Tag Archives: david wilkerson

Truth Deniers: The Fundamentalist Idolatry of Preachers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned yesterday things have been quite busy and unsettled around here so I won’t be writing a lot today. That being said, I want to mention a comment that a fundamentalist Christian come to my Facebook page and send me a direct message excoriating me for a very considered article that I wrote about the death of the Reverend David Wilkerson a number of years ago after he drove his car into an oncoming truck.

It was a difficult article to write. As someone who admired David Wilkerson yet did not idolize him I took the time to read his blog posts, and then obtain the State Police accident reports, accident photos, and autopsy results. My conclusion based on the evidence, and my experience doing accident investigation when I was in the Army was that Wilkerson had to have intentionally driven into the oncoming truck. The police reports, the photos, and his own words all pointed to it. Honesty, I would have preferred to have discovered that the car had a mechanical issue, or that he had a medical event that caused him to veer into the oncoming truck, but the evidence did not show that. Instead, it showed that on a clear day, on a strait road, that he drove directly into an oncoming tractor-trailer rig, ending his life and fatally injuring his terminally ill wife.

Over the years I have had quite a few Evangelical Christians come to this site as well as my Facebook page to attack me, condemn me to Hell, and do everything but to dispassionately examine the evidence and come to a conclusion. The problem is that I took down the idol that they made of a good man, a man who did many good things, but who also had feet of clay, who like his wife was suffering from serious medical issues, and who had recently suffered the betrayal of the people that he had helped to promote to senior leadership at Times Square Church, people who would have not reached their positions without his help and assistance.

The problem is that David was a fundamentalist, and he had written a small polemic book about suicide being an unforgivable sin. I have the book, I read it before I wrote the article. Personally I don’t think that God will condemn to Hell a suffering person who makes a tragic choice such as suicide. There were many things that I admired David for and others that I disagreed with him, suicide was one of them.

Yesterday I got a personal message from another of his idolators who blasted me every which way but loose. Instead of responding like I have done in the past I realized that no words of mine would change this person’s opinion, so I simply deleted it without comment. To me it is no longer worth debating people who refuse to even entertain  possibilities that are at odds with their beliefs about the men they turn into idols.

That is a problem for many Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians. I have seen too many deny and defends the real crimes of preachers who they have turned into idols. I saw it when I worked for a very well known Fundamentalist televangelist when I was in seminary in the late 1980s and early 1990s and throughout my ministry since then. It doesn’t matter what they do: defraud their followers, be caught in horrendous marital infidelity, abuse of children, and even murder, their followers will defend them to their dying day and then condemn anyone who dares point out inconvenient truths. Pardon me, but that is not Christian, it is idolatry.

To his credit, David Wilkerson did not defraud his flock, he did not cheat on his wife, he did not abuse children, or murder anyone. He appears to have been caught in the terrible throws of depression, hopelessness, and succumbed to the impulse to end his life. There are many people who have also contacted me over the years to share the good things about David and ministry, as well as how he touched their lives who also empathized with the suffering that led him to take his life. I think that demonstrates an appropriate response to the tragic death of someone who did many good things.

Anyway. That’s more than I intended to write and I had no idea how much something that happened almost seven years ago still inspires people to hate and condemn those who however reluctantly destroy their idolatrous image of good but flawed and suffering people. However, I continue to learn that as Lord Dumbledore said: “The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

It is, and some people cannot handle it.

Have a great Saturday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

6 Comments

Filed under faith, leadership, ministry, Pastoral Care, suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith

Padre Steve’s World Top 12 of 2011: A Big Thank you to my Readers

Well my friends it is time for my annual look at what were the most popular articles on Padre Steve’s World.

This year I went over 3 million views since the site began in February 2009 and over a million since the last new year.  People from over 200 countries and territories that pretty much act like countries have visited my little cyber space world.

I do find it interesting to see what people are reading on this site, what search terms they are using and what search engines they are using to get to the site. The folks at WordPress.com which hosts this site have a great statistic page for a baseball stat person like me is like a blog statistic version of Saber Metrics.  Now if they can only find a way to calculate my site states like the OBP and Slugging percentage…but I digress.

In 2009 I published my top 10 list and in 2010 I did my top 25 list so this year I am doing my top 12 of 2011. All of the articles on this list had over 4000 views each in the last 12 months.  Since I have now published almost 1000 articles on this site these are just a taste of what a reader can find here.

The number one article of the year is “Revisionist” History and the Rape of Nanking 1937 .  This was something that interested me for a long time and it is rather academic in its focus but has been at the top of my stats most of the year. The article is about those that seek to cover up or minimize the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army in city of Nanking in 1937.  I do expect the article to remain at or near the top of the list in 2012 with the release of The Flowers of War http://www.theflowersofwarthemovie.comstaring Christian Bale in 2012.

Number two on the list is Why Johnny Can’t Read Maps: NCAA Tournament Geography for Dummies and a Solution which I wrote back in 2010 during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  It is a humorous look at how the NCAA decides what cities represent the various regions of the country.  I for one do now see how anything in the Pacific Northwest is part of the Southeast Regional bracket.  No wonder people have no clue about the geographic regions of the United States.  At least they could do a GPS search.

Number three on the list is an oldie but goodie I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s. The article itself is a musical look at the history of of 1970s and 1980s. Since I grew up with this music it is really a part of who I am. Unfortunately many of the links to the music videos are no longer operative but the article is interesting and anyone with half a brain can find the songs on You Tube or any number of various sources.  Since then I have published a number of other articles on the music of this time period which are filed in the Padre Steve’s Music page.

Number four on this site is an article about the death of the noted evangelist David Wilkerson who I had and still have a great deal of respect for; The Unexplained and Tragic Death of David Wilkerson.  I wrote the article because of the circumstances of his death.  I suggested after looking at the evidence including his writings and the actual accident report and suggested that it was possible that his death was a case of “suicide by car.”  I did not expect the reaction that I received. Some people were quite offended that I suggested that Wilkerson suffered from depression and that the circumstances of the accident pointed to either suicide or negligent driving on his part.  In fact some of the comments were so abusive and irrational that I finally for the first time and only in the history of this site closed the comments section.  I just got tired of the abuse and tired of answering the same abusive comments time and time again.  The article and a couple of follow up articles do point out the pressure that many ministers are under and how depression and crisis’s of faith can afflict people of great faith who have helped many people and were not in any way disparaging of Reverend Wilkerson. However I found that even suggesting such is tantamount to smashing idols.  Oh well…it is a good article and I do stand by it.

Fifth place goes to an article that I wrote about the nearly psychotic accusations hurled by Iran at the United States for our Navy’s official name for what they call the Persian Gulf, the Northern Arabian Gulf, it is a somewhat humorous look at a rather serious subject.  Why don’t we just call it the Gulf of Whatever we want to call it? Padre Steve Says the Iranians Whine too Much

Number six on the hit parade is a rather academic military history article about the Battle of Stalingrad The Anniversary of Disaster: Stalingrad 67 Years Later that I wrote in January 2010.  I find that Stalingrad and other campaigns are instructive even today.

Seventh place belongs to a short article about D-Day entitled D-Day: Omaha Beach which is a nice starting point for those interested in the Normandy campaign.

Coming in at number eight is an article about one of my favorite subjects Baseball and civil rights Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King they Changed America.

The ninth most popular article on this site is a follow up to the number three article again involving the music of the 1970s and 1980s More about Why I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s .

Number ten is my 2009 top ten article Padre Steve’s World: Top 10 articles of 2009.

Another academic military history article Wacht am Rhein: The Battle of the Bulge came in at number eleven on the list.

Slipping in at number twelve is an article about military recruiting slogans Memorable Recruiting Slogans and the All Volunteer Force.

There are other articles not in the top 12 for this year but that still get a lot of views and are worth reading. A good number are on military or naval history one of the best of which is The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia while two other military theory article is Learning to Apply the Principles of Counterinsurgency Part One: Introduction to the Soviet-Afghan War and The Effects of Counter-Insurgency Operations on U.S. and French Forces in Vietnam and Algeria and Implications for Afghanistan.

Among the music articles I recommend Laughing to the Music: The Musical Genius of Mel Brooks and just for fun there is an article about a little church that gets pretty crazy, almost Iran Mullah crazy without the killing dissenters, Halloween Book Burning Update: Bring the Marshmallows Please!. One of my favorite faith and life articles Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009. There are also a lot of articles on baseball, faith, religion, history and politics on the site.

Anyway, if you are new to the site and haven’t dug around too much just yet those are good starting points.  Hopefully anyone that stops by will find something to interest them, thought provoking or funny, academic or asinine, historical or hysterical.  Feel free to browse comment and if you like the site subscribe or join me on Facebook or Twitter.

Blessings on you and thanks to all of my readers as well as Cheru Jackson at Alpha Inventions and the folks at Kadency who help publicize this site. I do recommend both, especially Alpha Inventions to bloggers that seek a wider audience for their writings.

Hopefully 2012 will be a good year for all of us and somehow despite all problems that beset our world that 2012 will be better than 2011.

Peace

Padre Steve+

5 Comments

Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

A Few Day after the Non-Rapture Thoughts

There will be some coming after me again

Well after a very good conference on trauma and spirituality I am back in North Carolina with a chance to collaborate with my staff to see how we can take what we learned and apply it at our hospital. Of course had Harold Camping had his way it would have been a wasted week, or maybe not because there would have been a lot of trauma going on for the vast majority of the world’s population who Camping did not see as being Rapture-worthy, including the bulk of the world’s Christian population.  But Camping muffed his prediction yet again and his website and radio have been silent on getting shut out by God after God pitched a perfect game no-hitter against Camping and his followers.  But Camping’s ministry has earned over 80 million dollars in the past few years so I guess if you are Camping you still have to count that as something.

I personally think that Camping was unpatriotic and insulted the military by getting everybody spun up about his end of the world claims when it was Armed Forces Day.  By the way if anyone hasn’t noticed we are still involved like in three wars and most of Washington is trying to figure out how to emasculate the military while sparing the big corporations the pain of any new taxes, despite the fact that those corporations make oodles of money off the military and love to have us bail out their overseas operations so long as it benefits their bottom line.  But as Napoleon Bonaparte said of such people “The hand that gives is among the hand that takes. Money has no fatherland, financiers are without patriotism and without decency, their sole object is gain.”  Usually the politicians wait until the war is over or operations are significantly reduced before carving up the military.  I guess that we live in different times.

I also found out that some of the late David Wilkerson’s followers still despise me for suggesting that his fatal “accident” may have been suicide because of the circumstances and the despair of life reflected in his last 3 months of blog posts.  Christians can be so nice to each other, but then my critics have called me everything but a Christian.  Such is life. I think I’m going to prod local reporters in Texas to see if they can find anything out regarding the accident investigation or file a Freedom of Information request to see what the results of the investigation showed.  For those that want to attack me I also suggested that it was possible that he could have had a sudden medical condition that caused him to lose control of his car or that he might have been distracted by something, regardless the suicide option has to be considered.   However those that have criticized me have practically turned Wilkerson and his rich ministry into an idol which practically turns him into a mythological figure incapable of being human.

Well as if to ensure that Camping was wrong the Chicago Cubs lost 2 of 3 to the Boston Red Sox in their first appearance at Fenway since the 1918 World Series.  They did win Saturday, I think simply to rub salt in Camping’s wounds but things really haven’t changed for the Cubbies.  I know it is still early in the season but what Harry Carey said will probably be true this year as well. “What does a mama bear on the pill have in common with the World Series?  No cubs.” Obviously the momma bear is not a practicing Roman Catholic but I digress.

Judy and I saw the movie Bridesmaids which I can highly recommend as a role on the floor and laugh your ass off kind of movie. It was good to be with her and our little dog Molly.

It was a inter-league weekend and although there are a lot of critics of inter-league play I find it fascinating and it gives me an opportunity to size up how potential World Series contenders look against one another.  I do agree with the critics that it gives some teams an unfair advantage in playing weaker non-divisional teams but it gives fans in small markets the chance to see some of the really heavy hitters from the opposing leagues in their own parks in person.

Saturday I spent the evening at Harbor Park and saw the Norfolk Tides defeat the Louisville Bats by a score of 8-6.  It was a relaxing evening and I spent much of it talking with Tides General Manager Dave Rosenfield.  Dave had me come up and sit with him on the concourse behind home plate and it was nice to catch up with him talking about life and baseball.  He actually played minor league ball in my home town of Stockton California. He has been in baseball over well over 50 years and is a treasure trove of baseball knowledge.  At the age of 80 he is still totally engaged in the game.  I hope that will be the same for me when I get to that age. I was also able to see some of my friends from the ballpark including my buddies Elliott and Chip the Ushers.

Oh well, time to wrap things up so I can throw my body into my waiting bed.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, christian life, faith, Military, national security, norfolk tides, philosophy, Political Commentary, purely humorous, Religion

To the Edge of Darkness: Notes on a Conference

I’m home for a conference on Spirituality and Trauma at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth this week. The primary speaker is Dr. Robert Grant, author of The Way of the Wound a Spirituality of Trauma and Transformation.  I had the pleasure of meeting him last year when I coordinated his visit and speaking engagement when I was stationed at Portsmouth.

One of the ideas that Robert is willing to address is going beyond the symptoms of PTSD and what are the underlying causes of trauma including the understanding of evil and malevolence and the understanding of moral injury that stems from trauma.  Last year when spoke I was really beginning to integrate my own moral and spiritual injuries that were part and parcel of my battle with PTSD and I found his presentation quite helpful.

Now 8 months after that I have come to understand more about what he talked about back then.  For me it is that what I experienced changed me and that I had to deal with things that I saw and that I know that make me radioactive to many people, especially fellow ministers and many Christians. I found that when I came back to faith and began to write about it that I was asked to leave my former church.  Evidently being an agnostic despairing of life was fine as long as I didn’t question non-creedal social issues and right wing politics.  I now ask questions that make many people uncomfortable and I have become much more sensitive to seeing things that many people want to pass over.  Recently this was the case when I suggested that legendary preacher David Wilkerson may have committed suicide by car.  But such is life when you have passed into the abyss and come back different than when you began the journey.  Thankfully I have come back.  Now I hope to be there and walk through the valley of the shadow of death with those who are walking where I have walked.

I also found that there is a good reason that I am still taking medications to help me sleep.  I inadvertently left my medications or “docile pills” as I call them in North Carolina and had to try to sleep last night without them. I was hyper-vigilant as hell and got almost no sleep.  Today I got up, forgot my hearing aids and left the front door open on my way to work.  I was absolutely exhausted and to stay awake I drank entirely too much coffee, Coke Zero and Diet Dr. Pepper.  I was tired and wired. Thankfully one of my psychiatrist friends prescribed me enough of what I take to get me through the week.  However, I was funny especially toward the end of the day when I got myself slapped by a friend when a question was asked about a book title.  The book was Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming and as people searched their brain housing groups for the title I leaned over to my friend Duke and said “isn’t that that book Oedipus in America.”   Duke paused for a second, realized that I was pulling his leg and slapped me, not that there is anything wrong with that.

While at the Medical Center I saw a good number of friends that I had worked with for two years. It was a genuine joy to see each of them again and to realize that the most important part of any assignment is the people that you have relationships with.  I am blessed. I have a couple more days in the symposium and look forward to what I will learn as well and seeing people that mean a great deal to me.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under faith, Pastoral Care, PTSD

Thoughts on the Well Deserved Death of Osama Bin Laden and some Christian’s Crocodile Tears for his Soul

Note: This is one of my Denny Crane moments indulge me

Osama Bin Laden got his just deserts yesterday at the hands of the Navy SEALS of Seal Team Six known simply as DEVGRU to those that have served in the SEAL and EOD community.  A head shot and a chest shot and Osama was off to meet his 72 Virginians via Davy Jones Locker.  Rumor has it that a pack of sharks trolling behind the USS Carl Vinson for lunch noted his enshrouded body sinking into the depths and passed on it leaving it to sink to the depths to be devoured by bottom feeding creatures.  When they were asked why they didn’t chow down on the murderous yahoo from Yemen one was quoted as saying “He gave our profession a bad name.”

All kidding aside I am glad he is gone and if I could have been in Washington DC, at Ground Zero or at the Phillies Mets game http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/Video-Phillies-fans-chant-8216-U-S-A-8217-?urn=mlb-wp5081  I would have partied all night long and I cannot imagine any American or for that matter any decent human being not celebrating this.  The good guys got a win for once and we should celebrate we deserve it. We haven’t had much to celebrate since September 11th 2001 and this is as good of occasion as any.

Now I know that I’m going to get some crap from some readers that this is not a Christian attitude and I will admit that they are probably right.  I know this to be a fact because I saw absolutely idiot comments from some of my Christian friends on a social ministry sight almost shedding crocodile tears about Bin Laden’s death saying that God doesn’t take any joy in the death of the unrighteous but if you are a good Old Testament type Calvinist, which by the way I am not by any means, you can interpret parts of the Old Testament as God having one big party as he has his people whack and shwack their enemies ethnically cleansing whole cities so they might have a place to live. Heck the Psalmist even rejoiced in bashing babies heads against big rocks.  Not a very pro-life sounding message there but it is the Old Testament and happens to be in vogue among some parts of Evangelicalism.  Thus to hear some of the same people who love to use these “imprecatory prayers” against fellow Americans on the opposite side of the political aisle cry these faux tears over the soul of Bin Laden it makes me sick.

The man was a brutal killer and thug who killed thousands of our own people and thousands of others, many which were his fellow Moslems.  Some of these folks such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and even the recently deceased David Wilkerson and others even told us back after 9-11 that it was “God’s judgment on this county.”  I remember the aftermath of the September 11th 2011 attacks and seeing the internet for the first time in days after being locked down aboard Camp LeJeune NC. I was aghast to see some of these men and others that this was God’s judgment on America.  Of course when many of their own congregations and donors objected most retreated from their positions with immense “mea culpa” moments.

Back in the 1960s it was the liberals that said we were the bad guys for Vietnam and punished those that served in that war.  Now days it is a bit different especially because we have a Democrat in the White House, a black one without a good American name like Bob we have conservative Christians acting like the liberals of the 1960s crying over the death Che Guevara and extolling the Chinese “Cultural Revolution.” For some reasons and I can’t imagine why there seems to be such a loathing of their own country by such people. Sure we are not perfect and we have messed up a lot. If you read this site I am not uncritical of various actions of different Presidents, Congress or any part of our government and some of our actions around the world.  We’re not a perfect nation but but we still are one of the best shows in town. But I’ll tell you what I love this country and continue to serve her and defend the rights of all Americans to hold views about the country that I personally distain. But that is why I love the Good Old USA because we don’t have to agree to be Americans; well at least that’s what I think.  But sometimes when I see comments like this crying for Bin Laden’s soul and condemning the country I wonder what the hell is going on. I see them criticize the very country that gives them the right to criticize their government with impunity, even using the “judgment of God card” as they wish.  In fact that is why the Pilgrims and other English Separatists came here so they could criticize the crown without being harassed and ensured that those that disagreed with them couldn’t do so safely without having to go establish the Rhode Island Colony like Roger Williams did.  But I digress….

When I see such comments mourning Bin Laden or assuming that God’s judgment is on America I feel my inner Colonel Nathan R. Jessup rising up especially when I see so few of them flocking to the colors and run to the recruiting stations saying “here I am send me Sir!” You see it is so easy to theologize and criticize but so much harder to put your life on the line. However if you secretly loathe the country it is easy to condemn those charged with protecting it from the Commander in Chief down, especially when you claim God as your authority.  I love this quote from the great film A Few Good Men coming from Colonel Jessup played most delightfully by Jack Nicholson and I think it suits my mood right about now:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.” 

Now our forces from the Commander in Chief down did their jobs and did them well in providing Bin Laden an exit from his internet less misery in Pakistan.  I for one celebrate this event. If this makes me somehow less spiritual or Christian so be it. I am an American and Osama Bin Laden was our enemy personified. So go ahead and weep for Bin Laden if you wish my fellow Christians. Pray for his soul but let the rest of us enjoy a moment of victory in this painful and long war in which so many Americans and others have died because of the actions of Osama Bin Laden and his minions.  Don’t piss on their memory by feeling bad that Bin Laden didn’t get a chance to meet Jesus in this world.

Yes I’m a bit snarky today but I haven’t forgotten September 11th and I am glad that so many Americans are overjoyed by this. For once we got one in the win column.  We’re entitled to celebrate because we get to go back on the field tomorrow and hopefully whack some more of Bin Laden’s slugs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

10 Comments

Filed under christian life, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, philosophy, purely humorous, US Navy

Clergy Burnout and Suicide: A Growing Problem

Father Mulcahy: What an ordeal. 72 hours straight. I’m prayed out – absolutely prayed out.
Hawkeye: Don’t forget, Father, God was on six days straight.
Father Mulcahy: He was a lot younger then
.

It doesn’t matter whether you feel useful or not when you’re moving from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving. Father Mulcahy, William Christopher M*A*S*H

Note: This is a modification and update to an article that I wrote last summer based on the death of the Reverend David Wilkerson and his writings of the past few months.

A while back I read an article in the New York Times ( the link is here:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/02/nyregion/02burnout.html?_r=1&hp&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1280746899-Fj4AG+SysGvlJ/xdTT+ZZg ) about the large number of civilian clergy experiencing burnout, discouragement, disillusionment to the point that they end up developing chronic physical illnesses, psychological or psychiatric conditions, experience marriage or family difficulties or are so beaten down that they leave the ministry entirely.   Many clergy now suffer from high rates of obesity, hypertension and depression more so than most Americans. In the last decade, the use of antidepressants by clergy has risen and their life expectancy has fallen. Job satisfaction is down and many clergy would leave the ministry if they felt that they could. The issue cuts across denominational and even religious lines and is not bound by the depth of faith or the fervency of the minister in his or her pursuit of “doing good ministry” in whatever venue they are in.  It also impacts those of all sides of the theological spectrum from fundamentalists and Pentecostals to progressives or in old time parlance “liberals” and everything in between. The pressure is incredible. I should know I have been in ministry over 20 years mostly as a Priest and Chaplain serving in the military and in hospital critical care environments.

Likewise there have been articles about ministers and pastors that commit suicide one of the more prominent about a North Carolina pastor who committed suicide in 2009 published in the USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2009-10-28-pastor_suicides_N.htm

Actually I am not surprised by the studies or the conclusions of the article or the situation described in the USA Today article.  This came to mind this week with the death of David Wilkerson which I suggest could have been suicide based on the struggle with faith and perceived failure shown in his recent blog posts, his and his family’s ordeal of cancer and the circumstances of the wreck in which he died. I suggested this as a possibility as well the other possibilities of inattentive driving or sudden medical impairment. https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2011/04/28/the-unexplained-and-tragic-death-of-david-wilkerson/ Of course I have been blasted by a number of people for even daring to suggest such a thing and I really hope that it was not suicide but if it was his death serves as a reminder of loneliness and even frailty of great pastors who go through long periods of darkness.  If his death was other than suicide we still have to look realistically at the incredible spiritual and emotional pain that he was in over the past few months. Of course I meant no offense to those that condemned me for suggesting this but the reactions drew me back to the unrealistic expectations that many people place on those that serve in ministry and I would hate to be their pastor.  The expectation is that we are somehow closer to God and don’t experience doubts, temptations or even depression and despair. The more popular and beloved the minster the taller the pedestal that people place them on in fashioning them as their idol.  Most don’t ask for this and resist it even though some embrace it and become spiritual train wrecks because of their narcissistic behavior.

When I was in seminary back in the late 1980s and early 1990s the school that I attended was filled with pastors either those in ministry or those recovering from nasty church splits, or being fired for often trivial reasons. These were by and large good men, I say men because the Southern Baptist Convention then and now has few women in parish ministry.  Many of the men that I knew were broken; they had come back to school as a way to see if there was some way to find a safe place of ministry.  In the last years of seminary and the year prior to entering my clinical pastoral education residency I worked for a nationwide ministry and was assigned the task of assisting clergy that came to us for help or counsel.  One of the interesting things to note was that during this time the average longevity of a Southern Baptist pastor in his church was a dismal 18 months. Later I had a friend in another Baptist denomination accept a call to a church that had been through 33 pastors in 30 years.  He thought that he would be the exception, less than 8 months later a time that he and his new wife were harassed, abused and hounded by the congregation he quit. He ended up in my denomination as he was moving in a more liturgical and sacramental way of life and is now in the process of becoming a married Roman Catholic priest.

When I left the active duty Army to go to seminary I was under the impression that most clergy were relatively satisfied with life but the men that I met in seminary and those that I dealt with later showed me that all was not well for many good men and women doing their best to serve Christ and the people of God committed to their charge.  I never will forget men saying to me that they struggled with depression, alcoholism, sexual addiction, were being divorced by their wives or considering either leaving the ministry or changing the type of ministry that they served or even their denominational home.  Nearly all reported the stress that they experienced in their ministry, the unmanageable tasks of trying to compete for numbers, and in many churches it is all about numbers, see Chuck Colson’s book “The Body” cater to the nearly insatiable “needs” of parishioners who demanded more time, and investment in programs to keep them in the church, pressures resulting from the financial costs of trying to manage building programs, special ministries and programs and an every growing desire for more excitement and “thrills” in the church program.  Add to this the unrealistic expectation of parishioners, local and denominational leaders and the constant upbraiding to be more like Reverend so and so on television or the guy that wrote the latest book on church growth, spiritual warfare or whatever as the list goes on ad infinitum. Add to this the intrusiveness brought about by cell phones, texting, the internet which place clergy in a place where they have no place to go when they need a rest because there is always one more need to satisfy many of  which cannot be satisfied. One minister of a well-known Mega-Church when confronted by Colson about not preaching on more controversial moral topics told Colson that “they pay me to get them in the door and keep them coming.”

The pastor of our age must become a teacher, preacher, counselor, evangelist, financer, program director, personnel manager, marketing executive and most of all be able to reinvent himself at a whim in order to remain relevant and in tune with the current “move of God.”  Those that don’t keep pace with whatever the latest “move of God” (read marketing ploy) is finds that they are out of a job faster than a Mob hit-man with bad aim. It is a recipe for disaster, not only for clergy and their families but for congregation when their pastors experience burn out, marital problems or divorce or those become compromised sex, alcohol or money problems and then suffer the consequences.  The congregations suffer because many parishioners lose faith in God, the church or ministers because the person that they had made their idol failed.

The pressures are immense and not just for married or single Protestant pastors but for Catholic Priests, Jewish Rabbis and even Moslem Imam’s all under some kind of unreasonable pressure.  It does not matter of it is trying to balance the competing theological factions present in their faith tradition from fundamentalists to progressives and everything in between, trying to meet unattainable goals set by congregational or denominational leaders or just to attempt to be all things to all people just to survive it is amazing that that any survive at all.  This is not the life of clergy even a generation ago, a generation that reported high job satisfaction, good health and congregations that would if possible strive to serve their pastor as much as he served them.

The world has changed and clergy are not doing well.  When a big name pastor, evangelist or leader of a church or denomination screws up perfectly the good men and women serving in ministry that don’t do those things are lumped in with those that commit various crimes or ethically challenged behavior.

In my chosen vocation within the vocation of being a priest and minister, that of a military Chaplain the pressures of service often exceed those that our civilian counterparts face. In a time where we have been at war almost 10 years with many chaplains making multiple deployments to the various combat zones the pressures are immense. The pressures on chaplains, their families as well as the men and women that they serve are unparalleled in civilian ministry, which as I describe above is no picnic, unless perchance you serve the fabulously well to do.

While I do not know statistics on Chaplains and burnout I can assure you that it is a concern of mine based on some of the men and women that I have met who have suffered spiritual crisis, depression, failed marriages, become embroiled in extramarital affairs or engaged in behaviors that were detrimental to their physical, spiritual and psychological health.  I have even known some that committed suicide.

In my service, the Navy we have battled shortages of Chaplains and the increasing demands necessitated by the war.  Likewise Chaplains in the Navy and Air Force face personnel cuts or elimination of billets due to cuts in their services personnel and more cuts are coming, at least to the billets that at one time offered chaplains the chance to recover from deployments and still serve God’s people. Most of the billet cuts are in shore commands, the places that at one time were the places that one could serve and recuperate after having done multiple operational tours.  As the force gets smaller and mission requirements increase these chaplains are deployed more often to combat zones and stress and family separation take their toll of chaplains.  Chaplains serving at bases and hospitals now serve large numbers of men and women traumatized by war and their families but have seen their own numbers shrink.  I work in a major medical center like all of the chaplains that serve in similar billets are caring for our wounded (in body, mind or spirit) warriors, their families those deploying or returning from deployment, are subject to deployment during our shore tours as Individual Augments to the operating forces all while dealing with life and death on a daily basis. In my last posting at a major Naval Medical Center it was not uncommon for me to come home from work at 5:30 PM after going to work at 6 AM the previous day, nearly 36 hours on duty in which time I was often involved in multiple crisis situations, baptizing dying babies, to people being removed from life support and care of patients their families and our staff in every imaginable setting. In my current assignment it is not uncommon to be called in as I was in the middle of the night on Wednesday to ministry to a dying patient and his family.  This is not uncommon for those of us that serve in health care ministry. What I described for me is typical of many Chaplains of all our military services serving in health care institutions.  It requires a tremendous sense of discipline to manage all of these competing demands and maintain ones physical, emotional and spiritual balance.

In fact when I came to my first Naval Medical Center assignment assignment I was suffering from PTSD from my tour in Iraq. I was in an emotional and spiritual nosedive and in trying to meet the demands of the job I did not take care of me and I fell apart physically, spiritually and emotionally.  It took a year and a half to begin to recover and I am now moving forward on all counts but I know others don’t recover. I was fortunate, my boss knew well enough to shield me and let me recover and get the help that I needed to do so. I did not come out of the experienced unscathed as my old denomination asked me to leave because I had become “too liberal.” Nonetheless it was not and is not easy to recover and I still have work that I need to do sleep is problematic and I am still in therapy and on medication and my longsuffering wife has to deal with this.  I was recently interviewed by our local paper in Jacksonville North Carolina about my struggles. http://www.jdnews.com/articles/cmdr-89433-stephen-military.html

Add to this the pressure to perform and get promoted to stay in the military chaplain ministry.  Chaplains like all officers have to get promoted to stay in the military.  The promotion rate from the Captain/Navy Lieutenant rank to Major / Lieutenant Commander has been consistently in the 50-60% range for those being looked at the first time.  This basically means that 40-50% will not be retained on active duty long enough to qualify for retirement unless they had prior active service before becoming a Chaplain. Even if they have this the stigma of not being selected is something that is incredibly hard on chaplains just as it is for other officers.  Non-selection is considered failure even for those that have great ministries and are awesome ministers. Sometimes failure to select has nothing to do with how well you care for God’s people but simply comes down to numbers. When a military service contracts as all of our Armed Services did following Vietnam, the Cold War and today as personnel numbers are cut the respective Chaplain Corps or Services take their share of the cuts and this often means that men and women worthy of promotion are not selected and are eventually let go.  I have been fortunate during the cutbacks following the Cold War I was selected for Major in the Army Reserve and though I reduced in rank in 1999 to enter the Navy was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and recently selected for Commander and I am very grateful for the opportunity of both increased responsibility as well as the chance to care for God’s people in the Navy and Marine Corps.  Not everyone gets that chance.

Being a minister is no easy way of life if you are seeking to love and serve God and God’s people. Burnout, discouragement and depression are not uncommon.  Health problems for many are increasing and at younger ages. Many no longer have safe places that they can go for counsel and care because doing so might hurt their ministry.  I have seen much of this, good men and women doing their best to serve God and God’s people broken, depressed and sometimes addicted to behaviors that ultimately are destructive to their lives, families, congregations and ministries.

It is my opinion that while those that take on military ministry sort of ask for this because we know going in that we may be deployed to combat zones or separated from family for extended periods of time when we sign up. However many on the civilian side have no idea of the pressures that they will face and the tasks that will become theirs when they begin to work at a parish.  It is a tough life and I am not surprised to see so many broken, discouraged and disillusioned ministers just trying to survive instead of thriving in the field that God called them to serve.  I am blessed. Despite the hard work, separations from my wife and family and even the PTSD that I came back from Iraq with I am doing well. I get to serve people in a community that I love and in which I was born into.  I get to do what I believed that I am called to do in a venue that I am very comfortable in serving.  No everyone is so lucky or blessed. As Lou Gehrig said “I am the luckiest man alive.”

Please pray for your ministers and support them. Give them grace to serve knowing that they will not always make the right decisions, preach the best sermons or compete with the minister with the “hot hand” and latest “word from God” down the street or on television.  Ministers are certainly not perfect, some of us are pretty earthy. Don’t impose the culture of corporate America into the local church.  The vast majority of clergy really do care about the people that they serve even when they make mistakes and screw up. Give them the grace that you wish that your boss would give to you.  Of course there are exceptions, men and women with few people skills, with their own agendas and even with their own dark-side which shows up in how they abuse God’s people. However these people are the exception.  Don’t let the foibles or crimes of such people lead you to turn you back on good men and women that make mistakes common with the rest of humanity.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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