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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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The Absence of Empathy Among Conservative Christians

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“Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.” Captain Gustave Gilbert at Nuremberg

Since coming back from Munich on Friday night I have been catching up on the news and I was nearly overwhelmed with the amount of vitriol, hatred and intolerance coming out of the Values Voters Summit. The summit is an annual gathering of right wing political hacks who specialize promoting fear in the hearts of conservative Christians by fostering a nearly pathological culture of victimhood and persecution, in which they are the victims because others are being granted the same rights and privileges that they have enjoyed since this country was founded. Prominent among all of the speakers was a lack of empathy for anyone who did not hold their views, and those views are reflected in the latest Pew Survey on Religion in America where only 55% of consistent conservatives believe empathy is a value to be taught to their children.

 

Being that I am a historian as well as a theologian know all too well. The consequences for the church when such leaders promote such intolerance under the veil of being the victims reminds me of what occurred in Weimar Germany less than a century ago. At that time, conservative German Christians, feeling their privileged status that they had enjoyed under the reign of the Kaiser and other local monarchs being threatened took refuge in various right-wing political parties and organizations, many of which entered alliances with Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party.

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The leaders of those groups preached how they were being persecuted by the now secular government which had many Socialists in it. Feeling threatened by the rights now afforded to others, including socialists and communists, but in particular those provided to Jews they used a similar strategy to smear anyone that did not hold their perverted views of church and state. They felt that they were the victims; the victims of a “stab in the back,” which caused Germany’s defeat and the collapse of the Empire.

 

War hero and pastor Martin Niemöller was representative of those that took the bait. After the war Niemöller who after Hitler came to power and he realized what was happening spoke out and was sent to the concentration camp noted:

 

War hero and pastor Martin Niemöller was representative of those that took the bait. After the war Niemöller who after Hitler came to power and he realized what was happening spoke out and was sent to the concentration camp noted:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, 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.”

Realizing the danger of how Christians were giving their support to such parties and the implicit demands of some for a theocracy Bonhoeffer in the Bethel Confession wrote:

“every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”

But this is the same nonsense being promoted by Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Matt Staver, Tony Perkins, Laura Ingraham, Bryan Fischer, Ted Cruz and a host of others. Sadly, this vision of theocracy is very much in vogue in many churches and among conservative Christians in general no-matter what their denomination. Thomas Jefferson would be appalled by this. He wrote of the effects of clergy in political power:

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.”

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Much of the thought behind the movement is from Gary North who posits a version of Christianity much like that of Calvin’s Geneva, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony know as Christian Dominionism or Reconstructionism. All of these leaders proclaim their desire to protect religious liberty, but for them religious liberty is a one way street, it only applies to them and the state should ensure that it does not apply to others. North wrote:

“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 get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

North also wrote:

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

The scary thing for me is just how similar North’s words as well as those of others to the Nazi Aryan Laws against the Jews. Please know that I am not claiming these people are Nazis by any means. That being said, I think that their ignorance of history, the Constitution, American jurisprudence which is charged by fear-mongering and vitriolic hatred of those not like them opens the door to much evil. Note how similar North’s comments parallel the Aryan Paragraph:

“A citizen of the Reich is that subject only who is of German or kindred blood and who, through his conduct, shows that he is both desirous and fit to serve the German people and Reich faithfully.” and that “A Jew cannot be a citizen of the Reich. He has no right to vote in political affairs and he cannot occupy public office.”

While much of their vitriol is directed against Moslems, who because of acts committed by Islamic terrorist extremists are all targets of allegedly “Christian rage” like that of Timothy Rollins of The American Partisan who wrote:

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….” 

Westminster Seminary graduate Doug Giles who writes for the Townhall.com website who wrote on one of his commentaries:

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Or who can forget that lovable darling of the Christian Right Sarah Palin who told the NRA convention that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

For me to read and listen to people who claim to be Christians show such little regard for other human beings is frightening. Personally, I am frightened because I know the history of Christians when they not only hold control of their churches but the government. The persecution, torture and murder of heretics and unbelievers, the place of privilege given to the elect and the second rate status of non-Christians in their countries; not to mention the wars of extermination blessed as “holy” by the Church, such as the 30 Years War, the Crusades not to mention the numerous other wars blessed by the church. St Bernard of Clairvaux who told those going off to fight the First Crusade:

“The knight of Christ, I say, may strike with confidence and succumb more confidently. When he strikes, he does service to Christ, and to himself when he succumbs. Nor does he bear the sword in vain. He is God’s minister in the punishment of evil doers and the praise of well doers. Surely, if he kills an evil doer, he is not a man-killer, but, if I may put it, an evil-killer. Clearly he is reckoned the avenger of Christ against evildoers, and the defender of Christians.”

But it is not just Moslems that feel the wrath of the Christian Holy Warriors, but Atheists, agnostics, the LGBT community, other non-Christian religions including the Jews, though most deny the latter due to their beliefs about the role of Israel in the end times. Christians can behave as badly as the those committed to the Islamic State or ISIL. Our history has nothing to commend us, for when we as Christians “hold the franchise” to quote Gary North, we are more than capable of committing some of the most heinous acts imaginable.

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Thomas Jefferson wrote:

“Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

Philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote something that we should very much keep in mid when we read or hear about the antics of those speaking at the Values Voters Summit and others like them:

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

Sadly, most if not all of the leaders of this movement of theocratic, liberty denying Christians are so immersed in themselves and narcissistic that they cannot comprehend this. Perpetually the victim they misapply scripture to justify their perceived victimhood. Such should not be the case, and Bonhoeffer reminds us of the mark of true Christian faith in a sermon where he said:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Captain Gustave Gilbert who served as the Army Psychologist for the defendants ant the Nuremberg major War Crimes trials wrote of his experience with them in words that at least to me could apply to these supposedly Christian leaders:

“In my work with the defendants (at the Nuremberg Trails 1945-1949) I was searching for the nature of evil and I now think I have come close to defining it. A lack of empathy. It’s the one characteristic that connects all the defendants, a genuine incapacity to feel with their fellow men. Evil, I think, is the absence of empathy.”

Sadly we have come to the point where many people who profess to be Christians have no empathy, or for that matter any real love for those different than them. History shows this time and time again. Christians who have political power and the “right to the franchise” have behaved little differently than the terrorist thugs of ISIL and I can say with certitude based on the words and legislative efforts of the people who dominated the Values Voters Summit, that they too would behave no differently. As I walked on the Odeonsplatz and went to the Feldherrnhalle in Munich where Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch came to an end I could not help but think of what might have happened had Christians during the Weimar Republic not gravitated and become politically captive to the right wing of German politics and for many the Nazi Party.

The right of religious liberty for all is far to important to be left to those that would claim it for themselves and deny it to others. As Jefferson wrote the Virginia Baptists in 1808:

“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.”

With that I wish you a good night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Don’t go Akin my Heart: Todd Akin Earns the Ire of Mitt

Irony Personified

When one can’t think of anything else to do a political candidate should be like the Governor in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas played by Charles Durning. One should dance around subjects and not say really stupid things, especially about things as sensitive topic as rape, which according to law and morality is a violent crime.  However there is no law against political stupidity. Good politicians know how to “Dance a little side step.” Stupid ones don’t know when to shut up.

Dance a Little Sidestep 

Todd Akin, until this morning a Tea Party favorite U.S. Congressman running for Senate in Missouri is obviously the kind of man who doesn’t know when to shut up or when not to try to play medical expert. While defending his anti-abortion position which gives no exemptions for rape he made one of the most bone-headed comments I have ever heard from a politician since Republican Texas candidate for Governor Clayton Williams did in 1990. Williams said that since rape is inevitable like bad weather that rape victims should “just relax and enjoy it.” Williams’ little off the cuff gaffe cost him the election as he was leading Democrat candidate Ann Richards with just a few weeks prior to the election by a hefty margin. I was a Republican in Texas at that time and was so disgusted that I couldn’t vote for the man.

Yesterday while being interviewed by a local news station Akin said: “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

I wasn’t watching much news yesterday and had been taking most of the day away from the computer spending time with Judy on her visit to the Island Hermitage. So when I head about late in the evening when making a quick check of headlines I was rather dumbfounded. I really thought that I had to be misreading it so I went to bed after finishing an episode of Boston Legal season four on my DVD. Then listening to The Morning Joe on my Sirius radio on the way to work I was really taken aback. I couldn’t believe that he actually said what he said.

I have dealt with a lot of rape victims in my time as a military chaplain as well as a civilian hospital chaplain. To quote the President who said the same thing that that  thought when I heard the comment: “Rape is rape.” So what is the difference between “legitimate rape” and “rape?” Is there such a thing as “illegitimate rape?”

Akin’s comments have drawn the fire of many of his backers including Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan who co-sponsored legislation basically saying the same thing as did Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Romney called the comments “insulting, inexcusable and frankly wrong.” Karl Rove’s Super-PAC Crossroads GPS which had spent $5 million in Missouri, withdrew it’s funding from the state. Radio talk-show host Sean Hannity and pundit Ann Coulter have all called on Akin to withdraw from the race, Coulter saying “for the good of the country.” He has been asked not to attend next week’s GOP convention in Tampa and the National Chairman of the GOP pretty much told him to withdraw from the race. Even major anti-abortion groups condemned the remarks. The Rev. Patrick Mahoney, a long term anti-abortion activist and head of the Christian Defense Coalition called the remarks “offensive, repugnant and troubling.” But Akin, at least as of tonight is rebuffing their calls and claiming that he is staying in the race. Republicans are running from Akin like vampires from the sun despite having for the past number of years endorsed similar ideas.

I find the whole thing politically inept. I am not going into the politics of abortion on either side of the line. I am just commenting on the political ineptness of a candidate that has dropped a bomb on his party and his soon-to-be Presidential nominee the week before the nominating convention. It is not like that Romney himself has been great on the campaign trail routinely blowing himself up with unbelievable gaffes. It is also true that Romney is not liked by much of his own party, the only thing that many of his supporters find endearing is he is not Obama, who in the words of Hank Williams Jr. “they hate.”

Akin’s comments yesterday and actions today have taken the wind out of Mitt Romney’s campaign.   Romney now has to take his message off of the economy and defend a view that while popular among the conservative-Christian base is at odds with the majority of the electorate, even among those that support some restrictions on abortion. I fall into that category. In a close election which will be decided by a narrow minority of swing voters, especially women this could doom Romney’s campaign despite many people’s unhappiness with the Obama presidency and the continuing problems of the economy.

Regardless of what one thinks about abortion the political fact is that Akin has blown himself away and hurt his party’s nominee who has named an ideological clone of Akin as his running mate. It was a politically inept and stupid move by Akin. If the Republicans are smart they find a way to get him out of the race before he can cause more damage to their national campaign. Democrats of course are praying that Akin digs in and gives them a wedge issue that could give President Obama a slight edge and lessen support for Romney. Even Mahoney, who certainly has “street cred” among pro-life activists commented that if Akin stayed in the race “these comments will follow the Congressman throughout the entire campaign.”

He also may have driven a wedge into his own party as his supporters at the Family Research Council and American Family Association are digging in to support Akin, even making veiled threats at the campaigns of Akin’s Republican detractors such as Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.

Akin is breakin’ their hearts. We’ll see how long this goes. I think he will be gone from the race by Tuesday night but I do believe that the damage is done. He has given the Obama campaign and the re-election campaign of Senator Claire McCaskill a gift.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Update as of 2100 hours 21 August: I was wrong. Akin is digging in and the panic is only beginning. Even Rush Limbaugh is against him but he tweeted that the “liberal media” was out to get him. From my viewpoint I think that they want him to remain in the race while his conservative friends want him gone yesterday.

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The Hijacking of the National Day of Prayer

The modern National Day of Prayer was enacted by President Truman and Congress in 1952 in the 36 U.S.C. § 119 : US Code – Section 119: National Day of Prayer and various Presidents at different times have called for days of fasting, prayer or thanksgiving.  The heart of President Truman’s proclamation is contained in this section:

Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Friday, July 4, 1952, as a National Day of Prayer, on which all of us, in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts, may beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue that course steadfastly. May we also give thanks to Him for His constant watchfulness over us in every hour of national prosperity and national peril.

Ronald Reagan eloquently stated the purpose and significance of the National Day of Prayer in his 1983 proclamation which in part read:

It took the tragedy of the Civil War to restore a National Day of Prayer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

Revived as an annual observance by Congress in 1952, the National Day of Prayer has become a great unifying force for our citizens who come from all the great religions of the world. Prayer unites people. This common expression of reverence heals and brings us together as a Nation and we pray it may one day bring renewed respect for God to all the peoples of the world.

From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Thursday, May 5, 1983, National Day of Prayer. I call upon every citizen of this great Nation to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind.

President Reagan’s 1983 and subsequent proclamations stood firmly in the American tradition of Civil Religion and was decidedly non-sectarian.  It acknowledged that our citizens “come from all the great religions of the world” and called on Americans to gather on the day “in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind.”  In fact the spirit of the declaration is much like that of the hymn God of Our Fathers which is recognized as our National Hymn.  This hymn is not explicitly Christian and never mentions Christ or the Trinity yet it is widely sung in churches on days such as the Sunday nearest to Independence Day.  The lyrics to that hymn are here:

God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand, Leads forth in beauty all the starry band Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies, Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past, In this free land by Thee our lot is cast, Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay, Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence, Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense; Thy true religion in our hearts increase, Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way, Lead us from night to never ending day; Fill all our lives with love and grace divine, And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

While the American religious tradition is highly Christian and even more so from the Reformed tradition this has always existed in tension with a decidedly secularist philosophy embodied by many of the Founding Fathers who were very careful to recognize the importance of religion but at the same time both sought to protect religious liberty by NOT enacting laws to establish a particular religion nor to entangle the government in the affairs of religion which could in their view be detrimental to true religious liberty.

In fact both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were very careful about proclamations and ensuring that government was not favoring any particular religious body. Jefferson wrote to Reverend Samuel Miller in 1808 that:

Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. …civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.”

Madison who was the author of the Bill of Rights and included religious liberty in the First Amendment in support of Virginia Baptists who were under pressure from those who were determined to make and keep the Episcopal Church as the state religion of the commonwealth. Madison wrote to Edward Livingston in 1822 that:

“There has been another deviation from the strict principle in the Executive Proclamations of fasts & festivals, so far, at least, as they have spoken the language of injunction, or have lost sight of the equality of all religious sects in the eye of the Constitution. Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere designations of a day, on which all who thought proper might unite in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith & forms. In this sense, I presume you reserve to the Govt. a right to appoint particular days for religious worship throughout the State, without any penal sanction enforcing the worship.”

President Obama’s 2012 Proclamation for the National Day of Prayer stands in line with the founders as well as that of Presidents Truman and Reagan. It calls Americans to join with him to

“On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience. Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation. May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other, and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another. Let us be humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.

Let us also pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have answered our country’s call to serve with honor in the pursuit of peace. Our grateful Nation is humbled by the sacrifices made to protect and defend our security and freedom. Let us pray for the continued strength and safety of our service members and their families. While we pause to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending liberty, let us remember and lend our voices to the principles for which they fought — unity, human dignity, and the pursuit of justice.”

Even Republican Presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were careful to attempt to keep this in tension only holding one official event each during their presidencies.  It was not until George W. Bush that the President hosted events in every year of his presidency.  Remember the language of the law was that the President shall issue a proclamation for the people of the nation to pray.  Likewise the proclamations are a call for Americans, as Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman wrote to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind. The National Day of Prayer was not intended to entwine the government in exclusively religious observances by any particular religious tradition as many of the National Day of Prayer observances in many local, state and federal government agencies.

In 1982 a group of Evangelical Christians led by Shirley Dobson formed The National Day of Prayer Task Force. This organization is is not simply a Christian organization with an ecumenical purpose, but rather a decidedly Evangelic Christian organization.  It was formed to coordinate and implement a fixed annual day of prayer, the purpose of which was to organize evangelical Christian prayer events with local, state, and federal government entities.  Its ministry partners included the heavily politicized American Family Association, Alliance Defense Fund, American Center for Law and Justice, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. The Leadership is a veritable “Whose Who” of political preachers and ultra-conservative politicians including Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. This organization has since grown in popularity and prominence often being the primary organizer of such events.

While I am not against the observance of the National Day of Prayer I am uncomfortable with an organization like the National Day of Prayer Committee, which is dominated not just by Evangelical Christians, but Evangelical Christian political activists sponsoring the vast majority of these observances. The group makes no pretense about not being ecumenical and being what they say is “Judeo-Christian.” However since it it has appropriated the name “The National Day of Prayer” as its moniker and has huge financial and political backing, many Christians and non-Christians alike assume that The National Day of Prayer Task Force is the official government sponsored and endorsed organizer for the event. The appearance is solidified by the fact that many of their events are held in government or military facilities. In my opinion the National Day of Prayer Task Force has hijacked the occasion to fulfill their political and religious agenda. As a Christian and member of a small Old Catholic denomination I find this frightening.

What I think has happened within the time of my military career is that many Evangelical groups have made the National Day of Prayer “their event” and use people within government agencies or the military to organize events which lean heavily toward Evangelical Christianity.  I have seen it myself at many locations. Not only has this occurred but many times the leadership of these religious groups promote the political agenda of a particular political party or philosophy and as such that political philosophy sometimes becomes part of the event.  It happens quite often and I actually think invites trouble and challenges that will eventually have a negative impact on all Christians.

In fact The National Day of prayer was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb who ruled in favor of a suit brought about by the Freedom from Religion Foundation against The National Day of Prayer Task Force, former President George Bush and others.  The suit was expanded to name President Barack Obama when he requested that Judge Crabb to dismiss the case in 2009 when the administration argued that the foundation had no legal standing to sue.  The President Obama and his administration appealed the ruling and went ahead with the proclamation and observance of the National Day of Prayer in 2010 and 2011. The Obama Administration’s appeal was successful and a Federal Appeals Court overturned Judge Crabb’s ruling in 2011. The reason the appeal was granted was because the Appeals Court ruled that the Freedom from Religion Foundation had no legal standing because it did suffer actual harm from the Presidential proclamation and call to prayer.

My contention is that when a very religiously exclusive and politically partisan group virtually takes over what was implicitly non-sectarian and non-partisan that the event becomes more of a sectarian event than national event. The National Day of Prayer Task Force seems to merge Evangelical Christianity with the Federal Government.  Somehow I don’t think that Jefferson, Madison or early Baptist leaders like Roger Williams and John Leland who all saw the separation of Church and State as essential to the preservation of the civil rights of all citizens, not just Christians.

I believe in and do pray for the United States of America, our people and our leaders. I even think that a designated day of prayer for the nation is a salient reminder of the necessity of citizens of faith to pray for this country and our leaders regardless of their faith, absence of faith or political party or ideology. It is what makes the American experiment in Religious Liberty so unique in the world and why we should resist all attempts to return to the hopelessly entwined and bankrupt systems embodied by the State Religions of Europe and the Middle East.

Peace

Padre 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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