopted two more. She “became a member of the Grand Army of the Potomac, the organization for Union veterans of the Civil War. She applied for, and received, a military pension, and upon her death in 1898 was buried with full military honors.” She was the only women admitted to the Grand Army of the Republic.


Another of the women to serve was Frances Louisa Clayton. Fighting for the Union as a member of the Minnesota State Militia Cavalry and 2nd Minnesota Battery, serving under the command of Ulysses S. Grant she was wounded at Fort Donelson. Like many other women soldiers, Clayton mastered the art of behaving as a man. She “became “a capital swordsman,” but also commanded attention with her “masculine stride in walking” and “her erect and soldierly carriage.” After the war she promoted her service in a book.


However, most women were more discreet during and after the war regarding their true sexuality. Private Albert Cashier hid his sexuality identity for his entire term of service. He enlisted in August 1862 as a member of the 95th Illinois. Cashier was born in Ireland as a woman, Jennie Hodgers. He fought in forty battles and was discharged with the regiment in August 1865. At Vicksburg he was briefly captured by the Confederates while conducting a reconnaissance “but managed to escape by seizing a gun from one of her guards, knocking him down, and outrunning others. Comrades recalled Private Cashier climbing to the top of their fieldworks to taut the enemy into showing themselves.”

After the war “Albert” returned home and lived as a “farmer and handyman and served as a caretaker in his church. He never married.” In 1890 he applied for and received a military pension and in 1911 the now elderly “man” was struck by a car and suffered a broken leg. The doctor threating him discovered that Albert was not a man, but a woman. But the doctor kept his confidentiality and without revealing “Albert’s” secret had the Union veteran admitted to the local Soldier’s and Sailors’ Home at Quincy, Illinois.” A few years later the elderly “man” began to exhibit erratic behavior and was “committed to a public mental hospital and the word was out.” With her story now sensational front page news and “old comrades in arms came to her defense.” Her comrades had never known that “Albert” was a man during or after the war, while the news was a surprise to them they came to her defense. To combat some of the sensationalism in the media Albert’s fellow soldiers testified “to Albert’s bravery in combat and public good works in later life. Albert/Jennie died at Watertown State Hospital in 1915 at age seventy-one. The local post of the Grand Army of the Republic arranged for her burial. Her headstone reads: “Albert D.J. Cashier, Company G, 95th Illinois Infantry.”

Wartime records are sketchy but as a minimum it is believed that “between 250 and 400 women disguised as men found their way into either the Federal or Confederate armies.” Women known to have served had a “combined casualty rate of 44 percent” including the fact that “eleven percent of women soldiers died in the military.”  Some of those women are now well known but many others are lost to history. Most women tried to keep their sexual identities secret, even to the point of their death on the battlefield. Most of the women who served in the armies returned home to resume relatively normal lives after the war.

Of the women that served in the ranks, some were discovered, and many remained protected by their fellow soldiers. Quite a few received promotions and even served as NCOs or junior officers. With women now serving in combat or combat support roles in the U.S. Military since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the stigma and scandal that these cross-dressing women soldiers of the Civil War has faded and as scholars and the public both “continue probing cultural notions of gender and identity, the reemerging evidence that women historically and successfully engaged in combat has met with less intellectual resistance and has taken on new cultural significance.” As the United States military services examine the issues surrounding further moves to integrate the combat arms we also should attempt to more closely examine the service of the brave and often forgotten women who served on both sides of the Civil War.

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My Doctrine: “Give Every Other Human Being the Right You Claim for Yourself”


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day and another adventure in Trumpland. 

Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican that modern Republicans love to hate said: “I am an American; free born and free bred, where I acknowledge no man as my superior, except for his own worth, or as my inferior, except for his own demerit.” 

After Trump’s announcement in which he said that he was going to bar transgender men and women from military service, including combat vets, I am fighting back in every legal way that I can as an active duty officer. Thankfully I am senior enough that I don’t have to deal with the threats that a number of junior Army chaplain friends are dealing with from their fundamentalist Christian supervisory chaplains. 

I cannot believe who quickly these people will throw fellow servicemen and women under the bus for a President who despises them and what they believe all because he hates LGBTQ people more than them. 

Although I don’t need to I am going to start doing all the preparatory actions that I will need to do to retire from the military on my own terms with 36 or more years of service in peace and war so I don’t have to serve under what if left unchecked will become a fascist dictatorship, in large part due to fundamentalist Christians. I am not going to drop my retirement papers yet, just get things in place so that I can retire at any point that I chose. I will never surrender my honor to willingly prostitute myself to a regime that rejects the rule of law, the Constitution, and the principles of the Declaration of Independence that so many people have fought to preserve. 

Since I posted two articles yesterday this will,suffice for now. But for me the issue is liberty for all. As Robert Ingersoll, a Civil War hero and prominent atheist said: “This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.”  If you can’t do then don’t claim to support the Constitution or revere the Declaration of Independence, because you are simply a liar. Enough said. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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A Gigantic Step Backwards: Trump Bans Transgender People from the Military on the Anniversary of Truman’s Desegregation of the Armed Forces


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Russian dissident Gary Kasparov said this on Twitter yesterday shortly after President Trump announced on the same platform that Transgender people, even those currently serving honorably would not be allowed to serve in the military. Kasparov noted:

“The autocrat always requires enemies to protect his base from. If real enemies don’t exist, they will be created. Minorities preferred.”

Yesterday I was debating whether to write about President Harry Truman’s courageous decision sixty-nine years ago yesterday to desegregate the U.S. Military. I didn’t because first I have written about it before and I couldn’t come to a decision on how I wanted to approach it. So I wrote an article combining baseball that the principle of interiorizing public rules, norms, traditions, and behaviors that are necessary for our Republic to survive.

But this morning when I saw the series of three Trump tweets about excluding transsexuals from the military citing that the military “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail” I knew that I had to address it.

The timing of Trump’s tweet was ironic especially because of when he tweeted it. It appeared to be a deliberate action to let civil rights advocates know exactly where he stands. Doing it when he did was not only a blatant move against transgender people, but a shot across the bow of other minorities. Be assured that this is just his first move against the newly acquired rights of LGBTQ people. 

The argument Trump and other opponents of transgender people serving in the military is the same type of argument that was used against Truman’s decision to desegregate, as well as the same argument against women serving, not to mention Gays and Lesbians. Truman, a combat veteran of the First World War had to face the opposition of some Generals, but also much of his political party base which came from the South and which supported Jim Crow, sometimes violently. The fact is that there is almost no truth in anything that the President tweeted today. The additional medical costs are minimal. Likewise, these transgender soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen are already serving honorably, and many times with distinction because they know that there are people who want them to fail in order to make an example of them to do exactly what the President has said that he is going to do.

However, President Trump is continuing to show that he lacks a moral center and personal courage. Unlike Truman who went to war, the President used multiple deferments and a heel spur to dodge the draft during the Vietnam War even though he was fit enough to play multiple sports in college. Unlike President Truman who showed courage against political opponents in his own party to do the right thing, Trump caved to the anti-LGBTQ activists of the Christian Right led by Vice President Pence. To paraphrase Kasparov, Trump and Pence need enemies to protect their base and to ensure its loyalty. Transgender people are an easy enemy to demonize because there are so few of them and most people are too ignorant to even understand who try are and what is different about them. 

I do not know if the President will attempt to use an executive order, or attempt to get Congress to include this in the Defense Appropriations Bill currently winding its way through Congress. Either way there is bound to be legal opposition to this and based on court precedents, and the 14th Amendment which has been at the heart of all previous measures to allow different minorities to openly serve in the military and have the same opportunity to defend their country as any other citizen. I expect court-challenges to any executive order and I wonder, based on the statements of a number of Republican Senators if such a prohibition could make it through the legislative process.

Depending on which estimate you reference there are between 7,000 and 15,000 transgender persons currently serving in the U.S. Military. Many are combat vets, and some are special operators. They have made the courageous decision to both serve their country and to risk their careers to admit to others their struggle with their gender identity. As a veteran of 36 years of service including combat tours I have much more respect for them than a President who did all that he could to dodge the draft and then would have the nerve to kick these brave men and women out of the military.

Jackie Robinson, who broke the color barrier in baseball a year before President Truman issued his executive order said: There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.”

I echo his remarks and I will continue to speak out for the transgender persons who are now the target of egregious and blatantly religiously based discrimination that has no place in our society if we believe the words of our Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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

Crash-Davis

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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