Tag Archives: culture wars

Duggared: The Moral Implosion of the Christian Right

There was a time when child molestation was considered a sin by conservative Christians and there was a time when multiple criminal acts of a sexual nature committed against children would have been condemned by anyone even claiming to be a Christian. Of course that that didn’t mean that such acts did not happen, but at least in public Christian leaders condemned the criminal acts that we used to call mortal sin, even if they offered the offender a chance at repentance and reconciliation.

But that was before the days of “culture war” proclaimed by Pat Buchanan and the Christian “jihad” to use the terms of Roman Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft, a convert from Evangelical Protestant Calvinism to the Catholic faith in his book Ecumenical Jihad. For Buchanan, Kreeft and others like them defending the indefensible is the norm if it supports the dominance of Christians over their non-Christian neighbors. Kreeft’s whole thesis follows the premise that the “liberal elites” are attacking the very basis of Christian civilization, as such the “culture war” and “fanaticism” perfectly acceptable. While Kreeft does not openly endorse violence as a response, his thesis does not necessarily condemn it. The reason for this is that  Kreeft promotes the idea of a militant Church that is linked to the state and has the power to punish and persecute its enemies.  Of course this is a page that Kreeft borrows from radical Islam and by doing so he does’t seem to mind throwing out the teachings of Jesus. Instead Kreeft, Buchannan and many others, especially Christians who follow “Dominionist” theology return to the model of the imperial church in which believers have all right to rule over unbelievers because God wants it that way.

Interestingly enough the Duggars have been out there preaching the same message, which is why I had to mention it.

As a person who cut his teeth during the heady early days of the Christian Right’s march to power I am astounded to see the moral implosion of what properties to call itself “conservative Christianity” in the United States. This implosion has been on full display in the situation involving the Duggar family, a fundamentalist Christian family who due to their ability to breed like rabbits have enjoyed a near cult like status with the Christian Right, complete with reality television show, book deals and political influence with many of the 2016 Republican Presidential contenders.

Now let me be clear. I have nothing against large families, people sharing their faith, or even endorsing political candidates.  As for the Duggars as I do not know them. I only know them by their carefully crafted media image which is in the process of coming apart. That being said, what is going on here is a disaster for people who actually value the Christian faith and do9 what they can to share the love of Jesus in word and in deed with their neighbors. It is a disaster for the Christian culture that the Duggars supposedly defend.

The story has all of the elements, except murder, that make a great crime novel: admitted sexual crimes of the family’s oldest son Josh, who admits to molesting, not one, not two, not three, but four of his sisters and, at least one other girl, some of them while they were asleep. The story features a father and mother who covered up the crime and refused to get their son any real mental health treatment, and a police Department that did nothing about the situation even after they were notified. To add some spice it features a host of politicians, pundits and preachers, which remind one of the townspeople in he classic film Inherit the Wind.  Interestingly enough almost all of these people boast of their Christian moral superiority and routinely condemn other people’s supposed sexual sins, especially Gays.  Not only do they do this, they throw all of their political and moral capital into ensuring that Gays and Lesbians do not have the same rights as they have.

Since the story broke the political hacks of the Christian Right have been working overtime to spin the story as “Christian persecution” by the supposedly “Left Wing media.” Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist preacher was among the first to defend the Duggars and make this claim. But he has to do this, the Duggars are among his most influential supporters.  The pictures Huckabee smiling with Josh Duggar all over the internet in the wake of Huckabee’s candidacy announcement make for great copy if the scandal goes away. If not they are a liability. But the Huckster isn’t alone in defending the Duggars. Supposedly conservative “Christian” pundits, politicians and preachers have been coming out of the woodwork, not to condemn the crimes which are admitted to and documented, but to attack those who throw the bullshit flag on the Duggars.

This my friends is an important distinction, because if the Duggars were some poor family with no money or influence the Christian Right would never defend them. However, the Duggars are not some poor family that is just out there minding its own business, who had a child commit sexual crimes. They are a family that has used its fame and fortune to mercilessly attack anyone who disagrees with their cultish view of the Christian faith. Of course this is almost always on display at political rallies and meetings where they incessantly condemn the Gays and fight against marriage equity, where quite often it was the perpetrator of the crimes in the Duggar family, Josh, who was leading the charge. After their sins and crimes came to light the parents had the nerve to trot out two of their daughters to defend Josh and say that it was minor molestation. When I saw that I realized that this family has no regard for real Christian morality or faith. Sadly they will stoop to anything to protect their franchise and keep the money coming in. But why should we be surprised at any of this. Eric Hoffer wrote, “A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.” 

Though their television show has been cancelled they are getting a lot of air time as the Fox News Network does all that it can to defend them. Likewise the Duggar family’s “image crisis” is being managed by Mike Huckabee’s long time adviser Chad Gallagher of Legacy Consulting.

But even then, a few Fox commentators, Greg Gutfield and Geraldo Rivera took the time to go off the reservation and condemned the Duggars. Gutfeld dared to ask what the Duggars defenders would be saying if the Duggars were not Christians, while Rivera asked viewers to take religion out of the equation and ask what they would think of any family that allowed such crimes to happen and then to cover them up. Note that Gutfeld and Rivera are not Christians. Rivera is Jewish, and and Gutfeld, a former Catholic altar boy is an “Agnostic Atheist,” thus, unlike many of the Fox hosts, neither has a need to defend “Christianity” by defending criminals.  I think that this gives them a bit more objectivity in the matter, despite the fact that they work for Fox.

While the fight the Christian Right is waging involves the Duggars, who they are desperately trying to rehabilitate, it is bigger than that. The the political leaders of the Christian Right are waging an ideological war on all comers, something that Pope Francis recently condemned. The Pope said:

“In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements. The faith becomes ideology and ideology frightens, ideology chases away the people, distances, distances the people and distances of the Church of the people. But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”

Pope Francis nails the issue. The more that these supposedly Christian leaders do to defend the indefensible behaviors of their own people and the more that they do to attempt to use the police power of the state to enforce their beliefs on others, the more people they will drive away from the faith. Most people tend to like what they see in Jesus, even non-believers often admire his teachings, but they do not like the leaders of the Christian Right and are fleeing the churches in astronomical numbers.

So, these leaders can keep Duggering around with their Jihad, making a mockery of faith, of friendship and inciting hatred in the name of God while defending actions for which there is no defense. I have to wonder where it will stop.

The Duggars and their supporters are sowing the wind, and in doing so they will reap the whirlwind and they are blind to what they are doing.

So that is all for today,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Wrong Train: The Christian Culture War

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Yesterday, I wrote about the scary similarities that I saw in the weekend gathering of Christian Right leaders at the Iowa Freedom Summit, to the prayer meeting in the classic film Inherit the Wind. I find those similarities amazing.  But even more troubling I find the fear, hatred and paranoia they display to all opponents to be reminiscent of church leaders in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s.  These men, including Protestants and Catholics supported Hitler, because Hitler promised to fight against the things that they hated. Martin Niemöller, a man who now is nearly universally lauded for opposition to Hitler initially supported him. Later Niemöller, regretted that support and wrote:

“I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

The statistics don’t lie. The United States cannot and should not be considered a Christian nation and any sense of the definition. To be blunt that is not the fault of secularists. It is the fault of Christians especially those political partisan pastors and pundits of the Christian Right that for the past 40 years have sold their souls for political power at the expense of the Gospel.

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Freedom Summit 2015

While many people, even a majority describe themselves as Christians the fact is that what is now believed is not a Christianity that is in any sense Biblical, Catholic or Orthodox but rather a packaging of certain “Biblical values” that happen to be great political wedge issues for Christian leaders seeking political and economic power.

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Mike Huckabee: Preacher, Pundit and Politician

Nowhere was this shown more than the brazen flip-flopping of Christian leaders during the last Presidential election who first adamantly opposed the nomination of Mitt Romney. Not on political but on religious grounds,  so long as there was a chance that a non-Mormon had a chance at the Republican nomination. Of course those leaders, even those that opposed Romney on theological grounds rapidly gave him their blessing once he won the nomination. The theological gyrations made by those leaders of the Religious Right in that process were fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck, but fascinating nonetheless.

A recent Barna survey noted that less than one half of one percent of people aged 18-23 hold what would be considered a “Biblical world view.” This is compared to about one of every nine other adults.  Other surveys bear this out.

This should not be surprising to anyone that has watched the growth of what passes as Evangelical Christianity in the Mega-Church age and the retreat of conservative Catholics into the Church culture and theology of the 1400s. It is the same ideology that brought about the Reformation. But then maybe that is not a bad thing.

What has to be said is that the American Church cannot really be considered Evangelical or Catholic. Rather American Christians have subscribed to an Imperial Church model that must throw itself at those that hold power in order to maintain their own political, economic and social power.

While these leaders talk about and rail against things that they believe to be “sinful” such as homosexuality, abortion and birth control they willingly turn a blind eye to the treatment of the poor, advocate wars of aggression and bless cultural and economic norms that go entirely against the Christian tradition as they go about with a Bible in one hand and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the other.

One can have legitimate debates in the Church about what the Bible and Christian tradition define as sin and we should have those debates taking into consideration Scripture, Tradition as well as what we have learned from the Sciences and the Social Sciences. But the fact is that those in the Religious Right are terribly inconsistent in this, much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who he condemned for the same type of hypocrisy.

Think about it: The Barna Group in another survey of people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers.

This hypocrisy was again demonstrated this week. Many of these politically corrupted religious leaders turned a blind eye to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by the Supreme Court, or cheered that decision despite the fact that many of not most of those adversely affected by that decision are African American Christians. The next day after cheering this result they lambasted the same justices for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, dealing with the Federal recognition of Gay marriage. The histrionics exhibited would be comical if the men and women ranting away were not so vehemently hateful towards their opponents. The tragedy of their behavior is that even more people will turn away from even reasonable Christians.

The fact is that young people are leaving the church in unheard of numbers and it is very evident to me why they are doing so. The Church has embraced the culture wars over preaching the Gospel, which if I recall correctly is based on loving people, even ones enemies.  Jesus said it so well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NRSV.

The leaders of the Christian Right were able to bring enough culture warriors to hold their majority in the House of Representatives and gain the majority in the Senate. Admittedly it was an election where less than 40% of eligible voters voted and most of the contested seats were in areas where they dominate, which magnified their strength. However, in the coming 2016 Presidential election the demographics among voters will go against them, and even though these leaders know this, most continue on and with greater zeal wage the culture war.

But at what cost? Here I am not even dealing with the politics, as one can debate the merits of the Obama administration as well as its decisions and policies, even many progressives criticize the President on a wide number 0f issues, so that is not the point.

But the question is can Christians be an authentic witness in the political arena by simply being the religious appendage of a political movement whose leaders hold the Church and religious people in general in distain? It is amazing to watch as people mobilize Christians to support policies that are in the long term detrimental to those who claim the name of Jesus, and which are against many supposedly Christian or Biblical values. It is likewise astounding to see conservatives, including conservative Roman Catholics condemn Pope Francis  for having the gall to take issue with them.

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In the 1920s and 1930s the Churches of Germany and many parts of Europe did the same thing. They felt that their values were under attack by Communists, Socialists, Jews and yes, even Homosexuals. In order to maintain their influence and power they willingly allied themselves with the Nazis. When they spoke up against the Nazis it was seldom because they were defending anyone but their own ecclesiastical power and place in society.  When the war was over and young people began to question the actions of those that led the Church in Germany it began a process that has led to the de-Christianization of that country.

The current leadership of the Christian Right, especially those with yearnings to be the next President, are doing the same thing as their German brothers did in the 1920s and 1930s. The constant hate filled attacks of Christian leaders on those that are not Christians will come back to bite them. This is not fantasy, it is reality. One only has to look at the history of the Church to see it played out time after time. But then, unless we decide to re-write history like the fraudulent pseudo-historian David Barton does so well, why bother reading it?

The actions of many Christian leaders are dangerous to the faith as a whole, but it seems that they are willing to throw that away in order to gain political power, and as Gary North said “. The political opportunism is short sighted and ultimately will hasten the decline and fall of what we know as Christianity in America.

Perhaps Christian leaders who have sold their souls for such paltry political gains should be asking these questions: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul and what does it profit the Church to wield political power but lose its soul?

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

It is something to consider and they are questions that have to be asked.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Conservative Christians and Torture: Wedded at the Hip

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Friends, of Padre Steve’s World

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

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.” Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the words of Captain Jean Luc Picard:

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Advent 2013: God Loves the Real World

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O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

(From O Come O Come Emmanuel) 

Introduction: This is an article that I wrote last year. I have updated with this introduction and made a few edits for this year for a couple of reasons. One reason is that I think that it is worth the read for those unfamiliar with the season and what it means. Secondly I see the observance of Advent as a way to actually discover something spiritual and eternal that can help us in the real world today, not just in the by and by, but today, in how we treat our neighbors and care for others. 

In a sense this very traditional observance can be counter-cultural in amid the usual din of the shopping orgy that began on Thanksgiving and will end as retailers squeeze out the last profits on Christmas Eve. The observance of Advent is also an antidote to the politically charged “the war on Christmas” emanating from certain Christian “conservatives” and Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and Newscorp empire. The sad thing is that for all of their alleged “defense” of Christmas most of these culture warriors and their media allies have reduced the mystery of God’s great love at Christmas to a religious holiday so covered in consumerism that it is hard to find that tiny babe in the manger of Bethlehem. Finally, I write this in the hopes that discover the joy as we wait in the anticipation of the the message of the angel who said “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy….”

I think that each Sunday of the Advent Season I will write a short reflection on the various aspects of hope, expectation and love that is the heart of the season.

Today is the fist Sunday of what we in the liturgical Christian world know as the season of Advent.

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year, in a sense the opening day of a new season of faith, as much as the Opening Day is in Baseball. It is a season of new beginnings, of hope looking forward and looking back. It is a season of intense realism. It is a season where the people of God look forward to their deliverance even as they remember the time when God entered into humanity.  It was not simply entering the human condition as a divine and powerful being inflicting his will upon people but deciding to become subject to the same conditions know by humanity. As Paul the Apostle, wrote about him: “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5b-8) 

In the incarnation Jesus Christ shows his love and solidarity with people, humanity, the creation, reality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” 

That simple fact is why Christ came.

He didn’t come to found a government or even for that matter a religion. He did not come to exemplify “Christian” virtues or to condemn people that religious people condemned as sinners. He came simply to save and redeem the world and people like us from themselves.

The meaning of the incarnation, and the hope of the season of Advent is that God loves people. Yes, even the people that the Christian culture warriors despise.

In the next few week there will be much written and said about Jesus. Much of it will not actually deal with Jesus or the people that he came to save but instead about the worldly power and influence of those who seek the profits of being “prophets.” Some of them will talk fervently about the “War on Christmas” as if somehow God and Christ are so small that they need government sponsored displays in the public square in order to be real, relevant or or for that matter important. What a small God they must have.

Somehow the message of Advent, the coming of Jesus is contradictory to the message of the for profit prophets. Certainly the early Christians had no government backing of any kind. They simply lived the life and showed God’s love to their neighbors, often at the cost of their lives and paradoxically the message was not crushed, but spread and overcame an empire. It was only when they became co-executors of government power that the message of reconciliation became a bludgeon to be used against those who did not agree with the theology of the clerics beholden to the Empire.

The Christ of the Season of Advent, the one who came and who promises to come again is not captive to the capricious message of the for profit prophets and their political and media allies. I would dare say that God is much bigger than them or those that they believe will somehow end the Christian faith as we know it. But then maybe the Christian faith “as we know it” is more a reflection of us and our culturally conditioned need for physical, economic and political power over others than it is of Jesus.Nativity-extr

All I know is that the simplicity of the message that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” is more powerful than any political-religious alliance.

The time of waiting in expectation during advent also helps us to focus on Jesus’ words to  “Love God with all your heart and love our neighbors as ourselves.” It also calls to mid the words of the Old Testament prophet Micah, who asked “what does the Lord require of thee? To love show justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God.”

Advent stands in stark contrast to the politically charged consumerism of the War on Christmas.  I think that the message that God loves the real world is worth repeating in such an environment. In fact I think that because the message of God’s great love for those deemed “repulsive” by so many supposedly “conservative Christians” is so amazing that it must be proclaimed. As distasteful as it is to the “for profit prophets” of our time that it is not only worth repeating, but actually believing and acting upon.

It is a good reason for me to during this season of Advent to look forward to our celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the coming of the God who “emptied himself” and took “the form of a slave” in order to save his people.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

The Chicken Jihad: Chick-Fil-A and the Culture War

“We are famous for what we oppose, rather than who we are for.” David Kinnamon President Barna Polling

I seldom eat at Chick-Fil-A. Just never have been a fan.Not because of anything in particular, it’s just that I don’t eat much fast food to begin with. The fact that Chick-Fil-A isn’t open on Sundays means that they have one less day a week to get my business and that they don’t serve beer puts them low on Padre Steve’s food chain regardless of their religious or political leanings.  I do get a kick out of the Chick-Fil-A cows but that doesn’t get me in the door or drive thru. t have close friends on both sides of the culture war and try to be respectful of their opinions even if I don’t fully agree or disagree with them. However there are times when I think that culture warriors do more damage to their causes than necessary. But as a Christian I have to agree with Mark Twain who said: “If Christ were here now there is one thing he would not be – a christian.”

I am generally apolitical when it comes to my appetite. I like what I like, I appreciate good food and good service and I try not to ask the politics of the restaurants that I frequent.  I am not a food crusader, nor am I a fan of the huger fast food chains that dominate our landscape regardless of their political or social leanings. To some on the extreme right and extreme left that would mean that I am somehow immoral. But I like what the Lord said to Peter when Cornelius the Centurion offered him a really good meat, cheese and pasta dish that was not Kosher. “He Pete, dude, don’t be uncool, it’s not freaky, if I made it’s good to eat brother, eat up.” (Acts 10:15 Rick James Version)

Now I can understand why my gay friends are upset with the remarks of Dan Cathy the Owner, President and Dictator of the Chick-Fil-A enterprise.  While I think that he has a right to his opinion, his religions beliefs and who he gives his political contributions his comments said as they were make him and those who rally around him look like intolerant boobs.  However, having a kiss in and public boycott as has been promised for today by LGBT groups just throws gasoline on the fire of intolerance. My advice, is to ignore him and don’t patronize his restaurant unless you actually like the food, service and the people at the local store that you know as people.  My goodness there are gays that work at Chick-Fil-A and they are the ones caught in the middle between Talibanesque religious leaders and LGBT activists.  They make their livings there.  I want to put the human face on this and and I think that they are the real victims of this jihad.

All that being said I think that American Christians, Evangelicals and Conservative Roman Catholics for the most part are making themselves look like idiots every time they decide to boycott a business every time that they disagree with that corporation.  Christian groups and ministries have been doing this for decades now. The fact that their opposites on the political left are now doing it to their favorite organizations and businesses is a bad Karma.

A recent Barna poll revealed what the new generation thinks of Christianity and the Christians does not paint a pretty picture: When asked to describe Christianity and Christians the findings said that Christians were viewed as “Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;  Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it; Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts; Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality. Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda.” 

I am a historian and have done a lot of study of Church history. The funny thing is that when Christians and the Church get to this point in any society it generally means that their institutional structures and beliefs are less about Jesus and the Gospel and more about maintaining their political, social and economic power and prominence.

But I am not surprised that we have reached this point. It shows that church leaders are decidedly ignorant when it comes to church history. I remember back in my seminary days how my fellow students did as much as the could to take the minimum amount of church history, systematic theology or philosophy. You see those things were not important and I would dare say are less important to church leaders than at any time in recent memory.

It has been said that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The cultural jihad will only serve to drive people away from God and the Church and instead of reaching the culture for Jesus, they are doing exactly the opposite. It will result in hastening the decline in influence of Christians in society and continue to drive people away from Jesus.

The Chicken Jihad has become another ring in the cultural circus.

Eat hardy and stay thirsty. I’m going to get a burger and a beer and then go to a ball game tonight.  I just say to my friends and readers on both sides of this issue: Don’t have a cow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Deal is Done and are We? There are Always Results

Spartacist revolutionaries and Freikorps in action. Is this our fate? 

“but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. a geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” Thomas Jefferson on the Missouri Compromise

I believe that Thomas Jefferson in describing the results of the Missouri Compromise aptly describes the mood of our times and the consequences of politicians that lead us to the dark abyss of hatred and civil war.   There are times that I wish that I was not a historian or theologian for then I could simply be ignorant of the place that our elected leaders are leading us.

Yesterday and today I sat convalescing at home trying to stay off of my injured leg as the final actions were taken in the House and the Senate on the Debt Ceiling Compromise. I felt as if I was watching a national tragedy being marketed as by some as a triumph of cooperation.  I was amazed that talk which was paired with the opponents of the measure in both parties.  I felt that those praising their actions to pass the increase and related budgetary cuts were saying it all for show even as they sharpened their swords for the next battle even as the vast majority of Americans expressed anger and frustration with the behavior of their elected officials.  A Pew Research poll indicated “72 percent of American characterized the recent budget negotiations as “ridiculous, disgusting, stupid, and frustrating.”

But we have no one to blame but ourselves. We voted them all into office and we have encouraged their repugnant behavior with our votes which more often than not were purchased by the fear mongering engaged by each side and our desire to have our special interests and or ideology come out on top. We have been engaged in what conservative columnist Pat Buchanan declared a “culture war” for the past two decades and wars be they cultural, ideological, and economic or military have consequences.  The longer they go on the worse and more violent they become until one side finally loses and the landscape is destroyed. A conservative German newspaper noted “It is this war-like rhetoric that has so poisoned American politics.” The Germans should know something of this.  The “Kulturkrieg” and the violent hatred of their countrymen in the wake of the defeat of the First World War and humiliation of Versailles brought about civil war.  The pursuit of radical ideologies in the following years is what doomed the ill-fatedWeimarRepublicwhen the economic calamity of the Great Depression struck and led to the tragedy of the Nazi takeover and ultimately led to World War Two.

I believe that the actions of all parties in this forced crisis were a disservice to the citizens of this country, the memory of all who have gone before us and done more to damage our standing in the world than I could ever imagine.  It is as if the leaders of the country have forgotten why they are even in Washington.  There is no unity of purpose, only the language of war being used against fellow Americans.  A German newspaper wrote “No one can forget the Civil War atmosphere in which this debt fight has taken place. It weighs on America’s international reputation. From the point of view of financial markets, the dysfunctional nature of Washington is a risk factor that must be calculated for in the future.”

The sad thing is that there is so much work that has to be done and it is more than reducing Federal Government spending. Our industries have been shipped wholesale overseas using the treaties that business has foisted upon their willing accomplices in both parties in the name of “free trade.”  Our unemployment continues to rise and many economic experts believe that we are entering a “double dip” recession which some believe could easily become a depression. The infrastructure of the nation crumbling with the businesses that benefit from them refusing to contribute to their maintenance unless they receive government contracts and money in return.  We are committed to long term ground wars that have sapped the economy and worn out the military which now seem to serve little strategic purpose.   In fact the position of the Army in Afghanistan could be disastrous if Pakistan decides to stop cooperating and not allow us to supply the Army through it.

It is apparent to me that those that can afford it the least and the military will bear the brunt of the cuts that will come and that it will be a long time before this crisis passes.  No one seems to be addressing the major issue of unemployment or economic growth without which there is no recovery.  I heard the President and Senate Majority Leader McConnell repeat what they have said for years but no plans and no action.  As for the military we are worn to a nub, our equipment needs to be replaced and modernized and our troops still deserve the best that we can give them, but even this is on the chopping block, military retirement is called “an expensive entitlement program” by those advocating that the military adopt a private sector pay and benefit plan of little value especially to those that have spent 10 years at war paying with their minds, bodies and spirit fighting wars that the Wall Street bunch has benefited from, the same Wall Street leaders that now call for reductions in military pay and benefits.  It is obscene.

I would like to believe that this is a rough patch that we will get through, but right now with the terrible acrimony present in Washington and all the State Capitols I have a hard time believing that we will.  The President has failed to enunciate any kind of plan or vision and the Tea Party leadership is acting like the Jacobins in Revolutionary France.

I have no idea who will “win” this “culture war” and does it really matter? The result will be a Pyrrhic victory with the winners celebrating on the ruins of the country.  I only know that we all lose.

God help us,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Unchristian Christianity of Modern America

I cannot and will not recant

We live in an era where religion and politics especially in conservative circles have become one just as they were in the days following Constantine’s granting of religious freedom to all in the Empire while making the Catholic Church the State religion which went from a persecuted Church to an Imperial Church overnight. The Church in the coming centuries became an arm of the State something that until the enlightenment it remained in many nations. Most of the English Colonies that became the United States had State Religions even after the Bill of Rights the last to disestablish its state religion being the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1833.  Most European State Churches remained until the fall of the Empires after the First World War but many countries in Europe still have State Churches which are not very vibrant now days.

The curious thing is that until the 18th and 19th Centuries the powers of State Churches were great and heavily benefited greatly through their allegiance to the State.  To disobey the Church was to disobey the State and to disobey the State was often tantamount to disobeying God since the State and the rulers thereof were not simply ordained by God but in fact God’s instruments. Unfortunately this led to many abuses of power by those in the Church as well as the State and thankfully we in the United States were able to for the most part break with that tradition which was and is repugnant to the Gospel as well as human freedom.

In fact the United States has been the foremost proponent of religious freedom and tolerance of any nation in history. It was something that we enshrined, the right of all people to worship according to their faith. Now we haven’t been perfect practitioners of our ideal as there have been plenty of religious based prejudice and persecution in this country dating to colonial times, especially of religions outside the mainstream of Protestant Christianity, it took nearly 150 years for Catholics to become part of mainstream America and longer for others especially religions outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Despite those instances our experiment of religious liberty has been an amazing success in which many denominations have prospered.

All that being said I fear we are entering a stage where authoritarian religious groups closely allied with the rich and the powerful are on the ascendant in the United States just as radicals in other religions, particularly Islam but not limited to Islam are on the rise. Frankly I expect that people who are either living in a culture that still believes that the world is like it was back in the 13th Century and those that have become fantastically rich and enamored with the technology of the West to be that way. Let us face facts most of the counties in the Middle East lack the centuries of related social, political, philosophic or religious development that is part of Western culture and we still screw things up. The Islamic World has not experienced anything like the Renaissance, Reformation or Enlightenment. There is a chance that it might amid the pro-democracy and freedom protests that are occurring throughout the Middle East even as radical Islamists dream of a new Caliphate, something that seems to be anathema to many of the young protestors in Egypt and other Arab Nations.

In the United States the movement to religious authoritarian systems closely allied with politicians and the State to do their bidding comes from conservative circles, particularly conservative and fundamental Evangelical Christian churches and the Roman Catholic Church which since the reforms of Vatican Two has retreated into its old Ultramontanistic self.

That being said I figure I should go ahead and continue to dig my grave with my conservative brethren who view anyone to the left of them as a wild eyed raving liberal and quite possibly a Socialist.  I am a moderate and I might be classed as a liberal conservative or conservative liberal.  Thus I and people like me stand in the uncomfortable middle of a deeply polarized society where most to our left or right despise us for actually deviating from the established dogmas of the left or the right.

To the extreme right I might be a raving liberal, and the far left an intolerant conservative but the I choose to live in the tension between the two, although I think that in today’s Tea Party charged environment I would be called a liberal.  But I am a moderate and I will not give up the middle ground simply because others have adopted a scorched earth policy in faith and politics where “if you ain’t for us you’re against us” is the norm. In fact I think that Jesus stood against that kind of thought process, if you don’t believe me look at Mark 9:38-40 where Jesus says something different when the disciples confront him about others casting out demons in his name “he who is not against us is for us.”

As a passionate moderate who is also a Priest and Christian my goal in life is to get along, find common ground among disparate groups and care for God’s people.  I do this by acknowledging and maintaining the tensions that are inherent in a pluralistic society and not simply going along what whatever is popular or expedient. This takes a lot of effort and does not exclude being prophetic.  However that prophetic role comes in relationship with others where there is mutual respect, civility and care for each other even when we do not agree. It does not come from being angry or acting disrespectfully just because I can.  The prophetic role does not come from the outside looking in railing at your opponents.  That only increases your isolation, eventually to the point that you are no longer a player in the debate, simply an annoying pest with absolutely no say in anything.  It takes more courage to be open and dialogue with people respectfully than it does to rail against them.  Anyone can be a critic and anyone can be a wrecking ball.  That’s easy.  There is little personal risk in doing so, because you don’t have to open you self up to the possibility that there may be some merit in your opponent’s view and once you have a relationship with someone it is hard to demonize or dehumanize them.  Unfortunately that is what is happening across the religious and political divide in our society.

Despite the rancor on the extremes I think that there are more people out there like me than not. My belief is that voices like ours are drowned out by drumbeat of competing demagogues on the far right and the far left.  Since I am a priest my focus will be on the dangers that I see in the current climate and the captivity that churches have unwittingly placed themselves in making political alliances.  These alliances, particularly those of conservative Christians have become so incestuous and so intertwined that they are seen as one with supposed political conservatives. As such these churches and Christian leaders have become the religious voice of political movements fighting a cultural war in which only one side can win and in which there is no room for compromise or dialogue.

In doing so these religious leaders have compromised themselves so that only their followers give any credence to what they are saying.  They are so to speak “preaching to the choir” and not reaching out to or even caring about the welfare of their opponents, they are in a sense like the Taliban. They frequently demonize their opponents or for that matter anyone, even other Christians that might disagree with their understanding of the Christian faith.

That is why I say that many have become like the Taliban. If you do not agree with them on their social-religious agenda you are a heretic regardless of how orthodox you are in your actual theology.  Theology and belief is no longer the test, the test is if you agree with a social-political-religious agenda which often is at odds with the Christian faith proclaimed by Jesus.  This is like the Taliban because the goal is to gain control of the government and use the government to impose a social-religious theocracy where the church uses the “police power of the government” to achieve its goals.  Such a message is anathema to the Gospel and its redemptive message that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” What many churches and Christian leaders have done is to for practical purposes discard any real attempts to engage people with the message of the Gospel in favor of using political power to coerce non-believers into compliance through the police power of the government.  This in stark opposition to the early Church which was martyred for their faith in Christ versus their opposition to government policy or social ills, of which there were plenty that they could have protested.

Early in his “Reforming” days the young Martin Luther wrote a book entitled “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was a severe critique of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church of his era.  I think churches today have become captive to various political parties, social and economic theories, movements and ideas.  These are not necessarily Christian even though any churches have “baptized” them so to speak.  Capitalism for instance is has many benefits, however unbridled capitalism which is not moderated with true concern for the least, the lost and the lonely, is nothing more that economic social Darwinism.  It is the survival of the fittest with little concern or regard for real people.  People in the world of baptized unbridled capitalism are not people, but consumers and economic units.  In the United States we can see this in practical terms where historically US corporations which at one time employed millions of Americans and produced actual good that were in turn exported to the world have outsourced so many jobs and industries to other nations.

This was done in order to increase corporate profits by paying foreign workers almost nothing and not having to abide by US environmental laws or tax codes.  This may bring cheaper goods in the marketplace but it has endangered our economic and even strategic military security. Economic power is one of the key elements of national security.  In the military we call this the DIME:  Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic power and unless your economy can keep up you will fail.  Just ask the Soviet Union.  It is interesting to see many Christian leaders and churches talk of capitalism as if came down from heaven even using the Bible to try to bolster their argument.  This is just one of many areas where the church is not longer a prophetic voice, but a willing captive mouthpiece for political and economic institutions which at their heart could care less about the Christian faith and wouldn’t mind it going away.

On the left many churches have embraced social reform, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation as well as left leaning and even socialistic economic models and a demonstrated preference for the Democratic Party.  While none of these goals of themselves are anti-Christian the linkage to the causes often over the Gospel has hurt progressive Christianity.

On the right conservative churches beginning in the 1970s in reaction to the social revolutions of the 1960s moved lock, stock and barrel to the Republican Party. They were led by men such as Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, Pat Robertson who founded the Christian Coalition and Dr D. James Kennedy who founded the now defunct “Center for Reclaiming America for Christ.”  Ronald Reagan was the political spokesman and was an outspoken advocate of the role of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Conservative religious leaders solidified that relationship in the 1990s during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose sexual proclivities did nothing to help his cause with Christians despite him signing the Defense of Marriage Act.  The 1994 “Republican Revolution” and “Contract for America” helped solidify Christian conservatives as a central component of the Republican Party and by that point there was a clear alliance between Christian conservatives and the Republican Party.  It was also during this time that politically conservative talk radio became a force in American politics and many on the Christian Right gravitated to broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh and later Sean Hannity.  Conservative Christians now stand at the center of the Tea Party movement and are a force that no Republican politician can ignore if he or she wants to keep their job.

Despite what I have said I am not saying that people’s faith should not play an important part of their political viewpoint.  Churches and influential pastors have been an important part of American life and has contributed to many advances in our society including the civil rights movement, which could not have succeeded without the efforts of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and many other clergymen and women, from across the denominational and racial spectrum.

Other examples of where churches spoke to societal wrongs included slavery and child labor.  Now this was not a unified front as many churches especially regarding slavery and civil rights opposed these measures.  This included the major denominations that split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery prior to the Civil War.  The Southern Baptist Church is a product of this split.  Other churches such as the Methodists and Presbyterians eventually came back together, the Presbyterian Church USA doing so in 1982, 117 years after the Civil War…better late than never I guess.  This will not happen with the Southern and American Baptist Convention’s as they are now theologically poles apart.

There has been a trend over the last 20 years or so by many clergy and laity in both liberal and conservative churches to be uncritical in their relationships with political parties. In my view this has emasculated the witness of the church.  I have experienced this on both the left and the right. When I was a kid my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer was serving in Vietnam. New to the area we went to a church of the denomination that my parents had grown up in and in which I had been baptized.  This was a mainline Protestant church, the name I will not mention because it is irrelevant to the discussion.  The minister constantly preached against the war and the military probably assuming that he had no military families in the congregation.  At that church I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” when I told her that my dad was serving in Vietnam.  If it had not been for the Roman Catholic chaplain at the little Navy base in town who showed my family the love of God when that happened, caring for our Protestant family without trying to make us Catholic I would have probably never reconciled with the church.

I trace my vocation as a priest and chaplain to that man. Since I have spent more of my life in conservative churches in the days since I have seen a growing and ever more strident move to the political right in conservative churches.  I think this has less to do with the actual churches but the influence of conservative talk radio which has catered to conservatives, especially social conservative Christians.  Conservative Christians are a key part of this demographic and it is not unusual to hear ministers as well as lay people simply parroting what these broadcasters are saying. I often hear my fellow Christians on the right talk more vociferously about free markets capitalism, the war on terror and justifying the other conservative causes which are general less than central to the faith in public forums like Facebook.  Some of what is written is scary.  People who pray for the government to fail, pray for the President to be killed, call anyone who disagrees with them pretty horrible names or prays the “imprecatory Psalms” against their opponents.  I saw an active duty Army Chaplain call the President “that reject.” The words of a lot of these folks are much more like Sean Hannity than the Apostle Paul.  When I have challenged conservative Christian friends on what I think are inconsistencies I have in some cases been attacked and pretty nastily if I might add.

I see this in stark contrast to the witness of the early church.  Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan sums up how Christians responded to real, not imagined persecution for their Christian faith, not social-political cause.

“They stated that the sum of their guilt or error amounted to this, that they used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god, and that they took an oath not to involve themselves in villainy, but rather to commit no theft, no fraud, no adultery; not to break faith, nor to deny money placed with them in trust. Once these things were done, it was their custom to part and return later to eat a meal together, innocently, although they stopped this after my edict, in which I, following your mandate, forbade all secret societies.”

Pliny was perplexed because although he thought their religion to be “fanatical superstitions” he could find no other fault in their lives; they even obeyed his order to stop meeting together.  My view is that Christians some on the left but especially on the right lost any prophetic voice not only in society, in their respective political party alliances.  They have become special interest groups who compete with other special interest groups, which politicians of both parties treat as their loyal servants.  This is what I mean by captivity.  I think that the church has to be able to speak her mind and be a witness of the redemption and reconciliation message of the Gospel and hold politicians, political parties and other power structures accountable for their treatment of the least, the lost and the lonely; caring for those that to those who seek to maintain political and economic control, merely numbers.  The church has to maintain her independence or lose submit to slavery.  There are many examples we can look to in this just a couple of relatively modern examples being William Wilberforce and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We can find many others throughout Church history. These men were not apolitical, but they and their ministries were both prophetic and redemptive.  They maintained peaceful dialogue with their opponents and helped bring about justice.  Billy Graham never gave in to the temptation to endorse any political party.  Instead he had a voice and relationship with every US President during his active ministry, be they Republican or Democrat.

It is incumbent on Christians and other people of faith seek to embody this witness in our divided and dangerous world.  Christians especially cannot allow themselves to be ghettoized in any political party, or political faction where they are just another interest group even an important one. Nor can they allow their public witness to be absorbed and consumed by the promotion of political agendas or causes, even if those causes are worthy of support.  It is a matter of keeping priorities causes can never take precedence over the message of God’s love and reconciliation in Christ.  Unfortunately this is too often the case.

My view is that if you build relationships with people by loving them, caring for them and treating them with the same respect that you would want for yourself; even with those that you have major differences, then you will have a place at the table and your voice will be heard.  If we on the other hand cauterize ourselves from relationships and dialogue we will be relegated, and rightly so to the margins of the social and political process of our nation.  In effect we will ensure that people will stop listening to us not only on the social and political issues, but more importantly in our proclamation of the faith in the Kingdom of God which was proclaimed by Jesus which that comes to us from the Apostles.

Unfortunately I believe that Christians thinking that they are more influential than they are have marginalized themselves.  This is because many have compromised the faith by allowing extremists to be the public face of the Christian church in public debates on social, morale and political issues.  I hope someday we will rebuild our credibility as people who actually care about the life of our fellow citizens and our country and not just those who agree with us.  God have mercy on us all.

Peace, Steve+

 

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Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited

Picard being interrogated by Satie and her assistants (Paramount Pictures)

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again. Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Back in May of 2009 when still struggling with faith, belief and God as I wrestled with PTSD and a number of other life issues I wrote an article entitled Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 . At the time I was pretty much a mess but as I wrote it I realized that all of life is connected and my Christian faith does not occur in a void that has no connection with the rest of life. It is this rediscovery of the reality of faith that helps guide me now. I make no claims to be correct on everything and I am much more apt to err on the side of grace, although I have a lot of difficulty with those that use the Christian faith as a weapon to subjugate others and to deny civil and religious rights and human dignity to those that believe differently than they do.  This is why I write today.

I remember as a teenager going to a pretty conservative church which in many ways was basically an evangelical Christian subculture that looked out at the world as if it were the enemy and “non-Christians” as if they were lesser people because they were not “saved.”  In fact if you mentioned that you knew someone that was not a member of the church people almost invariably would ask if the person was “saved.”  This subcultural attitude which is actually quite prejudicial even if it is well intentioned pervades much of contemporary Evangelicalism and when some Evangelical leaders suggest dialogue and relationships with the “unsaved” which are respectful to non-Christians they are often labeled as “liberals” or “heretics.”

This has happened to me in the past couple of years since returning from Iraq and having to leave the Church that I served for 14 years as a Priest and Canon.  I wrote an article called Faith Journey’s: Why I am Still a Christian in September of 2010 which detailed the journey that I have been on. When I left the church I wrote another article that was picked up on another blog which was entitled The Church Maintained in Love: Maintaining Integrity and Preserving Relationships When Asked to Leave a Church.  A number of people made comments on that article either positive or handled with grace and love but one anonymous person posted a comment which showed the extreme ugliness of some “Christian” conservatives who are quite willing to use character assassination, sound bites and absolute lies to smear another Christian brother who happens to disagree with them.  The moderator of that blog took down the comment because it was so off base and offered his apologies to me having been a target of people in our former church when he left years ago. Though the post was anonymous it had to be someone that knew me because it was very personal couched in “religious piety” but filled with lies and distortions. So much for Christian love….

But back to the Star Trek theme which believe it or not weaves its way through this saga. It seems to me that a lot of Christians talk big but act like they are afraid of the big bad world and if criticized fall into the litany of how bad things are, how the world hates Christians and hunker down into a fortress mentality.  Others keep the fortress but decide that it is high time that they as Christians “kick some liberal ass” and declare “war” on those not like them.  Some couch this in more moderate terms but others like the bomb-throwing activist Randall Terry show the dark side of this mentality:

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.”  [Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, from The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Aug 15, 1993]

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” The continued twisted “Christian”  message of Randall Terry (Life Magazine)


The quote is nearly 18 years old but the attitude is quite common today as “Christians” gird themselves for war.  If you ask me the attitude is not Christian at all, but something out of the Middle Eastern mindset of the Old Testament which found its way into some parts of the Christian faith especially the Calvinism espoused by the Puritans who initially settled New England which is used as a pattern by Christian “Reconstructionists” and others of similar thinking. It seems to me to represent all that Jesus condemned many of his religious contemporaries for doing.  Jesus preached the Kingdom of God was at hand and for people to repent, however his harshest warnings and condemnations came not on the people that the religious considered the “unsaved” the Gentiles, prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners but at the smug religious people that ruled that ruled their countrymen with a religious law often more draconian than that of the oppressive Romans especially in the way that it treated others outside the fold.

The attitude is actually quite poisonous when you look at it in light of history and the effect that such an approach to life and others.  I can go to historic examples galore since we as Christians often have a sordid record when it comes to treating those that Christ gave his life for with any kind of love, charity or compassion often engaging in wars, pogroms, persecution, the Inquisition and state/church sanctioned mass murder even against fellow Christians that don’t agree with are particular line of thought.  But if I do that it strikes some as if I am trying to be unfair, so I will go to a Star Trek example which I used a while back in another post on a different subject but it fits.

The example comes from the Star Trek TNG episode called “The Drumhead” The episode involves a suspected case of sabotage and spying on the Enterprise and a retired Admiral is sent to investigate. Though evidence leads away from this conclusion the Admiral and her aid drive home the point and widen the investigation for any suspicious acts. Soon the loyalty of anyone that raises a voice to question the premise of the investigation is suspect to include the Captain, Jean Luc Picard.

The Admiral is a true believer in the Federation, actually a Zealot who describes a life that is quite similar to modern Zealots of religious and non-religious varieties in conservative and liberal thought in this and other countries. Zealots tend to surround themselves with others like them and often live lonely isolated existences in which they are on a mission to make sure that the edicts of their faith are obeyed and enforced by whatever religious or governmental structures will accommodate them.  Admiral Satie, the investigator details her life to Picard: “Captain, may I tell you how I spent the past four years? From planet to starbase to planet. I have no home. I live on starships and shuttlecraft. I haven’t seen a family member in years. I have no friends. But I have a purpose. My father taught me from the time I was a little girl still clutching a blanket, that the United Federation of Planets is the most remarkable institution ever conceived. And it is my cause to make sure that this… extraordinary union be preserved.” Simply substitute the “United States of America” or “Christianity” for the United Federation of Planets and the picture paints a picture of us today.

After a lengthy opening the Admiral throws this at Picard: “I question your actions, Captain; I question your choices, I question your loyalty!”

Picard dares to reply with a quote from the Admiral’s father, a noted jurist: “You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

The Admiral becomes furious and turns her wrath against Picard: “How dare you! You who consort with Romulans, invoke my father’s name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets. My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle. You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation. But you, Captain, corrupt it. You undermine our very way of life. I will expose you for what you are. I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard!”

One only has to look at other Zealots of the Reconstructionist theology to see where this is going: Gary North one of the long time leaders of this movement said: “So let us be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will be get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” –Gary North, “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right” in Christianity and Civilization: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, No. 1 (Spring, 1982), p. 25

Another important leader of the Christian right noted “We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.” — Gary Bauer, Family Research Council.

Unfortunately the leaders of this particular view of Christianity are not much different than the fictitious Admiral Satie and I do expect that their crusade will not be done anytime soon.  I know the character of such people having been their target.  Based on the words of my critic who totally twisted what I said and believe in this pejorative and frankly distorted screed:

From his writings on his blog, it’s quite clear that he is the one who’s taking a new direction away from Scripture and the ancient faith, which is the basis for his departure. Fr. Steve has changed his beliefs to now accept women priests, gay “saints”, Muslim “saints”, etc. I might call the acceptance of women priests “liberal”, but the other two are really just heresy – though I’m certain many (particularly Catholic and Orthodox) readers would lump women priests into the heresy category as well. Didn’t Jesus really die on the Cross to reconcile us to God teaching us that He is the only way to the Father? Yet Fr. Steve now believes that it was unnecessary for Jesus to atone for our sins as even Muslims can obtain Heaven without the Cross. And hasn’t God repeatedly taught us throughout Scripture that homosexual sex is condemned as an abomination. Yet Fr Steve now believes God didn’t really say that at all and that gay sex is okay with God….I will pray for Fr. Steve, that the Holy Spirit will reveal the Truth to him and bring him back to the true faith whether that’s with the CEC or another communion.”

The person that wrote this was anonymous and posed as an administrator on the other site using the name “admin.” What bothers me is the disingenuousness of the statement and the manner in which my beliefs were twisted to include implying that I had denied the “true faith” were bandied about by this person who as I said had to know me especially since my former church is a very small communion which has been shrinking for years due to its own internal problems. I have my suspicions of who the writer might be but cannot prove it beyond a doubt and the fact that he hid his identity is telling, only cowards that have no honor make such attacks from the shadows rather than speaking to a brother in person as the words of Scripture command.

The sad thing is that everything that I wrote is backed by the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council and I never denied the Creeds, Councils and my Scriptural hermeneutics (not the way they were twisted) were within the bounds of the Christian faith in belief that the love and grace of God triumph over sin and unbelief and that we cannot earn that grace.  But according to my critic I am an apostate who has left the faith and my words are twisted beyond belief to “prove” his point.  This is the kind of person that uses the Creeds and Scripture not as means to faith and expressions of a living faith based on the mercy grace and love of God but as means of ecclesiastical control, not much different from that of the Medieval Catholic Church which I am sure that he would condemn since he refuses to be reconciled to Rome. It is funny to be criticized as a heretic by someone who would qualify as such if judged he were by Rome or even Orthodoxy.

Randall Terry, Gary Bauer, my anonymous critic and others represent the nature of the Admiral Satie in our universe and time-space continuum as opposed to the hypothetical future of Star Trek.  Just watch their behavior in the coming months and years. The war is afoot and woe betides anyone that stands in their way.  At the end of the Drumhead episode when Satie’s and her investigation are discredited Captain Picard and his Security Chief Lieutenant Worf a Klingon, gives us final word of warning about the Satie’s of this world:

Lieutenant Worf: [referring to Admiral Satie] I think… after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.

I guess that is why God still speaks to me through Star Trek; sometimes the words are pretty prophetic and speak to us in ways that those who loudly proclaim themselves to be on God’s side in a social, political and cultural war ever will.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Time to Heal

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our

heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove

ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.

Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and

pure manners.  Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;

from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend

our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes

brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue

with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust

the authority of government, that there may be justice and

peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we

may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.

In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,

and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;

all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

From the Book of Common Prayer

 

The tragic events of Saturday January 8th 2011 have revealed the best and the worst aspects of our society. From the heroism of individuals and the kindness and prayers offered by many in this time of darkness to blame being spread about by those seeking to demonize their opponents once again.  The tragedy was scarcely hours old when partisans on the left and the right without any real evidence sought to blame the actions of Jared Lee Loughner on those Americans that have become their enemies.

In the midst of a real war against enemies that attacked us we have engaged in a political civil war that is only equaled in hatred, bitterness and rancor by that which consumed the nation in the years preceding the Civil War or in Germany’s Weimar Republic. Led by a new class of take no prisoners’ political pundits and talk show hosts politicians of both major parties have allowed the tenor of political debate in the land to descend to the crassest, hateful and even violent rhetoric imaginable.  Ordinary citizens now see those that disagree with their party or ideology as enemies and not fellow American citizens worthy of their respect and forbearance.  Both sides have had elements resort to physical violence and intimidation at polling places, local party headquarters and political rallies.

Preachers of many faiths and opposing ideologies have allowed their pulpits to become bastions of bombast and do all that they can to ensure that others know that God is on their side and not the other.  By doing this they make a mockery of faith before a watching world and all for the sake of a share in the spoils of hard wrought political victory.  The words of Jesus to “love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you” are lost on such preachers who are no better and perhaps worse than the pundits, talk show hosts and politicians that have done the same. Men and women of faith should know better. It seems they forget the passage of Isaiah quoted by Jesus “Here is my servant, whom I have chosen, my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not wrangle or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick until he brings justice to victory. And in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Quite simply while our military wages a war abroad and police agencies seek to prevent more attacks we have allowed ourselves to declare war on each other.  Without a shred of evidence from the accused as to why he committed this crime we have labeled the other side responsible for the attack of a madman based on hearsay while ignoring the few things that the accused had communicated. This isn’t public debate or political discourse it is civil war.

In fact the verbiage used by the political combatants is that of war. There is a culture war, a war against the family, a war against the elderly, a war against the poor, a war against immigrants, a war against workers, you name it the terminology is there, it is if we are waging a Jihad against each other. People talk of armed revolution, the shedding of blood or military coups and some actually pray prayers for the death of political leaders of whom they disapprove. The difference in 2011 than in 2007 is that the ideologues making these statements are from different parties; now the target of the anger is President Obama rather than President Bush.

What it all comes down to is that it really doesn’t matter if Jared Lee Loughner is a liberal or conservative. We have strong reason to believe that he is mentally ill. But even still his ideas that he espoused on his web posts didn’t occur in a vacuum.  Loughner’s may be mixed up and at times nonsensical but they still come from somewhere because as screwed up as some of his ideas are they occur in saner form on a daily basis.  In our hate filled political and social climate where adversaries don’t measure the impact of their words on the maladjusted or the mentally ill Loughner probably picked up a mixed bag of hatred and make it his own.

On Wednesday night President Obama gave what I thought was the best and most thoughtful speech of his Presidency. He made the speech about the people not him and he brought words of comfort to a hurting community. He mentioned the political climate in passing in these words referring to the hopes and dreams of the youngest victim Christina Green:

“If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle…. I want us to live up to her expectations.  I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.  All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”

The speech was in my view having always admired President Ronald Reagan was “Reaganesque.”  I have not shed a tear during a Presidential speech for a very long time, perhaps dating back to the Challenger speech.  I was touched by the President’s words and have included the link here.
http://www.nowpublic.com/world/barack-obama-tucson-speech-transcript-video-arizona-memorial-2747009.html#ixzz1AxvgVzXg

I think it is fitting that we also remember the closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address given not long before he was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln knew that the great divisions in the country that resulted in the Civil War would not go away with the defeat and dissolution of the Confederacy as they were too deep and in fact in some ways still with us today.  But with words seldom equaled by an American President he said.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

It is time that we choose to work to heal our divisions as Americans, as people of faith and people that believe we have been and still can be that shining city which has been a beacon to freedom loving people of all races, nationalities, creeds and colors. We are better than what has been represented by members of the media, pundits, politicians and yeas preachers.  I hope we can again learn to love and respect one another again even though we may not agree and may we lay down the language of hate and replace it with love.

In the words of this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us

through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole

human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which

infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;

unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and

confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in

your good time, all nations and races may serve you in

harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ

our Lord.  Amen.

 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Anne Rice and the Exodus

Anne Rice

There is an exodus occurring in American Christianity.  This is not new. George Barna has reported a lot about disturbing trends in American Christianity, particularly Evangelical Christianity.  These trends span denominational lines and having watched them and seen a lot of anecdotal evidence myself over the past 20 or so years I believe that they are now having a cascade effect with visible effects.  Before the effects were covered over as mega-churches, seeker-friendly churches, the so-called “church growth movement” carved out rather large chunks out of denominational churches of all types.  The common charge leveled against “traditional” denominational churches by the new non-denominational start-ups was that they were out of touch with people, hypocritical, immersed in promoting “boring” doctrine and not keeping up with the times in their worship style, preaching or service format.  The new churches more often than not minimized the major doctrines of Christian orthodoxy, for all practical purposes reduced the Bible to a pop-psychology manual that Christians were to use to get all they wanted from God, particularly health and wealth but also self-esteem and just plain old feeling good.  Those that taught anything that deviated back toward orthodoxy usually focus on things like eschatology or on moral issues, the “culture war” and align themselves closely with political movements and parties, sometimes becoming more focused on winning the political war  than actually proclaiming the Gospel.

As a result much of the Christian landscape is dominated by churches that understand little of the Christian faith, no longer see value in practicing things like Baptism or Holy Communion and while they preach about “Biblical absolutes” in regard to abortion, an admittedly abhorrent practice and homosexuality they seem to gloss over other many moral issues including divorce, sex outside of marriage, materialism, greed and avarice, so long as those practicing them are on “our side.” Likewise they are prone to give people who actually oppose the Christian faith a pass if they fall on the same side of the political aisle.  We are simple selective literalists.

As Barna’s studies have shown Evangelical Christians have worse rates of divorce, teenage sex outside of marriage and other moral problems than those that do not claim to be Christians.  Likewise the lifestyles of many of the leaders of the Evangelical movement are prone to gross material excess and every year we see some Evangelical leader or leaders involved in some kind of sexual, financial or sometimes criminal activity.  To me it seems that American Christianity is doctrinally impoverished, politically intolerant and morally bankrupt.

So Anne Rice announces that she is leaving Christianity but not Jesus and catalogued a list of things that she found that she could not live with inside the church.  Since she announced this she has been the talk of the town. To those cynical to organized religion, though why we call any religion in America organized is beyond me, this is a boon.  For those defending the faith it is also a boon as they have an identifiable “traitor to the faith” to go after rather than some amorphous concept or idea.  Real heretics are so much more fun to go after.  I have been amazed but not surprised at the number of articles condemning Rice.  Most even if they don’t say it in the article they basically articulate the same thing that many of the early Church Fathers stated in regard to heretics and schismatics that left the church for the various heresies of the day almost all of which denied the nature of Christ, either his deity or humanity.

Rice has not done that. She has not denied the deity or humanity of Christ, his message of salvation or anything. She has protested and repudiated the outward actions of Christians and the institutional Church.  Now whether one agrees with her assessment is another matter but she has not necessarily denied Christ.  Her story is not yet completed, she may reconcile again with the Catholic Church or another Church.  To condemn her at this point would be similar to condemn Francis of Assisi when he walked out of the church.

In fact to condemn Ms Rice at this point is to miss the point of her protest.  Her protest is that the Church does not live the Gospel.  Her critics almost universally attack her for her support of homosexuals.  However a large part of that support is because her son is homosexual and to condemn her as a mother to that has lost one child at the age of 6 and is widowed for protesting the treatment that her son and other homosexuals have received from Christians is unfair to her and to them regardless of what one believes about homosexuality.  It seems to me that homosexuality is about the only unpardonable sin to many American Christians and that is the biggest criticism that I see in what her critics have written. They may talk about her separating herself from the Church and thus Christ but it really seems more to be about why she did so.   We Christians will tolerate about every sort of perversion and unfaithful action of people in the church to include leaders so long as it is not homosexuality. Divorce, no problem; gluttony, not an issue; murder, as long as it is state sanctioned; materialistic greed as long as we can link it to our own and the church’s prosperity; discrimination against people based on gender, race or religion, no problem so long as it is the name of national security or in the interest of our political party or church organization.  The argument against her is a red herring to divert people from the real issue which is the dismal state of the church, in belief and practice in the United States.

You see the argument used against Ms. Rice that by separating herself from the Church that she has separated herself from Christ and is “in schism” itself is disingenuous.  Every church body in this country can be accused of being in schism from someone and that includes the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox who to this day believe the other to be in schism.  Likewise for Protestants, especially those in independent churches to call her into question is hypocritical, many of those churches were born in schism and have few discernible beliefs or practices that link them to historic Christianity except that they “believe in Jesus.”  Protestantism itself is a “protest” against the Church and its practices, the Catholic Church to be sure but nonetheless at its heart a protest that is little different from that of Ms. Rice.

You see that is the problem with American Christianity. We want to selectively apply scripture and the teachings of the early Church to other Christians that we don’t agree with and that is something that we all do to one degree or another and it does not matter if we are conservatives or liberals, Catholics or Protestants, seeker friendly or traditionalist. No matter who we are or what our theological stance we all somehow ensure that we exclude someone else or some group from the Kingdom of God and to make it more fun we can all find something in Scripture or tradition to buttress our position.  As much as we want it to be the issue is not belief or doctrine, but practice and just who we allow the grace of God to extend to.

I don’t think that it is right to single Ms. Rice out after all let’s be truthful if a person has left a church for any issue including doctrine they are in schism.  If a person has been part of a church split at the local or the denominational level where they have left their “mother church” they too are in schism.  If someone leaves their church for a season or forever they have done the same thing that Ms Rice has done and I don’t see anyone out there making this point or going after all of us that are in schism from someone.

Let’s face it there are in the United States alone anywhere from 25,000-40,000 distinct denominational groups depending on your source. David Barrett lists 34,000 separate faith groups in the world that consider themselves to be Christian (David B. Barrett, et al., “World Christian Encyclopedia : A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World,” Oxford University Press, (2001)) In fact, many consider themselves alone to be the only “true” Christian church. Now if you ask me that sounds like a whole lot of schism going on and just looking at the numbers there are a lot of people outside the walls of someone else’s church and therefore outside of the grace of God.

So with all of this in place I have to go back to some of my original statements of how we got to where we are and why Ms. Rice’s “defection” is symptomatic of a far bigger problem for American Christianity. We have over the past 40 years or so since the societal revolt of the 1960s been collectively as Christians been laying turds in our own punchbowl. We have renounced any semblance of coherent doctrine because “doctrine is boring.” Thus when we look at the most popular preachers in the country we see that one, T.D. Jakes holds a position on the Godhead (Jesus only modalism) which has been condemned by the church for like 1700 years or so. The there is Joel Osteen who seems like a nice guy but seems to have no recognizable Christian doctrine in his preaching, except that God loves us. I have no problem with that but that isn’t all that there is. Of course there is Rick Warren and before him Bill Hybels both of whom have taken the non-denominational identification to new heights.  I won’t even go into morality as I mentioned that in a recent post about the marital problems of another big time preacher, Benny Hinn who has promulgated more heresy than I can list.  On the Catholic side we have a church that despite official statements seems to still be protecting criminals and sexual predators and silencing those in the Church who raise their voices in protest to include the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schoenborn the driving force behind the current Catechism of the Catholic Church.

For better or worse the church in the United States has become the “Church of What’s Happening Now.”  We have tossed out the riches of 2000 years of faith, replaced them with religious mumbo jumbo that most closely aligns with our special interest and when people go from church to church or drop the faith completely we wonder why?

As a military Chaplain I have had a unique perspective on the state of Christianity in this country. My experience of how people classify themselves religiously nearly mirrors what is seen in the work of the Barna Research Group and the American Religious Identification Surveys of 2001 and 2008, by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. What I have seen in almost 20 years of being a chaplain is both a decline in those that identify themselves as Christians and those that while they identify themselves as Christians have no consistent practice or identification with any particular denomination or group. The numbers claiming “No Religious Preference” and “Christian No Denomination” seem to go up every year.  Likewise the numbers identifying themselves as Wiccan or any number of other more earth based or eastern religions is increasing.  Many of these young men and women were raised as Christians or had some kind of “Christian” experience before going off to what they are now.

Barna notes that “There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions.” (“Annual study reveals America is spiritually stagnant,” Barna Research Group, Ltd., at: http://www.barna.org/) and that “evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of the evangelical public in 1994….less than one out of five born again adults (18%) meet the evangelical criteria.” (“Annual Barna Group Survey Describes Changes in America’s Religious Beliefs and Practices,” The Barna Group, 2005-APR-11, at:http://www.barna.org/ )

The American Religious Identification Survey 2008 notes other troubling facts for American Christianity.  Among them:

The percentage of American adults that identify themselves with a specific religion dropped from 89.5% to 79.9%:

Americans who identify themselves as Christian dropped from 86.2 to 76.0 — a loss of 10.2 percentage points in 18 years — about 0.6 percentage points per year.

Americans identifying themselves as Protestant dropped from 60.0 to 50.9%.

Catholics declined from 26.2% to 25.1%

The Catholic population in the Northeast fell: From 1900 to 2008, it went from 50% in New England to 36%, and from 44% to 37% in New York state. Apparently to immigration, it rose during the same interval from 29% to 37% in California, and 23% to 32% in Texas.

Religious Jews declined from1.8% to 1.2%

The fastest growing religion (in terms of percentage) is Wicca. According to Religion Link “Specifically, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 2001 to 2008, from 134,000 to 342,000, and the same held true for neo-pagans, who went from 140,000 in 2001 to 340,000 in 2008.”

Finally 15.0% (14.1%) do not follow any organized religion. There are more Americans who say they are not affiliated with any organized religion than there are Episcopalians, Methodists, and Lutherans combined. (Cathy Grossman, “Charting the unchurched in America,” USA Today, 2002-MAR-7, at: http://www.usatoday.com/life/dcovthu.htm)

The ARIS survey noted the following about those that left or switched churches:

About 16% of adults have changed their identification.

For the largest group, the change was abandoning all religion.

Baptists picked up the largest number of any religion: 4.4 million. But they also lost 4.6 million.

Roman Catholics lost the greatest number, 9.5 million. However, they also picked up 4.3 million.

Those are just the numbers. To look within we have to look at behaviors and we find that American Christians on the whole are very similar to those with no religion whatsoever. Rates of divorce, teenage pregnancy and other social indicators often show that American Christians differ little from and sometimes are in worse shape than their non-Christian neighbors.

If we look at reasons for people leaving the faith Barna has the answer. To put it in Padre Steve terminology “we don’t treat people well.”  Barna notes: “Based on past studies of those who avoid Christian churches, one of the driving forces behind such behavior is the painful experiences endured within the local church context. In fact, one Barna study among unchurched adults shows that nearly four out of every ten non-churchgoing Americans (37%) said they avoid churches because of negative past experiences in churches or with church people.” (http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/362-millions-of-unchurched-adults-are-christians-hurt-by-churches-but-can-be-healed-of-the-pain)

Instead of condemning Anne Rice maybe we as Christians, Churches and Church leaders need to get over defending ourselves and get ourselves and our churches right with God, one another and our neighbors. Maybe Anne Rice is a prophet and we should thank her even if we don’t agree with all that she says. Maybe we should stop referring to her as a traitor to her faith.

Maybe Dietrich Bonhoeffer had it right when he wrote from prison:

Religious man] must therefore live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. He must live a “secular” life, and thereby share in God’s sufferings. He may live a “secular” life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man–not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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