Tag Archives: american christianity
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
No matter how one viewed him Billy Graham was both a legend, a remarkable man, and a truly historic figure in terms of the Evangelical Christianity that he popularized more than any other preacher before or after him. His legacy will be debated for years and I think that it is very possible that in death he will become larger than he was in life; mostly because those who attempted to follow him were poor imitations or politically motivated hucksters that Graham himself would later have nothing to do with.
Though many knew him as “America’s Pastor” he only briefly served as the pastor of a small church before he became an evangelist, a role for which he was particularly suited, he was the entire package. Graham was young, good looking, and could communicate a simple evangelical message with conviction, passion, and grace in a way that few evangelists before or since have been able to do. He was also incredibly adept in understanding the potential of television and the broadcasting of his message world wide.
When I was a kid his crusades were a staple of television. I had an aunt in Stockon California who when she wasn’t watching Lawrence Welk she was watching Billy Graham crusades. Whenever we visited her viewing habits didn’t change, no wonder my uncle Ted spent so much time in at his favorite local bar, but I digress…
That being said, even when I was eleven or twelve years old Reverend Graham’s crusades were amazing to watch. First was the fact that despite the simplicity of his message he was exceptionally talented in delivering it. To see thousands of people responding to his call for conversion or rededication to Christ as George Beverly Shea led choirs singing the invitational hymn Just as I Am was a thing of rare beauty when it comes to evangelical crusades and altar calls. Billy Graham was a master of manipulating emotions to bring people down the aisle, and I do not mean anything malicious by that.
Graham’s message was simple in its traditional evangelical message. All have sinned, and that means all of us; Christ died to save sinners; repent, believe, and confess Jesus as your savior. The message was not new, it had been preached by Christians in a variety of forms and in many cultural variations for about 1900 years before Graham ever began his first crusade, but Graham’s were much more of the simplistic fundamentalist evangelicalism that has been part of the American landscape since the Second Great Awakening. It had been a staple of Fundamentalist revival preachers for decades before Graham but unlike the hellfire and brimstone message of previous preachers like Billy Sunday Graham focused on the love of God, and unlike so many his sincerity in preaching that message came through whether in person or on television.
His message was grounded in the theology of Pre-millennial Dispensationalism of Irish Anglican Priest John Darby which found its way to North America where it was popularized by American C.I. Schofield. The message was simple and based on the belief the the return of Christ to judge the world was imminent: accept Christ and avoid the wrath to come.
His message was no different than thousands of other preachers like him, but he was better at it and understood the role of media, particularly television in spreading the message. Likewise while he encouraged Christians to become more politically active in the 1950s and 1960s though when Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalist preachers formed a political movement that became the current Christian Right he warned against it. In 1981 he said:
“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”
He had learned the hard way, while he was a gifted evangelist, he was not a prophet and in the first two decades of his career, Graham, the North Carolina Democrat allowed himself to become captive to Republican Presidents. He compared Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and said that Richard Nixon was “the most able and best trained man for the job in American history.”
To his credit Graham did not seek the friendship or companionship of Presidents, except for Nixon, but every President after John F. Kennedy regardless of Party sought Graham’s counsel, advice and spiritual support. That being said the low mark of his career and ministry was when tapes of him and Richard Nixon emerged in 2002 in which while they agreed with their support of Israel, disparaged American Jews and their supposed control of the media, to which Graham added the Jews support for pornography. When that came to light Graham apologized and tried to put his remarks in context of those of President Nixon but his retractions for that was well as his remarked in a letter to Nixon to “bomb the dikes” in order to flood North Vietnam irregardless of civilian casualties demonstrated a ruthlessness in support of American military power being used against civilians damaged his credibility for many people.
In terms of civil rights and race relations Graham desegregated his crusades, even personally taking down the ropes that separated whites and blacks at one location. He told one audience in Mississippi that “there was no room for segregation at the foot of the Cross.” He supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to a degree but when Dr. King was jailed in Birmingham Alabama and wrote his classic Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Graham told reporters that King should “put the brakes on a little bit.” His unwillingness to take risks in supporting civil rights later in life was something that would also damage his reputation among Christians and non-Christians alike.
In the 1980s he said that AIDS was the judgement of God, a comment that he quickly walked back. Later he realized his mistakes in being too close to Presidents and avoided Washington and the White House. That did not keep him from befriending or caring for Presidents including Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barak Obama.
To his credit Graham could admit his mistakes with a display of humility that is lacking in most big time preachers and evangelists. When Jonathan Merritt asked Graham how people could be more like him Graham responded: “First, I’d say, don’t try to be like me, because I didn’t always get it right.”
Likewise, in 2007 when he was asked why he never supported or was affiliated with the Moral Majority or other Right Wing Christian Evangelical political groups he said:
“I’m all for morality, but morality goes beyond sex to human justice. We as clergy know so very little to speak with authority on the Panama Canal or the superiority of armaments. Evangelists cannot be closely identified with any particular party or person. We have to stand in the middle in order to preach to people, right and left. I haven’t been faithful to my own advice in the past. I will be in the future.”
I only wish that those who pretend to be the leaders of the Christian Right today, including Graham’s son Franklin and daughter Annie would be wise enough to heed his advice.
I could go on and try to evaluate the other parts of his life and ministry both positive and negative, and those debates could could go in for decades.
As for me, I always found Reverend Graham to be a genuine, yet flawed man. Whether one agreed with his theology, style of ministry, or positions on different issues he wasn’t a fake. He was exactly who he was, he believed the message that he preached. He was neither a prophet or theologian, and he approached the political world with a certain naivety that unscrupulous politicians like Richard Nixon exploited.
Charles Templeton who traveled with Graham and frequently roomed with him in various crusades eventually parted ways with Graham and became an agnostic. Templeton, who died in 2001 was asked about Graham and said something that resonates with how I feel about him and his influence:
“I disagree with him profoundly on his view of Christianity and think that much of what he says in the pulpit is puerile nonsense. But there is no feigning in him: he believes what he believes with an invincible innocence. He is the only mass evangelist I would trust. And I miss him.”
Honestly, I don’t think there will be another like him, certainly among those who have tried to emulate him or take up his mantle in the now hyper-political world of American Evangelicalism. Graham learned lessons in dealing in the political world that those who have followed him, including his son Franklin have ignored, and when American Evangelicalism crumbles under the weight of political, social, and financial malfeasance and painfully shallow theology it will be their fault.
Later in life Graham moderated some of his views on salvation. When asked by John Meacham in 2006 whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, Graham said:
“Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won’t … I don’t want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.”
As I reflect on his passing I think that he will understand the implications of eternity more than any of us will and whether I agreed with him or not I will miss him and wish that his son and other Evangelicals would take heed and learn from his experiences rather than to keep digging the Church into the abyss.
On this Sunday I want to impart a short thought. The great American humorist Mark Twain once noted “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.”
Last week I preached about separation of church and state at my chapel and pretty much said the same thing. One think I noted was that if I wasn’t already a Christian that nothing I see in American Christianity could ever convince me to become a Christian.
The reality is that people are fleeing the church in record numbers and non-believers don’t even want to darken the door and I don’t blame them. The illusion of packed out mega-churches betrays the reality that if things continue apace that within a generation the American church of all denominations will be as bad off as the state churches of Europe which are empty, and no amount of the craven lust for political power of those who call themselves “evangelical” or “conservative” Christians will change that, instead it will make it worse.
Big name preachers rush to the side of a President who has measured them and found that by doing very little for them except say what they want to hear, that they will prostitute themselves to gain political power. George Truett, who served as Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, and President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote something that should serve as a warning to such people:
“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”
But it seems we don’t learn and the Millenials, as well as others, particularly combat vets like me, have looked behind the purple curtain of the Church’ Oz and found that Jesus isn’t there. What comes to mind when most people are asked to describe the Church? Let’s check the polls of evangelical pollster George Barna which have been corroborated time after time by Pew, Gallup, and other polls.
These polls find people are leaving Christian churches of all denominations in droves and that non-believers want nothing to do with the church. For most of these people it is not about God or Jesus, or even the Bible. It is due to the lack of love, care, compassion exhibited by Christians and the institutional corruption, lack of transparency, double standards and political machinations of churches over people that are not of their faith or under their institutional control. The surveys conducted by Christian pollsters like George Barna bear this out. When asked what words or phrases “best describe Christianity” the top response of 16-29 years olds was “anti-homosexual” while 91% of all non-Christians surveyed said this was the first word as it was for 80% of Christians in the survey. Here are those words that describe Christians. Personally I don’t like them but it is what it is.
Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;
Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it
Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts
Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality.
Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda
That is the future and honestly I think that it is too late to turn this around and it is not the fault of academics, liberals, homosexuals, scientists, educators, or the media. It is the fault of Christians who love power, position, and prosperity more than they love people; the same people that Jesus supposedly died and rose again to save. In fact many Christians spend so much of their time hating and preaching against people they have never even met that and allying themselves with the government to ensure that they can discriminate against LGBTQ people, women, Muslims, and a host of others solely based on their interpretation of cherry-picked Bible verses that no one listens to them anymore.
The great American patriot, free thinker, and atheist Robert Ingersoll wrote something that goes to the heart of the matter: “Christians tell me that they love their enemies, and yet all I ask is—not that they love their enemies, not that they love their friends even, but that they treat those who differ from them, with simple fairness.”
I cannot agree more with him. Ingersoll saw beyond that purple veils over a hundred years ago, and he asks a question that the purloined preachers of the American church have completely forgotten. If we want to attract people to Jesus we have to treat them with simple fairness and love, if we can’t do that then we forfeit all that we preach about Jesus and we shall be rightfully dmaned.
So anyway, until tomorrow,
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Another in my series dealing with aspects of Black history in the United States which is in every bit a part of American history as any other historical narrative about our nation. One thing that constantly amazes me is the way that some people, in fact many people, including the School Board of the State of Texas go out of their way to minimize the real and tragically crime against humanity that American slavery represented. Like many of the proponents of the whitewashing of slavery out of school textbooks, many of the most vehement supporters of the institution of slavery and its supposed Divine mandate were Christian churches, preachers, and writers. They were in the forefront of the secession movement and at the beginning of the Civil War bragged about how “God was on their side.” One again this is not an easy read if you take your Christian faith seriously, and it has direct application in how american Christians treat other despised races, ethnic groups, religions, and lifestyles today.
So have a great day,
“Lo! Suddenly, to the amazement of the world a mighty kingdom arose…. [of strictly providential Divine origin….The One like the Son of Man has appeared in the ride of the Confederate States.” Reverend William Seat 1862 
Perhaps more than anything, the denominational splits helped prepare the Southern people as well as clergy for secession and war. They set precedent by which Southerners left established national organizations. When secession came, “the majority of young Protestant preachers were already primed by their respective church traditions to regard the possibilities of political separation from the United States without undue anxiety.” 
One of the most powerful ideological tools since the days of the ancients has been the linkage of religion to the state. While religion has always been a driving force in American life since the days of the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, especially in the belief about the destiny of the nation as God’s “Chosen People,” it was in the South where the old Puritan beliefs took firm root in culture, society, politics and the ideology which justified slavery and became indelibly linked to Southern nationalism. “Confederate independence, explained a Methodist tract quoting Puritan John Winthrop, was intended to enable the South, “like a city set on a hill’ [to] fulfill her God given mission to exalt in civilization and Christianity the nations of the earth.” 
Religion and the churches “supplied the overarching framework for southern nationalism. As Confederates cast themselves as God’s chosen people.”  the defense of slavery was a major part of their mission. Southern clergymen had to find a balance between the two most important parts of their political and religious identity, evangelicalism and republicanism. Since these concepts could mean different things to different people Southern clergy and politicians had to find a way to combine the two. Depending on the interpreter “republicanism and evangelicalism could be reactionary or progressive in implication, elitist or democratic.”  This can be seen in how Northern and Southern evangelicals supported abolition or the institution of slavery.
A group of 154 clergymen calling themselves “The Clergy of the South” “warned the world’s Christians that the North was perpetuating a plot of “interference with the plans of Divine Providence.”  A Tennessee pastor bluntly stated in 1861 that “In all contests between nations God espouses the cause of the Righteous and makes it his own….The institution of slavery according to the Bible is right. Therefore in the contest between the North and the South, He will espouse the cause of the South and make it his own.” 
The effect of such discourse on leaders as well as individuals was to unify the struggle as something that linked the nation to God, and God’s purposes to the nation identifying both as being the instruments of God’s Will and Divine Providence. As such, for Southern preachers to be successful agents of the state, the “key to their success as the foundation of a hegemonic ideology lay in making”  evangelicalism and republicanism to seem to be both elitist and democratic at the same time. This resulted in a need to convince the “Southern people to acknowledge God’s authority was bound up with a legitimization of both clerical and civil rulers. Christian humility became identified with social and political deference as the clergy urged submission to both God and Jefferson Davis.” 
“Sacred and secular history, like religion and politics, had become all but indistinguishable… The analogy between the Confederacy and the chosen Hebrew nation was invoked so often as to be transformed into a figure of everyday speech. Like the United States before it, the Confederacy became a redeemer nation, the new Israel.” 
This theology also motivated men like the convinced hard line Calvinist-Presbyterian, General Stonewall Jackson on the battlefield. Jackson’s brutal, Old Testament understanding of the war caused him to murmur: “No quarter to the violators of our homes and firesides,” and when someone deplored the necessity of destroying so many brave men, he exclaimed: “No, shoot them all, I do not wish them to be brave.”  He told Richard Ewell after that General order his men not to fire on a Union officer galloping on a white horse during the Valley campaign, “Never do such a thing again, General Ewell. This is no ordinary war. The brave Federal officers are the very kind that must be killed. Shoot the brave officers and the cowards will run away with their men with them.” 
For Southerner’s, both lay and clergy alike “Slavery became in secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South….The Confederates were fighting a just war not only because they were, in the traditional framework of just war theory, defending themselves against invasion, they were struggling to carry out God’s designs for a heathen race.” 
From “the beginning of the war southern churches of all sorts with few exceptions promoted the cause militant”  and supported war efforts. The early military victories of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the victories of Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley were celebrated as “providential validations of the cause that could not fail…” Texas Methodist minister William Seat wrote: “Never surely since the Wars of God’s ancient people has there been such a remarkable and uniform success against tremendous odds. The explanation is found in the fact that the Lord goes forth to fight against the coercion by foes of his particular people. Thus it has been and thus it will be to the end of the War.” 
This brought about a intertwining of church and state authority, a veritable understanding of theocracy as “The need for the southern people to acknowledge God’s authority was bound up with a legitimation of the authority of clerical and civil rulers. Christian humility became identified with social and political deference to both God and Jefferson Davis.” 
Jefferson Davis and other leaders helped bolster this belief:
“In his repeated calls for God’s aid and in his declaration of national days of fasting, humiliation, and prayer on nine occasions throughout the war, Jefferson Davis similarly acknowledged the need for a larger scope of legitimization. Nationhood had to be tied to higher ends. The South, it seemed, could not just be politically independent; it wanted to believe it was divinely chosen.” 
Davis’s actions likewise bolstered his support and the support for the war among the clergy. A clergyman urged his congregation that the people of the South needed to relearn “the virtue of reverence – and the lesson of respecting, obeying, and honoring authority, for authority’s sake.” 
Bishop Leonidas Polk
Confederate clergymen not only were spokesmen and supporters of slavery, secession and independence, but many also shed their clerical robes and put on Confederate Gray as soldiers, officers and even generals fighting for the Confederacy. Bishop Leonidas Polk, the Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, who had been a classmate of Jefferson Davis at West Point was commissioned as a Major General and appointed to command the troops in the Mississippi Valley. Polk did not resign his ecclesiastical office, and “Northerners expressed horror at such sacrilege, but Southerners were delighted with this transfer from the Army of the Lord.”  Lee’s chief of Artillery Brigadier General Nelson Pendleton was also an academy graduate and an Episcopal Priest.
Southern churches were supremely active in the war effort. Churches contributed to the Confederate cause through donations of “everything from pew cushions to brass bells, Southern churches gave direct material aid to the cause. Among all the institutions in Southern life, perhaps the church most faithfully served the Confederate Army and nation.”  Likewise, many Southern ministers were not content to remain on the sidelines in the war and “not only proclaimed the glory of their role in creating the war but also but also went off to battle with the military in an attempt to add to their glory.” 
Sadly, the denominational rifts persisted until well into the twentieth century. The Presbyterians and Methodists both eventually reunited but the Baptists did not, and eventually “regional isolation, war bitterness, and differing emphasis in theology created chasms by the end of the century which leaders of an earlier generation could not have contemplated.”  The Southern Baptist Convention is now the largest Protestant denomination in the United States and many of its preachers are active in often-divisive conservative social and political causes. The denomination that it split from, the American Baptist Convention, though much smaller remains a diverse collection of conservative and progressive local churches. Some of these are still in the forefront of the modern civil rights movement, including voting rights, women’s rights and LGBT issues, all of which find some degree of opposition in the Southern Baptist Convention.
But the religious dimensions were far bigger than denominational disagreements about slavery; religion became one of the bedrocks of Confederate nationalism. The Great Seal of the Confederacy had as its motto the Latin words Deo Vindice, which can be translated “With God as our Champion” or “Under God [Our] Vindicator.” The issue was bigger than independence itself; it was intensely theological. Secession “became an act of purification, a separation from the pollutions of decaying northern society, that “monstrous mass of moral disease,” as the Mobile Evening News so vividly described it.” 
The arguments found their way into the textbooks used in schools throughout the Confederacy. “The First Reader, For Southern Schools assured its young pupils that “God wills that some men should be slaves, and some masters.” For older children, Mrs. Miranda Moore’s best-selling Geographic Reader included a detailed proslavery history of the United States that explained how northerners had gone “mad” on the subject of abolitionism.”  The seeds of future ideological battles were being planted in the hearts of white southern children by radically religious ideologues, just as they are today in the Madrassas of the Middle East.
While the various theological and ideological debates played out and fueled the fires of passion that brought about the war, they also provided great motivation to their advocates. This was true especially to Confederates during the war, that their cause was righteous. While this fueled the passion of the true believers, other very real world decisions and events in terms of politics, law and lawlessness, further inflamed passions.
 Ibid. Daly When Slavery was called Freedom p.147
 Brinsfield, John W. et. al. Editor, Faith in the Fight: Civil War Chaplains Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg PA 2003 p.67
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.27
 Ibid. Gallagher The Confederate War pp.66-67
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32
 Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.145
 Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.138
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.33
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.29
 Fuller, J.F.C. Grant and Lee: A Study in Personality and Generalship, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1957 p.129
 Davis, Burke They Called Him Stonewall: A Life of T.J. Jackson CSA Random House, New York 1954 and 2000 p.192
 Ibid. Faust, The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.60
 Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 pp.245-246
 Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom pp.145 and 147
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.26
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.33
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.32
 Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville Random House, New York 1963 1958 p.87
 Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.246
 Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.142
 Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage pp.392-393
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.30
 Ibid. Faust The Creation of Confederate Nationalism p.62
“An Example of Somebody Who’s done an Amazing Job” Frederick Douglass’s Immortal Words for the Church and Trump
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
A couple of weeks ago President Trump made an interesting acknowledgement of African American Abolitionist and civil rights champion, Frederick Douglass. The President said: “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice.” But I really wonder if the President, and the 80% plus continent of Evangelical and other conservative Christians really understand what Douglass stood for, or have ever heard his harsh words for the church of his day, which are as applicable now as when he penned them in 1845. It is hard read if you claim to be a follower of Jesus, because while the issue of slavery has been resolved, at least officially, there are many others who reside in this country now who are with the blessing of many “Christians” are discriminated against, persecuted, and even hated. Yes, Douglass’s words still echo loudly in our land.
Anyway, have a good day.
But African Americans too had an effect on the debate. In the 1820s Black abolitionists organized with white abolitionists and of their own accord “in order to improve their lives and to attack slavery.”  Even before “Garrison published his famous Liberator in Boston in 1831, the first national convention of Negroes had been held, David Walker had already written his “appeal,” and a black abolitionist magazine named Freedom’s Journal had appeared.”  Initially most blacks that could simply desired to improve their lives and hoped that their self-improvement would result in less discrimination and more opportunity. This was known as the self-improvement doctrine. But in the face of continued discrimination in the North and in a society where slavery was expanding and slavery proponents “philosophical and political defenders became ever more in intransigent, and where racism became an increasingly rigid barrier even to the most highly talented blacks, the self-improvement doctrine lost viability.” 
Escaped former slaves like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and others added their voices to the debate. Unlike the white abolitionists these leaders “formative years and antislavery educations were spent on southern plantations, and not in organizations dedicated to moral suasion.”  Douglass became a prominent abolitionist leader and was very critical of the role of churches, especially Southern churches, in the maintenance of slavery as an institution.
However, Douglass did not spare Northern churches from criticism for buttressing the peculiar institution. Douglass’s polemics against Northern and Southern churches in the South in his autobiography reads like the preaching of an Old Testament prophet such as Amos, or Jeremiah railing against the corrupt religious institutions of their day:
“I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference‐‐so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women‐whipping, cradle‐plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.
“Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of “stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.” I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fill the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me. He who is the religious advocate of marriage robs whole millions of its sacred influence, and leaves them to the ravages of wholesale pollution. The warm defender of the sacredness of the family relation is the same that scatters whole families, — sundering husbands and wives, parents and children, sisters and brothers, — leaving the hut vacant and the heart desolate. We see the thief preaching against theft, and the adulterer against adultery. We have men sold to build churches, women sold to support the gospel, and babes sold to purchase Bibles for the poor heathen! All for the glory of God and the good of souls.”
The Christianity of America is a Christianity, of whose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees, ʺThey bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on menʹs shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. All their works they do for to be seen of men.‐‐They love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, . . . . . . and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.‐‐But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. Ye devour widowsʹ houses, and for a pretence make long prayers; therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.‐‐Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides! which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but within, they are full of extortion and excess.‐Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead menʹs bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.ʺ Dark and terrible as is this picture, I hold it to be strictly true of the overwhelming mass of professed Christians in America. They strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel… They attend with Pharisaical strictness to the outward forms of religion, and at the same time neglect the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith. They are always ready to sacrifice, but seldom to show mercy. They are they who are represented as professing to love God whom they have not seen, whilst they hate their brother whom they have seen. They love the heathen on the other side of the globe. They can pray for him, pay money to have the Bible put into his hand, and missionaries to instruct him; while they despise and totally neglect the heathen at their own doors.
Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean by the religion of this land, that which is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, and yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify. 
Douglass and other African American abolitionists were cognizant of the fact that in spite of their good intentions that many Northern abolitionists were unconscious of their own racism and many black abolitionists were repelled by it. As such black abolitionists were characterized by “racial independence and pragmatism” while white abolition leaders though “still committed to antislavery principles, increasingly divided over doctrines such as political action or evangelical reform.”  Douglass and others realized that blacks had to take control of their own destiny and take an active role in the abolitionist movement. In 1854 Douglass declared “it is emphatically our battle; no one else can fight it for us….Our relations to the Anti-Slavery movement must be and are changed. Instead of depending on it we must lead it.”  Douglass and other black abolitionist leaders found this necessary because many white abolitionists were unable to “comprehend the world in other than moral absolute, as well as their unwillingness to confront issues of racial prejudice and poverty….”  As a result Douglass and other black abolitionist leaders went into the critical decade before the Civil War with a clear idea that the fight would be much more difficult and complicated than many of their white counterparts could image.
 Blight, David W. Beyond the Battlefield: Race, Memory and the American Civil War University of Massachusetts Press Amherst and Boston 2002 p.30
 Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.23
 Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.31
 Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.31
 Douglass, Frederick. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass: His Early Life as a Slave, His Escape From Bondage, and His Complete History. Anti-Slavery Office, Boston, 1845. Retrieved from http://antislavery.eserver.org/narratives/narrativeofthelife/narrativeofthelife.pdf/view February 24, 2017 copyright © 2005 by the Antislavery Literature Project.
 Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.32
 Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War p.24
 Ibid. Blight Beyond the Battlefield p.32
Today my friends another installment of my chapter in my Gettysburg text dealing with religion, racism and ideology as causes of the American Civil War. While many people, especially modern Southern White politicians like to repeat the mantra that we live in a “post-racial” society where racism no longer exists. I discussed that ridiculous assertion yesterday in my intro to the series so I won’t bother to repeat it now.
What I will do is discuss how religion has been used and in still being used by “true believers” of many religions to justify all sorts of evil in the name of their God. The latest and most newsworthy of such people are the practitioners of terror in the name of Allah, the Islamic State and Boko Haram in central and west Africa. These groups have brought back the concepts of what we would call public lynching of their enemies, burning them alive, beheading them, enslaving them, and engaging in ethnic and religious cleansing. They are ruthless and are a throwback to times that most of us had hoped had passed into recess of history.
But history has a way of never dying, especially for those who don’t stop believing in their cause. In resp0nse to the acts of ISIL and Boko Haram I have heard numerous American Christian politicians, pundits and preachers claim that Christians have never acted in such a way. I could go through the litany of crimes committed by Christians, Churches and the actions of nations whose state supported churches provided the theological justification for genocide, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, crusades, imperialism, slavery and a host of other crimes against humanity. Instead I am just going to focus on the theological justification of those who defended the institution of slavery, as well as their abolitionists opponents in this posting, because they are really not that too far removed from the actions of ISIL and the words of many supposedly Christian politicians, pundits and preachers in this country today.
This section begins with the Compromise of 1850, an act which included the Fugitive Slave Act which gave Southern Slaveholders the right to go into any state or territory to reclaim their human property and provided them with a extra-judicial system to support them. From this it transitions to the theological arguments and proclamations of those supporters of slavery and their opponents. The section ends with a note about a case that Virginia was pushing through the Courts in 1860, just prior to the Civil War, it was a case that they hoped would destroy any remaining legal obstacles to expanding slavery into Free States and territories against the wishes of the citizens of those states. I find it interesting that for people then as well as today the concept of “States Rights” only applies to them and their attempts to deny freedom to others.
Tomorrow I will post the third section of this chapter which begins with Bleeding Kansas, John Brown, the link between church and state in the Confederacy, the election of Lincoln, Emancipation, and the pervasive and poisonous myth of the Lost Cause in the United States.
Racism, as well as other forms of hatred backed by religion is still alive and it is not just in the Middle East and Africa. It is still here, and it is still happening now. It may be a bit more subtle and certainly not as violent as it was in the ante-bellum days, or Post-Reconstruction, but it is here. Like in the Middle East it bides its time until extremists can invent an excuse to resort to violence and terrorism.
“If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a Christian.” Mark Twain
Padre Steve is shrugging a lot today, so please excuse this but I have to say it. Sometimes I just want to scream when I see people and institutions claiming to be Christian when they exhibit none of the Christian graces or marks of the Christian faith.
I am constantly amazed by the self serving and self-righteous hatred shown by many of my allegedly Christian brothers and sisters towards that they do not approve. This is especially true of how they treat the LGBT community, who only want to get equal rights under the law. Of course my brothers and sisters who want to legislate the LGBT community out of existence. Some American Christians promote laws in Africa to send gays to prison or even worse sentence them to death. They do this with gusto, all while claiming with absolute certitude their interpretations of the Bible. While they condemn gays they ignore all the other Old Testament laws that prescribe similar harsh sentences, such as death for the very things that they do. The fact that supposedly Christian leaders such as Scott Lively and others are attempting to pass laws in the United States and other countries, especially in Africa to openly persecute and even execute gays is abhorrent.
To use the power of the State to enforce one’s religious beliefs on others is exactly what the founders of our country attempted to negate in our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson writing to Alexander Humbolt in 1813 correctly noted: “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”
Thus I shrug my shoulders and wonder which Bible they are reading, and I am a Priest, with a sound Biblical and theological education. Thus to those without that it really has to be confusing. But I am also a historian, ethicist and occasionally a stand up philosopher and I can spot theological and historical bullshit when I see it and smell it. Unfortunately many leaders of the American “Christian Right” are full of it and it stinks to low Hell.
I shrug my shoulders in wonder of the ignorance I see displayed by my Christian bothers and sisters, some of whom certainly regard me as an apostate or heretic for criticizing their political-religious crusades. But then I remember that the Bible they read is the one that excuses all the sins that they approve of, but condemns the sins of those that they don’t like. I think that the translation they cite is the Damn Everyone Else to Hell But Me Version of the Bible. But wait, you say that that there is no such translation? Well it may not be in print but it is certainly written on their hearts, like it is on the hearts of all true believers, but I digress. The great American philosopher 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.”
Likewise I get frustrated by my Christian brothers and sisters who routinely tell those suffering from Cancer or other painful or terminal conditions that they need to read a book or listen to a sermon by some Christian that is obviously more spiritual and better than the rest of us. Instead of coming alongside of those suffering they spout empty words, just like Job’s friends.
So I shrug because I remember that the command of Jesus to Christians is to bear one another’s burdens, not preach at those that are suffering.
But that being said I shrug my shoulders in amazement when I see those same Christian brothers and sisters embracing the abject and atheistic Social Darwinism of Ayn Rand and her Objectivist Philosophy. This has now been “baptized” by many leaders of the Christian Right as “Biblical” or “Christian.”
I also shrug when I see men who are paid millions of dollars a year to stir up hate and discontent by criticizing those that they do not approve throw tantrums and compare themselves to Jesus. Fox News Pundit Bill O’Reilly whined last week and did just that, saying that “even Jesus had haters.” Sorry Bill, but there is no comparison. You and those like you are hacks paid to stir shit up and keep people enraged so they keep watching your program. Unlike you, Jesus showed love and compassion to those that condemned him and didn’t get a penny for it.
I am a Christian, but I hate to say that the more I look around the more I see Christians who make me wonder about the God that they claim to represent. If I was not a believer I would have to admit that I see nothing redeeming in what I see and that have to wonder why I would want to believe in a God who according to the Christian Right is capricious, vindictive, petty, unloving, unethical and unjust. A “God” who is nothing like the one who according to Paul the Apostle:
“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 2:6-8 NRSV)
Thus I shrug. I cannot fathom the absurd depths of ignorance and hatred that is so routinely and even unthinkingly a part of the lives of some of my fellow Christians.
If the fact that I say this pisses people off, I have to say that I no longer care. I cannot pretend as I can no longer live in the cloud cuckoo land of conservative American Christianity.
So anyway. I had to get it out. I know that there will be some people who take offense to most of what I said and that is fine with me. But it has to be said if Christianity is to survive in the West. If Christians do not throw aside the mantle of power, privilege and priority that it assumed under Constantine, the mantle of the imperial church and return to being Christians, the Christian faith will not survive. And yes, that includes all of those massive auditoriums built by narcissistic mega-church pastors and the congregations that worship them.
People are fleeing what we call Christianity in the United States. They are fleeing churches in ever growing numbers and all the statistics, surveys and polls confirm this. More and more people are identifying themselves as not having a particular religious belief. Likewise more and more are openly admitting to being atheists or agnostics. The numbers and percentages of unbelievers are growing at exponential rates. They are known as “the Nones” or those with no religious preference. As a military chaplain I have seen this trend growing for the past 25 years and it is only getting worse, and truthfully I cannot blame them. And who can blame the “nones” for turning their backs on Christianity? If I was not already a Christian there is little that convince me to become one today, not because of Jesus, but because of how Christians treat others. So that being said I will still love and care for all of my “nones” and be there for them.
Christians have forgotten the reality of the Gospel. The world will not know us by our correct doctrine, nor will it know us by how well we observe the law, nor will it know us by any other thing but this: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The fact is that if I wasn’t already a Christian there is nothing in the witness of most American Churches and Christians, especially Evangelicals and conservative Catholics that would ever bring me to faith in Jesus. I totally agree with author Ann Rice who back in 2010 said:
“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
The sad thing is, that before Iraq and my PTSD crash and crisis of faith that left me a practical agnostic for nearly two years that I used to be just like many of people that I am calling out today. Maybe I was a bit more nuanced theologically and better able to say cruel things without making them sound too cruel, but truthfully some of the things that I said and believed at one time were not much different than what my more crass brothers and sisters do today. For that I am sorry.
Okay, I have said it. I have gotten it off my chest for now, though I am sure that some time in the next number of months or year that I will pop my cork again. But what can I say?
So for tonight and until tomorrow,