Tag Archives: 2 cor 5:19

No Better than the Tyrant: The Christian Enablers of Evil Leaders

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Conservative Evangelical Pastor Robert Jeffress and President Trump during the 2016 Campaign 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Earlier I wrote about the costs when the Church crawls into bed with Caesar. While there was some criticism of the President in the article it was directed and more of an indictment of the Christians who by their words, deeds, and silence destroy the witness of the Church in their quest for temporal power over those they believe to be unworthy of the grace, love, and mercy of God; not by any sense of Christian theological doctrine, the Creeds, or the Councils, but for reasons of race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or their political beliefs.

Unfortunately, this comes at a tremendous cost to those who claim to be Christians and for the Church itself. Paul the Apostle wrote to the church in Corinth: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us…” (2 Cor 5:19 NRSV)

The ministry of reconciliation has nothing to do with achieving political power no matter how it is done, especially when it comes at the cost of despising God become incarnate by supporting a would be tyrant, even if the tyrant was elected under a system designed to inhibit tyrants, a system that he used, very probably with the help of a hostile foreign power to conquer.

But despite the obvious culpability of the President and his close supporters for this situation, the culpability of the church and the Christian leaders who were his strongest supporters is much greater than the man with no morals, no empathy, and a who seems to suffer a greatly reduced neurological, psychological, and intellectual capacity to govern; a man whose actions are those of a sociopathic narcissist who appears to only care about himself and what profits himself. Throughout his life he has shown through his words and actions that he does not value other people except in regard to how they or their skills profited him, his family, or his businesses. People, regardless of who they are, or their relationship to him are fungible regardless of their personal loyalty, they are expendable: Bannon, Manafort, Flynn, Christie, Priebus, and so many others. Sadly, the Christians that excuse his actions on the basis of political power and expediency throw themselves before the throne of Caesar and crawl into bed with him will never understand because adorned in all of their jewels and riches like the Harlot of the book of Revelation will not understand the costs of their obeisance until the Beast turns upon them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Ethics: 

“For the tyrannical despiser of humanity, popularity is a sign of the greatest love for humanity. He hides his profound distrust of all people behind the stolen words of true community. While he declares himself before the masses to be one of them, he praises himself with repulse vanity and despises the rights of every individual. He considers the people stupid, and they become stupid; he considers them weak, and they become weak; he considers them criminal, and they become criminal. His most holy seriousness is frivolous play; his conventional protestations of solicitude for people are bare-faced cynicism. In  his deep contempt for humanity, the more he seeks the favor of those he despises, the more certainty he arouses the masses to declare him a god. Contempt for humanity and idolization of humanity lie close together. Good people, however, who see through all this, who withdraw in disgust from people and leave them to themselves, and who would rather tend to their own gardens than debase themselves in public life, fall prey to the same temptations to have contempt for humanity as do bad people. Their contempt for humanity is of course more noble, more upright, but at the same time less fruitful, poorer in deeds. Faced with God’s becoming human, this contempt will stand the test no better than the tyrant. The despiser of humanity despises what God has loved, despises the very form of God become incarnate.” 

Wittenberg, Nationalsynode

Nazi Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller with the S.A (above) and with Hitler (below)

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Like the German Christians who supported Hitler, be they those who remained loyal to him or those like Bonhoeffer’s colleague Martin Niemoller turned against Hitler when they realized the nature of the beast; conservative American Christians who have supported the presidency of President Trump without regard to the Gospel or the commands of Christ are much more responsible when it comes to the final judgement than the man that they helped put into power. God and history will hold hem accountable for the debacle that they bring upon the world.

Those leaders are well represented by Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas, who said during the 2016 election campaign:

“You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” Jeffress said. “I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.”

Jeffress would probably agree with Reich Bishop Müller who before the Nazi seizure of power wrote:

“Mere compassion is charity and leads to presumption, paired with bad conscience, and effeminates a nation. We know something about Christian obligation and charity towards the helpless, but we also demand the protection of the nation from the unfit and inferior. We see a great danger to our nationality in the Jewish Mission. It promises to allow foreign blood into our nation…” 

I think that Jeffress and his brand of American Conservative Christianity is no better than that of Reich Bishop Müller which joined by young clergy from lower middle-class or non-academic backgrounds. Richard Evans wrote about them in his book Third Reich in Power: 

“Such men desired a Church whose members were soldiers from Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through the involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion.”

How many other prominent conservative Evangelicals, Charismatics and others have espoused exactly that type of Christianity?

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Post Easter Thoughts on Christian Right Paranoia

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Easter was weird for me this year. While I rediscovered the joy of celebrating Eucharist thanks to three Lebanese Christian officers who were in our last class at the Staff College, I struggled. I mentioned last week that it wasn’t my post-Iraq agnosticism, but rather a reaction to the power hungry preachers, politicians and pundits of the Christian Right.

These are people who though they hold most of the levers of power in the Republican Party, have a stranglehold on over half of the state legislatures and state houses as well as have the majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate live in a paranoid dream world. It is a cloud-cookoo-land were they honestly continue to spread the lie that they are the only group that it is legal to discriminate against. It is a world where they pass laws to discriminate against groups of people that they hate and then say that they are being discriminated against.

The positively Orwellian attitude, words and actions of these people are responsible for the rapid decline of people who call themselves Christians and the rapid expansion of people who no longer believe. The reason is born out by the polls of the Barna Group, Pew Religion Research and many other polls. They all agree. It is not Jesus that people reject, it is his most ardent followers, who are now described as Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political.

Another Barna poll recorded that young people were leaving the church because “Christians demonize everything outside of the church,” that “God seems missing from my experience of church,” that “Christians are too confident they know all the answers and that churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in,” that “churches are afraid of the beliefs of other faiths” and “church is like a country club, only for insiders,” and finally that young people are unable to ask their “most pressing life questions in church,” that they have “significant intellectual doubts about their faith,” and that the church “does not help with depression or other emotional problems.”

Despite these self-inflicted wounds the Christian Right and their allies blame everyone else for the demise of the Christian church in the United States. Instead of making a genuine attempt to witness of the grace, love and mercy of Jesus embodied in the message of reconciliation so wonderfully stated in Second Corinthians chapter five:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 

Note that in this there is no command to judge or take political control over the world, it is a message of reconciliation seldom practiced by Christians now or sadly throughout much of history, especially after the Church became the Imperial Church under Constantine.

The words of the Christian Right and their allies, especially regrading homosexuals have reached such a point of ridiculousness that it is hard to know whether to laugh or cry. Cries by Mike Huckabee that “It won’t stop until there are no more churches, until there are no more people who are spreading the Gospel, and I’m talking now about the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth.” 

Others repeatedly invoke the specter of Nazi Germany, persecution of Christians and even concentration camps and martyrdom, even though they are the ones passing the laws and using the government to legislate against homosexuals. But they say that they are the victims of homosexual hatred and liberal intolerance.

To me it is reminiscent of the scare tactics used by the Souther proponents of secession and slavery in the months leading to the Civil War. Henry Benning of Georgia told the Virginia Secession conference:

“I fear that the day is not distant when the Cotton States, as they are called, will be the only slave States. When that time comes, the time will have arrived when the North will have the power to amend the Constitution, and say that slavery shall be abolished, and if the master refuses to yield to this policy, he shall doubtless be hung for his disobedience…we will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth; and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. That is the fate which Abolition will bring upon the white race…But that is not all of the Abolition war. We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks…”

The message of the Christian Right and their allies is laden with similar statements, not about blacks, at least openly, but mostly in regard to Gays and the LGBT community.  None of these words or actions can be in the slightest construed with an authentic Christian message. Robert Henlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

This is what Conservative American Christians of the Christian Right, especially the leaders who subscribe to Christian Dominionism are doing every day. That my friends is why the church in the United States is dying and why people are fleeing it in record numbers, and why non-believers want nothing to do with it. It is why I struggle. 

But there is an antidote to this, a message that wonderfully contradicts everything that the Christian Right and their allies stand for, and that is a message of love.

In his last Bishop Blackie Ryan novel, the late Father Andrew Greeley used the example of a fictional Spanish Cardinal to his people. It is the message that needs to be preached here and now in this country:

“So many of our lay people believe that ours is a Church of rules, that being Catholic consists of keeping rules. They do not find an institution which is like that very appealing. Nor should they.

In fact, we are a Church of love. Our message from the Lord himself even today is the message that God is Love and that we are those who are trying, however badly, to reflect that love in the world. I find that in my own city that notion astonishes many people. How we came to misrepresent that which we should be preaching above all else is perhaps the subject for many doctoral dissertations.

More important for us today, however, is the reaffirmation that we exist to preach a God of love, we try to be people of love, and we want our church to be, insofar as we poor humans can make it, a Church of radiant love.

Does such a Church have a future? How could it not?”

Greeley wrote more than fiction, he was a socialist and a historian. He noted something about a time when Christians were actually the subject of real persecution before Constantine:

“People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good — Catholics were so good to one another, and they were so good to pagans, too. High-pressure evangelization strikes me as an attempt to deprive people of their freedom of choice.”

But now the problem is more than high pressure evangelism, it is the high pressure political machine that the Christian Right is an integral part. That my friends is what is destroying the witness of the church, not gay rights or same-sex marriage. It isn’t the liberals, or the media, it is a woefully short-sighted belief that Christians must subdue those who they disagree with and disapprove of and that they must work to use the law of the state to establish their view as law, and enforce that law on others.  Eric Hoffer noted that:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

The Christian Right has found multiple devils to demonize: gays, women, liberals and anyone else they want to make the enemy of their God. As Hoffer said: “religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

I thought about this subject over the past week in the context of my own struggle and the series of articles that I wrote about the Roman Centurion during Holy Week. Despite my own struggle I realize it is better to struggle with faith than to subscribe to the absolute falsehood and heresy of the hatred and judgment used by the Christian Right and their allies.

Anyway, I am tired and need to take a break.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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God With Us? The Misuse of God’s Promise by Political Partisans

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It is one of the most amazing stories of salvation history. The Incarnation of God in Jesus the Christ. Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 1 v.24), referring back to the words of Isaiah delivers the message in words which find their way into our culture every Christmas through Georg Friedrich Handel’s Messiah: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, ‘God with us.’”

That message, which lays at the heart of the Christian Gospel is really amazing.  It is a message that points to a Gospel meant for all people and not any particular nation, nor any political, racial, or ethnic group that wishes to appropriate it for themselves alone.

It is the message of the humility and grace of God.  It is the message God humbling himself to become incarnate and not only live among his creation, but to suffer and die for the salvation of it. All of it. As Paul wrote so well in his epistle to the Philippians:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-7)

Unfortunately that message is all too often appropriated and twisted into something unrecognizable by those who seek to use it to bolster their particular ideology, nationalism or even racism. In practice, human beings are much more likely to claim this message to bolster their own hatred and intolerance or justify their nation’s desire for conquest. It matters not if the a Christian in any sense of the word or not. One sees the same idea floated by zealots of almost every major religion. The appeal to being on the same side of God trumps all other arguments.

As a historian I have studied this often. In the United States it is encompassed in the idea of Manifest Destiny; but can be seen in the life and history of many nations who in their belief that God was on their side have slaughtered hundreds of millions of people. One does not have to look far to see leaders of nations, political factions, ideologues or other fanatics appropriate God as the trump card of their message. However, it is not just a matter for history. It happens every day, and it is not pretty. Many use it to justify the most reprehensible crimes, persecution, ethnic cleansing and even genocide. They do so all in the name of God, preaching that God is with them, and not those who they despise.

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Today I saw a blog on a service that I use to promote my website. The author of the blog promotes an extremely conservative political ideology with most of his posts being directed with some vehemence, often colored by blatant racism at President Obama and others that he does not agree with. Usually his posts are filled with such hyperbole and nonsense that I simply ignore them. However, today he posted something that as a Christian really bothered me. His post was titled Do Not Fear, God is With Us, and it featured the picture shown above. When I saw it, I felt a chill run down my spine. It was as if I was envisioning the virulent hatred of other races, creeds and nations exhibited by those who have claimed that mantle before. I can see it now, a belt-buckle with a Swastika, ringed in the words “Gott Mit Uns.” 

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The sad thing is that the Christians who claim this mantle misuse scripture and twist it to justify their hatred of all that they disagree with, have lost sight of the Gospel. Instead they have allowed their passionate hatred and prejudice to hijack the message of the Gospel to promote political partisanship, hyper nationalism and xenophobia. This can hardly be called Christian. If such ideas were was limited to the fringe of society it would not be so concerning. However, this blogger represents a significant portion of the American electorate; and his comments are echoed by the very powerful, and allegedly Christian leaders of partisan political organizations, as well as pundits, politicians and preachers. If you do not agree with them you are not a real American.

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Cartoon from the Nazi Der Sturmer linking the Nazi Movement to Christ, with the Jew being the villain 

Instead of seeing the message of God’s grace, love and mercy for all people, we see triumphalist Christians that claim that God is with them. In their zeal they ride roughshod over others, and despise all who disagree with or oppose them. Their opponents are painted as being in league with the Devil, modern Judas Iscariots. In their lives and ideology many Christians follow leaders who espouse brutal doctrines of Social Darwinism and sell their birthright for a pittance. They attempt to use of the police power of government at every level against those that they disapprove, in matters of faith, lifestyle or politics. Likewise they have no compunction about using the military and economic power of the nation to crush weaker nations, all because they believe that they and their country have God on their side.

But do such sentiments have any place in the message of Christians? I think not. As Paul the Apostle notes: if in Christ “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Or as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5: 19)

The Gospel is not about God being on the side of any nation or political ideology. Such ideas always end in disaster for those that believe them, and who use God to justify their actions.

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McNoughton’s “One Nation under God”

The picture on the website that triggered this little article is one by a Mormon artist, John McNoughton. McNoughton has frequently blended the image of Jesus with the most banal appeal to American “patriotism” and crude attacks on President Obama. In this picture as well as others the artist has Jesus holding a copy of the Constitution of the United States in his right hand, with his friends on that side, and his foes, including judges, others viewed as liberals and women. In his more crass attacks on the President in other paintings he shows Obama trampling the Constitution while white people are bound in chains. All of these show up with startling frequency on supposedly Christian websites.

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US Political Cartoon from 1896

The sad truth is that McNoughton is not the first to practice this crude form of xenophobic patriotism, which appeals to God in order to vilify the opponents of their ideology. It has been used in this country before, as well as in Europe to vilify Jews, racial minorities and political opponents.

Yes, I do believe that God is with us, however, that is not confused with appeals to my patriotism, which is real and has led me to serve this nation for over 30 years in the military including two combat tours in the Middle East. Nor does it add or detract from my support of our Constitution, why does not mention God once, despite its guarantee of religious freedom for all, not just Christians. It is an amazing document, one that I will die to defend, but it is not handed down by God, and Jesus never referred to it.

Instead, my belief that God is with us flows from the mystery of the Incarnation, that miracle of salvation history.  I believe in the message wonderfully referred to in the liturgy as the “mystery of faith,” that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. My belief flows from the simple message that for God so loved the world… and not that God so established this or any other nation or political ideology as his own.

I understand the fear that drives men like the blogger who posted the article I saw, as well as men like McNoughton. Their fear of the other allows them to use these images to promote their hopelessly confused faith and ideology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer who saw the same fear and hatred present among his fellow Germans, especially German Christians wrote:

“The Christian must treat his enemy as a brother, and requite his hostility with love. His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.”

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What I see from the present political ideologues has nothing to do with love of God or our neighbor, but their efforts to protect their status in society, their political power and subject all others to their will.

God is with us indeed, in the humility of a borrowed manger, on the gibbet of a Roman cross, and in shame of a borrowed tomb. God is really present with us in the the bread and wine, in the word, and in the lives of his people; especially the least, the lost and the lonely. To attempt to crudely use God to buttress any earthy power is heresy. Those that use it in such a manner, though proclaiming their fealty to Christ, or any other God, willingly trample the message of the God who humbled himself, even to death on a cross.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Predictable Unpredictability of Revolution and the Christian Call to Reconciliation

Revolutions often end with one Tyranny replacing another

“In a revolution, as in a novel, the most difficult part to invent is the end.” Alexis de Tocqueville

“All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people.” Adolf Hitler

We are living in revolutionary times. When we look around the world and down the street we cannot help but notice the flames of revolution burning. While we are focused on the amazing revolutions going on in the Arab World there is revolution brewing in the United States. Revolution that has been stoked on the airwaves and in cyberspace against ineffective government and political parties concerned more about their power and financial institutions that have devastated our economy for years as is hitting our state capitals as the country lurches deeper into economic and social crisis.

“Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.” Barbara  Tuchmann

Many good and honorable people are part of a new revolutionary movement in the United States but such movements sometime morph into the very thing that they protest when unscrupulous people take them over. (Reuters photo)

Whether actual revolutions that have been relatively peaceful in Tunisia and Egypt to ones where those in power have resorted to deadly force such as Libya and Iran as well as those in their incipient stages they are forerunners of many more to come. Just count the countries in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the Americas where for a variety of reasons protests, dramatic political change and revolts erupt threatening the old order. Be it the overthrow of despots in the Middle East, calls for a Jasmine revolution in China, economic collapse in various European Union countries that cause massive electoral shifts that threaten the breakup of that union, narco-anarchy in Mexico or chaos in U.S. State Capitals all signs tell us that we have entered a new age of revolution. Likewise the talk of revolution is everywhere even in the United States where some in the Tea Party movement call for a revolution against the status quo in Washington D.C. and against the growth and power of the Federal Government.

“The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane, and devoted natures; the unselfish and the intelligent may begin a movement – but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of a revolution. They are its victims.” Joseph Conrad

The one constant about revolutions is that they unpredictable even those that begin with the most altruistic of motives. Likewise in many cases those who begin the revolutions often become the victims of those that come after them. That is a fact from history and it is often true that as Barbara Tuchmann said “Every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed.” That is the danger that is faced as we enter this revolutionary era.

It is always cool to see tyrants fall and for people to have a chance to be free, but unfortunately evil always lurks in the hearts of those who seek to exploit the revolution for their own power’s sake. No movement is immune from this threat and those who are convinced of their own righteousness and rightness of their cause are very likely to take up the mantle of tyranny that they helped overthrow.

Larry Klayman who writes for World Net Daily made this comment in a recent opinion piece on that site:

“What establishment governmental institution will hold our judges, legislators and even the president accountable to the “rule of law”? The answer is none! It’s all one happy club of “establishment felons,” who, whether Democrat or Republican, play the game, scratch each others’ backs and feed at the huge trough of government money and favors.

It’s the establishment, stupid – whether it’s in the good ol’ USA, Cairo or Tripoli – that has ruled the school. And “we the peons,” are given the crumbs that are left after the establishment pillages, rapes, perverts and destroys the at one time noble institutions of government that were created by and for the people.

Thousands of years ago, a revolutionary in the Holy Land confronted a similar total breakdown of values, ethics and the rule of law. He confronted corruption in the highest places of government – before his fellow clergy, the Jewish high priests and the Roman Forum – and did so fearlessly. He paid with his life, and his name was Jesus Christ.

Our rotting and diseased institutions need to be attacked legally and, I am sorry to say, torn down – and then built back up again into the “faithful city of Jerusalem.” While I do not advocate violence – indeed, Jesus never resorted to this – we must urgently find other ways such as civil disobedience to wage a new revolution. We cannot be afraid, and we must act immediately. Because our nation and the planet stand on the precipice of complete chaos and extinction. And, unless we rid it of the vermin who inhabit and have seized our establishment institutions as their own, and reform these corrupt institutions, we will soon perish. The American people did their first house cleaning in our first Revolution.

Now it’s time to bring on the second! If even the Arabs, who have no history of democracy and freedom, can do it, then why can’t we?” Larry Klayman: If Arabs can Revolt why can’t We? 27 February 2011 retrieved from World Net Daily http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=268289

While the  Revolution in Egypt was mostly peaceful no one is sure exactly how it will end

Klayman voices the anger of many, maybe not a majority but a significant minority of the American electorate, many of which are conservative Christians, a minority that is becoming more organized daily and is threatening to supplant the establishment Republican Party as the voice of conservatism. Now I have little respect for the two corrupt political parties that have gotten us into this mess but when writers, especially Christians refer to people, even corrupt rulers as vermin is scary. I do think that elected and non-elected officials need to be held accountable but never believe that dehumanizing them by referring to them as “vermin” is wise. Such calls usually mean that when the new order, whatever it is comes to power those in the old order are not just swept away but many times exterminated. One only has to look at history to see that this is the case.

Likewise for them to reduce Jesus Christ to a mere revolutionary who “confronted corruption in the highest places” as Klayman does actually does violence to the message of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the message of Jesus which was never about his followers changing governments or overthrowing kingdoms by means other than the love of God and the call to be reconciled to God as Paul the Apostle writes “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:19 NRSV)

Revolutionary times often bring out the worst aspects of the human condition be it from the oppressors or the revolutionaries themselves. The unbridled passions that underlie revolutions are very difficult to contain. Anger, hatred, envy, distrust, cynicism, disrespect and the dehumanization of opponents only add fire to the legitimately unjust and evil conditions which feed calls for revolution and calls for change and often lead to violence and repression from those that harness the revolutionary spirit for their own ends. Revolution often begets tyranny.  Hitler understood this when he said “if today I stand here as a revolutionary, it is as a revolutionary against the Revolution.”

This is the danger zone into which some Christians plunge with wild abandon a zone where some radically depart from the message of reconciliation to the legitimization of violence through their interpretation of Scripture to buttress a political and revolutionary end. Doug Giles who is a commentator at Townhall.com and has his own radio program writes:

“The believer, however, has an insanely powerful arsenal of divinely-inspired dynamite to utilize against unrighteousness and those who propagate it. Yep, Dinky, it’s a prayer against both sin and sinner—the problem and its perpetrator. Theologians call these the imprecatory prayers, or maledictions. I call them Dirty Harry prayers, prayers to pull out and pray when things get bad. Real bad. Prayers you use when a nation’s getting mucked up by degenerate priests or politicos.” Note to Church: Pray Dirty Harry Prayers for Our Nation. Posted July 25, 2009 by nhiemstra in Doug Giles, Townhall.com retrieved 27 February 2011.

Giles uses Scripture to drive home his point but he uses Scripture against Jesus. If I recall correctly Jesus was not about this. He may have pronounced woes upon the religious elite of his time but when they arrested him and abused him he did not protest. He acted in accordance with his instructions to his disciples:

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also…But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-29a and 25-36 NRSV)

In revolutionary times we are not called to become one with the revolution nor the status quo brought about by corrupt rules, institutions or oppressors. The call of the Church and Christians is to be salt and light and ambassadors of Christ’s call for humanity to be reconciled to God and to one another. It certainly is not a popular position now days as extremists of all types, including Christians throw gasoline on already raging fires.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer so stranger to the evils of revolutionary times and the tyrants that they often beget wrote in “The Cost of Discipleship”

“The followers of Christ have been called to peace. . . . And they must not only have peace but also make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. . . . His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they over-come evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.”

C. S. Lewis

That call is radically different than almost anything that we hear from politically active “revolutionary” Christians.  One of my regular readers posted a response to an article that I wrote a few days ago. In that response he quoted C. S. Lewis from his book The Screwtape Letters.” The quote which I include here is so appropriate to the spirit of our times and Lewis in one of his typically poignant observations has the demon Screwtape write his nephew Wormwood of how to use Christianity as a means to bring down mankind.

Uncle Screwtape pens his advice

“Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.”

Screwtape’s advice seems to have been heeded by many Christians in the United States. Our causes have usurped the faith. Scripture is nothing but a tool to advance the causes that we choose and the politics that we follow.

We do live in interesting times don’t we? Pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Church Maintained in Love: Maintaining Integrity and Preserving Relationships When Asked to Leave a Church

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right….” Martin Luther

The past three years have been filled with change and transition for me as anyone who is a regular reader of this site understands.  This week another transition took place as I was asked to leave the Charismatic Episcopal Church over my perceived “liberal” writings and spiritual journey.  This has been a long time in coming and while I was surprised at the timing I was not surprised that it eventually came to this.  While my Bishop states that he did not ask me to leave the tenor of his call, which was pastoral and friendly yet used terms such as “you do not appear to be happy in the CEC,” “I would think that you might be happier in another church” and “liberal beliefs” indicated to me that I was being asked to leave and that was how I interpreted it.  He did not at all threaten my status in the military as I made my transition but left me with the impression that the sooner I found a new home the better.

Before I go into the process of how this happened I have to say that I depart the CEC without rancor or personal animosity and that unlike many who have departed the CEC will not engage in criticism or attacks on that Church or its leadership.  While I have theological, philosophical and pastoral disagreements with where I see the CEC going it is not for me to sit as the judge upon the CEC.  I have too many friends in the church and dare not risk relationships over issues that are mine to deal with.  At the same time I will in this post note those differences.  But again I say that all churches have the right and responsibility to do what they think is correct regarding their beliefs and how to deal with their clergy and laity that have differing views.  It is my view that unless a person is willing to stay within their church and abide by its discipline that they should leave peacefully.  I also believe that if a person feels that they are bound by the faith and by Scripture to remain in a church as a voice of loyal opposition that they should but have the grace not to make their opposition a personal crusade to get their way or to force change in their church before it is time.  I believe that a person who practices principled opposition can never use his opposition as an excuse to seek further division in the church. Likewise a person cannot allow his or herself to become so attached to his cause that he sees his opponents as enemies and allows hate to dominate his actions.

I believe that the Church is a community centered on Jesus and bound together by our baptism, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of All.  I believe in this community that there are many expressions of that faith.  We maintain the faith that comes passed to us in the Gospel “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19 NLT)

Within this context lies my journey. As a priest in the CEC I was bound by my vows to be obedient to the discipline of the church.  When I entered the CEC in 1996 I felt very comfortable with those vows. Over the course of the years I began to have misgivings about those vows as the church went through a number of very bitter splits over what amounted to be the issue of power and authority.  Money was at the root of much of this but also the personal misconduct of a number of Bishops as well as clergy aggravated the situation. In the United States during the period of 2004-2007 a total of 8 bishops left the church to form their own denominations or join other groups, many taking the majority of their clergy and parishes with them. Two of these bishops would return to the CEC in later years. One Archbishop resigned and became a Roman Catholic layman. One Archbishop was removed from his episcopate and left the church to form his own church and eventually the world-wide Patriarch was forced to step down after being complicit in the cover-up of an affair of his archdeacon and the wife of a layman in the church whose father was a priest in the military. All of those Bishops did more to damage the faith and witness of the CEC than any article that I could ever write so I am not ashamed as I have behaved with honor and maintained my vows.

During my time in the CEC I had a number of negative experiences with Bishops and clergy that are no longer in the CEC. The Archbishop that laicized and became Roman Catholic had forbidden me from writing after publishing two articles in a conservative Catholic journal.  The accusation was that I was “too Catholic and misrepresenting the church.” Of course my writings were following the lead of this bishop and a number of others that were trying on their own accord to push the CEC into communion with Rome. He did not inform the Archbishop for the Military of this.  I later had conflict with this bishop when I corrected a priest in his diocese who was not following what the bishop said to do. For my trouble I was forbidden to have relationships with civilian clergy in that diocese. When this bishop laicized this diocese imploded, only a few missions with very few members remain in the CEC. The others found homes in communions that the other departing bishops formed after failing to remove the Patriarch in 2006.  I had many friends leave the CEC at that time.  Thus from 2004 I had no local support of fellowship with anyone in the CEC. The bishop that inherited the scattered remnants of this diocese never contacted me in that time, apart from my fellow chaplains I felt completely cut off from the church.  Thus when all the major scandals and schisms occurred I only had the support and fellowship of a number of the priests of our military archdiocese. Despite this I felt bound to my vows as none of the Bishops that remained had wronged me in any way and I valued my relationship with my military bishop and fellow chaplains.

The CEC continued its implosion while I was in Iraq with the resignation of the Patriarch. I wondered if the CEC would survive in any form and began to explore options contacting a number of communions while in Iraq. When I returned home suffering from PTSD flashbacks, insomnia and anxiety as well as the lingering effects of wear and tear injuries to my shoulders and knees and a badly sprained ankle which refused to heal I was in pretty ragged shape. I told Judy that I felt that I needed to leave the CEC and recognizing the danger of a hasty move she persuaded me to stay and at least wait a year to make any decisions.

In fact in light of the journey that I have been on, especially since returning from Iraq in February 2008 I had began the process of seeking to find a home. This was done in large part because when I am done with my military service we plan on retiring in the Hampton Roads area.  One thing that I discovered after Iraq was that I needed local relationships and a church home.  This was something that even if I had remained in sync with the CEC that they could not have provided and I did find a local church home at St. James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth.

During that year I experienced a major crisis of faith that left me for nearly two years as a practical agnostic wondering where God was. Christmas of 2008 was so bleak that I left the Christmas Eve Mass at Judy’s parish before it started walking into the cold of the night asking God if he even existed.  Faith was a struggle for the next year, but I did find a local church home at St. James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth whose priest, Father John Agbaje became my pastor and friend. Though I was still struggling I found comfort in the liturgy and tradition of this historic church. It was a place of solace, something that I had not had in the CEC for many years.

By the summer I realized that if we were to remain in the Hampton Roads area that I would have to leave the CEC if nothing else for the local relationships that we were building at St. James. While this was occurring my faith journey continued. I saw many things going on in much of the church world, to sometimes include the CEC that concerned me as a Christian. These were pastoral, societal and political issues and not creedal issues even though for many conservative Christians including most of the CEC they are “hot button” issues.  While I consider myself a moderate many people on the far right consider that to be “liberal.” Due to the poisonous political and social climate that we live in here in the United States most people are no longer open to debate or dialogue on those issues. Since I have written about this in my recent article “Faith Journey’s: Why I am Still a Christian” ( https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2010/09/22/faith-journey%E2%80%99s-why-i-am-still-a-christian/) I will not go into them here.

In fact it was the Monday following that article that I received a call from my military archbishop telling me that I would have to find a new denominational home due to my “liberal” beliefs.  He is a friend and I sure that the call pained him to make, we go back almost 15 years.  I do not know what led to the call but presume it was pressure from other bishops to do something about me although he stated that this was not the case. I hold no ill will toward Bishop Doug or anyone else in the CEC leadership for asking me to leave. In a way it was a relief as I realized that my writings, even as circumspect as I tried to make them could cause problems for me in the CEC.

At no time did I attack the leadership of the CEC or its stand on any of these issues but evidently some considered my statements as a challenge to the church and its authority.  I am of the belief that to remain viable that there should be differing opinions on matters that are pastoral and societal and not out of keeping with the Christian tradition.  For me it does not matter if a church is conservative or liberal, if it silences dissent by people who are committed to that church for dissent on non-creedal issues then it does itself a disservice in the long run. But again I have to say that the CEC like any Church has the right and responsibility to maintain its church discipline and uphold what it believes to be true and that asking me to leave was within the bounds of its canons

Another endorsing agent helped me find the the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church (http://www.apostoliccatholic.org/default1.htm) an Old Catholic Communion whose ethos is very similar to mine.  I have had meaningful talks with the Presiding Bishop, Diana Dale and a number of priests who have served or are serving as military chaplains.  I really look forward to serving in the ACOC for many years to come.

My original desire was to leave the CEC quietly but my writings have placed me at odds with the CEC as a whole and as a consequence I have been asked to leave.  I can do so in good conscience knowing that for 14 years I served the church well and presented a positive view of the church even when the church was going through its most difficult times.  I can maintain my integrity and be more open in my beliefs by leaving than remaining.

Over the past three years Bishop Doug has been most supportive and even had not chided me on other articles that voiced similar sentiments as the Faith Journey’s article and I shall maintain a friendship even if we disagree on some issues. Relationships matter and I refuse to make enemies on my way out of the CEC. I will miss my friends at Church of the Messiah in Jacksonville where we worshipped in 2002-2003 and St. Michael’s in San Clemente who hosted the best of our military diocese convocations, as well as my friends and brothers in the Archdiocese for the Armed Forces. I will remain in contact with many through Facebook and other means.  Friends are friends and I and I will not leave with the bitterness and animosity of so many that left the CEC earlier in the decade, people who have not been able to move past their hurt and embrace their new church homes.

I hope this article in some ways explains my journey. Bishop Doug has already let my fellow military priests know that I am leaving the CEC so at least some people know what has happened. I will contact those that I am closest to personally and provide this article to others.  This is a painful time of transition but it is the right decision for both the CEC and me.

My official change over to the ACOC will take place sometime next week.  I thank all of my friends in the CEC for your support and prayers over the years.  I will keep the CEC and you my friends in my prayers as I continue my journey.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

Non nobis, non nobis, Domine
Sed nomini tuo da gloriam

Postscript: I had a conversation with Bishop Doug this morning. In that conversation he stated that he did not ask me to leave the CEC in our conversation two weeks ago, just that I appeared to be “unhappy” in the CEC and might want to look elsewhere because of “liberal views” suggesting the Episcopal Church as a possibility.  This is true, he did not directly ask me to leave, but I interpreted the call in that manner he used the term “liberal views.” It was that term that led me to believe that perhaps he had been talked to about me as the term is loaded in the current climate of American religious and political debate. I did not mention other instances regarding past encounters with some in the current CEC leadership that also influenced my interpretation of Bishop Doug’s words. That serves no purpose and I will not mention names or even incidents because I do not want those encounters to be used against the CEC or anyone in it.

I implore anyone that reads this post NOT to disparage Bishop Doug in any way. He is a gentleman and a Christian and I know that he bears me no malice whatsoever. He has been attacked personally on the blogs of many that left the CEC and I cannot countenance that or lend my voice to those criticisms. SLD+

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