Tag Archives: bryan fischer

Do Not Give in to Fear: #Je Suis Charlie

je-suis-charlie

In his First Inaugural Address Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke these immortal words:

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

The threat today is different than Roosevelt faced in 1932 when he was addressing widespread economic, social and political chaos that was striking fear at the heart of America and radicalizing some segments of the population. It is more closely related to the threat that he would later face in 1941 when he recognized Nazi threat and signed the Atlantic Charter and then responded to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But even then there are differences, between that and the threat today.

That being said, in this address Roosevelt was absolutely correct in several things which are timeless and that we as Americans and others in the West, as well as those who aspire to our values in other parts of the world, include Moslem nations must address.

What happened in Paris, the brazen attack of Al Qaeda linked terror striking at cartoonists and other satirists who they claimed to be committing blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed. That attack has raised legitimate security concerns that other radicalized Moslems will commit similar attacks, not just in France but in other Western democracies. In fact as a career military officer, historian and theologian I can say that this threat is not overblown. We are probably just seeing the tip of the iceberg.

However, the problem is during such times that people, including government leaders, religious leaders, academics and journalists give in to fear by responding in one of two counterproductive ways. Some, give in to the fear by remaining silent, playing it safe and hoping the threat just goes away and even condemning those that they believe brought on the crisis, rather than those actually committing the violent acts. Others go to the opposite extreme and create a climate of fear, suspicion and encourage the creation of a police state, the surrender of civil liberties and the persecution of anyone remotely resembling the perpetrators of the attacks.

In fact the Roosevelt administration itself was guilty of the latter when in 1941 and early 1942 it rounded up Japanese Americans on the West Coast and sent them to internment camps, simply for the crime of being Japanese. But they didn’t do that to Americans of German or Italian descent. Why? Well it was easy, the Japanese were easy to identify, they were not white. It gave into the climate of fear, and imprisoned patriotic American citizens because of their race, while ignoring those of German descent who in the late 1930s and even in 1941 were members of the a group called the Bund, which was made of of ethic Germans who supported the Nazis.

But Roosevelt’s words are applicable today. The attacks in Paris were an attack on Western Civilization and democracy, done in the name of Islam. They were aimed at the heart of being able to speak freely, even insensitively and offensively about people in power, using satire to do so. While satirist were the target this time, there have been those who have been threatened, attacked or killed for writing truthful history, political commentary or even fictional works which some Moslems cannot abide, including author Salman Rushdie.

The vast majority of these types of attacks over the past several decades have been done in the name of Islam. However, Christians, Jews, Hindus and others cannot claim that leaders of their religions have not engaged in similar behaviors, dating to antiquity. All have committed similar acts throughout history in the name of their Gods, acts that have encompassed everything from harassment and persecution, programs, banishment from society, forced conversions, military conquest and even genocide.

Now is the time for leaders to boldly speak the truth, with honesty and candor. They cannot mince words in the hopes of not offending those who strike at our freedoms, even freedoms which some find offensive.

Likewise, all of us, not just leaders have to honestly face the conditions in our countries, and we cannot give in to fear. We should not be silent, or even self-censor when it comes to difficult and controversial ideas simply because we fear a backlash of some kind. That being said, when we do so we have to ensure that our words do not add to that climate of fear, intolerance and loathsome behavior that characterizes a nation seeking scapegoats, as did the Germans to the Jews after the First World War and during the Nazi regime.

Fear is the driving factor in both of these reactions, and both are counter-productive because they encourage more extremism. As Roosevelt said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” 

Sadly there will be those, especially some politicians, pundits and political preachers who seek to convert that fear to their advantage. Already in response to these heinous attacks we are seeing it. Calls for the full militarization of police forces, placing police spies in houses of worship, and treating all Moslems if they were guilty for the acts of some of their brothers and suggest imprisoning, expelling or killing Moslems  because of their religion.

While I would agree that Islam has much reforming to do, persecuting Moslems is no way to bring it about. However, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre there are signs that some Moslems, journalists, some religious leaders and even the President of Egypt are calling for a Reformation of Islam.  That will take time, that Reformation in Christianity needed to be helped along by the more secular Enlightenment before Christians began to abandon some of the same kind of punitive beliefs and measures against heretics, critics and unbelievers so common in Islam today.

Likewise there are some religious leaders, particularly conservative Christian leaders in this country who are blaming the victims of the massacre for committing blasphemy. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association even called it God’s judgment on them for blasphemy, not of Islam, but of Christianity. Randall Terry, a founder of Operation Rescue urged Christians in 1993:

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.” 

Honestly, is that any different from the Islamic preachers of hate today?

 

But then what is blasphemy? Every religion has beliefs which if contradicted or criticized could be considered blasphemy, which in some cases throughout history has merited death. Protestants who abandoned Catholicism during the Reformation were marked as heretics and unless they had a Prince of King powerful enough to protect them were tried and executed. Anabaptists killed under under Calvin and Zwingli because they were re-baptized. Catholics in England became criminals after the Anglican Church became the state church. Sunni and Shia Moslems kill each other because of where they believe legitimate religious authority lies, the bloodline of the Prophet or learned teachers.

Since the list of blasphemous acts goes on and on depending on what religion, or sect within a religion decides, who is to judge in a pluralistic society? The church? The state? Even better the theocratic state that many “conservative Christians” want to re-establish and use fear of progressives, non-believers, homosexuals, outsiders, and non-Christian religious groups, especially Moslems.

Thus we cannot give in to fear, be it fear of all Moslems, or those who make satire of what others hold dear. We do have nothing to fear, but fear itself, and those who stoke that fear to attain their goal of holding power over others. As Captain Lean Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart said in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode The Drumhead:“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Spreading Fear in the Name of Righteousness

Mini-Stonewall

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I said that my New Year’s resolution was going to be the passionate pursuit of truth and here the the first volley in that. It deals with the very real agenda of some leaders of the Christian Right and their leaders in the Republican Party against the LGBT community.

So I want you to imagine what it was like in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s for gays, and imagine something that is  a core part of your personality, belief system or lifestyle was criminalized. So let’s go back to those days:

Imagine if your activities were monitored, catalogued and reported by local, state and Federal police agencies.

Imagine that police detectives and informants were allowed to spy on your activities.

Imagine that police, acting in the “name of the law” under the merest pretense or spurious accusation could invade your home, business or institution and use physical violence to subdue you, even if you had done nothing wrong.

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The Stonewall Riot 1969

Imagine if a business rival or a spurned lover desired to ruin you with only an accusation.

Imagine if the price of your freedom was to name names and condemn others.

Imagine if even suspicion of your activities was considered as grounds for termination of your employment, or prevent you from receiving a promotion.

Imagine if those same suspicions could brand you as a felon with the results of being forbidden to vote, the loss of property and employment rights. 

Imagine that if you went to a bar that if you looked in any direction but straight ahead that you could be charged with accosting others.

Imagine that anyone, anywhere who had knowledge of your behaviors could use that knowledge to have you kicked out of the military, law enforcement or government employment, usually with a felony conviction. 

Imagine that your behavior, even discrete behavior in your own residence could get you locked in a psychiatric hospital and quite possibly the use of drugs and surgery to “correct your illness” without your consent. 

Imagine if you were a faithful member of your church, were conservative in your theology and politics and supported all the causes of that body, but one aspect of your behavior could lead to your excommunication and banishment from that community. 

I guess if it was your behavior or your beliefs that led to such treatment you would cry foul, you would protest, that you would claim that you were the victim of discrimination; and my friend I say that you would be correct.

That my friends was the America and Great Britain that Gays lived in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, portions of which remained enshrined in law until very recently and which a number of high powered and influential politicians, pundits and preachers of the Christian Right would like to go again. One of them, Gordon Klingenschmitt, is a criminal. He was tried and convicted by court-martial for disobedience of a lawful order not to protest outside White House in his uniform  at a political rally, while George W. Bush was President.   After the conviction Klingenschmitt was separated from the the Navy when his denomination, the Evangelical Episcopal Church defrocked him and pulled his endorsement to be a chaplain. On his Pray in Jesus Name radio program Klingenschmitt said that it is his “goal to push gays back in the closet.” Klingenschmitt has made his living since claiming all sorts of things on that program following his conviction and discharge and now is a newly elected State Senator in Colorado.

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Sadly there are those among the Christian Right in a number of states, as well as Conservative Christian politicians at the State and Federal level, to include Senators, members of the House of Representatives and prominent potential Presidential Candidates who advocate bringing all of these measures back. These include Tim Pawlenty and Haley Barbour who when in the run up to the GOP 2012 primaries both told hate-ideologue Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association that they would reinstitute the discriminatory “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. Fischer, as well as numerous others, including the head of the Heritage Foundation, former Senator Jim DeMint suggest barring Gays from teaching, the judiciary and other forums of public service. Anti-Gay Evangelist Scott Lively worked actively to help pass a “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, while many other prominent preachers of the Christian right praise the persecution of Gays in Russia by Vladimir Putin.

Gays have been blamed for the spread of Ebola and other diseases and about every social ill in the world, even if there is no evidence to support the claims of those making  the accusations.

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Bryan Fischer, a failed pastor is not a failed propagandist of anti-Gay zealotry and he attracts a fair number of prominent Republican politicians to his radio program, including:

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia, Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, of Mississippi and Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas. Among the major conservative activists who have appeared on Focal Point are Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, David Barton of WallBuilders, Phyllis Schlafly of Eagle Forum and Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express. Fischer, whose group was a co-sponsor of the Value Voters summit back in 2010 was joined by even bigger names including Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Mitt Romney, former Virginia Governor and convicted felon Bob McDonnell Indiana Rep. Mike Pence.

Fischer and others claim gays to be terrorists, criminals and compare them to the Nazis which is ironic since the Nazis outlawed homosexuality and sent homosexuals to the Concentration camps. But then truth is not an obstacle for this bunch. In Arizona and Kansas “Jim Crow” measures to legalize religious discrimination against homosexuals nearly became law with their proponents claiming to be protecting the rights of people to discriminate against gays solely based on religious their religious liberty.

There are prominent Evangelical preachers, media personalities and pundits who go to extremes in their description of Gays, Lesbians, and for that matter anyone in the LGBT community. Some of those include Pat Robertson and others have made incredulous statements about Gays.

While I do not think that the truly extreme measures will ever be passed or upheld once they hit the courts, the danger of this anti-Gay propaganda and continued efforts of some will continue to punish gays for nothing more than wanting to live a normal life with people they love. There is a secondary danger, that danger is that the constant drumbeat of hate will motivate some to violence against the LGBT community. Such has happened too many times, one cannot forget the brutal murder of young Matthew Shepard.

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Matthew Shepard

It is something that all of us who truly value liberty must be on constant guard against. I cannot imagine a society that would want any portion of it to have to deal with the legalized hate, persecution and discrimination that gays went through long after it was made illegal to do to others.  There are some who earnestly desire a return to such persecution of Gay people and their supporters, and they wait for the chance to implement their agenda.

There is a scene at the end of the Star Trek the Next Generation episode The Drumhead. In the episode a deranged and paranoid ideologue comes aboard the Enterprise to conduct an investigation of possible sabotage. The investigation becomes a witch hunt in which she accuses Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) of treason. Her case collapses and afterward Lt. Worf, the Klingon Security Officer of the Enterprise, who initially supported her visits Captain Picard. Their dialogue is pertinent to today.

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

Vigilance against those who cloak themselves in the name of righteousness to discriminate against and persecute others. Is that not the same thing we claim to be fighting the Islamic extremists of ISIL, Al Qaeda, the Taliban and others who in the name of their understanding of righteous do to those that they control?

I personally know too many Gays and Lesbians who have endured such perfection, including witch hunts under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy and anti-gay policies that were once enshrined in military law. These men and women were honorable, and many legitimate heroes in combat.

Thus I will fight for the rights of Gay and Lesbians and the LGBT community, the right to enjoy all the privileges that I have as a married, heterosexual, career military officer and Christian. Likewise I will not hesitate to identify those who promote such discrimination.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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The Fever and the Fear: Conservative American Christians and Judgment at Nuremberg

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http://movieclips.com/FkTn-judgment-at-nuremberg-movie-dr-janning-explains-his-actions/

Yesterday I wrote about the lack of empathy among conservative American Christians and I drew some comparisons to the German Christians of the 1920s and 1930s who despite their reservations supported ultra-right wing parties and later the Nazi Party. As I mentioned yesterday this was brought about by the fear and hate propagated by those who had lost their favored status after the collapse of the Kaiser Reich, and especially the fear of what many Christians believed was the threat of atheistic Socialists and Communists. Their brief experiment with democracy which was devastated by political battles amid the 1919-1920 Weimar Inflation which destroyed the financial security of most Germans as well as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 which brought about the Great Depression made many receptive to the “Nazi Gospel.”

I think that conservative American Christians are going the same direction as they get swept up in the climate of fear, hate, distrust and perceived persecution at the hands of liberals, atheists, socialists and their own government. As I noted yesterday much of this stems not from actual persecution but from the loss of their privileged position as the dominant force in society.

I love the film Judgment at Nuremberg, because I think that it really does reflect how many prominent Germans who should have known better followed Hitler, and reflects how many conservative Christians see the political right as their standard bearers.. In the film Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning.

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

Hannah Arendt talked about this in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,  her treatment of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the mid-level Nazi officers who sent millions of people to their deaths. In describing Eichmann and other ordinary people Arendt said:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

At the end of the movie Judgment at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy as Presiding Judge Dan Haywood concluded his sentencing remarks with this statement. It is perhaps one of the most powerful statement and something to remember as the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers urge us to hate one another and those different than us. It is something that is especially needed in times of great societal stress as well as real and perceived dangers from without and within.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

This is an unsettling subject and people on the political right and left in this country are apt to compare their opponents to those that were tried at Nuremberg and those that led them. This has been an increasingly disturbing trend in the case of hyper-partisan Right Wing and so called Conservative Christians who blatantly demonize those who they hate and urge the use of the police powers of the state to enforce their political-religious agenda. For all intents and purposes they no longer care about “Justice, truth, or the value of a single human being” especially if those human beings are not Christians. That may seem harsh, but sadly it is all too often the truth.

The terrible truth is that it is possible that any parties in any society, including ours, when divided by fear, hate and the desire for power can behave exactly as the industrialists, financiers, doctors, soldiers, jurists, civil servants, pastors and educators who oversaw the heinous crimes committed by the Third Reich.

Again, I am not calling anyone, even the people that I am criticizing today Nazis. I am only trying to show the logical end of the thinking that permeates much of the political right, particularly conservative Christians who are following a path that is destructive to the church and for the world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “if you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” By selling their birthright to right wing radical politicians and special interest groups who only seek to exploit them for their own power, conservative Christians, like those in the Weimar Republic have boarded the wrong train, and unless they get off that train they will find that they have no redemptive value in society.

Sadly, I doubt that Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Tony Perkins or any of the myriad of pundits, politicians and preachers driving conservative Christians off the rails will ever understand this. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools. Fools who in their quest for temporal power destroyed more lives and souls than they ever could have imagined.

Unlike Janning, I doubt if any of them have the capacity to reflect upon their words and actions and realize what they did and are doing are morally, ethically and by every measure of humanity are wrong, and are evil masquerading as righteousness, and thus doubly worthy of condemnation, for if they are Christians they should know better. I only hope that the vast number of conservative Christians who have not completely fallen for their hateful propaganda; men and women who have doubts about the message of such leaders are able to discern the truth will pause for just a moment, and like Bonhoeffer and others like him stand for justice, truth, or the value of a single human being.

Those who stood trial at Nuremberg were all people that should have known better, as should we, especially those who claim the name of Christ and presume to be bearing his good news. I think I will be continuing this line of thought through much of the coming week, although there may be a detour into baseball or Gettysburg; so I will stop for now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, film, History, movies, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary

The Absence of Empathy Among Conservative Christians

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“Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” Captain Gustave Gilbert at Nuremberg

Since coming back from Munich on Friday night I have been catching up on the news and I was nearly overwhelmed with the amount of vitriol, hatred and intolerance coming out of the Values Voters Summit. The summit is an annual gathering of right wing political hacks who specialize promoting fear in the hearts of conservative Christians by fostering a nearly pathological culture of victimhood and persecution, in which they are the victims because others are being granted the same rights and privileges that they have enjoyed since this country was founded. Prominent among all of the speakers was a lack of empathy for anyone who did not hold their views, and those views are reflected in the latest Pew Survey on Religion in America where only 55% of consistent conservatives believe empathy is a value to be taught to their children.

 

Being that I am a historian as well as a theologian know all too well. The consequences for the church when such leaders promote such intolerance under the veil of being the victims reminds me of what occurred in Weimar Germany less than a century ago. At that time, conservative German Christians, feeling their privileged status that they had enjoyed under the reign of the Kaiser and other local monarchs being threatened took refuge in various right-wing political parties and organizations, many of which entered alliances with Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party.

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The leaders of those groups preached how they were being persecuted by the now secular government which had many Socialists in it. Feeling threatened by the rights now afforded to others, including socialists and communists, but in particular those provided to Jews they used a similar strategy to smear anyone that did not hold their perverted views of church and state. They felt that they were the victims; the victims of a “stab in the back,” which caused Germany’s defeat and the collapse of the Empire.

 

War hero and pastor Martin Niemöller was representative of those that took the bait. After the war Niemöller who after Hitler came to power and he realized what was happening spoke out and was sent to the concentration camp noted:

 

War hero and pastor Martin Niemöller was representative of those that took the bait. After the war Niemöller who after Hitler came to power and he realized what was happening spoke out and was sent to the concentration camp noted:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, 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.”

Realizing the danger of how Christians were giving their support to such parties and the implicit demands of some for a theocracy Bonhoeffer in the Bethel Confession wrote:

“every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”

But this is the same nonsense being promoted by Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Matt Staver, Tony Perkins, Laura Ingraham, Bryan Fischer, Ted Cruz and a host of others. Sadly, this vision of theocracy is very much in vogue in many churches and among conservative Christians in general no-matter what their denomination. Thomas Jefferson would be appalled by this. He wrote of the effects of clergy in political power:

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.”

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Much of the thought behind the movement is from Gary North who posits a version of Christianity much like that of Calvin’s Geneva, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony know as Christian Dominionism or Reconstructionism. All of these leaders proclaim their desire to protect religious liberty, but for them religious liberty is a one way street, it only applies to them and the state should ensure that it does not apply to others. North wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

North also 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 scary thing for me is just how similar North’s words as well as those of others to the Nazi Aryan Laws against the Jews. Please know that I am not claiming these people are Nazis by any means. That being said, I think that their ignorance of history, the Constitution, American jurisprudence which is charged by fear-mongering and vitriolic hatred of those not like them opens the door to much evil. Note how similar North’s comments parallel the Aryan Paragraph:

“A citizen of the Reich is that subject only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” and that “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich. He has no right to vote in political affairs and he cannot occupy public office.”

While much of their vitriol is directed against Moslems, who because of acts committed by Islamic terrorist extremists are all targets of allegedly “Christian rage” like that of Timothy Rollins of The American Partisan who wrote:

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….” 

Westminster Seminary graduate Doug Giles who writes for the Townhall.com website who wrote on one of his commentaries:

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Or who can forget that lovable darling of the Christian Right Sarah Palin who told the NRA convention that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

For me to read and listen to people who claim to be Christians show such little regard for other human beings is frightening. Personally, I am frightened because I know the history of Christians when they not only hold control of their churches but the government. The persecution, torture and murder of heretics and unbelievers, the place of privilege given to the elect and the second rate status of non-Christians in their countries; not to mention the wars of extermination blessed as “holy” by the Church, such as the 30 Years War, the Crusades not to mention the numerous other wars blessed by the church. St Bernard of Clairvaux who told those going off to fight the First Crusade:

“The knight of Christ, I say, may strike with confidence and succumb more confidently. When he strikes, he does service to Christ, and to himself when he succumbs. Nor does he bear the sword in vain. He is God’s minister in the punishment of evil doers and the praise of well doers. Surely, if he kills an evil doer, he is not a man-killer, but, if I may put it, an evil-killer. Clearly he is reckoned the avenger of Christ against evildoers, and the defender of Christians.”

But it is not just Moslems that feel the wrath of the Christian Holy Warriors, but Atheists, agnostics, the LGBT community, other non-Christian religions including the Jews, though most deny the latter due to their beliefs about the role of Israel in the end times. Christians can behave as badly as the those committed to the Islamic State or ISIL. Our history has nothing to commend us, for when we as Christians “hold the franchise” to quote Gary North, we are more than capable of committing some of the most heinous acts imaginable.

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Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote something that we should very much keep in mid when we read or hear about the antics of those speaking at the Values Voters Summit and others like them:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Sadly, most if not all of the leaders of this movement of theocratic, liberty denying Christians are so immersed in themselves and narcissistic that they cannot comprehend this. Perpetually the victim they misapply scripture to justify their perceived victimhood. Such should not be the case, and Bonhoeffer reminds us of the mark of true Christian faith in a sermon where he said:

“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.”

Captain Gustave Gilbert who served as the Army Psychologist for the defendants ant the Nuremberg major War Crimes trials wrote of his experience with them in words that at least to me could apply to these supposedly Christian leaders:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

Sadly we have come to the point where many people who profess to be Christians have no empathy, or for that matter any real love for those different than them. History shows this time and time again. Christians who have political power and the “right to the franchise” have behaved little differently than the terrorist thugs of ISIL and I can say with certitude based on the words and legislative efforts of the people who dominated the Values Voters Summit, that they too would behave no differently. As I walked on the Odeonsplatz and went to the Feldherrnhalle in Munich where Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch came to an end I could not help but think of what might have happened had Christians during the Weimar Republic not gravitated and become politically captive to the right wing of German politics and for many the Nazi Party.

The right of religious liberty for all is far to important to be left to those that would claim it for themselves and deny it to others. As Jefferson wrote the Virginia Baptists in 1808:

“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”

With that I wish you a good night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Only Church that Truly Feeds the Soul

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“The Only church that truly feeds the soul, day-in day-out, is the Church of Baseball” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham (MGM 1989)

Tonight I am going to the last home game of the Norfolk Tides. The Tides are our local Triple-A Minor League farm team of the Baltimore Orioles who are now 7 games up on the Yankees in the American League East. I love baseball. For me it is a source of peace, comfort and meaning in the sea of so much hatred, violence, inequity and injustice, angst and despair that fills our world.

Now honestly, while things seem are not good we tend to see life at any given time through they could be worse and certainly could be better they are not nearly as apocalyptic as the bearers of bad news make them out to be. Barbara Tuchman wrote “Disaster is rarely as pervasive as it seems from recorded accounts….The fact of being reported multiplies the apparent extent of any deplorable development by five-to tenfold.”

This is especially true for those who follow that loathsome Trinity of Evil, the Politicians, Pundits and Preachers who make their living causing people to be angry, covetous, anxious and on edge.

When I read or hear some of the vile things being said by allegedly conservative Bible believing Christian leaders be they politicians, pundits or preachers, or in the case of Mike Huckabee a despicable combination of all three, I become more convinced that Annie Savoy was right… the only church that truly feeds the soul is baseball.

In fact when I hear the likes of the Partisan Political Parsons, any of the big Mega-Church Pastors or television ministry hosts, or even some Catholic bishops start spouting off I feel like I have left this country and ended up in Medieval Europe or maybe Saudi Arabia. I wonder where the love has gone. When I read the words of men like Pat Robertson, James Robison, James Dobson, Bryan Fischer, Scott Lively, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer and so many others I understand why people are fleeing the church in droves and so many hold the Christian faith, as well as other religions in such disdain.

Jonathan Swift once mused about the religion of his time, “We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough for us to love one another.”   Swift’s words are a perfect description of the American Religious Right as much as they are of non-Christian groups who hate, the Moslem extremists of ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram and the Taliban; the Ultra-Orthodox Jews who think that they are the only acceptable form of Judaism and physically attack other Jews for not being Jewish enough even while persecuting Israeli citizens who are Christian or Moslem; and the Hindu fundamentalists that burn down Christian and Moslem villages in India.

Thankfully, though I am still a Christian and at that a rather miscreant Priest and Chaplain that struggles with faith and belief, I also belong to the Church of Baseball. I am so because I agree with the late Commissioner of Baseball A. Bartlett Giamatti, who said, “there is nothing bad that accrues from baseball.” 

While I am very frustrated at what I see going on in the Christian church as well as in other religions that dominate other countries or cultures, when I think about baseball I know that God still cares. Every time that I look at that beautiful green diamond that sits in the middle of the great cathedrals and parish churches of the Church of Baseball, my sense of hope and faith is renewed.

To true believers, that may seem like heresy. But God even loves heretics and unbelievers. For me baseball speaks to the soul, maybe it is because baseball is more than a game.  Conservative political commentator and long suffering Chicago Cubs fan George Will said “Baseball is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes or games are created equal.” 

If that is heresy I don’t care. But then what is heresy? I don’t actually think that Jesus would recognize a lot of what we Christians do today as even being Christian.  I could be wrong but I recall Jesus was really big into the whole “two commandment” “love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself” way of life; and he wasn’t really cool with pompous religious leaders that give preference to the rich and powerful, and seek their own political power so they can use the state to enforce their religious views on non-believers like we do.

That is why I find something so right about baseball. Unlike the message of the political preachers that specialize in making themselves rich by keeping their followers anxious and angry while preaching the message that “God loved the world so much that he can’t wait to come back, judge and destroy it because of fouled up humanity” especially women and homosexuals; baseball caters to our hopes and dreams while recognizing that none of us, even those who play at the Hall of Fame level are perfect.

Unlike the false religious message preached by so many members of the Trinity of Evil, baseball deals with reality and life so well because of its ebb and flow. It deals with the grind of the long season, the constant demand for excellence and quest for perfection; but there is a realization that most of the time you won’t get there, and if you do, tomorrow you won’t and that is part of life.

Personally I don’t understand why if the Gospel of Jesus and God’s grace and love is actually true that we can’t apply this to our faith. Jesus, at least in the Gospel accounts seemed to accept the imperfections and foul ups of his followers, and not only that seemed to accept the people who the really righteous, religious leaders rejected and treated as less than human.

In fact, my paradigm of understanding the Christian faith comes from baseball. In baseball perfection is illusory and that life is full of times when things don’t go our way. It is much like real life and what is presented in Scripture. Ted Williams, the last player to hit for .400 said “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”

For some of us it seems like reaching the Mendoza Line* is the best we will ever do, and if we believe in God’s grace, that is probably okay.

Tommy Lasorda the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers’ manager put things in excellent perspective “No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.”  That is true in life and faith.

While I am definitely a Christian I struggle and I admit it. I have enough of my own problems to empathize with others that struggle, but who in embracing the wacky formulas offered by greedy self-serving preachers treat Jesus and his message like some sort of magical talisman or good luck charm. But sorry, I agree with what Pedro Cerrano (Dennis Haysbert) said in the movie Major League: “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.”

Thus I have many problems with the perfidious political and prosperity preachers that seem to have forgotten the Gospel, who are basically Elmer Gantry like snake-oil salesmen more attuned to keeping their market share than tending their flock. In fact, I think are actually driving people away from Jesus, and the polls of Barna, the Pew Religious survey, Gallup and others as well as the statistics kept by various denominations say that I am right.

When I watch baseball I feel renewed. As Sharon Olds wrote back in the early 1970s “Baseball is reassuring.  It makes me feel as if the world is not going to blow up.” That my friends is why I agree with Annie Savoy that the only church that truly feeds the soul day in and day out is baseball.

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The late great and legendary Detroit Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell said: “Baseball?  It’s just a game – as simple as a ball and a bat.  Yet, as complex as the American spirit it symbolizes.  It’s a sport, business – and sometimes even religion.”   Yes, for me, the heretic that I am it is the latter, and tonight I am happy to be going to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

*Mario Mendoza was a Major League Shortstop who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other organizations. He was an outstanding defensive player but was not much of a hitter. His career batting average was only .215 but a batting average of .200 is considered the minimum that a player can have to remain at the level that he plays.  I think that my career batting average in both baseball and softball barely clears the Mendoza Line. 

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The Absence of Empathy

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“Holocaust? Ninety million Indians? Only four million left? They all have casinos — what’s to complain about?” ~Rush Limbaugh 25 September 2009

One thing that I find amazing in our world, particularly among many pundits who profess themselves to abide by supposed “Christian Principles” who like Rush Limbaugh make comments that defy any sense of Christian morality. If Limbaugh was a lone person making such comments we could blow him off. However there are many like him, professional pundits and politicians but even more concerning are the preachers who make similar statements.

Some of these men and women are quite influential. Their ideas penetrate to many parts of our society, and not just religious people. They include pastors of some of the most politically influential churches and ministries in the country. Whether the comments are directed against Native Americans as was this particular quote from Limbaugh or African Americans, Mexican Americans, Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, Jews (especially liberals) or political liberals they demonstrate a profound and troubling lack of empathy.

In comments about the genocidal extermination of Native Americans by whites David Barton said: “You have to deal, a lot of it, with how the enemy responds. It’s got to be based on what the enemy responds [to,] you cannot reason with certain types of terrorists; and see that’s why we could not get the Indians to the table to negotiate with us on treaties until after we had thoroughly whipped so many tribes …”

If that was not enough he justified those comments and continued his diatribe in much the same manner as the Nazis did the Jews.

“People complain about the fact that the American military and buffalo hunters went out and wiped out all the buffalo in the western plains.  Doing that was what brought the Indians to their knees because the Indians lived on those wide western plains where there were very few towns; Indians didn’t go into town to buy supplies, they went to the buffalo herds, that’s where they got their meat, that’s where they got their coats, the hides provided coats, they provided covering for their teepees.

If you don’t have the buffalos, those Indians cannot live on the open western plains without those buffalo and so what happened was the military wiped out the supply line by wiping out the buffalo.  That’s what brought those wars to an end, that’s what brought the Indians to their knees and ended all the western conflict.”

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association who is one of the primary preachers of hate against a wide range of groups said about the Native Americans: “Many of the tribal reservations today remain mired in poverty and alcoholism because many native [sic] Americans continue to cling to the darkness of indigenous superstition instead of coming into the light of Christianity and assimilating into Christian culture.”

It is the defense that the end justifies the means, a defense that was excoriated at the various Nuremberg trials. Barton’s defense of the extermination of the Native Americans is akin to what some of the Nuremberg defendants said in their own defense.

But it is not just the extermination of Native Americans that is a concern. Preachers of hate claiming to be speaking for God often show no compassion, empathy or feeling for victims of natural disasters, disease or mass murder. The examples are too numerous to quote from all of them and in the interest of brevity I will just mention a few.

Bryan Fischer who seems to have something to say about everything said after the school shootings in Newtown Connecticut last year:

“The question is going to come up, where was God? I though God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here’s the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted.” 

Likewise he said about the Moslem extremists who carried out the attacks of 9-11-2001: “The jihadist on 9/11 were the agents of God’s wrath in order to get our attention as a people.” I could go through speech after speech, column after column, diatribe after diatribe of men like Limbaugh, Fischer and so many others demonstrate any sense of empathy for those that they condemn. Some of the worst are from ministers like Fischer.  John Hagee who pastors Cornerstone Church, a mega-church in San Antonio with over 20,000 active members said last week on the Trinity Broadcasting Network that the 9-11 attacks were “God’s judgment on America.” In fact any time a natural disaster hits, especially areas with high percentages of poor people and minorities such as New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina these preachers almost line up gleefully to ascribe them to God’s judgment. Franklin Graham said at the time: “This is one wicked city, OK?  It’s known for Mardi Gras, for Satan worship.  It’s known for sex perversion.  It’s known for every type of drugs and alcohol and the orgies and all of these things that go on down there in New Orleans…There’s been a black spiritual cloud over New Orleans for years….” Later on CNN when confronted about the comments by Larry King Graham backtracked saying:  “I would never say that this is God’s judgment on New Orleans or any other place.”

There is no empathy among these people, no real care or concern, and that is of itself evil.

The comments have become all too pervasive and poisonous. The sad thing is that those make these kind of comments really do have no compassion or empathy for people that they have labeled “enemies of God” or “enemies of America.” They honestly believe that they are doing right. Philosopher Eric Hoffer noted:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Captain Gustave Gilbert an Army Psychologist at Nuremberg wondered about how people could commit the atrocities of the Holocaust.

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” 

I think he is right the more that I read and listen to men like Limbaugh, Hagee, Fischer and their fellow travelers. That lack of empathy was demonstrated in the words of Rudolf Höss the Commandant of Auschwitz. In an interview with Army Psychiatrist Major Leon Goldensohn at Nuremberg Höss said in regard to his crimes and how he had no feeling or empathy for his victims:

“I thought I was doing the right thing,” said Höss. “I was obeying orders, and now, of course, I see that it was unnecessary and wrong. But I don’t know what you mean by being upset about these things because I didn’t personally murder anybody. I was just the director of the extermination program at Auschwitz. It was Hitler who ordered it through Himmler and it was Eichmann who gave me the orders regarding transports.”

The fact is that these pundits, preachers and politicians lay the groundwork by which people justify the persecution of others by demonizing and dehumanizing those that they detest. While the men doing the preaching today may never actually commit atrocities their words are laying the groundwork that others will use to justify their actions. The crimes committed by the Nazis had their genus in decades of fierce anti-Semitic campaigns conducted often by the same Unholy Trinity of Pundits, Preachers and Politicians.

In Nazi Germany one of the Chief media propagandists was Julius Streicher, publisher of the daily “Der Sturmer.” At Nuremberg the prosecution summed up its case against Streicher:

“The defendant Streicher is an accessory to the persecution of the Jews within Germany and in occupied territories which culminated in mass murder of an estimated six million men, women, and children. The propaganda in Der Stürmer and other Streicher publications, for which he had admitted responsibility, was of a character calculated to stir up fanatic fear and hatred of the Jewish people and to incite to murder…Through propaganda designed to incite hatred and fear, defendant Streicher devoted himself, over a period of twenty-five years, to creating the psychological basis essential to carrying through a program of mass murder. This alone would suffice to establish his guilt as an accessory to the criminal program of extermination.”

I have seen what the dehumanization of people does in Iraq. When I was there both Sunni and Shia military officers refused to have Imam’s in their units because they saw how Imams and Mullahs from both factions in the country fanned the flames of hatred against the other and led the country into civil war and threaten to again. The troubling thing is that I am seeing the same thing here from the religious propagandists of the American political right.

However this is not something that some of these “Christian Leaders” understand. Ideas do have consequences and the preachers of hate are responsible for the evil that they incite, they are accessories to any crimes committed by those who embrace their ideology.

One of the philosophical leaders of the Dominionist movement Gary North who is closely connected to the power structure of the Tea Party 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.”

It is little different than the philosophy which drove the Nazi persecution of the Jews. It is interesting to compare North’s writings with the Nuremberg Laws: The Law on German Citizenship stated:  “A citizen of the Reich is that subject only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” and that “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich. He has no right to vote in political affairs and he cannot occupy public office.”

That poisonous message is something that allowed people like Höss do what they did and feel nothing for their victims. They were and are truly men without empathy.

Well, I am tired, so I will say goodnight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christian Culture Warriors Versus Pope Francis and Boarding the Wrong Train

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“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It has been amazing for me to watch and listen to influential leaders of the Christian Right vilify Pope Francis for “being liberal” and “surrendering in the culture war.” I find it amazing because for the past 30 years I have been watching the culture warriors fight this war.

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It was in 1992 when Pat Buchanan announced at the Republican National Convention that “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

I had deep ambivalence that speech back then and I was a conservative Republican and moderately conservative Christian. I had already seen how vicious the politically driven Christian conservatism was when I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the early part of the Fundamentalist takeover of that school.

When I was ordained as a Priest in a more conservative Episcopal denomination back in 1996 I became part of a denomination at the time that had fully embraced the ideas of the culture war. When we went to clergy conferences our textbooks were those of Buchanan, Robert Bork, and Thomas Sowell as well as many others which espoused the necessity and rightness of the religious and culture war. Leadership indoctrinated us in this.

However as a military chaplain I had deep qualms about what was going on in this because I was already seeing the practical effects this was having on those who I served. I remember talking to some of the other chaplains in the denomination, a number who had similar concerns.

Gordon Klingenschmitt

So for many years I operated in the nether world of representing a denomination which by the day was growing more deeply aligned with the culture warriors. It began to come to a head in 2006 when Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Navy Chaplain on active duty began a campaign which ended caused a great uproar among religious conservatives and caused chaplains from many conservative denominations great grief as people in our churches looked to Klingenschmitt as a some kind of hero. In fact he was not. He was and is a pathological liar who has been on a Jihad since even before he entered the Navy as a Chaplain in 2003. I saw the unbridled vicious and unethical behavior exhibited by Klingenschmitt and his allies in the extreme Christian right and the right wing political hacks and pundits who use the Christian faith and unwitting but sincere Christians to advance an agenda which is neither Christian nor faithful to the vision of our founding fathers.

It was after that that I deployed to Iraq where what I saw and experienced changed me in profound ways. Suffering from chronic and severe PTSD I suffered a collapse of faith and for two years was for all intents and purposes an agnostic just hoping that God existed. Only my strong sense of vocation and the grace and mercy of God kept me going. But when faith returned it was different and as I began to write about it I realized who much I had changed. In September 2010 I was told by my Bishop that I needed to leave the church because I was “too liberal.”

So now when I see the same right wing political hacks, pundits, preachers and politicians who have been stoking this Christian version of Jihad against a plethora of enemies, Moslems, Gays, women, Liberals, progressives in fact anyone that they want to label as different then them or “enemies” of God or “America” I get my hackles up.

When I heard Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin condemning Pope Francis for his alleged liberalism I realized that no Christian leader was safe from their foolish and shortsighted agenda. Pope Francis has chosen the way of Jesus, he is embracing people that conservative Christians have not only marginalized, but have persecuted for years and are still attempting to do so in the United States and elsewhere. There are times that I fear for the life of Pope Francis because there are people who believe so strongly that they would kill him if they believed that God wanted them to, and when people like Buchanan accuse Francis of surrendering in the culture war they help justify people wo will kill in the name of God.

What seems to me that most of these people lack is a real sense of historical context, not only of the importance that the founders of the United States placed on the freedom of religion and freedom from religion as well as the history of other countries.

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One of my special areas of study is the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period of German history. Religious conservatives were often willing partners with Hitler and the Nazi movement because of their opposition to socialism and what they saw as an atheistic movement in Germany, which many lamed on the Jews. Martin Niemöller was a prominent pastor in that era. His writings reflected the feelings of many. He 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.”

Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

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Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.

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All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against inGermany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat toGermany.  Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked inGermany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well inGermany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

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When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they leftGermany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

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Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Homosexuals, and “Liberals” who are the targets of the xenophobic and ideological rage vocalized by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.

Their support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible Project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities as did Timothy Rollins of “The American Partisan.”

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….”

Glenn Beck made this comment about a people reacting against Moslems:

“When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”

Doug Giles a seminary educated columnist for Townhall.com a leading conservative opinion site made this comment

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants especially those from Mexico or Latin America.  I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican.   Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals and even deporting them. Some Christian political action groups are going overseas to Russia and Africa to help enact laws against homosexuals and recently the same people have been hosted by members of Congress to promote their ideology.

These actions and proposed laws are so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

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This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

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I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

What the good people who suggesting these “collective guilt” actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but ultimately for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, 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.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.

So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place.  It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems, Gays, Secularists and others and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political or religious affiliation, sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Christian culture warriors have become so enamored with political power and using the state to enforce their beliefs. They  have forgotten that the people are not converted by religious laws enforced by the police power of the state but on the love shown by God’s people to others. They have forgotten that the sword that they desire to use against those that they despise can easily be turned against them. Many German Christians found this out far too late.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

If Christians would only learn that lesson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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