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Trump’s Hatchet Men: Christian Pastors Who Should Know Better

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a brief thought to start out the week. Since the beginning of the Trump Campaign his most vocal supporters other that the Alt-Right crowd and people like Roger Stone have been Christian pastors. This really bothered me all weekend so I need to get it off my chest early so I can go on to better things.

To me this has been one of the most perplexing things of the past two years. I wonder how men and women who castigated Democrats, and even some moderate Republicans with epithets often too vile to print ended up supporting a man who exhibits no trace at all of a genuine Christian faith. How they not only support but defend a man whose life if nothing else epitomizes everything that Jesus preached against, even threatening the wrath of God on Trump’s opponents.

I am not alone. Conservative columnist Erick Erickson, who is a Christian by the way noted in a column last week:

“Watergate may have turned Charles Colson from hatchet man to pastor, but defense of President Trump is turning a lot of pastors into hatchet men. Few people come away from Trump’s orbit without compromising their characters.”

Admittedly some of Trump’s big time clerical supports had little in the way of character to begin with, fleecing their flocks and often being caught doing so by law enforcement, some like Jim Bakker even going to jail. However, it is scary that quite a few who even if you disagreed with their politics, theology, or social views, still showed a modicum of Christian character have thrown it away to defend the indefensible. These hatchet men are truly dangerous because they poison the souls of their flocks and in the process demean the entirety of the Gospel message of reconciliation and peace.

But this is nothing new. Ever since Constantine various clerics and preachers have cozied up to rulers in order to gain temporal power for their part of the church. These American preachers today do not believe in the equality of human beings, they delight in condemning people, and frequently use the legislative process to impinge upon or limit the rights of others. Although they said they loved the Constitution when Barak Obama was in office their actions show that they despise it as well as the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence. Their attitudes towards the heart of American democracy are much like the Southern planters and slaveowners. One of them, George Fitzhugh of Virginia wrote in 1850:

“We must combat the doctrines of natural liberty and human equality, and the social contract as taught by Locke and the American sages of 1776. Under the spell of Locke and the Enlightenment, Jefferson and other misguided patriots ruined the splendid political edifice they erected by espousing dangerous abstractions – the crazy notions of liberty and equality that they wrote into the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Bill of Rights. No wonder the abolitionists loved to quote the Declaration of Independence! Its precepts are wholly at war with slavery and equally at war with all government, all subordination, all order. It is full if mendacity and error. Consider its verbose, newborn, false and unmeaning preamble…. There is, finally, no such thing as inalienable rights. Life and liberty are not inalienable…. Jefferson in sum, was the architect of ruin, the inaugurator of anarchy. As his Declaration of Independence Stands, it deserves the appropriate epithets which Major Lee somewhere applies to the thought of Mr. Jefferson, it is “exuberantly false, and absurdly fallacious.”

Southern preachers condemned opponents of slavery in the abolition movement, including fellow evangelicals as “atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, Bible-haters, and anti-Christian levelers.”  Like the Southern preachers of the ante-bellum era the political pastors of today stand against the weak, the outcast, the poor, and the alien. Instead of standing for the weak, these preachers lead their congregations to despise them as they accommodate themselves to the service of the powerful represented by President Trump. Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed it up well when wrote about the “German Christians” who followed Hitler:

“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 sad thing is that the so-called Christianity of our day is not far removed from that of the ante-bellum South or that of Nazi Germany. It worships power and riches and the only rights that it desires to protect are its own. Led by the hatchet men in the pulpits this church have soiled themselves with a stain that they will never shed, and they will stand condemned even more than the man that they support, because unlike him, they know better, or at least they should. 

Conservative scion Barry Goldwater warned us about them in 1994: 

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

But Goldwater also knew that the leaders of the Christian Right who now are solidly behind Trump were easily manipulated by the hard right. In 1981 he told an interviewer:

“I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.”

Donald Trump is manipulating the hell out of them, speaking to their deepest fears and promising them that they will be the ones that come out on top in his America. He has cultivated that by signing executive orders designed to cater to their every desire in exchange for their fealty which they readily give him. He is a nearly cult like messiah figure to many of them and their preachers bask in the favor he shows them without thinking twice about the true cost both to their faith, and the freedom of all people in the United States. 

Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham Alabama wrote after the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by Ku Klux Klansmen who claimed to be Christians and by the Christian preachers who over the course of decades had given them sanction:

“It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.”

He was right, as was Bonhoeffer.  So anyway, that’s a hell of a way to start the week.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Embarrassed to Call Myself a Christian

  
Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have to get something off of my chest. I saw something on a fellow clergyman’s political comments that were so ignorant and over the top in the hatred that seethed from them that I chastised him and told him that I was embarrassed by his comments. Honestly I do not care who someone votes for or against, what political party they belong to, what ideology they affirm, so long as they remain civil, and if they are a member of the clergy to at least not stoop to personal assaults on their opponents that would turn the stomach of Jesus while at the same time turning a blind eye to the faults and anti-Christian behavior and policies of the political leaders that they support. 

A few days ago I read a very provocative article by Russell Moore, the head of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. In the article Dr. Moore wrote that he could no longer call himself an Evangelical Christian because the term in in the United States no longer has any real meaning. In fact he went out of his way to blast the crass manner in which leading so called  “evangelical” leaders have perverted the Gospel, especially in their politization of it. I was in his Amen corner  throughout the article. 

In the past I have written a number of articles about being afraid of Christians, well at least the kind of people who call themselves by the name of Christ that Dr. Moore referred to in his article. But I am more than afraid, I am terrified of them. I have n doubt that if they were given the chance that they would ruthlessly exterminate every political enemy that they have in the name of God. 

So I will do Dr. Moore one better. I am embarrassed to call myself a Christian, because that term has been so maligned by these people that it is meaningless. Dr. Moore said that he now refers to himself as a Gospel Christian. I can understand that and even on issues where I fail to see eye to eye with him I can respect him. But I cannot even call myself that, the term Gospel itself has been perverted by many of the people that Dr. Land rightly criticizes into an insipid morass of bad ahistorical theology, the blessing of greed, avarice, and violence to get the blessing of God and gain earthly power without any sacrifice, humility, repentance, not to mention the forgiveness of sin that the term Gospel has lost its power. 

Though I have been a Christian for most of my life, and have been an ordained minister an priest for over twenty-five years, I have a hard time calling myself a Christian. I struggle with faith, with belief, and the actions of so many Christians, including people that I once thought of as friends has been so corrosive that I have a hard time believing. A well meaning person asked me a couple of weeks ago if I believed. I told them that about half the time I do, about forty percent of the time I don’t know, and about ten percent of the time that I don’t. At least I am honest. There are times that I sense the wonder, grace, mystery and love of God, and there are many times that I don’t. 

But when I corresponded with my friend I realized that my issue with what he wrote had far less to do with his politics than what he said about people, especially in regards to words that they had not spoken and speeches they have not given. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “In judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace that others are just entitled to as we are.” Is it any wonder that more and more people are fleeing Christ and the Church and that the fastest growing religious demographic in the United States is the Nones, or people who have no specific religious faith? I don’t find it surprising at all, and when I see people who call themselves Christians make hateful, ill-informed comments and then say that they are tired of being politically correct I shake my head in bewilderment. That is the same kind of “Christian Faith”  that Bonhoeffer fought against in the Nazi era. But then Bonhoeffer noted that “if you board the wrong train, it is no use in running down the corridor in the other direction.”  Far too many people who call themselves by the name of Christ have boarded that train, and it has left the station. 

So I guess that I will call myself a follower of Jesus like the man who told Christ, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” 

Until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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The Toxic Faith of “Americananity” and its Antidote

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“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.” John Leland 

There is a form of religion and indeed the “Christian” faith that is toxic and if not treated leads to the spiritual and sometimes the physical and emotional death of the infected person.

There is a nationalized version of this faith which in this country with respect to the Christian tradition I will call “Americananity.” It is a bastardized version of the Christian faith overlaid with the thin veneer of a bastardized version of American history. Its purveyors are quite popular in the world of “conservative” American Evangelicalism and Catholicism.  Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

Pat Robertson, evangelist and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network is an example of what Leland and Jackson warned us about. Robertson said on his program that “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991. The late David Chilton was another. He wrote: “We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian”

It is quite fascinating when you look at it. This faith is a combination of a selective reading of American history, Christian teaching and Biblical interpretation which mixes and matches a wide variety of mutually conflicting and contradictory traditions. This Toxic Americananity is based on a reading of American and Western History which negates, marginalizes or willingly distorts the views or contributions of those who were not Christian or who like Baptists, John Leland and Roger Williams due to their own experiences of religious persecution refused to buy into any form of state sanctioned religion.

I find it interesting that Conservative Icon and champion of limited government Barry Goldwater had great reservations about those that sought to establish the superiority of any religion. Goldwater said on the Senate floor: “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.”

The leaders of this new and quasi “Christian faith” are many and include some of the most popular religious leaders in the United States such as Pat Robertson, the pseudo-historian David Barton, James Robison, Gary North, Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, Gary Bauer Phyllis Schafley and a host of others. For them the Gospel has been equated with government legislation of “Christian” values which conveniently are defined by them and their political allies often in complete contradiction to the Gospel and to nearly 2000 years of Christian experience. North, one of the most eloquent expositors of the Dominionist movement wrote:

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

That is quite a statement and those who think that they can co-opt people like North, Robertson or others are quite mistaken. Goldwater realized this. What is fascinating to me is to watch these men and women advocate religious and political positions in regard to Church-State relations that completely opposite of what early American Christian and non-Christian civil libertarians imagined when our country was founded. Positions that quite often are at odds with even the historical tenants of their own faith. Their only claim to innocence can be because not a one of them have any training in history and often are even worse when it comes to their understanding of the Christian tradition, which did not begin in and will not end in the United States.

In this confused and often hateful “faith’ we see men and women who hate centralized government but extol a centralized religion. I was talking with a friend who is adamantly opposed to a powerful Federal Government but extols the perfection of the centralized bureaucracy of his Roman Catholic Faith. He could not see the contradiction. I watch others who extol an almost Libertarian understanding of the government and the Constitution who supposedly in their religious tradition are from the “Free Church” who advocate the supremacy of the Church over the State and in doing so their particular and limited understanding of Church over that of the Church Universal.

In this confused and contradictory setting there are Catholics espousing political views that are in direct opposition to the understanding of government supported by the Magisterium of the Church. There are Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants that mix and match the untenable and contradictory beliefs of Dominionism and Millennialism which involve on one hand the takeover of earthly power by the Church and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God and the understanding that earthly power is ultimately under the dominion of Satan and must be overcome by the Second Coming of Christ.

Leland wrote:

“These establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state.”

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John Leland

Leland was one of the most important persons in regards to the relationship of the Christian Churches to the American Government. He was a champion of the religious liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights and helped influence both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. He noted in 1791:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.” John Leland, “Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law”

When the adherents of a faith, any faith, but especially the Christian faith enlist the government to enforce their understanding of faith they introduce a toxicity that is eventually fatal when consumed and acted on.

I think that much of what we are witnessing today is much more the product of fear mongering preachers that see opportunity in their political alliances and that are willing to reduce the Gospel to a number of “Christian values” in order to achieve a political end; even if that end is ultimately destructive to the Church and to the Gospel.

The message of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth was this: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:18-19 NRSV) 

The early church thrived when it had no early power. It thrived when it was persecuted and when the Roman government openly supported almost every religion but it. However, once it became powerful and worldly it became ensnared in affairs far from that simple message of reconciliation.

It was in this country that the various sects of the Christian faith had the opportunity to make a new start, unencumbered by the trappings of power. But instead, like those that came before us we have all too often been seduced by the toxin of power. John Leland understood this and fought to ensure that all people of faith were free and unencumbered by state supported religion. He wrote:

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks [Muslims], Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and established creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils.”

Leland’s friend James Madison wrote to Edward Everett toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

That is the antidote to the toxic faith of what I now call “Americanity.” It stands against any idea of a state sanction or religion or a religion that like in Saudi Arabia or Iran controls the state. It stands in opposition to the beliefs of so many “Christian” religious leaders work to  ensure that they control the powers of government. Attempts that try to proclaim their superiority above even the ultimate message of the Gospel which proclaims “for God so loved the world….” 

By the way there are always results. The Puritans who many extoll were some of the most intolerant of dissenters of any group that has every held the reigns of power over the state and religion ever known in this country. Their victims included Quakers as well as American Indian converts to Christianity. The picture below of the Puritans hanging Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony should give pause to anyone who thinks that such actions are not possible today should any religion gain control of political power.

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Peace

Padre Steve+

PS. I do not expect some people to agree with me. It is a free country and I am not God, the Pope or Bill O’Reilly and thus quite fallible. While I welcome opposing viewpoints and comments I do expect them to be civil and respectful and done in a spirit of dialogue. Those that are not civil, respectful or which simply attempt to beat me down or which are sermons will not be approved and I will not answer them. It gets really old and I have learned that in some cases no matter how hard I try to respect the beliefs of others are treat others as I would want to be treated that some people just love to destroy everything and everyone in their path. I don’t have time for that and having allowed people to do it on this site in the past I won’t do it again. If you are that kind of person feel free to start your own website and attack my viewpoints on it and not here. After all it is a free country and you have that right. I promise not to come on your site and attack you. Like I said, I don’t have time for that kind of stuff. 

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If I Wasn’t Already a Christian I Wouldn’t Be

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In the movie Major League, the Cuban ballplayer Pedro Cerrano commented to a Christian teammate “I like Jesus very much, but he no help with curve ball.”

I like Jesus a lot. In fact I believe in Jesus and am completely orthodox in the basics of the historic Christian faith. Now I did go through a crisis of faith when I returned from Iraq that left me for all intents and purposes an agnostic struggling to believe. When faith returned in the Emergency Room at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center to this day I believe that it was a miracle.

However, since that evening in December 2009 I have found that despite Jesus, that some American Christians can be among the most hateful, intolerant, narrow minded and vicious people on the planet. In light of the very real fact that people are fleeing the Church in ever increasing number and that the fastest growing segment of the religious population in the United States is “the Nones” or those that have no religious preference you would think that Church leaders and for that matter those that call themselves Christian would take a bit of time to reflect on what is going on.

The great evangelist Dwight L Moody once said “Out of 100 men, one will read the Bible, the other 99 will read the Christian.” I do believe that is true. The earliest Christians, men and women that followed Jesus when there was no earthly benefit to doing so attracted people to their faith and their Savior because their lives exemplified love, care and humanity quite unlike many of their persecutors. William Blake, the 18th Century English poet would say “The glory of Christianity is to conquer by forgiveness.”

However I have to say that if I was to be looking for Jesus by the recent experiences that I have had with people that call themselves “Christians” I would never consider becoming a Christian. Now I am a Christian and I do not plan on leaving the faith but I have to agree with Mahatma Gandhi that “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

This yesterday I received an e-mail from a woman upset with an article I wrote about the death of the Reverend David Wilkerson a couple of years ago. I was polite and even apologetic but in two subsequent e-mails she persisted and finally sent me an e-mail stating: “You are an arrogant pompous hypocrite a classic wolf in sheep’s clothing. Call yourself Padre tells it all. Now get thee behind me Satan. In Jesus name.”

I have for the most part stopped taking such attacks personally. Yes there are some times that they hurt or anger me, but in light of them I can understand why so many people hold Christianity, the Church and Christians in such low esteem. This particular person was so ignorant about what she was talking about and me that I could hardly take her comments seriously or be hurt by them. What scares me is how widespread this type of attitude is in some church communities and the effects that it has on so many people and our society as a whole. In light of this and so many other interactions I have had with “Christians” that I am tempted to agree with Mark Twain who said: “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.” Since I have written about these encounters many times I will not go into detail here other than to say that they make me tired and simply restate that if I wasn’t already a Christian I wouldn’t be.

The late Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of El Salvador wrote: “I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God,who loves us and who wants to save us.”

That is the kind of Christian that I want to be. I will strive to love people and tell the truth, and if need be confront injustice against any of God’s people. Hopefully in doing so I will be a witness that helps call people back to the love of God shown in Christ.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Talking Without Listening or Understanding: American Christianity 2012

“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I think that “Christian” television, radio and entertainment is perhaps the among the most destructive forces in our society. In them a complete insulated subculture of demigods living in their own self made cloud-coo-coo land of make believe attempt to give answers for society’s ills, protect the faithful from the evil of non-Christian thought and for that matter of non-Christian people and to influence politics in ways that Jesus would never countenance.

I know this. I actually worked for a ministry of one of the current leading “Pastors” of the Christian political right back in the 1990s. The mindset inside the television and radio ministries of Evangelical Christianity is almost as insular, make believe, paranoid and power hungry as was the Papal Curia in 1517. Actually for someone who is a historian with a pretty in depth knowledge of the Reformation, particularly that of Martin Luther in Germany it is a frightening thing to see.

It seems today that preachers, in particular those in high profile mega-churches and ministries want to say something about everything under the sun and then throw in a “In Jesus Name” here and there to make their opinion sound Christian. Now that is not a problem limited to big name evangelists or even Evangelical Christianity. It exists in mainline churches, the Catholic Church and even other religions, can I get a Fatwah on that?

But because the leaders of the multi-billion corporate empires of the modern Evangelical movement have a vested interest in keeping the money flowing into their tax exempt institutions they must be relevant. Thus even if they no nothing about a subject they must write books and preach sermons on what God thinks of well you name the topic, everything from economics to foreign policy and even who God says you should vote for or against certainly not for the black guy in the White House, but I digress.

While beating their gums into a fervor and frothing at the mouth at evils real and imagined to keep their followers money coming they to use the Old Testament example of Esau “sell their birthright for a cup of soup.”

Bonhoeffer saw preachers of his era do the same thing and he was a critic of them with good reason. In their fear and hatred of the change that occurred when Imperial Germany went under and “Jews and Bolsheviks” threatened their position they ended up helping to create a climate where Hitler not only came to power but had the open support of many Christians and the tacit approval of the vast majority of German Christians of all denominations.

In the midst of crisis and uncertainty they gin up fear against “the non-Christian other.” The big problem for the German Christians of the 1920s and 1930s as well as our current crop of American church leaders is that they stopped listening and instead decided that they had the answers to all of society’s problems. In Germany after the Nazis were crushed by the Allies the Churches suffered major losses of credibility. Young people who had experienced the war, or who grew up in the desolation of post-war Europe left the churches in droves because of the terrible witness of supposedly Christian leaders and churches.

I would dare say that the vast majority of Evangelical leaders have simply stopped listening to anyone that would disagree with them. The evidence is manifold in our current political crisis in the United States where Christian leaders often are the most base and vile of all political pundits and politicians.

It is no wonder that the fastest growing religious preference in the country is called “the Nones.” In other words those with no-religious preference who have dissociated themselves from any Christian church. It is not because they have a problem with God or Jesus per say, it is because of the pompous asses that only care about them for the market share. Chuck Colson once noted that the Pastor of a large mega-Church told him that he was “paid to keep them coming in the door” not to preach any real truth, but to keep the empire afloat. Believe me the mega-churches and media empires of Evangelicalism require vast amounts of money just to keep their mortgages, air time and pastors well paid.

Moral lapses and corruption in these empires is rampant. Time after time the leaders of these “ministries” are exposed as money grubbing hypocrites who lash out at whatever group that they need in order to create straw men to keep their ministries alive.

Basically the leaders of Evangelicalism have stopped listening and even worse stopped caring about people. The empires must be maintained by “tithing units” as the son of a Bishop once called parishioners. It is the ultimate devaluing of people that Jesus died to save. Think about it. People only matter for the capital that they contribute to maintain the institution. I cannot think of anything more blasphemous and it will be the cause of the fall of contemporary American Evangelical Christianity.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christian Grinch’s: How the Puritans nearly stole Christmas

There are a lot of people now days in the United States that believe that the Christmas Holiday is under attack and to some extent they are right. It seems that lawsuits are as abundant as public displays of Christian themed holiday observance and décor as various individuals and groups attempt to expunge such observances from public life, even some of those erected on “private” property.

Now I am not one to go out and all these people are evil or even anti-Christian as some do from the pulpit and the even more influential “pulpits” of radio talk show hosts. However there are times that I have to admit that it seems that there is Grinchlike element present in our society. The Grinch’s who come in various types are often well meaning and concerned that religious displays of any kind but mostly the Christian kind will either offend people or create an environment where religious and non-religious minorities might be discriminated against by the religious folks. Thus they believe that all religious displays need to go lest someone be offended or discriminated against.

 

Above all it seems that they really don’t like the displays with the kid in the crib surrounded by a temporarily indigent family, smelly animals, even smellier migrant worker type pre-Bedouins and undocumented aliens from realms of glory.  I find the whole notion that is somehow harmful to individuals or society be quite Grinchlike and wonder of these people had their sentimental and fun glands removed at birth or simply got too many lumps of coal in their stockings.

 

Despite this I do not fear for Christmas because the celebration of Christ’s Incarnation and Nativity has survived far worse even dare I say from those within the faith.  Yes my friends way back in the bad old days a group influential in our early development as a nation the Puritans were big into cancelling Christmas.  Despite the fact that they were Christians they were pretty Grinchlike and in some sense the philosophic predecessors of those that want to banish Christmas from public life today.

 

You see after the Protestant Reformation, the English, who despite the cultured accent that we hear on the BBC or CNN World were actually more like unruly football fans in matters of religious tolerance and loving their neighbors. English Protestants of the non-monarchical reformation type did their best to rid the Church of England of anything Catholic. Of course this often included people who were Catholic or even Anglo-Catholic.  The English of all denominations tended to lop off the heads of, burn at the stake or crush with heavy stones those that deviated from the beliefs whoever was in charge. Of course those that leaned Catholic reciprocated in kind whenever they had power which made the era something like the Premier League “lite.”

 

The English Grinch and Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell


However when the Puritans took power they didn’t just decide to lop, crush and burn but they also decided to outlaw the celebration of Christmas. Of course they did so for noble reasons such as ridding the country of anything that smelled Catholic or did not fit within their rather harsh and purist views of the faith. Thus when they took power they did their best to ensure that everyone was as miserable as them. This included banning the celebration of Christmas which they objected for a number of reasons.

 

So in 1647 the Puritan dominated Parliament backed up by the brute force of the Army and Police led by Oliver Cromwell simply abolished the feast and all that went with it.  Like the Grinch himself they tried to eliminate everything including the Roast Beast. Gone were such nasty pagan ideas as Christmas Trees, feasting, caroling, and decorations. And let’s not forget the favorite target of Grinch’s everywhere, Nativity scenes, which were banned as the worship of idols. Indeed, the Puritans even frowned on the use of the word Christmas because they believed that it was akin to taking the Lord’s name in vain.

Wassailing


Not content with inflicting their beliefs on the majority of the people who simply wanted some relief for the drudgery of daily life in 17th Century England they even banned the poor from the tradition of Wassailing.  Wassailing was a custom in which the rather pungent poor would go from house to house, begging for treats in exchange for drinking a toast to the family.  The drink called wassail, was a hot spiced wine and not a vintage Napa Valley or French wine but a equally pungent English wine, thus the need for spices and heat. The result of the wassailing sometimes was an out of control drunken revelry, much like current English Football match celebrations, which is why the Puritans objected so strenuously.
Be it known that the Puritans did have their sentimental and fun glands removed on conversion had no sense of fun, or what they viewed as harmful religious practices and wanted to remove them from public life altogether.  Well altogether now: “kill the fun and sentimentality! And if need be those that practice them!” Very good you are honorary Puritans for the day doesn’t that make you feel good? It does me, I just love reenacting history sometimes.
Well this lasted until 1660 when the Lord Protector and head of the Army and Police Oliver Cromwell kicked the bucket.  The anti-Christmas laws were overturned and the populace went back to simply lopping, burning and crushing and everyone, save those being lopped, crushed or burned was happy.
Not to be outdone the Puritan colonists in the Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted similar laws which were on the books from 1659 through 1681 when a newly appointed Governor in the employee of the Crown Sir Edmund Andros.  However during the time that the laws were in force everyone had a grand time. Like others in places like Iran and Afghanistan the General Court banned the celebration of Christmas and other such holidays at the same time it banned gambling and other lawless behavior. Grouping all such behaviors together the court placed a fine of five shillings on anyone caught feasting or celebrating the holiday in another manner. The law read like this:
“For preventing disorders, arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other communities, to the great dishonor of God and offense of others: it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shilling as a fine to the county.”

That sounds lovely doesn’t it? Just kidding. At least they didn’t go lopping, burning or crushing with heavy stones unless you were proven to be a Christmas celebrating witch. Unlike England where the lifting of the ban was celebrated with the aplomb given to a World Cup championship the Colonists up in the Massachusetts Bay Colony frowned upon the celebration until the 1820s when enough Irish showed up in Boston to turn the place around and make it the fun town that it is now.   By the way the last “State Church” in the United States was the Congregational Church in Massachusetts back in 1833, seems that they didn’t appreciate that separation of Church and States stuff thought up by Tom Jefferson and Jim Madison very much.

 

So the next time you hear about those that want to impose their beliefs to quash Christmas realize that this isn’t a new thing at all. Christians have been doing it for centuries and some of the un-fun Fundamentalists that want to re-establish the faith in the way the Puritans had imagined or legislated it to be, would do it again if they ever took control of Congress.  But for now we have to suffer those fun and sentimentality deprived army of Grinch’s that without the religious flair attempt to crush the spirit of Christmas in the name of tolerance.

 

So Merry Christmas my friends,

 

Peace
Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, purely humorous, Religion

A Sea of Contradictions: My Life and Faith since returning from Iraq

Dinner with my Friend, Major General Sabah in Ramadi

“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.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since I returned from Iraq I have grown weary of Christians that have all the answers and are more interested in promoting their agenda than actually listening or caring for those wounded in spirit from various forms of trauma including war. Since I returned from Iraq and going through what amounted to a crisis in faith, belief and experience of what I felt to be abandonment by God and many Christians.  I have elected to travel down a path that has been of great benefit but has been filled with difficulty and pain as I both walked through the psychological, spiritual and physical effects of my time in Iraq and, the moral injuries that I incurred and the practical ways that these crisis’ have had on my life and relationships.

On Monday at work we had some of our pastoral care residents presented their research projects which they had worked on during their residency year.  All were well done but one struck me because of its subject and home much I could relate to it.  The subject was “Writing our Way Home” and dealt with how the use of poetry and narrative could help some combat veterans make sense of their world and deal with the trauma that they have experienced.  After Iraq I began to write, initially because it was therapeutic and helped me to begin to start sorting out what was going on with me. It also helped me, especially when I went public on this site about my experience to get outside of my normally severely introverted self. As I began to write regularly it became a part of my life as I struggled to deal with PTSD as well as  spiritual and emotional crises following my tour in Iraq, alienation on my return as well as various family crisis’s.

The understanding that resonated with me was that our stories, the good and the bad, what we believe to be true and what really is true about ourselves and our experiences is all part of who we are. This is something that I experienced in my own pastoral care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in the 1990s when my supervisor challenged be to stop living in the past and begin to imagine a future that was not a prisoner of my past disappointments and failures.  That was a watershed experience for me and as I began to sort through all of the crap that I was dealing with in CPE and family of origins issues I began to realize that I did not need to live my life in a constant repetition of the past.  Now that realization did not always find a place in my life but in a gradual process I began to escape that past and begin to live in the moment with an eye to the future.

Of course Iraq changed that to some degree, in fact to a large degree. What I experienced there and upon my return to the States shook many of my beliefs about the world, faith and life. The images of American Marines wounded by IED attacks, wounded children and destruction of vast areas of cities, towns and villages coupled with having HUMMVs and Helicopters that I traveled on shot at and having rockets fly over my head changed me, especially when I saw how the war was being covered by both the liberal and conservative media which bore little resemblance to my first hand observations. Even worse was the feeling of being isolated and abandoned when I returned home.  I experienced a crisis in faith that left me a practical agnostic even as I desperately prayed for God to show up.  In fact it was psychotherapist that was the first person to even address my spiritual life after I returned.

When Elmer Maggard asked me: “How are you and the big guy?” I could only say “I don’t know I don’t even know if he exists.”  For a priest and chaplain that was a harrowing admission.  I had entered a world of darkness that I did not believe was possible. I would struggle for another year and a half until during Advent of 2009 things began to change and I began to sense the presence of a loving God again.  My faith began to return but I have to say it is not the same as before I went to Iraq.  I still struggle though most of the time I cannot say that I am a practical agnostic as I do have faith and faith which can be considered orthodox but perhaps more negotiable.

You may ask what I mean by this so I will briefly explain.  First I admit that I do not have the answers that I used to think that I had. Likewise I am a lot more apt to say “I don’t know” or “I struggle with that too” when people tell me of their experiences when struggling with faith or even the existence of God.  I refuse to pass judgment on someone’s faith journey or even if they question God’s existence because I have been there and it is not a comfortable place to live.  I am far more willing to walk with someone thorough that valley of doubt or unbelief because I lived in that valley for over a year. As far as who I frame my world, I am far less likely to pin something as “God’s will” or “an attack of the Devil” than I am to recognize that as human beings that we live in a fallen state and that sometimes things just happen. To quote a popular say “Shit Happens.”  In the middle of this I think the real miracle is that God can give us the grace to go through the most difficult times even when we have no faith at all.  I don’t think that is at all heretical because the experience of Jesus on Good Friday and the scriptural accounts as well as the testimony of 2000 years of Christians tells me that this is true. The miracle in my mind is not being “delivered” from crisis or unbelief but through the grace of God making it though the crisis and return to faith, even if that faith takes a different form.

For me the act of writing both about my experience as well as through fiction or history has been therapeutic and forced me out of my comfort zone.  When I began this site and began to tell my story my friend Elmer the Shrink he asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to open up and become vulnerable as I shared the truth as I believed it to be.  I said that I needed to as I thought people needed to know the reality of what many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were going through.  He told me that what I was doing was risky but let me make the call. 600 posts later, not all of course dealing with what I and other veterans have gone through I can say that it was the right decision.

Our presenter on Monday gave us a few minutes to write something and for me this came quite easily as I was struck by a section of her presentation about how contradictory our life experiences can be. I began to write about those contradictions and will share a bit of that here.

I am a man of faith, a Christian and Priest. I believe but I also doubt and question, in fact there are some times that I feel somewhat agnostic even after the events of last December when faith began to return.  I am much more prone to give the benefit of the doubt to people especially those who struggle with life, faith and even the existence of God. I figure that God is big enough to handle doubt and unbelief while still loving and caring for the person experiencing doubt or unbelief or whose beliefs that may not fit the definition of Christian orthodoxy.

I am a passionate person who is an introvert in an extroverted world both in ministry and the military. I am an intuitive “out of the box” thinker and sometimes rebel.  Yet in spite of this I willingly volunteer to serve the church and the military.  It is interesting because both institutions prize loyalty to the institution, obedience and staying within the lines of prescribed beliefs and traditions.  I believe yet question, I find cause to not agree with what all of my political party or the other political party espouse to the chagrin of the faithful in both parties.

I have learned that there is a healthy tension in this type of life. I do not for the most part follow those that insist that to be a Christian that I must do this and that even though I fully subscribe to the Creeds, the first 7 Ecumenical Councils an Anglican understanding of the Christian faith. Nor do I think that to be to be a “American patriot” that I should vote a certain way, belong to a particular party or follow the agenda of any political party as if it others believe the agenda to be brought down from the mountain by Moses himself.  I have had people on occasion to criticize me for this.  However I cannot allow any political ideology to hold my faith captive, nor can I cast aside the essence of the Christian faith even when I doubt.

One of the things that I find concerning is how it seems to me that many supposedly “conservative” Christians have almost made what I think is a deal with the devil in terms of their political involvement. I think that they are sacrificing a long term witness to short term expedient political alliances with people, particularly “conservative” political talk show host and pundit Glenn Beck that have an antithetical and antagonistic views of historic Christianity.   My concern is more about the faith and witness of the Church than an alliance with someone that appeals to our more base nationalistic ideas than the faith itself.

I have discovered that for the most part I can comfortably live in this tension, in fact I do not think that I was to fall completely to one side or the other be it in faith, social responsibility or politics that my life would be as full as it is, or as some might be thinking now as “full of it as I am.” Whatever… The fact is that I think that as a Christian and as an American that it is okay to live life in balance and with a health appreciation of creative tension.

I have begun to emerge from the darkness of my post Iraq experience and I know that I am still wounded. I know that I still struggle but I now am beginning to see this as a gift.  My faith is not the same as it was, I am not satisfied with simplistic answers or the party lines of people that only care about their agenda especially when they decide that their agenda is God’s will, even if it has nothing to do with the Gospel. I know that sounds kind of snarky to some but I really want to be an authentic Christian not some caricature that is more a picture of the American perversion of the faith than anything found in Scripture or the 2000 year history of the Church.

I believe but I struggle. I will listen to other points of view, including those of people that are not Christian. In fact I found that my Iraqi Muslim friends were much easier to dialogue with and have deep and respectful theological discussions with than many American Evangelicals.  For me that was a watershed moment.

But anyway, this post was not meant to be a treatise on anything but is for me more of a reflection of a dialogue that has been going on in me since my return.  The thing is I know other Chaplains that have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan who have experienced the same feelings that I have been working through but do not have a safe place in their churches to heal, and are afforded little time to do self care.  I am concerned for our caregivers that care of veterans like me.  I wonder how many can be real in their faith community without having people run away from them as if they were radioactive, a feeling that many veterans and other trauma victims experience when they attempt to tell their story.

I just hope that I will be able to be there for others who are wounded and suffering as a result of what they experienced in war.

That is all for tonight.  Blessings and peace my friends,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, iraq,afghanistan, Loose thoughts and musings, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion