Tag Archives: DOMA

Faith’s Journey: A Progressive Christian Navy Chaplain Looks at the Journey to Wholeness

400236_10151328400862059_541742014_n

June 27th 2013: After the events of this week including the Supreme Court decision declaring the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional I decided to re-publish an article that was one of the most important that I ever published. Not so much because of the what I think was so earth shattering regarding the content but because of what happened after its publication. At the point in time that I wrote it I was pushing the envelope with my former denomination, but figured that in light of all the controversies and schisms in that church at the time that whatever I wrote would not result in any problems. But I was wrong. I received a call the next day from my bishop telling me that I needed to find a new home because I was “too liberal.”

It was actually quite fascinating, I was able to gain a new church home which was much more progressive, welcoming and catholic, being of the Old Catholic tradition. For me that phone call was just a few months later deposed for attempting to create yet another schism in the church. I think it is even more interesting because some of my friends still in that church think that he used this article as a reason to get rid of me in order to keep me from exposing his scheme. I don’t know if that it the case or not, but my friends believe it to be a distinct possibility. That being said one of my long time priest friends revealed his plot to the other bishops and the bishop who forced me  was deposed. Irony is fascinating. Since that time my former church is regaining its footing and doing better and for my friends in it I am glad for even if I have differences in theology, faith or beliefs with people who I consider to be friends, they are still friends and I wish them well.  

So anyway, for those that are fairly new followers on this site here is the article that in a sense served as a declaration of independence and station on the road to wholeness and integrity. 

Peace, Padre Steve+

Faith Journeys: Why I am Still a Christian (Originally published 22 September 2010)

There are many times that I totally empathize with author Anne Rice in saying that she has left Christianity yet still has faith in Christ.  For Rice it was the lack of love shown by the institutional church for people that are marginalized and treated as if they were unredeemable by often well meaning Christians.

I know what it feels like to be marginalized after I came back from Iraq because many of my Christian friends seemed, at least in my view to be tied to the absolute hogwash that spews from talk radio hosts and allegedly “Christian” politicians.  I remember having some Christians question my patriotism and even my faith because I disagreed with them regarding certain aspects of the war, despite the fact that I had been on the ground in harm’s way serving with our advisors and Iraqis in Al Anbar province.  The fact that not a clergyman, civilian or military, took time to care for me when I was in a major PTSD meltdown and crisis of faith before I went to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth didn’t seem to matter because a political agenda was given primacy over the simple truths and hard demands of the Gospel.

Yesterday I wrote about Chaplains that experience a crisis of faith after coming home from a combat deployment.  For me there is nothing more symbolic of the lack of soul left in many Christians and Christian Churches in how they treat those that have served faithfully. Those Chaplains that have served  God, Church and Country and come back spiritually wondering what happened, not knowing what to believe and feeling abandoned by God and cast off by the Church and the military simply because we have a hard time with the so called “orthodoxy” of some Christians.

I went through a period after Iraq where feeling abandoned and isolated from those of a like faith that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic.  That was a really difficult time in my life and if you think that anything sucks try to be a Chaplain when you no longer know if God exists and the only person asking how you are doing with “the Big Guy” is your therapist. I can say without a doubt that it sucks like a Hoover and I know that I am not alone in my feelings.  I have met others whose experience is similar to mine but those that are struggling right now, caught between our faith and the feeling of being abandoned by God and his people because our experience of seeing the human suffering caused by war has shaken us.

Let’s talk about spiritual despair. Did you know that in the past couple of years that two Army Chaplains and one Navy Chaplain have committed suicide? These were men of faith who had served in peace and war at least one that had served at the Battle of Hue City as a Marine before becoming a Priest and Chaplain.  Another Army Chaplain that had served in Iraq as a minister of a conservative Charismatic and Evangelical Christian denomination became a Wiccan and was excoriated by Christians.  I don’t know his faith journey but I have to believe that part was his experience in Iraq and experience on his return. I don’t know about you but those are all signs of spiritual despair and feeling cut off from their faith community and even God, his or her self.

I am still a Christian. I believe in the God of Scripture, the Creeds and the Councils. At the same time that belief is not as rigid as it once was. I used to consider those that didn’t believe like I did in relation to Scripture, the Creeds and Councils not to be Christians.  I cannot say that now. I am much more to have the Grace and Mercy of God be my default position and let other things fall out where they may.  My practice of my faith has changed. When I came back from Iraq I attempted, as it were without success to keep my faith structure and practice the same as it was before I deployed to Iraq.  Within six months of Iraq I could no longer pray the Daily Office with any kind of faithfulness and by Lent 2009 give up the practice for Lent hoping to recover some authenticity to my faith. The authenticity has returned and after about a hear and a half I am seeking a way to reincorporate what had been a very important part of my daily practice of faith into my life without feeling like I am a phony in doing so.

I went through a period of absolute spiritual despair even leaving a Christmas Eve Mass in 2008 to walk home in the dark, alone, looking at the sky and asking God if he even existed.  A year later after my life had completely fallen apart I experienced what I call my “Christmas miracle” where I was called to our Emergency Room to provide the “last rites” to a retired Navy doctor and active Episcopalian when I was the duty Chaplain.  As I prayed the last prayer of commendation and removed my oil covered fingers from the man’s forehead he breathed his last. His wife told me that he was waiting to be anointed before he died.  The young doctor, a Psychology Resident doing his ER rotation who called me to the ER would die a couple of months later of natural causes in his living room not long after we had taken the “fat boy” program PT test together.

From that moment the paradigm shifted.  Faith began to return and I began to experience the presence of God again, not is the same was as before Iraq but one that was more relational, grace filled and informal.  I will likely begin praying the Daily Office again in the near future but I will approach it from a different point of view.  I will no longer use it simply to fulfill my priestly vows and obligations but rather as a way to re-experience and if need be re-imagine God.  Now before the heresy hunters think that I am re-imagining God is some unbiblical manner they are wrong. I want to re-imagine God as he has been revealed to his people both in Scripture, Tradition and in the life of his, or her people today.

moralssquad

How have I changed? I believe again. I am no longer an agnostic hoping and praying that God just might be there. My faith has become much more deeply rooted and grounded in the “Crucified God” and my faith in the “theology of the Cross.”  It is no longer connected to my politics and I refute any political ideology that attempts to use the Christian faith and the faith of well meaning Christians for purposes that Jesus himself would have condemned.  I don’t think Jesus was a big fan of his followers attempting to be the favorites of any political party or ideological system. In fact if I recall he really had pretty harsh words for his fellow Jews who were all wrapped around the axels with that kind of stuff. Jesus seems to befriend and hang around with those that are not connected to the religious, political or economic elites. In fact he seemed to reserve his harshest words for such people.  Jesus seemed to have a pretty good relationship with those marginalized and rejected by the religious folks of his day. He welcome sinners and tax collectors to his table and praised the faith of gentile Roman officers and stopped the super-religious folks from stoning an adulterous woman.

This is the Jesus that I follow and the Jesus that I believe is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Now if saying this makes me a heretic then a heretic I will be. It is better to be a heretic in the eyes of Pharisees than to be one that denies justice to the persecuted people of God.  I guess that makes this moderate a liberal and to some an unbeliever.  Yet I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I believe in the Jesus that defied religious systems to offer the grace of God to the people that those systems rejected and the Jesus that was far more critical of “believers’ than those rejected as unbelievers.  I guess that is why I can accept women as ministers or even Priests, accept homosexuals as Christian brothers and sisters, and see Christ and the grace and love of God in people that are not “Christians” even the Muslims in Iraq that treated me with respect and even if they had an “Aryan” view of Jesus still showed a greater reverence for Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many that claim Jesus for themselves.

Why? You ask. Very simply I once was lost but now am found.  I thought that I knew it all before, now I know that I don’t know it all and that God is the God of surprises, just look in Scripture.  I doubt at times. I know that there are many answers that elude me and I cannot answer just by citing or using Scripture out of its historic, cultural and linguistic context.  I believe in the God that did not reject me when I didn’t know if he even existed.

Why am I still a Christian when I have so many problems with how many Christians practice the faith? Because I believe and not because will not I tow anyone’s party line be they liberals or conservatives. I believe in spite of my unbelief in a fellowship of those who as a result of war and trauma have trouble believing those that won’t race the cold realities of this life. I believe because many times it was those marginalized by others, especially those marginalized by the “faithful” showed me the love of God when the “faithful” for pure or impure motives, or even because they didn’t know what to do allowed me to sink into despair and isolation. So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I say “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

DOMA Struck Down: The Day After our 30th Wedding Anniversary

1013538_671668626182004_634812401_n

Our 30th Wedding Anniversary Celebration 

Last night Judy and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary with close to 40 friends at Gordon Biersch. What we love about our friends is that they span the spectrum of what is the United States. They include people from all races, religions and political views and even sexual preference, and when together they get along. It really is a wonderful thing to see. And we enjoyed our time with them last night and thank the management of of Virginia Beach Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant for helping make it such a wonderful time.

24419_10151620210532059_1908706513_n

Our First Wedding Anniversary Neubrucke Germany 1984

This brings me to today’s Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. It was a historic day, celebrated by many and vilified by some conservative Christians who have opposed equal rights for gays for as long as as possible. I am happy for my Gay and Lesbian friends and cheer this decision.

Of course most of the opponents reasons for opposing this are religious and the way that they interpret both scripture and history. I have no argument with them believing that. I am a Christian as well but do not hold the beliefs of the more conservative part of Christianity regarding gays, especially in regard to their rights under the civil laws of the country. I figure that the members of any religion have the right to define what they believe and even the behaviors of people who are willing members of their faith and that the government has no right to judge or legislate what they believe in regard to how they run their churches or places of worship. Thus if the Roman Catholics refuse to ordain women or with few exception married men, or if Evangelical pastors refuse to marry gays or a certain denomination refuses to acknowledge the validity of another religious group within the confines of their faith they have every right to do so. Such is the protection built into the Constitution. I may not agree with those views but I will oppose any government efforts to silence them.

Barry Goldwater said: “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

That being said in our country they do not have the right to impose their beliefs on others that do not share them. That is the side of the constitutional coin. The United States is not the Holy Roman Empire or the nations that descended from it, nor is it Calvin’s Geneva or Elizabethan England where the religion of the sovereign, or in the case of Geneva the council members who shared the faith of John Calvin. In those cases the religion of the sovereign was used to legislate against and punish dissenters, often using prison or the death penalty. Thus I will resist all attempts by religious groups to impose their beliefs through civil law on the society as a whole.

Chris Kluwe, the outspoken and very thoughtful punter of the Oakland Raiders put it well yesterday: “We preach tolerance and legislate hate. We love our neighbor, unless our neighbor happens to be “different.” We elect politicians, year in and year out, on a platform of oppression and prejudice that merely changes its name to fit in with the times.” 

That was a big consideration to the men that drafted our Constitution but one that the descendants of the religions denominations most likely to be discriminated against by State Churches and punished for their beliefs seem to have forgotten. I have written about this a number of times and who can read them at the links below:

The Toxic Faith of “Americananity” and its Antidote  

Bishop Jenky’s Obama and Hitler, Stalin, Bismarck and Clemenceau Comparison: Bad History, Bad Theology and Bad Politics  

The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights  

Religious Freedom and Religious Hypocrisy the New Improved 2012 Model  

The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It  

Surrendering Religious Liberty to the State for Money: The Example of Florida I n 2011  

Religious Freedom…Do We Really Want or Believe in It?  

Glenn Beck Attacks the Churches and Threatens Religious Liberty  

A Christian Defense of the Rights of Moslems and Others in a Democracy (or Constitutional Republic)  

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

Gordon Klingenschmitt and his Followers- The Klingenfraud and the Klingenban  

Bringing Faith to the Faithless and Doubt to the Faithful  

Things Haven’t Changed That Much: Jackie Robinson Goes to the 1964 GOP Convention and the Freedom Summer  

The Great Evangelical Disaster: Selling the Birthright….and not Even a Bowl of Soup to Show for It  

Start by Prosecuting Me: A Challenge to the Drumhead Justice of World Net Daily’s Erik Rush and Joseph Farrah  

Be Careful of What you Vote Against: A Warning from History  

The Pejorative use of the term Cult by people that should know Better: Reverend Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney  

Will we Stand? The Moral Responsibility of Christians in our Time

The Radical Influence of the Christian Dominionism on American Politics: It’s All Jimmy carter’s Fault….Not Really but it is a Catchy Headline  

The Clear and Present Danger of Unrepentant Ideologues  

Taking the Wrong Train  

Darkness into Light: Turning Systematized Hatred in the Name of God into Reconciliation  

The Unchristian Christianity of Modern America  

The Road to Totalitarianism is paved with Good Intentions  

How to Make an Incredibly Difficult War Unwinnable: The Crass Hatred of “Pastor” Terry Jones for Moslems Endangers Americans  

The Fruit of Glenn Beck’s Spirit   

Revisiting the Political Captivity of the Church 

Since I have written about the subject of religious rights and civil rights so many times I will not go into details here, if you want you can peruse any or all of the above articles to get where I am coming from. But I do want to quote two famous Baptists from our history. George Truett who was a professor at Southwestern Baptist Seminary long before I attended there wrote about the danger of the Church alliance with the sate advocated by so many leaders of the religious right, who even now are threatening to urge their people to disobey any Supreme Court ruling regarding marriage equity that they do not approve:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.” 

The second is John Leland, leader of the Virginia Baptists in the fight for the separation of church and state. Persecuted by Anglicans the Baptists persuaded James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to ensure that the guarantee of religious liberty was enshrined in the Bill of Rights wrote:

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

Marriage-Equality-104371316011_xlarge

As far as today’s ruling I am very glad for my friends in the Gay community to have their marriages recognized by the Federal government. It is a long time coming. I think the watershed moment for me in this debate came in late 1993 when I was in my Clinical Pastoral Education residency program and I had to deal with those dying from complications from AIDS.

I remember two incidents. One was a young successful architect who was in our ICU having taken a dramatic turn for the worse. His partner and friends were barred from the room by his family who prior to this had condemned him and ostracized him. They had their pastor with them who though the man was unconscious, heavily sedated and dying was preaching to him to repent. The man’s own pastor from another denomination was excluded by the family and eventually left. This left me with the man’s partner and close friends in a waiting area away from the man that they loved. It was heartbreaking and I wondered what it would be like if Judy was forbidden from being at my side as I died because someone disapproved of her or our marriage. But what happened to the young man and his friends was legal because the family had the final say and the partner had no rights.

The second was a young man from West Texas who was dying on our general medical ward. His partner and parents were both there. The parents, dad in a plaid shirt and cowboy hat and boots, a rancher and his wife stood with the partner. All were crying, the family shared their faith with me, Southern Baptists who believed in the grace and love of God. As their son passed away and the partner asked, “what will I do now?” they embraced him and said “you are part of our family now and you can live with us.” It was a moment of grace and God’s love that was so absent in the other situation.

Over the years I have know, been friends with and worked with many gays and lesbians. I have felt terrible that for the most part they had to hide their love for one another either in the military or in their churches. I have had friends ostracized by their faith community or turned out of the military for admitting their sexual orientation.

Today is a good day for them and our country. Yes I know that some will not agree with me for mainly religious reasons and that is okay because they have that right. That being said I rejoice for all the men and women that I know who are gay or lesbian who will finally have the chance to openly enjoy what Judy and I have known and celebrated the past 30 years of marriage.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, History, laws and legislation, marriage and relationships, Religion