Category Archives: Religion

Ghosted by a Former Band of Brothers


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I read an article yesterday by a pastor who experienced a phenomenon known as ghosting. This is where people who once were friends, maybe even close friends suddenly disappear from your life by silently shunning you. When I read his experiences I could relate and the article brought back painful memories of when it happened to me and for the first time I am going to really open up about what happened to me. I have to do it because I have held in the rejection for years, mostly because the people involved never gave me a chance to deal with them in person about what they did. But that is the dishonorable and cowardly thing about ghosting; it leaves people with wounds that they are unable to address, and it causes them to be more distrustful of others, as well as more guarded and careful about entering into new relationships. 

When supposed Christian friends do it to people they often leave the church and never come back. 

In the past I have mentioned what happened to me after Iraq and in the aftermath of being thrown out of a church I had served as a Priest for 14 years in rather oblique ways; ways that allowed people an easy out. But today I really feel the need to open up about it and mention some of the people by their first names. I won’t mention their last names because I don’t want people who don’t know them, or are their current friends to write them off. But I need to mention the first names just in case any of them end up reading this they will recognize themselves and perhaps have an attack of conscience whether they want to have anything to do with me or not. I figure that doing this will remove any ambiguity about who I mean and not allow them any wiggle room to think that maybe they did nothing wrong. If I really wanted to be a jerk I would share their last names, but that’s not my intention, I just want them to think of the consequences of their actions, especially since most are still in some for of ministry. 

Some people may wonder why this and why now? That is a good question. Some people might think I’m being petty or harsh, and maybe even unforgiving by writing this, but truthfully it’s the only way for the truth to be told and maybe for them to wake up and realize that relationships matter. 

In the 14 years I spent as a Priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church I built what I thought were lifelong friendships with many of our fellow chaplains. We enjoyed our times together, frequently talked by phone or corresponded in other ways, sharing our faith, our struggles, discussing theology, ministry, and the military. We called ourselves a band of brothers. 

My closest friend was a Priest named Bill. We entered the church and were ordained about the same time and for years I considered him my closest friend and confidant. There were others in that early group, Ken, Jeff, Jon, Greg, John, Phil, Bob, Steve, as well as others, including Stu, and David, but we were kind of the core. Over the years others came along, and some for whatever reason went their separate ways but even then, most of us tried to keep in contact. 

For me that began to change after I returned from Iraq. I have to admit that I had changed in the course of my time there but I never thought I would be ghosted by so many of them in the aftermath of Iraq and after I was told to leave the church in 2010. Even when I left, most said that we would still be friends and stay in contact. Maybe I expected too much by thinking that the visits, correspondence, and phone calls would continue. Maybe I expected too much by thinking that they would be there for me when I needed them, after all we claimed to be a band of brothers. But words are cheap, simply saying that you are a band of brothers doesn’t mean that you are. 

Within two years of my departure I discovered that phone calls and emails went unreturned, and even though I lived and worked just a few miles from Bill and Ken for three years while I was stationed at Camp LeJeune without Judy, I almost never saw them. I’d ask if we could meet but be told that they were too busy. I haven’t heard from either since I came back to Norfolk in August 2013. Others simply never returned my calls, one of which surprised and saddened me more than most. Thanks Jeff. 

Of the others a couple remain as Facebook friends but I seldom have any meaningful contact with them. Of all of them, only David, a fellow Iraq vet who has gone through similar PTSD issues and much worse physical issues remains in regular contact. We had a wonderful talk Friday night. He’s just finished his first year in medical school and is dealing with a teenage son who is in a lot of trouble. David is a rare soul and I love him, we can talk about anything, share anything, and be absolutely transparent with each other. Of the band of brothers, he is still my brother. 

The most hurtful losses were Bill and Jeff who simply disappeared from my life, and Stu who I had known longer than any of them. Stu had left the church to become a Roman Catholic Priest but he had nothing but condemnation for my announcement of my departure. I haven’t heard from him since he blasted me and called me disloyal to the bishop who threw me out after defending myself on my blog. By the way, speaking of loyalty the Bishop got himself thrown out for going behind the back of his fellow bishops by trying to abscond with all the military chaplains to another denomination. 

I do miss them and I hope that they will read this article if nothing else so they don’t do what they did to me to anyone else. Likewise, while what they did hurts I would not turn any of them away if they wanted to get back together. Although I am still hurt and angry I cannot hate them, and I only wish the best for them. But I think what they did was shameful and I hope that they never do it to anyone else.

On a different level what they did is not uncommon in the church. Christians tend to be the worst advertisement for Christ and after watching the antics of Christians since I returned from Iraq I don’t plan to darken the door of a church when I retire from the Navy Chaplain Corps. I find my less than religious friends to be far more reliable and caring than most of the Christians that I know. 

Now I am certainly not indicting all Christians in this post, or all Priests, chaplains, or ministers. There are many who would never do such a thing, but I don’t know a lot of them. 

So anyway, I know I am not alone. This form of silent shunning and shaming is all too common and not just in the church, but I would say that the damage inflicted by Christians is worse than others. Today I took the opportunity to publicly let these men how badly they wounded me because none of them gave me the opportunity in private. If people think that is inappropriate for me to do then fine, I’ll live with it but now I can finally let it go because after years of holding it in I have at last said my peace and I’m done with it. 

As difficult as the article was to read, and this to write, it has brought me closer to closure and hopefully maybe will open up a chance for reconciliation if any of them desire. That however is up to them. 

I would love to discuss the subject over a beer with any of those involved, but today I needed to finally let it out. 

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, Religion, remembering friends

Marching Backwards Again: the Scopes Monkey Trial at 82

Scopes 1 newspaper Bethlehem Globe July 10 1925.gif

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Eighty-two years ago today a high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee was convicted of teaching the theory of Evolution and fined $100 in defiance of The Butler Act, a state law written by Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association.

The text of the law stated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

martins-booth-in-dayton

It was a show trial that pitted a prosecutorial team led by proponents of Butler’s legislation and headed by William Jennings Bryan, a former Secretary of State and four-time Presidential Candidate against Scopes, who was defended by the renowned attorney Clarence Darrow. Though Bryant “won” the trial the result was not to his satisfaction and proved embarrassing to him and his cause. The trial judge refused to admit scientists and scholars as witnesses for the defense but Darrow, despite the “defeat” was the clear winner.

scopes1

Scopes-6

William Jennings Bryan (above) Clarence Darrow (below)

Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of Bryan at the trial:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

I find it interesting that 82 years later the Republican Party has been hijacked by Christian Fundamentalists like Butler and Bryant. This was shown in a poll last week in which over half of the GOP respondents thought that college education was a bad thing and harmful for the country and propose bills that devastate education budgets, scientific studies, and promote an agenda that is harmful to the planet that we live on. Ignorance is forever busy.

Then of course the creationist descendants of Butler and Bryant are taking the State of Kentucky for all the money that they can with their massive Noah’s Ark Creation Museum paid for in part by taxpayer dollars. With the museum failing the group is doing its best to avoid paying taxes on the property by selling it to their non-profit entity for $10.

Such people claim to love God, but they manifestly hate his creation, including people God created who don’t believe like them. Scopes has passed into history but it lingers today.

Spencer Tracy, who played the fictional version of Darrow in the movie Inherit the Wind gave a speech in that movie which should be required reading for anyone:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, movies, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

If Christ was Here Today… 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On this Sunday I want to impart a short thought. The great American humorist Mark Twain once noted “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.” 

Last week I preached about separation of church and state at my chapel and pretty much said the same thing. One think I noted was that if I wasn’t already a Christian that nothing I see in American Christianity could ever convince me to become a Christian. 

The reality is that  people are fleeing the church in record numbers and non-believers don’t even want to darken the door and I don’t blame them. The illusion of packed out mega-churches betrays the reality that if things continue apace that within a generation the American church of all denominations will be as bad off as the state churches of Europe which are empty, and no amount of the craven lust for political power of those who call themselves “evangelical” or “conservative” Christians will change that, instead it will make it worse. 

Big name preachers rush to the side of a President who has measured them and found that by doing very little for them except say what they want to hear, that they will prostitute themselves to gain political power. George Truett, who served as Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, and President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote something that should serve as a warning to such people: 

“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.”

But it seems we don’t learn and the Millenials, as well as others, particularly combat vets like me, have looked behind the purple curtain of the Church’ Oz and found that Jesus isn’t there. What comes to mind when most people are asked to describe the Church? Let’s check the polls of evangelical pollster George Barna which have been corroborated time after time by Pew, Gallup, and other polls. 

These polls find people are leaving Christian churches of all denominations in droves and that non-believers want nothing to do with the church. For most of these people it is not about God or Jesus, or even the Bible. It is due to the lack of love, care, compassion exhibited by Christians and the institutional corruption, lack of transparency, double standards and political machinations of churches over people that are not of their faith or under their institutional control. The surveys conducted by Christian pollsters like George Barna bear this out. When asked what words or phrases “best describe Christianity” the top response of 16-29 years olds was “anti-homosexual” while 91% of all non-Christians surveyed said this was the first word as it was for 80% of Christians in the survey. Here are those words that describe Christians. Personally I don’t like them but it is what it is.

Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;

Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it

Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts

Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality.

Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda

That is the future and honestly I think that it is too late to turn this around and it is not the fault of academics, liberals, homosexuals, scientists, educators, or the media. It is the fault of Christians who love power, position, and prosperity more than they love people; the same people that Jesus supposedly died and rose again to save. In fact many Christians spend so much of their time hating and preaching against people they have never even met that and allying themselves with the government to ensure that they can discriminate against LGBTQ people, women, Muslims, and a host of others solely based on their interpretation of cherry-picked Bible verses that no one listens to them anymore. 

The great American patriot, free thinker, and atheist Robert Ingersoll wrote something that goes to the heart of the matter: “Christians tell me that they love their enemies, and yet all I ask is—not that they love their enemies, not that they love their friends even, but that they treat those who differ from them, with simple fairness.” 

I cannot agree more with him. Ingersoll saw beyond that purple veils over a hundred years ago, and he asks a question that the purloined preachers of the American church have completely forgotten. If we want to attract people to Jesus we have to treat them with simple fairness and love, if we can’t do that then we forfeit all that we preach about Jesus and we shall be rightfully dmaned. 

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Your Actions Speak so Loud… A Meditation on Faith and Life


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back when I was in high school sophomore I made a dumb decision to try to play football. I should have stayed with baseball, but football was cool, and despite the fact that I was too small the be competitive as a lineman and too slow and unskilled to be a good running back, receiver, or defensive back, and not strong enough to be a solid linebacker I went out for our sophomore team. I showed up for ever practice but I really didn’t have the instincts needed to play the game, and no-matter how much I showed up for practice I didn’t get to play until our line coach, Duke Pasquini, nailed me. 

When I complained that he wasn’t playing me after we lost a big game by an embarrassing score he told me “Steve, your actions speak so loud I can’t hear a word you are saying.” That infuriated me so I yelled and him and he said “I can’t hear you.” Eventually after a minute or so of this back and forth his words sunk in. I went out to practice that day mad as hell, and in a pass rush drill I got around a player who I had never beat before and tackled the coach. As we got up he said “now I can hear you.” Now I still wasn’t very good, but I did get a few plays in during each of our last three games and even got in on a couple of tackles. After the season we had our team banquet where to my surprise our coaches and players named me the most inspirational player. That is usually an honor reserved to people who are dying or injured who inspire others by overcoming or enduring their hardships. Honestly, in my case I think it was because I was so bad and untalented that nobody thought I would even make the team, and that they were surprised I didn’t give up and that I learned to do more than show up expecting that showing up would be enough to get me into the game. That year I learned that my heart, soul, mind, and body had to be into the game. That was something that Coach Pasquini taught me, and it is something that I have done my best to apply to the rest of my life, including my spiritual life.

When I was attending Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in the late 1980s and early 1990s I began a journey to the catholic faith. One of my favorite theologians and authors was Hans Kung, one of the great theologians to come out of the Vatican II era. Kung once wrote something that really was at the heart of what Coach Pasquini t me. Kung wrote: “In the last resort, a love of God without love of humanity is no love at all.” 

I have found that there are many people who profess a love of God but who hate humanity. They despise their neighbors, crush the poor, and strive to ensure that they are as powerful politically, socially, and economically as they can be. They show up at church, they say all the right prayers, and hold the doctrines of their denominations as tight as a boa constrictor would hold its prey and as perfectly as an elite Soviet era figure skate could do a triple axel double toe loop combination, but they hate their neighbors. 

Of course they would never admit to that, but their actions speak louder than their words. Sadly, the Jesus they profess to believe in would not be welcome in their circles. He hung out with the wrong crowds, including women, gentiles, sinners, and tax collectors, he preached about them in the synagogue, and he even got angry once in a while to the point of flipping the tables of the money changers at the entrance of the Temple. When a rich young man asked him what he needed to do to get to heaven, Jesus asked him what about the commandments. The man said that he had followed them his whole life. Jesus then told him that he needed to give all his stuff away to the poor and follow him. The man was sad, because he, like the majority of American Christians liked his stuff better than the risk of following Jesus. 

Every day I learn more of what it is to be an incarnational Christian, I that I try to let God’s love for others influence how I treat them. Honestly, I don’t do it as well as I should. I’m basically a Mendoza Line Christian trying to stay in the game, but that makes me work harder. 

So until tomorrow, may we all try to let our actions speak louder than our preaching. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Banality of Evil: Terrorism in Manchester


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another day and another heinous terrorist attack on people attending a concern in Manchester, England. Over twenty were killed and many more wounded in the attack which also left the terrorist dead. Among the victims were young children, innocent by any standard.

Terrorists of all kinds share a common hatred for human beings who are not like them, people for whom they blame their condition on. It has been so since people discovered that terror, committed in the name of a religion or ideology either by state or non-state actors works. Monday’s attack by a twenty-two year old Salman Abedi who according to neighbors dressed “in traditional Islamic dress.” The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack but at present little is known about Abedi other that he was born and raised in Britain and might be of Lydian descent. His actual connections to ISIS are unknown. It appears that he deployed an Improvised Explosive Device that was loaded with explosives as well as nails, metal scraps, and screws which made it a perfect anti-personnel weapon which he set off at a time guaranteed to cause maximum casualties. His act, as are all terrorist attacks aimed at innocent non-combatants can only be described as evil. The fact that it appears to be done in the name of his Islamic God does make it any less so. It was an act of evil. But the problem is that his act will inspire other Islamists to conduct similar attacks and provide grist to those who want to blame all Muslims for the attack, provoking violence against innocent Muslims who detest and oppose the kind of attack made by Abedi. Th Islamic State claim of responsibility included the statement that the attack “was in revenge for Allah’s religion, in an endeavor to terrorize the [infidels], and in response to their transgressions against the lands of the Muslims.” In the United States fundamentalist Christian extremist Theodore Shoebat said “he feels no sympathy for these people. The people who died, the people who were injured… I really don’t care. The types of people who go to these concerts are the same people responsible for the degeneracy that you see in society…” In other words the murder of children is just as fine to self-proclaimed Christian Shoebat as it is to ISIS. Both would have fit in well with the Nazi troops who killed Jews by the millions and killed innocent children up close and personal. They are all evil and they all think that they are the righteous. 

However, it doesn’t have to be this way as historian Laurence Rees notes, we do not need to succumb to the bloodlust of revenge and retaliation. We can seek justice without victimizing other innocent people. We do not have to give in to what Hannah Arendt referred to as the banality of evil.” We have the choice as individuals as how to behave towards our fellow human beings. Rees noted: “…human behavior is fragile and unpredictable and often at the mercy of the situation. Every individual still, of course, has a choice as to how to behave, it’s just that for many people the situation is the key determinate in that choice.” The fact is that we cannot allow the situation to determine what is right and wrong in how we respond to terror and in doing so condemn the innocent along with the guilty. 

Anyone knows me knows that all terrorism is evil regardless of its motivation. Over the years I have spoken out against all types of terrorism and that I have no sympathy or desire no mercy be shown to those who commit or sponsor it, but at the same time I do not believe that we should allow fear and hatred to cause us to seek retribution or revenge upon innocent people simply because they share a common racial, religious, or national origin of the guilty. To do so makes us no different than those who kill children at a concert simply because they live in a country opposed to ISIS, or because they or their ancestors belong to a country, religion, or race that we despise or believe are less than human. 

When will we ever learn?

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under News and current events, Religion, terrorism

The Christian Choice: The Idolatrous Worship of Power or Stand in Favor of the Weak

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the most frightening things to me as a historian who happens of claim to be a Christian is the propensity for the Church and its leaders to be attracted to the worship of power and all of its folly. This has been the case since Constantine made Christianity the State religion of the Roman Empire. Leaders of the church in every place and clime as well as almost every denomination have cozied up to rulers in the pursuit of power almost always to the detriment the Church and sometimes their nation. The hierarchies of different churches were in the forefront of the extermination of supposed “heretics,” the persecution of non-state favored religions, the slave trade, the conquest, subjugation, and extermination of indigenous peoples in the Americas, Africa, parts of Asia; they were often the supporters of disastrous wars, and at home used their place of power to wealthy beyond all measure.

Conversely, on the occasions where the Church and its leaders have advocated for the poor, the marginalized, and others who had no earthly power it lead to advances in human rights and liberty. The abolition of slavery in Great Britain was led by William Wilberforce against heated opposition in Parliament and even the Church of England that spanned decades. During the period of the Industrial Revolution, some churches and Christians made a determined effort to end child labor, support workers’ rights, and advocate for the poor, but many others feasted upon the wealth that their rich benefactors lavished upon them and remained silent. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other African American church leaders helped lead the Civil Rights movement and were joined by some white religious leaders, but many others, including men who were early leaders of the Christian Right opposed the Civil rights movement and used their pulpits to advocate for segregation. Many other just remained silent, just as their forbears had from Constantine one. Silence and the acquiescence to injustice has been a hallmark of the Christian church.

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw the disastrous effects of the German church’s subservience to the Nazi regime and before that to the Kaiser. He wrote:

“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.”

Sophie Scholl (Center)

Bonhoeffer spoke those words in a 1934 sermon, just a bit over a year following the Nazi takeover as Hitler was still consolidating his power and before he and his regime began their war of conquest and extermination. Some German Christians did take the chance to stand up for those oppressed by the Nazis, both in Germany in in the areas the Nazis conquered. Many of those who did would pay for their opposition with either their freedom or their lives, but most of the church was silent. One of the young Christians who opposed the Nazis was Sophie Scholl, a 22 year old student at the University of Munich. She and a number of fellow students formed a group called the White Rose to distribute anti-Nazi materials and to speak out against the crimes of the regime. She wanted those Christians of her day that silence was not an option. She wrote:

“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, honor, 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.”

The same is true today in the United States. The vast majority of Evangelical Christians who support the policies of the Trump presidency in order to be at the table of temporal power have cast the church into the pigsty of lies and polices that crush the lives of people who have no power and mock the words of Jesus.

There is a choice to be made by anyone who claims the mantle of Jesus the Christ or claims to follow him. Will we do better than our ancestors or will we to silently slide down the road to perdition?

With that I will end for the day. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The “Chosen People” of the Confederacy and the Mission to Advance Slavery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Another in my series dealing with aspects of Black history in the United States which is in every bit a part of American history as any other historical narrative about our nation. One thing that constantly amazes me is the way that some people, in fact many people, including the School Board of the State of Texas go out of their way to minimize the real and tragically crime against humanity that American slavery represented. Like many of the proponents of the whitewashing of slavery out of school textbooks, many of the most vehement supporters of the institution of slavery and its supposed Divine mandate were Christian churches, preachers, and writers. They were in the forefront of the secession movement and at the beginning of the Civil War bragged about how “God was on their side.” One again this is not an easy read if you take your Christian faith seriously, and it has direct application in how american Christians treat other despised races, ethnic groups, religions, and lifestyles today.

So have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

OTCauction

 

“Lo! Suddenly, to the amazement of the world a mighty kingdom arose…. [of strictly providential Divine origin….The One like the Son of Man has appeared in the ride of the Confederate States.” Reverend William Seat 1862 [1]

Perhaps more than anything, the denominational splits helped prepare the Southern people as well as clergy for secession and war. They set precedent by which Southerners left established national organizations. When secession came, “the majority of young Protestant preachers were already primed by their respective church traditions to regard the possibilities of political separation from the United States without undue anxiety.” [2]

One of the most powerful ideological tools since the days of the ancients has been the linkage of religion to the state. While religion has always been a driving force in American life since the days of the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially in the belief about the destiny of the nation as God’s “Chosen People,” it was in the South where the old Puritan beliefs took firm root in culture, society, politics and the ideology which justified slavery and became indelibly linked to Southern nationalism. “Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.” [3]

Religion and the churches “supplied the overarching framework for southern nationalism. As Confederates cast themselves as God’s chosen people.” [4]  the defense of slavery was a major part of their mission. Southern clergymen had to find a balance between the two most important parts of their political and religious identity, evangelicalism and republicanism. Since these concepts could mean different things to different people Southern clergy and politicians had to find a way to combine the two. Depending on the interpreter “republicanism and evangelicalism could be reactionary or progressive in implication, elitist or democratic.” [5] This can be seen in how Northern and Southern evangelicals supported abolition or the institution of slavery.

A group of 154 clergymen calling themselves “The Clergy of the South” “warned the world’s Christians that the North was perpetuating a plot of “interference with the plans of Divine Providence.” [6] A Tennessee pastor bluntly stated in 1861 that “In all contests between nations God espouses the cause of the Righteous and makes it his own….The institution of slavery according to the Bible is right. Therefore in the contest between the North and the South, He will espouse the cause of the South and make it his own.” [7]

The effect of such discourse on leaders as well as individuals was to unify the struggle as something that linked the nation to God, and God’s purposes to the nation identifying both as being the instruments of God’s Will and Divine Providence. As such, for Southern preachers to be successful agents of the state, the “key to their success as the foundation of a hegemonic ideology lay in making” [8] evangelicalism and republicanism to seem to be both elitist and democratic at the same time.  This resulted in a need to convince the “Southern people to acknowledge God’s authority was bound up with a legitimization of both clerical and civil rulers. Christian humility became identified with social and political deference as the clergy urged submission to both God and Jefferson Davis.” [9]

“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable… The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.” [10]

jackson-prayer

This theology also motivated men like the convinced hard line Calvinist-Presbyterian, General Stonewall Jackson on the battlefield. Jackson’s brutal, Old Testament understanding of the war caused him to murmur: “No quarter to the violators of our homes and firesides,” and when someone deplored the necessity of destroying so many brave men, he exclaimed: “No, shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave.” [11] He told Richard Ewell after that General order his men not to fire on a Union officer galloping on a white horse during the Valley campaign, “Never do such a thing again, General Ewell. This is no ordinary war. The brave Federal officers are the very kind that must be killed. Shoot the brave officers and the cowards will run away with their men with them.” [12]

For Southerner’s, both lay and clergy alike “Slavery became in secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South….The Confederates were fighting a just war not only because they were, in the traditional framework of just war theory, defending themselves against invasion, they were struggling to carry out God’s designs for a heathen race.” [13]

From “the beginning of the war southern churches of all sorts with few exceptions promoted the cause militant” [14] and supported war efforts.  The early military victories of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the victories of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley   were celebrated as “providential validations of the cause that could not fail…” Texas Methodist minister William Seat wrote: “Never surely since the Wars of God’s ancient people has there been such a remarkable and uniform success against tremendous odds. The explanation is found in the fact that the Lord goes forth to fight against the coercion by foes of his particular people. Thus it has been and thus it will be to the end of the War.”  [15]

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This brought about a intertwining of church and state authority, a veritable understanding of theocracy as “The need for the southern people to acknowledge God’s authority was bound up with a legitimation of the authority of clerical and civil rulers. Christian humility became identified with social and political deference to both God and Jefferson Davis.” [16]

Jefferson Davis and other leaders helped bolster this belief:

“In his repeated calls for God’s aid and in his declaration of national days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer on nine occasions throughout the war, Jefferson Davis similarly acknowledged the need for a larger scope of legitimization. Nationhood had to be tied to higher ends. The South, it seemed, could not just be politically independent; it wanted to believe it was divinely chosen.” [17]

Davis’s actions likewise bolstered his support and the support for the war among the clergy. A clergyman urged his congregation that the people of the South needed to relearn “the virtue of reverence – and the lesson of respecting, obeying, and honoring authority, for authority’s sake.” [18]

leonidas-polk

Bishop Leonidas Polk

Confederate clergymen not only were spokesmen and supporters of slavery, secession and independence, but many also shed their clerical robes and put on Confederate Gray as soldiers, officers and even generals fighting for the Confederacy. Bishop Leonidas Polk, the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, who had been a classmate of Jefferson Davis at West Point was commissioned as a Major General and appointed to command the troops in the Mississippi Valley. Polk did not resign his ecclesiastical office, and “Northerners expressed horror at such sacrilege, but Southerners were delighted with this transfer from the Army of the Lord.” [19] Lee’s chief of Artillery Brigadier General Nelson Pendleton was also an academy graduate and an Episcopal Priest.

Southern churches were supremely active in the war effort. Churches contributed to the Confederate cause through donations of “everything from pew cushions to brass bells, Southern churches gave direct material aid to the cause. Among all the institutions in Southern life, perhaps the church most faithfully served the Confederate Army and nation.” [20] Likewise, many Southern ministers were not content to remain on the sidelines in the war and “not only proclaimed the glory of their role in creating the war but also but also went off to battle with the military in an attempt to add to their glory.” [21]

Sadly, the denominational rifts persisted until well into the twentieth century. The Presbyterians and Methodists both eventually reunited but the Baptists did not, and eventually “regional isolation, war bitterness, and differing emphasis in theology created chasms by the end of the century which leaders of an earlier generation could not have contemplated.” [22]  The Southern Baptist Convention is now the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and many of its preachers are active in often-divisive conservative social and political causes. The denomination that it split from, the American Baptist Convention, though much smaller remains a diverse collection of conservative and progressive local churches. Some of these are still in the forefront of the modern civil rights movement, including voting rights, women’s rights and LGBT issues, all of which find some degree of opposition in the Southern Baptist Convention.

But the religious dimensions were far bigger than denominational disagreements about slavery; religion became one of the bedrocks of Confederate nationalism. The Great Seal of the Confederacy had as its motto the Latin words Deo Vindice, which can be translated “With God as our Champion” or “Under God [Our] Vindicator.” The issue was bigger than independence itself; it was intensely theological. Secession “became an act of purification, a separation from the pollutions of decaying northern society, that “monstrous mass of moral disease,” as the Mobile Evening News so vividly described it.” [23]

The arguments found their way into the textbooks used in schools throughout the Confederacy. “The First Reader, For Southern Schools assured its young pupils that “God wills that some men should be slaves, and some masters.” For older children, Mrs. Miranda Moore’s best-selling Geographic Reader included a detailed proslavery history of the United States that explained how northerners had gone “mad” on the subject of abolitionism.” [24] The seeds of future ideological battles were being planted in the hearts of white southern children by radically religious ideologues, just as they are today in the Madrassas of the Middle East.

While the various theological and ideological debates played out and fueled the fires of passion that brought about the war, they also provided great motivation to their advocates.  This was true especially to Confederates during the war, that their cause was righteous. While this fueled the passion of the true believers, other very real world decisions and events in terms of politics, law and lawlessness, further inflamed passions.

Notes

[1] Ibid. Daly When Slavery was called Freedom p.147

[2] Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 p.67

[3] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.27

[4] Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War pp.66-67

[5] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32

[6] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom  p.145

[7] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.138

[8] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32

[9] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.33

[10] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.29

[11] Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.129

[12] Davis, Burke They Called Him Stonewall: A Life of T.J. Jackson CSA Random House, New York 1954 and 2000 p.192

[13] Ibid. Faust, The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.60

[14] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 pp.245-246

[15] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom pp.145 and 147

[16] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.26

[17] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.33

[18] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32

[19] Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.87

[20] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.246

[21] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.142

[22] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage pp.392-393

[23] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.30

[24] Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.62

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