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Stupidity Infects the Church

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich 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.”

Those words are more profound than many of us would admit, and sadly in the United States they are the last thing thought about by supposedly orthodox Evangelical Christians.

Today I want to follow up on something my friend from my former church denomination, Fr. Kenneth Tanner posted on Facebook. Ken is both orthodox and conservative in his theology. He is a remarkable writer and he puts his faith into action at the local level in his parish in Michigan. Over the past couple of days he has posted comments that I wish I had posted because not only do I want to agree with him but because they call me back to who I am as a Christian and why in spite of everything I still remain one.

Yesterday Fr. Ken posted this gem which reminds me of so many of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Every attempt by the church to tie its mission and destiny to a political leader, or party, or policy involves forgetting the Spirit. Presidents and legislatures and courts and banks and marketplaces are not in the business of resurrection. The church is.

The day before he posted a comment which I think in light of the political scandals, especially those of politicians, Republican and Democrat regarding sexual assault:

“This is for my people, speaking as a leader within our community. It may not apply to you but they need this right now; they need to know where I stand.

No. It is not OK for a man to seduce or pursue or be alone with teenaged girls. And, no, it is not possible for there to be a consensual sexual relationship between a man and a teenaged girl.

Yes. Women and girls who make allegations of sexual harassment or assault are almost always telling the truth and we should assume female veracity even as justice and accountability are pursued in ways that ensure the rights of the accused.

There is a reason that false accusation is for God on a level of moral seriousness reserved for murder, because it “murders” the reputation and life of those falsely accused, but we also have to understand that most victims of sexual harassment and assault are honest with near-mortal wounds of their own that they bear.

No. It is never OK to turn a blind eye to multiple and credible witnesses against a leader running for public office because utilitarian politics are more important than principles and human decency.

It matters not one wit if a presidential agenda or a senate majority or the makeup of the Supreme Court or any other grave moral challenge—like the precious life of the unborn—hangs in the balance.

It also make zero difference if it’s all so unfair or the other “side” doesn’t play by the rules or everyone is against “us.”

There is no justifiable reason for a pastor to support a candidate for public office that is accused by multiple women of sexual assault. It is an offense to the gospel and calls the integrity of the church into question.

In short, Christian faith is rarely about winning. It’s about dying and waiting for God to use our death in his grand promise to make all things well.

When I saw it I read it to one of my Chaplains who is also a theological evangelical conservative who was amazed at Kenneth’s boldness and how well he said what needed to be said.

As I have pondered his comments I meditated on some of the words of the German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Honestly, I don’t think I could even hold a candle to Bonhoeffer but in our country at this time I think that Kenneth does. Kenneth, like Bonhoeffer is a theologian of the Cross.

As I continue to read things being said in the defense of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and the defense of the unprincipled and thoroughly un-Christian actions of President Trump and GOP lawmakers I am ashamed to even call myself a Christian. Honestly I cannot believe than anyone claiming to be a Christian would defend them, but these defenders of Moore and Trump are abusing utilitarian ethics while claiming to follow supposedly Biblical absolutes. They would condemn Bill Clinton (as he should be) but let Trump and Moore off the hook for even worse moral acts. Theirs is indeed a dark and dystopian world where Orwellian doublespeak is the norm, and the clear words of Jesus the exception. I do not know whether to hate them or pity them, but because of Christ, as much as I detest them and their actions I cannot hate them, as Jesus said from the Cross, “they know not what they do.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”

This so totally describes those who defend Trump, Moore, or for that matter anyone from the other side of the political spectrum who have groped, assaulted, raped, or abused young women, or in some cases young men and then defend themselves as good Christians, or liberal humanitarians. As for me I care not a wit whether they are Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, religious or irreligious, the point is, at least for me is that I have to be honest and not sacrifice my integrity for any kind of temporal gain. I cannot hold those who I agree with politically or socially to a different standard than those who I oppose simply because they are more representative of my political or social views.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Despite all of my struggles with faith I am still drawn to the Crucified God, and as such my life, my politics, and my words, as hopelessly flawed as they may be and as I am, have to at least attempt to live up to the Gospel of Christ. Otherwise what use am I?

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Scorched Earth: The Trump Answer for Everything

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I watched the second Presidential debate last night and It was an unbridled and frightening look at how GOP nominee Donald Trump would govern the country. Playing to anger and hatred of his base he did something never done before in American politics, he said he would appoint a special prosecutor to prosecute his opponent and then made the comment “she would be in jail.” He called her “the devil” and said she had “hatred in her heart.” I was amazed, I have never seen anything like this on a public stage in American political history. 

As he did this he stalked about the stage, following behind Clinton as she spoke, his face often twisted as he tried to contain his rage at having been caught on video red handed using the language of sexual assault and rape and saying it was okay to call his daughter a “piece of ass.” His rage had been building as GOP office holders who had previously endorsed him dropped him in the 48 hours following the revelations and as he directed his surrogates and supporters to attack his own party leaders. In order to deflect attention from himself he brought Bill Clinton’s accusers from the 1990s to the debate even trying to sit them in the VIP box. 

He failed to answer direct questions and instead when nuclear with long disproved conspiracy theories about Mrs. Clinton. One GOP leader tweeted that it was like watching a Saturday Night Live debate. 

He made comments supporting Russia and President Putin, even throwing his running mate, Governor Mike Pence under the bus regarding Syria policy. The fact that he did this was not surprising because Pence offered direct criticism of Trump’s sexual assault language. After the debate Pence predictably fell into line and kept rolling under the tires of the bus Trump had thrown him under. 

Likewise he openly lied about things that he has said in public, on television, or on the radio, comments which are so unnerving that had anyone other than him said them their lives and careers would be destroyed. But he is different, the bar has been set so low for him ever since he entered the campaign, waged a scorched earth campaign against his GOP opponents in the primaries with almost no one in the media confronting him, a situation that remained until last Friday’s revelations when he talked about grabbing women by the “pussy.” 

Trump may have held his base in line with his performance because it played to the hatred of his base for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. He played to their xenophobia with his failure to answer his Muslim ban policy, something that Mike Pence said was no longer in place but is still on his website, and which he called “extreme vetting” last night. He still talked about putting up a wall on the southern border, he still refused to apologize to the multitudes of individuals and groups that he has disparaged and attacked in so many ways during the campaign and that will play well with the people that Hillary Clinton called “deplorable.” 

The Trump campaign is not about policy, it is not about principle, and it certainly in not about the Constitution or for that matter the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, or Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. It is about about sowing anger and hatred and the promise of retribution against the people he and his followers despise, especially those in the GOP. This is the campaign of an unprincipled, vicious, power hungry, narcissistic sociopath who has no self-control and no boundaries. 

Today, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said that he would no longer defend Trump and instructed GOP House members to do what they needed to save their campaigns in order to hold a majority. When  House GOP extremists scortched him he made sure that they knew that he was still “supporting” Trump. Wayne Gruden, a leading Evangelical Christian theologian who just two moths ago had penned a “Christian” treatise to vote for Trump, dropped his support and told Trump to leave the race. Today George Will wrote that this will be an “acid wash” for the GOP exposing the people who stood beside Trump for what they really are, including Mike Pence who Will noted only looks Presidential because he is next to Trump. Things will get worse, there will be more revelations and Trump will respond with fire. He will destroy the GOP and the country in order to advance himself. 

Get ready for a rough ride, this is going to be a brutal final month as Trump’s campaign collapses and he and his most devoted followers torch the GOP as he rides his campaign into its Wagnerian end. In the closing days of the Third Reich with all collapsing around him Adolf Hitler turned on followers who realized the end was near and were trying to end the war, even Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, and he told Albert Speer that the German people were not worth saving. Just wait and see what Trump does to the GOP in the coming month, it will be a scorched earth campaign the likes of which we have never seen. His wrath against it will be even greater than his wrath against Hillary and it will spell the doom of the GOP. Sadly, it will hurt the country as well. American politics will never be the same after this. 

Have a good day,

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under History, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Acrid Smell of an Election is in the Air: The Toxic Politics of Mutually Assured Destruction

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

Yes that pungent stench that is in the air is not the smell of fall, not the scent of freshly run over skunk but yea and verily the scent of yet another poisonously pungent election season. Yes this year stinks more than most because of the division of the country and the absolute enmity between political parties.   Pundits, ideologues, mindless drones and their allied television, radio and print media shills echo whatever their party’s leaders and pundits say regardless of its veracity painting their opponents in the worst possible manner without ever dealing with the issues in a constructive manner.  Back in the 1990s I think it was Hillary Clinton who talked about the “politics of personal destruction” but I think while that still goes on we have entered the realm of “the politics of mutual assured destruction.” Yes candidates will win and lose this election season but the ways they will win will do great damage to the country, regardless of their party that ultimately triumphs.  Since this is a mid-term election expect this to only get worse as the Presidential election of 2012 approaches.

What triggered this article was a visit to Huntington West Virginia my family’s ancestral home where I worked in the 1990s as a hospital emergency department chaplain.  Huntington is in Cabell County and used to be the largest and most prosperous city in the state.  Huntington is located on the Ohio River and is across that river from Ohio and adjacent to Ashland Kentucky.  As a result the local television and radio media carry campaign ads from all three states.  Thus in the week that we were there I was treated with an absolute deluge of negative political advertisement from candidates of both parties in US Senate, US House of Representatives, Gubernatorial and State Senate and House races.  I have lived in Virginia for 7 years and while political ads here are similar to those in West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio I think they are a bit more tame due to the large number of people from the rest of the country that have settled here due to the military and government related employment.

With the massive amount of exposure that I had to the toxic radioactive sludge that filled the airwaves from the various candidates for office I realized that we have been standing at the precipice of a political cliff for several years with both parties doing everything they can to push us over it. I guess like political parties in Weimar Germany they see a benefit to the chaos of an electorate that no longer sees the opposing party as Americans with opposing beliefs, but enemies of the America that they envision. I guess in a Machiavellian sense whatever tactics that you use to gain victory are irrelevant as long as you win.

Back when I was growing up the statesmen of American politics treated each other with respect and maintained friendships with people on the other side of the aisle; I think that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill epitomized the men of that era, fierce political opponents who remained friends until the end. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton seem to have that kind of relationship as well.  But I detect little of that from the current crop of political ideologues in both parties and I think that they all share the blame for the mess that the country is in and I don’t see any change in political climate coming anytime soon.

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

I think that to use the Cold War term we have entered a phase of “Mutual Assured Destruction” regarding the tactics used by both parties in their attempts to keep or gain power. Issues are not discussed or debated they are reduced to sound bites and the opposition candidates views are usually taken out of the context that they were made. Both parties are doing this and when both politicians and their supporters in the media paint caricatures of their opponents using such methods truth suffers.  No one offers a positive vision for the country because I think they have stopped believing in it, all that matters as their party and their ideology truth and their opponents be damned.  What bothers me even more is how some religious leaders and churches have taken this same approach rather than simply preaching the Gospel and caring about God’s people. Even churches and pastors have become shills for political parties sacrificing the Gospel for a share in political power.

Bloom County copyright 1988 by Berkeley Breathed. www.gocomics.com

In spite of this I did my civic duty and voted for those who seemed behave with less rancor toward their opponents, politicians from both sides of the aisle as I have never been regardless of my political affiliation a shill for a party.  I voted for candidates that seemed to care more for my home state than an allegiance to their national party.  Now they may be just as bad and corrupt as the other candidates but as Tip O’Neill said “all politics is local” and my vote was cast in that light.  I am not an ideologue but think that somehow as Americans we need to find a way to work together as the problems of this country cannot be changed when the political climate is so toxic. Maybe I am just an idealist that believes that the people of this country are better at heart than our politicians believe us to be.

In the end I think that both parties, their respective candidates and media shills have decided to paraphrase a quote from the Vietnam War “that we had to destroy the country in order to save it.” God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under faith, philosophy, Political Commentary, west virginia

Laughing at Myself: This Moderate is a Liberal….Hide the Silver!

Bloom County Copyright Berkeley Breathed 1988 found at www.gocomics.com

Over the past year or so I have had a number of encounters with various people, most of whom that I don’t know but then some that I have known for years and a troubling word keeps arising.  The “L word” no not “Lesbian” like in the Showtime drama but “Liberal” like in Bill Clinton or even better John Kerry or Jimmy Carter since they were in the Navy for a time.

It bothered me at first as I could not fathom that I might even be considered a liberal. I was a Reagan Republican and even worked for Gerald Ford as a campaign volunteer against Jimmy Carter when I was in high school. Now I did moderate over the years even though until I went to Iraq I listened to conservative talk radio almost every day.  However the charge has been made enough for me to actually have fun with it and not take those who call me a liberal too seriously or for that matter to take myself too seriously.

Bloom County Copyright Berkeley Breathed 1988 found at www.gocomics.com

It has actually become funny to me how often that this pops up. I suppose it is because I am not easy to pin down and as my Church history professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary said “Liberal to most people is ‘anyone to the left of me.’” He was right. Back in those days the Southern Baptists had something called “moderates” which in most other denominations would have been considered conservatives or even fundamentalists. However in the SBC since they were to the left of men like Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler and W.A. Criswell they were not “moderates” but “liberals.” At Southwestern though I wasn’t a Southern Baptist I certainly fit in with the dying breed called moderates.  I used a NRSV Bible, the kind with inclusive language and by my senior year was a closet Catholic or Anglo-Catholic, which meant that to the Fundamentalists I was a liberal. Of course doing my taped sermons in preaching lab in a tweed sports jacket and black or white long sleeve turtleneck shirt and khaki pants didn’t help matters in how I was perceived. This was of course before I wore a clerical collar which I’m sure would have gone over even worse than my tweed, turtleneck and khaki look.  Since most of my fellow students were wearing black or navy blue suits and power ties as they were using the tape as an audition tape for call committees at churches that they were applying pastor at I was the odd bird out.  In fact kind of like a certain flightless fowl in the Bloom County comic strip named Opus the Penguin.

I am pretty much a moderate.  This means that basically I find little in common with any kind of extremist be they from the right or left in politics, religion or even those that crusade for or against the designated hitter rule in the American League.  I find myself in the middle on most issues which often means to attempt not to offend my friends on the far right or far left I have to be somewhat nuanced in how I say things. Of course to the right now days, especially after the 2004 election when John Kerry was “nuanced” that the word is associated with being a liberal. I find this somewhat amusing.  Basically I will lean slightly to the right on some things and slightly to the left on others occasionally siding with conservatives and sometimes with liberals. In today’s charged political climate of cultural, political and religious wars in American churches and the body politic I am considered by conservatives that don’t really know me as a liberal. Those that really know me for the most part consider me a moderate that maybe is leaning more to the left than I used to.

So in all unserious seriousness I have found comfort and consolation and a certain kinship with Opus the Penguin.  What popped into my phonographic mind which spins around at 45 RPM when I was last called a liberal was the comic at the top of this article.  So anyway since I have recently discovered an online archive of the Bloom County strips at www.gocomics.com I can finally occasionally post one on this site.

Here’s to moderation! Cheers!

So anyway until tomorrow when I post my MLB League Championship Series predictions I will say “goodnight.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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29 Years in the Military and still Going Strong

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game.” Vin Scully

Padre Steve in 1982

They say that “time flies when you’re having fun” and I cannot believe that I have been in the military now for 29 years. On August 25th 1981 a 21 year old college kid with long Southern California “surfer” hair walked into the California Army National Guard Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard to enlist in the National Guard after having just sworn into the Army ROTC program at UCLA.   Back then I enlisted in what was or is called the Simultaneous Membership Program or SMP program.  My initial military training came through the ROTC program as well as on the job training in the National Guard as a Field Artillery Forward Observer and Intelligence Specialist.

Like Cal Ripken Jr commenting about his career “So many good things have happened to me in the game of baseball. When I do allow myself a chance to think about it, it’s almost like a storybook career. You feel so blessed to have been able to compete this long.” I can say the same thing just substituting the words “military career” for “the game of baseball.”

On the day that I enlisted I met with Major Charles Armagost the S-1 of 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery and full time advisor for the battalion filled out my enlistment papers and raised my right hand. I still remember the day when I enlisted. It was a hot smoggy Los Angeles day where you could see the air.  I walked down the hall after I swore in to see the supply Sergeant who outfitted me with four sets of Olive Green fatigues and ordered me two sets of the brand new BDUs.  I was issued my TA-50 gear and taken to the motor pool where I was given cursory training on the M151A1 “Jeep” and issued a military drivers license.  The three weeks later I was driving one of those venerable machines to Fort Irwin on a Friday through Sunday drill with the advanced party. It was the beginning of a 29 year career spanning two services, the active and reserve components and now multiple trips to combat zones.

Army Captain 1987

It has to quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead “a long strange trip” spanning the Army and the Navy, active and reserve components as well as two tours with the Marine Corps while serving in the Navy and the beat goes on with my selection for promotion to Commander and my Senate nomination to that grade on August 21st.  I have served on the Fulda Gap in the Cold War, been to what was then East Berlin driving the Helmstedt-Berlin corridor sharing the road with Soviet armored columns.  I supported the Bosnia Operation in 1996-97 and the Korean DMZ with the Marines in 2001. I served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch in 2002 where I was on a boarding team, boarding 75 Iraqi and other country smuggling ships while serving aboard the USS Hue City.  That was followed by multiple trips in and out of theater with the Marine Security Forces from 2003-2006 as well as time on the Cuban fence line at Guantanamo Bay before serving in Iraq with our Marine and Army advisors and their Iraqi Army and Security forces.  I’ve served with Infantry, Armor, Combat Engineer, Artillery, Medical and Ordnance units, Security forces, support elements, bases and training centers, hospitals and ships.

Berlin Wall November 1986

When I enlisted I thought that once I was commissioned that I would serve my entire career in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel. I did not anticipate becoming a Chaplain nor leaving the Army for the Navy. When I am officially promoted to Commander it will be the first rank since I was an Army First Lieutenant that I have not held twice.  When I first enlisted and had no ribbons I used to look at wonderment at the Korea and Vietnam veterans who had tons of ribbons and tell Judy that I wish I had what they had. Now that I am working on 9 rows of the things I cringe every time I have to remount ribbons and ribbons and my wallet screams in agony.  Judy is quick to remind me of my whininess back then and tell me that I asked for it.

She didn’t know what she was getting into

As an Army and Navy Officer I have served or done some kind of military duty in Germany, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Turkey, Spain, Malta, Korea, Japan, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.  I’ve done what I call the “Commie Trifecta” the Berlin Wall, Korean DMZ and the Cuban Fence Line. At the same time I have spent 16 of 27 wedding anniversaries away from home and lost count of birthdays and other important occasions that I missed while serving the country.

Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2004

I have served 5 different Presidents. In that time I have seen changes in the political, social and economic conditions of the country and the world that I could not have imagined at the time of my enlistment.  The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis had just ended but within the Soviet Union had been defeated the Berlin Wall taken down and collapse of the Soviet Union.  Twenty years after I enlisted the people that defeated the Soviets were attacking us on our own soil.

Boarding Party Arabian Gulf May 2002

I lived in Europe and went through the Chernobyl radiation cloud which is obviously the cause of my glowing personality.  While in Europe I ate enough beef to be labeled by the Red Cross as a potential carrier of Mad Cow disease. I worked on military personnel policies at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and saw the beginning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  I saw the Reagan build up and the post Cold War drawdown.  When I was a Company XO and Company Commander we had landlines and typewriters with carbon paper and did not get internet in my office until 1997.  It is hard to believe the changes even in the quantum leaps in computer and communication technology in the past few years where I can check e-mail on my Blackberry and work from almost anywhere with my laptop.

With Advisors and Bedouin on Iraqi-Syrian Border December 2007

Looking back here are some of the things that I have seen since I entered the military:

October 23rd 1983: Beirut Bombing: BLT 1/8 barracks and French 1st Parachute Regiment destroyed by suicide bombers 241 Americans and 58 French Paras killed.  I was at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course at Fort Knox watching CNN late at night when they broke the news.

December 12th 1985:  Arrow Air Charter Boeing 707 crashed in Gander Newfoundland killing 248 American Soldiers returning from Peacekeeping duty in Sinai Peninsula. Among the dead was Sergeant Charles Broncato who had been one of my Squad Leaders in 2nd Platoon 557th Medical Company Ambulance. I was then serving as the Company Commander.

January 28th 1986: The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 73 seconds into flight killing 7 Astronauts.  I was in my office at the close of the day getting ready to adjudicate an Article 15 when my Charge-of Quarters SPC Lisa Dailey ran into my office and said “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” My response was “Come on, Space Shuttles don’t blow up.”

February 15th 1988: The Soviet Union withdraws from Afghanistan. I was a National Guard Officer in Texas attending Seminary and thought this was a good thing.  Now I wish that they had done better and at least killed Osama Bin Laden, then a relatively minor commander.

December 21st 1988: Pan Am 103 downed by Libyan operatives over Lockerbie Scotland killing all 270 passengers and crew. The aircraft a Boeing 747 named the Maid of the Seas was the same aircraft that we had flown home from Germany on December 28th 1986.

October 17th 1989: the Loma Prieta Earthquake causes massive damage in San Francisco and Oakland. I was watching pregame activities of game 3 of the World Series between the A’s and Giants on television when it happened.

November 9th 1989: The Berlin Wall Fell. In November of 1986 we had been to East Berlin and like most Americans never thought that we would see this day.

August 2nd 1990: Iraq Invades Kuwait: At time few people believe it well end in war. I was deputy course leader for Army Chaplain Officer Basic Course, tell my classmates to get ready to go to war.

December 31st 1991: The Soviet Union is dissolved.

April 19th 1993: FBI and other Federal Law Enforcement personnel using Combat Engineering Vehicles from the 111th Engineer Battalion, the unit that I serve as a Chaplain assault the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco Texas. Davidian leader David Koresh and dozens of followers die in fire and shoot out.

June 17th 1994:  Police arrest O. J. Simpson after nationally televised low speed chase charging him with murder in the death of his wife Nicole and Ronald Goldman. NBC splits screen between NBA championship series game between Houston Rockets and New York Knicks and the chase. I watch in back of M577 Command Vehicle on 9 inch television in the field at Fort Hood.

August 12th 1994: Baseball strike cancels season, playoffs and Worlds Series.

April 19th 1995: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blow up Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

January 26th 1998: Bill Clinton states that “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

December 31st 1999: The world awaits the end of life as we know it due to the Y2K flaw sthat supposedly causes computers to malfunction and bring calamity to the earth.

January 1st 2000:  People including me wake up from hangovers to find that computers still work.

September 11th 2001: Al Qaeda terrorists hijack four commercial airliners crashing two into the World Trade Center Towers in New York collapsing them and one into the Pentagon. A fourth is brought down by passengers before it can reach Washington DC and its target, the US Capital killing 2976 people and injuring another 6000+. I am at Camp LeJeune North Carolina and remained locked down on base the next 4 days.

March 19th 2003: US and Allies launch attack on Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm his stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I am assigned to USS Hue City and the ship is in dry dock. The rest is history.

I also saw a lot of baseball mostly from afar, Pete Rose’s epic hit, Cal Ripken’s consecutive games record, Nolan Ryan’s 5000th strike out and 7th no-hitter as well as all of the now steroid tainted home run records including Barry Bond’s 756th home run which I saw live in a chow hall in Baghdad.

Somehow it is all worth it. Judy has not divorced me although I have probably given her reason on more than one occasion to do so and I love what I do and the people that I get to serve. It really is amazing to look back and think about all the events that I have either witnessed or been a part of in the military as well as all of the great people that I have been associated with. Those friendships and relationships mean more than about anything to me and I am grateful to God and to Judy, my family and all of my friends who have helped me, sometimes in very dark times to go as far and as long as I have in both the Army and Navy.

I was selected for promotion to Commander in June and confirmed by the Senate on August 23rd. I now am about to enter a new phase of life, military service and ministry as the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  Lord knows what the future hold, but whatever happens I feel that things will be fine.

I hope that whatever you do that you will experience good things and be able to look back in life and say “wow that was something else.” So here is to all of us and the long strange trips that we embark upon in life.  In the words of Lou Gehrig, “I am the luckiest man alive.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Military, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

Padre Steve’s Decade in Review: Up Down Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again

Happy New Year!

Well, we have killed off the first decade of the new millennium and I hate to say it but I miss the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.  Somehow despite the threat of double secret nuclear annihilation, disco, and bad hair those decades seemed somehow more civil, more hopeful and dare I say just a bit nicer than the current decade has been.  However this decade is what it is, or maybe was what it was.  I think that most of us could say like the Barry Manilow  song that “I’ve been up down tryin’ to get that feeling again” but like Blobdie sang “Dreaming is Free.”

Personally Padre Steve had recently embarked on another phase of military service having left the Army Reserve in February 1999 to enter the Navy. Since that time my career has been pretty good and I’m glad that I made the switch.  I have had the chance to serve with some great folks and see a lot more of the world and do a lot of cool things, including going to war. This time in 1999 I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  The big thing going on back then was the world being up in arms about the threat of something called Y2K.  Y2K was supposed to end life as we knew it as anything using computer technology was going to quit working, airplanes would fall from the sky, power plants would shut down and personal computers would stop working in the middle of trying to get a dial-up connection to AOL or Compuserve. We YTK fizzed and those that had made doomsday preparations felt pretty silly as they looked over their shoulders for Black Helicopters and hundreds of thousands of UN troops hiding out in our National Parks building detainment camps for real Americans.

Who the Hell Was this Guy Voting For?

As YTK fizzled the 2000 Presidential campaign got spun up.  Padre Steve missed a lot of it because he spent about 10 weeks in the dessert at 29 Palms with two different Marine battalions during two Combined Arms Exercises, or CAX.  He then left in December for a deployment to the Far East. Just before the election the destroyer USS Cole was attacked and heavily damaged by terrorists in an explosive laden boat while refueling in Yemen.  2000 ended without a decision in the election and the campaign culminated in January 2001 with a razor thin Electoral College victory for George W. Bush full of controversy over disputed ballots in Florida with an Army Corps of lawyers getting involved and taking the whole thing up the Supreme Court.  This process dragged on for what seemed like forever until I was in Okinawa with my battalion.  A new term was coined “the hanging chad.” Once the election nightmare was over things did not get better.  In 2000 lost some notable folks, former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach and Pro-Football Hall of Famer Tom Landry called his last play, Sir Alec Guinness crossed over the River Kwai and Montreal Canadiens Hockey legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard broke away and got his final hat trick.

9-11 Twin Towers Under Attack

As 2001 began it did seem that things were starting to settle down despite lingering hatred on both sides of the political aisle about the election.  But then there were the attacks of September 11th 2001 where terrorists flew hijacked airliners into both of the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. This caused a number of congressmen and senators to break forth in song outside the Capital and for a brief time it seemed that the whole country had united in common cause.  Soon US Special Forces, Rangers and Marines were fighting in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the terror attacks and the head of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.  US forces overran Afghanistan quickly with the help of Afghan tribes known as the Northern Alliance and it looked like despite not finding Bin Laden that the US goals were being accomplished even as the President was telling Americans to “go shopping” to many in the military giving the impression that while the military was at war that the nation was not.  In December 2001 Padre Steve was transferred from the Marines to the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Hue City, CG-66. The ship would complete a couple of underway periods and exercises before departing for the Middle East in early February.  This was Padre Steve’s first tour in a war zone and the ship conducted operations off the Horn of Africa, in the Northern Arabian Gulf as part of the UN Oil Embargo on Iraq intercepting smugglers, during which time Padre Steve was with a boarding team that made 75 boarding missions of Iraqi and other smugglers.

Iconic Picture of Padre Steve on a Boarding Mission

From there Hue City operated with the USS John F Kennedy conducting operations in the Gulf of Oman where our air controllers helped direct strikes against Al Qaida and the Taliban and during which time the ship was detached to keep watch on the Indians and Pakistanis who were on the brink of having a nuclear war.  Acting great and Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon, former Beatle George Harrison and NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt all made their final lap around the planet. In Baseball the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series in 7 games.

2004 The Red Sox Break the Curse

2002 also saw John Allen Mohammed, the Beltway Sniper bring terror to Washington DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland, the Congress passed a joint resolution to allow President Bush to use US Military Forces as he deemed fit in Iraq and the Iraq War Resolution.  Shortly thereafter the Department of Homeland Security was established.  The San Francisco Giants lost the World Series to the Anaheim Angels after leading in the 7th inning of game six much to the consternation of Padre Steve and the other Giants faithful.  Calls for the public water boarding of Giants Manager and former “Evil Dodger” Dusty Baker to find why he took out Russ Ortiz went unheeded. Dave Thomas the founder of Wendy’s flipped his last burger, country music legend Waylon Jennings sang his last song and Baseball immortal Ted Williams all died in 2002 with Williams and his family trying to make him a real immortal by having his remains cryogenically frozen.

The Challenger Disintigrates

For Padre Steve 2003 was relatively uneventful, the Hue City was in the yards when Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched and was just getting ready for a deployment when he was reassigned to the Marine Security Force Battalion.  In short order he was travelling around the globe and before the end of the year had visited his Marines in Bahrain, Rota Spain and Guantanamo Bay Cuba and he and the Abbess celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. The Iraq War and overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the big story of 2003 however there was other news. The Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry killing the 7 astronauts on board, California recalled Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series. We lost some legends in 2003 comedian Bob Hope died at the age of 100 and is now doing his Christmas show for the Archangel Michael and the Armies of Heaven; US Senator Strom Thurman filibustered his last bill at the age of 100, Fred Rogers left the neighborhood and Joseph Coors brewed his last batch of really bad beer.

George Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln

2004 saw yet another nasty Presidential election riddled with controversy as George W. Bush defeated Senator John Kerry to win re-election.  In Iraq Saddam Hussein was finally caught hiding in a hole in the ground by US Special Forces, the war in Iraq went south as the insurgency of former Ba’athists, disaffected Sunnis aided by Al Qaida and other foreign fighters and terrorists took up President Bush on his challenge to “bring it on.”  Facebook was founded in Cambridge Massachusetts, simultaneous suicide bombs devastated trains in Madrid in what became known as Spain’s 9-11, Lance Armstrong won his 6th consecutive Tour de France, Chechen terrorists seized a school in Beslan Russia and over 300 are killed and 700 wounded by the terrorists as the school was stormed by Russian security forces and the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series to break the curse of the Bambino after coming back to defeat the Yankees in the ALCS after being down three games to none.  Death took no holidays in 2004 as Bob Keeshan better known as Captain Kangaroo was piped over the side, Rick James dated his last Super Freaky Girl without taking her home to mother and former President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer’s Disease after seeing his successors destroy his coalition and “big tent” and hopeful vision of conservatism.   Padre Steve continued to travel around the world with his Marines going to Japan, France, and Spain, Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay as well as a number of trips within the United States.  In France he taught seminars at the Belleau Wood battlefield site and in Normandy.

Hurricane Katrina as a Category 5 Storm

The war in Iraq continued to heat up in 2005 with the insurgency spreading throughout the country with the focal point being Sunni stronghold Al Anbar Province.  Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf coast devastating New Orleans and southern Mississippi killing over 1800 and forcing millions from their homes. The ineffective and inept government response beginning with the “fly by visit” of President Bush helped the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate in 2006.  Terrorism was alive and well as a terrorist attack on London’s Underground and a bus killed 56 and injured over 700.  As for Padre Steve well he was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander, completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and continued to travel around the world with his Marines going to Japan, France, Spain, Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay as well as a number of trips within the United States.  The highlight of this was being able to have the Abbess accompany him to Guantanamo Bay for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. The Chicago White Sox defeated the Houston Astros in the World Series. In Washington DC baseball stars were hauled before a Congressional committee to testify on steroids in baseball or interrogated about their possible use of steroids. This wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer money as loser Congressmen who tolerate all sorts of illegal and immoral actions of their own sought to embarrass and destroy the careers and reputations of ballplayers in a grand act of inquisitional hypocrisy. Death came knocking for comedian Richard Pryor, Johnny Carson gave his last monologue, Pope John Paul II met Saint Peter and James Doohan, Mr. Scott from Star Trek was beamed up for the last time.

Israeli Merkeva Tank Destroyed by Hezbollah

In 2006 Padre Steve was promoted the Lieutenant Commander and was transferred to EOD Group Two after completing another year of travel with the Marine Security Forces.  Within months there was talk of a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan for him and his trusty assistant and body guard Nelson Lebron. He also began a Masters Degree program in Military History at American Military University.  In the rest of the world the Republicans lost their majorities in Congress, the war in Iraq continued to grow in intensity and Israel went to war with Hezbollah forces on their northern border.  The attack was ill conceived and was a military failure revealing weaknesses in the Israeli ground forces training and tactical abilities forcing investigations of the military and the resignation of the head of the military.  Pope Benedict XVI the successor to Pope John Paul II published his first encyclical.  In the World Series Tony LaRussa’s St Louis Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers and Barry Bonds though tainted by controversy continued his march to the Baseball Home Run title.  Death paid a visit to former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, sportscaster Curt Gowdy called his last game and Don Knotts, Televisions Barney Fife gave up his bullet for the last time.

Barry Bonds the All Time Home Run Leader

The war in Iraq reached a climax in 2007 as President Bush heeded the advice of General David Petreus and initiated a “surge” of forces to help wage an actual counterinsurgency campaign.  Combined with the Al Anbar Awakening where the Sunni turned on the insurgents and allied themselves with the Americans the course of the war changed as insurgents lost support and the US and better trained and equipped Iraqi forces launched successful offensives to drive the insurgents out of key areas.  Padre Steve deployed to Iraq and served in Al Anbar Province working with US Marine and Army advisers to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border forces travelling thousands of miles in the province to go where few others went.

Padre Steve in Iraq with Bedouin on Syrian Border

Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record while track star Marion Jones surrendered 5 Olympic Gold Medals after admitting to blood doping and the Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to claim their second World Series title of the decade.  Meanwhile death came to Jerry Falwell who preached his last sermon; Tammy Faye (Baker) Messner applied her last coat of Bondo, Ike Tuner played his last guitar riff while Pavarotti exited the stage with Marcel Marceau who went rather silently I am told.

Barak Obama the 44th President

In 2008 Padre Steve returned from Iraq with a pretty good case of PTSD, chronic pain and anxiety coupled with depression and a crisis in faith.  He finished his tour at EOD and was assigned to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. He and the Abbess celebrated thier 25th wedding anniversary.  The war in Iraq was now moving in a successful direction with the Iraqis taking more control of their security and the various religious, political and ethnic factions beginning to talk and work with one another rather than shoot at each other.  However the war in Afghanistan took a nasty turn as the Taliban came back with a vengeance and the Afghan government was revealed as weak, ineffective and corrupt.  The 2008 Presidential election was waged with bitterness and the Democrats sent Senator Barak Obama, who had defeated Senator Hillary Clinton up against Senator John McCain.  Obama won the election becoming the first African American man to become president while strengthening their majorities in Congress. The world entered a major economic crisis in 2008 and the United States suffered massive losses in financial markets, housing and rising unemployment.  Bank bailouts were the order of the day as President Bush left office and Obama took over.  A massive earthquake in Sichuan China killed over 80,000 people while American swimmer Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals to set an Olympic record.  The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series defeating the surprising Tampa Bay Rays.  Death as always came along taking actors Heath Ledger and Charlton “Moses” Heston, comedian George Carlin and former Senator Jesse Helms.

Sarah Palin the New Leader of the GOP?

2009 came in with the inauguration of Barak Obama as President something that Padre Steve witnessed with a elderly African American women in her ICU room while holding her hand as she cried not believing that she would see an event of this kind in her lifetime.  The war in Iraq began to wind down as the US began to increase it’s withdraw of ground forces and turn over more security to the Iraqis.  In Afghanistan the war reached a crisis point as the military and political situation deteriorated within the country and support for the war dwindled in the US and Europe. Amid this President Obama agreed to a “surge” for Afghanistan.  The worldwide economic continued but by the end of the year some economic indicators were pointing upward again even as the US unemployment rate continued to rise. A bitter fight was waged over health care reform and economic policies while President Obama’s support and approval ratings crashed as people on both the left and right of the political spectrum criticized his leadership and policies.  Republican Vice-Presidential nominee and former Vice President Dick Cheney took the Republican lead in attacking the President while conservative talk radio delivered a daily barrage of criticism.  Some of Obama’s own actions did not help his cause especially in the manner in which he was viewed to respond to terrorist attacks including an attempted Christmas Eve bombing of a US airliner.  Tensions continued to grow between the West and Iran regarding that nation’s nuclear program even as widespread demonstrations wracked that country after an election which appeared to be rigged by the Iranian government. An outbreak of H1N1 Influence reached pandemic proportions across the globe but did not reach the lethality that it had the potential to do.  The Vatican announced a historic plan to allow conservative and traditionalist Anglicans come into the Catholic Church and retain their Anglican traditions and some measure of autonomy.

The Yankees Return

In baseball a revitalized New York Yankees team dominated the American league and went on to dominate their playoff and World Series opponents defeating the Phillies in 6 games. In football a good number of teams in both the NFL and NCAA were a parody of the sport and coaching scandals plagued the sport while at the box office Star Trek came back with a vengeance and a twist. Padre Steve continued his hospital work, battled PTSD, depression, his father’s Alzheimer’s disease and his own spiritual crisis but completed the academic requirements for his Masters Degree in Military History and by the end of the year began to experience some measure of healing.  He launched this site in February of 2009 and as of this post will have made 328 posts on the site.  He also bought his first ever season tickets for a baseball team and now claims Section 102, Row B seats 1 & 2 as his pew at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  Death prowled the earth looking for recruits finding legendary news anchorman Walter Cronkite who signed off of the last time, Pop Superstar Michael Jackson who “moon walked” the stairway to heaven or wherever, Senator Edward Kennedy who finalized his last legislation with his maker and Patrick Swayze who reprised his role in “Ghost.”

So it has been quite a decade personally for your friend Padre Steve as well as an eventual decade for the United States and the World.  The decade has been “interesting” and as the ancient Chinese curse says “may you live in interesting times.”  I hope that the next year and decade are a lot less interesting, that wars will cease and that people all over the world will join together like the old 1960’s Coca Cola commercial.

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing?

Peace and Blessings in the New Year,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings

Revisiting the Political Captivity of the Church

pub2Contemplating Faith and Practice in A Pub

Note: This is an expansion of a topic that I wrote about in the beginnings of Padre Steve’s World.  At that time I had far fewer readers and the post itself was not nearly as fleshed out.  I do expect that some will be really angry with what I write here.  However, I write with no malice, nor condemnation of any particular belief or cause.  The issue for me is how we do things and treat people.  This matters as much as the content of what we say.  On a side note after a dismal road trip the Tides are back in town tonight to play the Lehigh ValleyIron Pigs.  The only saving grace to the Tides “June Swoon” is that their competitor the Durham Bulls who have done even worse. So the Tides remain in first palce in the IL South.

Since I am a “passionate moderate” I figure I should go ahead and continue to dig my grave with my conservative brethren who view anyone to the left of them as a wild eyed raving liberal and quite possibly a Socialist.  Likewise there might be some on the Left with whom I might also dig my grave.  As a passionate moderate I might be classed as a liberal conservative or conservative liberal.  Thus I and people like me stand in the uncomfortable middle of a deeply polarized society.  To the extreme right I might be a raving liberal, and the far left a intolerant conservative but the I choose to live in the tension between the two, although I think that being classed as a raving liberal is far more likely in today’s environment.  Conservatives are now out of power for the first time in a good number of years and mad as hell determined to regain what they lost.  Liberals on the other hand now have power and as any political party would do are advancing their agenda; the Democrat Party won the last couple of elections by a pretty convincing margin.  When Republicans won they also claimed a “mandate” for change.  It is the nature of our body politic.  The fact is that winners get to implement their agenda especially when they have big majorities in the legislative branch as well have the Presidency.

As a passionate moderate who is also a Priest and Christian my goal in life is to get along, find common ground among disparate groups and care for God’s people.  I do this by acknowledging and maintaining the tensions that are inherent in a pluralistic society and not simply going along what whatever is popular or expedient. This takes a lot of effort and does not exclude being prophetic.  However that prophetic role comes in relationship with others where there is mutual respect, civility and care for each other even when we do not agree. It does not come from being angry, acting disrespectfully or making comments that you hope that the government or country fails so you can get back in power.  The prophetic role does not come from the outside looking in railing at your opponents.  That only increases your isolation, eventually to the point that you are no longer a player in the debate, simply an annoying pest with absolutely no say in anything.  It takes more courage to be open and dialogue with people respectfully than it does to rail against them from the outside.  Anyone can be a critic and anyone can be a wrecking ball.  That’s easy.  There is little personal risk in doing so, because you don’t have to open you self up to the possibility that there may be some merit in your opponent’s view and once you have a relationship with someone it is hard to demonize or dehumanize them.  Unfortunately that is what is happening across the religious and political divide in our society.

Despite the rancor on the extremes I think that there are more people out there like me than not. My belief is that voices like ours are drowned out by drumbeat of competing demagogues on the far right and the far left.  Since I am a priest my focus will be on the dangers that I see in the current climate and the captivity that churches have unwittingly placed themselves in making political alliances.  These alliances, particularly of conservative Christians have become so incestuous and so intertwined that they are seen as one and as such these churches and Christian leaders have become the religious voice of political movements fighting a cultural war.  In doing so they have compromised themselves so that only their followers give any credence to what they are saying.  They are so to speak “preaching to the choir” and not reaching out to or even caring about their opponents. In fact opponents are often demonized and declared to be evil.  Many in effect have become like the Taliban and if you do not agree with them on their social-religious agenda you are a heretic regardless of how orthodox you are in your actual theology.  Theology and belief is no longer the test, the test is if you agree with a social-political-religious agenda which often is at odds with the Christian faith has taught.  This is like the Taliban because the goal is to gain control of the government and use the government to impose a social-religious theocracy where the church uses the “police power of the government” to achieve its goals rather that the redemptive message that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” What many churches and Christian leaders have done is to for practical purposes discard any real attempts to engage people with the message of the Gospel in favor of using political power to force non-believers into compliance.  This in stark opposition to the early Church which was martyred for their faith in Christ versus their opposition to government policy or social ills, of which there were plenty that they could have protested.

Early in his “Reforming” days the young Martin Luther wrote a book entitled “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was a severe critique of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church of his era.  I think churches today have become captive to various political parties, social and economic theories, movements and ideas.  These are not necessarily Christian even though any churches have “baptized” them so to speak.  Capitalism for instance is has many benefits, however unbridled capitalism which is not moderated with true concern for the least, the lost and the lonely, is nothing more that economic social Darwinism.  It is the survival of the fittest with little concern or regard for real people.  People in this kind of world are not people, but consumers and economic units.  In the United States we can see this in practical terms where historically US corporations which at one time employed millions of Americans and produced actual good that were in turn exported to the world have outsourced so many jobs and industries to other nations. This was done in order to increase corporate profits by paying foreign workers almost nothing and not having to abide by US environmental laws or tax codes.  This may bring cheaper goods in the marketplace but it has endangered our economic and even strategic military security. Economic power is one of the key elements of national security.  In the military we call this the DIME:  Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic power and unless your economy can keep up you will fail.  Just ask the Soviet Union.  It is interesting to see many Christian leaders and churches talk of capitalism as if came down from heaven even using the Bible to try to bolster their argument.  This is just one of many areas where the church is not longer a prophetic voice, but a willing captive mouthpiece for political and economic institutions which at their heart could care less about the Christian faith and wouldn’t mind it going away.

On the left many churches have embraced social reform, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation as well as left leaning and even socialistic economic models and a demonstrated preference for the Democratic Party.   On the right conservative churches beginning in the 1970s in reaction to the social revolutions of the 1960s moved almost lock, stock and barrel to the Republican Party led by men such as Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, Pat Robertson who founded the Christian Coalition and Dr D. James Kennedy who founded the now defunct “Center for Reclaiming America for Christ.”  Ronald Reagan was the primary reason for this move as he enunciated a philosophy of limited government, military preparedness, an outspoken advocate of the role of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and the sanctity of life in at least in what he said. Conservative politicians and religious leaders solidified that relationship in the 1990s during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose sexual proclivities did nothing to help his cause with Christians despite him signing the Defense of Marriage Act.  The 1994 “Republican Revolution” and “Contract for America” helped solidify Christian conservatives as a central component of the Republican Party and by that point there was a clear alliance between Christian conservatives and the Republican Party.  It was also during this time that politically conservative talk radio became a force in American politics and many on the Christian Right gravitated to broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh and later Sean Hannity.

I am not going to cast dispersion on the motives of liberal and conservative churches as they made these political alliances.  Far be it, the activity of churches has been an important part of American life and has contributed to many advances in our society including the civil rights movement, which could not have succeeded without the efforts of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and many other clergymen and women, from across the denominational and racial spectrum.  Other examples of where churches spoke to societal wrongs included slavery and child labor.  Now this was not a unified front as many churches especially regarding slavery and civil rights opposed these measures.  This included the major denominations that split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery prior to the Civil War.  The Southern Baptist Church is a product of this split.  Other churches such as the Methodists and Presbyterians eventually came back together, the Presbyterian Church USA doing so in 1982, 117 years after the Civil War…better late than never I guess.  This will not happen with the Southern and American Baptist Convention’s as they are now theologically poles apart.

There has been a trend over the last 20 years or so by many clergy and laity in both liberal and conservative churches to be uncritical in their relationships with political parties. In my view this has emasculated the witness of the church.  I have experienced this on both the left and the right. When I was a kid my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer was serving in Vietnam. New to the area we went to a church of the denomination that my parents had grown up in and in which I had been baptized.  This was a mainline Protestant church, the name I will not mention because it is irrelevant to the discussion.  The minister constantly preached against the war and the military probably assuming that he had no military families in the congregation.  At that church I had a Sunday School teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” when I told her that my dad was serving in Vietnam.  If it had not been for the Roman Catholic chaplain at the little Navy base in town who showed my family the love of God when that happened, caring for our Protestant family without trying to make us Catholic I would have probably never reconciled with the church.  I trace my vocation as a priest and chaplain to that man. Since I have spent more of my life in conservative churches in the days since I have seen a growing and ever more strident move to the political right in conservative churches.  I think this has less to do with the actual churches but the influence of conservative talk radio which has catered to conservatives, especially social conservative Christians.  Conservative Christians are a key part of this demographic and it is not unusual to hear ministers as well as lay people simply parroting what these broadcasters are saying. I often hear my fellow Christians on the right talk more vociferously about free markets capitalism, the war on terror and justifying the other conservative causes which are general less than central to the faith in public forums like Facebook.  Some of what is written is scary.  People who pray for the government to fail, pray for the President to be killed, call anyone who disagrees with them pretty horrible names.  I saw an active duty Army Chaplain call the President  Obama “that reject.” The words of a lot of these folks are much more like Sean Hannity than the Apostle Paul.  When I have challenged conservative Christian friends on what I think are inconsistencies I have in some cases been attacked and pretty nastily if I might add.

I see this in stark contrast to the witness of the early church.  Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan sums up how Christians responded to real, not imagined persecution for their Christian faith, not social-political cause.

“They stated that the sum of their guilt or error amounted to this, that they used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god, and that they took an oath not to involve themselves in villainy, but rather to commit no theft, no fraud, no adultery; not to break faith, nor to deny money placed with them in trust. Once these things were done, it was their custom to part and return later to eat a meal together, innocently, although they stopped this after my edict, in which I, following your mandate, forbade all secret societies.”

Pliny was perplexed because although he thought their religion to be “fanatical superstitions” he could find no other fault in their lives; they even obeyed his order to stop meeting together.  My view is that Christians some on the left but especially on the right lost any prophetic voice not only in society, in their respective political party alliances.  They have become special interest groups who compete with other special interest groups, which politicians of both parties treat as their loyal servants.  This is what I mean by captivity.  I think that the church has to be able to speak her mind and be a witness of the redemption and reconciliation message of the Gospel and hold politicians, political parties and other power structures accountable for their treatment of the least, the lost and the lonely; caring for those that to those who seek to maintain political and economic control, merely numbers.  The church has to maintain her independence or lose submit to slavery.  There are many examples we can look to in this just a couple of relatively modern examples being William Wilberforce and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We can find many others throughout Church history. These men were not apolitical, but they and their ministries were both prophetic and redemptive.  They maintained peaceful dialogue with their opponents and helped bring about justice.  Billy Graham never gave in to the temptation to endorse any political party.  Instead he had a voice and relationship with every US President during his active ministry, be they Republican or Democrat.

It is incumbent on Christians and other people of faith seek to embody this witness in our divided and dangerous world.  Christians especially cannot allow themselves to be ghettoized in any political party where they are just another interest group. Nor can they allow their public witness to be absorbed and consumed by the promotion of political agendas or causes, even if those causes are worthy of support.  It is a matter of keeping priorities causes can never take precedence over the message of God’s love and reconciliation in Christ.  Unfortunately this is too often the case.  My view is that if you build relationships with people, loving them, caring for them and treating them with the same respect that you would want for yourself; even with those that you have major differences, then you will have a place at the table and your voice will be heard.  If we on the other hand cauterize ourselves from relationships and dialogue we will be relegated, and rightly so to the margins of the social and political process of our nation.  In effect we will ensure that people will stop listening to us not only on the social and political issues, but more importantly in our proclamation of the faith that comes to us from the Apostles.  Unfortunately I believe that at least for the moment we have been marginalized and it is because we have compromised ourselves allowing extremists to be the public face of the Christian church in public debates on social, morale and political issues.  I hope someday we will rebuild our credibility as people who actually care about the life of our fellow citizens and our country and not just those who agree with us.  God have mercy on us all.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion