Tag Archives: constition of the untited states

We Hold These Truths

Declaration_of_Independence_by_JoeSnuffy

Last night I re-read the Declaration of Independence as I do about this time of year and as I do so I reflect upon the profoundly revolutionary nature of that document. It is not a long read, but quite profound and as I said revolutionary. As I read again I reflected on the beginning of the second sentence of that document.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” This statement is really the heart of the document and something that when penned by Thomas Jefferson and ratified by the Continental Congress in July 1776 overturned the political philosophy of the day. These words, which begin the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence announced something unimaginable to the people around the world, most of which labored under the rule of ensconced monarchies, nobilities and state religions. In the world where they were written a person’s family pedigree, ownership of property or even religious affiliation counted more than anything else. In that world few commoners had any hope of social advancement, no matter what their talent, ability or genius.

The words of the Declaration were a clarion call of equality and were revolutionary in their impact, not only in the American colonies but around the world. In the coming years people around the world would look to those words as they sought to free themselves from oppressive governments and systems where the vast majority of people had few rights, and in fact no equality existed.

But the liberty and equality stated in the Declaration of Independence did not extend to all in the United States, or in its territories as it expanded westward, and the inequity eventually brought on a great civil war.

Eighty-seven years after those words were published the nation was divided, in the midst of a great civil war, a climactic battle having just been fought at Gettysburg. A few months later President Abraham Lincoln penned one of the most insightful and influential documents ever written, the Gettysburg Address.

One thing that our founders overlooked was that even while proclaiming equality, they later enshrined that one group of people, African slaves were not equal, in fact they only counted as three fifths of a person. Eventually, many states on their own abolished slavery, but because of the invention of the Cotton Gin slavery became even more fully entrenched in the American South, when an oligarchy of land and slave owners held immense power, where nearly half of the population was enslaved and where even poor whites had few rights and little recourse to justice.

After the Dred Scott decision of 1857 which declared that African Americans, no matter if they were slave or free could be American Citizens and had no standing to sue in Federal courts. Scott had sued to gain his family’s freedom after his owner refused to allow him to purchase it, because they were in a territory where slavery was but even more importantly held that the Missouri Compromise of 1824 which had prohibited the introduction of Slavery into Federal territories was unconstitutional and that the Federal government had no right to limit slavery in territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Chief Justice Roger Taney writing for the majority wrote that the authors of the Constitution as viewed all African Americans:

“beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Taney held that Article V of the Constitution barred any law that would deprive a slave owner of his “property” on entrance into free states or territories and he enunciated a string of negative effects, or “parade of horribles” that would derive if Scott’s petition for freedom was granted. His declaration is amazing in its ignorance and prejudice. Taney wrote:

“It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

The two dissenting Justices, Curtis and McLain disagreed with the proposition that the writers of the Constitution believed as Taney and the majority believed, noting that at the time of the ratification of the Constitution that blacks could vote in five of the thirteen states, making them citizens, not just of those states but the United States. Referring to the Declaration of Independence in 1854 Lincoln wrote: “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.”

However, much to the concern of slave holders and the South, the decision energized the abolitionist movement who believed that now no black, even those with a long history of being Freed Men living in non-slave states could be claimed as property by those claiming to be former owners, and that state laws which gave blacks equal rights and citizenship could be overturned. Lincoln again referring to the Declaration wrote of the Dred Scott decision:

“to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal….All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house;…One after another they have closed the heavy doors upon him…and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.”

Eventually the tensions led to the election of Lincoln along sectional lines and the immediate secession of seven southern states and the establishment of the Confederacy. British military historian and theorist Major General J.F.C. Fuller wrote that the war was “not between two antagonistic political parties, but a struggle to the death between two societies, each championing a different civilization…”

The Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens openly proclaimed that the inequity of African Americans was foundational to the Confederacy in his Cornerstone speech of 1861, if there are any doubters about the “rights” the leaders of the Southern States longed to preserve in their secession from the Union, Stephen’s words are all to clear in their intent:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address acknowledged what everyone had known, but few, him included in the North were willing to say in 1861:

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it….”

Even so it took time for the abolition of slavery to be acknowledged as a major concern by the Federal government, it was not until 1862 after Lee’s failed invasion of Maryland and the Battle of Antietam that Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation, and that only applied to Confederate occupied areas.

But in 1863 after Gettysburg Lincoln was asked to speak a “few words” at the dedication of the Soldiers’ cemetery. Lincoln’s words focused the issue of the war in relation to those first words of the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, the understanding that all men are created equal.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Unfortunately, the issue of equality has languished in our political debates. Equality is the sister of and the guarantor of the individual liberties enunciated in the Declaration. However because of human nature always more vulnerable to those that would attempt to enshrine their personal liberty over others, or attempt to use the courts and Constitution to deprive others of the rights that they themselves enjoy, or to enshrine their place in society above others. In some cases this is about race, sometimes religion, sometimes about gender and even sexual orientation. Likewise there are those that would try to roll back the rights of others, as those who seek to disenfranchise the poor and minorities, particularly African Americans at the ballot box.

That is why it is important, even as we celebrate and protect individual liberties that we also seek to fight for the equality of all citizens, irrespective of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The Declaration of Independence is our guide for this as Jefferson so eloquently wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

I wish all of my readers a happy Independence Day. I also ask that all of us please remember that unless liberty is liberty for all then it is really only liberty for some; those of great economic power and influence; or who happen to be the right race, religion, gender or sexual preference.I don’t believe that such was the intent of Jefferson and those who ratified the Declaration, and I know that it was not the case for Abraham Lincoln, who eighty-seven years later called Americans to embrace a new birth of freedom.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Hatred in the Name of God: The Ultimate Trump Card

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Atticus Finch, the hero of the book and film To Kill a Mockingbird said: 

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

Eric Hoffer wrote that “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.” We like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity and supremacy, God is the ultimate trump card and hatred in the name of God is something that many religious groups and people specialize.

This has been especially true in the lead up to the Obergfell v. Hodges case that was argued at the Supreme Court regarding Gay marriage. The religious opponents of Gay marriage, in particular conservative Christians have many times resorted to the most unmitigated hatred masked in insipidly shallow theology to condemn the gays and anyone that supports them. Of course the final argument they posit is that God will punish the United States for Gay marriage.

That is fascinating. God will punish the United States for Gay marriage but not for waging unjust, illegal and immoral wars? God will punish the United States for Gay marriage, but not for the way we treat the poor? God will punish the United States for Gay marriage, but not for unabashed materialistic greed that is so condemned throughout the Christian Bible? God will judge the United States for Gay marriage but not the extermination of Native Americans and the enslavement of African Americans? God will punish the United States for Gay marriage, but not the unmitigated quest for material wealth and power that so defines the most popular churches and pastors in the country? God will punish the United States for Gay Marriage but excuse everything else?

Truthfully I find it stunning that of all the things a supposedly vengeful and just God could punish us for, that Gay marriage is the tipping point. But such is the unhinged message of the preachers, pundits and politicians of the Christian Right who believe in a capricious “God” who coincidently just happens to hate the same people that they hate, which is very convenient. But then as Annie Lamott said: You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Of course they are not alone. In fact the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are almost all tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar. The fact is that for all of the, God is their trump card. End of argument.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

Eric Hoffer wrote:

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

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

One of my heroes of religious liberty is John Leland, a Baptist whose passionate defense of religious freedom prevented Virginia from re-establishing a state church after the American Revolution and whose influence was key in the decision of Madison and Jefferson to amend the Constitution with the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment. In fact, late in life, well after his success in working with Madison and Jefferson Leland 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.”

Like Leland, I contend for more than tolerance and I contend for acceptance. But that acceptance ends when any person or group is willing to use their religion to enslave, murder, or otherwise dominate other people in the name of their God, not just in this life, but in the next. This is especially true of those who use the police power of the state to enforce their beliefs and hatred on others.  I will do whatever I can to expose them for what they are, regardless of the “faith” they supposedly represent.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that, their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

That is why they are so dangerous for their hatred is unbounded by time, or space, it lasts for eternity, and eternity my friends is a very long time.

With that I wish you a good day and try to love someone.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Religion, Identity and Hate

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

A second short article for the day. I actually have been working on it a few days and finally decided to post it even thug already posted an article earlier today.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Atticus Finch, the hero of  the book and film To Kill a Mockingbird said: 

“Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whisky bottle in the hand of (another)… There are just some kind of men who – who’re so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one, and you can look down the street and see the results.”

We like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

Eric Hoffer wrote:

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

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

One of my heroes of religious liberty is John Leland, a Baptist whose passionate defense of religious freedom prevented Virginia from re-establishing a state church after the American Revolution and whose influence was key in the decision of Madison and Jefferson to amend the Constitution with the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment. In fact, late in life, well after his success in working with Madison and Jefferson Leland 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.”

Like Leland, I contend for more than tolerance and I contend for acceptance. But that acceptance ends when any person or group is willing to use their religion to enslave, murder, or otherwise dominate other people in the name of their God, not just in this life, but in the next. This is especially true of those who use the police power of the state to enforce their beliefs and hatred on others.  I will do whatever I can to expose them for what they are, irregardless of the “faith” they supposedly represent.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that, their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

That is why they are so dangerous for their hatred is unbounded by time, or space, it lasts for eternity.

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, News and current events, philosophy, Religion

We Hold These Truths…

Declaration_of_Independence_by_JoeSnuffy

Last night I re-read the Declaration of Independence. I do this about every time this year. It is not a long read, but quite profound. As I read again I reflected on the beginning of the second sentence of that document.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” When penned by Thomas Jefferson and ratified by the Continental Congress in July 1776 these words, which begin the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence announced something unimaginable to the world, most of which labored under the rule of ensconced monarchies, nobilities and state religions, where your social status and religious affiliation counted more than anything else, places where few commoners had any hope of social advancement, no matter what their talent, ability or genius.

They were a clarion call of equality and revolutionary in their impact, not only in the American colonies but around the world. In the coming years people around the world would look to those words as they sought to free themselves from oppressive governments and systems where the vast majority of people had few rights, and in fact no equality existed.

But the liberty and equality stated in the Declaration of Independence did not extend to all in the United States, or in its territories as it expanded westward, and the inequity eventually brought on a great civil war.

Eighty seven years after those words were published the nation was divided, in the midst of a great civil war, a climactic battle having just been fought at Gettysburg. A few months later President Abraham Lincoln penned one of the most insightful and influential documents ever written, the Gettysburg Address.

One thing that our founders overlooked was that even while proclaiming equality, they later enshrined that one group of people, African slaves were not equal, in fact they only counted as three fifths of a person. Eventually, many states on their own abolished slavery, but because of the invention of the Cotton Gin slavery became even more fully entrenched in the American South, when an oligarchy of land and slave owners held immense power, where nearly half of the population was enslaved and where even poor whites had few rights and little recourse to justice.

After the Dred Scott decision of 1857 which declared that African Americans, no matter if they were slave or free could be American Citizens and had no standing to sue in Federal courts. Scott had sued to gain his family’s freedom after his owner refused to allow him to purchase it, because they were in a territory where slavery was but even more importantly held that the Missouri Compromise of 1824 which had prohibited the introduction of Slavery into Federal territories was unconstitutional and that the Federal government had no right to limit slavery in territories acquired after the creation of the United States. Chief Justice Roger Taney writing for the majority wrote that all African Americans were viewed by the authors of the Constitution as:

“beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.”

Taney held that Article V of the Constitution barred any law that would deprive a slave owner of his “property” on entrance into free states or territories. and enunciated a string of negative effects, or “parade of horribles” that would derive if Scott’s petition for freedom was granted. His declaration is amazing in its ignorance and prejudice. Taney wrote:

“It would give to persons of the negro race, …the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, …to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased …the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”

The two dissenting Justices, Curtis and McLain disagreed with the proposition that the writers of the Constitution believed as Taney and the majority believed, noting that at the time of the ratification of the Constitution that blacks could vote in five of the thirteen states, making them citizens, not just of those states but the United States. Referring to the Declaration of Independence in 1854 Lincoln wrote: “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.”

However, much to the concern of slave holders and the South, the decision energized the abolitionist movement who believed that now no black, even those with a long history of being Freed Men living in non-slave states could be claimed as property by those claiming to be former owners, and that state laws which gave blacks equal rights and citizenship could be overturned. Lincoln again referring to the Declaration wrote of the Dred Scott decision:

“to aid in making the bondage of the Negro universal and eternal….All the powers of the earth seem rapidly combining against him. Mammon is after him; ambition follows, and philosophy follows, and the theology of the day is fast joining the cry. They have him in his prison house;…One after another they have closed the heavy doors upon him…and they stand musing as to what invention, in all the dominions of mind and matter, can be produced the impossibility of his escape more complete than it is.”

Eventually the tensions led to the election of Lincoln along sectional lines and the immediate secession of seven southern states and the establishment of the Confederacy. British military historian and theorist Major General J.F.C. Fuller wrote that the war was “not between two antagonistic political parties, but a struggle to the death between two societies, each championing a different civilization…”

The Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens openly proclaimed that the inequity of African Americans was foundational to the Confederacy in his Cornerstone speech of 1861, if there are any doubters about the “rights” the leaders of the Southern States longed to preserve in their secession from the Union, Stephen’s words are all to clear in their intent:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

Lincoln, in his Second Inaugural Address acknowledged what everyone had known, but few, him included in the North were willing to say in 1861:

“One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it….”

Even so it took time for the abolition of slavery to be acknowledged as a major concern by the Federal government, it was not until 1862 after Lee’s failed invasion of Maryland and the Battle of Antietam that Lincoln published the Emancipation Proclamation, and that only applied to Confederate territories.

But in 1863 after Gettysburg Lincoln was asked to speak a “few words” at the dedication of the Soldiers’ cemetery. Lincoln’s words focused the issue of the war in relation to those first words of the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, the understanding that all men are created equal.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Unfortunately, the issue of equality has languished in our political debates. Equality is the sister of and the guarantor of the individual liberties enunciated in the Declaration. However because of human nature always more vulnerable to those that would attempt to enshrine their personal liberty over others, or attempt to use the courts and Constitution to deprive others of the rights that they themselves enjoy, or to enshrine their place in society above others. In some cases this is about race, sometimes religion, sometimes about gender and even sexual orientation. Likewise there are those that would try to roll back the rights of others, as those who seek to disenfranchise the poor and minorities, particularly African Americans at the ballot box.

That is why it is important, even as we celebrate and protect individual liberties that we also seek to fight for the equality of all citizens, irrespective of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The Declaration of Independence is our guide for this as Jefferson so eloquently wrote: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

Have a happy 4th of July and please remember that unless liberty is liberty for all then it is really only liberty for some; those of great economic power and influence; or who happen to be the right race, religion, gender or sexual preference.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Manhattan Transfer: Why I Cannot Sign the Manhattan Declaration

“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.” Thomas Jefferson

Note: I do not expect that everyone will agree with my views on this subject.  Thus it is good that I am neither the Pope nor even a bishop.  I fully support the rights of all who have signed this declaration to do so and have the utmost respect for Chuck Colson as well as the Bishops of my Church who have signed this declaration.  I would never impugn the earnest beliefs or motives of these men and women.  However I do not believe that the Manhattan Declaration is fully reflective of the preponderance of the Gospel being that it does not address any traditional theological distinctive of the Christian faith.  It addresses instead moral, social and political issues that are used as wedge issues in contemporary American society.  While I believe that every Church has a right to comment on such issues to use them in their own realm that in a democracy or constitutional republic that such statements serve little purpose other than to rally the troops who already are convinced of them and do little to change the hearts and minds of those who do not.

Recently a fairly sizable number of Christian Leaders from Evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches have drafted and signed a document called the Manhattan Declaration.  It is a statement of four basic sociological and political issues with significant religious and theological overtones.  Let me provide a brief synopsis of the major points of the declaration:

1. The sanctity of human life.
2. The sanctity of marriage.
3. The protection of religious liberty.
4. The rejection of unjust laws.

To be honest these are all worthwhile goals and I can agree with them.  In fact I agree that the right to life of the unborn as well as the born must be protected.  I believe in sanctity of Christian marriage but recognize that the institution of marriage pre-dates the Christian Church and that descriptions of “traditional marriage” in the Old Testament do not reflect a Christian understanding of marriage but rather a ancient Near Eastern Culture of marriage that is more reflective of Islam than Christianity.  I believe in the protection of religious liberty as defined by the founders of the United States in our Constitution.  While I am a Christian every citizen in the United States has a Constitutional right that protects their religious liberty even if offends and is in contradiction to the Christian faith.  The United States was the first nation of the Enlightenment and the drafters of the Constitution would not allow any denomination to impose its interpretation of the Christian faith on any citizen.  Finally there is the rejection of unjust laws; who can be against that?  At the same time who determines what law is unjust? Or is it a matter of political dogma and not the faith that defines what is or is not an unjust law?

By definition Christians should strive to protect life as a matter of course.  Defending the rights of the innocent both the unborn and the born are essential if one truly is pro-life.  As such simply being anti-abortion is not enough to call oneself pro-life.  Unfortunately the vast majority of those who have signed the Manhattan Declaration would limit it to that and pay lip service to everything else that would make one pro-life including the provision of adequate health to those of inadequate means or access to healthcare, the use of the death penalty and the proper application of the Christian understanding of the “Just War” which prohibits preemptive wars or attacks against nations that have not attacked us. Pro-life would also include the implicit command for the Church to be leading the way in caring for the poor, indigent and the foreigner among us.  Likewise such would assume that the government would also have some responsibility to care for its citizens as the institution that God has raised up to maintain public order and maintain a just society.

Likewise it is within the context of the Church define marriage recognizing that while the vast majority of Christians would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, that is the understanding of the vast majority of people who have signed this document.  No church or religious body should be required to perform rites that are in contravention to their beliefs. At the same time they cannot under the laws of the land impose those beliefs on others or force the government to do so.  The understanding of religious liberty as defined by the Constitution does not allow this.  One of the good things about going to a Southern Baptist Seminary before the Fundamentalist takeover of the denomination was the deep understanding of religious liberty and the freedom of conscience that is given to all citizens.

Likewise defending religious liberty, both to practice one’s religion as well as respect the rights of others to practice theirs is a sacrosanct principle of being an American.  This is especially true for those who serve as Chaplains in the Federal government.  To use a Star Trek metaphor, such is our “Prime Directive.”  Religious liberty is essential and protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution which also guards the rights of free speech and association.  It is my hope that what I model to others in word and deed, and definitely helped by the Holy Spirit, will allow people, even those hostile to the Church or the Christian faith to maybe reconsider, especially if they have rejected the faith because of the intolerance of other Christians or our sometimes sordid history in regard to the treatment of people.

Finally the rejection of “unjust laws” is a bit of a Red Herring.  An unjust law is in the eye of the beholder. The founders of the country believed that a African American only counted as 3/5ths of a person. Which 3/5ths I don’t know, but certainly this cannot be considered a “just law” however it was supported by many Churches including those that resisted anti-slavery provisions adopted by their denominations and left those denominations in the years preceding the Civil War.

However it is not the theological principles of the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage, freedom of religious expression and resistance of unjust laws that is the problem.  Rather it is the tacit political emphasis of the document in spite of the comments by major supporters such as the President and CEO of Focus on the Family:

“It is important, first off, to note that the Manhattan Declaration is not a partisan or political statement…Instead, it addresses and elevates four specific areas of universal consensus. Some have referred to these as “threshold issues,” meaning they represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows. This is the bedrock. If we can’t agree on these areas of doctrine, everything else will be of reduced value.” Jim Daly, President and CEO of Focus on the Family

As a Christian of the Anglo-Catholic tradition the bedrock of the faith resides in the Bible and the testimony of the Church in the Creeds and the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church. These are not areas that “represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows.” I dare anyone to show me this in scripture or church tradition.  While there are places that one can draw inferences of these issues to be scriptural one can claim that the Scripture at no point forbids abortion. In fact the one place where these is even an inference of this is in Exodus 21:22-25 where a man injures a woman to cause a miscarriage is fined and not treated as a murderer.  Likewise the “imprecatory prayers” in the Psalms calm for dashing infants against stones.  If one looks at marriage it is obvious that Israel, like all Middle Eastern cultures of the day and many of the Moslems condemned by many supporters of the Manhattan Declaration practice was more of a property transfer than a true union of husband and wife as we now understand it to be. As far as freedom of religion one can cite numerous examples in the Old Testament where there is no religious freedom or rights given to non-Jews.   So to claim any of these as universal and foundational is inaccurate, even if they are worthy goals.

The drafters of the document refer to the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church during the Nazi era as a precedent for their work.  This is a bad analogy and bad history.  The Barmen Declaration was a statement of faith. The bulk of the declaration dealt with historic Lutheran and Reformed beliefs in the context of bearing witness and being faithful as members of a State Church which was falling in line and becoming a political instrument of the Nazis sacrificing its actual Christian faith and adopting a Nazi-Aryan faith.  This was viewed as heresy and apostasy by the members of the Confessing Church.  These men had no political party to support them, they were alone.  This is not the case with those who sign the Manhattan Declaration.  It is not a statement of orthodox Christianity against the apostasy of a church but a statement of political and social beliefs that have a religious component.

The partisan nature of the document is shown in the timing.  It now occurs with a President who is a liberal Democrat.  It well could have been issued during the Bush administration where little than political speeches were made in support of pro-life or anti-abortion causes.  In fact the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in his confirmation hearings referred to Roe v. Wade as “settled law.” Likewise the Bush administration adopted the policy of pre-emptive warfare as a matter of doctrine.  This is blatantly in contravention of both international law as well as the Christian understanding of the Just War.  One has to remember that the United States prosecuted the Nazis for wars of aggression; wars that the Nazis believed were justified.  Likewise the open support of Gay marriage by the former Republican Vice President was never criticized by many of these people.  It seems that such a document would have had much more credibility has the writers published it during the past administration.

The point of this article is to reaffirm actual Christian doctrine defined by the Creeds, Councils and Scriptures as the standard of the Christian faith and not a list which is not and has never been the central component of the Christian faith.  It is my belief that the Manhattan Declaration is well meaning but ill-conceived and can and is being construed as the litmus test of what it means to be a faithful Christian.  I have seen two friends this weekend, who are totally orthodox in their denomination’s understanding of the Christian faith, theological conservatives who have difficulty with such declarations attacked as liberals and unbelievers.  I expect that some will do this with me.  It is my belief that this statement will serve to ghettoize Christians into a particular wing of the Republican Party providing their critics with the opportunity to simple count them as a subgroup of that party.  That is a real and present danger.

I do find that the preamble to the declaration has much that I can agree with, however it is the focus on a narrow band of issues that concerns me, issues that have been for the past 30-40 years hot button political issues where both major political parties play upon religious groups to further their agendas.

Again, I am totally pro-life and orthodox in my faith as a Christian.  I just believe that such declarations serve only to reaffirm the previously held positions of those who support them and have little effect on the vast majority of people and almost none on the government.

My friends Joel and Jared have made some interesting observations on their own sites.  Joel is at

http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/ and Jared at

http://jzholloway.wordpress.com/

The text of the Manhattan Declaration is here:

http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/images/content/ManhattanDeclaration.pdf

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under marriage and relationships, philosophy, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion, Religion