Category Archives: ministry

“They Are Not Just Names” Remembering the Heroes of Pearl Harbor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the problems of our era is that most Americans and for that matter most Europeans have no understanding of the human costs of war and the amazing resilience of men and women under fire. When we do think about war we tend to focus on the machines of war without so much thinking about the people, and the fact is, that people are the single constant in history and war. So today, the day after the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor I am re-posting an article I wrote a couple of years back.

As I wrote my personal reflection for yesterday’s post I kept thinking about how easy it is to simply get lost in the names, or be overwhelmed by the numbers of casualties and the amount of suffering involved. When you actually understand the human cost of war it can be overwhelming. My mind flashes back to mass casualty incidents that I saw in Iraq, seeing the wounded Marines and Soldiers and the devastating wounds, and to know that all of them are more than a name, more than a rank, more than a number. In the television show Star Trek Deep Space Nine a casualty report is received, and the executive officer of Deep Space Nine remarks to the Captain, “that’s a lot of names.” The Captain, played by Avery Brooks replied: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.” 

That my friends is true about all of our wars, including the undeclared wars that we have been fighting for the fifteen years.

With that said, it is time to remember. We have to do that.

Peace

Padre Steve+

On the morning of December 7th 1941 aircraft from the Japanese First Air Fleet attacked the United States Pacific Fleet as it lay at anchor at Pearl Harbor.

The attack inflicted great damage and casualties on the Pacific Fleet as well as the Army Air Forces based on Oahu. On that fateful Sunday the US Navy had 19 ships sunk or damaged. The Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Corps lost 188 aircraft destroyed and another 159 damaged. 2402 American Sailors, Marines and Soldiers, including members of the Army Air Corps lost their lives and another 1247 were wounded.

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It was a day where men, suddenly shaken from their peacetime routine by bombs, bullets and torpedoes conducted themselves in in an extraordinary manner. When the last Japanese aircraft turned away the previously placid waters of Pearl Harbor were littered with wrecked and sunken ships, blazing fires and the bodies of sailors and Marines. Desperate rescue efforts were already underway even as undamaged ships sortied to attempt to find and engage the Japanese fleet.

The next day President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked the Congress for a Declaration of War.His speech, immortalized in its opening words galvanized the nation.

“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan….” 

It was also a day where heroism was acknowledged. In the days and months following many Sailors, Soldiers and Marines ware awarded for their heroism, posthumously. 16 Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded, 15 at Pearl Harbor and one at Midway Island which was attacked the same day. Of those 10 were to men killed in action.  There were 51 awards of the Navy Cross, four Silver Stars and three wards of the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. One of the Navy Cross awards was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

The ranks of the awardees ranged from the Commander of Battleship Division One Rear Admiral Isaac Kidd to killed on the bridge of his flagship the USS Arizona to Seaman First Class James Ward who died on the USS Oklahoma. Kidd’s body was never found, his Naval Academy ring was found fused to a bulkhead on the destroyed bridge of the Arizona.

Ward was a gunner in one of Oklahoma’s main gun turrets. His citation reads:

“For conspicuous devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and complete disregard of his own life, above and beyond the call of duty, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. When it was seen that the U.S.S.Oklahoma was going to capsize and the order was given to abandon ship, Ward remained in a turret holding a flashlight so the remainder of the turret crew could see to escape, thereby sacrificing his own life.”

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One of the Navy Crosses was awarded to Mess Attendant First Class Doris “Dorie” Miller. Miller was the only African American to win such an award that day. Miller who was assigned to the USS West Virginia received the award from Admiral Chester Nimitz for his efforts to assist his mortally wounded Commanding Officer, Captain Mervyn Bennion and manning a .50 caliber machine gun on his ship, possibly shooting down a Japanese aircraft.

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Nimitz remarked at the ceremony “This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I’m sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts.” Miller died less than two years later along with 645 other sailors when his ship the USS Liscombe Bay was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine near Tarawa. Miller’s Navy Cross citation reads:

“For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”

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Others who survived the Pearl Harbor attack including Captain Cassin Young of the USS Vestal were later killed in action, Young while in command of the Heavy Cruiser USS San Francisco at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal on November 13th 1942. Captain Young’s Medal of Honor citation reads:

For distinguished conduct in action, outstanding heroism and utter disregard of his own safety, above and beyond the call of duty, as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Vestal, during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by enemy Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. Comdr. Young proceeded to the bridge and later took personal command of the 3-inch antiaircraft gun. When blown overboard by the blast of the forward magazine explosion of the U.S.S. Arizona, to which the U.S.S. Vestal was moored, he swam back to his ship. The entire forward part of the U.S.S. Arizona was a blazing inferno with oil afire on the water between the 2 ships; as a result of several bomb hits, the U.S.S. Vestal was afire in several places, was settling and taking on a list. Despite severe enemy bombing and strafing at the time, and his shocking experience of having been blown overboard, Comdr. Young, with extreme coolness and calmness, moved his ship to an anchorage distant from the U.S.S. Arizona, and subsequently beached the U.S.S. Vestal upon determining that such action was required to save his ship.

The Fletcher Class destroyer named after Captain Young, the USS Cassin Young DD-793 is now a museum ship in Boston Massachusetts.

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The individual bravery of these men was remarkable and many more did equally heroic things but for whatever reason were not recognized.

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The citation of Lieutenant Jackson Pharris at the time of the attack a Gunners Mate on the USS California is typical of the actions of so many men on that desperate day. He was first awarded the Navy Cross but the award was upgraded to the Medal of Honor. That citation follows:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while attached to the U.S.S. California during the surprise enemy Japanese aerial attack on Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, 7 December 1941. In charge of the ordnance repair party on the third deck when the first Japanese torpedo struck almost directly under his station, Lt. (then Gunner) Pharris was stunned and severely injured by the concussion which hurled him to the overhead and back to the deck. Quickly recovering, he acted on his own initiative to set up a hand-supply ammunition train for the antiaircraft guns. With water and oil rushing in where the port bulkhead had been torn up from the deck, with many of the remaining crewmembers overcome by oil fumes, and the ship without power and listing heavily to port as a result of a second torpedo hit, Lt. Pharris ordered the shipfitters to counterflood. Twice rendered unconscious by the nauseous fumes and handicapped by his painful injuries, he persisted in his desperate efforts to speed up the supply of ammunition and at the same time repeatedly risked his life to enter flooding compartments and drag to safety unconscious shipmates who were gradually being submerged in oil. By his inspiring leadership, his valiant efforts and his extreme loyalty to his ship and her crew, he saved many of his shipmates from death and was largely responsible for keeping the California in action during the attack. His heroic conduct throughout this first eventful engagement of World War 11 reflects the highest credit upon Lt. Pharris and enhances the finest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service.

 

Aloysius Schmitt

There were two chaplains who died that day, one of them, Lieutenant Junior Grade Aloysius Schmitt, the Catholic Chaplain of the USS Oklahoma sacrificed his life to push a sailor out of the ship as it rolled over. He was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal. His remains were recently identified and returned to his hometown just a few weeks ago.

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Those awarded the Medal of Honor are listed here:

Bennion, Mervyn, Capt., USN, CO of USS West Virginia, casualty of USS West Virginia 

Cannon, George H., First Lt., USMC, casualty of Midway Island NAS

Finn, John W., Lt.(jg), USN, NAS Kaneohe Bay, from Los Angeles, CA (20 shrapnel wounds from firing at Japanese planes)

Flaherty, Francis C., Ens., USNR, casualty of USS Oklahoma

Fuqua, Samuel G. (Glenn), Capt., USN, USS Arizona, from Missouri

Hill, Edwin J. (Joseph), Boatswain CWO, USN, casualty of USS Nevada

Jones, Herbert C., Ens., USN, casualty of USS California

Kidd, Isaac C., R. Adm., USN, from Ohio, casualty of USS Arizona

Pharris, Jackson C., Gunner, USN, USS California, from Columbus, GA

Reeves, Thomas J., Chief Radioman WO(RAD), USN, casualty of USS California

Ross, Donald K., Lt.Cmdr, USN, USS Nevada

Scott, Robert R., Machinist’s Mate first class MM1c, USN, casualty of USS California

Tomich, Peter, Chief Watertender, USN, casualty of USS Utah

Van Valkenburgh, Franklin, Capt(CO), USN, CO USS Arizona, casualty of USS Arizona

Ward, James Richard, Seaman first class, USN, casualty of USS Oklahoma

Young, Cassin, Capt., USN, Washington DC, USS Vestal

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Those awarded the Navy Cross are listed here: 

Austin, John A., Chief Carpenter, USN, casualty of USS Oklahoma

Baker, Lionel H., Pharmacist’s Mate second class, USN

Bolser, Gordon E. Lt.(jg), USN

Bothne, Adoloph M., Boatswain, USN

Burford, William P., Lt. Comdr., USN

Christopher, Harald J., Ens., USNR, casualty of USS Nevada

Curtis, Ned B., Pharmacist’s Mate second class, USN

Daly, Edward Carlyle, Coxwain, USN, casualty of USS Downes

Darling, Willard D., Cpl., USMC

Davis, Frederick C., Ens., USNR, casualty of USS Nevada

Dickinson, Clarence E. Jr., Lt., USN

Douglas, C. E., Gunnery Sgt., USMC

Driskel, Joseph R., Corporal, USMC

Dunlap, Ernest H. Jr., Ens., USN

Edwards, John Perry, Ens., USNR

Etchell, George D., Shipfitter, USN

Fleming, W.D., Boatswain’s Mate first class, USN

Gombasy, L.G., Seaman second class, USN

Graham, Donald A., Aviation Machinist’s Mate first class, USN

Hailey, Thomas E., Sgt., USMC

Hansen, Alfred L., Chief Machinist’s Mate, USN

Huttenberg, Allen J., Ens., USNR

Isquith, Solomon S., Lt. Cmdr. USN

Jewel, Jesse D., Comdr.(MC), USN

Kauffman, Draper L., Lt., USNR

Larson, Nils R., Ens., USN

Ley, F. C. Jr., Fireman second class, USNR

McMurtry, Paul J., Boatswain’s Mate first class, USN

Mead, Harry R., Radioman second class, USN

Miller, Doris, Mess Attendant first class, USN 

Miller, Jim D., Lt.(jg), USN

Moore, Fred K., Seaman first class, USN, casualty of USS Arizona

Outerbridge, William W., Lt. Comdr., USN

Parker, William W., Seaman first class, USN

Peterson, Robert J., Radioman second class, USN

Pharris, Jackson C., Gunner, USN (upgraded to Medal of Honor)

Phillips, John S., Comdr. USN

Riggs, Cecil D., Lt. Comdr. (MC), USN

Robb, James W. Jr., Lt.(jg), USN

Roberts, William R., Radioman second class, USN

Ruth, Wesley H., Ens., USN

Singleton, Arnold, Ens., USN

Smith, Harold F., Boatswain’s Mate second class, USN

Snyder, J. L., Yeoman first class USN

Taussig, Joseph K. Jr., Ens., USN

Taylor, Thomas H., Ens., USN

Teaff, Perry L, Ens., USN

Thatcher, Albert C., Aviation Machinists Mate second class, USN

Thomas, Francis J., Lt. Comdr., USN

Thomas, Robert E. Jr., Ens., USN

Vaseen, John B., Fireman second class, USNR

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The Silver Star was awarded to:

Kiefer, Edwin H., Lt.(jg), USNR

Marshall, Theodore W., Lt., USNR

Owen, George T., Comdr., USN

Shapley, Alan, Maj., USMC

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The Navy and Marine Corps Medal was awarded posthumously to: 

Day, Francis D., Chief Watertender, USN, casualty of USS Oklahoma

Schmitt, Aloysius H., LTjg, CHC, USNR, casualty of USS Oklahoma

Wright, Paul R., Chief Watertender, USNR, casualty of USS Oklahoma

Note: The Awards listed are also complied at the website http://pearlharbor.org That site also has one of the most extensive searchable casualty listings available on the web. 

As we remember the attack on Pearl Harbor, or for that matter any battle we cannot reduce them to the number of ships, aircraft, tanks or equipment lost. Likewise when we talk the raw numbers of casualties the temptation is to treat them as impersonal statistics. However behind each of those numbers is a name, a man or woman with a life, family and friends who died in the service of their country. We must never forget that they are not just names.

The same is true today the of men and women who serve, most who will remain unknown to most Americans.

Please do not forget them.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Take Increased Devotion… Pearl Harbor at 75, a Personal Reflection

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I never will forget the day that I took a Navy launch from Naval Station Pearl Harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was Easter Sunday, March 26th 1978, the day before my 18th birthday and I was in Pearl Harbor as part of a Naval Junior ROTC Cadet Cruise. Cadets from my school sailed aboard the USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl, and remained there for a week until returning to San Diego aboard the USS Gray FF-1054.

I honestly don’t know how many young people ever have had that kind of adventure, but for me I know that those three weeks were profoundly important in who I am today, but the one that constantly reverberates in me is the visit to the Arizona Memorial. Back then there was no visitor center on Ford Island, nor was the USS Missouri moored where the USS Oklahoma was that fateful Sunday. The day was sunny with partly cloudy skies, the sunlight reflected on the placid waters of Pearl Harbor. As the launch, manned by Sailor’s in Dress Whites neared Ford Island the bridge like white memorial loomed ahead, the rusty barbette of the battleship’s “C” turret rose slightly out of the water aft of the memorial, and the mooring quay with the USS Arizona inscribed upon it glinted in the bright morning sunlight. To our rear cruisers and destroyers lined the piers of the Naval Station.

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Alighting from the launch I went aboard the memorial at the entry room and walked across the bridge and the assembly room before entering the shrine. As I walked slowly across the bridge I peered into the water below thinking about all the men still entombed in the wreck. Pausing in the shrine I read the names of the 1,177 men killed aboard Arizona that Sunday morning, one of those was the ship’s chaplain, Captain Thomas Kirkpatrick. It was a pivotal moment for me. I had begun to feel a call to the ministry but in that moment I was sure that I wanted to serve as a Navy Chaplain. I remember finding a post card that I had sent my grandparents from the USS Gray when we returned to San Diego, my words were “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think I am supposed to be a Navy Chaplain.” I laughed when I saw it because I was then serving as a Chaplain in the Army Reserve. Sadly, when my grandmother died in November 1996 I was deployed, and that simple postcard, my link with that part of my past was discarded by family members who did not think enough to read it, or if they did didn’t give enough of a damn about me to save it. I should have taken it when I had the chance, but sometimes I am too sentimental. 

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It took me a while to get there, my long strange trip included a 17 ½ year detour in the U.S. Army before I became a Navy Chaplain in February 1999.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the ground that was hallowed at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address. The wreck of the Arizona is also hallowed. Despite our best efforts we cannot consecrate it more than the men who served aboard her that day seventy-five years ago, but we can as Lincoln said so well 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.”

For me that means to continue to serve as a Chaplain in the Navy, never forgetting that the duty of a Chaplain is with his or her Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen, especially when they go in harm’s way.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Waiting for First Light: A Reflection on PTSD

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I just finished reading General Romeo Dallaire’s latest book, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Struggle with PTSD. Dallaire had been the commander of the UN Peacekeepers in Rwanda, men and women who were prevented from stopping genocide, and people who have been forever haunted by what they witnessed.

General Dallaire recounts a story of horror that never ended for him, and he details how difficult and traumatic coming home that neither appreciate nor understood what he had been through, including people in the military. I found so much in his story that was analogous to my own and in light of that I am going to begin writing my PTSD memoir.

It will be hard because I will have to write about things that are deeply traumatic and upsetting, especially how I was received and continue to be received by most of my fellow chaplains. Because I came and publicly discussed my issues with PTSD, the shattering of my faith in so many things, my wilderness experience of being an agnostic for two years, and the change in my faith since then, I experienced the rejection of my former church and many of my peers.

To many of my peers and Chaplain Corps superiors I am simply a broken Chaplain; and broken chaplains or for that matter broken ministers have no place and very few people who they can talk with. I remember my old Commodore at EOD Group Two, Captain Tom Sitsch ask me bluntly “Where does a chaplain go for help?” My answer to him was “not to other chaplains.” Sadly, he too was going through his own personal PTSD hell and with his life falling apart he committed suicide in January 2014.

General Dallaire recounts a similar experience, as like Chaplains, Generals and other senior leaders have no place to go, they like us are not supposed to break. General Dallaire wrote: “I received little support from my colleagues and peers; I received only a few messages from my sixty or so fellow generals – a couple of phone calls, and an e-mail from one old friend. The others appeared to be in two camps: those who were too busy to get in touch, and those who didn’t know what to say.” But I would also add, that there are those that do not want to know and others who actually turn their backs on men and women whose injury lies inside their brain, as well as some chaplains and ministers who seem to take a certain perverse joy in inflicting pain.

So pray for me if you do that, if not send some positive thoughts my direction.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Celebrating 20 Years as a Miscreant Priest 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood. July 7th 1996, it really is hard to believe that it has been that long, and this year it kind of snuck up on me. I had pretty much forgotten until I noticed an old friend from Camp LeJeune was wishing me well on it. If you are reading this Ray, thank you. 

Since Being ordained I have served in a lot of places as an Army and now Navy Chaplain, and I have served some of the most wonderful people ever, and in turn they have done more for me than I can ever imagine or repay. One of the things that a lot of people don’t understand is that the true joy in the priestly ministry is people, all kinds of people, regardless of who they are or what they believe. 

Over the years I have come to value that more than anything else. For me this is not about any kind of ecclesiastical power or desire for advancement. I do not desire to be a bishop, nor for that matter be in charge of anything. I prefer just to serve and care as I can, be with real people, and try as I might to show people God’s love by being real and caring for them. Now that doesn’t mean that I always do it well, I can be so stupid and insensitive sometimes, even when I am not trying to be. Judy tells me that it is because the male hormone causes brain damage. I won’t argue. 


Over the past twenty years I’ve have times of extreme faith, actually bordering on pious certitude bordering on arrogance. But I have also had doubts, very real doubts. In fact for almost two years after my tour in Iraq I can honestly say that at best I was an agnostic just praying that God existed. Eventually faith returned, and it has to be called faith, because it is not based on how much I think I know, but how little I do know. St. Anselm of Canterbury, the great Scholastic theologian described his task as “faith seeking understanding.” I used to think that way, but I don’t think that understanding the great mystery that is God is really possible, and that’s not a bad thing. I have faith in Jesus the Christ, I believe, and as one of the men Jesus encounters exclaimed, “I believe, help my unbelief.” 


I guess that is all part of the journey. When I look back at all of my time as a priest was my high point, it was my time in Iraq. In the midst of all chaos that I felt closest to God, even when I was struggling. As T.E. Lawrence wrote, “We were fond together because of the sweep of open places, the taste of the wide winds, the sunlight, and the hopes in which we worked. The morning freshness of the world-to-be intoxicated us. We were wrought up with ideas inexpressible and vaporous, but to be fought for…”  It was the richest time of my life, but also the most disappointing, personally and professionally. I found like Lawrence, that most people really don’t care about the Iraqis, and that most of my fellow clergy really didn’t care about me. No wonder Lawrence said, “the fringes of their deserts were strewn with broken faiths.” 

But all of that aside, despite everything, I have rediscovered faith, life, and joy in ministry. So at twenty years I am good, and hopefully I’ve got at last twenty more good years to serve God and the people of God, wherever they are and no matter what their faith or lack of faith is, and interestingly enough my idea of ministry has broadened. So I don’t think that the form of my future ministry will be in the traditional parish setting. That too is okay as I am still fond of the sweep of open places, and the ideas, often inexpressible and vaporous are still there to be fought for. 

So until tomorrow, have a great day, and as the wonderful and grace filled conclusion off the rite of penance says, “pray for me a sinner.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Past as Prologue 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am amazed a how good life can be even in the one experiences events that in one’s professional life could be devastating. I mean really, in our culture, even in the supposedly “spiritual” realm of faith, church, and religion; success and prosperity are the golden calf that many people believe is the key to happiness. Hell, massive ministries like that of “Lakewood Joel” Osteen, make massive amounts of money off of the tithes and offerings of well meaning people who buy into their “prosperity gospel” message. In fact that message is little different than greedy pyramid marketing schemes, but I digress…

I cannot believe how good I am doing after not being selected for Captain in the Navy Chaplain Corps. I wrote about that yesterday, but I think that I need to follow that up after doing some reflecting on life; the kind words, memories, and well wishes of friends from around the world, and my experiences with people yesterday, including other friends who were passed over on this promotion board, or in past years. 

Many of those thoughts came from people who I was their chaplain or happened to be there for them, and sometimes they remembered things that I had either forgotten, or that I had no knowledge of the impact that something that I said or did had on their life. That my friends is wonderful, and as I went through all of those kind words, thoughts and expressions of friendship I was both humbled and blessed. Apart from reading the comments of friends I pretty much disconnected myself from most of social media in order to clear my mind. 

As a result I have spent much of the past couple of days recalling the past and the many people who have helped make me what I am today and who in some way contributed to the success I have had, while pondering the still unwritten future. All of that has reminded me of the words of William Shakespeare, who wrote, “What’s past is prologue.” Those words are true, at least for me. All of my past, all of that tapestry of often disconcordent threads, is but prologue to what remains ahead of me. Orson Scott Card wrote, “The future is a hundred thousand threads, but the past is a fabric that can never be removed.”  

Frankly, that excites me, as a human being, as well as a Christian. I guess the fact that I was not selected for promotion has put that yet unwritten and unwoven future into proper perspective. I guess that experience has helped re-energize me and motivate me to move forward into that future. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Journey to Support Gay Rights

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned yesterday I was overjoyed when the Supreme Court of the United States legalized Marriage Equality for American citizens who are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Queer, and Transgender. That being said, there are still many inequities that people in the LGBTQ community face, and in many places that are movements to legislate laws which are little different than Jim Crow on homosexuals. Thus as a Christian, and as a Priest I will continue to lift up my voice in support of my friends in the LGBTQ community. That being said I think that it is important for my readers to know I got to the place where I have become an advocate for the rights of my friends in the LGBTQ community.

Frankly my journey has been a long strange trip. Most of my life I would have considered myself a conservative Christian and a career military officer, most of that as Pa chaplain. Generally people with similar backgrounds to me do not end up as advocates for Gays and Lesbians. But throughout my life and career I have had problems with the way other Christians and fellow military members treated Gays and Lesbians. Even in the days that I considered homosexual behavior to be sinful, I had a hard time condemning, ridiculing or supporting those who sought to harm homosexuals in any way, including fellow clergy, members of my former church or fellow officers or chaplains.

Now I know that there will vehemently disagree on what I believe and stand for, believe me I have been called everything but a white man by some people, including some that I used to count as friends. Likewise I have been threatened by others. But as I see it I have to stand up for what I believe and defend those whose civil rights are constantly under attack by people who not only condemn them in this world, but to everlasting damnation as well.

But this my friends is my long strange trip. It is what I believe with all my heart, and why I pray that the Supreme Court will legalize Gay marriage throughout this land. though I am not Gay, this matters to me. I have too many Gay and Lesbian friends who have endured hellish persecution for people who call themselves Christians and claim to be defending Christian values when they forget that the most important part of the Christian life is to love, love even your enemies, both real and imagined. But I digress…here is my journey…

I have been in the military coming up on 34 years between the Army and the Navy. That is a long time. When I enlisted and through the first two thirds of my career I can safely say that I fell rather strongly on the conservative-Christian side of the social issues debates. Over the years, especially the last seven since I returned a changed many from my time in Iraq, I have evolved significantly on most of these issues where although I while consider myself to be rather moderate I now fall decidedly on the liberal side of most social issues.

A lot of this has to do with the attitudes that I saw in churches that I was associated. Many people in my former denominations endorsed policies of the Christian Dominionist or Reconstruction movements, that basically upended First and Fourteenth Amendment protections and if enacted would basically turn the country into a theocracy. I have written about those things time and time again so I won’t elaborate on them now.

It was not only the policies, it was the attitude towards the LGBT community that really bothered me. For some reason it seemed that to many of my friends and colleagues that homosexuality was the only unforgivable sin, and not only that that homosexuals were somehow less than human and not entitled to the same rights as any other American citizen. Not only that they were blamed for every economic, social, foreign policy or natural disaster. Hurricane, blame the gays. Stock market crash, blame the gays, the 9-11 attacks, God’s judgment on the United States because of the gays. You name it, blame the gays, and that my friends still happens every day.

But my journey to accepting and fighting for Gays and Lesbians began a lot earlier.

When I first enlisted in the Army in 1981 it was not uncommon for gay slurs to be hurled at soldiers as a matter of course, especially at young men who did not appear manly enough or women who wouldn’t put out sexually when it was demanded of the. They were queers, fags, dykes and worse. There is a scene in the movie Full Metal Jacket where R. Lee Ermey, a man who actually was a Marine Corps Drill Instructor berates one of his recruits:

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Where the hell are you from anyway, private?

Private Cowboy: Sir, Texas, sir.

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Holy dog shit! Texas? Only steers and queers come from Texas, Private Cowboy, and you don’t look much like a steer to me, so that kinda narrows it down. Do you suck dicks?

Private Cowboy: Sir, no, sir!

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Are you a peter puffer?

Private Cowboy: Sir, no, sir!

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: I bet you’re the kind of guy who would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I’ll be watching you!

The sad thing is that such behavior was still common even in the 1990s and though not nearly so pervasive still happened on occasion in after the 9-11 attacks. But those taunts really bothered me and when I was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer in 1983 I met gays in my officer training, they were closeted but they were targets. When I served as a company commander in 1985-1986 I had a number of gays and lesbians in my unit. As I mentioned before they were among my best and most trustworthy soldiers, always going the extra mile.

Meanwhile the unit had the highest drug positive rate in Europe when I took command and had so many real disciplinary and criminal cases on the docket I was told by the Group Commander to “clean that company up.” But when I got down to It I realized that I was so overwhelmed with the real criminals that I didn’t want to harass or prosecute my best soldiers, including those gays and lesbians. That was a watershed. While other commanders sought out gays in order to prosecute them and throw them out of the military I was protecting and promoting them, not because they were gay, but because they were excellent soldiers.

When I went to my next assignment as a personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences discharges of trainees for being gay was common. I know because I had to sign off on every discharge packet before it was sent for approval. Since we had five to seven thousand students at any time, both officers and enlisted I did not know the details of most of the stories nor meet the individuals concerned.

However, in 1987 I was given the responsibility of helping soldiers diagnosed as HIV positive with their career options. I also helped officers from the Army Medical Department draft the Army’s policies for those infected with the AIDS virus. At the time many of the Christians that I went to church with believed the myths and lies being promoted by leading Evangelicals about AIDS and displayed a tremendous amount of distain and even hatred towards gays and others infected or dying of that disease. I was dumbfounded that people who preached the love of God had neither compassion nor empathy for those suffering.

I left active duty to attend seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There I knew a few closeted homosexuals and lesbians who had deep faith in Jesus, were outstanding students and potentially outstanding pastors or chaplains but who had to remain closeted. After I graduated when I was going through my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency one of the men I graduate with did a one unit internship. During that time he made the agonizing decision to come out as Gay. For him there was much to lose, but his example was inspiring and I still stay in touch with him. I also met a chaplain from the Metropolitan Community Church who had been raised in a Black Pentecostal church. He was an amazing and compassionate minister.

In the hospital setting I worked with a lot of homosexuals, of which many were Christians who suffered in their churches as their pastors and friends railed against homosexuals. When I served as the installation chaplain of an Army base I hired an organist who was gay. He worked for the National Guard as a civilian and was a Log Cabin Republican. He grew up in a very conservative church and though he had deep faith was not welcome in most civilian churches. At the time I was a fairly new  in a very conservative denomination and my bishops held that giving communion to Gays was forbidden, in fact they called it a sin. However, when he presented himself for communion, knowing his faith I took the advice of a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran chaplain, don’t ask, just trust the grace of God in the Sacrament. That became my model of ministry from then on. I never mentioned it to my bishop. Thankfully he never asked or I would have had to be honest. This encounter brought more homosexuals to the chapel, and the chapel community which was composed mainly of military retirees and National Guard personnel welcomed them.

In civilian churches of my old denominations I knew Gays and Lesbians who struggled and tried to do everything they could to change, but no-matter how hard they tried, how hard they prayed, how many times well-meaning friends attempted to cast out their demons in rituals similar to exorcisms they struggled and suffered. Most eventually drifted away because they knew that they would not be accepted.  I have had friends in church whose children came out as gay or lesbian. Some loved and accepted them, others turned them away. Judy and I have always done what we can to support them as we would the children of any friend.

That understanding of God’s grace as well as what I believed were the fundamental Constitutional and human rights of Gays and Lesbians brought me to where I am today.

I know that a lot of conservative Christians have and will condemn me for these beliefs and actions, but for me honesty, integrity, empathy and love have to take precedence over hate, blame and prejudice, even when that prejudice is clothed in the words or faith and righteousness. I just figure that once we begin to use religion to condemn others and bolster our own political power that we are no better than people like Al Qaeda, ISIL or the Taliban. We are no better than the Inquisitors or others who destroyed cities and massacred people, even other Christians because they didn’t believe the right way.

I believe that it is just a small step from hateful thoughts and words to actions that end up in genocide. The “German Christians” of the Nazi era demonstrated that to a fine degree. The authors of the Bethel Confession, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer who protested the German Christian alliance with the Nazis noting:

“every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.

That I believe with all my heart and that is why I will support and fight for the rights of the LGBT community in order to ensure that they have the same rights and privileges of any citizen. Otherwise what does the rule of law mean? What does the Constitution mean? What does that sentence in the Declaration of Independence that:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” 

Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1854 concerning the rights of Blacks, something that is certainly applicable as well to homosexuals: “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” 

That my friends, especially my conservative Christian friends who do not understand why I would speak up for the LGBT community, is why I do it. So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I state today: “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Staying in the Game

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I like hard questions and hard cases. My life has been quite interesting and that includes my faith journey as a Christian and human being. It is funny that in my life I have as I have grown older begun to appreciate those that do not believe and to rather distrust those who proclaim their religious faith with absolute certitude, especially when hard questions are asked. As I get older I realize just how precious the freedom to ask questions, to seek answers and to confront the faithful really is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I guess that is why I stay in the game.

Peace

Padre Steve

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