Category Archives: ministry

How a Letter from a Trump Cultist Changed my Life and Threatened my Liberty: Reflections on Trump and his Christofacist Cult


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry for not posting for a week but my ass has been kicked by the work involved in clearing our home of things in order for the painters after having more contractors in the past week. Add to this the new new teaching job and my ass is kicked. Everything hurts, 60 is definitely not the new 40.

As I was getting things cleaned out I found a letter. It was the letter that greeted me at my office a few days that I preached sermon at the JEB Little Creek Fort Story Chapel in July 2017. It was from a fanatical Trump supporter who was upset that I condemned the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents and locking them up in cages on our border with Mexico. During the sermon I never said a word about Trump himself and stayed morality of his administration’s policies.

My accuser was a retired officer who never addressed me face to face and made heinous accusations against me. He sent a similar letter to my Commanding Officer demanding that I be relieved of my position as Command Chaplain and that I be tried by Court Martial. It was a seminal moment in my life. I discovered that the Trump movement was not simply about politics but it was a personality cult devoted to their “Leader” with profoundly racist motives bent on the personal destruction of anyone who opposed his policies.

My sermon actually had scriptural backing in that week’s lectionary readings and was based on the teachings of the Christian Church and backed by history. When I preach I do not deviate from the lectionary texts and seek to apply them to daily life, most of the time this was never about anything political.

The sermons of a chaplain are normally considered one of the most protected types of speech in the military and for that matter in the country, even if they stand against the policies of a President. In fact during my long career I have witnessed conservative Evangelical and Catholic Chaplains venture into politics on a regular basis, sometimes sitting through sermons that were much more partisan and disrespectful than anything I spoke that day, but I do not recall any to have been accused of crimes and investigated for what they said in a sermon preached as part of regularly scheduled religious services.

The official investigation of my “allegedly criminal conduct” in preaching the sermon was grueling. I was called into the investigating officer’s office and read my rights. I refused to answer questions without a lawyer. I had to retain legal counsel and went to Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation who has become a close personal friend. He spoke at my retirement ceremony where his words were remarkably similar to two of my previous commanding officers emphasizing my personal integrity, moral courage and commitment to care for all in my charge, regardless of their beliefs.

The investigating officer interviewed over half of the people present in the service as well as every member of my staff. My attorney handled the situation and in the end I was exonerated and no charges filed. I still have the investigation filed away, but it is now boxed up. Sadly, some of the people who denied that I said the things I was accused of saying also threw in political barbs. All were White male retirees and none ever spoke to me again. I was shunned, but the Black members of the chapel congregation were very supportive, some still keep in touch with me. One said that my sermon was like “hearing the thunder of the voice of God.” Honestly I do miss preaching, but I want nothing to do with the politics of the church.

I elected never to preach in that chapel again, in fact it was the last time I stood in the pulpit for anything other than an official ceremony or memorial service.

The assault on me and my rights by this Trump supporter and my treatment afterwards by the older White members of the chapel made me much wiser about the nature of the Trump Cult. It transitioned from a personality cult to a profoundly religious cult in which any disagreement with the former President was considered heresy and  met by virulent attacks on the offenders, and if they were Republicans saw many expelled or driven from the Party, sometimes even threatened with violence.

The Trump Cult is deeply racist, openly White Nationalist and authoritarian in nature, and supported by violent Neo-Nazi groups, militias and Christian Nationalists, who are probably the most disreputable of the lot.

I get online threats on a fairly regular basis for what I write and truthfully I no longer feel safe in my country, a country I served for nearly 40 years in the military. Sadly, most claim to be “Christians” as if they even know what being a follower of Jesus means. It does not mean making death threats on behalf of a would be dictator, as a good number have done.

Less than a month after my sermon those White Supremacist groups conducted a violent demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump said that there “were very good people” on both sides. Of course he and they only grew more threatening and violent and culminated in the 6 January insurrection and assault on the Capitol, but I digress…

The letter from that man reminded me just how personal this threat is for anyone who actually believes in truth, believes in the promise our Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. There are so many times that I resist the urge to spam my accuser’s name all over the world. That man is a despicable moral coward who refused to even follow the clear teachings of scripture of how to confront another Christian over a matter of faith, and instead attempted to use the power of military law in order to destroy me. Of course for him like most of these Christofacists, the teachings of Jesus, Scripture, or the testimony of the Church mean nothing, because the worship Trump uber Alles. They would kill for him, not die for Jesus. That my friends is idolatry and a denial of their Christian faith.

But for me this is a fight that I will not shirk. I cannot stomach supposed Christians who have a higher loyalty to Trump and his racist Cult than they do to Jesus. I quote General Henning Von Tresckow who helped lead the opposition to Hitler and died after the failed assassination attempt, “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Yes, I compared Trump to Hitler. This is because Trump has repeatedly shown that he wants to be like Hitler. True, he is not as smart and unlike Hitler never volunteered to serve his adopted country in wartime, and he has no one as gifted as Joseph Goebbels as his chief propagandist. Nor does he have anyone as Lani Riefenstahl  to promote him as a God as she did in the film The Triumph of the Will. 

That being said, Trump is both a demagogue and coward. He loves authoritarian government and hates the system of checks and balances created by our founders. Today he registered his disappointment that the Courts would not overturn the election, despite the fact nothing he and his lawyers could come up with that could win a single court case of over 60 they filed because they had no evidence and the facts did not support them. His continuous assault on facts and truth bodes ill for all of us, even his followers. Thus he and them and his followers remain a danger to anyone who actually believes that the Declaration or the Constitution. 

But had Trump won the election, or had his insurgents prevented Congress from fulfilling its obligations under the Constitution there is no doubt that he would have gone full Fuhrer.  Had he won or succeed in His coup attempt no opponent would be safe from his Neo-Nazi thugs backed by the full police power of the government and his Christian Theocratic base. The sad thing is that even though he is out of office the threat still remains, largely because of his Cult and a spineless Republican Party that sold its soul to Trump.

I’ll stop for now as it is late. However, it is a good thing that the man who tried to destroy me coming up on four years ago never properly introduced himself to me in person, thus I can’t match his face to my memories. It is a good thing for him because if I recognized him I might be tempted to beat him within an inch of his life if he did not admit his sin against me before my left jab right hook combination  struck his jaw. Of course if that ever happened that sonofabitch would be the victim and I would be in jail. So I won’t give him that as strong as the temptation might be. But to quote the Psalmist in Psalm 139:22 when it comes to men like Jack who tried to destroy my life to defend Trump, “I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”

That they are so until next time,

Padre Steve+

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Resist the Continuing Threat of Terrorist Insurrection by President Trump and His Cult


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am deciding to repeat and amplify the warning of the FBI that Trump’s violent cult of supporters including heavily armed illegal militia groups, the Proud Boys, other White Supremacist groups including Klansmen, Neo-Confederates, Neo-Nazis, Racist Skinheads, Militant Christian Theocrats, QAnon Conspiracy Theorists, and a host of other militant groups and individuals. Members of these groups include elected members of the Senate and Congress, elected members of various state legislatures, law enforcement officers, and most terrifying for me active and retired military officers, and active, reserve, former, or retired military enlisted personnel.

The FBI field office in Norfolk Virginia alerted law enforcement across the nation that they expected massive armed protests and violence against the Captitol and Congress on 6 January, but their warnings went ignored.

Now the FBI is issuing warning for more armed “protests” in Washington D.C., but let’s cut to the chase and call them what they really are, sedition and rebellion. The FBI has predicted a massive armed “protest” in Washington D.C. for which on 20 January for which as many as 15,000 National Guard personnel will deployed in addition to thousands of Metro Police, Park Police, Capitol Police, Secret Service, U.S. Marshalls, U.S. Coast Guard personnel, and other Homeland Security personnel.

That is just in Washington D.C. However, the threat the FBI warns us about is bigger than just what might happen on January 20th on Inauguration Day. They have warned that threat and attacks against all State Capitols, statehouses, Federal and State offices across the country beginning on January 16th, although in my considered estimation some attacks might begin before that.

I fully expect that the terrorists will attempt to seize National Guard armories and Army or Marine Corps Reserve Centers that are not on actual military bases in order to steal large numbers of M-4 and M-16 automatic rifles, Squad Assault Weapons (SAWs), Sniper rifles, M-240 series and .50 caliber machine guns and probably up-armored HUMMVS and any any other vehicles they can commandeer.  Likewise the could get large numbers of Kevlar helmets and military grade body armor, and even uniforms that could be used to deceive defenders into thinking they were actual Guard units.

To do so they will probably have inside help. Based on the numbers of police and military personnel who participated in the 6 January Coup attempt I imagine that they won’t have a difficult time finding at least a few willing Guardsmen or Reservists to help them. If they cannot get their cooperation they will capture, threaten, and maybe torture uncooperative personnel to try to get security codes or keys into the arms rooms and motor pools. The good thing is that very little ammunition is kept in the armories and ammunition for tanks or artillery pieces, even mortars are kept in ammunition depots on actual bases. However, the thought of these terrorists getting their hands on hundreds or even thousands of weapons for which ammunition is readily available on the commercial market is frightening, not to mention gaining control of vehicles resistent to most small arms carried by law enforcement, or even the M-4s and M-16s carried by Guardsmen. I hope that the Guard deploys Light Armored Vehicles armed with the 20mm and 30mm bushmaster rapid fire cannons to take out any commandeered up armored vehicles or even for that matter M-113 series Armored Personnel Carriers that could be stolen.

What I am saying is not far-fetched based on the facts. These people want to overthrow the government to keep Trump in office, and they have friends, allies and co-conspirators in most law enforcement agencies and sadly in the military.

I implore you not to dismiss my argument because I am a Priest. I am also a historian with an advanced degree. I am former Platoon leader, Company Executive Officer, and Company Commander in Cold War Germany. I am a school trained Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Defense Officer. I also served as brigade, group, and battalion staff officer before I ever became a Chaplain. I spent almost 40 years in the military including in combat.

Likewise I am a graduate of the Marine Command and Staff College, the Joint and Combined Warfighting School, and the Joint Forces Staff College Homeland Security Planners Course. My bachelors and masters level history focused on the social, political, and military dynamics at play in the Weimar Republic which Hitler capitalized on when he seized complete power following his appointment a Chancellor on 30 January 1933. I am a student of the relationship between the German military and Police before and after the Nazi takeover, the war crimes they participated, Holocaust and the involvement of almost every German government agency in it, as well as the bankers, businessmen, Churches and doctors, not only in Germany but the help given by collaborators in countries they conquered.

Thanks to Dr. Helmut Haeussler, my primary Professor at California State University Northridge who served throughout the Nuremberg Trials as an interrogator and interpreter, I came to know more about the Nazi Crimes against humanity, the Holocaust, the relationships of German civilian and military agencies with the Nazis and the problem of Holocaust Denial.

So, that being said I hate being pigeonholed as just another ignorant Bible wanking clergyman.  Besides I have never wanked my Bible, I am sure it might be a sin. But I hate to think of all those Right Wing preachers who wank their Bibles in public or in the darkness of their dimply lit studies, or bedrooms. The thought of it turns my stomach, especially if they are wanking to the Song of Solomon. King Solomon was supposedly the wisest ass who ever lived. He had so many wives and concubines , over 300, that he couldn’t keep up his Libido up all the time, and Viagra wasn’t out yet, so in order to catch his breath had to take some time to write about them. His literary allusions to love making in that tiny book of love poems could even raise President Trump’s penis from the dead, since everything he touches dies.

There has to be a law against wanking on the Bible somewhere, think of the honor and decency of the Sacred Scriptures that don’t want to be wanked. At least the Jews and Muslims have rules against wanking the Talmud and Koran.

But I digress, where was I? Since I retired and don’t yet have a job it is hard to tell what day it is. Never mind, I remembered. It was terrorism, sedition, revolt and the attempted violent overthrow of the United States by Trump’s cultist Nazi Wankers which which angers me a great deal and doesn’t titillate me in the least.

These seditionists and traitors need to be exposed, fought and defeated. Their plans have to be disrupted before they can even be set in motion. Their tentacles extend into the heart of Federal, State, and Local governments, and deep into law enforcement and even the military.

if you wonder how that happened It is the result of systematic propaganda that has been going on since we lost Vietnam, and that was not because of domestic protest, but because four Presidential Administrations decided that we needed to fight a war that we could not win militarily unless we were willing to completely mobilize the nation and all of its resources to do it. None would. Eisenhower who decided to take over the French debacle in Indochina, Kennedy who expanded it, Johnson who deepened our involvement until he realized it could not be won in the process crippling his plans for the Great Society.

Johnson was deceived by his military Chief’s and Defense Secretary into thinking that we could win militarily in Vietnam. See the late Neil Sheehan’s book A Great and Shining Lie, and General H.R. McMaster’s book “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam.” Maybe they read the French journalist Bernard Fall’s books “Hell in a Very Small Place” and “Street Without Joy.” 

The answer in Vietnam wasn’t military, it was societal, completely reforming the South Vietnamese government because most of its people, even if they feared the Communists, feared their corrupt government far worse. Actual reformers in the Vietnamese government, military or police never held positions of influence, and were prevented from doing so.

During his presidential campaign Nixon torpedoed Johnson’s peace initiative in 1968. Nixon promised “peace with honor” and then extended the war into Cambodia and sold out the South Vietnamese government during the Paris peace talks brokered by Henry Kissinger. If you take out those killed during the Test Offensive and it’s aftermath in 1968, those killed after Nixon took office exceeded those killed from 1954 to 1967.

But afterward conservatives spread the lie of the stab in the back blaming those who opposed or protested the war at home for our defeat. It was exactly what German Nationalists did after the First World War. It was a lie that we are still saddled with today by the Republican Party, and the lie that continues to motivate veterans, especially Christians to destroy the very system of government that offers the most protections for them of any country in the world. Our system isn’t perfect by any means, but those who attempt to overthrow it by force and violence are either completely insane or criminally stupid and evil. Personally my money is on criminally stupid and evil.

This is a very dangerous moment in our nation’s history and some veterans and current military members are acting under the delusions of decades of propaganda dating back to Vietnam.

This seditious rebellion is being led by the President of the United States and many elected Republican leaders at the local, state, and federal level assisted by law enforcement, veterans, and sadly currently active and reserve military personnel.

Please do not dismiss what I say. I know many people who feel exactly like these terrorist insurgents. Sadly they are not bad people, but they tend to be men and women who have limited education, especially in history, philosophy, American government, and ethics who believe the unceasing bombardment of right wing politicians, pundits, and especially preachers more motivated by political and monetary power than they are in the tenants of their faith. I understand that because from about 1990 until 2008 I listened to Limbaugh, then Hannity, Fox News and others hours on end every day except when deployed or traveling to support the Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen, and other Federal officials assigned in harms way.

But when I returned from Iraq having seen what I had seen, listened to the news coverage of the war, and listened to politicians that I once respected I realized the big lie that I had bought since I was in Junior High School was bigger than I could have imagined. I believed it for almost thirty years. I ignored the evidence that the politicians whomI had voted for were waging war that under the conditions of the Nuremberg Trials were criminal and many of our actions could be classified as war crimes. My problem was that I ignored my education and my knowledge about propaganda and war crimes. Beyond that I was willing to call the opponents of our criminal war against Iraq traitors, communists, and worse. They were right and I was wrong and it took seeing the destruction and getting to know Iraqis up close and personal to realize it, but I digress.

Over the next few days and weeks our nation will endure a crisis that could bring about the fall of all of our founder’s dreams, hopes and aspirations for Liberty that would be ever increasing and available for all Americans and for people around the world. They warned of authoritarians and religious extremists trying to impose religious and ideological tests for citizenship and political rights.

That liberty is what we must fight for today, even of its opponents insist on violence and armed confrontation. If the opponents of liberty bent on overthrowing the Constitution, the Republic and a legal election resort to violence, then they deserve whatever consequences that flow from that, even their deaths. They won’t be martyrs they will be dead criminal terrorists, worthy of no honor, dignity, or respect. If they die in the battle they provoke, their ashes should be scattered over a toxic waste dump with no memorial to them. Those who survive should have Swastika’s carved into their foreheads to show exactly what they are.

My friends this is the moment of truth. Will we remain a nation devoted to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble of the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address, the Four Freedoms, and Dr. King’s “I have a Dream” and “I have been to the Mountain speeches, or will we become the country of John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Benjamine Tillman, Strom Thurmond, Bull Connor, Charles Lindberg and the countless others who fought against liberty and espoused racist, fascist and authoritarian government.

President Trump and his cultist followers are the enemy regardless of who they are, and if more violence breaks out they alone are responsible and if they die in the attempt to overthrow the government, the Constitution and Republic they will deserve it.

So until the next time, be ready to resist even to the death. This is no simple political disagreement where compromise is possible. These people will not compromise. As Colonel Strong Vincent, who was mortally wounded  on Little Round Top on the Second day of the Battle of Gettysburg wrote after Chancellorsville:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest; that to break this band in twain is monstrous and impossible; that the life of every man, yea, of every weak woman or child in the entire South, is of no value whatever compared with the integrity of the Union.”

His subordinate Colonel Joshua Chamberlain condemned those in the North who supported the Rebels during and after the war. Before he entered the Army he wrote:

“We have this war upon is & we want to stop it. It has cost us already too much precious blood. It has carried stagnation, starvation & grief in to too many villages of our fair land – brought death to too many noble hearts that we could ill afford to lose. But the only way to stop this war, is first to show that we are strongest…I feel that we are fighting for our country – for our flag- not as so many Stars and Stripes, but as the emblem of a good &  powerful nation – fighting to settle the question whether we are a nation or a basket of chips. Whether we shall leave our children the country we have inherited – or leave them without a country – without a name – without a citizenship among the great nations of the earth – take the chief city of the rebels. They will have no respect for us unless we whip them & and I say it in all earnestness….” 

That is what we face in the next week. Are we willing to fight for our Nation’s highest laws, values and ideals; or will we surrender to tyranny. There are times that the defense of the nation depends on being willing to fight for it to the death, even against fellow citizens who have abandoned and rejected those principles.

So until tomorrow or the next day I wish you health and safety, but be prepared to resist the terrorists. I am. My continuing Oath to the Constitution and Republic demands it.

Hope for the best but expect and prepare for the worst. If we are not ready to fight for our Constitution and Republic then we will lose it. That is a fact. It is undeniable and the threat remains, and our enemies around the world including Putin’s Soviet, Communist China, Iran, North Korea, ISIS, Al Qaida, and others rejoice. They want nothing more than the collapse of our nation being perpetrated by President Trump and his violent cult.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“The notion of a Christian Commonwealth should be exploded forever…” The Virginia Statute on Religious Liberty at 235 Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Two hundred and thirty five years ago, in the year 1786, the the legislature of the Commonwealth Of Virginia ratified a law written by Thomas Jefferson. It was the precursor to the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses Of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

It is the antithesis of, and the antidote to all theocratic movements, to include contemporary Christian Nationalism and it’s close cousin Christian Dominionism, or as it is sometimes called Seven Mountains Theology. The tragic thing is that despite their declining numbers the theocrats have continued to gain power and influence government policy over the last four years in way the framers would have opposed. Not only do this they attempt to threaten and shout down their opponents in the most unseemly manner. I have had to deal with one of these asshats over the past week.

Likewise I continue to discover that with few exceptions that if you are a minister that with few exceptions most ministers or chaplains will use you, abuse you and when done abandon you. Truthfully, most ministers are thin skinned, cowardly sonsofbitches who if you are a ministerial colleague will smile to your face as they plunge a dagger into your back, this is especially true of Christian ministers across the theological and political spectrum. They would rather make their beds with the powerful than care for the weak, broken, hurt, or damaged in their ranks. I know this from personal experience, the experience of my friends, and from numerous amounts of analytical and polling data, but I digress.

In the 1770s and 1780s Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and their Virginia Baptist ally, John Leland understood the threat to a republic such as ours posed by religious theocrats of any type, to include Christians.

The Virginia statute was necessitated by militant Anglicans who desired to re-establish themselves as the state religion in Virginia and had gone about using physical violence against various dissenters, especially Virginia’s Baptist minority. It is fascinating, in a frightening and grotesque sense of the word to see Virginia Baptists like Jerry Falwell Jr., and other Evangelical leaders of the Free Church tradition, including Pat Robertson, Franklin Gresham, Paula White, Tony Perkins, John Hagee, Robert Jeffress, Rick Wiles, and a host of other contemporary theocrats interpreting Religious Freedom in a manner similar to the Anglicans of Virginia in the 1780s, or in the manner of all Christians who follow the path of Constantine.

Not all of these religious leaders are Baptists, but many are independents, charismatics, Pentecostals, and other conservative Evangelicals of many denominations have thrown their lot in the hat of theocracy and authoritarian rule.

The late great Southern Baptist Pastor and seminary president George Truett, wrote about them:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The Virginia Statute stood in complete opposition to theocratic minded Americans then, and now. The statute which I post below in its entirety is must reading for anyone who thinks that they understand what the founders of the United States believed about religious liberty:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Please, take some time to let those words sink in, especially if you think that religious liberty is only for people of your favorite religion, or the one that you belong to. The fact is, that those who established religious liberty in the United States, many of them like John Leland, professing Christians, did not think that religious liberty was for the powerful, or those who wanted to dominate others on the basis of religion wedded to government and political power.

Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

With that I bid you a good night, or maybe a troubling one. It all depends on ones perspective. I don’t say that lightly; but really, considering my vivid dreams, nightmares, and night terrors brought on by PTSD and a neurological condition that ensures that those dreams, nightmares, and terrors are acted out when I am in REM sleep, maybe it is a necessary step to healing.

If you value freedom those words may be hopeful; but if you don’t, they are a threat, a threat of unlimited government and religious power. The fact is, that all of us, regardless of our religious beliefs, or lack thereof must take them to heart when we proclaim our loyalty to the Constitution, and our belief in the First Amendment to it, if we don’t we actively proclaim our opposition to the ideals of our Founders, but I digress. The simple fact and problem is that authoritarians and theocrats hate the First Amendment, and have to twist it to ensure that only their rights are protected and enhanced. However, the Virginia Statute, and the First Amendment at meant by the Founders, threatens their desires of theocracy and unbridled state power, and so long as we believe it and fight for it, undermines their power. My friends, if you know history, that is not a bad thing. As John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton wrote: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”,

Think about it, the police power of the state married to religion. For God’s sakes, we are not Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, the perverted Shinto of Imperial Japan, the Tsarist and Putin’s Russia, or any other state that relies on the unwavering loyalty of its religious majority, or powerful minority, to maintain power. In time they all come crashing down, as will Trump’s Cult.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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A New Year’s End of a Career and a Resolve to Speak the Truth and Fight the Enemies of America’s yet Unfulfilled Ideal of a New Birth of Freedom




Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Marcus Aurelius wrote, “If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.”

But before I say anything else I just want to thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to read, comment and even share what I write. That matters to me and a good number of you have followed my writings for years. So I truly thank you from the bottom of my heart, and if you like what you see please comment and share with others.

As I get older I realize how valuable time is. There are few commodities that truly cannot be replaced or conserved, time is one that is always fleeting. As Dr. Suess said:

“How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

That being said I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, in fact I generally don’t make any because frankly I think that most are a waste of time. However, I do not think that the pursuit of truth is a waste, and as Benjamin Disraeli noted so wisely; “Time is precious, but truth is more precious than time.”

This New Year has driven that home as I experienced and am still experience various medical and dental situations that disrupted my retirement preparation. At 11:59 and 59 seconds my 39 year, 4 month and 6 day military career comes to a close. Judy and I will toast in the new year with a French Rose sparkling wine rather than a Champagne. Likewise I will follow that up with a dram of 18 year old Glenfiddich Scotch Single Malt. Retirement after a career such as mine should be savored and what better way with a dram of than beautiful nectar of the Scottish Highlands, but I digress…

But before I go on I have to say that I count my blessings even in the midst of one of the most disastrous years in recent world history. While I completely expected soon to be ex-President Trump and his Cult to try to destroy the country and Constitution to attempt to keep him in power. That being said, I think that I might have underestimated their continued attempts to overthrow the humiliating election loss that Trump experienced. However, he and they are pathological in their underhanded, unconstitutional, disingenuous, and treasonous attempts to overthrow our system of government and replace it with an authoritarian and theocratic dictatorship as the country goes through its greatest crisis since the Great Depression and the 1918 Great Influenza Pandemic.

These damned people are sociopaths. During the Coronavirus-19 Pandemic have done all they can to increase the infections and death count, and they don’t care. As of tonight a minimum of over 350,000 Americans have died from this virus. Over TWENTY-MILION Americans have been infected. Many of those no longer infected still are afflicted with the conditions that COVID-19 brought on. Likewise there are nearly Eight Million open cases with a new mutation that spreads significantly faster than the original now spreading in the United States, which ensures that more deaths will occur because even if it is not more deadly, more people get infected and thus more people die.

To that end, being retired from the Navy and military gives one a certain amount of latitude than being on active duty. So this year the batteries are unleashed and I will be able to speak the truth without fear of retribution. I get to be a whistleblower, activist, and spokesperson for those under attack because of their race, ethnicity, gender, religion, lack thereof or anything else. I get to be an unabashed defender of civil rights and speaking openly for the truth. Damn, I am happy to have that freedom.

So as I did last year and in previous years I am going to endeavor this year to commit myself to continue to seek truth and to speak truth, wherever that takes me. Truth matters to me. In my life I have seen so many lies, especially by political and religious leaders that I trusted that I now devote myself to the pursuit of truth. As Captain Jean Luc Picard told the young Cadet Wesley Crusher in Star Trek the Next Generation episode The First Duty: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…” 

So, I will continue to write, especially about historical subjects that have an impact today: civil rights and social justice, faith, military issues, PTSD and military health issues, the Middle East conflicts and a number of other topics. Of course I will write about baseball, which is often my refuge when things are too much for me and music. I will write about Bayern München Fußball. The German Bundesliga, the European Champions League and International Football including the World Cup and Olympics. 

I will continue to be as transparent as I can about my own struggles with PTSD, Moral Injury and faith in the hopes that my journey will help others who struggle like me. In fact this was a major reason that I started this site back in February of 2009.

Expect me to continue writing about the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War. Likewise expect me to deal with  I have a feeling that that is going to become a life work. The American Civil War is so pertinent to who and what we are as a nation and the more I study it, the people, the issues and the ideologies involved I see many parallels with today; some of which are positively frightening. So expect a lot more about these subjects. In fact the Civil War is one in which debunked myths still hold sway over many, especially among the defenders of the Lost Cause who predominate the Christian Right.

I really do look forward to the publication of my book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory!” Racism, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era and their Continued Importance” by Potomac Books, a division of University of Nebraska Press.

In addition to that I expect to be going back to some of my older research and writing about the social, religious, political, and ideological dynamics of Weimar and Nazi Germany and how similar that are to some things going on now in our own country. I have the outline of a draft book “Walk, Remember, Bear Witness:” Ensuring the Holocaust is Remembered as the Surviving Witnesses Pass Away.”

I will also speak out against racial and religious discrimination, for the rights of African Americans, Hispanics, immigrants, the LGBTQ community and others who have been persecuted and marginalized by White Supremacists and theocratic Christians during the reign of the Donald Trump and his criminal cabal. These sons of itches want to twist the Constitution’s guarantees of religious liberty for all to support their discrimination in civil law against those who do not agree with them. I will fight them with wholehearted vigor without the restraints I had on active duty. Even this week I had one of these theocratic Trump cultists attack me in my comments section. After his second attack I put him on notice because I know who he is, where he lives, what he tweets and much more. These SOBs are so damned arrogant and stupid. Frankly they are lucky that God has much more forgiveness and grace than I do, otherwise I would gather my own band of paramilitary basterds and start taking scalps and carving Swastikas on their foreheads. 

Many of the theocrats and White Nationalists use the mantra of “cancel culture” to define their grievance. But that is a lie. What they want to perpetuate is a While lies are dangerous the myths can be more so, and the proliferation of lies, half-truths and myth have shriveled the brain cells of those who enjoy the comfort of opinion without the benefit of thought. President John F. Kennedy spoke of this in 1962, and his words are timely, especially when hordes of preachers, pundits and politicians, the Trinity of Evil, do this with abandon:

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the clichés of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” 

To do this I have to constantly challenge my own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. So with that resolution I wish you a good day and a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading, sharing, commenting, and encouraging me.

I wish you all a happy and blessed New Year. I pray that you will remain safe and take all protections against COVID-19 for your sake and that of your families and loved ones.

That being said there can be no time off, there can be no stop to the fight because  our opponents will not stop their attacks on our Republic, Constitution, or the ideals that prompted our founders to write these words in our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In November of 1863 Abraham Lincoln appealed to the Preamble of the United States Constitution in his Gettysburg Address:

“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Can I hear those New Year’s Amens? I hope so.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christmas in the Cauldron: Dr. Kurt Reuber and the Madonna of Stalingrad

Bundeswehr zeigt "Stalingrad"-Ausstellung

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is Christmas Eve and I am reflecting about the true meaning of Christmas in a world where hope seems to be dying before our eyes. In such an environment I reflect on men who lived in a human made hell, a hell made by hate filled ideologues who launched the world into its bloodiest war and Genocide and I wonder, could it happen again? A decade ago I would have said it never could again happen, but now I am not so sure. After the ravages that Donald Trump leveled on the world, promoting instability, lawlessness, enabling and emboldening enemies of the United States and our allies, coupled with the Coronavirus 19 Pandemic I must try to find hope wherever I can find it.

I think most of my readers know that I am a very soon to be retired career military officer and have served in peace and war as a chaplain. That service includes a tour in Iraq, a war, which by almost any standard would have been considered unjust and illegal, yet I served there, and came back a changed man. As such the stories of those who served in war, especially those who serve in hopeless battles, and even in evil causes during Christmas have a special place in my heart. One of those men was a German Lutheran Pastor and Medical Doctor named Kurt Reuber.

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A Self-Portrait of Reuber

As I said, Reuber was a theologian, pastor and medical doctor, likewise he was an accomplished artist and used that medium to convey his own faith, and doubts. He was a friend of Albert Schweitzer and in 1939 he was conscripted to serve as a physician in the Germany Army. He was opposed to the Nazis and had a love of the Russian people, who when he was not treating German wounded attempted to care for, especially the children. He was also an artist who used what he could to draw portraits of soldiers to send home to their families. Many of these still exist.

By November 1942 he was a seasoned military physician serving with the 16th Panzer Division, part of the German 6th Army, which had been fighting in the hell of Stalingrad. When his division along with most of 6th Army was surrounded by the Soviets, cut off from most supply and without real hope of relief, he like other physicians continued to serve the soldiers committed to his care.

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However, unlike most physicians, the care Reuber offered care included spiritual matters, as he sought to help his soldiers deal with the hopelessness of their situation. As Reuber reflected on the desperation of the German soldiers in the Stalingrad pocket. He wrote to his family.

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”

“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St. John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

The picture was drawn with charcoal on the back of a captured Soviet map and depicted a Russian Madonna and child. When he finished it he displayed it in his bunker, which became something of a shrine to German soldiers. Reuber wrote:

“When according to ancient custom I opened the Christmas door, the slatted door of our bunker, and the comrades went in, they stood as if entranced, devout and too moved to speak in front of the picture on the clay wall…The entire celebration took place under the influence of the picture, and they thoughtfully read the words: light, life, love…Whether commander or simple soldier, the Madonna was always an object of outward and inward contemplation.”

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As the siege continued men came to the bunker for both medical care and spiritual solace.  On Christmas Eve Reuber found himself treating a number of men wounded by bombs outside the bunker. Another soldier lay dying, just minutes before the soldier had been in the bunker singing the Christmas hymn O Du Froehliche.  Reuber wrote:

“I spent Christmas evening with the other doctors and the sick. The Commanding Officer had presented the letter with his last bottle of Champagne. We raised our mugs and drank to those we love, but before we had had a chance to taste the wine we had to throw ourselves flat on the ground as a stick of bombs fell outside. I seized my doctor’s bag and ran to the scene of the explosions, where there were dead and wounded. My shelter with its lovely Christmas decorations became a dressing station. One of the dying men had been hit in the head and there was nothing more I could do for him. He had been with us at our celebration, and had only that moment left to go on duty, but before he went he had said: ‘I’ll finish the carol with first. O du Frohliche!” A few moments later he was dead. There was plenty of hard and sad work to do in our Christmas shelter. It is late now, but it is Christmas night still. And so much sadness everywhere.”

On January 9th 1943 with all hope of escape or reinforcement gone Reuber gave the picture to the battalion commander as the officer was too ill to carry on and that man was one of the last soldiers to be evacuated from the pocket. Reuber’s commander carried the Madonna out of the pocket and returned it delivered it to Reuber’s family, preserving it for all.

Reuber was taken prisoner and survived the harrowing winter march to the Yelabuga prison camp. In late 1943 Reuber wrote his Christmas Letter to a German Wife and Mother – Advent 1943. It was a spiritual reflection but also a reflection on the hope for life after the war, when the Nazi regime would be defeated, and Germany given a new birth.

In a farewell letter to his wife that accompanied his portrait out of Stalingrad he wrote:

“Look in the child the firstborn of a new humanity, born in pain, outshining all darkness and sadness. Let it be for us a symbol of a victorious and joyful life in the future, which we want to love more genuinely and warmly after all of death’s experiences, a life, which is worth living only if it is radiating light and pure warm love.” 

I wonder if the American Christians that continue to swear fealty to President Trump despite the elector defeat he continues to deny will ever have the capacity to reflect and repent for the evil they helped support. Sadly, twenty or so years ago I would have likely been part of Trump’s cult of “Christian” followers, or if not a part of the cult, a bystander who helped him by choosing to ignore the evil out of Party loyalty. Thankfully my tour in Iraq cured me of that and because I left the GOP was not deceived by Trump.

Reuber wrote at Yelabuga:

“The concatenation of guilt and fate has opened our eyes wide to the guilt. You know, perhaps we will be grateful at the end of our present difficult path yet once again that we will be granted true salvation and liberation of the individual and the nation by apparent disappointment of our “anticipation of Advent”, by all of the suffering of last year’s as well as this year’s Christmas. According to ancient tradition, the Advent season is simultaneously the season of self-reflection. So at the very end, facing ruin, in death’s grip – what a revaluation of values has taken place in us! We thus want to use this period of waiting as inner preparation for a meaningful new existence and enterprise in our family, in our vocation, in the nation. The Christmas light of joy is already shining in the midst of our Advent path of death as a celebration of the birth of a new age in which – as hard as it may also be – we want to prove ourselves worthy of the newly given life.”  (Erich Wiegand in Kurt Reuber, Pastor, Physician, Painter, Evangelischer Medienverb. Kassel 2004. )

prisoner's madonna

Reuber did not live to see that day. He died of Typhus on January 20th 1944, at Yelabuga not long after writing this and about a month after painting another portrait of the Madonna, this one entitled The Prisoner’s Madonna. He was not alone, of the approximately 95,000 German POWs taken at Stalingrad only about 6,000 returned home.

His paintings survived the war and his family gave The Madonna of Stalingrad to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin after it was restored as a symbol of hope and reconciliation. Copies are also displayed in Coventry Cathedral and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Volgograd, the former Stalingrad. A copy of The Prisoner’s Madonna is now displayed at the Church of the Resurrection in Kassel.

I have a print of the Madonna of Stalingrad in my office since until a few weeks ago. I have it at home but I think I have to wait in until we sell our townhome and move to a new place before I can display it in my home office. It has become one of the most meaningful pictures I have since I returned from Iraq in 2008. I miss looking on it every day. To me the print is a symbol of God’s presence when God seems entirely absent.

Praying for an end to war, the Coronavirus Pandemic and the hell of the past several years.

Peace and Merry Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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A Christmas Coda: Joyeux Noel and My Call after the Military

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As a veteran who served in the badlands of Al Anbar Province during Christmas of 2007 I can relate to Father Palmer, the British priest and chaplain in the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) when he makes the comment “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

I again watched that film tonight. The film is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it. It reminds me of serving in Iraq, at Christmas from my perspective as a Chaplain, and thereby giving voice to those who serve now, as well as those who served God’s people in hellish places before me. It reminds me of how much I hate war, and how much I often hate the clergy who are all too often, bloodthirsty

 

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre in the film, who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead. His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within this country.

I was reminded of that last night and today as the now Impeached President called upon and received the fealty and obedience of his Imperial Court Clergy, and the ever faithful cult of conservative and Evangelical Christians while pledging to destroy his enemies. In such a time I cannot

The Bishop who relieved Father Palmer went on to preach a sermon to newly arrived troops.

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.” Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact until very recently they were really the last masses that I felt the mystery and awe of the love of God that I used to so much feel.

When I left Iraq the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisers without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care. So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie. While I cannot prove it I do believe, and have heard from others who used to work at the Chief of Chaplains office that I have been shunned and punished by past and present leaders of the Chaplain Corps because of my witness in being open about my struggles with faith and PTSD. A can recount a number of incidents that would be of circumstantial evidence, but I digress. That being said I am much better off for that experience than I would be had it not occurred.

It has been thirteen years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Just a year later I was walking home from church where my wife was to sing in the choir during the Christmas vigil mass. I couldn’t handle the crowds, the noise, and I felt so far away from God. That night I walked home in the dark looking up into the sky asking God if he still was there. If there had been a bar on the way home I would have stopped by and poured myself in.

Since Iraq I have dealt with severe and chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, but even more so and maybe more importantly by my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy. It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many. Unlike a few years ago they now occupy the seat of political power as sycophants of our soon to be ex-President, offering no prophetic voice but speaking the words of death covered in the veneer of the Christian faith.

As for me I had the floor kicked from out from under me in the summer of 2014 and it has been a hard fight and while I am beginning to get back to some sense of normal it is a day to day thing. I still suffer the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and the nightmares which came back with a vengeance that summer. I have a REM sleep disorder in which my body doesn’t shut down when I get into REM sleep. This reacts well with the Nightmare and Night Terror disorders because I act out my responses to those terrors. In 2014 I ended up with a visit to the medical clinic with a concussion and sprained jaw and neck. In 2016 I broke my nose, and dark and early this morning I busted my head open  requiring 9 stitches, 2 deep ones and 7 on top. Thankfully Judy got my stubborn ass to the ER. Coupled with my other ongoing maladies of the past couple of months I am really getting too old for this shit.

As for faith, I do believe again, more often than not, though at the same time I doubt. Though I believe I think I still consider myself to be a Christian Agnostic who echoes the cry of the man who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” I believe and yet, I don’t and I don’t think that is a bad thing, I think it helps me understand those who no longer believe, those that struggle, and those who raised as Christians have left the faith.

Like the Priest in Joyeux Noel I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” For me this may no longer be on the battlefield as I will be retired, unless some massive war breaks out and they start calling back recent retirees to service. That has happened before and the Soviets, Chicoms and Iranians aren’t taking time off for Christmas.

However, that being said I will strive to be there for those that struggle with faith and believe, especially those who struggle because of what they saw and experienced during war and when they returned home. Three years ago I hosted the NATO contingent at my former chapel, and had the honor of preaching an Advent message in German.

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Over the last year of my service I continued speak truth to those in power and those whose faithfulness is more a product of their comfort with the God that they create in their own mind rather than the Crucified God wise death on the Cross s a scandal. For many Christians the scandal of the cross is too easy to avoid by surrounding ourselves with pet theologies that appeal to our pride, prejudice and power. The kind of malevolent power represented by the bishop in Joyeux Noel as well as the leaders of the so called “Conservative Evangelicals” who supported a President who says “Merry Christmas” even as he continues to defecate on all who believe in the God who became incarnate as a helpless babe in a manger and who died on a cross.  Last year I saw a mocking meme of Trump saying “Merry Christmas” as he holds a bigger than life Bible to his chest from a very conservative evangelical friend on Facebook, it was blasphemous. Those people remind me of the hate filled nationalist British Bishop.

The French mystic Simone Weil said “He who has not God in himself cannot feel His absence.” I think that sums up the President and his ardent Evangelical supporters. I don’t think they would recognize Christ if he walked among them and would have been among those shouting “Crucify him!” but of course I could be wrong in some individual cases.

So, this Christmas, like the theologian Paul Tillich I have come to believe  that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  In other words I am going to be faithful to the Crucified Christ and remain a complete pain in the ass to them until the day that I die, a real Padre Smedley if you get my drift.

Once again I watched Joyeux Noel, and as usual I cried. Though I had my retirement ceremony Monday, and am officially retired on 31 December and I am praying for peace in hopes that someday it becomes real. St. Francis prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hated, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may no so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying hat we are born into eternal life. 

After all, I still belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, whether I am in the Navy or not.

So until tomorrow,

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts After My Retirement Ceremony: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and Thanking all Who Were there for Me

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry not to have written anything the past few days but I was exhausted after dealing with medical and dental issues, getting no sleep and being stressed out getting ready for my retirement ceremony. When it was done I was happy and so tired that I had a hard time doing anything.

Monday I had my COVID-19 Era retirement ceremony. It very special. Unfortunately the live stream video got deleted by the Chapel were it was held, but I heard from a number of people that a lot of it could not be heard on the livestream. Even so the people I wanted there were there and it was an appropriate coda to my career. One of our friends present with his wife is an active Staff Sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division in which I served after I became an Army Chaplain in 1995.

I had my Command Master Chief from Norfolk Naval Shipyard as well the Chief Bos’ns Mate from the Shipyard to sound the bells and pipe me ashore. Having two Chiefs was awesome, as the Command Master Chief read the traditional reading The Watch, something I wanted because my late father was a Chief Petty Officer. For me that was a huge honor. Seldom do Chief’s or Senior Non-Commissioned Officers get leading roles at an officer’s retirement, especially like in reading the The Watch in the Navy. If you have never heard it read this is how it goes, only the number of years of service change.

 Like the Chiefs, few Chaplains have their RPs or Chaplain Assistants speak at their retirement ceremonies. I don’t know why? In the Army we are Unit Ministry Teams, and the Navy Religious Ministry Teams, the key word being teams. I was talking to a friend today, the only other Chaplain that I have seen have one of his enlisted men speak. He noted that during his time in the Navy that most Religious Program Specialists at the Rank of Petty Officer First Class, had worked for at least one Chaplain who treated them in such a way that they lost faith in God, other Chaplains and the church or religious institutions in general. Nelson fricking nailed it. God bless him and his wonderful daughter.

I had two former Commanding Officers who had a huge impact in my Navy speak with prerecorded remarks. Retired Medical Corps Rear Admiral David Lane who was my commanding officer at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune during one of the darkest points of my life. He was there for they then and in 2015 when due to the maltreatment and abuse I was getting from staff members of the Mental Health Department of the Naval Medical Center, interceded with the Admiral commanding it. That Admiral called me, spoke to me for an hour, got me the appropriate referrals and got some things changed, because I wondered if a senior officer was being treated the way I was, how were junior sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen being treated. I was suicidal, but Admiral Lane helped keep me from it. Monday, he honored me, and my wife Judy with his remarks. He is one of the good guys, he sees people not in light of their rank or job, but as human beings. His words brought tears to my eyes too.

The other was Captain Rick Hoffman, my Skipper aboard USS HUE CITY on her first combat deployment having been a test ship for new combat systems for five years. That was shortly after the attacks of September 11th 2001, and he helped put my service aboard the ship in context. He is an amazing man. He lost his wife to Cancer not long after he retired. He offered to turn down command of the ship   when she was diagnosed, but she wouldn’t let him. She survived the first bout but not the second. The Admiral who presided over the ceremony, Rear Admiral Charles Rock said that when he was a young Lieutenant Commander that Captain Hoffman was a legend. He didn’t know that he had been my Skipper on HUE CITY. Likewise, he had worked with Admiral Lane not long before Admiral Lane retired in Washington DC.

Captain Hoffman’s children are great people, and since retiring he has continued to look after his sailors and our national security. He provided me chances to do things chaplains never get to do. His comments were so good, and brought back many fond memories of my shipmates, including the ones who removed me from breaking up a fight between a disgruntled crewman and Master of a ship impounded under the UN Oil Sanctions on Iraq, for which the crew gave me the nickname “Battle Chaps.” Not only was I unarmed, but because of a shortage of Kevlar armor plates for our combat floatation vests, I was also going into danger without any protection except that of my shipmates. Thankfully, I had great shipmates. That was good living, difficult, arduous, but what you live for if you sign up to serve as a Navy Chaplain. It was such an honor to have Captain Hoffman there, even as like Admiral Lane had to do, he did so virtually.

I also had Mikey Weinstein, President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who defended me when I was facing potential Court Martial. Since then he and I have become fast friends and allies in the defense of the civil and religious rights of military personnel and their families. He echoed the words of Nelson, Admiral Lane, and Captain Hoffman said about me, and he never had met them. All understand that a Chaplain’s job is far more than preaching his or her faith, it is about caring for military personnel, their families, and our Department of Defense and Department of the Navy civilian personnel, and protecting their Constitutional rights.

As Admiral Lane noted, to preach at stateside chaplains we could hire contractors, but we needed chaplains who could be there for our military personnel and their families, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. There really are no other places someone in the military can go with complete confidentiality to reveal their hurts, pains, anxiety, worries, and even sins in complete confidence without fear of reprisal, or punishment. In some ways, good military Chaplains are to use the words of James Spader’s character in The Blacklist, are sin eaters. This is not saying that we cover up crimes, but that we are a safe place for people to cast their cares and get sound counsel on how to get whatever help they need and if need be go with them to get that help be it medical, psychological, legal, administrative, or the help best given by their chain of command. One finds as a chaplain that most of our flock’s needs are not necessarily spiritual and that they don’t need to only person with absolute confidentiality they can go to shove religion down their throats.

Mikey understands this much more than his critics give him credit. He understands the needs and religious rights of military personnel as only one who has had his life threatened by Christian theocrats, and Anti-Semites can only understand. He spoke very personal and inspiring words about my service.

My regular readers understand my understanding of religious liberty, government, and citizenship. One of my inspirations is the great Virginia Baptist, John Leland who advised Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia Declaration of Religious Liberties and James Madison on the First Amendment wrote, and which I quoted Monday in my remarks:

Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be  encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

I also quoted James Madison said, “Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Sadly, in our country today many people, including the church leaders of a majority leader of many military Chaplains hold an opposite doctrine, that of the very doctrines of a supposedly “Christian” Religious theocracy that the Framers of our Constitution so opposed. I opposed those opinions and had someone try to get me tried by Court Martial for preaching a Biblical and Christian sermon on social justice and the the racist policies of the outgoing administration. Some people think that they can use their position to condemn people whose religious and beliefs in our Constitutional rights disagree with theirs. Thank God, whatever God’s there may be or just dumb luck and fate for men like Mikey. I look forward to working with him after my official retirement date.

I also brought up my understanding of leadership which included my devotion to the West Point motto Duty, Honor, Country. I received my commission as an Army ROTC cadet, and I was not an Academy graduate. However those words  have served as a compass to my career. For me the first duty has always been to the truth be it as a Medical Service Corps officer commanding a company and later dealing with the Army’s response to soldiers infected with HIV or dying of AIDS, where I helped write the Army’s personnel policies and because no other personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences wanted to be in the same room with an HIV infected soldier, I became CINC AIDS. I got to be the person who dealt with men and women dealing with a disease that at the time was certain to kill them, and how they could still serve. That brought me a whole new perspective on life, and a great deal of compassion for those who received news that they did not have much longer to live.

The same was true when I was an Armor Officer and Battalion S-1 in a Texas Army National Guard Armor battalion and saw how racism still permeated the National Guard in Texas. As a non-Texan and former Active Officer I found that I was a foreigner, something that I experienced transferring from Texas to Virginia. It is funny how the same prejudices that permeated the Armies of the Confederate States were still existent in the 1980s and 1990s.

Likewise, honor, is about my sacred honor to my Oath of Office and my sacred vows as a husband, and Priest, and finally my Country in good times as bad.

Captain Jean Luc Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek the Next Generation said: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…” I am not a Starfleet Officer but as an officer nonetheless I have always believed that the truth matters, but sadly I, like so many of us have turned the other way and not spoken out. But the older I get the more I realize that I cannot be silent about subjects that at one time I turned a blind eye to because they were uncomfortable, unpopular or might hurt my career either in the church or in the military. That really didn’t take that long. It began when I was an Army Second Lieutenant and has continued until today.

Likewise I have been guided by the words of General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office rather than obey Hitler’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia, and then gave up his life in the attempt to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944. Beck said:

“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.”

I reminded those present or watching online that those words were especially important in our conflicted and divided country. While I did not say it directly I implied that Officers cannot simply dedicate themselves to purely military matters when their Chief Executive violates the Constitution they swore to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

While it was in the script since we were running late and I didn’t want to get any more political than I had I left out. Beck also said:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.” 

That is exactly what I believe. I wish time had allowed me to say it, but I digress…

Then there was my dear friend and colleague, retired Navy Chaplain Vince Miller who served as both the Chaplain and Master of Ceremonies for my retirement due to COVID-19 restrictions on how many people could attend. Vince and I have had so many similar experiences, endured similar treatment in the Chaplain Corps, but hold so many values about the rights of people, their faith, and those who served under our supervision sought to uphold, regardless of their beliefs. Both of us ended up getting off-ramped from promotion because of things that happened to us or family considerations. He is a fast friend, a man of integrity and honor who like William Tecumseh Sherman understood the value of friendship. Sherman was a friend of Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman said of their friendship:

“Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk. Now we stand together.”

That my friends is friendship.

Finally, the ceremony was maybe more about the selfless love and devotion of my wife Judy. One cannot imagine what it is to spend almost 40 years in the military with someone who remains as faithful and devoted for so long despite the separations, deployments, and everything else associated with military marriage.

My God she has been through so much and not just because of deployments, separations, and the hassles of moves, and not seeing family. But also because Chaplains spouses don’t have much support, especially from other Chaplains or their spouses, especially if they suffer from a physical disability, like being profoundly deaf while having speech as good as any hearing person. But even with the best hearing aids around which have improved her hearing and life tremendously, there are times that our facilities are not built with the disabled, especially the deaf in mind. The acoustics were so poor where we had the retirement ceremony that with the exception of me and Admiral Rock Judy had a difficult time understanding the ceremony. She was hoping to try to watch it Tuesday with her Bluetooth hearing aids synced to her iPad but the livestream had been deleted, again reminding her of how little the military values people with disabilities. At least I have the speeches of the three men who spoke saved and she will be able to listen to them when we get the chance, but it hurt.

Likewise, it used to be that when a Chaplain retired the Chief of Chaplains at least sent a “thank you” note or acknowledged their retirement regardless of their rank. A few months ago I saw an email from our current Navy Chief of Chaplains and his Deputy acknowledging the Chaplains retiring in the rank of Captains and the Religious Program Specialists retiring as Master Chief Petty Officers by name but not acknowledging anyone below those ranks. I wondered to myself what the fuck? Is it all about climbing the highest ranks of the Chaplain Corps, or about caring for those we serve and lead? Of course for me it is about those that we serve, especially those who serve under us.

Then I realized that of all people, Senior Chaplains serving as Admirals or who would crush anyone to bet their Star, don’t give a damn about those who serve and have stomped over to achieve their positions. They don’t give a damn about anyone except themselves and their power.

During my remarks I quoted Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22 about the Chaplain. There is something about secular power in religious matters that transforms otherwise decent people and ministers into monsters. No wonder my ceremony disappeared off of the Chapel’s Facebook video archive. Heller wrote:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

That being said, we were blessed by those who attended, what they did and what they said. It meant the world to us, as do the wonderful words, thoughts, prayers, and actions of people who have been there for us to be there in person or by whatever virtual means available.

I am not bitter because I leave the service knowing that I have given all that I can and that the people that matter the most to me still care, regardless of rank or station. I would rather have the well wishes of a man or women I helped when they were an E-3 or E-4 rather than the platitudes of Clergymen wearing stars or eagles who didn’t care. But what I experienced is not uncommon, but most people will never speak as openly as I do, because from the earliest days of my service I believed in telling the truth whether it pissed people off, or harmed my upward mobility.

So despite being worn out and having to deal with more medical and dental issues than I thought I would ever see in the final days of my career I am still blessed and one of the luckiest men in the world, to paraphrase Lou Gehrig when he had to retire from baseball due to ALS. I am, at least to my knowledge not dying of anything, but it doesn’t take away my sentiments towards those people who have been there for me the past 39 plus years in the military, and even those before I signed my name on the dotted line.

When I am actually completely retired at 2359 hours on 31 December I can truly embrace my inner Smedley Butler, and embrace the fullness of truth and patriotism.

So until tomorrow,

Peace and thank you,

Padtre Steve+

 

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Filed under civil rights, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, COVID19, History, holocaust, laws and legislation, leadership, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Political Commentary, racism, Religion, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy

Finishing Where I Began: Navy, Marines, and with the Joint Force 1999-2020

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m coming to an end of my photo history of my military and this one will reflect fun, seriousness, and some sadness. After my 17 1/2 years in the Army, Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard of three states I was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain Corps on 9 February 1999. In my 21 plus years in the Navy I have served with the Marines for seven years, including Iraq where I was part of the Iraq Assistance Group of Multinational Force Iraq, attached to the Second Marine Expeditionary Force Forward working with the Marine, Army, and other Joint advisory teams across Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008. I served at sea aboard the USS Hue City supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Southern Watch in 2002 where I was an advisor to a boarding team inspecting and ensuring the health and safety of detained Iraqi oil smugglers, making 75 boardings of such ships where to say the least conditions were not great, crews often resentful not just of us but their ship’s Masters and employers and having to go aboard one ship several times that had active tuberculosis cases among about half of its crew. Once we came minutes from engaging Iranian Revolutionary Guards Naval Corps gunboats which were firing at our Force flagship. They hurried back into Iranian territorial waters before we could launch. That would have made headlines. We also were in between the Indian and Pakistani Fleets as they maneuvered as their nations stood on the brink of nuclear war. Good living and a lot of excitement. The ship and my boarding team were even featured in the first episode of Jerry Bruckheimer’s series Profiles from the Front Lines, featuring stores from the battles fields of Operation Enduring Freedom, and would have been on more had we not been cancelled by the invasion of Iraq. But if there are any television or film directors out there, take a look at this video and know that in a few short weeks I am available. I can can play good guys and bad guys, Military characters, clergymen, Nazi or Stasi bad guys, and I do speak pretty good German without an American accent. Our part starts at the 32 minute mark.

Anyway I served with Second Marine Division in four different battalions making a deployment to Okinawa, Japan, and Korea from early December 2000-July of 2001, Marine Security Force Battalion where my commanders had me always on the move to visit and even make emergency visits to Security Force Marines all over the World.

Returning from Iraq with a severe case of PTSD, mild TBI, and a host of other neurological, psychological, physical, and spiritual maladies I served as a Wounded Healer to people facing life and death in the ICU of Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, and later as Head of the Pastoral Care and Counseling Department at Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital. That is hard to do when you are struggling with faith, belief, and thinking about suicide almost every night. Faith did return but not in a traditional way, but I am better for it because I have much more empathy and being able to feel the emotions of others in ways I had never been able to do before. After Iraq it was much more difficult to compartmentalize my very logical and at times cold manner of analyzing issues.

Faith came back on an overnight on-call duty at Portsmouth around the middle of December. I was called to the ER because a man was dying. He had been a Navy office in the Second World War, became a Navy Doctor after the war doing his internship at Portsmouth. After his retirement from the Navy he served as a physician in Portsmouth, which was his home town providing care for the poor of the city, pre-natal care and delivering the babies of women without medical insurance or benefits, and volunteering his services to the prisoners of the county jail. He was a devout Episcopalian Christian, and when I arrived his wife asked if I was Episcopalian. At the time I belonged to an Anglo-Catholic denomination and told her that. She asked if I could perform the last rights and I said I could. I put on my hospital stole, broke out my Book of Common Prayer and Oil Stock. When I was making his head with the sign of the Cross while giving the final prayer of commendation he breathed his last and it was if something had changed. I felt the presence of God again.

I have not been the same since. Yes I still struggle with PTSD, anxiety, depression, severe nightmare and night terror disorders that have me attacking phantom enemies in my sleep, on more that one occasion requiring Emergency room visits for a broken nose, concussions, and a sprained jaw and neck. Judy has an inmate sense of when what she calls “the hand of death” is coming toward her and gently guides it down.

My tour there was made worse by my attempts to heal myself by never leaving the ICUs, working 60-100 hours a week. There were also a number of suicides and unexpected deaths, some of people I knew well on staff that further traumatized me, even as I tried to care for their survivors and friends on staff. I haven’t forgotten a one of them, they are burned into my brain. Then toward the end of the tour my dad died of Alzheimer’s, the morning after I had found I had been selected for promotion to commander. When I returned from his funeral I was given no-choice orders to go on a three year unaccompanied tour to Camp LeJeune to head the Pastoral Care Department, despite his knowledge that I was still very fragile, and need continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care which all had to be restarted when I transferred with new providers, and I never found a spiritual community there where I fit.

A month later my former church denomination kicked be out because I had allegedly become too liberal for suggesting through a lot of theological study and reflection that women should be ordained as Deacons, Priests, and even consecrated as Bishops. I also announced that if we truly believed that the blood of Jesus forgave all sins why didn’t we welcome LGBTQ people into our church the way they were, especially when many of our Bishops engaged in various forms of the Seven Deadly Sins, and they remained bishops, and finally that I had seen Iraqi Muslims, Shia, and Sunni who had a higher reverence for Jesus and the Virgin Mary than many if not most American Christians, despite Mohammed’s adoption of the beliefs of the excommunicated Arian Christian Clergy and Monks he met in the Arabian Desert. They believed that Jesus was a lot like God, but not God, but just below him. That’s what Mohammed adopted as his, and now Islam’s view of Christ.

Well, those were my three strikes and I was out. Thankfully the military bishop of the main Episcopal Church found me a home with a small but reputable Old Catholic Denomination, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. They provided me a home where my beliefs about the Grace of God and efficacy of the Sacraments were welcomed and affirmed. This allowed me to continue to serve in the Navy as a Priest. Even when I retire in a few weeks I will remain with them whether I am in an active ministry or not, because I will always remain a Priest for people who have lost their faith, struggle with faith, have been rejected, traumatized or abused by the Church or its ministers, those afflicted with PTSD and other mental illness, and those who may never darken the door of a church.

Since I returned from LeJeuene I had the blessing of one of the most fulfilling assignments of my entire career, as the Ethics instructor, Chaplain, and leader of the Gettysburg Staff Ride. That opened the door that I always wanted, to be a historian, writer, teacher, and professor. I expect I will be focused more on that than anything when I retire.

I left the Staff College in April 2017 for a hellish assignment as the Command Chaplain at Joint Expeditionary Base Little-Creek Fort Story, which had become known as a toxic assignment and career killer for many who occupied the position. In June of 2018 I substituted for my Protestant pastor and a retired Navy Lieutenant Commander tried to have me tried by Court-Martial. Only one senior Navy Chaplain had my back and despite being much more conservative than me argued for my right to preach according to my Church’s tradition. Despite this I had to undergo an investigation where over half of the congregation present that day were interviewed. No one corroborated my accuser’s account because every part was a lie. Thankfully I had the support of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who provided me legal counsel to defend me. The charges were dropped, but the damage was done.

No one from the Chief of Chaplains Office came to my defense or offered spiritual care or support, just as they had not when I went public with my struggles with PTSD in 2011 and 2014 when asked by my commands to do so.  My story made the Front Page of the Jacksonville Daily News in March 2011. Soon after my story was featured as a video by the Department of Defense Real Warriors program.

Later I was a panelist at a forum presented by the Military Officers Association of America and other advocacy groups about caring for the wounding, including those with PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury.




In April 2014 while at the Staff College the Washington Times covered my story on their front page, which no one in the Chief of Chaplains Office could have missed. Pulitzer Prize winning military columnist David Wood in his 2016 book What Have We Done? The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars, used my story in the majority of a chapter. I was told later by an EOD Master Chief Petty Officer that while we could get help for PTSD and other similar injuries we would never get the premier assignments or be promoted. He was right, and while most of the time the Chaplain Corps provides great care for our Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and their families, they kill their own wounded.

My treatment led me to put in voluntary retirement papers for 1 September 2019, but those had to be cancelled because I was undergoing treatment for knee injuries, a failed meniscus surgery and injuries to my right hip and ankles that made it impossible to walk, much less run the 3-8 miles or more I ran 3 or more times a week until then. So my retirement date was moved to what was thought to be my statutory retirement date of 1 April 2020. However, when I called for my orders, I was told that there was a mistake and my retirement date was now 1 August 2020. That was fine with me but since my replacement had arrived, the Navy had to find something to do with me so they placed me at Naval Shipyard Norfolk, located in Portsmouth Virginia. There I found a welcoming environment, had the support of my commander, and my faith in God was again renewed as was my faith in the good of people. When the COVID-19 Pandemic in the spring the Navy put out a call for soon to retire officers to remain on active duty in a retired retained status until 31 December. I didn’t want to leave the people I had fallen in love with in the lurch so I volunteered and well here I am now. I think I have set more retirement dates than Brett Farve, but this one should be it.

In retrospect I have loved serving in most of the places I have throughout my military career. As a Chaplain with only one exception I had great relationships with my commanders and the Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, the men and women of Allied nations, and members of the State Department, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other Federal agencies whose personnel I supported. As a Chaplain my problems, especially after coming out with PTSD came from other Chaplains, especially senior Chaplains. To them I was broken and pretty much a spent round. As my Executive Officer at the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences warned me before I left the active duty Army for seminary, “Steve, if you think the Army Medical Department is political, vicious, and back-stabbing, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.” Sadly, he was right, in both the Army and Navy.

Several of my former commanders in the Navy and Marine Corps have been there for me every step of the way as I struggled, and those I served returned kindness and support to me when I was hurting. A few other Chaplains who had been crushed by the system were also there for me. However, with the exception on one of my closest  Chaplain friends of my previous denomination, who pledge to always be there for me and I them, a Band of Brothers we used to call ourselves, ghosted me, I would call them and they would not call me. That sense of betrayal still stings. Yes, I have forgiven, but the lingering pain of being cast off by people I knew and was close to for a decade or more is still there. These same is true for some of my Chaplain contemporaries who also turned their back on me. But the good thing is, that among the younger chaplains I supervised all have at least made Lieutenant Commander and one Commander. One who I supervised in the Army when I was a Major and he was a First Lieutenant is now a Catholic Priest and a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve. My Chaplain Assistant at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania is now a Colonel in  the Army Chaplain Corps. My Religious Program Specialist at 1st Battalion 8th Marines become a Chaplain and because he had so much enlisted time was able to retire as a Lieutenant at 20 years. He is now in civilian ministry. I have always thought that was more important to help others succeed by mentoring, giving sage advice to keep them from blowing up their careers, and to care for them in hard times, as I would anyone who came to me. Their success brings me great joy, as does the success of anyone who has ever come to me for assistance.

Recently I had a friend on Facebook remark that I hurt and suffered because I cared so much. I told them that being a narcissistic sociopath would be much easier, and my Skipper from the HUE CITY, Captain Rick Hoffman remarked, “no we have too many of those already.” I appreciated that. He and another of my commanding officers Medical Corps Admiral David Lane will be giving prerecorded remarks at my retirement. For those who don’t know, Admiral Lane quite literally helped to keep me from committing suicide in 2015 after being maltreated by a Psychiatrist at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, and the person responsible to help people resolve issues like mine refused to help. Admiral Lane contacted Rear Admiral Terry Moulton the commander of the Medical Center who called me and talked with me for over an hour, and then got me the help that I needed, listening to my complaints about how I was treated when I told him that “If I was treated so badly as a senior officer, imagine what was happening to junior Sailors, Marines, and Soldiers going there for care.” Admiral Mouton took action, and some things did change for the better. But since the the Defense Health Agency has taken over all military medical facilities, cut over 17,000 billets from the active duty medical force, reduced civilian and contract providers, forcing the military to push patients to civilian providers in the Tricare network, and that that includes people with PTSD and other psychological issues directly related to military service, including sexual assault. God help us now if we get in a real high intensity war, not the counter-insurgency campaigns we fought since 9-11-2001.

All of that considered I have so many good memories from my service and from serving with great people that I cannot be bitter. I will speak the truth to power, not as an embittered person, but a person who believes that all of our military personnel, veterans, and their families deserve to be treated as people, not numbers, not economic units, but real human beings, the kind that God loves and cares about.

As far as my service, I regret nothing, except for the men and women I couldn’t help, those who died in combat, or of tragic diseases at far too young ages, and those who as a result of their combat trauma and treatment in the military committed suicide. Those include friends and men and women I served  with, including genuine war heroes. Their faces and voices don’t recede from my memory. Sometime I will have to write about them too, they should not be forgotten and maybe I can use my voice to make sure they are not forgotten.

But all that considered here is my Navy story in pictures.

Commissioning and Chaplain School


Second Marine Division 



Deployment with 3D Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and South Korea


USS HUE CITY, deployment and Battle of Hue City Memorial






Marine Security Force Battalion, USA, Bahrain, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, France and Scotland

 





Deployment to Iraq



 


Joint Forces Staff College 






  • JEB Little Creek Fort Story and Norfolk Naval Shipyard 

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Filed under History, iraq, Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, ministry, Navy Ships, Photo Montages, shipmates and veterans, suicide, Tour in Iraq, US Marine Corps, US Navy

The Army Interregnum, 1981-1999: A Photo Montage


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another in a series of posts that serve a dual purpose, the first and most important is to shrink pictures of my 39 year military career into sizes where they won’t crush the size of the Power Point presentation to be played before my retirement ceremony, the second is to provide just a brief look through pictures at my time in the Army.

Without using a lot of verbose prose I grew up in a Navy family but surrounded myself with all things military, Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force. Of course that included everything I could read about history, especially military and Naval history, biography, technical aspects of ships, aircraft, artillery, small arms, armored fighting vehicles, strategy, operational methods, strategy and grand strategy, and even ethics and war crimes even before I finished high school.

After my dad retired from the Navy I was lost, I didn’t want to be a civilian, and this was at the end of the Vietnam War when the military was not popular at all. The draft had been abolished, the all-volunteer Force established and there were a lot of problems even as the Soviets became a greater threat and the Middle East began a descent into the chaos that it is now. But even so I want to serve.

My parents talked me out of enlisting in the Navy or Army right out of high school to try a year of junior college. It was a good thing they did because in August of 1978 I met Judy, we began dating and in 1980 I followed her to California State University at Northridge.

Before I went to Northridge I applied and was accepted into the Air Force ROTC program and I would have jumped on it had they not insisted on attending a four week summer training camp that would have destroyed the income from an extremely well paying summer job at the John Deere and Company Warehouse where my dad worked in Stockton, California. I am forever grateful for my dad for getting me that job because it paid a good amount of my college expenses. So the Air Force was out, as was the Navy because Judy who had a number a sister and two brothers-law-serve in the Navy, did not want to have to deal with regular Navy deployments. I asked her if the Army was okay and she said yes because at the time Army assignments were pretty predicable, and with Vietnam in the rear view mirror Not too bad for family life on the whole. Not to say that in Cold War Germany my work days were usually 12-14 hours long and we had a lot of alerts, field exercises, and a massive event called REFORGER once or twice a year that took a month to six weeks out of our lives.

This is my Army story in pictures, from Army ROTC at UCLA and time in the 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery while in ROTC, my commissioning as a Medical Service Corps Lieutenant and our marriage in 1983, and my first five years on active duty from July 1983 to September 1988, which included time as a platoon leader, motor maintenance officer, NBC defense officer, Company Executive Office, Company Commander as well as Group and Brigade Personnel Staff Officer. I left active duty to attend seminary while serving in the Texas Army National Guard where I was commissioned as an Armor Officer and served in an Armor Battalion as the S-1, and on brigade staff before the State Chaplain forced me into the Chaplain Candidate Program because by regulation seminary and theological students are not allowed to serve in combatant positions. He had me branch transferred into the Staff Specialist Branch where seminary and law students went while in school. Now if you know the Army every Branch or Corps has its two letter designation. An Armor officer is AR, Infantry IN, Military Intelligence MI, and Field Artillery FA. There are many more but the Staff Specialist Branch was SS, so yours truly was a SS Captain, but not the Nazi kind for a couple of years. That being said, though I had orders and wore the insignia, the God of Military personnel in the 49th Armored Division still kept me on the books as a Medical Service Corps Officer, and a secondary Armor Officer in case we were mobilized for Operation Desert Storm, and we were days away from mobilization when that war ended. But during seminary I completed the Chaplain Officer Basic Course, and commissioned as a Chaplain following my graduation and ordination.

During that time I decided to try civilian hospital chaplaincy, completed a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and then took a full time contract position as a Contract Emergency Department Chaplain in my parent’s home town of Huntington West Virginia, where both my grandmothers and numerous other more distant relatives lived. During all of this time I served as a Chaplain in the Texas and Virginia National Guard and when promoted to Major in December 1995 transferred to the Army Reserve. In the summer of 1996 8 volunteered for and mobilized to support Operation Joint Endeavor, the NATO Intervention in the Balkans. Coming home from that I had no civilian job as contractors have no reemployment rights.

About a week later the Army gave me orders to Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania to help close it down as a Federal installation and prepare to hand it over to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. That kept me there until the end of September 1997, but the Garrison Commander did not want to go the final year without a Chaplain, and since the Army didn’t have money to do it, he worked out a deal with the Pennsylvania State Military Department to hire me as a civilian chaplain while remaining a drilling member of the Army Reserve. That was a really cool time, Judy got to be with me, we had a great congregation, and I was recognized by the Army for my creativity in preparing the chapel congregation and the other inactive chapels on the base for turnover. This included the demolition of one, the decommissioning and neutralization of two others to serve in other capacities, one as a daycare center, the other a supply building. The partial renovations of three to serve as chapels for units training on base or mobilization purposes, the renovation of a tiny but historic Catholic Chapel, the Our Lady of Victory. The donations and removal of another which despite the structure being in pristine condition, would have been demolished with the rest of area six. It was donated to the First Free Congregational Church of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. After it had its lead paint exterior planks removed and was decontaminated by the removal of asbestos panels inside, the church had a crew of Amish workers take it apart and reassemble it on their site where it still stands. Judy represented me at the groundbreaking because I was serving as a Exchange Officer at the Chapel of the German Panzertruppen Schule in Munsterlager, between Hamburg and Hannover. When we turned the base over we went home to Huntington where jobs for someone like me were incredibly nonexistent, I got a call from the bishop of my old church Just before Christmas of 1998 that the Navy was willing to take me on active duty if I was willing to reduce in rank from being an Army Major to being a Navy Lieutenant. On 8 February 1999 I drilled for the last time in the Army Reserve and on 9 February was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain.

But the Army did a lot for me that led me to success in the Navy, Marine Corps, and in Combat. It prepared me by allowing me to serve in command and staff positions. To realize that war was more than a game, that one always had to expect the unexpected, and to realize that soldiers and their families were more than cogs in a wheel. I learned to try to balance justice with mercy and I learned from my mistakes when I didn’t to that as well as I should. Because of Judy we never were ones to treat ourselves above enlisted people, particularly because the Army tends to be a less stratified service than the Navy, and because we made sure that we invited enlisted personnel to dinners, including thanksgiving at our quarters, and to treat enlisted personnel and their families with respect, especially when unexpected things happened like massive pay failures during a unit move, or when we had to remain in the field longer than scheduled and Judy and the platoon leader, XO, or Company Commanders wife making sure that families were notified and cared for during such times.

I learned from excellent leaders and from the less than caring or stellar leader on how to treat people and not treat people. I learned how much my Oath to the Constitution meant, and though not a West Point Graduate adopted their creed of Duty, Honor, Country as my own.

As I said, the Army thought me about how to survive and succeed in combat, and prepare me for war. Good Army leaders taught me to think outside of the box and to throw away the book when it’s answers didn’t make sense. The bad ones always said to stick to the book no-matter what. Combined with my study of military history and successful leaders I found that taking risks and doing things that the Chaplain Corps frowned upon in combat was key to being where people needed me. Thankfully I had leaders that let me do those things.

I also leaned that to be honest and truthful when things were going to shit wasn’t appreciated by much of the brass, but was appreciated by the enlisted men. I also found that being honest and truthful could make one enemies more devoted to their power in the system than by being honest and truthful with people that have to power to fix things, including faulty weapons systems and vehicles, communications equipment, personnel regulations, training programs, and so much more that when not fixed or changed to meet changing situations, cost lives unnecessarily, and lose wars.

As the British military theorist, historian, and philosopher B.H. Liddell-Hart wrote toward the end of his life:

“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.”

He then noted something that some of us learn as we progress through the ranks of the military if we are honest, “As a young officer I had cherished a deep respect for the Higher Command, but I was sadly disillusioned about many of them when I came to see them more closely from the angle of a military correspondent. It was saddening to discover how many apparently honourable men would stoop to almost anything to help their own advancement.” 

Anyway, here is the Army Part of my story in pictures.

Peace,

Padre Steve+














 





 








Well friends, that’s my Army story. There are many more photos I could have digitalized and used but this will have to work for now. On to the Navy and some reflections at the end of my career.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, ministry, philosophy, Photo Montages, remembering friends, US Navy

When Churches Make Deals with Devils: the Nazi “German Christian“ Movement, Nuremberg, and the Trump Cult

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I began to write about the Nuremberg Trials and the opening statement of the American Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and compared that opening statement and his litany of charges and evidence. Last year I continued with the Nazi attack on free Labor Unions but this year I have left it out in order to move to a much more pertinent section of his opening statement. It deals with the Nazis coopted the Churches and then began a battle against Churches and Christians who resisted.

The fascinating thing is that religious people and religious institutions are often the most unwavering in support of authoritarian regimes that often turn on them, because the Authoritarian can only allow one savior or God, and that would be him. Adolf Hitler was such a man. Saddam Hussein, Josef Stalin, the Salvadorian dictators, the Caesars, or any number of other men and women who wielded absolute power have used and abused churches or religious people in general in similar ways. Though Trump, despite his efforts to date Hass not completely crossed the line into a full blown authoritarian and dictator, he is acting more and more like one on a daily basis. His strongest supporters are conservative Christians, especially evangelicals, who unwaveringly support him regardless of what he does against the law, Constitution, and fundamental  Christian beliefs. Few of his Christian supporters have Turned against him even as he threatens the fabric of our system of government, national security and further divide the people of our republic. Those who do will pay a price even after he leaves office, willingly or unwillingly, not from Democrats or “Never Trump” former Republicans, but from the true believers of the Trump who will be looking for revenge.

At Nuremberg Jackson laid out his argument to show how Hitler’s initially favorable treatment of the churches was directed with the aim of suppressing or corrupting all competing institutions of power in the state that could potentially become centers of resistance. Likewise, Jackson built up his argument this to show how Hitler’s action were an attempt to remove any moderating influence that could stand against its plans for aggressive warfare and genocide.

The division of the German State Church into the Evangelical Church (Lutheran and Reformed) and Roman Catholicism was a problem for the Nazis. They desired the coordination Gleichschaltung of religion under their rule. The Protestant and Catholic state churches of Germany were potential rivals for the soul of the citizenry of the Third Reich. They ran schools, universities, hospitals, benevolent organizations, published influential newspapers, and had their own political parties and labor organizations that to achieve power the Nazis had to suppress.

German Protestantism since the day of Martin Luther was linked to German nationalism and seen by the Nazis as the ideal vehicle to build upon. The Catholic Church which was predominant in Bavaria and was strong in the other states of southern and western Germany. It was not very strong in the north, especially Prussia where in the 1800s Otto Von Bismarck persecuted the Catholic Church through the Külturkampf. Like Bismarck, Hitler, viewed the Catholic Church as less than fully committed to the Reich because of its allegiance to Rome, which Hitler and many other Nazis considered to be a foreign power. The fact that Hitler was raised Catholic yet repudiated the Church’s teachings and persecuted it while never formally leaving the Church is a fascinating psychological study but not enough to spend time on it tonight.

Hitler Greeting Catholic and Protestant Church Leaders

Likewise, other Nazi leaders of Catholic background realized the power of the Church and its institutions, and even stood in awe of them. Heinrich Himmler patterned his SS indoctrination upon the Jesuit model, without any emphasis on Christian beliefs. Former or lapsed Catholics in Hitler’s retinue including Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, Hans Frank, and Himmler’s number two man, Reinhard Heydrich. Richard Evans wrote in his book The Third Reich in Power:

Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, reacted against a strict Catholic upbringing with a hatred of the Church that can only be called fanatical. In 1936, Heydrich classified the Jews and the Catholic Church, acting above all through political institutions such the Centre Party, as the two principal enemies of Nazism. As an international body, he argued, the Catholic Church was necessarily subversive of the racial and spiritual integrity of the German people. Moreover, the Catholics, unlike the Protestants, had been largely represented by a single political party, the Centre, whose voters, again unlike those of most other parties, had mostly remained loyal and resisted the appeal of Nazism during the elections of the early 1930s. Much of the blame for this could be laid in the Nazis’ view at the feet of the clergy, who had preached vehemently against the Nazi Party, in many cases ruled that Catholics could not join it, and strongly urged their congregations to continue voting for the Centre or its Bavarian equivalent, the Bavarian People’s Party. For many if not most leading Nazis, therefore, it was vitally important to reduce the Catholic Church in Germany as quickly as possible to total subservience to the regime. (Third Reich In Power pp. 234-235)

The average church member was not the physical target of their attacks, instead the Nazis worked at, and quite often were very successful at weaning away many of the faithful from anything more than perfunctory and traditional displays of religion. Even there the Nazis did their best to supplant holidays such as Christmas and Easter with Nazi themes and ideology, even changing words to traditional hymns.

The aim of the Nazi Party was to deprive the Churches of their social and political power, and in that they were quite successful. They suppressed church political parties and newspapers, labor unions, youth organizations. The latter were dissolved and replaced by the Reich Labor Front, and the Hitler Youth. Church schools were eventually closed by 1939 and religious education in public vocational schools was reduced to very small amounts of time with the teaching becoming more in line with Nazi racial ideology and anti-semitism.

The Protestant Church mostly fell in line with the exception of opposition of the minority Confessing Church. Even so the Protestant opposition for the most part limited its opposition to the Nazis to the infringements against the church, not the nationalism, Nazi war aims, or even the persecution of the Jews and the euthanasia programs. Richard Evans wrote:

The co-ordination of the Protestant Church was driven forward, among other factors, by the appointment of the lawyer August Jäger as State Commissioner for the Evangelical Churches in Prussia. Jäger declared that Hitler was completing what Luther had begun. They were ‘working together for the salvation of the German race’. Jesus represented ‘a flaring-up of the Nordic species in the midst of a world tortured by symptoms of degeneracy’. In conformity with the ‘leadership principle’, Jäger dissolved all elected bodies in the Prussian Church and replaced many existing officials with German Christians. Meanwhile, Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller had taken over the administrative headquarters of the Evangelical Church with the aid of a band of stormtroopers. By September, pressure was growing within the Reich Church to dismiss all Jews from Church employment. Much of the pressure came from ordinary pastors. Prominent here were young pastors from lower-middle-class backgrounds or non-academic families, men for whom war service had often been a life-defining experience, and racially conscious pastors from areas near Germany’s eastern borders for whom Protestantism represented German culture against the Catholicism of the Poles or the Orthodox faith of the Russians. Such men desired a Church militant based on the aggressive propagation of the Gospel, a crusading Church whose members were soldiers for Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through its involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion. The traditional Pietist emphasis on sin and repentance, which dwelt on images of Christ’s suffering and transfiguration, was anathema to such men. They demanded instead an image of Christ that would set a heroic example for German men in the world of the here and now. For them, Hitler took on the mantle of a national redeemer who would bring about the rechristianization of society along with its national reawakening. (Third Reich in Power pp. 224-225)

The Nazified and nationalistic German Protestants, led by these clergy paint a striking image very similar to conservative American Evangelical Christians who echo many of the same theological themes, and who have in many cases elevated President Donald Trump into a redeemer and nearly messianic figure.

There were Protestant and Catholic Christians in the resistance but their efforts were doomed due to internal divisions on just what to do. Their individual courage cannot be questioned, but it seemed as if every one of their attempts to remove Hitler from power beginning during the Czechoslovakia crisis in 1938 was snake bitten. But for the most part German Christians be they Protestant or Catholic remained committed to the Nazi policies to the bitter end. It was a decided minority who risked their lives to resist. One was 22 year old Sophie Scholl, a leader of the White Rose Resistance who said of her fellow Germans and Christians:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Sophie was arrested, tried and executed in a number of days after a Nazi informant identified her to the Gestapo in February 1943. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a noted Pastor and theologian working as a part of the military resistance to remove Hitler wrote something all too descriptive of American Christianity:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

So I will return to Robert Jackson’s opening statement at Nuremberg dealing with the Nazi relationship with the Churches toward the middle of the day on November 21st 1945. These are his words:

The Nazi Party was always predominantly anti-Christian by ideology. But we who believe in freedom of conscience and of religion base no charge of criminality on anybody’s ideology. It is not because the Nazis themselves were irreligious or pagan, but because they persecuted others of the Christian faith that they became guilty of crime, and it is because the persecution was a step in the preparation for aggressive warfare that the offence becomes one of international consequence. To remove every moderating influence among the German people and to put its population on a total war footing, the conspirators devised and carried out a systematic and relentless repression of all Christian sects and churches.

We will ask you to convict the Nazis on their own evidence, Martin Bormann in June 1941 issued a secret decree on the relation of Christianity and National Socialism. The decree provided:

“For the first time in German history the Fuehrer consciously and completely has the leadership of the people in his own hand. With the Party, its components, and attached units, the Fuehrer has created for himself, and thereby for the German Reich leadership, an instrument which makes him independent of the church. All influences which might impair or damage the leadership of the people exercised by the Fuehrer with the help of the N.S.D.A.P. must be eliminated. More and more the people must be separated from the churches and their organs, the pastors. Of course, the churches must and will, seen from their viewpoint, defend themselves against this loss of power. But never again must an influence on leadership of the people be yielded to the churches. This influence must be broken completely and finally. Only the Reich government, and by its direction the Party, its components, and attached units, have a right to leadership of the people. Just as the deleterious influence of astrologers, seers, and other fakers are eliminated and suppressed by the State, so must the possibility of church influence also be totally removed. Not until this has happened does the State leadership have influence on the individual citizens. Not until then are the people and Reich secure in their existence for all the future” (D-75).

And how the Party had been securing the Reich from Christian influence will be proved by such items as this teletype from the Gestapo, Berlin, to the Gestapo Nuremburg, on 24th July, 1938. Let us hear from their own account of events in Rottenburg:

“The Party, on 23rd July, 1939, from 2100 carried out the third demonstration against Bishop Sproll. Participants, about 2,500-3,000, were brought in from outside by bus, etc. The Rottenburg populace again did not participate in the demonstration. This town took rather a hostile attitude to the demonstrations. The action got completely out of hand of the Party Member responsible for it. The demonstrators stormed the palace, beat in the gates and doors. About 150 to 200 people forced their way into the palace, searched the rooms, threw files out of the windows, and rummaged through the beds in the rooms of the palace. One bed was ignited. Before the fire got to the other objects or equipment in the rooms and the palace, the flaming bed was throw from the window and the fire extinguished. The Bishop was with Archbishop Groeber of Freiburg, and the ladies and gentlemen of his menage in the chapel at prayer. About 25 to 30 pressed into this chapel and molested those present. Bishop Groeber was taken for Bishop Sproll. He was grabbed by the robe and dragged back and forth, Finally the intruders realised that Bishop Groeber was not the one they were seeking. They could then be persuaded to leave the building. After the evacuation of the palace by the demonstrators I had an interview with Archbishop Groeber, who left Rottenburg in the night. Groeber wants to turn to the Fuehrer and Reich Minister of the Interior Dr. Frick anew. On the course of the action, the damage done, as well as the homage of the Rottenburg populace beginning today for the Bishop, I shall immediately hand in a full report, after I begin suppressing counter mass meetings. In case the Fuehrer has instructions to give in this matter, I request that these be transmitted most quickly.” (848-PS).

Alfred Rosenberg Nazi Ideologist and Reich Minister for Occupied Territories

Later, defendant Rosenberg wrote to Bormann reviewing the proposal of Kerrl as Church minister to place the Protestant Church under State tutelage and proclaim Hitler its supreme head. Rosenberg was opposed, hinting that Naziism was to suppress the Christian Church completely after the war.

The persecution of all pacifist and dissenting sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Pentecostal Association, was peculiarly relentless and cruel. The policy toward the Evangelical Churches, however, was to use their influence for the Nazi’s own purposes. In September, 1933, Muller was appointed the Fuehrer’s representative with power to deal with the “affairs of the Evangelical Church” in its relations to the State. Eventually, steps were taken to create a Reich Bishop vested with power to control this Church. A long conflict followed, Pastor Niemoller was sent to a concentration camp, and extended interference with the internal discipline and administration of the Churches occurred.

A most intense drive was directed against the Roman Catholic Church. After a strategic Concordat with the Holy See, signed in July, 1933, in Rome, which never was observed by the Nazi Party, a long and persistent persecution of the Catholic Church, its priesthood and its members, was carried out. Church Schools and educational institutions were suppressed or subjected to requirements of Nazi teaching inconsistent with the Christian faith. The property of the Church was confiscated and inspired vandalism directed against the Church property was left unpunished. Religious instruction was impeded and the exercise of religion made difficult. Priests and bishops were laid upon, riots were stimulated to harass them, and many were sent to concentration camps.

After occupation of foreign soil, these persecutions went on with greater vigour than ever. We will present to you from the files of the Vatican the earnest protests made by the Vatican to Ribbentrop summarising the persecutions to which the priesthood and the Church had been subjected in this Twentieth Century under the Nazi regime. Ribbentrop never answered them. He could not deny. He dared not justify.

I now come to “Crimes against the Jews.”

THE PRESIDENT: We shall now take our noon recess. (A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn for fifteen minutes at half past three and then continue until half past four.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I was about to take up the “Crimes Committed Against the Jews.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve

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