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The Nazi Battle Against the Churches: Robert Jackson’s Opening Statement at Nuremberg, Part Three

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Earlier in the week I began to write about the Nuremberg Trials and the opening statement of the American Chief Prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. The first section was comprised his general remarks. The second dealt with the Nazi war against free organized labor. The third section presented here was the shortest part of his opening statement. It deals with the Nazi battle against the Churches.

Jackson lays out his argument to show how this was directed with the aim of suppressing or corrupting all competing institutions of power in the state that could potentially become centers of resistance. Likewise, he builds up this to show the attempt to remove any moderating influence that could stand against its plans for aggressive warfare and genocide.

The division of the German State Church into the Evangelical Church (Lutheran and Reformed) and Roman Catholicism was a Problem for the Nazis. They desired a coordination of religion under their rule. The Protestant and Catholic state churches of Germany were potential rivals for the soul of the citizenry of the Third Reich. They ran schools, universities, hospitals, benevolent organizations, published influential newspapers, and had their own political parties and labor organizations.

German Protestantism since the day of Martin Luther was linked to German nationalism and seen by the Nazis as the ideal vehicle to build upon. The Catholic Church which was predominant in Bavaria and was strong in the other states of southern and western Germany. It was not very strong in the north, especially Prussia where in the 1800s Otto Von Bismarck persecuted the Catholic Church through the Külturkampf. Like Bismarck, Hitler, though Catholic himself viewed the Church as less than fully committed to the Reich because of its allegiance to Rome, which Hitler and many other Nazis considered to be a foreign power.

Likewise, other Nazi leaders of Catholic background realized the power of the Church and its institutions, and even stood in awe of them. Heinrich Himmler would pattern his SS indoctrination upon the Jesuits. The former Catholics included Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Himmler’s number two man, Reinhard Heydrich. Richard Evans wrote in his book The Third Reich in Power:

Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, reacted against a strict Catholic upbringing with a hatred of the Church that can only be called fanatical. In 1936, Heydrich classified the Jews and the Catholic Church, acting above all through political institutions such the Centre Party, as the two principal enemies of Nazism. As an international body, he argued, the Catholic Church was necessarily subversive of the racial and spiritual integrity of the German people. Moreover, the Catholics, unlike the Protestants, had been largely represented by a single political party, the Centre, whose voters, again unlike those of most other parties, had mostly remained loyal and resisted the appeal of Nazism during the elections of the early 1930s. Much of the blame for this could be laid in the Nazis’ view at the feet of the clergy, who had preached vehemently against the Nazi Party, in many cases ruled that Catholics could not join it, and strongly urged their congregations to continue voting for the Centre or its Bavarian equivalent, the Bavarian People’s Party. For many if not most leading Nazis, therefore, it was vitally important to reduce the Catholic Church in Germany as quickly as possible to total subservience to the regime. (Third Reich In Power pp. 234-235)

The average church member was not the physical target of their attacks, instead the Nazis worked at, and quite often were very successful at weaning away many of the faithful from anything more that perfunctory and traditional displays of religion. Even there the Nazis did their best to supplant holidays such as Christmas and Easter with Nazi themes and ideology.

The battle for the Party was to deprive the Churches of their social and political power, and for the most part they were successful in their campaign. They suppressed church political parties and newspapers, labor unions, youth organizations. The latter were dissolved and replaced by the Reich Labor Front, and the Hitler Youth. Church schools were eventually closed by 1939 and religious education in public vocational schools was reduced to very small amounts of time with the teaching becoming more in line with Nazi racial ideology and anti-semitism.

The Protestant Church mostly fell in line with a minority in opposition known as the Confessing Church. Even so the Protestant opposition for the most part limited its opposition to the Nazis to the infringements against the church, not the nationalism or Nazi war aims. Richard Evans wrote:

The co-ordination of the Protestant Church was driven forward, among other factors, by the appointment of the lawyer August Jäger as State Commissioner for the Evangelical Churches in Prussia. Jäger declared that Hitler was completing what Luther had begun. They were ‘working together for the salvation of the German race’. Jesus represented ‘a flaring-up of the Nordic species in the midst of a world tortured by symptoms of degeneracy’. In conformity with the ‘leadership principle’, Jäger dissolved all elected bodies in the Prussian Church and replaced many existing officials with German Christians. Meanwhile, Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller had taken over the administrative headquarters of the Evangelical Church with the aid of a band of stormtroopers. By September, pressure was growing within the Reich Church to dismiss all Jews from Church employment. Much of the pressure came from ordinary pastors. Prominent here were young pastors from lower-middle-class backgrounds or non-academic families, men for whom war service had often been a life-defining experience, and racially conscious pastors from areas near Germany’s eastern borders for whom Protestantism represented German culture against the Catholicism of the Poles or the Orthodox faith of the Russians. Such men desired a Church militant based on the aggressive propagation of the Gospel, a crusading Church whose members were soldiers for Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through its involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion. The traditional Pietist emphasis on sin and repentance, which dwelt on images of Christ’s suffering and transfiguration, was anathema to such men. They demanded instead an image of Christ that would set a heroic example for German men in the world of the here and now. For them, Hitler took on the mantle of a national redeemer who would bring about the rechristianization of society along with its national reawakening. (Third Reich in Power pp. 224-225)

The Nazified and nationalistic German Protestants, led by these clergy paint a striking image very similar to conservative American Evangelical Christians who echo many of the same theological themes, and who have in many cases elevated President Donald Trump into a redeemer and nearly messianic figure.

Jackson continued his opening statement at Nuremberg dealing with this toward the middle of the day on November 21st 1945. These are his words:

The Nazi Party was always predominantly anti-Christian by ideology. But we who believe in freedom of conscience and of religion base no charge of criminality on anybody’s ideology. It is not because the Nazis themselves were irreligious or pagan, but because they persecuted others of the Christian faith that they became guilty of crime, and it is because the persecution was a step in the preparation for aggressive warfare that the offence becomes one of international consequence. To remove every moderating influence among the German people and to put its population on a total war footing, the conspirators devised and carried out a systematic and relentless repression of all Christian sects and churches.

We will ask you to convict the Nazis on their own evidence, Martin Bormann in June 1941 issued a secret decree on the relation of Christianity and National Socialism. The decree provided:

“For the first time in German history the Fuehrer consciously and completely has the leadership of the people in his own hand. With the Party, its components, and attached units, the Fuehrer has created for himself, and thereby for the German Reich leadership, an instrument which makes him independent of the church. All influences which might impair or damage the leadership of the people exercised by the Fuehrer with the help of the N.S.D.A.P. must be eliminated. More and more the people must be separated from the churches and their organs, the pastors. Of course, the churches must and will, seen from their viewpoint, defend themselves against this loss of power. But never again must an influence on leadership of the people be yielded to the churches. This influence must be broken completely and finally. Only the Reich government, and by its direction the Party, its components, and attached units, have a right to leadership of the people. Just as the deleterious influence of astrologers, seers, and other fakers are eliminated and suppressed by the State, so must the possibility of church influence also be totally removed. Not until this has happened does the State leadership have influence on the individual citizens. Not until then are the people and Reich secure in their existence for all the future” (D-75).

And how the Party had been securing the Reich from Christian influence will be proved by such items as this teletype from the Gestapo, Berlin, to the Gestapo Nuremburg, on 24th July, 1938. Let us hear from their own account of events in Rottenburg:

“The Party, on 23rd July, 1939, from 2100 carried out the third demonstration against Bishop Sproll. Participants, about 2,500-3,000, were brought in from outside by bus, etc. The Rottenburg populace again did not participate in the demonstration. This town took rather a hostile attitude to the demonstrations. The action got completely out of hand of the Party Member responsible for it. The demonstrators stormed the palace, beat in the gates and doors. About 150 to 200 people forced their way into the palace, searched the rooms, threw files out of the windows, and rummaged through the beds in the rooms of the palace. One bed was ignited. Before the fire got to the other objects or equipment in the rooms and the palace, the flaming bed was throw from the window and the fire extinguished. The Bishop was with Archbishop Groeber of Freiburg, and the ladies and gentlemen of his menage in the chapel at prayer. About 25 to 30 pressed into this chapel and molested those present. Bishop Groeber was taken for Bishop Sproll. He was grabbed by the robe and dragged back and forth, Finally the intruders realised that Bishop Groeber was not the one they were seeking. They could then be persuaded to leave the building. After the evacuation of the palace by the demonstrators I had an interview with Archbishop Groeber, who left Rottenburg in the night. Groeber wants to turn to the Fuehrer and Reich Minister of the Interior Dr. Frick anew. On the course of the action, the damage done, as well as the homage of the Rottenburg populace beginning today for the Bishop, I shall immediately hand in a full report, after I begin suppressing counter mass meetings. In case the Fuehrer has instructions to give in this matter, I request that these be transmitted most quickly.” (848-PS).

Alfred Rosenberg Nazi Ideologist and Reich Minister for Occupied Territories

Later, defendant Rosenberg wrote to Bormann reviewing the proposal of Herrl as Church minister to place the Protestant Church under State tutelage and proclaim Hitler its supreme head. Rosenberg was opposed, hinting that Naziism was to suppress the Christian Church completely after the war.

The persecution of all pacifist and dissenting sects, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Pentecostal Association, was peculiarly relentless and cruel. The policy toward the Evangelical Churches, however, was to use their influence for the Nazi’s own purposes. In September, 1933, Muller was appointed the Fuehrer’s representative with power to deal with the “affairs of the Evangelical Church” in its relations to the State. Eventually, steps were taken to create a Reich Bishop vested with power to control this Church. A long conflict followed, Pastor Niemoller was sent to a concentration camp, and extended interference with the internal discipline and administration of the Churches occurred.

A most intense drive was directed against the Roman Catholic Church. After a strategic Concordat with the Holy See, signed in July, 1933, in Rome, which never was observed by the Nazi Party, a long and persistent persecution of the Catholic Church, its priesthood and its members, was carried out. Church Schools and educational institutions were suppressed or subjected to requirements of Nazi teaching inconsistent with the Christian faith. The property of the Church was confiscated and inspired vandalism directed against the Church property was left unpunished. Religious instruction was impeded and the exercise of religion made difficult. Priests and bishops were laid upon, riots were stimulated to harass them, and many were sent to concentration camps.

After occupation of foreign soil, these persecutions went on with greater vigour than ever. We will present to you from the files of the Vatican the earnest protests made by the Vatican to Ribbentrop summarising the persecutions to which the priesthood and the Church had been subjected in this Twentieth Century under the Nazi regime. Ribbentrop never answered them. He could not deny. He dared not justify.

I now come to “Crimes against the Jews.”

THE PRESIDENT: We shall now take our noon recess. (A recess was taken until 1400 hours.)

THE PRESIDENT: The Tribunal will adjourn for fifteen minutes at half past three and then continue until half past four.

MR. JUSTICE JACKSON: I was about to take up the “Crimes Committed Against the Jews.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Satanic Truth Of Paul Ryan, Ron Johnson & Ayn Rand

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I see political leaders who clothe their politics in a veneer of the Christian faith and claim to be pro-life while in life doing everything that they can to oppose the basic teachings of the Church regarding the worth of people and their rights I get very angry.

Yesterday I read the words of Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin who told a group of high school student that food, medical care, and housing were not basic human rights. His reasoning was based on Ayn Rand. Then I read that Atlas Shrugged toting Paul Ryan fired the Catholic Chaplain of the Speaker of the House for praying during a session dealing with the Trump Tax plan:

“As legislation on taxes continues to be debated this week and next, may all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great Nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle,” the chaplain said. “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

A week later Father Conroy heard from Speaker Ryan’s office:

“A staffer came down and said, We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political,” he said. “It suggests to me that there are members who have talked to him about being upset with that prayer.” Shortly after, when he saw Mr. Ryan himself, Father Conroy said that the speaker told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

This wasn’t the supposedly faithful Catholic speaker’s conflict with the Church on its moral teachings. In 2012 the Jesuits at Georgetown handed a chunk of his skinny ass noting that the House Budget proposal went against Catholic moral teaching:

“As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress, “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.” In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.”

But that’s Paul Ryan whose core values reflect those of Ayn Rand who denigrates the key parts of the Christian faith in regards the sacrifice of Christ which she called “monstrous” and any responsibility to others. Regarding Christ she stated to Playboy:

“According to the Christian mythology, [Christ] died on the cross not for his own sins but for the sins of the non-ideal people. In other words, a man of perfect virtue was sacrificed for men who are vicious and who are expected or supposed to accept that sacrifice. If I were a Christian, nothing could make me more indignant than that: the notion of sacrificing the ideal to the non-ideal, or virtue to vice. And it is in the name of that symbol that men are asked to sacrifice themselves for their inferiors. That is precisely how the symbolism is used. That is torture. ”

In regard to the latter the following exchange between Rand and Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes is telling because it cuts to the very heart of Ryan’s Fred with the Church:

Rand: “You love only those who deserve it.”

Wallace: “And then if a man is weak or a woman is weak he is or she is beyond love?”

Rand: “He certainly does not deserve it. He certainly is beyond it . . . he cannot expect the unearned, neither in love or in money, in matter or in spirit.”

Wallace: “There are very few of us in this world, by your standards, who are worthy of love.”

Rand: “Unfortunately yes, very few.”

Ryan, a true Randian Apostle and evangelist told members of The Atlas Club, a group of Rand devotees: “I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are and what my beliefs are. It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff.”

Such philosophical schizophrenia is endemic in people like Ryan who on one hand claim to be followers of Christ and faithful Christians while exalting in their lives and social beliefs the atheistic creed of Rand.

The words of Father Conroy were in keeping with not only the Catholic tradition, but a tradition of human and civil rights that has been a hallmark of the American political and religious tradition since the earliest protests of abolitionists against the institution of slavery. But those are not the traditions that Senator Johnson or Speaker Ryan adhere. Instead they are devoted to the perverse ideology of Ayn Rand, which is nothing more than Social Darwinism and the exploitation of the weak for the benefit of the strong. Sadly, that ideology permeates the supposedly “Christian Right” to the point that it has completely overwhelmed anything that could be considered “pro-life” in their theology. Just because you are against abortion doesn’t mean that you are pro-life, especially if you despise those who are already born and condemn them to death.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was martyred by the Nazis 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.”

The amorality of the current GOP position on life is absurd. According to it you can kill babies overseas when targeting terrorists with drone strikes, you can execute men and women when there is evidence that they might have been innocent; you can use economic sanctions to so cripple poor country’s to kill hundreds of thousands of children because they do not have food, water, or medical care; you can funnel tax revenues to the richest of the rich and deny food, housing, jobs, education, medical care, post natal care, ad infinitum to people but just don’t abort babies and you are the most commendable of men.

That my friends is Paul Ryan and Ron Johnson. They make President Trump for all of his faults loom like a saint when compared to them. Trump makes no apology for what he is. Trump doesn’t hide behind the image of being a Christian. Yes, he will take the prayers and adulation of Christians, and he will definitely take their votes and money, but he doesn’t pretend to be something that he is not. I respect him more than I do them. As terrible as he is there is the possibility that he could actually a conversion experience, but they won’t because they have perverted the faith for a Satanic ideology.

Bonhoeffer noted:

“It is worse for a liar to tell the truth than for a lover of truth to lie…. There is a truth which is of Satan. Its essence is that under the semblance of truth it denies everything that is real. It lives upon hatred of the real world which is created and loved by God.”

What Ryan, Johnson, and their fellow travelers proclaim in thought, word, and deed Satanic truth, and incompatible with the Gospel. What Ryan did with Father Conroy was truly despicable and politically motivated. I expect now that the deed is done that the Right Wing propagandists, maybe even with Russia help begin to attack the life and character of Father Conroy.

Think about that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“You Don’t Want to Be That Sick” Pastors Who Ignore

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Back when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital I was astounded to hear my pastor make a comment which I think was one of the most heartless that I have ever heard said from a pulpit.  The church was a large and trendy Evangelical-Charismatic Church which I had attended throughout seminary and had ordained my in October 1991.  The Pastor was recounting an incident where one of our members had been critically ill in hospital and had not been visited by him.  After the parishioner was released from hospital he asked the pastor: “How sick do I have to be for you to visit me in the hospital?”  The pastor told us his response: “Sir, you don’t want to be that sick.”

The congregation laughed at the pastor’s story and he went on to talk about how he and other senior pastors should not be doing that kind of work because it “distracted them from bigger Kingdom tasks.”  You see according to the pastor the care of sick parishioners did not contribute to the “growth” of the church and thus was a “distraction and better left to others.”

The comment struck a raw nerve now that I was dealing with the suffering and death every day of people who had been abandoned by the churches and pastors.  I lost all respect for him as a man and pastor during that sermon.  My philosophy of religion professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Yandall Woodfin said: “You have not done Christian theology until you have dealt with suffering and death.”

Unfortunately my old pastor, and many more like had stopped doing Christian theology in order to be an “Apostle” and CEO.  He was “growing” the church and managing programs, but had for the most part stopped caring as in being a pastoral care giver.

Now this pastor is not alone and nor is the issue of the lack of care confined to Evangelical or Charismatic churches. The trend has has found its way across the denominational spectrum.  Sometimes this is by design as is the case of the Mega-churches.

Pastors of mega-churches are for all practical purposes CEOs of large organizations and have a multiplicity of specialized staff, but often which do little for pastoral care. Having attended a number of these churches, and worked for a prominent television evangelist I can sadly report seeing this first hand many times.

Sometimes this problem it is by default in cases such as the Roman Catholic Church.  In that church the ever worsening shortage of Priests is forcing the closure of smaller parishes and the increase of large parishes with a corresponding decrease in what Priests can do for their people.   Even very good Priests cannot keep pace with the demand of both Sacramental needs as well as pastoral care.

No matter if it is by design or default the result is similar.  The least, the lost and the lonely those “lambs” that Jesus talks about who need care and feeding are shunted aside.  In one case, that of the Catholic Church it is primarily a lack of Priests, Deacons and Sisters to provide this care, although sadly there are Catholic priests who do not see themselves as care givers.

The “by design” issue is more far more troubling as the focus of the church is growth, sustaining numbers, programs and buildings.  This requires that pastors spend their time with members who can supply the vast financial need that those plans require.  I have seen this in numerous congregations across the spectrum, which sometimes as was the case at a church that I attended in Florida results in a financial meltdown and collapse of the congregation, many of whom gave up and went elsewhere when the extent of the scandal became known.  Likewise the ripple effects that this caused in the denomination were like a Tsunami, it was disastrous and the church is still in recovery mode.  Going back to my pastor back when I was in residency I got the feeling that had he been the shepherd in the Parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15) that he would have let it go as hunting for it might have distracted him from the others.

When I was in seminary there were quite a number of my fellow students who chafed about having to take courses on pastoral care.  I remember friends and fellow students complaining that what they needed were more “practical courses” such as “church growth, evangelism and Sunday School program management.”  Courses dealing with Pastoral Care were seen as a bother and distraction.  Not to mention academic courses such as Systematic Theology, Philosophy of Religion and Church History which offer timeless lessons for pastors.  One friend talked about his Master of Divinity only having a “shelf-life of 5 years” because what he learned would be outdated.

Well in a way he was right.  His focus was on classes that dealt with programs and methods of church growth, programs and management.   From that perspective his degree would rapidly be obsolescent as soon as the next trend in church growth came along and everyone jettisoned the last method in favor of the new.

With the ubiquity of the Mega-church which unlike the Leisure Suit is not going away anytime soon.  The rise of the “Superstar” Pastors such as Bill Hybels, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren and the proliferation of massive “Ministry Media” conglomerates and stand-alone television ministries are actually dangerous to the vitality and health of the Christian Church in the United States.  They propagate methods which have the sole intent of getting people into church or giving to a ministry and keeping them there, doctrine, worship, sacraments or ordinances, and pastoral care of the least, lost and lonely be damned.  The methods are pragmatic and impersonal.   Numbers and crowds define expertise, credibility and worth. The bigger the church the better the church, it’s that simple.

Unlike others who pick these ministers apart for their theology or business practices my problem with what is happening is what happens to regular people in these large and often very impersonal churches.  It is easy for people to get lost, forgotten and when they are going through difficulty abandoned when the church stops making a conscious effort to do real pastoral care and focus purely on the programs which lend to growth.  Often the substitute for pastoral care is found in the home cell group, or care group or whatever cute name a church can pin on a meeting at a member’s house.

The home groups or cell groups have a noble intention.  They attempt to build community in an otherwise very impersonal organization.  There are some really good things that can come out of healthy home groups as well as long lasting friendships.  We have a couple from our time in San Antonio that is still a very real part of our lives, they showed us genuine love and care and we remain friends.  Of course this couple had an advantage over most home group leaders; he was a clinical social worker by trade who was heading off to seminary.

Most home groups are not that fortunate.  There are unhealthy groups which are led by people who are poorly trained and equipped to deal with broken people.  The good group leaders recognize their limitations and try to get help for those who are really hurting.  Others who do not know their limitations end up abusing these dear lambs of God. Often this is because sick, depressed or lonely people take too much time, are too needy, or that their problems don’t match up with their church theology.

My wife and I know this from personal experience as my wife suffered from a number of ailments throughout seminary and we were going through tremendous health and financial difficulties and in some places we felt cast aside and like we did not matter.  We were fortunate that some people did care and we did make it through, however it was not something that I would ever want to repeat.  I have heard similar stories from hundreds of people that I have come across in my life and work over the years.

I don’t care what you call it, but any church which has multiple services of several thousand or a major service of close to 20,000 as occurs at Osteen’s Lakewood Church is no longer focused on caring for people but sustaining their growth and market share.

I remember reading Charisma Magazine back in the mid-1990s when I still read it regularly about a church in North Dallas that has a period of incredible church growth in which it grew from 1,200 members to well over 7,000.  In the article the pastor touted the church programs which drew people to the church.  What the dirty little secret which was not mentioned was that two exits south of this church a Mega-church of some 10,000 members imploded when the Pastor, one Bob Tilton got caught doing some pretty bad stuff.  This church despite its claims of great programs simple picked up about 6,000 of these people because they were close by and a similar type of church.

All of this is dangerous as to its impact on people.  One only has to look at the latest Barna Polls about what is going on in churches to see that these large churches are alienating people even as they grow.  People come, but others either burn out trying to keep pace with the manic pace of programs proliferated by these churches or they get lost in the crowd and forgotten.  I meet a least a person every day who is a displaced Christian, often hurt, lonely and broken, not only by what they have experienced in life, but by the cold emptiness that they feel when a church surrounded by thousands of people who don’t even know their name.

Some churches do recognize that people have issues that need to be addressed and have in-house Christian counseling programs or refer members to Christian counseling services.   I think that there certainly is a place for clinically trained therapists in the life of a church; however this is not really pastoral care, even when they use “Biblical” methods.   In a sense it is the outsourcing by pastors of one of the most vital missions entrusted to a church, the pastoral care of the flock of God to others, in a sense, “hirelings.”  Again my issue is not with the therapists or Christian counselors, but rather pastors who refuse to do pastoral care as part of their ministry.

Ultimately it is people that are important, even those who are not rich, powerful and who have problems that don’t fit nicely into theological boxes or paradigms promoted by church growth experts. It is high time that churches start reclaiming one of the most vital missions given by Jesus to his Disciples, to care for the least, the lost and the lonely.
The onus for this falls on pastors who cannot simply outsource one of their primary missions as given by Jesus himself to others.  If pastors do not set the example of being caring pastoral care givers, it will not matter that they are supposedly “empowering” laypeople to do ministry.  Instead it sends another more ominous message, that if it is not important for the pastor, why should it be important to me?

Every member of the church at some time goes through a crisis when their faith, family, health or vocation.  Sometimes these are not isolated events but rather prolonged periods of anguish, as what Saint John of the Cross described as “the Dark Night of the Soul” where it seems that God has even abandoned the person.  Unfortunately people in this situation are often abandoned by their church as things fail to improve.  Despairing they become the lost sheep whose shepherd has abandoned.  This is the hardest time for pastoral care, the times where we as pastors are called to stand with someone as Mary the Mother of Jesus did at the Cross, just simply being there though nothing else can be done.

Now do I understand that the demands of running a large church can be sometimes become such that pastors have difficulty making time for pastoral care?

Of course I understand this, at the same time pastors, even those who function primarily as pastor-teacher/CEOs still have the responsibility of caring for people, not simply administering programs and preaching.  Pastors need to set the example of care for people, real people, the regular people who populate their pews, by their books and give to their ministry, even if it is only in small ways, not just the super-givers or the wealthy and powerful.

James’s “right strawy epistle” (Martin Luther’s words) has much to say about favoring the rich and powerful and neglecting the poor and seemingly insignificant people hanging about the peanut galleries of their large “Worship Centers.”  Even if the pastor has limited time he or she must be about the flock, or they will forget what the needs of the flock really are and instead of the People of God, the lambs who Jesus says to care for they will simply be the consumers of a religious message who we have to keep coming back to keep the operation going.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Conservative Christians and Torture: Wedded at the Hip

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Friends, of Padre Steve’s World

It looks like it is time to piss off the Christian faithful again…, so here it goes…

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

“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.” Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Last week the Senate released its report on the American use of torture.

It was a glaring indictment of the policies of the Bush administration which had for all practical intents had legitimized the use of torture, which Americans and our allies had long considered to be war crimes .

I had pretty much avoided commentary until I was asked by a fellow priest in my old denomination to link a post about war crimes to a thread that he had started which had brought a lot of comments. One of the commentators, a bishop of my former church from Africa made a comment that the “end of repentance justified the means.” I objected and claimed that such was the justification of every Christian from the Inquisition to the Puritans and beyond for the commissions of crimes against fellow believers. He most graciously understood what I was saying, but sadly all too many Christians in the country are willing to throw the actual love of God in Jesus to the wind to support criminal activities and crimes against humanity that defy the imagination.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who was the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Sadly, it seems that all too often that Conservative Christians, especially American Evangelicals and Catholics are decidedly in favor of torture and other actions that the United States has prosecuted others as war criminals for doing are now in vogue. The latest Pew Survey confirms these. Most Evangelicals and Conservative Catholics are okay with torture, in fact by overwhelming margins it seems that Christian conservatives are on board with criminal activity that our ancestors condemned and prosecuted the Germans and Japanese for doing and condemned the Chinese Communists and North Vietnamese captors of U.S. military personnel for using on U.S. military personnel.

Does it matter that previous generations of Americans considered such activate to be war crimes?

No.

Does it matter that previous generations of Americans tried as war criminals those who waged wars of aggression and committed war crimes on others?

No.

Sadly, besides the soulless former Vice President Dick Cheney and the American version of the infamous Nazi propaganda paper Der Sturmer aka Fox News, the strongest supporters of torture, war crimes and unjust, illegal and immoral wars are Conservative Christians. Sadly, if we applied the standards of the Nuremberg tribunals to former President Bush, Vice President Cheney and a host of their advisors and aides most of them would have ended up on the gallows of Nuremberg.

Earlier in the year, former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, former half-term Governor of Alaska and failed reality TV star, and more damning, Evangelical Christian icon  and darling, Sarah Palin told the NRA national convention that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” In saying that, Palin equated one of the holiest and sacred of Christian sacraments with a war crime, and sadly few Christian pundits, preachers or politicians condemned her for it. Sadly they applauded her for it and in the process exposed themselves for the anti-Christs that they are in their heart of hearts.

But why should we be surprised? For over a millennia Christians and Christian leaders have advocated similar and horrible ideas.

Torture has been a preferred technique for Christians for over a millennia. In the days before the Great Schism of 1054 Christians persecuted and tortured as heretics those who did not agree with their theological definition of the Trinity or other theological questions. The fact is that if you did not agree with the “orthodox” position you were not just a heretic but a criminal against the state.

After the split of 1054 Christians in the East and the West used to power of the church and state to persecute, prosecute, torture and execute those who did not agree with their position.

After the Protestant Reformation things did not change. Lutherans and Catholics banded together in Germany to crush the Peasant’s revolt. John Calvin used the power of the sate to prosecute any deviation from his understanding. Ulrich Zwingli, drowned his former students in the Rhine River to make a point after they were “re-bapitized” in believers baptism. The Church of England persecuted Catholics, Separatists, Puritans and Baptists. In the new world the Puritans did the same to Baptists, Quakers and other dissenters. Later American Christians justified the extermination of native-Americans and the institution of slavery, of course using their interpretation of the Bible.

Torture? Wrong? Un-Christian? Of course not. Of course to all of these people it is justified. It is a part of all of them and almost always buttressed by a theology that said that anything was fair if it resulted in repentance. The most evil and un-Christian means ware justified for a theological and political end, the kind of end that would make it perfectly logical to kill Jesus to achieve.

Sadly most of today’s American Christians don’t even do that. They are just okay with torture because they have abandoned any semblance of empathy, care or love or for that matter any . It is no longer about Jesus. It is about unfettered political power buttressed by the blessing of the church. Gary Bauer, a long time political leads in the Christian right noted:

“We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.”

Sadly it no longer matters for many Christians what is right or what is wrong when it comes to torture and war crimes.It does not matter that the justification which was used against their theological and ecclesiastical ancestors; especially torture is something that they now bless. It does not matter that wars that are condemned by historical Christian understanding of the Just War Theory, and which most recently were condemned by Pope John Paul II are vehemently defended by conservative American Christians. It does not matter that Christians support torture, murder and repression of people that they disagree with because by doing so they are “bringing people to repentance.” 

Sadly that was the excuse of the Inquisitors and every other supposed Christian who killed others, even those who were also Christians in the name of Christ.

The sad truth is that for Christians to bless, promote and make a mockery of their faith by supporting such actions is unconscionable. If to such “Christians” that say this means that I am not a Christian than I would rather not be; I would rather follow Jesus than them; be they Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, the hacks of the American Family Association, Christian Dominionists, or any other allegedly “Christian” group party or individual. If they are right about the character of God I would rather be damned to Hell than agree with them.

But I do not believe the they are and I will fight them until I die. I no longer care what they call me, or even if they physically threaten me, as some have.

I have a higher duty to God, the same kind of higher duty that William Lloyd Garrison and William Seward, Christian abolitionists, inflamed “Bible believing Christians” in the South and the North when they condemned the “Christian” defense of slavery in the ante-bellum United States.

War crimes are war crimes no matter who commits them. The fact that a sizable number of Conservative American Evangelical and Catholic Christians not only condone but approve of the practices demonstrate, at least to me, that the faith that they claim t defend is a sham. Their actions show that they approve of such activities because of their political beliefs with which they buttress and baptize with selective Bible quotes. Such cannot be equated with faith in Jesus, however it can be equated with the defense of Christendom.

The two are not the same, despite what the most ardent defenders claim, but for the most part conservative American Christians and their theological ancestors are wedded at the hip. Torture, the use of unjust wars to achieve political ends and the subjugation of peoples, races and those even within their faith who are demeaned to be heretics. The list of such deeds done in the name of Christ and Christendom is mind boggling and sickening, but still Christians not only defend them but claim biblical justification to do so.

What Sarah Palin and so many other “Christians” support and endorse is nothing more than the evil perpetuated by every totalitarian regime that has ever existed.

For those that support her, Dick Cheney and those like them, be warned; like the non-Nazi German conservatives who initially supported Hitler but later had second thoughts you too could considered a terrorist using the methods that Palin advocates against others today. You get what you vote for…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian and a martyr under the Nazis wrote:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.”

A man that I know, a member of my former denomination and leader in the anti-abortion movement named Randall Terry said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” 

Yes, it is not the love of God which motivates many conservative Christians today, it is hate, hate in the name of righteousness.

As Martin Niemoller said after the fall of the Third Reich:

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.

Of cours by saying this I will be condemned as something less than a Christian and American by those who are willing to bless all types of war crimes to defend. Sadly such Christians just don’t get it, and help forge a link in a chain of torture, injustice and inhumanity that will ultimately swallow them. Sadly most of them, convinced by the all consuming hatred of their political patrons will adjust their theology in order to enhance their position.

In the words of Captain Jean Luc Picard:

“With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

When I read and watch the comments of so called “Conservative Christians” and their allies today I am convinced that should they ever gain the control of the franchise as they claim to want, that they will ensure the death of our republic.

If the United States is destroyed it will not be the fault of external forces. Nor will it be the fault of non-Christians, or “unbelievers.” It will be the fault of those who claim God’s mantle using the name of Jesus for their own political power and control and in the process invite the worst forms of violence and depredation against their fellow citizens.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Churches that Ignore: The Mega-Church and the Least, the Lost and the Lonely

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“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

Back when I was doing my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital I was astounded to hear my pastor make a comment which I think was one of the most heartless that I have ever heard said from a pulpit.  The church was a large and trendy Evangelical-Charismatic Church which I had attended throughout seminary and had ordained my in October 1991.  The Pastor was recounting an incident where one of our members had been critically ill in hospital and had not been visited by him.  After the parishioner was released from hospital he asked the pastor: “How sick do I have to be for you to visit me in the hospital?”  The pastor told us his response: “Sir, you don’t want to be that sick.”

The congregation laughed at the pastor’s story and he went on to talk about how he and other senior pastors should not be doing that kind of work because it “distracted them from bigger Kingdom tasks.”  You see according to the pastor the care of sick parishioners did not contribute to the “growth” of the church and thus was a “distraction and better left to others.”

The comment struck a raw nerve now that I was dealing with the suffering and death every day of people who had been abandoned by the churches and pastors.  I lost all respect for him as a man and pastor during that sermon.  My philosophy of religion professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary, Dr. Yandall Woodfin said: “You have not done Christian theology until you have dealt with suffering and death.”

Unfortunately my old pastor, and many more like had stopped doing Christian theology in order to be an “Apostle” and CEO.  He was “growing” the church and managing programs, but had for the most part stopped caring as in being a pastoral care giver.

Now this pastor is not alone and nor is the issue of the lack of care confined to Evangelical or Charismatic churches. The trend has has found its way across the denominational spectrum.  Sometimes this is by design as is the case of the Mega-churches.

Pastors of mega-churches are for all practical purposes CEOs of large organizations and have a multiplicity of specialized staff, but often which do little for pastoral care. Having attended a number of these churches, and worked for a prominent television evangelist I can sadly report seeing this first hand many times.

Sometimes this problem it is by default in cases such as the Roman Catholic Church.  In that church the ever worsening shortage of Priests is forcing the closure of smaller parishes and the increase of large parishes with a corresponding decrease in what Priests can do for their people.   Even very good Priests cannot keep pace with the demand of both Sacramental needs as well as pastoral care.

No matter if it is by design or default the result is similar.  The least, the lost and the lonely those “lambs” that Jesus talks about who need care and feeding are shunted aside.  In one case, that of the Catholic Church it is primarily a lack of Priests, Deacons and Sisters to provide this care, although sadly there are Catholic priests who do not see themselves as care givers.

The “by design” issue is more far more troubling as the focus of the church is growth, sustaining numbers, programs and buildings.  This requires that pastors spend their time with members who can supply the vast financial need that those plans require.  I have seen this in numerous congregations across the spectrum, which sometimes as was the case at a church that I attended in Florida results in a financial meltdown and collapse of the congregation, many of whom gave up and went elsewhere when the extent of the scandal became known.  Likewise the ripple effects that this caused in the denomination were like a Tsunami, it was disastrous and the church is still in recovery mode.  Going back to my pastor back when I was in residency I got the feeling that had he been the shepherd in the Parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15) that he would have let it go as hunting for it might have distracted him from the others.

When I was in seminary there were quite a number of my fellow students who chafed about having to take courses on pastoral care.  I remember friends and fellow students complaining that what they needed were more “practical courses” such as “church growth, evangelism and Sunday School program management.”  Courses dealing with Pastoral Care were seen as a bother and distraction.  Not to mention academic courses such as Systematic Theology, Philosophy of Religion and Church History which offer timeless lessons for pastors.  One friend talked about his Master of Divinity only having a “shelf-life of 5 years” because what he learned would be outdated.

Well in a way he was right.  His focus was on classes that dealt with programs and methods of church growth, programs and management.   From that perspective his degree would rapidly be obsolescent as soon as the next trend in church growth came along and everyone jettisoned the last method in favor of the new.

With the ubiquity of the Mega-church which unlike the Leisure Suit is not going away anytime soon.  The rise of the “Superstar” Pastors such as Bill Hybels, Joel Osteen and Rick Warren and the proliferation of massive “Ministry Media” conglomerates and stand-alone television ministries are actually dangerous to the vitality and health of the Christian Church in the United States.  They propagate methods which have the sole intent of getting people into church or giving to a ministry and keeping them there, doctrine, worship, sacraments or ordinances, and pastoral care of the least, lost and lonely be damned.  The methods are pragmatic and impersonal.   Numbers and crowds define expertise, credibility and worth. The bigger the church the better the church, it’s that simple.

Unlike others who pick these ministers apart for their theology or business practices my problem with what is happening is what happens to regular people in these large and often very impersonal churches.  It is easy for people to get lost, forgotten and when they are going through difficulty abandoned when the church stops making a conscious effort to do real pastoral care and focus purely on the programs which lend to growth.  Often the substitute for pastoral care is found in the home cell group, or care group or whatever cute name a church can pin on a meeting at a member’s house.
The home groups or cell groups have a noble intention.  They attempt to build community in an otherwise very impersonal organization.  There are some really good things that can come out of healthy home groups as well as long lasting friendships.  We have a couple from our time in San Antonio that is still a very real part of our lives, they showed us genuine love and care and we remain friends.  Of course this couple had an advantage over most home group leaders; he was a clinical social worker by trade who was heading off to seminary.

Most home groups are not that fortunate.  There are unhealthy groups which are led by people who are poorly trained and equipped to deal with broken people.  The good group leaders recognize their limitations and try to get help for those who are really hurting.  Others who do not know their limitations end up abusing these dear lambs of God. Often this is because sick, depressed or lonely people take too much time, are too needy, or that their problems don’t match up with their church theology.

My wife and I know this from personal experience as my wife suffered from a number of ailments throughout seminary and we were going through tremendous health and financial difficulties and in some places we felt cast aside and like we did not matter.  We were fortunate that some people did care and we did make it through, however it was not something that I would ever want to repeat.  I have heard similar stories from hundreds of people that I have come across in my life and work over the years.

I don’t care what you call it, but any church which has multiple services of several thousand or a major service of close to 20,000 as occurs at Osteen’s Lakewood Church is no longer focused on caring for people but sustaining their growth and market share.

I remember reading Charisma Magazine back in the mid-1990s when I still read it regularly about a church in North Dallas that has a period of incredible church growth in which it grew from 1,200 members to well over 7,000.  In the article the pastor touted the church programs which drew people to the church.  What the dirty little secret which was not mentioned was that two exits south of this church a Mega-church of some 10,000 members imploded when the Pastor, one Bob Tilton got caught doing some pretty bad stuff.  This church despite its claims of great programs simple picked up about 6,000 of these people because they were close by and a similar type of church.

All of this is dangerous as to its impact on people.  One only has to look at the latest Barna Polls about what is going on in churches to see that these large churches are alienating people even as they grow.  People come, but others either burn out trying to keep pace with the manic pace of programs proliferated by these churches or they get lost in the crowd and forgotten.  I meet a least a person every day who is a displaced Christian, often hurt, lonely and broken, not only by what they have experienced in life, but by the cold emptiness that they feel when a church surrounded by thousands of people who don’t even know their name.

Some churches do recognize that people have issues that need to be addressed and have in-house Christian counseling programs or refer members to Christian counseling services.   I think that there certainly is a place for clinically trained therapists in the life of a church; however this is not really pastoral care, even when they use “Biblical” methods.   In a sense it is the outsourcing by pastors of one of the most vital missions entrusted to a church, the pastoral care of the flock of God to others, in a sense, “hirelings.”  Again my issue is not with the therapists or Christian counselors, but rather pastors who refuse to do pastoral care as part of their ministry.

Ultimately it is people that are important, even those who are not rich, powerful and who have problems that don’t fit nicely into theological boxes or paradigms promoted by church growth experts. It is high time that churches start reclaiming one of the most vital missions given by Jesus to his Disciples, to care for the least, the lost and the lonely.
The onus for this falls on pastors who cannot simply outsource one of their primary missions as given by Jesus himself to others.  If pastors do not set the example of being caring pastoral care givers, it will not matter that they are supposedly “empowering” laypeople to do ministry.  Instead it sends another more ominous message, that if it is not important for the pastor, why should it be important to me?

Every member of the church at some time goes through a crisis when their faith, family, health or vocation.  Sometimes these are not isolated events but rather prolonged periods of anguish, as what Saint John of the Cross described as “the Dark Night of the Soul” where it seems that God has even abandoned the person.  Unfortunately people in this situation are often abandoned by their church as things fail to improve.  Despairing they become the lost sheep whose shepherd has abandoned.  This is the hardest time for pastoral care, the times where we as pastors are called to stand with someone as Mary the Mother of Jesus did at the Cross, just simply being there though nothing else can be done.

Now do I understand that the demands of running a large church can be sometimes become such that pastors have difficulty making time for pastoral care?

Of course I understand this, at the same time pastors, even those who function primarily as pastor-teacher/CEOs still have the responsibility of caring for people, not simply administering programs and preaching.  Pastors need to set the example of care for people, real people, the regular people who populate their pews, by their books and give to their ministry, even if it is only in small ways, not just the super-givers or the wealthy and powerful.

James’s “right strawy epistle” (Martin Luther’s words) has much to say about favoring the rich and powerful and neglecting the poor and seemingly insignificant people hanging about the peanut galleries of their large “Worship Centers.”  Even if the pastor has limited time he or she must be about the flock, or they will forget what the needs of the flock really are and instead of the People of God, the lambs who Jesus says to care for they will simply be the consumers of a religious message who we have to keep coming back to keep the operation going.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve Plays Devil’s Advocate: The Complex and Often Confusing Issue of Religious Liberty

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“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

Religious freedom is a central tenant of the Bill of Rights and has been a central facet of American life since our inception as a country, in fact pre-dating our founding in some of the original 13 colonies most notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Now before anyone gets the idea that I am about to write something in favor of limiting the freedom to worship or for that matter any limitation on religious practices I am not in fact I am a stalwart supporter of religion in the Public Square and not just mine. You see I am a bit of a purest about this and my view is as long as the religious practice is not harming anyone who cares?

I believe like Thomas Jefferson who wrote in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Some might take me to task for that as a Christian, but my point is not to argue for the Christian faith in this article. Instead my intent is to point out some of the inconsistencies of those who proclaim their rights also seek to limit the religious and even the civil rights of others based on their religious beliefs.

What I will do in this essay is to play the “Devil’s advocate” in the matter of the free exercise of religion as it currently exists in the United States.

This has to be done because of the number of laws being passed by various states which are labeled as acts to protect religious liberty. Unfortunately the reality is that these laws grant license for the Christian majority in those states to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs. These individuals and religious organizations loudly proclaim their defense of the right to free exercise, but it is more their free exercise rights that they are defending than the rights of others.

In fact those that shout the loudest are also those who seek to limit the religious rights of others using the laws of the Federal Government and the various States and Commonwealths that make up the United States. Since law in the United States is based on legal precedence everything that goes to court on matters of religious liberty as well as the actions of various legislatures matters. Precedent matters and once legal precedent has been established it is very hard to change. Thus each decision sets a precedent and these precedents can effect decisions in entirely unrelated matters.

Our First Amendment Rights are marvels which are envied by the citizens of most of the rest of the world and why shouldn’t they be?

In many nations simply being born as a member of a minority religion, or other hated minority group is enough to ensure that you will never have full legal rights and may even face persecution and death at the hands of those in power. The list is long. Some of the countries include Sudan, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uganda, Nigeria, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Of course there are many more but those are just some of the places where members of minority religious face discrimination, persecution and even death.

The rights we have as Americans provided the opportunity for churches that were suppressed on the European continent and elsewhere to thrive free of government persecution. The Baptists are a good example. In the early 1600’s the first Baptists, English Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs by the English Crown in particular by King James who despite authorizing the Bible given his name and loved by many Baptists as the “only” valid English translation was a notorious homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that, hated those early Baptists and persecuted them throughout the land.

On the continent itself the Anabaptists and Mennonites as well as others referred to as “enthusiasts,” the forerunners of the Pentecostal movements of the 20th Century were brutally suppressed in many European lands. The example of the siege and destruction of Munster Germany by combined Catholic and Lutheran forces after “enthusiasts” seized power is just one example.

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The Jews were persecuted often brutally almost everywhere in Europe for centuries. They were the “Christ killers” and that was even enshrined in the liturgies of churches. But the Jews had a surprising amount of freedom and influence in the Ottoman Empire where in places like Baghdad they composed a rather sizable part of the population and were quite prominent in the Empire.

Catholics were heavily persecuted in England and could not hold public office for many years following the English Reformation. Hundreds of Catholics martyred for simply practicing their religion in private, simply celebrating Mass could get them a death sentence.

Then there were the Huguenots in France. They were French Protestants who had gained a great deal of influence and power that were brutally suppressed and many killed by the French Crown and the Catholic Church.

The Lutherans were not big fans of other religions in Germany and worked with their archrival Roman Catholics to kill off the Anabaptists and the Enthusiasts.

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Spain was another brutal place for religious liberty. Even some Roman Catholics now canonized as Saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila were brought before the Inquisition. Protestants, Jews, Moslems were all persecuted in Spain, and Spain was equally repressive of native religions in the lands that it colonized in the “New World.”

The Russian Empire was known for its toleration of Catholics, Protestants and Jews especially in the equal treatment given to them in various Pogroms conducted by the government and the Orthodox Church.

The Ottoman Empire had a limited amount of religious toleration so long as you didn’t make trouble and paid your taxes. One cannot really call it liberty for the Empire and persecuted anyone equally that threatened the Caliphate or that they thought were heretical. These included the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

Then along came the United States where our forefathers ensured religious liberty in our Bill of Rights along with freedom of speech, assembly and the press. It is a wonderful thing, but we have not always done well with it and there are always those trying to carve out addition “rights” for themselves or their faith communities. Sometimes the more religious people have had a negative influence in this experiment, often being involved with acts of religious and civil intolerance worthy of our European ancestors.

That being said many religious people, particularly Christians and churches have done many good things in promoting human rights, religious rights and the civil rights of all in our country.

In Colonial America most of the colonies had official state religions. In Massachusetts that was the Congregationalist Church and it conducted many of the witch trials and the persecution of people deemed heretic including Quakers and Baptists.

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While Christians were in the forefront of the Abolitionist movement whole denominations split on the issue of Slavery. These denominations included the Southern Baptists, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Curiously neither the Episcopalians nor the Catholics split over the issues although the war found them heavily engaged on both sides of the conflict.

After the war many American Christians worked for the rights of workers, the abolition of child labor and even something that I oppose, Prohibition. Some Christians and churches advocated for the full civil rights of African Americans though few spoke up for rights of the Native Americans and the Chinese immigrants to California who were frequently mistreated and worked for almost nothing on the most demanding jobs like building the trans-continental railroad, mining gold and building stone walls for ranchers.

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While enshrining the right to the free exercise of religion the Founding Fathers kind of ignored the human rights of a whole class of people, African American slaves. They allowed the practice of slavery counting Blacks as 3/5ths of a person, which 3/5ths I don’t know but nonetheless only 60% of a full human being. my own family owned slaves and the family patriarch who fought as a Confederate officer in the American Civil War and after the defeat of the Confederacy refused to sign the loyalty oath, which good honorable men like Robert E Lee did and lost the family lands to the Federal Government.

We drove the Native Americans off of their lands, hunted them down and confined them to reservations all while ignoring the treaties that we made with the various Indian Nations. This practice was actually recently defended by the faux “historian” of the Christian Right, David Barton.

If we believe Barton’s “history” the vast majority of the people perpetuating these acts were solid Bible Believing Christians. But then how do we reconcile these crimes against humanity, even crimes against fellow Christians with the Christian faith? If you are Barton you assume that what happened was due to the sin of the Native Americans who had to be subjugated by Christians.

Likewise nearly every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States has experienced some form of discrimination, often religious from the good citizens of this land. It turns out that throughout history we have had some problems in the matter of religious liberty and toleration, especially of those whose customs, language, culture and religion are different than our own.

But the crux of all of this comes down to religious liberty which as Americans we hold dear, at least our own religious liberty. The problem is that those who fight the hardest for their religious liberty frequently want to deny the rights that they have to others that they disagree with in belief, practice or even politics.

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Now everyone is for religious liberty in the Public Square until a loathsome man like Fred Phelps and his family owned and operated “Westboro Baptist Church” shows up to protest and hurl vile epithets at those grieving the loss of family members killed in war, taunting these people in the most abhorrent of ways.

However, as grievous as these people are they do this under the right to the free exercise of religion. Some Fundamentalist Moslems have as a stated goal of instating Sharia Law in this land, at least for Moslems. This they proclaim under the banner of religious liberty, however the imposition of Sharia Law on Moslems in the name of their religion also takes away their civil rights under the Constitution and the various laws of the Federal Government of the States that make up our fair land.

The Roman Catholic Church at the direction of the Vatican has attempted rather successfully until a recent Supreme Court ruling to shield Bishops that were complicit in personnel moves and cover ups regarding Priests accused or convicted of sexual misconduct and the sexual abuse of minors from criminal prosecution and civil suits under the guise of diplomatic immunity as the Vatican is a nation state. Could any other religious organization shield its clergy from the laws of the land that any other citizen would be subject to? Not on your or my life, but in the past the Vatican has blatantly done so and hopefully under Pope Francis this too will change.

One of the key issues of religious liberty is the right of those of various beliefs and practices that use television, radio and the internet to espouse hatred and violence in the name of their religious beliefs and under the banner of religious liberty? I may not agree with what they broadcast but they have the right to do it.

Many Conservative Christians, especially Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are keen to support their rights to publicly exercise their religion, even in the government. But they are not good when it comes to other branches of Christianity or non-Christian religions.

The Metropolitan Community Church comes to mind. It is a predominantly Homosexual Christian church many of whose members were driven from their home churches due to their sexuality. Many, except for being gay are very conservative in their theological beliefs. That church has been in the forefront of the fight for marriage equity as well as the right for homosexuals to serve openly in the Military.

The part about marriage is particularly fraught with peril because both the Church and the State have interests in marriage. For many marriage is primarily a religious act with civil overtones, in fact ministers of all denominations are licensed by the state to perform marriages on behalf of the State becoming in effect de-facto officers of the courts and at the same time most states deny homosexual couples the right to marry, regardless of one’s position on the legitimacy of such unions who could say that it is right for the states to approve and license the clergy of almost every religious tradition to conduct weddings that have the full civil effect, including tax breaks for all but a certain group? We have this enshrined in our culture but would deny it to the Metropolitan Community Church to perform weddings for its members. What if someone said that any other minister could not marry members of their own church under their church laws, ordinances and beliefs? There would be a public outcry, but not for the Metropolitan Community Church or other denominations that sanction Gay marriage.

There are so many issues regarding religious liberty. What about adherents of Wicca and other Earth based religions or Native American religions? Some of their practices would not be welcomed by those of many Christian denominations as well as secularists and atheists but if they are not hurting anyone else why should others object?

Likewise why should people object if a religious symbol is displayed on private property or on state property where it has been displayed for decades or longer? Is it hurting anyone? Not really but hurt feelings and being offended count as much as real injury to the litigiously minded. Usually these cases are long, expensive and divisive court proceedings that have served little purpose. I am not in favor of government using such symbols to advance the rights of any given religion, even Christianity. But that being said there are times where religious symbols are part of our American culture where we have memorialized our war dead without the intent of promoting a religious cause. However, if one symbol is present we should not object to others.

Likewise there are those that would attempt to limit the free speech rights and religious rights of Christians and others that protest the practice of abortion using civil disobedience to do so. Some in polite and well-mannered but others are pretty unseemly. That being said I do not think that the religious beliefs of anti-abortion people should be the law for unbelievers or for that matter a believer with different views on abortion.

The problem is that many who call themselves “pro-life” are not pro-life at all but simply anti-abortion. Many Christians who call themselves “pro-life” bless and baptize practices condemned by the same Church Fathers and Biblical writers who they use to support the rights of the unborn. They support the death penalty despite the aversion and opposition to it by the Early Church a and the evidence that in many states that the practice is abused and sentences often wrong. Many advocate for harsh treatment of aliens and exhibit a xenophobic attitude towards some immigrant groups, especially those that are not Christian. Likewise the belief that the economic Social Darwinism of unfettered Capitalism is not only Biblical but God’s best ordained economic system is promoted as the Gospel. The same people often treat the poor and the elderly with distain and treat their political opponents as agents of the Devil rather than people that God might actually care about.

Local governments and even home owners associations have acted to quash home churches and Bible studies. Some have acted to zone land so that the construction of religious buildings, edifices or displays is illegal all of which have been protested and fought in the courts by the groups involved particularly Evangelical Christians of various denominations. Even churches that neighbors have deemed to be too loud in their expression of worship have been penalized by local governments and courts.

Yet many Christians had little problem with using the government to suppression other religious or splinter groups. The tragic example of the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound looms large. David Koresh was a labeled as a “dangerous” cult leader. Nor do many Conservative Christians have a problem in limiting the rights of American Moslems and protest if a Moslem clergyman becomes a military Chaplain or if Moslems want to build a Mosque in their neighborhood. I think that religious intolerance is often in the eye of the beholder. As David Barton the President of “Wallbuilders” an organization that seeks to promote America’s “Christian heritage” quoted William Penn “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal.”

Barton’s friend and ally Gary 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.”

So as you can see the subject of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our religions is one that is not as clear cut as we would like to admit.

To play the Devil’s advocate here let me ask this question: “Should we limit the rights to the free exercise of religion for any group?” If we do so where do we draw the line? If we say “everything goes” does this mean for everyone or just us? Could it be that in the enshrining of this right that the Founders actually meant the expression of rational and enlightened religion and not religious expression that limits the rights of other groups or supports the abolition of others Constitutional Rights? Those are all hard questions. As you can see there are a tremendous amount of issues at play when we attempt to legislate or regulate religious practice.

I think that our religious liberty is something to be cherished. But I can see times and places where there would be a need for the community or state to limit such expression. This would not be to take it away but to ensure that such expression is not used as a weapon against others, just as religious beliefs have been used in the past and present by people and governments around the world.

You see the lawyer that dwells deep within my heart that my fellow seminarians saw could argue the point for any position in this debate, which I guess kind of, makes me a bit of a prostitute. But still there are valid points to be made on all sides of this issue and to the extenuating civil, social and even economic and national security concerns that the absolute right to the freedom of religious expression impacts.

The waters get pretty muddy and my concern is that those on various sides of this issue are more about promoting their agenda, be it religious or secular. As I said at the beginning of this essay the issue is about legal precedence and sometimes the unintended consequences of decisions reached hastily when those on the various sides of an issue go to court or establish a new law which enshrines any group with the ability to discriminate against others based on the majority’s religious beliefs.

The question of religious liberty and the tension between competing Free Exercise rights and concerns about the “excessive entanglement” of religion in government will be with us for a long time. I think the result of the heated and often litigious nature of the debate will actually turn people away from the Christian faith and will actually do great damage to the First Amendment protections that we all enjoy.

This causes me great concern as I value the right to the free exercise of religious expression and the right of others not to have the religious views of any group made the law of the land.

Religion can and often has been abused and used by the faithful as a dictatorial bludgeon and those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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