Tag Archives: christian right

To Stand Up Against Zealots

 

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am not a fan of ideologues or the “fundamentalists” of any point in the political, ideological or religious spectrum. Their lack of courage, stunted intellectualism, and inability to see things from outside their limited field of view does not allow them to face really difficult questions that confront us today.  They claim to hold the keys to the universe but sadly are hold nothing more than the key to their high school gym locker.

The Iranian novelist Salman Rushdie who has been on the run from Iranian fundamentalist ideologues since he wrote the supposedly heretical Satanic Verses once noted:

“The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.”

I believe that we are at yet another crossroads in Western civilization. This time a crossroads where the classic liberalism that was the basis for democratic societies is being stampeded by zealots of various persuasions who guided by the supposed infallibility of their ideological belief systems, deliberately and without remorse seek to destroy the institutions that are the guardians of liberty.

In my honest opinion I think that the worst of these are the conservative Christian theocrats and their seemingly ideological enemies the Ayn Rand following Social Darwinist “conservative libertarians.” They have no shame, their respective ideologies blind them to truth and turn them into sociopaths that only give a damn about their power and profits and they latched on to President Trump, prostrating themselves and the Republican Party to him in order that they might triumph.

Of course I will be the first to admit that there are some leftists who would be the first to put a bullet in the head of Lady Liberty to further their own cause.  But they are not the danger. They control nothing that would allow them to succeed and most cannot even agree among themselves to work together, they have nothing on Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Iranian Mullahs, or even Hugo Chavez; may God give rest to his chubby cheeks.

Say what you want about him but President Trump is not an ideologue, he can’t be, he’s too much of a self-absorbed narcissist to be an ideologue. All he wants is the adulation of his audience and the power and wealth that come with it. He may be a sociopath but it is not for the sake of any ideology. If the issue was the President alone we could survive him; but his supporters of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand Social Darwinists of the GOP are much more dangerous, because they are true believers who actually control many of the apparatuses of government at the local, state, and federal level.

We have seen the results of such movements in history before and each time they succeed in gaining power they have brought disaster to nations, and sometimes the world.

Proponents of ideological purity assume that their ideological bias is equivalent to sacred truth, be it a religious or secular truth. The promoters of such systems promote something more than their opinion, as Hannah Arendt noted: “For an ideology differs from a simple opinion in that it claims to possess either the key to history, or the solution for all the “riddles of the universe,” or the intimate knowledge of the hidden universal laws which are supposed to rule nature and man.”  

As such, ideology is not based on knowledge, but is distinct from it and the enemy of knowledge for it binds the mind in a straitjacket in which all thought must be submitted to the truth of the ideology. As Arendt noted such ideologies must be handled with caution as they “pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”  

An ideology protects the true believer from having to think for himself, it allows the insecure to grasp at the protection that it allegedly provides, and allows the believer to deny reality, and to by definition declare everything that contradicts the ideology to be heretical, and opponents to be aligned with the devil himself, allowing the believer to hate the opponent. As Eric Hoffer noted, “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” 

As I have mentioned the past couple of days my favorite television character, Raymond Reddington, played by James Spader in The Blacklist once said “I know so many zealots, men and women, who chose a side, an ideology by which to interpret the world. But, to get up every single day and to do the hard work of deciding what to believe. What’s right, today? When to stand up or stand down. That’s courage.” The fact is, no matter how stridently they espouse their beliefs, ideologues are by definition not courageous, because courage takes critical thinking, something that ideologues of any persuasion are incapable of doing.

That is why knowledge and critical thought even when they are uncomfortable and take us out of our comfort zone are so much more powerful and important than ideologies that are followed blindly. My words to the ideologues of the Christian Right and the Ayn Rand followers of so many in the Republican Party is that of Samuel Adams who said:

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” 

It takes no courage to be an ideologue, and once a person surrenders to an ideology as his or her reason for existence, they sacrifice the ability to reason, the ability to think critically, and the capacity to acquire knowledge and in doing so they surrender to tyranny and servitude though they think they will end up on top.

That is the danger of the blind ideologies that are consuming our world today and why as long as anyone who cares about freedom has a breath in them they must be opposed.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The President’s Pathological Need for Revenge: A Disease that is Eating His Mind and Poisoning His Soul

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of my favorite television characters is that of Raymond Reddington played by James Spader in The Blacklist. In the episode Monarch Douglas Bank Reddington tells Milos “Berlin” Kirchoff played by Peter Stormare: “Revenge isn’t a passion. It’s a disease. It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.”

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That brings me to my subject today and in all honesty this has been a hard article to write and you’ll see why as I develop it.

As I watched and read in silent horror the extended Twitter and subsequent television meltdown of President Trump on Saturday following the release of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury I realized that Reddington’s comment perfectly describes the President, his need for revenge is a disease and it has destroyed his soul. That is frightening because by virtue of his position the President has the power to lead the country and world to oblivion, and he may well do it.

The President’s response included  threatening the publisher with legal action, lashing out at the media, his former adviser, Steven Bannon, as well as other opponents; even as he bragged about how smart he was and stated his desire to see restrictions on the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and the press. This was on the heels of his careless talk about nuclear war and renewed threats against the Clinton’s and the decision of the FBI to reopen investigations of the Clinton Foundation, which the President had publicly demanded that the Justice Department do for months.

I do not know if this is simply his grossly deformed personality with its unbounded  narcissism and sociopathic lack of empathy in overdrive. Others, including psychiatrists of some note have suggested that the President might be suffering some kind of mental illness, he certainly demonstrates notable paranoia, whether that and others the possibility that he may suffering from a neurological condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.

But I am concerned because what is going on with this President is not normal, but of all because of his longstanding testimony of how revenge is a key part of how he views the world. His is an adversarial world where there are no real friends, only opponents, enemies, and those who might someday be enemies. This has been shown in his business life, his relationship with the media, political parties, and since his election how he is undoing and remaking seventy years of American leadership in the world.

Trump on many occasions has given interviewers a perspective on how he deals with those who are not absolutely and unconditionally loyal to him. In his book Think Big the future President wrote:

“When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I always get even.”

Since coming to office the President has derided, insulted, and even threatened everyone from ordinary citizens, including Gold Star families; journalists, political opponents, former employees and members of his own White House team, and world leaders. His insecurity and inability to withstand criticism or admit error are pathological and are consuming him before our eyes. Sadly, most congressional Republicans and many prominent pastors and clergy don’t don’t seem to see how troubling it is, in fact many of his defenders say nothing so long as their agenda is fulfilled.

I think the support of prominent Christian clergy is the most troubling aspect of this whole sordid Presidency, because they both debase and contradict the Gospel that they claim to preach. I quoted Trump’s most vocal supporter among Evangelicals, Pastor Robert Jeffress last night in terms of this contradiction and it is worth saying again. Jeffress said:

“You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” Jeffress said. “I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.”

For a Pastor, who like many other Trump supporters claims to want the nation to be governed by Biblical Law above that of the Constitution the blatant disregard of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is astounding. In many of his statements Jeffress is totally committed to bowing the knee to Caesar so long as it is a Caesar he approves; as well as giving in advance to that Caesar support to start a preemptive nuclear war with North Korea; drive out immigrants regardless of their status; deny Constitutionally protected free speech; and suggest denying rights to those who are not Evangelical Christians.

He stands in opposition not only to Scripture itself, but his own Baptist tradition and men like the Virginia Baptist john Leland who I have often written about on this site.  It seems to me that Jeffress, like Trump is totally committed to an ethic of revenge even though he does not outrightly say it.

In opposition to Jeffress I would quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood against the Nazi German versions of Jeffress when it comes to how Christians should respond, and it is not revenge:

“The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”

As for the President I find the vast majority of his policies abhorrent from the perspective of the Gospel, as well as the Constitution, and simple human rights. I cannot support those programs, policies, nor his behavior which threatens civil liberties and increase the possibility of world war, with the likelihood that the responsibility for that war would make him and the United States a rogue and criminal nation.

I wish no physical harm upon the President or his family though I do believe that his actions need to be scrutinized and investigated with the full force of the law. Even so as much as I dislike the man and oppose his policies he is still in need of the love of God as well as mine, and I do struggle with this. It is not easy to have any kind of compassion for a man who is consumed with hatred, and absent of empathy which is nothing but evil. It is probable that any real love for the President will be met with rejection, but the command of Christ is to love others seeking nothing in return, that is part of the paradox and tension that I am living in today. He may be mentally ill or have a neurological disease, or he may just be evil. I find nothing to love, respect, or admire in the man: but if I and others like me don’t follow the command of Jesus, is there any hope? Of course that is a rhetorical question, we will all answer it differently.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Love asks nothing in return, but seeks those who need it. And who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of love.”

Even so all of this being said, I fear for the worst  for the country and the world as long as President Trump remains in office and men like Robert Jeffress continue to support him and in the end I probably have more compassion for Trump than Jeffress because Jeffress who has preached hate in the name of Jesus for decades should know better. I don’t think that Trump does.

So until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christmas Eve 2017: Light, Life, and Love in Hell, Kurt Reuber and the Madonna of Stalingrad

Bundeswehr zeigt "Stalingrad"-Ausstellung

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

It is late on Christmas Eve and I am reflecting about the true meaning of Christmas in a world where hope seems to be dying before our eyes. This morning I preached in my Chapel from the Christmas story in the Gospel of St. Luke, the same passage I preached on a week or so ago with the German NATO contingent. The story of the incarnation, of God coming in the weakness of a tiny baby who would grow up and be crucified not far from where he was born is of profound importance for my faith, because it is not a pie in the sky promise of prosperity and power, but God who can be present in midst of the human made hell of war.

In such an environment I reflect on men who lived in a human made hell, a hell made by hate filled ideologues who launched the world into its bloodiest war, and I wonder, could it happen again? A decade ago I would have said it never could again happen. In December of 2016 after the election of Donald Trump I began to hedge my bets, but a year later I do believe that it can, and very well may happen again. So in such a world I must try to find hope wherever I can find it, especially as I seen the pattern of a descent into authoritarianism which has been so much a part of 20th Century European history developing in the United States. I worry about that because I can see nothing good coming of it, and notice friends, including Christian clergy openly advocating against the safeguards, the checks and balances put forth in our Constitution and laws to ensure that the President has unchecked power; and that means the power to plunge the nation into war.

I think most of my readers know that I am a career military officer and have served in peace and war as a chaplain. That service includes a tour in Iraq, a war, which by almost any standard would have been considered unjust and illegal, yet I served there, and came back a changed man. As such the stories of those who served in war, especially those who serve in hopeless battles, and even in evil causes during Christmas have a special place in my heart. One of those men was a German pastor and medical doctor named Kurt Reuber.

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As I said, Reuber was a theologian, pastor and medical doctor, likewise he was an accomplished artist and used that medium to convey his own faith, and doubts. He was a friend of Albert Schweitzer and in 1939 he was conscripted to serve as a physician in the Germany Army. By November 1942 he was a seasoned military physician serving with the 16th Panzer Division, part of the German 6th Army, which had been fighting in the hell of Stalingrad. When his division along with most of 6th Army was surrounded by the Soviets, cut off from most supply and without real hope of relief, he like other physicians continued to serve the soldiers committed to his care.

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However, unlike most physicians, the care Reuber offered care included spiritual matters, as he sought to help his soldiers deal with the hopelessness of their situation. As Reuber reflected on the desperation of the German soldiers in the Stalingrad pocket. He wrote to his family.

“I wondered for a long while what I should paint, and in the end I decided on a Madonna, or mother and child. I have turned my hole in the frozen mud into a studio. The space is too small for me to be able to see the picture properly, so I climb on to a stool and look down at it from above, to get the perspective right. Everything is repeatedly knocked over, and my pencils vanish into the mud. There is nothing to lean my big picture of the Madonna against, except a sloping, home-made table past which I can just manage to squeeze. There are no proper materials and I have used a Russian map for paper. But I wish I could tell you how absorbed I have been painting my Madonna, and how much it means to me.”

“The picture looks like this: the mother’s head and the child’s lean toward each other, and a large cloak enfolds them both. It is intended to symbolize ‘security’ and ‘mother love.’ I remembered the words of St. John: light, life, and love. What more can I add? I wanted to suggest these three things in the homely and common vision of a mother with her child and the security that they represent.”

The picture was drawn on the back of a captured Soviet map and when he finished it he displayed it in his bunker, which became something of a shrine. Reuber wrote:

“When according to ancient custom I opened the Christmas door, the slatted door of our bunker, and the comrades went in, they stood as if entranced, devout and too moved to speak in front of the picture on the clay wall…The entire celebration took place under the influence of the picture, and they thoughtfully read the words: light, life, love…Whether commander or simple soldier, the Madonna was always an object of outward and inward contemplation.”

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As the brutal siege continued men came to the bunker for both medical care and spiritual solace.  On Christmas Eve Reuber found himself treating a number of men wounded by bombs outside the bunker. Another soldier lay dying, just minutes before the soldier had been in the bunker singing the Christmas hymn O Du Froehliche.  Reuber wrote:

“I spent Christmas evening with the other doctors and the sick. The Commanding Officer had presented the letter with his last bottle of Champagne. We raised our mugs and drank to those we love, but before we had had a chance to taste the wine we had to throw ourselves flat on the ground as a stick of bombs fell outside. I seized my doctor’s bag and ran to the scene of the explosions, where there were dead and wounded. My shelter with its lovely Christmas decorations became a dressing station. One of the dying men had been hit in the head and there was nothing more I could do for him. He had been with us at our celebration, and had only that moment left to go on duty, but before he went he had said: ‘I’ll finish the carol with first. O du Frohliche!” A few moments later he was dead. There was plenty of hard and sad work to do in our Christmas shelter. It is late now, but it is Christmas night still. And so much sadness everywhere.”

On January 9th 1943 with all hope of escape or reinforcement gone Reuber gave the picture to the battalion commander as the officer was too ill to carry on and was one of the last soldiers to be evacuated from the pocket. Reuber’s commander carried the Madonna out of the pocket and returned it delivered it to Reuber’s family, preserving it for all.

Reuber was taken prisoner and survived the harrowing winter march to the Yelabuga prison camp. In late 1943 Reuber wrote his Christmas Letter to a German Wife and Mother – Advent 1943. It was a spiritual reflection but also a reflection on the hope for life after the war, when the Nazi regime would be defeated, and Germany given a new birth.

Reuber wrote:

“The concatenation of guilt and fate has opened our eyes wide to the guilt. You know, perhaps we will be grateful at the end of our present difficult path yet once again that we will be granted true salvation and liberation of the individual and the nation by apparent disappointment of our “anticipation of Advent”, by all of the suffering of last year’s as well as this year’s Christmas. According to ancient tradition, the Advent season is simultaneously the season of self-reflection. So at the very end, facing ruin, in death’s grip – what a revaluation of values has taken place in us! We thus want to use this period of waiting as inner preparation for a meaningful new existence and enterprise in our family, in our vocation, in the nation. The Christmas light of joy is already shining in the midst of our Advent path of death as a celebration of the birth of a new age in which – as hard as it may also be – we want to prove ourselves worthy of the newly given life.”  (Erich Wiegand in Kurt Reuber, Pastor, Physician, Painter, Evangelischer Medienverb. Kassel 2004. )

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Reuber did not live to see that day. He died of Typhus on January 20th 1944, not long after writing this and just a few weeks after painting another portrait of the Madonna, this one entitled The Prisoner’s Madonna. He was not alone, of the approximately 95,000 German POWs taken at Stalingrad only about 6,000 returned home.

His paintings survived the war and his family gave The Madonna of Stalingrad to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin after it was restored as a symbol of hope and reconciliation. Copies are also displayed in Coventry Cathedral and the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Volgograd, the former Stalingrad. A copy of The Prisoner’s Madonna is now displayed at the Church of the Resurrection in Kassel.

I have a print of the Madonna of Stalingrad in my office. It has become one of the most meaningful pictures I have since I returned from Iraq in 2008. To me they are symbols of God’s presence when God seems entirely absent.

I praying for an end to war and likewise that the United States will not fall victim to a lawless authoritarian leader who seems intent on stoking the fires of more wars.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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No More Roy Moore: Democrat Doug Jones Wins in Alabama

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In an incredibly close special election for United States Senator from Alabama former Judge Roy Moore lost to former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones.

Moore who lost the election had been credibly accused by multiple women of sexual assault when they were minors had previously been removed twice from his office as the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for violations of the U.S. Constitution and rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet Moore, capitalizing on the votes of white Evangelical Christians defeated the very conservative Luther Strange in the Republican primary charged into the special election primed to win the seat of now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Alabama has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since Hal Heflin was re-elected and retired in 1996. Sessions then won the election to replace Heflin.

Despite everything the mitigated against Moore it seemed that the closing days of the campaign that he would win. Most polls had him ahead and President Trump endorsed him. However, Senator Richard Shelby, the senior Senator of Alabama announced that he would not vote for Moore but for a write-in candidate and said that “Alabama deserved better than Moore.”

During the campaign Moore never backed down from previous racist remarks including that the United States was a better place when slavery was legal, nor his comments about Muslims, Jews, and Gays. Likewise he evoked memories of the Ku Klux Klan in many of his comments and actions. He campaigned as an anti-U.S. Constitution Christian theocrat whose militant religious extremism could be easily compared to the Taliban. The fact that over 80% of people identifying themselves as Evangelical Christians voted for him in this election shows the anti-American bias and moral bankruptcy of American Evangelical Christianity. Whites of all backgrounds voted overwhelmingly for Moore while Blacks who have faced tremendous disenfranchisement due to Alabama’s legislation making it harder for them to vote overwhelmingly voted for Jones more than they did for Hillary Clinton just 13 months ago. Maybe that is a sign of their discomfort with Mrs. Clinton.

In the end Jones won a close race. Twelve counties that voted for Trump in 2016 flipped and voted for Jones over Moore. Likewise a large number of voters voted for write-in candidates, probably depriving Moore of victory. With 100% of the votes counted Jones had 49.9% to Moore’s 48.4%. Write in votes accounted for the remaining 1.7%.

The question is what happens next? Will Republicans dig in and continue to support men like Moore or will they enact a course correction? Honestly I don’t know if the latter is possible as long as GOP leaders tremble before Trump and his fanatical supporters. I do believe that the President will invoke his wrath on Senator Shelby and all others who oppose him regardless of how loyal they might have been to him in the past. From now on Trump will move to crush any dissent in the in the GOP by energizing his still loyal base.

The election will make the passage of Trump’s agenda that much more difficult in the Senate and will likely lead to more radical moves by the President against political opponents on both sides of the aisle, the press, the courts, the Department of Justice and Federal Law Enforcement agencies investigating him. So what happens next is still anybody’s guess. This is perhaps one of the most dangerous moments in American history and the fate of the Republic still hangs in the balance.

As of this time Moore has refused to concede the race despite being 1.5% behind Jones. In Alabama an automatic recount is required when a candidate winds by less than 0.5%. A candidate that loses by a margin more than the 0.5% threshold must request it and pay for it within 48 hours of the election and such requests do not have to be granted. The fact that Moore is doing this again shows his disregard for any law other than his own. The chances of him overcoming Jones’s margin of victory are statistically insignificant but he will not quit because in his heart he hates the Constitution and the American system of government. His political demise should be heralded as a blessing by Republicans if they want to maintain their hold power in the coming 2018and 2020election cycles.

So, with that being said look for fireworks over the coming days and Moore, Trump, Steve Bannon, the Right Wing propaganda machine, and others, particularly politically mined Evangelical preachers promote conspiracy theories and stoke ever more resentment against those who support the Constitution and the laws of our country.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Is Our Honesty with Ourselves Remorseless Enough to Find Our Way Back?Christians, Trump, and Bonhoeffer

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short thought to close out this Friday and once again I go back to, as I do so often the words of The German pastor, theologian, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. With the threat of nuclear war looming ever larger on the Korean Peninsula, the impending passage of a tax “reform” bill that will add trillions to the deficit and national debt while raising taxes and cutting medical care for tens of millions of Americans, the President’s retweeting of racist anti-Muslim tweets from a leader of the neo-fascist fringe group Britain First, and finally the announcement that Trump’s former adviser and National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn had plead guilty to charges that he lied about his involvement in illegal contacts with the Russian government, and in doing so has implicated other senior members of the Trump campaign and administration, possibly even the President himself.

As I read the documents as will as the commentary I find it so hard to believe how complacent and silent so many people are in regard to the danger that our country is facing. As I do so I have to shake my head at the silence and complicity of so many of my fellow Christians who without hesitation back the policies of a man who some suspect might be mentally ill, others, suffering from neurological condition, or as I think, a man who is a narcissist and sociopath

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?

And so tonight I wonder, and I have to admit that I doubt that it is possible that we can find our way back to simplicity and straitforwardness. I would like it to be different but I cannot see so many of the men and women who claim to be my brothers and sisters in Christ abandoning their quest for political power so much so that they will support men who through their actions and words piss on the Gospel and the people that Jesus came into the world to save and to champion.

Honestly, I do not know how this is going to end since I am neither the prophet nor the son of the prophet; but I cannot help thinking that it will end well.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Insane, Impaired, or Evil? Questions the Loyal Opposition Must Ask

Edward R. Murrow

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The great American journalist and pioneering radio and television broadcaster Edward R. Murrow said: “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.” His words are profound. He, along with William Shirer covered the rise of the Nazis and then lived through the height of the Red Scare and the McCarthy era inquisition. Of course he was right, the fact is that it does not matter which party controls the reigns of government or who the President is that principled opposition is not disloyal.

This is an important fact to remember even as the current President of the United States, his accomplices in the world of Fox News and Breitbart, and his fanatical supporters in what is called the Christian Right dare to say. The fact is that for our government to function as the founders intended it is absolutely necessary for the minority party, as well as other minorities be allowed to dissent. When that Constitutional right is abridged in any way it endangers our society and our way of life. In an age where opinions can be picked up cheap on the internet, television, or radio, and where things like courage, fortitude, and real faith are in short supply, we have to acknowledge as Murrow did “that we are living in an age of confusion – a lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria.”

We have a President who has spent the year after his election victory demonizing his opponents, be they members of the press, the Democratic Party, or even members of his own Republican Party for infractions that had they happened under any previous American President of any party would have never happened.

Some politicians, pundits, and medical professionals have suggested that the President is either insane or perhaps suffering from the early stages of dementia. Others disagree and believe that he is neither insane or suffering from dementia but that he is a master manipulator who knows exactly what he is doing. His list of actions that would have certainly damned the candidacy of any previous Presidential candidate, or the term of of office of any other President grows with every passing hour. Despite that whatever opposition there is seems to be ineffectual and shunted aside. In normal times the suggestion that the President might be suffering from a type of mental illness or a medical condition that impaired their cognitive ability would be a cause for bi-partisan concern, and to think that the President might be a manipulative prospective tyrant would as it did during Watergate turn his own party against him. Honestly, the thought of an either insane or cognitively impaired President trying to demonize his opposition or one that is bent on crushing them are both bad scenarios. I think that the latter is worse if his own party has surrendered its soul to their ideological goals so much that they are willing to go along with actions and statements that just over a year ago many of them said should disqualify someone from the presidency.

My problem is that I am a historian and that I have studied totalitarian states and the history of how they became such. What I am seeing going on now frightens me. We are moving closer to a totalitarian system of government than I could have ever thought could have happened in this country. I believed that our system of checks and balances coupled with a free press would keep anyone from overthrowing our system of government and establishing a totalitarian state, but we seem to be moving rapidly in that direction.

Historian Timothy Snyder noted in an interview with Sean Illing: “We think that because we’re America, everything will work itself out. This is exactly what the founders refused to believe. They thought human nature is such that you have to constrain it by institutions. They preferred rule of law and checks and balances.”

The rule of law, the Constitutional system of checks and balances, and the underlying premise of the Declaration of Independence cannot be sacrificed for political expediency. The question one has to begin to ask in light of all of the President’s actions and words is: is the President insane, is he impaired, or is he evil and intent on establishing himself as a tyrant? None of those options are good, but if the President’s supporters were principled as was the Republican Party in 1973-74 during Watergate then such actions can be stopped. However, if they are not, and if the leaders of the President’s Party knows or suspects that he is insane, impaired, or evil and acting against the Constitution, but take no action in order to get their agenda passed then they are no better that the non-Nazi German conservatives of 1932-1935 who abandoned all principle because Hitler gave them some of what they wanted.

I’m going to stop for now, but remember the questions about the President posed by many other than me that must be answered: is he insane, is he impaired, or is he evil?

Honestly I don’t know. I can speculate, but the questions have to be asked by people in elected or appointed offices established by the Constitution, as well,as the press, and the citizenry if we are to retain our republican system of government. Dissent is not disloyalty. Asking such questions is not treason. Our founders wrestled with this. Thomas Jefferson wrote: “Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.

Murrow noted: “No one can terrorize a whole nation unless we are all his accomplices.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Drive a Spoke into the Wheel of Injustice: Christ the King Sunday 2017

A Nazi Propaganda Poster Showing the Costs of the Sick and the Disabled

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I did some substitute preaching at my chapel. For me Thanksgiving weekend can be a challenging time to preach. It always falls on the Solemnity of Christ the King or the First Sunday of Advent, neither one of which works well with the holiday that we call Thanksgiving.

Today was Christ the King Sunday and the Gospel lesson was from Matthew 25 verses 31-46. Believe you me it’s not a lesson that you will hear preached in most of Trumpified Evangelicalism, or anywhere in the Prosperity Gospel movement that has sidled up to Trump and men like Roy Moore. Somehow I can hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I read this passage fully understanding that many of my fellow Christians in the United States today have completely abandoned the Gospel message for the raw and shameless pursuit of political power, masking it under the pretense of values that they blatantly; through their lives, actions, and silence, mock. Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

Bonhoeffer’s words like those of the Gospel stand in stark contrast to people who seem intent on pursuing policies that not only are attacks on the poor but on all but the richest of the rich. They stand against the words and actions of Christian people who would in the face of overwhelming evidence would support the actions of men who are serial adulterers, perpetrators of sexual assault, abuse, rape, and even men who force their girlfriends to have abortions all because they support their political agenda. Honestly, if I was not already a Christian there is nothing that these people could say to ever convince me to become one. As Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

That being said these are the words of the Gospel in today’s lesson from Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus Christ is a different kind of King. He is not like the Kings of Europe who the founders of the United States rejected. He is not the one who insists on his “divine right to kingship”, nor is he a despot as much as some of the testimony of various church leaders and even biblical writers occasionally make him out to be. He is one who takes up the cause of the poor, the outcast, the sinner, the unbeliever, and yes, even the repentant perpetrator, for because they share his humanity they are all also his brothers and sisters. Juergen Moltmann wrote:

“In the raising and exaltation of Christ, God has chosen the one whom the moral and political powers of this world rejected – the poor, humiliated, suffering and forsaken Christ. God identified himself with him and made him Lord of the new world ….. The God who creates justice for those who suffer violence, the God who exalts the humiliated and executed Christ – that is the God of hope for the new world of righteousness and justice and peace.”

That was the message I preached today in somewhat a truncated form without mentioning any of the names of the politicians, preachers, or pundits that I was critiquing on both sides of the political divide; but the implication was clear. This isn’t just politics it is a matter of faith as my friend Father Kenneth Tanner, a theologically conservative and truly pro-life Priest noted:

“No. It is never OK to turn a blind eye to multiple and credible witnesses against a leader running for public office because utilitarian politics are more important than principles and human decency. It matters not one wit if a presidential agenda or a senate majority or the makeup of the Supreme Court or any other grave moral challenge—like the precious life of the unborn—hangs in the balance.”

I do not know many men like Father Kenneth, but hopefully he and others like him will become that voice that cries out in the wilderness of what calls itself conservative or Evangelical Christianity to bring life to what has become death. Bonhoeffer wrote:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

With every breath I take and every word I speak I will endeavor within the scope of my faith, my priesthood, and my office to do exactly that. I never want to have the burden around my neck that Martin Niemoller had around his when he remained silent, and even supported Hitler until too late he recognized his error. His words remind me of how until just ten years ago that I supported men who were willing to turn the Christian faith upside down for the sake of a place at the victor’s table. Niemoller’s words haunt me.

“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.”

Thankfully I know a number of Evangelicals with a conscience both inside and outside the military who do not bow the knee to political expediency, not to mention some more moderate, liberal, and progressive Christians who also speak out. That gives me hope to keep speaking and working regardless of the cost because no matter what happens with Donald Trump or Roy Moore I don’t see anything changing the amoral and diabolical political schemes of the Christians that support them. They will simply sell their souls to the next best beast who will satisfy they longing for political and religious power over others, completely disregarding the words of Jesus.

So until tomorrow I wish you a good night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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