Category Archives: Religion

Accused and Threatened by a Christian Trump Cultist

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Saul Steinberg wrote:

“Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.” 

Last night I watched what turned out to be an magnificent MLB All Star Game. I had a very good day going into it and anticipated it with the same glorious expectations that I have done since the 1970 All Star Game. For me the MLB All Star Game is an event with nearly religious significance. Baseball is a game that helps me connect spiritually with God as well as exhibits some of the best traits of what until now has defined the United States, as reflected in the words of Steinberg.

For me that was comforting and until last night Saul Steinberg’s words comforted me and allowed me to believe a myth about the inherent goodness of America. Despite our flaws, our mistakes, and yes, even many malevolent policies I still believed that we are basically good people. I don’t think that I believe that anymore, even as I still believe that most Americans want to be good people. We like to think that we are the good guys.

As the game went on I developed a terrible headache and I began to become incredibly depressed. I could feel myself slipping down like I haven’t for a few years. I got up this morning doing better but after a good Staff meeting at our base headquarters began to walk to my car and during that time I began to sink into the pit again. I pulled into my parking spot at the chapel and I was terrified until one of my Catholic parishioners came in to talk to me for a few minutes. She’s a sweet English lady and her kindness is always a blessing and today it made a big difference. My Chief came in to me with a laundry list of things that I needed to help with and then I found out that three young Chaplain Candidate Officers were coming to see me. That put me back in my element because over the past couple of years I have come to realize that the most important thing that I do is to mentor young men and women, especially Chaplains or those aspiring to be Chaplains. I didn’t tell them anything of what I am writing tonight, but I was able to give the, good advice and invite them to contact me any time even if I was no longer on active duty.

The game was a fantastic game but I didn’t enjoy it because I was too caught up in something that happened to me two weeks ago when I received the news that I was being investigated for the allegations of violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice made by a member of my Chapel, a retired Navy Officer.

The man accused me of the violation of Article 88 Contempt for an Official in this case the President of the United States, and of Article 133, Conduct Unbecoming an Officer for the content of my sermon. He accused me of “comparing the President to Adolf Hitler” and “the actions of those enforcing the laws of the nation as Nazis or Nazi Sympathizers.” He accused me of “engaging in political activism on the job.”

Because of his allegations to the command my Commanding Officer had to launch a preliminary investigation. If the allegations were found to be true I could have been charged and tried by Court Martial. My career of 37 years of Army and Navy service including two combat tours and multiple deployments and family separations could have been ended had I been charged or convicted of such an offense.

I wrote about that sermon last month and the allegations were scurrilous, unsubstantiated and purely of his own making. If there was any political motivation it was this retired officer’s allegations which were an attempt to silence legitimate Christian preaching on social justice issues. I found the complaint ironic because one of my predecessors preached against the end of the Defense of Marriage Act and the end of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy. That Chaplain attacked the character of President Obama and pledged to disobey any orders to support marriage equality. But not one person in the congregation complained.

Yet when I criticized President Trump’s words in which he described immigrants and refugees as “animals”, called them an “infestation” and linked all of them to being violent murderers, rapists, and associated with the MS-13 criminal gang as being dehumanizing, against the teachings of the church and similar to the words that Hitler used to demonize and dehumanize the Jews, that was wrong. When I criticized the Attorney General for his misuse of Scripture to defend those polices in front of the Catholic Bishops and the complicity of the White House Press Secretary and Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas in defending those remarks I was a criminal in the mind of my accuser.

The fact that I was preaching within a prophetic Christian social justice tradition as Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Martin Luther King Jr. was irrelevant to my accuser. The fact that I could make legitimate historical comparisons, not only with Nazi Germany but American slavery, the Black Codes, Jim Crow, the extermination of Native American tribes, and the internment of Japanese Americans was irrelevant. It was the fact that I deviated from the Christian Trump Religious cult claims that brought about these scurrilous charges.

When I was called in for an interview by the investigating officer, who I know is a very fair, honest, and decent man I sensed that he was uncomfortable in having to question me as we have worked together over the past year. I told him that I could not submit to an interview and without an attorney present.

I left and immediately called Mikey Weinstein of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, or MRFF. Mikey took my call immediately and connected me with one of his exceptional attorneys. That was on July 3rd and I spent Independence Day wondering if my military career was about to end. On July 5th I was asked by the Investigating Officer for names of other parishioners who had heard the sermon. I was able to give him a few names, all retired African American Chief Petty Officers or Army and Marine Corps Senior NCOs. He interviewed them and my attorney contacted him. The next morning I was called by the Investigating Officer and the Base Executive Officer to let me know that I had been exonerated and the investigation was over. Both seemed happy for me.

I was supported during the ordeal by the regional Chaplain who is much more conservative than me, and this was not a witch hunt by my command. They as well as my commanding officer are all men of integrity who respect and appreciate my work. If they had not been such men my life could have much more difficult. I was fortunate, but I know other officers who have not been so fortunate or had as solid and feared legal counsel as I received from MRFF. Some of them were convicted of crimes that they did not commit or as in the case of one officer was the victim of a witch hunt by his service chief after his command and civilian police officials had determined that there was no evidence that he had committed any crime. His service overruled them and had him tried by a jury and judge of their choice. I know this because I was called as a character witness. I was flown overseas and within two hours of landing I was thrust onto the witness stand without rest or so much time as to shower or shave. He was convicted anyway. However, during my testimony during the sentencing phase the next day which was not impeached or overruled I told the truth, that the only reason that the officer was on trial and been convicted was because he was gay and not because of the evidence. It was a travesty of justice and I am glad that it didn’t happen to me.

That being said I was fortunate that I have a command that has integrity and seeks the truth. The investigation proved that the charges of the retired officer we’re false and more related to his political allegiance than to any Christian teaching or tradition.

However the most disturbing part of this experience was how that it continues to effect me. The fact is that this retired officer couldn’t even follow the clear commands of Jesus or the Apostle Paul to deal with disagreements between brothers privately or within the Church. Never did any New Testament writer or any of the Ante-Nicene Fathers instruct Christians to turn in other Christians that disagrees with them to the State. What happened to me reminded me of the accounts of German Protestant and Catholic Priests who were turned in to the Gestapo by informants in the Church.

I think that is why I went into such a deep depression last night. The situation in our country has even taken away my ability to enjoy a baseball game and made me incredibly suspicious of the members of my chapel congregation.

Sadly, based on other comments on my Facebook page by some other officers I realize that one cannot reason with members of the Christian Trump Cult even using Scripture and the Christian tradition. Like the German Christians who followed Hitler to his Götterdämmerung they will follow Trump even as he shoots someone on 5th Avenue.

Maybe I will write about the All Star Game tomorrow, but if I don’t it will be first time in nine years on this blog that I haven’t. I think that is one of the worst things about my experience, living on such an edge and under such a real threat that I can no longer enjoy things that used give me such joy and peace.

If this is what it means to Make America Great Again I want nothing to do with it or those who pledge their allegiance to Trump over the Constitution or Christ.

I have more to say but will live it at this for the night.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“Silence in the Face of Evil is Evil Itself” A Critique of Politeness and Civility When Confronting Injustice and Evil

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the words “silence in the face of evil is evil itself.”

This is a very difficult article to write because truthfully I believe that civility and mutual respect should be an ideal that we as Americans should not retreat from, as John F. Kennedy noted:

“So let us begin a new remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

I have written about that a number of times, the last being on November 22nd 2016 shortly after President Trump’s election and on the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination. However, since that time I have seen the President lead a descent into depravity that I fully comprehended then, though I hoped for a different outcome.

The fact is that the President has in his words, deeds, and tweets destroyed any hope of our political divide being healed, or of Americans of different viewpoints being able to reconcile their differences anytime in the foreseeable future. He stokes the hatred and division almost on an hourly basis, and of course his opponents having become wise to him are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back.

Too me that is an unfortunate situation that might become a tragedy for the United States and the world, as Abraham Lincoln noted “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” To GOP Congressman Steve King of Iowa the sight and sound of Trump’s opponents is like “Harpers Ferry” and what comes next will be “Fort Sumter.” Since King proudly displays the Confederate Battle Flag in his office I know exactly what side of this fight that he is on.

The fact is that he and many like him want bloodshed, they want Civil War, they want to remake the Union in a way that Jefferson Davis and his band of traitors failed to do. As a historian of the period with a book awaiting publication the fact is that in the end it comes down to the fact that King, many of the President’s supporters and quite probably the President himself are all White Supremacists. They want a full and complete return to White Man’s Rule and the subservience of all non-white races and non-Christian religions to it. They are the Know Nothings of the North and Slave Power Secessionists of the South rolled into one package of ignorance, incivility, and hatred.

I write often about comparisons of the attitudes and actions administration and its supporters to Nazi Germany, but truth be told there is a lot of dirty laundry in our own history that sheds light on Trump and his supporters.

The fact is that for nearly three decades the vast majority of Northerners were too polite to criticize the egregious actions of the Know Nothings in their midst or the Southern Slave Power Block that dominated the presidency, Congress, and the Supreme Court for the three decades prior to the War of the Rebellion, also known as the American Civil War, or the War Between the States. Honestly, I think that the term ascribed to it by many Union Veterans in the Grand Army of the Republic after the war, the “War of the Rebellion” is the best.

Those opposed to the Know Nothings and Slave Power Block were condemned as being rude, impolite, and worse. Some were physical assaulted. In 1856 Senator Charles Sumner was attacked by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina on the floor of the Senate for his speech against the Kansas Nebraska Act. Sumner was beaten until he was unconscious and Brooks’ heavy cane which he used to conduct the attack broke. Brooks continued to beat Sumner aided by Representative Lawrence Keitt also of South Carolina who brandishing a pistol threatened Senators coming to his aid. Sumner has proclaimed no threats of violence but only spoken the truth about the Act and those that supported it. So much for civility and now.

The scurrilous and overtly violent threats against minorities and civil rights advocates by conservatives, especially White Christian conservatives have continued unabated since from the ante-Bellum South and the Know Nothing North, through the War of the Rebellion, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, to the modern day. Whole political campaigns including that of George H.W. Bush run by Lee Atwater turned on the demonization of African Americans. The same is true regarding the Republican revolution led by Newt Gingrich in the 1990s, and again even more so from the time that Candidate Donald Trump descended to the lobby of Trump Tower in 2015 until now. The President proclaims that White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis are “very fine people.”

The President and many of his followers including administration officials like Stephen Miller set the tone while Presidential spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders lies and denies the President’s words and vilifies anyone that dares to question her. So when she is asked to leave a restaurant, or when Miller or DHS Secretary Nielsen are shamed when trying to enter Mexican restaurants it makes makes my heart bleed. People who have no compassion, no sense of empathy and behave as sociopaths and then act the victim when the tables are turned only deserve scorn.

Their anti-immigrant and often blatantly racist tropes of the President, his administration, and his supporters on the Fox Propaganda Network, the Right Wing media, the Putrid Princes of the Captive Conservative Church, and his assorted sordid supporters should be condemned and opposed around the clock. If they are not then any of us who remain silent knowing the evil of these policies is as guilty as anyone that turned their backs on the Jews in Nazi Germany. The higher the office the greater the guilt and culpability.

That being said if had the chance to see any one of them in a public setting I would not resort to public shaming. I do not own a restaurant or business so I could not ask them to leave. However, that being said if any of them the President himself presented themselves to me at my chapel or any civilian church that I might be celebrating the Eucharist I would deny them communion which from a Christian point of view is “a fate worse than a fate worse than death.”

Bonhoeffer 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.”

As for me I must tell the truth and protest against the violence and the arbitrary pride of power exhibited by the Trump administration and its supporters. I could not live with myself if I didn’t do so. Some might think this political and in some sense it is, but it is entirely based on my understanding of the Christian faith and the very premise of the founders of this country, that phrase in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

If need be I would die for that faith and that proposition and I will not be silent in the face of evil.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” The Writing is On the Wall: Trump and Iran

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In the aftermath of President Trump’s decision to break the word of the United States in regard to the Iran Nuclear deal I have done a lot of reading and reflecting. His decision seems to be bereft of any real strategy or strengthening of the overall United States position not just concerning Iran but which will have repercussions around the world; perhaps most importantly with the coming summit with North Korea. The President  made his decision to withdraw from the accord despite opposition from the Pentagon, the CIA, and the State Department and it appears that there is no real plan for what happens next.

The deal was a flawed instrument but it was the only thing keeping Iran from moving forward on its nuclear program. Inspectors on the ground and the constant monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities were the best way of ensuring that Iran could not restart its nuclear program. Did the deal keep Iran from playing a part in Syria or Yemen? Of course not, but absent it the Iranians might already be nuclear capable.

The President went against are oldest and most reliable allies and gave the Iranians, as well as the Russians an edge to exploit. The Iranians have already moved to exploit this by pledging to remain in compliance. Whether they meant it or not it gave them the rare opportunity to make themselves look more reasonable than the United States. Likewise it inserted the United States directly into the Iranian – Saudi/ Shia – Sunni divide and emboldened Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to launch attacks on Syria military and Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions in Syria under the premise of preventive strike by the Iranians on Israel.

The players in this deadly game of brinksmanship are so numerous that you can’t keep track of them without a scorecard. There are the major players; the Iranians, Saudis, the United States, Russia, Israel, the EU, and NATO, as well as the lesser but also important players; Oman, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the war ravaged Yemen, the fragile Iraqi state, the Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Palestinians, various Syrian rebel groups, ISIL, Al Qaida, Afghanistan, the Taliban, and possibly even Egypt, Pakistan and India.

All of these players have their own agenda and capabilities to throw a monkey wrench into anything that the President is attempting to do and both the Pakistanis and Israelis have nukes that they can deliver. Many of these nations or groups have well tested short and intermediate ballistic missile systems as well as well as vast asymmetrical warfare capabilities.

As far as new sanctions the Iranians who have the support of both the Russians and Chinese have many ways to circumvent them.  The President’s strategy, if you can call it that appears to be more about reinforcing his base in American domestic politics by playing fast and loose with the truth while moving towards war.

Let me be fair, I hope against hope that whatever the President is trying to do actually works to deescalate the tensions in the region and maybe even free the people of Iran from the Mullahs. But I really do not think that peace is his intention, not that I trust the Iranians as far as I can throw one, and I certainly believe that Vladimir Putin is doing his damnedest to split the Western alliance and NATO and that President Trump is playing right into his hand.

Do I know what is going to happen in the coming weeks and months? Not really, but I can read the writing on the wall. “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” It is something that I think that the President should take seriously because he is steering the nation and the world towards a disaster. I don’t want that but I can see it coming with the Four Horsemen, and the President will be the man most responsible when everything comes crashing down. The President lives in a world of self-deception and fantasy and as much as I hope that he gets this right I know in my heart that he will not because he is unwilling to have his beliefs checked by facts. Facts are his enemy.

Barbara Tuchman wrote in her book The March of Folly: 

“Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs. It is acting according to wish while not allowing oneself to be deflected by the facts.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Lingering Presence of Manifest Destiny in Trump’s America First Message

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Manifest Destiny

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is a part of my yet to be published book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, and Ideology in the Civil War Era.  I have posted it before, but as I watch what is going on in the world and President Trump’s militantly isolationist America First foreign policy which often uses the words and images of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism I thought it might be good to post it again.

That past was mythologized in American history and popularized often on film and in print. Since the President admits that does little reading and engages in less critical thought it is obvious that most of what he knows of American history comes from the mythologized past.  This includes the concept of Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism. These concepts are the result of a racially and religiously based glorification of imperialistic conquest that resulted in the extermination or enslavement of millions of people in North America, as well as in the Philippines, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

When you have a President of such limited historical knowledge who represents a party controlled by hyper-political religionists who are convinced that God is with them it portends trouble. As true Conservative icon Barry Goldwater once noted:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” (November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.)

While the President himself shows little evidence of actually believing in any God but himself he certainly does relish the accolades of these political creatures who call themselves Christian preachers. Goldwater in his later years exhibited a certain insight into the dangers of the movement that has taken over the GOP.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism

The foreign policy of the United States nearly always reflects to one degree or another a quasi-religious belief in the continued importance of the United States in spreading democracy around the world.

The United States was an anomaly among western nations in the early 1800s. During that time the percentage of people in Europe who were active churchgoers was shrinking and the number of skeptics rising as the industrial revolution, and advances in science, and the philosophies and theology of classic Liberalism permeated the elites of the continent. But in the United States, the situation was different. The Second Great Awakening helped shape and define the purpose of the nation, and by the “mid-nineteenth century, from North to South, was arguably Christendom’s most churchgoing nation, bristling with exceptionalist faith and millennial conviction.” [1] This was especially true of American Protestantism were “church attendance rose by a factor of ten over the period 1800 to 1860, comfortably outstripping population growth. Twice as many Protestants went to church at the end of this period as the beginning.” [2]

This exceptionalist faith kindled a belief in the nation’s Manifest Destiny in large part was an outgrowth of the Second Great Awakening which was particularly influential among the vast numbers of people moving into the new western territories. As people moved west, Evangelical religion came with them, often in the form of vast revival and camp meetings which would last weeks and which would be attended by tens of thousands. The first of these was at Cane Ridge Kentucky in 1801, organized by a Presbyterian others, including Baptists and Methodists joined in the preaching, and soon the revivals became a fixture of frontier life and particularly aided the growth of the Methodist and Baptists who were willing to “present the message as simply as possible, and to use preachers with little or no education,” [3] and which soon became the largest denominations in the United States. These meetings appealed to common people and emphasized emotion rather than reason. Even so the revivals “not only became the defining mark of American religion but also played a central role in the nation’s developing identity, independence, and democratic principles.” [4]

The West came to be viewed as a place where America might be reborn and “where Americans could start over again and the nation fulfill its destiny as a democratic, Protestant beacon to inspire peoples and nations. By conquering a continent with their people and ideals, Americans would conquer the world.” [5] The westward expansion satiated the need for territorial conquest and the missionary zeal to transform the country and the world in the image of Evangelical Christianity.

The man who coined the term “Manifest Destiny,” New York journalist John O’Sullivan a noted that “Manifest Destiny had ordained America to “establish on the earth the moral dignity and salvation of man,” to disseminate its principles, both religious and secular abroad,” [6] and New York Journalist Horace Greely issued the advice, “Go West, young man” which they did go, by the millions between 1800 and 1860.

But the movement also had a dark side. Americans poured westward first into the heartland of the Deep South and the Old Northwest, then across the Mississippi, fanning westward along the great rivers that formed the tributaries of the new territories. As they did so, the “population of the region west of the Appalachians grew nearly three times as fast as the original thirteen states” and “during that era a new state entered the Union on the average of three years.” [7]

The combination of nationalism fueled by Evangelical religion was combined with the idea from revolutionary times that America was a “model republic” that could redeem the people of the world from tyranny,” [8] as well an ascendant rational nationalism based on the superiority of the White Race. This, along with the belief that Catholicism was a threat to liberty was used as reason to conquer Mexico as well as to drive Native Americans from their ancestral homes. “By 1850 the white man’s diseases and wars had reduced the Indian population north of the Rio Grande to half of the estimated million who had lived there two centuries earlier. In the United States all but a few thousand Indians had been pushed west of the Mississippi.” [9] The radical racism used pseudo-scientific writings to “find biological evidence of white supremacy, “radical nationalism” cast Mexicans as an unassimilable “mixed “race “with considerable Indian and some black blood.” The War with Mexico “would not redeem them, but would hasten the day when they, like American Indians, would fade away.” [10]

Manifest Destiny and American Foreign Policy

Just as the deeply Evangelical Christian religious emphasis of Manifest Destiny helped shape American domestic policy during the movement west, it provided similar motivation and justification for America’s entry onto the world stage as a colonial power and world economic power. It undergirded United States foreign policy as the nation went from being a continental power to being an international power; claiming as Hawaii, and various former Spanish possessions in 1890s, and which would be seen again in the moralizing of Woodrow Wilson in the years leading up to America’s entry into World War One.

The belief in Manifest Destiny can still be seen in the pronouncements of American politicians, pundits, and preachers who believe that that this message is to be spread around the world. Manifest Destiny is an essential element of the idea of American Exceptionalism which often has been the justification for much recent American foreign policy, including the Freedom Agenda of former President George W. Bush. Bush referenced this during his 2003 State of the Union Address, “that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.” [11] Bush frequently used language in his speeches in which biblical allusions were prominent in justifying the morality of his policy, and by doing this “Bush made himself a bridge between politics and religion for a large portion of his electorate, cementing their fidelity.” [12]

Throughout the Bush presidency the idea that God was directing him even meant that his faith undergirded the policy of the United States and led to a mismatch of policy ends and the means to accomplish them. Former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. and historian Michael Oren wrote:

“Not inadvertently did Bush describe the struggle against Islamic terror as a “crusade to rid the world of evildoers.” Along with this religious zeal, however, the president espoused the secular fervor of the neoconservatives…who preached the Middle East’s redemption through democracy. The merging of the sacred and the civic missions in Bush’s mind placed him firmly in the Wilsonian tradition. But the same faith that deflected Wilson from entering hostilities in the Middle East spurred Bush in favor of war.” [13]

Policy makers and military leaders must realize that if they want to understand how culture and religious ideology drive others to conquer, subjugate and terrorize in the name of God, they first have to understand how our ancestors did the same thing. It is only when they do that that they can understand that this behavior and use of ideology for such ends is much more universal and easier to understand.

One can see the influence of Manifest Destiny abroad in a number of contexts. Many American Christians became missionaries to foreign lands, establishing churches, colleges, schools, and hospitals in their zeal to spread the Gospel. As missionaries spread across the globe, American policy makers ensured their protection through the presence of the United States Navy, and missionaries frequently called upon the United States Government for help and the naval strength of the United States during the period provided added fuel to their zeal. In 1842, Dabney Carr, the new American ambassador to the Ottoman Empire“declared his intention to protect the missionaries “to the full extent of [his] power,” if necessary “by calling on the whole of the American squadron in the Mediterranean to Beyrout.” [14] Such episodes would be repeated in the Middle East, Asia, the Pacific, and Central America over and over again until the 1920s.

The White Man’s Burden, Imperialism, Business, and Faith: Manifest Destiny and the Annexation of the Philippines

If one wants to see how the use of this compulsion to conquer in the name of God in American by a national leader one needs to go no farther than to examine the process whereby President McKinley, himself a veteran of the Civil War, decided to annex the Philippine in 1898 following the defeat of the Spanish. That war against the Filipinos that the United States had helped liberate from Spanish rule saw some of the most bloodthirsty tactics ever employed by the U.S. Army to fight the Filipino insurgents. The Filipino’s who had aided the United States in the war against Spain were now being subjugated by the American military for merely seeking an independence that they believed was their right. While the insurgency was suppressed in a violent manner and American rule was established, some Americans came to see the suppression of the Filipino’s as a stain on our national honor which of which Mark Twain wrote: “There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive’s new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .” [15]

William McKinley was a cautious man, and after the United States had defeated the Spanish naval squadron at Manila Bay and wrestled with what to do with the Philippines. McKinley was a doubtless sincere believer, and according to his words, he sought counsel from God about whether he should make the decision to annex the Philippines or not. For him this was not a mere exercise, but a manifestation of his deep rooted faith which was based on Manifest Destiny. Troubled, he sought guidance, and he told a group of ministers who were vesting the White House:

“Before you go I would like to say a word about the Philippine business…. The truth is I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them…. I sought counsel from all sides – Democrat as well as Republican – but got little help…. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for guidance more than one night. And late one night it came to me this way – I don’t know how it was but it came….” [16]

He then went on to discuss what he supposedly heard from God, but reflected more of a calculated decision to annex the archipelago. He discussed what he believed would be an occupation of just a few islands and Manila, ruled out returning them to Spain as that would be “dishonorable,” ruled out turning them over to France or Germany because “that would be bad for business,”or allowing Filipino self-rule, as “they were unfit for self-government.”[17] The last was a reflection of the deep-rooted opinion of many Americans that the dark skinned Filipinos were “niggers.”

Barbara Tuchman described McKinley’s comments to the ministers:

“He went down on his knees, according to his own account, and “prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance.” He was accordingly guided to conclude “that there was nothing left to do for us but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos. And uplift and civilize and Christianize them, by God’s grace to do the very best we could by them, as our fellowmen for whom Christ died.” [18]

But the result, regardless of whether McKinley heard the voice of God, or took the advice of advisers with imperialist, business, or religious views, he made the choice to annex the Philippines, believing it to be the only rational course of action, and something that he could not avoid. In a sense McKinley, of who Barbara Tuchman wrote “was a man made to be managed,” and who was considered spineless by Speaker of the House Thomas Reed who said “McKinley has no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.” [19] It appears that McKinley was more convinced by the arguments of those who desired to annex the Philippines for military reasons, a business community which saw the islands as a gateway to the markets of Asia, and by Protestant clergy, who saw “a possible enlargement of missionary opportunities.”[20] He rejected a proposal by Carl Schurz who urged McKinley to “turn over the Philippines as a mandate to a small power, such as Belgium or Holland, so the United States could remain “the great neutral power in the world.” [21]The combination of men who desired the United States to become an imperialist and naval power, business, and religion turned out to be more than McKinley could resist, as “the taste of empire was on the lips of politicians and business interests throughout the country. Racism, paternalism, and the talk of money mingled with the talk of destiny.” [22] Though there was much resistance to the annexation in congress and in the electorate, much of which was led by William Jennings Bryant, but which crumbled when Bryant with his eyes on the Presidency embraced imperialism.

The sense of righteousness and destiny was encouraged by magazine publisher S.S. McClure, who published a poem by Rudyard Kipling addressed to Americans debating the issue entitled The White Man’s Burden:

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child…

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease…

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To 
cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you…
 [23]

McKinley’s decision and the passage of the peace treaty with Spain to acquire the Philippines sparked an insurrection led by Filipino revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo who had been leading resistance to Spanish rule on the island of Luzon for several years prior to the American defeat of Spanish naval forces at the Battle of Manila Bay, and the subsequent occupation of Manila. The following war lasted nearly three years and was marked by numerous atrocities committed by American forces against often defenseless civilians and it would help to change the nature of the country. After American troops captured Manila, Walter Hines Page, the editor of the Atlantic Monthly believed that Americans would face greater challenges and difficulties in the coming years than they had known in previous years. He wrote:

“A change in our national policy may change our very character… and we are now playing with the great forces that may shape the future of the world – almost before we know it…. Before we knew the meaning of foreign possessions in a world ever growing more jealous, we have found ourselves the captors of islands in both great oceans; and from our home staying policy of yesterday we are brought face to face with world-wide forces in Asia as well as Europe, which seem to be working, by the opening of the Orient, for one of the greatest challenges in human history…. And to nobody has the change come more unexpectedly than ourselves. Has it come without our knowing the meaning of it?” [24]

Within the span of a few months, America had gone from a nation of shopkeepers to an imperial power, and most people did not realize the consequences of that shift. Manifest destiny and American Exceptionalism had triumphed and with it a new day dawned, where subsequent generations of leaders would invoke America’s mission to spread freedom and democracy around the world, as President George W. Bush said, “that freedom is the right of every person and the future of every nation. The liberty we prize is not America’s gift to the world, it is God’s gift to humanity.”

Notes

[1] Ibid. Phillips American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century p.143

[2] McGrath, Alister Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First Harper Collins Publishers, New York 2007 p.164

[3] Gonzalez, Justo L. The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers San Francisco 1985 p.246

[4] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First p.164

[5] Goldfield, David America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation Bloomsbury Press, New York, London New Delhi and Sidney 2011 p.5

[6] Ibid. Oren Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present p130

[7] McPherson, James. The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 1988 p.42

[8] Varon, Elizabeth R. Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858 University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill NC 2008 p.183

[9] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era p,45

[10] Ibid. Varon. Disunion! The Coming of the American Civil War 1789-1858p.183

[11] Bush, George W. State of the Union Address Washington D.C. January 28th2003 retrieved from Presidential Rhetoric.com http://www.presidentialrhetoric.com/speeches/01.28.03.html 10 June 2015

[12] Ibid. Phillips American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century p.252

[13] Oren, Michael Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present W.W. Norton and Company, New York and London 2007 p.584

[14] Ibid. Oren Power, Faith and Fantasy: America and the Middle East 1776 to the Present p130

[15] Twain, Mark To the Person Sitting in Darkness February 1901 Retrieved from The World of 1898: The Spanish American War The Library of Congress http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/twain.html 12 December 2014

[16] Zinn, Howard A People’s History of the United States Harper Perennial, New York 1999 pp.312-313

[17] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.313

[18] Ibid. Tuchman Practicing History p.289

[19] Tuchman, Barbara The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 Random House Trade Paperbacks Edition, New York 2008 originally published 1966 by McMillan Company. Amazon Kindle edition location 2807 of 10746

[20] Hofstadter, Richard The Paranoid Style in American Politics Vintage Books a Division of Random House, New York 1952 and 2008 p167

[21] Ibid. Tuchman The Proud Tower: A Portrait of the World Before the War, 1890-1914 location 3098 of 10746

[22] Ibid. Zinn A People’s History of the United States p.313

[23] Kipling, Rudyard “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands” 1899 retrieved from https://public.wsu.edu/~brians/world_civ/worldcivreader/world_civ_reader_2/kipling.html 6 August 2016

[24] Ibid. Hofstadter The Paranoid Style in American Politics pp.183-184

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Martyrs of Flossenburg: A Lesson for Christians in the Age of Trump

D.Bonhoeffer im Gefaengnis Berlin-Tegel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-three years ago at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp near the German-Czech border a pastor, an Admiral, and a General were martyred on the specific order of Adolf Hitler. The pastor was the eminent Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris the former head of the German military intelligence service; the Abwehr, the General, Hans Oster, Canaris’s deputy. All three were Christians and all three opponents of Hitler’s regime. Condemned with them were Karl Sack a senior military jurist, retired General Friedrich Von Rabenau who was also a theologian, and several others connected with the Abwehr and the resistance.

I think that in an age where politically conservative Christians have trampled their own faith to support of a leader who makes a mockery of the Christian faith as he blasphemes the very name of Christ and the teachings of Jesus in his words and deeds. While I am not comparing the President to Hitler I am comparing the corrupt and evil Christian leaders and organizations which support him to the German Christians who eagerly supported Hitler and his diabolical regime. Thus the men who lost their lives in the fight against Hitler on April 9th 1945 and their courage need to be remembered and emulated should the Trump administration continue down its path to trample the Constitution and crush civil and human rights, and quite possibly engage in aggressive preemptive wars that would be illegal under the precedents of the Nuremberg Trials; all in the name of Making America Great Again.

But it is Bonhoeffer that I will focus on tonight. As early as 1932 Bonhoeffer realized the menace and evil of Hitler’s growing Nazi Party and movement. In a sermon the recently ordained Bonhoeffer, then only 26 years old noted that danger and the complicity of all Germans in it, especially Christians.  He warned that resistance to it could well involve martyrdom. But he believed that the the evil of the tyrant gave no one the luxury of claiming innocence:

“the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness” 

On February 1st 1933, two days after Hitler’s accession to power Bonhoeffer was beginning a previously scheduled speech on what was known as the concept known as the Fuhrerprinzep. The speech was not a direct attack on Hitler but a warning of the limits of power. He had barely begun the speech when for unexplained circumstances he was cut off. While there was no proof that this was deliberately done it would not have been unlike the Nazis to engage in such subterfuge. The speech was printed in a non-Nazi conservative newspaper and he was invited to give the speech in early March at the University of Berlin’s college of political science. At the end of the speech, which included no remarks on current events Bonhoeffer criticized the Fuhrerprinzep which he believed could easily become an idolatrous cult. However, Hitler had ridden into power upon upon that concept as people sought a strong leader to bring Germany out of political, social, and economic turmoil.

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”

german-christians-march

At that early stage Hitler whose office was conditional on the support of President Paul Von Hindenburg and headed a cabinet in which his Nazis were a minority partner realized that he had to say the right things to maintain it, he could not appear too radical. One group that he courted were politically conservative German Christians. In a speech delivered the same day as Bonhoeffer’s curtailed speech, Hitler claimed that the Christian faith would serve as “the basis of our collective morality.” It was a lie but it assuaged the fears of Christians in non-Nazi conservative and moderate parties, many who became a part of the Nazi German Christian movement which decidedly in the service of Hitler espousing Nazi racial doctrines and attacks upon the Jews.

As Hitler and the Nazis stepped up their persecution of their political opponents and the Jews based on the emergency provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree Bonhoeffer both worked and spoke his opposition to the tyranny that was beginning to envelop Germany. In April 1933 while speaking of the responsibility of Christians and the church to stand against injustice he wrote in his essay The Church and the Jewish Question: 

“The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” and also“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

He became a key member of what became known as the Confessing Church and the Pastors Emergency League where he helped draft the Barmen Declaration. He ran an underground seminary to train theology students. He had the chance to remain in the United States in June of 1939 but refused the pleas of his American friends to do so. He explained his position to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”

On his return to Germany he was forbidden to speak in public, prohibited from publishing and required to report his movements to the police. However he did have friends. His brother in law, the lawyer Hans Dohnányi who was a member of the opposition, recruited Bonhoeffer for the Abwehr the German military service in order to prevent him from being conscripted into the Wehrmacht based on the proposition that his contacts with British and American could prove useful to to German intelligence. While Bonhoeffer remained suspect to Nazi officials the appointment brought him into the orbit of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, General Hans Oster, and other leaders of the military opposition to Hitler.

From these men he began to comprehend the fulness of the Nazi evil and learned of early plots against Hitler’s life. Bonhoeffer, a pacifist realized that he must become an active part of the resistance and wrote: “the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” By participating in the conspiracy Bonhoeffer can be accused of hypocrisy, and he knew it. He explained his position in a letter to his sister:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

During his tenure with the Abwehr he served as a courier to make contact with Allied leaders in Switzerland in order to gain support for opposition efforts, attempts that the Allies ignored, even as he wrote his book Ethics. Bonhoeffer worked with Dohnányi and others in the Abwehr to smuggle fourteen Jews out of German to Switzerland along with large sums of currency. However, the Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence branch of Heinrich Himmler’s SS  became aware of their activities and both were arrested in April 1943, not so much for that but in order to discredit the rival Abwehr. While the Abwehr was able to cover for most of their activities they were charged with breaking the Nazi laws regarding the Jews.

He was imprisoned in Berlin’s Tegel Prison while awaiting trial but during that time he produced many theological writings which were smuggled out of the prison to his student Eberhard Bethage by his fiancé and sympathetic guards. These uncensored works would become the book Letters and Papers from Prison. He expressed no bitterness in his arrest but reflected on what he and others in the resistance had learned, lessons that privileged Christians in the United States who worship the ungodly political, economic, and military power reveled in by President Trump would be wise to heed:

“We in the resistance have learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the excluded, the ill treated, the powerless, the oppressed and despised… so that personal suffering has become a more useful key for understanding the world than personal happiness.”

Documents that exposed Bonhoeffer’s connection to the anti-Hitler plot that resulted in the July 20th 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg were discovered by the Gestapo in September 1944 and he was moved to the SS Prison at the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, the Reich Security Main Office. When that facility was bombed in February 1945 he was moved to Buchenwald and finally to Flossenburg where he would die.

Two of his writings which he produced while in prison have had a profound impact on my faith.

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”

Bonhoeffer’s fate was sealed when on April 4th 1945 Canaris’s secret diaries were found. When Hitler read them he became enraged and demanded that the Abwehr traitors be destroyed. Bonhoeffer and his companions were taken to Flossenburg, but at a stop Bonhoeffer became separated from them and was held with other prisoners in the small town of Schoenberg. While there on Sunday 8 April 1945, Bonhoeffer was asked to conduct a service on the second Sunday of Easter. He had just finished conducting the service at a schoolhouse when plainclothes Gestapo agents arrived to arrest him. British prisoner Payne Best noted that Bonhoeffer:

“spoke to us in a manner which reached the hearts of all, finding just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment and the thoughts and resolutions which it had brought.”

As Bonhoeffer was taken he said to another prisoner, “This is the end – but for me, the beginning of life.” He was driven to Flossenburg where he along with the other Abwehr conspirators was condemned at a drumhead trial by SS Judge Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Otto Thorbeck without witnesses or records of proceedings or defense and hanged the next day, two weeks before American soldiers liberated the camp.

The only account of his death was written by the SS doctor of the camp.

“On the morning of that day between five and six o’clock the prisoners, among them Admiral Canaris, General Oster, General Thomas and Reichgerichtsrat Sack were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of the court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Heresies and Drumheads: Evangelicals and Trump through the Lens of Star Trek

galaxy_universe-normal

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The German theologian, pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Man no longer lives in the beginning–he has lost the beginning. Now he finds he is in the middle, knowing neither the end nor the beginning, and yet knowing that he is in the middle, coming from the beginning and going towards the end. He sees that his life is determined by these two facets, of which he knows only that he does not know them”  

There is an episode of Star Trek Voyager called Distant Origin where a scientist of a race in the Delta Quadrant believes that genetic evidence indicated that their race originated on Earth. His thesis is challenged the doctrine of his species and he was accused of “heresy against Doctrine” for positing something different than his people believed. He ends up being persecuted and punished for his beliefs.

Now I want to be diplomatic about this. I am not someone who simply is contrary to established doctrines, be they theological, scientific or even military theories. That being said I think it is only right to question our presuppositions, as Anselm of Canterbury did through faith seeking understanding.

That understanding as a Christian is based on the totality of the message of the Christian faith. Hans Kung said it well:

“Christians are confident that there is a living God and that in the future of this God will also maintain their believing community in life and in truth. Their confidence is based on the promise given with Jesus of Nazareth: he himself is the promise in which God’s fidelity to his people can be read.” 

What we have to admit is that our belief is rooted in our faith, faith which is given to us through the witness of very imperfect people influenced by their own culture, history and traditions. Even scripture does not make the claim to be inerrant, and the Bible cannot be understood like the Koran or other texts which make the claim to be the infallible compendium of faith delivered by an angel or dictated by God himself. It is a Divine-human collaboration so symbolic of the relationship that God has with his people, often confusing and contradictory yet inspiring.

themiddle

There is a certain sense of relationship between God and humanity within scripture and that relationship creates certain tensions between God and those people. The interesting thing is that Scripture is a collection of texts which record often in terrible honesty the lack of perfection of both the writers and their subjects. They likewise record the sometimes unpredictable and seemingly contradictory behavior of God toward humanity in the Old Testament. They bear witness to the weaknesses, limitations and lack of understanding of the people of God of the message of God but even in that those limitations and weaknesses that God is still faithful to humanity in the life death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

The real fact of the matter is that fixed doctrines are much more comfortable than difficult questions than honestly examining the contradictions that exist within Scripture, history and tradition. The fact is this makes many people uncomfortable and thus the retreat into the fortress of fixed and immutable doctrine found in the various incarnations of Fundamentalism.

The fact is the world is not a safe place, and our best knowledge is always being challenged by new discoveries many of which make people nervous and uncomfortable, especially people who need the safety of certitude. So in reaction the true believers become even more strident and sometimes, in the case of some forms of Islam and Hinduism violent.

Picard

Christianity cannot get away unscathed by such criticism. At various points in our history we have had individuals, churches and Church controlled governments persecute and kill those that have challenged their particular orthodoxy. Since Christian fundamentalists are human they like others have the capacity for violence if they feel threatened, or the cause is “holy” enough. Our history is full of sordid tales of the ignorance of some Christians masquerading as absolute truth and crushing any opposition. It is as Eric Hoffer wrote:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

This is the magnetic attraction of fundamentalism in all of its forms, not just Christian fundamentalism.  Yet for me there is a comfort in knowing that no matter how hard and fast we want to be certain of our doctrines, that God has the last say in the matter in the beginning and the end. We live in the uncomfortable middle but I have hope in the faith that God was in the beginning. Besides as Bonhoeffer well noted “A God who let us prove his existence would be an idol” 

But there some Christians who now faced with the eloquence of men like Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye who make legitimate challenges respond in the most uncouth and ignorant manners. The sad thing is that their response reveals more about them and their uncertainty than it does the faith that they boldly proclaim.

Our doctrines, the way we interpret Scripture and the way we understand God are limited by our humanity and the fact that no matter how clever we think we are that our doctrines are expressions of faith. This is because we were not in the beginning as was God and we will not be at the end, at least in this state. We live in the uncomfortable middle, faith is not science, nor is it proof, that is why it is called faith, even in our scriptures.

We are to always seek clarity and understanding but know that it is possible that such understanding and the seeking of truth, be it spiritual, historical, scientific or ethical could well upset our doctrines, but not God himself. As Henri Nouwen wrote: “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” Is that not the point of the various interactions of Jesus with the religious leaders of his day? Men who knew that they knew the truth and even punished people who had been healed by Jesus such as the man born blind in the 9th Chapter of John’s Gospel.

vasily-surikov-christ-healing-the-man-born-blind

“You are that man’s disciple; we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.” The man answered and said to them, “This is what is so amazing, that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him. It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.” They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Then they threw him out.”

The interchange between the religious leaders and the man is not an indictment on Judaism, but rather on religious certitude in any time or place. The fact is that the Pharisees are no different than those who ran the Inquisition, or those who conducted Witch Trials or those who attempt to crush anyone who questions their immutable doctrine no matter what their religion.

They were and many of their theological and ecclesiastical descendants still are true believers. That has been demonstrated over and over again in regards to biblically and theologically challenged yet politically fanatical American Evangelical Christians who have willingly surrendered any pretense of following Christ to paying obeisance to President Trump; a would be dictator who plays to their perpetual sense of victimhood in order to cement his power over them and to use them as his willing foot soldiers.

What Trump has done has turned the Gospel on its head, the Christian faith has become a political bludgeon to support laws and policies that are in diametric opposition to the message of Jesus. Sadly, a large majority of Evangelicals and their leaders have become Trump’s willing accomplices.

In the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead Captain Picard counsels Lieutenant Worf after their encounter with a retired admiral who turned an investigation involving a Klingon exchange scientist into a witch hunt aboard the Enterprise. That episode is well worth watching especially because it anticipates what is going on in the United States today, where a President, his party, and a reactionary fear filled cabal of religious followers has declared war on all who oppose them.

At the end of the episode Lieutenant  Worf comes to Captain Picard’s office. He is apologetic about having believed and cooperated with the Admiral. The dialogue is striking and should be heeded, especially by Evangelical Christians and others who have with open eyes sacrificed their faith even as they tear up the Constitution thinking that they are defending it.

WORF: Am I bothering you, Captain?
PICARD: No. Please, Mister Worf. Come in.
WORF: It is over. Admiral Henry has called an end to any more hearings on this matter.
PICARD: That’s good.
WORF: Admiral Satie has left the Enterprise.
PICARD: We think we’ve come so far. The torture of heretics, the burning of witches, it’s all ancient history. Then, before you can blink an eye, it suddenly threatens to start all over again.
WORF: I believed her. I helped her. I did not see what she was.
PICARD: Mister Worf, villains who wear twirl their moustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.
WORF: I think after yesterday, people will not be as ready to trust her.
PICARD: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf, that is the price we have to continually pay.

And that is true and despite the certitude of the true believers that we do live in the uncomfortable middle.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“We’ve Got Some Difficult Days Ahead…” The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at 50 Years

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Fifty years ago today a bullet killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while he was in Memphis supporting Sanitation Workers who were being subjected to unsafe working conditions without the same rights, protections, pay, or benefits of white Sanitation workers. As always there were threats on King’s life and he knew that he was a target. The night before his assassination Dr. King spoke at Mason Temple the international headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, the largest historically Black denomination in the United States.

That speech is now known as the “I have been to the mountaintop” speech. Dr. King had flown into Memphis earlier in the day, on a flight delayed by a bomb threat. King like many Civil Rights leaders of his day lived under the constant threat of physical violence, intimidation and assassination. After the heady days of the great march in Washington and the I Have a Dream speech and the award of the Nobel Prize his positions on social and economic justice and his opposition to the Vietnam War had made him a pariah of sorts, even in the Black community. He had place himself in the gunsights of his opponents as he pressed on in spite of the opposition.

Life was precious to him, but he like many others understood that it could be cut short at any moment for simply speaking the truth about racial discrimination, prejudice and violence. King himself had been accosted at different times and spent time in jail for “breaking” laws that enforced and enabled institutions and individuals to discriminate against Blacks with no consequences whatsoever. He was called a radical, a Communist and anti-American by those that opposed any changes to the status quo. He knew that his life was always in danger.

In that speech Dr. King seemed to understand the threat but he was determined to go on and to do God’s will. Dr. King understood that the Christian faith required more than intellectual assent to a doctrine. He understood the words of the German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer: We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

At Mason Temple Dr King proclaimed:

“And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats…or talk about the threats that were out… What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. but it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over.and I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! And so I am happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I am not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of The Lord.”

It was April 4th 1968. The United States was divided by the Vietnam War and numerous social crises. President Lyndon Johnson had just done the unthinkable, he had announced that he was withdrawing from his reelection bid. In many places despite the integration of the Armed Forces, Baseball, the repeal of many Jim Crow laws and the passage of the 1964 Voter’s Rights Act African Americans still felt the sting of individual and institutional racial prejudice. In Vietnam the effects of the Tet Offensive still lingered even as American cities burned.

His speech at Mason Temple was almost prophetic in its message. The words of the thirty-nine year old Baptist Preacher from Atlanta echoed through the sanctuary of the church to the applause of those present even as a heavy spring thunderstorm rocked the city.

The following evening, King with a number of other Civil Rights leaders including Ralph Abernathy and Andrew Young were at the Lorraine Motel, where King often stayed. King was standing on the balcony outside of his room, Room 306 when at 6:01 PM he was cut down and mortally wounded by a single shot fired from a Remington 760 rifle. The bullet struck him in the right cheek, traveled down his spine and severed his jugular vein and several major arteries before it came to rest in his shoulder. He still had a heartbeat when the ambulance arrived and on his arrival at St Joseph’s Hospital. Efforts to revive him by opening his chest and attempting cardiac massage were unsuccessful and at 7:05 PM Dr King was pronounced dead.

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Witnesses reported a man named James Earl Ray fleeing the area after the shooting. The Remington rifle and a pair of binoculars with Ray’s fingerprints were found at the scene. Ray was apprehended at London’s Heathrow Airport two months later. Ray was tried and convicted of Dr King’s murder. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison and died in 1998. During the trial Ray recanted his confession, implicated an unknown man named “Raul” who he had supposedly met in Montreal as being involved and said that “he personally did not kill” Dr King hinting at a conspiracy. Ray plead guilty to avoid the death penalty.

Other theories were postulated about the murder and Lloyd Jowers who owned a restaurant across from the Lorraine Motel claimed in a 1993 interview that the US Government and the Mafia were complicit in the killing, that Ray was a scapegoat and that Memphis Police Lieutenant Earl Clark was the shooter.

Jowers’ story is disputed but it was believed by King’s widow Coretta Scott King.  She filed a wrongful death lawsuit in which a jury found that Jowers and others including government agencies were guilty of the plot to kill Dr King on December 8th 1998. Though Jowers’ story was contradicted by much of his own testimony during the trial the results have caused a divide in who experts believe killed Dr King. As for the King family they reconciled with Ray before his death.

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Regardless of who killed Dr King the result was a shock to much of the nation and in many places riots broke out despite the pleadings of most Civil Rights leaders to continue in Dr King’s path of non-violence.

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Senator Robert F Kennedy, then running for the Democratic Party nomination for President learned of Dr King’s shooting just before flying to Indianapolis for a campaign rally. On his arrival he learned of Dr King’s death. Warned by police that he could be in danger he made an impromptu speech from the back of a flat bed truck. The speech was short, under 5 minutes but its message is applicable even today.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m only going to talk to you just for a minute or so this evening, because I have some — some very sad news for all of you — Could you lower those signs, please? — I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world; and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, and with hatred, and a desire for revenge.

We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with — be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.

But we have to make an effort in the United States. We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.

My favorite poem, my — my favorite poet was Aeschylus. And he once wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

So I ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King — yeah, it’s true — but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times. We’ve had difficult times in the past, but we — and we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; and it’s not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Thank you very much.”

Two months later Kennedy was shot and mortally wounded by Sirhan Sirhan after winning the California Primary.

The loss of Dr King and later Senator Kennedy was profound. So tonight take the time to remember and pray that we all will be able to go to the mountain and see the promised land where in a more perfect Union we will heal the wounds that so divide our country.

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Today the rights that Dr. King and so many others fought for dating back to the days of Frederick Douglass are being rolled back at the local, state and Federal level. The administration of President Trump and Republican led statehouses have been working overtime to silence dissent, discredit opposition, and through unjust laws and policies upend the civil rights not only of Blacks, but other people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people, and Muslims.

Dr. King noted the night before he was slain that “we’ve got some difficult days ahead” but as he told his staff in January 1968 “Hope is the final refusal to give up.”

Peace

Padre Stave+

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