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Pastors go into Mooregasms to Defend Roy Moore

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a fascinating day to catch up on events, particularly from the panty and pussy obsessed scion of the American Christian Right former Judge Roy Moore.

I have to tell you. At one time in my life and ministry I would have been both surprised and shocked to see so many allegedly Bible believing Christian pastors mount a defense of a man who by his own admission as an adult in his 30s sought out teenage girls. When one complained about his sexual advance he told her: “no one will believe you” because he was a prosecutor and she was just a girl. But then, that was the 1970s, no-one believed women who were assaulted, molested, or even raped. In a sense he was right, and even now, some 40 years later Moore has found that his most strident allies, apart from Fox News, are supposedly Conservative Christian clergy, including some fifty plus from his home state of Alabama who signed a letter defending him today.

Their reasoning was that he had stood up to liberals by illegally placing a massive monument with the Ten Commandments on it outside the Alabama Supreme Court when he was Chief Justice, and for which he was later removed from office, as well as his decision not to enforce, but even resist the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergfell v. Hodges regarding the right to same sex couples to marry. That act also brought his removal from office.

But undeterred, Moore calculated that under the conditions created by Donald Trump that he could win a Senate seat in Alabama during a special election. With the backing of Alabama Evangelicals and alt-Right scion Stephen Bannon defeated the man appointed to take the place of now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Luther Strange during the GOP primary, and now faces Democrat Doug Jones in the special election. Since the the Washington Post, in its tradition of solid investigative journalism tracked down women who had been the victims of Roy Moore’s unwanted advances. Their stories are so compelling that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other Senators have said that they believe the victims and that Moore should withdraw from the race. George Will, who is factually one of the conservative columnists and commentators with any sense of decency and integrity said today that “Roy Moore is a disgrace and Doug Jones deserves to win.”

Needless to say, that did not deter these pastors from going into Mooregasms to defend Moore. In a letter issued by them which is also found on Moore’s website these men and women announced:

Pastor’s Letter

Dear friends and fellow Alabamians,

For decades, Roy Moore has been an immovable rock in the culture wars – a bold defender of the “little guy,” a just judge to those who came before his court, a warrior for the unborn child, defender of the sanctity of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty. Judge Moore has stood in the gap for us, taken the brunt of the attack, and has done so with a rare, unconquerable resolve.

As a consequence of his unwavering faith in God and his immovable convictions for Biblical principles, he was ousted as Chief Justice in 2003. As a result, he continued his life pursuit by starting the Foundation for Moral Law, which litigates religious liberty cases around our Nation. After being re-elected again to Chief Justice in 2012, by an overwhelming majority, he took another round of persecution for our faith as he stood up for the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.

You can know a man by his enemies, and he’s made plenty – from the radical organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU to the liberal media and a handful of establishment politicians from Washington. He has friends too, a lot of them. They live all across this great State, work hard all week, and fill our pews on Sunday. They know him as a father, a grandfather, a man who loves God’s Word and knows much of it by heart, a man who cares for the people, a man who understands our Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Fathers, and a man who deeply loves America. It’s no wonder the Washington establishment has declared all-out war on his campaign.

We are ready to join the fight and send a bold message to Washington: dishonesty, fear of man, and immorality are an affront to our convictions and our Savior and we won’t put up with it any longer. We urge you to join us at the polls to cast your vote for Roy Moore.

In your service,

Dr. Tom Ford, III, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Stan Cooke, Kimberly Church of God, Kimberly, Alabama

Pastor Jonathan Rodgers, Dothan, Alabama

Pastor Joseph Smith, Pine Air Baptist Church, Grand Bay Alabama

Dr. David E. Gonnella, Pastor, Theodore, Alabama

Pastor Mike Allison, Madison, Alabama

Dr. Terry Batton, Christian Renewal and Development Ministries, Eufaula, Alabama

Pastors Tim and Elizabeth Hanson, Smiths Station, Alabama

Pastor Mark Liddle, Dominion Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

Pastor Steve Sanders, Victory Baptist Church, Millbrook, Alabama

Dr. Richard Fox, retired Baptist pastor

Dr. Randy Cooper, Pastor, Warrior, Alabama

William Green, Minister, Fresh Anointing House of Worship, Montgomery, Alabama

Maurice McCaney, Victory Christian Fellowship Church, Florence, Alabama

Pastor Jamie Holcomb, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Paul Elliott, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Rodney Gilmore, Covenant Christian, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Mark Gidley, Faith Worship Center, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Bill Snow, Edgewood Church, Anniston, Alabama

Pastor Michael Yates, Webster’s Chapel, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Mark Holden, Webster’s Chapel, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Joshua Copeland, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Anniston, Alabama

Pastor Bruce Jenkins, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Keith Bond, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Jim Lester, Fannin Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Thad Endicott, Heritage Baptist Church, Opelika, Alabama

Bishop Fred and Tijuanna Adetunji, Fresh Anointing House of Worship, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor David Floyd, Marvyn Parkway Baptist Church, Opelika, Alabama

Pastor Bruce Word, Freedom Church, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Paul Hubbard, Lakeview Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Rev. Carl Head, Lakeview Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Duwayne Bridges, Jr., Fairfax First Christian Church, Valley, Alabama

Rev. Edwin Roberts, Adams Street Church of Christ, Enterprise, Alabama

Pastor John McCrummen, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Rev. Mickey Counts, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Rev. Alex Pagen, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Pastor Glenn Brock, Eufaula, Alabama

Rev. Tim Head, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor/Elder Ted Phillips, Christ Church, Odenville, Alabama

Tim Yarbrough, Elder, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Pastor Myron Mooney, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Jerry Frank, Elder, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Pastor Jim Nelson, Church of the Living God, Moulton, Alabama

Pastor Earl Wise, Millbrook, Alabama

Rick and Beverly Simpson, Summit Holiness Church, Alabama

Pastor Lane Simmons and Margie Dale Simmons, First Assembly of God, Greenville Alabama

Rev. Charles Morris, Pastor Grace Way Fellowship, Evergreen Alabama

Dr. George Grant, Pastor, Parish Presbyterian Church

Pastor David Whitney, Cornerstone Church

Dr. Peter and Roseann Waldron, St. Francis Anglican Church

Pastor Franklin and Mrs. Pamela Raddish, Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries

Dr. Michael Peroutka, Institute on the Constitution

Reverend Bill Owens, Coalition of African American Pastors

**Church names are listed for identification purposes only

Honestly I hope that he and they continue fight it out so that they are discredited as representatives of Jesus Christ and I hope that Christians, especially Evangelicals finally get off this political train that is going to kill the church in the United States. I spent much of this afternoon reading the polling of George Barna (the leading Evangelical pollster) and the Pew Religion and Culture polls. The fact is that young people are fleeing the church and unbelievers are rejecting our message for a number of reasons, but most can be directly attributable to men like Roy Moore and his clergy enablers:

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.

My friends, that survey was done over five years ago and there are many more from Barna and other pollsters that support it. Christians need to wake up and before it is too late discover what men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller did in the 1930s, sacrificing the Gospel for political power is always a losing proposition. As Niemoller wrote: “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Will we ever learn? Honestly I don’t think so. Most pastors will continue to defend the indefensible as Moore’s supporters are, and they will only more strident if he loses, or if the Senate refuses to seat him. Sadly, they will continue to rake in money and find avenues to gain political power even as the church and Christ that they supposedly represent are rejected, not because of Jesus, or even the Bible, but because of them. If God is just, they will be held accountable for their actions. If he’s not, it doesn’t matter.

Honestly, I believe the the Crucified God is just and I will leave it at that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Demonizing the Boy Scouts: Church Intolerance Run Rampant 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I received a heartbreaking e-mail from one of my regular readers about a situation where her uncle’s Boy Scout Troop’s sponsoring church decided to end its association with the troop and kick it out. They did this in reaction to the decision of the Boy Scouts of America to allow openly gay leaders to serve. The national BSA organization had previously lifted the ban on openly gay boys from being Scouts in 2013.

No other churches in the area will sponsor the troop and since the membership of the troop is low income children they cannot afford to rent a location to meet. The woman was justifiably upset, her uncle is not gay, nor are any of the boys in the troop. But that doesn’t seem to matter to the churches where she lives. All invoke their right to “religious liberty” and the kids be damned.

I was surprised but I wasn’t, and because I don’t like to shoot from the hip I decided to see how widespread this was, and I was amazed to see in a simple Google search news stories from around the country of churches kicking scouts out beginning as early as 2013 when the Scouts first lifted the ban on homosexual boys being members. There are so many instances of that that I had to stop reading them. But the one that struck me the as possibly the most malicious was that of Pastor Earnest Easley and his Roswell Road Baptist Church in Marietta Georgia. They kicked out Boy Scout Troop 204 which had met there for 68 years in 2013 and Pastor Easley made this comment: “As a church, we are not going to embrace organizations that openly have a part of who they are that which stands against God’s word.” As far as I know there were no gay Scouts or leaders in that troop.

After the latest decision to allow Gay Scoutmasters, Bishop David Kagan of North Dakota issued this edict, “Effective immediately, the Catholic Church of the Diocese of Bismarck and each and every one of its parishes, schools and other institutions is formally disaffiliated with and from the Boy Scouts of America.”

Other churches and denominations are doing or considering doing the same thing and that my friends is their religious right, and they can keep that right even as I say a pox on them all for being so vindictive and cruel to the Scouts of their churches. If these churches and their leaders want to continue driving people away from Jesus, I cannot stop them. If they want to play the part of modern day Pharisees, they can. That is their constitutional right. It is a right, whether I agree with it or not, that I swear to protect. It is their right as faith communities to choose the organizations and people that they will associate. I don’t have to agree but they are fully within their legal rights, and it does not mean that they are right.

But these actions are so petty, stupid, and short sighted that it makes my head swim. The fact is that that vast majority of Scouts are not gay, the same with their leaders, and the National BSA has made clear that those churches still can chose who they want to lead their local troops. The BSA policy change said “This change would also respect the right of religious chartered organizations to continue to choose adult leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.” Of course this is not good enough for these churches.

So in the name of fairness, I ask these churches and church leaders if they will dissociate themselves from church members who work from the military, other government organizations and businesses with policies which are non-discriminatory to the LBGTQ employees and their families. I think that churches that play this game should be consistent. If they have members, especially those with fat paychecks who tithe and more to them, who work for Gay affirming organizations or businesses, shouldn’t the churches demand that their members leave those organizations? Or are they more concerned making political statements in the name of their religion which cost them no money? I haven’t heard of any churches kicking high ranking military officers out because the Department of Defense lifted the ban on Gays. But why not?

I hate to sound cynical, but it seems that these churches are much more interested in punishing people who cannot hurt them financially than they are being consistent with the “Biblical values” that the so loudly proclaim. Also can you imagine the outcry if they kicked out the troops along with the Scouting Troops? I would love to see all of those churches pull the “I support the troops” bumper stickers and yellow ribbons off any car that pulled into their lot, because there are gay troops and God knows we cannot support them. I have heard church leaders announcing that God was going to punish this nation because we allow Gay people in the military so why do we want to take any chances? If we’re going to kick out the Scout troops on the chance that one might be gay, why don’t we kick out the troops too? Are not those who continue to work for or serve in the military like me, after the decision to allow Gays to serve aiding and abetting sin? If God is going to judge the nation because we allow Gays to serve in the military, shouldn’t we kick the troops out along with the scout troops?

The fact is they won’t do this. There will be no mass excommunication of military or government workers, or people who work for big corporations which happen to be Gay friendly. The fact is that churches want the money and status that having well to do people attend and at the same time appear to be righteous by punishing those that people or groups that offer them nothing, like the kids the Scout Troop that my reader told me about. But this is consistent with the Christianity of the United States. It goes totally against everything about how Jesus taught us to treat people, especially the least, the lost and the lonely; but then who gives a rip about what Jesus actually said and did in his earthly ministry?

A couple of years back, the Barna Group, an highly-respected polling organization headed by George Barna, an deeply committed Evangelical Christian which tries to help churches did a scientific survey of the attitudes of 18-29 year-olds on what phrases best described Christians. The top answers were “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers. Another Barna survey mentioned Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political.

Another survey done by Barna in 2011 asked why young people were fleeing churches. Those answers were even more damning: nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.”  That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds, not the unchurched.

These are damning numbers and the fact is that the churches in the United States are teetering on becoming totally irrelevant to the lives of most people and that will be their death. The decision by churches to ban the Boy Scouts will further demonstrate to young people that they are not welcome. In a few short years the cavernous edifices built on the tithes of well-meaning people well be as empty as the churches of Europe except few will have the cultural, architectural or artistic interest or significance to even make secular people want to preserve them.

So, if anyone knows of a national organization that I can point my reader to who might be able to help her uncle’s Scout Troop find a sponsor, please message me and I will send it to her. She did not ask me to do this, but I think that it is only the right thing to do. If you message me I will send her the information.

Thank you and have a good night,

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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Strike Down the Sinners: The Politics of the Christian Right

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

This is a topic that sadly I am again forced to return to in light of the incredibly vocal and strident calls of leaders of the Christian Right in response to the Supreme Court ruling on Marriage Equality. The tragic thing is that these men and women seem not to care about the long term damage they are doing not only to the political system, but the witness of Christians and the continued viability of the Christian church in the United States.

Nineteen years ago today, when I was ordained as a priest I was a part of a church that was heavily invested in the political machinations of the Christian Right so I do understand from experience the mindset of some of these leaders. This is not to say that everyone in leadership of that church were like this, but some were, and they held important positions.

I write this on the anniversary of my ordination because I do care about the witness of Christians and the long term viability of the church. Since I am a historian I do understand what happens when church leaders allow their insistence on maintaining or gaining political power and influence to override the words of Jesus and the mission of the church. I want to point out, that while I certainly fall on the progressive to liberal side of the Christian faith that I know many wonderful conservative Evangelicals who while maintaining the their beliefs, still do all they can to be gracious and loving to all, and in their actions show that love and respect to people that they disagree with on doctrinal, social and political issues. Sadly, the actions of the leaders of the Christian Right are obliterating the efforts of these really good and caring Christians to maintain a witness of love, and that offends me. I was talking to one of these pastors today, an old friend from the Navy Chaplain Corps who is now retired and serving as pastor of a Baptist church here in Virginia, and we commiserated about what the actions of these leaders are doing.

Barry Goldwater, the man who was one of the most responsible for the resurgence of American Conservatism, had a keen sense of the danger faced by the conservative movement if the Christian Right ever took control of the Republican Party. Goldwater whether you liked him or not or disagreed with his political thought was no fool. In 1981 after the Christian Right had risen to power and helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency, Goldwater realized that the Christian Right was not content with being part of a conservative coalition but wanted control of the Republican Party. On the floor of the Senate Goldwater spoke these words:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Goldwater was right and the takeover of the Republican Party by the Christian Right is an accomplished fact. The Republican Party is now the party of the Christian Right and the party of religious conservative culture warriors. It is unbending, uncompromising and many of its leaders, including most of the announced presidential candidates believe that they are acting in the name of God.

It is an incredibly dangerous situation, not just for the nation and our political system, but for the Church itself.

Our current political climate reminds me of the movie Inherit the Wind, the fictional portrayal of the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the movie one of the most stalwart critics of evolution, the former presidential candidate and preacher Matthew Brady played by Frederic March, led the city where the trial is being held into an anti-secular fervor.  At the beginning of the trial he encourages the townspeople to attend a “prayer meeting.” The meeting becomes quite heated as the town’s preacher, Reverend Brown, played by Claude Akins launches into a full assault on all that oppose Brady, and therefore God.

The preacher works himself into a frenzy, condemning the accused and all that would defend him, including his very own daughter:

“Oh, Lord of the tempest and the thunder, strike down this sinner, as thou did thine enemies of old in the days of the Pharaohs! Let him know the terror of thy sword! Let his soul, for all eternity, writhe in anguish and damnation!”

His daughter, who is engaged to the accused cries out: “No! No, Pa! Don’t pray to destroy Bert!”

Then the reverend utters words which remind me so much of what I heard in Iowa this weekend:

“Lord, we call down the same curse on those who ask grace for this sinner—though they be blood of my blood, and flesh of my flesh!”

At this point, Brady, realizing that the situation is getting out of control stops the preacher and says:

“it is possible to be overzealous, to destroy that which you hope to save — so that nothing is left but emptiness.” He then quotes from the book of Proverbs: “Remember the wisdom of Solomon in the book of Proverbs. “He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.”

To me this seems to be analogous to the current dilemma faced by the Republican Party. For decades has helped to create, sustain and institutionalize monster of the Christian Right. Old leaders see the danger but cannot admit their culpability in its rise and takeover of that party. As such they continue to enable it. Goldwater was one of the very few Republicans to see this coming and now, as he feared, the preachers have taken control of the party. Like Reverend Brown they will damn all who do not agree with them, even those of their own party.

The leaders of this political-religious movement have been overzealous, and will continue to be so because like Matthew Brady and Reverend Brown and their supporters, they cannot acknowledge that their zeal may be misdirected and malevolent.

Like Reverend Brown, they are consumed by their hatred for non-believers, that they are even willing to destroy the people closest to them to do so. I know this is true, because when I expressed doubt and did not tow the party line of my former church I was thrown out. Sadly, most of the men that I had previously counted as my closest friends abandoned or even condemned me.

I find the similarities amazing. But even more troubling I find the fear, hatred and paranoia the leaders of the Christian Right display all too reminiscent of church leaders in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s.  Those leaders, Protestants and Catholics alike supported Hitler, because Hitler promised to fight against the things that they hated; Jews, Socialists, Communists, homosexuals, immigrants, and of course atheists, agnostics and other non-believers.

Martin Niemöller, a man who now is nearly universally lauded for opposition to Hitler initially supported him. Niemöller, later regretted that support and wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

German Christians, like Niemöller, felt that their values were under attack by Communists, Socialists, and Jews and yes, even homosexuals. In order to maintain their influence and power they willingly allied themselves with the Nazis. After the Nazis took power, the only spoke up against the Nazi abuses it to defend their own ecclesiastical power and place in society, and seldom to speak up for the victims of the Nazis. When the war was over and young people began to question the actions of those that led the Church in Germany it began a process that has led to the de-Christianization of that country.

The current leadership of the Christian Right, especially those with yearnings to be the next President, are doing the same thing as their German brothers did in the 1920s and 1930s. The constant hate filled attacks of Christian leaders on those that are not Christians will come back to bite them. This is not fantasy, it is reality. One only has to look at the history of the Church to see it played out time after time. But then, unless we decide to re-write history like the fraudulent pseudo-historian David Barton does so well, why bother reading it?

The actions of many Christian leaders are dangerous to the faith as a whole, but it seems that they are willing to throw that away in order to gain political power, and as Ron and Rand Paul’s adviser Gary North wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

The actions of the leaders of the Christian Right are blatantly short sighted and ultimately will hasten the decline and fall of what we know as Christianity in America, but they don’t seem to care. These leaders have subscribed to an Imperial Church model that must take and hold political power in order to maintain their own political, economic and social dominance, even at the expense of the Gospel. Instead of the message of reconciliation they preach pre-packaged, focus group tested selections of “Biblical Values” which they and their political allies know are useful as wedge issues to win political power.

The leaders of the Christian Right rail against things they consider “sinful” such as homosexuality, abortion and birth control. At the same time they willingly turn a blind eye to the treatment of the poor, support efforts to disenfranchise poor and minority voters, even Christians that tend to vote for Democrats. They advocate wars of aggression and bless cultural and economic norms that go entirely against the Christian tradition as they go about with a Bible in one hand and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the other.

The effects of this politicization are more and more apparent and the statistics don’t lie. The United States is not Christian nation and any sense of the definition, and this is not the fault of secularists. It is the fault of Christians especially those political partisan pastors and pundits of the Christian Right that for the past 40 years have sold their souls for political power at the expense of the Gospel.

A recent Barna survey noted that less than one half of one percent of people aged 18-23 hold what would be considered a “Biblical world view.” This is compared to about one of every nine other adults.  Other surveys bear this out.

Think about it: The Barna Group in another survey of people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers.

This hypocrisy is demonstrated time and time again. In 2013 these politically corrupted religious leaders turned a blind eye to and even cheered the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by the Supreme Court, or cheered that decision despite the fact that many of not most of those adversely affected by that decision are African American Christians. The next day they lambasted the same justices for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, dealing with the Federal recognition of Gay marriage. Just over a week ago the same leaders were apoplectic when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Marriage Equality and Gay Marriage, and upheld the Affordable Health Care Law.

The histrionics exhibited by them would be comical if the men and women ranting away were not so vehemently hateful towards their opponents, and some have suggested killing gays and their Christian supporters to root out evil. This isn’t just political theater for them, they really mean it. The real tragedy of their behavior is that even more people will turn away from Jesus. Mahatma Gandhi said it so well “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

The leaders of the Christian Right continue to wage the culture war, but what cost? Here I am not even dealing with the politics, as one can debate the merits of the Obama administration as well as its decisions and policies, and even Supreme Court decisions. Even many progressives criticize the President and the Supreme Court on a wide number of issues, so that is not the point.

The fact is that young people are leaving the church in unheard of numbers and it is very evident to me why they are doing so. The Church has embraced the culture wars over preaching the Gospel, which if I recall correctly is based on loving people, even ones enemies.  Jesus said it so well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NRSV.

In 2014 leaders of the Christian Right were able to bring enough culture warriors to the polls hold their majority in the House of Representatives and gain the majority in the Senate. But it was an election where less than 40% of eligible voters voted and most of the contested seats were in areas where they dominate, which magnified their strength. But in the coming 2016 Presidential election the demographics do not favor them and get worse in every year. The leaders of the Christian Right know this and still continue on and wage their culture war with greater zeal further alienating millions of people not just from their political position, but the message of Jesus himself.

Perhaps Christian leaders who have sold their souls for such paltry political gains should be asking these questions: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul and what does it profit the Church to wield political power but lose its soul?

It is a question that Christians need to ask. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wryly noted “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Sadly, that train has left the station and the leaders of the Christian Right are not only on it, but they are driving it into oblivion.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Music, Liturgy & the Relief of the Soul

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Friends of Padre Steve’s Word

Something a little bit different. A while back I was asked to write and article for a periodical called “The Liturgical Singer” which is published by the That National Association of Pastoral Musicians. The article came out only in hard copy and at the request of a couple of friends I am posting it here. Have a great night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

“And whenever the evil spirit from God came upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand, and Saul would be relieved and feel better, and the evil spirit would depart from him.” 1 Samuel 16:23

When I was in seminary one of the most valuable courses I ever took was an introductory course in Church Music. The course opened my heart to music in the liturgical setting. Now I am not a musician, I play the radio and sing monotone. Like many pastors, priests and theologians I am a word person; written, spoken I am a word person. That being said I learned early on that music can be a balm for the wounded and suffering soul.

Sadly, I don’t think that many priests or pastors truly understand this. I am a Priest and Navy Chaplain. But, I am one of the wounded. I suffer from severe PTSD, anxiety, and more often than not I find going to church often makes things worse. As an Iraq Veteran I can somewhat relate to King Saul. Sometimes the effects of PTSD feel like an evil spirit, and when I came home from war I went through a spiritual crisis that was so bad that for nearly two years I was for all practical purposes an agnostic hoping that God still existed.

Hans Christian Anderson wrote that “Where words fail, music speaks.” All too often our worship, even in liturgical churches focuses more on words, than it does the healing property of music.

Those who suffer from trauma of any kind, including PTSD, or who suffer from anxiety, depression or other afflictions of the soul don’t usually come to church to see a show or to get yet another self-help lecture baptized with a few selected Bible verses. They don’t come to be entertained. They come for solace, they come to encounter God as do most regular churchgoers. But a recent Barna survey noted that less than 20% of regular churchgoers feel close to God on even a monthly basis. Martin Luther, who suffered from tremendous depression and despair for much of his life wrote “My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.”

One has to ask why this is. I think one reason is that in many churches, even liturgical churches music has become entertainment. While this is pervasive in our American church culture it is not new. Erasmus of Rotterdam wrote:

“We have brought into our churches certain operatic and theatrical music; such a confused, disorderly chattering of some words as I hardly think was ever in any of the Grecian or Roman theatres. The church rings with the noise of trumpets, pipes, and dulcimers; and human voices strive to bear their part with them….”

As entertain it really is no longer part of liturgy, which is by definition the work of the people. I think the type or style of music is less important than the message that it conveys. I honestly believe different types of music touch our soul in different ways. That being said I think that the message of the music should lead people into the presence of God and to do that church music directors and liturgists need to back off of the culture of entertainment that has invaded the Church. I can say that there are songs, hymns and psalms of almost every musical style which reside in my heart. In the midst of my spiritual crisis I found that some of these songs stayed with me. One verse of Abide With Me was one of my prayers during that time:

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings, But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings, Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea— Come, Friend of sinners, and thus abide with me.

I have found that when a liturgist leads a people into the presence of God it is that the songs, hymns and songs they use actually allow the people to participate in the liturgy. The songs speak of God’s presence even in the midst of suffering, they allow those who suffer a measure of hope, even in the midst of what St. John of the Cross referred to as “the dark night of the soul.” When this happens the music becomes part of the participant’s experience of God, it takes up residence in the depth of the soul and there it remains reminding the person that they are not alone. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote that “Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Religious Discrimination Restoration Acts

 

There has been a trend in so called Red States where state legislatures are busy working on legislation with a wonderful sounding name, Religious Liberty Restoration Acts. I mean who could be against religious liberty? I mean when I see what the Taliban, the Islamic State and Boko Haram are doing to Christians, Shia Moslems and others I want to climb on that wagon and say absolutely. But then I realize these laws are not about restoring religious freedom at all, because no one is threatening anyone’s constitutional right to worship or even bear public witness to their faith.

What they are, are horrible laws with incredible bad second and third order effects on every citizen. They have nothing to do with religious liberty, but rather are much more like the restrictive sharia laws of the Taliban and the Islamic State. These laws are designed to allow religious groups to discrimate against individuals and groups that they believe that their God hates.

In every one of these states these laws are directed at one minority group. Gays, or the LGBT community, and are a protest against court rulings and laws which allow Gays to marry, to visit their spouse or significant other in the hospital, or basically enjoy the same legal rights that straight people, even those in illicit relationship enjoy.  The laws almost all allow government employees or employees of private businesses to deny services to gays based on a “sincerely held religious belief.” Some laws like one in Arkansas have even go so far as to allow the state to void local non-discrimination ordinances passed by towns, cities and counties. A similar law is being floated in West Virginia. Arizona and some other states are debating bills similar to that of Indiana.

Indiana passed theirs today and Governor Mike Pence, a conservative Christian says that he is looking forward to signing it.  Of course this ensures that the good Christian people of Indiana are free to discriminate against anyone they want. While targeted at gays the same law could be used against, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Sikhs, or any other group of people. Logically since some Christian sects believe that Blacks are still under the curse of God, the bill could allow a KKK Christian not to serve a Black man or woman based on their sincerely held religious belief.

A similar bill in Oklahoma disappeared last week after a Democrat representive attached an Ammendment mandating that any business wanting to use religious liberty to deny service had to post a sign saying that they did so. I think that is rights anyone who wants to use the law not to serve someone should make that very clear. Just like the days of Jim Crow, where “No Blacks Allowed” was common, or Nazi Germany where “no Jews allowed” was almost universal.

I think that the wording of such signs should be quite clear and explicit. For instance, if it is a Christian business owner who refuses to serve gays the sign should say: “No Gays served due to my deeply held Christian beliefs.”

If a Moslem wants to claim their deeply held beliefs about sharia, claim that their act is a peaceful  jihad against the infidels in order to discriminate against unbelievers just let them say so, I have no problem with that if Christians have that right.

Orthodox Jews should have the same right in such a world, who cares if the Goyum can’t buy their babka bread or bagels at the Jewish bakery, after all it’s the right of the owner, right?

Likewise I think that the Gay florist should be able to refuse to do business with people having their weddings in churches that refuse to allow gays to be married. So what if they are the only florist in town, they should have that right too and be able to claim a religious reason as to why they can, after all fair is fair.

Now, let’s step back and look at the absurdity of such laws. They open the door for anyone to discriminate against anyone based on their religious beliefs regardless of other established laws.

In reality such laws only work in theocracies where a majority religion can in effect use religious law to discriminate and disenfranchise unbelievers with impunity. When governments attempt to apply such laws in pluralistic societies there can be only one result; a Balkanization of society from which no good can come.

These laws are not laws to promote religious liberty, these laws are designed to allow a specific group of people to usurp laws that apply to everyone because of their religious beliefs.

Sadly, these laws are the last gasp of a religious aristocracy that has lost influence in society and that is dying; conservative Christianity. All the polls and studies say so, and sadly it is in large part the fault of churches and people that identify themselves as such. Their younger members are fleeing at an ever increasing rate and non-believers want nothing to do with them. The days of the “God loves you” type of evangelism are over. Instead, what suffices as public witness is that “God loves me and hates you.”  

Why are people fleeing? Evangelical pollster George Barna’s group did a study and the results paint a picture that shows a church that is now described by the majority as Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. The Pew Survey as well as others that survey religious belief and practice in this country back this up.

These laws show how desperate and increasing irrelevant that church has become. It is a sad commentary and they should know better, but like cultural suicide bombers they will destroy themselves to hurt those that they hate. It is short-sighted, and tied more to the political power of conservative Christians and to preserve their influence than any demonstration of the grace, love, mercy or even the justice of God.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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No Losers Allowed: The Hallmark of the American Church

Now, clubs and cliques, they choose and pick
And they make their interviews
Screen the undesirables
And turn down clowns and fools
But Jesus died for sinners
Losers and winners
Yes, it’s proven by His love for me and you

I have been writing a lot this week about the greed, self-centeredness and dehumanizing aspects of much of the American church. I seems that with each article that I wrote that another thought would flow and another article would be born. Now  I promise that this will be the last of these for a while, unless something else triggers me.

I know to some people that these articles are very uncomfortable because they challenge something that many hold dear. Certainly that is not the Gospel.  But, rather it is the very comfortable and insulated lives that we lead in churches which have entirely bought the crass materialism of our culture, and which seek brazen political power rather than caring for the least, the lost and the lonely.

This has been epidemic since the 1980s and has infected churches and denominations across the theological, social and political spectrum of our country. However, my real Christian formation comes from the 1960s and 1970s. I am a relic by today’s standards and I don’t mind it. There is s scene in the movie Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner’s character tracks down a writer played by James Earl Jones. I kind of reminds me of some of the looks I get when I spout ideas that are to say the least counter-cultural, but more often are an attack on the current system.

Terence Mann: Oh, my God.

Ray Kinsella: What?

Terence Mann: You’re from the sixties.

Ray Kinsella: [bashfully] Well, yeah, actually…

Terence Mann: [spraying at Ray with a insecticide sprayer] Out! Back to the sixties! Back! There’s no place for you here in the future! Get back while you still can!

But I digress…

Back in 1976 a Christian rock group called Daniel Amos from Calvary Chapel released a little song called Losers and Winners http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J520qyIUHME which when you come to think of it is one of the most amazingly theologically correct songs ever written. Back then I had the album that it came on both on LP and 8 Track. Thankfully I was able to get a CD of it a few years ago.

The song has come back to me in a big way during the past week as I have watched watched Christian leaders and their followers delve ever deeper into the pit of Hell known as the Prosperity Gospel. Yesterday I wrote about churches and pastors that ignore, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. The fact is that many, maybe even most churches are more social clubs with a religious veneer than they are places for those beaten down by the world to come for solace, help, or even salvation.

That has been in stark contrast to the men who have been regulars at my little chapel service at the staff college. I have had the blessing of having three Lebanese Christian officers attend over the past two months. They return to Lebanon at the end of the week, but all of them have stated their disappointment with the American church, a church that they do not believe cares about Arab Christians and is more concerned with money and politics than the Gospel. I all miss them because they have helped bring a joy back to celebrating the Eucharist that I have not felt since my time in Iraq. They will go home to a country oppressed on all sides where they are the targets of not just the various types of Islamic extremists, but the American supported Israeli military. A military which many American Christians believe can do no wrong.

When it was released the song went pretty much unnoticed outside of the few that really liked the less than conventional message of Daniel Amos.

The song really is amazing because the song is more true to the Gospel so much of what is called “Christian” now, especially some of the “praise” songs that preach the militant and often hateful theology of Dominionism.

I spent many years in churches and unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for me, I have never really been in the “in crowd.” Now that I am older I really don’t want to be in the “in crowd” if it means being less than Christian in the way that I get there.

For me church is not a place to enhance my social status, nor is it a place simply to network or a place that I can use to enhance my political or social agendas. It is simple a place where believers gather to worship as well as share the Body and Blood of Christ. It is a place of refuge for all people, but especially for the wounded, the outcast and the broken.  Likewise it is a place that even unbelievers can come and be welcomed without prejudice. Didn’t Jesus say “come to me you who are weary and bear heavy burdens and I will give you rest?”

To me the church is not about being the political platform of any party or political leader, but being the redemptive voice of Jesus the Christ to a broken world.

Unfortunately now the church is viewed more for what it is against and who it rejects rather than the one who calls the broken, who will not break a bruised reed or extinguish a flickering flame.

Do you give the highest place
To someone ’cause you like his face
And turn aside those you deem less than yourself?
Well, love that is natural
Can be less than satisfactual
For we all are one, no less than anyone else

As a result people are fleeing the church or if they were not a part of the church simply turning their back on it. The “Nones” or those with no religious preference are the fastest growing segment of American faith and religion.

The message that the church is actually teaching today is a diametric opposite of the early church and it would be unrecognizable to Christians of many eras. The church is obsessed with its own power, privileges and pre-eminence and this is particularly true of its most influential preachers. Today I read about televangelist Crefo Dollar begging his congregation and television viewers for over 60 million dollars buy a state of the art Gulfstream G650 private jet so he can “spread God’s grace around the world.” But he is not alone in such behavior.

If the church today has an unspoken message it goes something like this:

We welcome you to church…If you look like us, if you hold similar political views, if you have money, if you are attractive, if your presence will benefit us… Our doors are open to you if you fit the criteria that we decide and unless you are like us, agree with us or are not of a group of people that we have determined cannot enter heaven you are welcome.

Another verse of Losers and Winners says:

Do you hail the gifted ones
And the others do you shun?
Do you speak to only those you chose?
Well, God’s love, it has no bounds
Has no ups, and it has no downs
Goes out to those who win and to those who lose

That is not just me talking but it is what polls published by the Evangelical Christian Barna Group attest. The terms used to describe Christianity are: Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna study dealing with why young people are leaving the church included that nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.”  That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds, not the unchurched.

The fact is that our obnoxious, arrogant, materialistic political and theologically insipid version of Christianity is causing great harm both inside and outside the church. It is not redemptive it is selfish and power hungry. It is not open, it is closed. We are losing our young people and those outside the church don’t want any part of us. Can you blame them? I don’t.

The funny thing is the long haired, Jesus people musicians of Daniel Amos figured this out close to 40 years ago. But then maybe they read and took seriously the message of Jesus. Maybe we should as well.

Peace

Padre Steve+

P.S. Expect some more Gettysburg and Civil War articles soon, some about baseball and some other interesting and hopefully less controversial subjects.

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