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Slice and Dice: George Will Dissects Trump, Moore, and the Evangelical Right

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

While many progressives and liberals may disagree with many of his political positions, there is no doubt that George Will is one of the most erudite writers when it comes to the use of literary prose and metaphors among all the political and baseball commentators of the last three decades.

Will is unusual for a conservative commentator. He is a genuine intellectual, he has been married twice, has an adult son with Down’s syndrome, is exceptionally knowledgeable about baseball; his book Men at Work: the Craft of Baseball is a classic, and even so he is a diehard and lifelong Chicago Cub’s fan. He was a commentator for Ken Burns’ masterpiece documentary Baseball and was parodied for his use of high flying literary metaphors about baseball by Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live. http://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/george-f-wills-sports-machine/n9910?snl=1

Last year Will, a lifelong Republican left the GOP due to the implosion of that party’s moral center after the nomination of Donald Trump. Since then he has been one of the most fearsome conservative commentators when it comes to criticizing President Trump, his policies, and his supporters, especially the block of Trump supporters known as Conservative Evangelicals.

Today in the wake of Roy Moore’s defeat in Alabama the master of conservative prose sliced and diced Moore, Trump, and the Conservative Evangelical supporters like a pathologist slicing up the rotted brain of a football player with CTE during an autopsy. In an op-Ed in the Washington Post which you can read at the link https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trumps-moore-endorsement-sunk-the-presidency-to-unplumbed-depths/2017/12/13/3c245482-e036-11e7-bbd0-9dfb2e37492a_story.html Will used his unmatched prose to expose the moral, ethical, and political bankruptcy of Trump, Moore, and their ardent Conservative Evangelical supporters.

Of Moore Will wrote:

Moore was such a comprehensive caricature — Sinclair Lewis could not have imagined this Elmer Gantry — that the acid rain of reports about his sexual predations, and his dissembling about them, almost benefited him by distracting attention from: the remunerative use he made of a “charitable” foundation. And his actions as a public official that by themselves sufficed to disqualify him from any public office. He is an anti-constitutional recidivist, twice removed from Alabama’s highest court for his theocratic insistence that his religious convictions take precedence over U.S. Supreme Court decisions, so he could not have sincerely sworn to “support and defend the Constitution” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Of Moore and Trump’s supporters in the Conservative Evangelical circles Will wrote:

Moore has been useful as a scythe slicing through some tall stalks of pretentiousness: The self-described “values voters” and “evangelicals” of pious vanity who have embraced Trump and his Alabama echo have some repenting to do before trying to reclaim their role as arbiters of Republican, and American, righteousness. We have, alas, not heard the last from them, but henceforth the first reaction to their “witness” should be resounding guffaws.

I totally agree, these Christian theocrats should be scorned and opposed for their anti-American and un-Constitutional positions, but also if you actually believe the faith of the early American Christians like Virginia Baptist leader John Leland who spearheaded the movement for the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment protections of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. Leland 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.”

I’m sure that the atheist Will would agree with the Baptist Leland. The frightening thing is that Moore, a Southern Baptist would so oppose the faith and beliefs of men like Leland who fought for the rights of everyone, and the 80% of Evangelicals who support Trump in his election, and the more than 80% of white Alabama Evangelicals support political and social positions that are more in tune with the Taliban and ISIS than Leland.

But will did not just single out the Evangelicals, he excoriated national Republicans who put their money to support Moore despite the evidence of Moore’s total unsuitability for office. Will wrote:

When reports of Sen. Al Franken’s misbehaviors against adult women surfaced, the National Republican Congressional Committee pounced: “Democrats who took Senator Franken’s campaign money need to . . . return his donations.” (Combined, they totaled $15,500.) When, 18 days later, Trump endorsed Moore, the Republican National Committee immediately sent $170,000 to Alabama. If the RNC, which accurately represents the president’s portion of the party, did not have situational ethics, it would have none.

Of the President’s support for Moore Will wrote:

Although the president is not invariably a stickler for precision when bandying factoids, he said the Everest of evidence against Moore did not rise to his standards of persuasiveness. This fleeting swerve into fastidiousness about facts came hard on the heels of his retweeting of a video of a Muslim immigrant in the Netherlands beating a young man holding crutches. Except the villain was born and raised in the Netherlands. Undaunted, Trump’s remarkably pliant spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended her employer from the nitpickers: What matters, she said, is not that the video is unreal but that “the threat” (of turbulent Dutchmen?) is real.

He added:

By basking in the president’s approval, Moore became a clarifier. Henry Adams, great-grandson of the second president and grandson of the sixth, was unfair to the 18th when he wrote, “The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin.” By joining Stephen K. Bannon’s buffoonery on Moore’s behalf, the 45th president planted an exclamation point punctuating a year of hitherto unplumbed presidential depths. He completed his remarkably swift — it has taken less than 11 months — rescue of the 17th, Andrew Johnson, from the ignominy of ranking as the nation’s worst president.

Of course other conservatives with a conscience including Jennifer Rubin, Ed Rogers, Ross Douthat, and Joe Scarborough, not to mention Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Flake have added their voices to the cacophony to expose the fraud that is the Trump Presidency and the hollow soul of what used to be the party of Lincoln. As a former Republican I can only say let this zombie party die and maybe from the ashes something will arise that resembles men like Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. grant, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

I am now a Democrat and I am certainly a liberal and progressive, but I am also a realist. I will not be like the German left in 1932 that in the face of an existential crisis refused to come together to stop the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party. That insistence on ideological purity and refusal to work with other opponents of the Nazis didn’t work out so well for them. Because of that I will herald anyone who opposes the un-Constitutional words and fascist like actions of men like Trump, Moore, Bannon, and their Taliban like supporters.

Politics in a democracy is always a matter of cooperation and compromise without sacrificing who we are. It is what the best Presidents and legislators of all parties understood in years past. I am sure that my words today will infuriate some of my readers who are conservative Evangelicals, and my lack of insistence on ideological purity will disappoint some of my liberal and progressive readers. But the words and actions of the President and his most loyal supporters are an existential threat to our Republic. George Will understands this, and people of goodwill can work through their differences to benefit the country and support and defend the Constitution.

That my friends is what I am about. I am a progressive realist in wonderland and George Will did all of us a favor today.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“It is More Important to Tell the Truth” Teddy Roosevelt and the Freedom to Criticize a President

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have seen a lot of people, especially conservative Christians demanding that critics of our soon to be President Trump to stop criticizing him and fully support him. It is actually fascinating to watch and listen to as for the past eight years neither the President Elect or most of his supporters have stopped questioning the legitimacy of President Obama. My God, for the past eight plus years his policies have not only been criticized, but his very person has been defamed by the very people who now say that criticizing or failing to support the President is “unpatriotic,” “un-American,” and even “treasonable.” I’ve also seen not so subtle threats made against critics of President-Elect Trump, even before he was elected.

Of course that is bullshit. One of the fundamental rights that all of us have as Americans is the right to freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion. It’s called the First Amendment of the Constitution. Our founders were terrified that some nutcase might get the idea to become a tyrant and that the people would let them. That’s why we have all the checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches of the Federal government, and that is why that freedom of speech has been the cornerstone of the American experiment.

But not anymore. I am not going to say a word about President-Elect Trump or my opinion about him or his possible policies. Instead I am going to note what one of my favorite President’s said about criticizing the President or a Presidential administration. That man was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt, if you recall was no Nansy Pansy. The man volunteered for combat and led troops up San Juan Hill in the face of a fusillade of enemy fire, he sent the Great White Fleet around the World, he helped to end child labor, and he created the National Park system. What he wrote in 1918 is important. The United States was at war having joined Britain and France to fight Imperial Germany.

Roosevelt said this when it came to criticizing the President:

“The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the Nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or any one else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about any one else.” The Kansas City Star, 18 May 1918

That being said criticism must be based on fact. Roosevelt was criticizing the Wilson administration because of how badly he thought they were pursuing the war effort against Germany. For this people were castigating him. People said that newspapers should not print what Roosevelt had to say as well as “He should stand by the President” and “He should be stood before a stone wall and shot.” So I guess things haven’t changed too much, but I digress…

The point is that criticism of a President should not be considered unpatriotic nor criminal. If we are to believe Theodore Roosevelt; reasoned, respectful, and truthful criticism of our elected officials, up to and including the President is not only necessary, but it is patriotic. Stephen A. Douglas, who later ran against Abraham Lincoln for President destroyed his own chances of becoming President by opposing James A. Buchanan’s deceitful and illegal attempt to make Kansas a Slave state in 1858. Buchanan said that he would destroy him if he opposed the measure. Douglas stood his ground and he told his congressional colleagues: “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!”

None of us should be regardless of who the President is or what our political beliefs. Principled support, or if need be, opposition, to a President, is both necessary and patriotic. Blind obedience, selling out ones principles, or knuckling under to threats is not. Likewise, those who demand respect, support, and obedience for the person that they voted for without giving it to the other side is not only a hypocrite, but a supporter of tyranny.

This is important, especially when the President-Elect has a long history of lying, cheating small business owners who he contracted with, falsifying, and hiding the truth. His statements in terms of civil liberties, our allies and foreign policy, his questionable relationship with the leader of a hostile foreign power, his manifold conflicts of interest related to his businesses, and his unhinged tirades on social media against any and all critics are all reason to question what he says and does. Those statements are all verifiable, they are not innuendo nor slanderous. They are facts that make a reasonable person question what he says he will do.

Of course, as an American I want President-Elect Trump to do well for all of us and the world. The stakes are too high for me not to care about that. However, to surrender the moral and and Constitutional responsibility to speak out is something that none of us should be prepared to surrender, and those who suggest anyone do should be ashamed of themselves, if they have any sense of shame.

So anyway, until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Be Careful What You Vote Against

Friends of Padre Steve’s Worl

Since the Illinois and Missouri primary results will not be settled before I pass out tonight I will save my article about the results of what happened last night until tomorrow. As such I see no reason to do much commentary other than to note that Missouri is going to be close in both the Republican and Democratic races. 

Because of that  I am republishing an article that I wrote almost four years ago. Truthfully, no matter what your political leanings are I think that is important and well worth the read. I find that too many people don’t take the time to examine the second, third, and fourth order consequences of their actions, and that includes the action of casting a vote. Far to many votes are cast out of emotions, especially those of fear and anger, and without thought of the long term consequences. That was the case in less than a century ago in Germany. 

was reminded oft his article when a friend of mine remembered it and posted a link to it on Facebook a couple of days ago. In his note about it he noted that I was well ahead of the media. I hate it when that happens, but such is the danger of being a historian who has the capacity of self-reflection. The article is here in its entirety. I have not updated it with any references to Donald Trump or the violence that is occurring with startling regularity on the campaign trail. Even so it is decidedly uncomfortable reading, especially when I see quite a few Evangelical leaders, including pastors, and media pundits endorsing Trump. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller was a war hero. He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships. After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism. This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union. Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church. Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned. He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists. Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

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Herman Maas

Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor. Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens. He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral. Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist. Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration. He too would be imprisoned and survive the war. Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israelin 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews. He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “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.” He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity. Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr. For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war. Bonhoeffer wrote “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.”

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth. Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

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Bernard Lichtenberg

Catholic Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews. Some like Meyer would end up in concentrations camps with some like Canon Bernard Lichtenberg of Berlin dying at the hands of the Nazis.

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Rupert Meyer

All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany. They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches. The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists.

Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat to Germany. A sentiment harbored by many non-Nazi conservatives and Christians.

Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish. The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked in Germany. Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well in Germany. Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War. Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

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Nazi Political and Religious Opponents in Concentration Camps

When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state. They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing. Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state. Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps. Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they left Germany. This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

Hitler portrayed himself and his movement as defenders of Christianity. He was not the first or last to do so but his speech of February 1st 1933, the day after he was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg made it abundantly clear that he was bent on securing the support of Christians to solidify his grip on power: “The National Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirit of unity and co-operation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life. . . .”

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The Sturmabteilung (SA) at Church

Churches became sponsors of Nazi meetings, the Swastika banner hung in the sanctuaries of churches throughout the Reich and Bishops, Priests and Pastors joined Nazi organizations and gave the Nazi salute. They had sold their soul to Hitler and the Nazis out of fear of the Communists, Socialists, Jews and Slavs.

Eric Hoffer noted that “It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable.” Hitler and his enablers spread fear and took advantage of it to bring those fearful of the left to his support.

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Hitler leaving a Church

Today we face a similar phenomena in conservative circles in the United States. This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Gays, immigrants and racial minorities who are the targets of the xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others. Their popularity in voicing support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians. It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church. It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war. That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.” Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades and anti-Gay launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities. Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants, legal and illegal alike especially those from Mexico or Latin America. I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican. Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals or putting them in concentration camps, deporting them or even punishing gays with the death penalty.

This is so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary. Likewise the threats to American Moslems or Gays of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling. I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted. I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say. That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers. This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

The persecution of American Moslems, minorities, Gays and others is dangerous, not just for those minorities but ultimately for Christians who endorse and advocate against those groups. American and English law is based on legal precedence. Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law. This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings. If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground. Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

During the Republican Presidential primaries major leaders of the Evangelical movement and churches did all that they could to paint Mitt Romney as a religious cultist because he is Mormon. When Romney secured the nomination those same people started backtracking and committing their support to him because they believe that President Obama is an enemy of the country. They don’t like Romney, they are just against Obama. Romney will remember what they called him and their tepid support. If he becomes President he will not be beholden to them and will govern as he desires. Laws and Executive orders that give expanded power to the Executive Branch will not be overturned and if Evangelicals decide that they don’t like what he is doing and act toward him as they have President Obama they could find themselves on the outside and abandoned by the man that they supported.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone. What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare. With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state. The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief. The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitutional protection of Religion in the First Amendment. This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not. Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“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.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times. So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left. Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary. Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion. Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination. The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history. These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic Americans of all faiths and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political, religious affiliation or sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

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.

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Padre Steve Plays Devil’s Advocate: The Complex and Often Confusing Issue of Religious Liberty

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“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The First Amendment of the US Constitution

Religious freedom is a central tenant of the Bill of Rights and has been a central facet of American life since our inception as a country, in fact pre-dating our founding in some of the original 13 colonies most notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Now before anyone gets the idea that I am about to write something in favor of limiting the freedom to worship or for that matter any limitation on religious practices I am not in fact I am a stalwart supporter of religion in the Public Square and not just mine. You see I am a bit of a purest about this and my view is as long as the religious practice is not harming anyone who cares?

I believe like Thomas Jefferson who wrote in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom:

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

Some might take me to task for that as a Christian, but my point is not to argue for the Christian faith in this article. Instead my intent is to point out some of the inconsistencies of those who proclaim their rights also seek to limit the religious and even the civil rights of others based on their religious beliefs.

What I will do in this essay is to play the “Devil’s advocate” in the matter of the free exercise of religion as it currently exists in the United States.

This has to be done because of the number of laws being passed by various states which are labeled as acts to protect religious liberty. Unfortunately the reality is that these laws grant license for the Christian majority in those states to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs. These individuals and religious organizations loudly proclaim their defense of the right to free exercise, but it is more their free exercise rights that they are defending than the rights of others.

In fact those that shout the loudest are also those who seek to limit the religious rights of others using the laws of the Federal Government and the various States and Commonwealths that make up the United States. Since law in the United States is based on legal precedence everything that goes to court on matters of religious liberty as well as the actions of various legislatures matters. Precedent matters and once legal precedent has been established it is very hard to change. Thus each decision sets a precedent and these precedents can effect decisions in entirely unrelated matters.

Our First Amendment Rights are marvels which are envied by the citizens of most of the rest of the world and why shouldn’t they be?

In many nations simply being born as a member of a minority religion, or other hated minority group is enough to ensure that you will never have full legal rights and may even face persecution and death at the hands of those in power. The list is long. Some of the countries include Sudan, Kosovo, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, India, Uganda, Nigeria, the Congo, and the Central African Republic. Of course there are many more but those are just some of the places where members of minority religious face discrimination, persecution and even death.

The rights we have as Americans provided the opportunity for churches that were suppressed on the European continent and elsewhere to thrive free of government persecution. The Baptists are a good example. In the early 1600’s the first Baptists, English Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs by the English Crown in particular by King James who despite authorizing the Bible given his name and loved by many Baptists as the “only” valid English translation was a notorious homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that, hated those early Baptists and persecuted them throughout the land.

On the continent itself the Anabaptists and Mennonites as well as others referred to as “enthusiasts,” the forerunners of the Pentecostal movements of the 20th Century were brutally suppressed in many European lands. The example of the siege and destruction of Munster Germany by combined Catholic and Lutheran forces after “enthusiasts” seized power is just one example.

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The Jews were persecuted often brutally almost everywhere in Europe for centuries. They were the “Christ killers” and that was even enshrined in the liturgies of churches. But the Jews had a surprising amount of freedom and influence in the Ottoman Empire where in places like Baghdad they composed a rather sizable part of the population and were quite prominent in the Empire.

Catholics were heavily persecuted in England and could not hold public office for many years following the English Reformation. Hundreds of Catholics martyred for simply practicing their religion in private, simply celebrating Mass could get them a death sentence.

Then there were the Huguenots in France. They were French Protestants who had gained a great deal of influence and power that were brutally suppressed and many killed by the French Crown and the Catholic Church.

The Lutherans were not big fans of other religions in Germany and worked with their archrival Roman Catholics to kill off the Anabaptists and the Enthusiasts.

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Spain was another brutal place for religious liberty. Even some Roman Catholics now canonized as Saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila were brought before the Inquisition. Protestants, Jews, Moslems were all persecuted in Spain, and Spain was equally repressive of native religions in the lands that it colonized in the “New World.”

The Russian Empire was known for its toleration of Catholics, Protestants and Jews especially in the equal treatment given to them in various Pogroms conducted by the government and the Orthodox Church.

The Ottoman Empire had a limited amount of religious toleration so long as you didn’t make trouble and paid your taxes. One cannot really call it liberty for the Empire and persecuted anyone equally that threatened the Caliphate or that they thought were heretical. These included the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula.

Then along came the United States where our forefathers ensured religious liberty in our Bill of Rights along with freedom of speech, assembly and the press. It is a wonderful thing, but we have not always done well with it and there are always those trying to carve out addition “rights” for themselves or their faith communities. Sometimes the more religious people have had a negative influence in this experiment, often being involved with acts of religious and civil intolerance worthy of our European ancestors.

That being said many religious people, particularly Christians and churches have done many good things in promoting human rights, religious rights and the civil rights of all in our country.

In Colonial America most of the colonies had official state religions. In Massachusetts that was the Congregationalist Church and it conducted many of the witch trials and the persecution of people deemed heretic including Quakers and Baptists.

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While Christians were in the forefront of the Abolitionist movement whole denominations split on the issue of Slavery. These denominations included the Southern Baptists, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Curiously neither the Episcopalians nor the Catholics split over the issues although the war found them heavily engaged on both sides of the conflict.

After the war many American Christians worked for the rights of workers, the abolition of child labor and even something that I oppose, Prohibition. Some Christians and churches advocated for the full civil rights of African Americans though few spoke up for rights of the Native Americans and the Chinese immigrants to California who were frequently mistreated and worked for almost nothing on the most demanding jobs like building the trans-continental railroad, mining gold and building stone walls for ranchers.

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While enshrining the right to the free exercise of religion the Founding Fathers kind of ignored the human rights of a whole class of people, African American slaves. They allowed the practice of slavery counting Blacks as 3/5ths of a person, which 3/5ths I don’t know but nonetheless only 60% of a full human being. my own family owned slaves and the family patriarch who fought as a Confederate officer in the American Civil War and after the defeat of the Confederacy refused to sign the loyalty oath, which good honorable men like Robert E Lee did and lost the family lands to the Federal Government.

We drove the Native Americans off of their lands, hunted them down and confined them to reservations all while ignoring the treaties that we made with the various Indian Nations. This practice was actually recently defended by the faux “historian” of the Christian Right, David Barton.

If we believe Barton’s “history” the vast majority of the people perpetuating these acts were solid Bible Believing Christians. But then how do we reconcile these crimes against humanity, even crimes against fellow Christians with the Christian faith? If you are Barton you assume that what happened was due to the sin of the Native Americans who had to be subjugated by Christians.

Likewise nearly every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States has experienced some form of discrimination, often religious from the good citizens of this land. It turns out that throughout history we have had some problems in the matter of religious liberty and toleration, especially of those whose customs, language, culture and religion are different than our own.

But the crux of all of this comes down to religious liberty which as Americans we hold dear, at least our own religious liberty. The problem is that those who fight the hardest for their religious liberty frequently want to deny the rights that they have to others that they disagree with in belief, practice or even politics.

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Now everyone is for religious liberty in the Public Square until a loathsome man like Fred Phelps and his family owned and operated “Westboro Baptist Church” shows up to protest and hurl vile epithets at those grieving the loss of family members killed in war, taunting these people in the most abhorrent of ways.

However, as grievous as these people are they do this under the right to the free exercise of religion. Some Fundamentalist Moslems have as a stated goal of instating Sharia Law in this land, at least for Moslems. This they proclaim under the banner of religious liberty, however the imposition of Sharia Law on Moslems in the name of their religion also takes away their civil rights under the Constitution and the various laws of the Federal Government of the States that make up our fair land.

The Roman Catholic Church at the direction of the Vatican has attempted rather successfully until a recent Supreme Court ruling to shield Bishops that were complicit in personnel moves and cover ups regarding Priests accused or convicted of sexual misconduct and the sexual abuse of minors from criminal prosecution and civil suits under the guise of diplomatic immunity as the Vatican is a nation state. Could any other religious organization shield its clergy from the laws of the land that any other citizen would be subject to? Not on your or my life, but in the past the Vatican has blatantly done so and hopefully under Pope Francis this too will change.

One of the key issues of religious liberty is the right of those of various beliefs and practices that use television, radio and the internet to espouse hatred and violence in the name of their religious beliefs and under the banner of religious liberty? I may not agree with what they broadcast but they have the right to do it.

Many Conservative Christians, especially Evangelicals and Roman Catholics are keen to support their rights to publicly exercise their religion, even in the government. But they are not good when it comes to other branches of Christianity or non-Christian religions.

The Metropolitan Community Church comes to mind. It is a predominantly Homosexual Christian church many of whose members were driven from their home churches due to their sexuality. Many, except for being gay are very conservative in their theological beliefs. That church has been in the forefront of the fight for marriage equity as well as the right for homosexuals to serve openly in the Military.

The part about marriage is particularly fraught with peril because both the Church and the State have interests in marriage. For many marriage is primarily a religious act with civil overtones, in fact ministers of all denominations are licensed by the state to perform marriages on behalf of the State becoming in effect de-facto officers of the courts and at the same time most states deny homosexual couples the right to marry, regardless of one’s position on the legitimacy of such unions who could say that it is right for the states to approve and license the clergy of almost every religious tradition to conduct weddings that have the full civil effect, including tax breaks for all but a certain group? We have this enshrined in our culture but would deny it to the Metropolitan Community Church to perform weddings for its members. What if someone said that any other minister could not marry members of their own church under their church laws, ordinances and beliefs? There would be a public outcry, but not for the Metropolitan Community Church or other denominations that sanction Gay marriage.

There are so many issues regarding religious liberty. What about adherents of Wicca and other Earth based religions or Native American religions? Some of their practices would not be welcomed by those of many Christian denominations as well as secularists and atheists but if they are not hurting anyone else why should others object?

Likewise why should people object if a religious symbol is displayed on private property or on state property where it has been displayed for decades or longer? Is it hurting anyone? Not really but hurt feelings and being offended count as much as real injury to the litigiously minded. Usually these cases are long, expensive and divisive court proceedings that have served little purpose. I am not in favor of government using such symbols to advance the rights of any given religion, even Christianity. But that being said there are times where religious symbols are part of our American culture where we have memorialized our war dead without the intent of promoting a religious cause. However, if one symbol is present we should not object to others.

Likewise there are those that would attempt to limit the free speech rights and religious rights of Christians and others that protest the practice of abortion using civil disobedience to do so. Some in polite and well-mannered but others are pretty unseemly. That being said I do not think that the religious beliefs of anti-abortion people should be the law for unbelievers or for that matter a believer with different views on abortion.

The problem is that many who call themselves “pro-life” are not pro-life at all but simply anti-abortion. Many Christians who call themselves “pro-life” bless and baptize practices condemned by the same Church Fathers and Biblical writers who they use to support the rights of the unborn. They support the death penalty despite the aversion and opposition to it by the Early Church a and the evidence that in many states that the practice is abused and sentences often wrong. Many advocate for harsh treatment of aliens and exhibit a xenophobic attitude towards some immigrant groups, especially those that are not Christian. Likewise the belief that the economic Social Darwinism of unfettered Capitalism is not only Biblical but God’s best ordained economic system is promoted as the Gospel. The same people often treat the poor and the elderly with distain and treat their political opponents as agents of the Devil rather than people that God might actually care about.

Local governments and even home owners associations have acted to quash home churches and Bible studies. Some have acted to zone land so that the construction of religious buildings, edifices or displays is illegal all of which have been protested and fought in the courts by the groups involved particularly Evangelical Christians of various denominations. Even churches that neighbors have deemed to be too loud in their expression of worship have been penalized by local governments and courts.

Yet many Christians had little problem with using the government to suppression other religious or splinter groups. The tragic example of the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound looms large. David Koresh was a labeled as a “dangerous” cult leader. Nor do many Conservative Christians have a problem in limiting the rights of American Moslems and protest if a Moslem clergyman becomes a military Chaplain or if Moslems want to build a Mosque in their neighborhood. I think that religious intolerance is often in the eye of the beholder. As David Barton the President of “Wallbuilders” an organization that seeks to promote America’s “Christian heritage” quoted William Penn “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal.”

Barton’s friend and ally Gary 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.”

So as you can see the subject of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our religions is one that is not as clear cut as we would like to admit.

To play the Devil’s advocate here let me ask this question: “Should we limit the rights to the free exercise of religion for any group?” If we do so where do we draw the line? If we say “everything goes” does this mean for everyone or just us? Could it be that in the enshrining of this right that the Founders actually meant the expression of rational and enlightened religion and not religious expression that limits the rights of other groups or supports the abolition of others Constitutional Rights? Those are all hard questions. As you can see there are a tremendous amount of issues at play when we attempt to legislate or regulate religious practice.

I think that our religious liberty is something to be cherished. But I can see times and places where there would be a need for the community or state to limit such expression. This would not be to take it away but to ensure that such expression is not used as a weapon against others, just as religious beliefs have been used in the past and present by people and governments around the world.

You see the lawyer that dwells deep within my heart that my fellow seminarians saw could argue the point for any position in this debate, which I guess kind of, makes me a bit of a prostitute. But still there are valid points to be made on all sides of this issue and to the extenuating civil, social and even economic and national security concerns that the absolute right to the freedom of religious expression impacts.

The waters get pretty muddy and my concern is that those on various sides of this issue are more about promoting their agenda, be it religious or secular. As I said at the beginning of this essay the issue is about legal precedence and sometimes the unintended consequences of decisions reached hastily when those on the various sides of an issue go to court or establish a new law which enshrines any group with the ability to discriminate against others based on the majority’s religious beliefs.

The question of religious liberty and the tension between competing Free Exercise rights and concerns about the “excessive entanglement” of religion in government will be with us for a long time. I think the result of the heated and often litigious nature of the debate will actually turn people away from the Christian faith and will actually do great damage to the First Amendment protections that we all enjoy.

This causes me great concern as I value the right to the free exercise of religious expression and the right of others not to have the religious views of any group made the law of the land.

Religion can and often has been abused and used by the faithful as a dictatorial bludgeon and those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, laws and legislation, pro-life anti-abortion, Religion

The Insidious and Orwellian “Religious Liberties Protection Act” of “Christian” Kansas

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“There is no such thing as part freedom.” Nelson Mandela 

In their desire to protect the rights of conservative Evangelical and Catholic Christians the representatives of the State of Kansas enacted a new law. It really is an amazing law that enshrines discrimination against homosexuals based on religious preference. The law is targeted to allegedly protect people who do not want to serve homosexuals based on their religious beliefs. However, the law is so broadly written that it can be used against anyone for any reason by an individual, business or organization “if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity.”

It is legislation that is reminiscent of Jim Crow laws used against blacks, Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws against the Jews of the 1930s, and the laws of Islamic nations that allow non-Moslems or more open minded Moslems to be prosecuted or even killed for anything that offends Islam.

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Kansas Representative Charles Macheers

The language of the authors of the Bill is Orwellian. It is called The Religious Liberties Protection Act. The sponsor of the legislation State Representative Charles Macheers noted:

“Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful … It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill. There have been times throughout history where people have been persecuted for their religious beliefs because they were unpopular. This bill provides a shield of protection for that.”

However, Macheers and his supporters seek to prevent discrimination by enshrining it as law. Unlike Bills in some other states, this Bill does not simply apply to private business or individuals, but it also empowers government employees to discriminate against people if it violates “their sincerely held religious beliefs.” It is a law that allows public employees, paid by taxpayers being free to discriminate.  (Read the Bill as enacted here: http://www.kslegislature.org/li/b2013_14/measures/documents/hb2453_01_0000.pdf)

What this does is to give anyone claiming a “sincerely held religious belief” in a private or public capacity to deny people basic civil rights and liberties. It is license to discriminate and it is something that James Madison warned us about:

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects?”

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The authors of this legislation and its supporters throughout the country don’t seem to get the fact that once you begin down this path that you set precedent. That precedent to discriminate against a person or group of people based on religious beliefs is dangers. The writers seem unconcerned about the ramifications of what would happen if this bill became law. In their hatred of homosexuality and homosexuals they forget that any law can which legalizes discrimination can be used against anyone, including those that enact it order to supposedly protect their religious liberty.

They also fail to understand the words of Thomas Jefferson who wrote:

“I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” 

I am a defender of religious liberty, but religious liberty needs to be for all, not just for some. Religious liberty is something that our founders understood, and they took great care to ensure that the rights of religious minorities and unbelievers were respected in our Constitution. Just as I do not want the government regulating religion, even religious views that I do not agree, I do not want religion to be used to deny the civil rights of others simply because those people are different from those that choose to use the law to discriminate. I wonder what those that support this law would do if in another state the same kind of law was passed to discriminate against their basic civil and human rights. I don’t think that they would like it very much.

My view is much like Andrew Sullivan. I may not agree with someone’s deeply held religious convictions, they may be intolerant and even hateful must be allowed the space to speak about them and even enter into the public discourse. I do not want to see religious people silenced. I may disagree with what some say and how they say it but they like everyone else need to have the space to speak their convictions. Allowing that space is what “true liberals do.” Sullivan notes that those who advance the agenda of Gay rights and equality “should be wary of being seen to trample on religious freedom and be defined as discriminators of another sort.”

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I agree with Sullivan on this, the fact is that Gays like so many others have been the target of state sanctioned religious discrimination throughout history. It is natural that the LGBT community, which has been so hated and discriminated against would want to push hard against those that use religion to attack, demean and marginalize them. But it is important remember that reconciliation and acceptance is a two way street. The actions of the late Nelson Mandela after the fall of Apartheid in South Africa should be a model. Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Unfortunately in Kansas, many religious people, for reasons, some real but many imagined; feel the compelling need to use the power of the law to suppress LGBT people or others that they believe threaten them. In other places religious people attempt to use the police power of the government at the Federal, State and Local level to suppress anything or the activities of anyone they deem to be against God, or rather their interpretation of God.

Though I am not Gay I feel the sting of these laws because although my Church will allow me to marry a Gay couple I cannot in the state that I reside or many others. I know a number of Gay couples that have asked me if I could perform their marriages, but such will have to wait until we can find a time and a place where I can legally perform their nuptials. The sad thing is that in some places like Indiana there are legislators who in defending their religious freedom would criminalize an attempt by me or any other minister performing such an act if they could. Thankfully that amendment to the Indiana Constitution has been pushed back for at least two years.

Their belief compels them to use the law against homosexuals, non-Christian religious minorities, secularists and humanists and attempt to curtail the advances and discoveries of science, archeology and history. I believe that such attempts are short sighted and do violence to the religious beliefs that many espouse. Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer that “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

The proposed law in Kansas, which looks as if may stall in the State Senate is an evil being enacted to supposedly support the good. Nothing good can come of it, if passed it will poison the hearts and minds of the very people it is supposedly written to protect. It will give them legal right to treat people who are different than them in a way that does not reflect the Gospel, and encourage the worst type of self-righteous behavior, and it will blow back in their face.

The attempt of the Kansas legislature to pass this Bill into law reminds me of something that Spencer Tracy’s character, Henry Drummond said in the film Inherit the Wind:

“I say that you cannot administer a wicked law impartially. You can only destroy, you can only punish. And I warn you, that a wicked law, like cholera, destroys every one it touches. Its upholders as well as its defiers.” 

This is a wicked law, and if it is made law it will do great harm to those that is directed against, those who the precedents in it may be used against in the future and those that think that will protect their. It is Orwellian and at its heart it is evil. If it is enacted into law it should be opposed at every opportunity by every person of good will, no matter what their faith, political ideology or sexual preference, because all people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part Two The Minefields of the Heart

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This is second part of a response to a question I had from a new Navy Chaplain. I have decided to post it here without any identification of the chaplain because I know that many men and women who are new to the military chaplaincy or who are exploring the possibilities of becoming a chaplain have the same questions. I was fortunate to have had a number of chaplains who at various points in my decision process and formation as a minister, Priest and Chaplain in both the Army and the Navy help me with many of these questions. Likewise I learned far too much the hard way and blew myself up on some of the “land mines” that almost all who serve as chaplains experience in their careers. This is the second of several parts to the letter and is my attempt to systematically explain my understanding of what it is to be a Chaplain serving in the military and in particularly the Navy. The first part is linked here:

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

“There is a twilight zone in our hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves-our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and our drives-large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. This is a very good thing. We will always remain partially hidden to ourselves. Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility, but to a deep trust in those who love us. It is the twilight zones of our hearts where true friendships are born.”Henri J. M. Nouwen

Dear Chaplain

The next section of our discussion is about the “minefields” that we so often encounter as Chaplains and to some degree as Ministers, Priests or Rabbis or other religious leaders. As I noted in the first section I am dividing these “minefields” into three major areas; the personal, the behavioral and the professional.

This section is about the “personal” minefields which I call the “Minefields of the Heart.” I call it this because it seems from the Christian and Jewish Scriptures the heart is the figurative locus of what we are, good and bad alike as human beings.

Of course there is always some spillage between the areas personal, behavior and professional areas and our behaviors and professional relationships are certainly influenced by the things that we hide deep in our hearts. As human beings we may try to compartmentalize our life to keep things apart such as keeping our personal life separate from our professional life, or hide behaviors from our friends, families, peers or co-workers; but the cold hard fact is whether we are aware of it or not each area impacts the other. If we are not aware of this fact, if we have little self awareness, if we have self awareness but try to live our lives with the illusion that we can separate our lives into neat little boxes we will most undoubtedly hurt ourselves, and as spiritual leaders harm those that come to us.

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There is a scene of the last episode of Star Trek the Next Generation entitled “All Good Things” that comes to mind.  In it the being known simply as “Q” helps Captain Picard discover how his actions influence human history.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

You may wonder where I am going with this but it has to do with the personal minefields, those that exist inside of us, those that lurk beneath the surface which if we are unaware wreak havoc on everything else that we do. In the episode of Star Trek that I am referring to Captain Picard is allowed by Q to see the effects of his actions and to see how limited his thinking was.  The challenge for us is chaplains are to be aware of what Nouwen calls “the twilight zone in our hearts” and how what is at the depth of our heart impacts everything else that we do.

Too often though, mostly because of our own personal limitations and serious lack of real theological and pastoral formation involving self reflection and exploration we fail to see them. Like an uncharted minefield we are unaware of them until we either discover their existence through accident and “blow ourselves and others up” or until we listen to those that can see those twilight zones, those minefields better than we ourselves. Of course the latter, especially when it comes from those who love us, care for us and have our best at heart is the preferable method to learn about these things.

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However, that being said part of this can be done through reading. A lot of us simply read “how to” type books when it comes to ministry. We seek direct easy answers in how to run our programs be it in the church, in a para-church ministry or in the chaplaincy. Believe me there are plenty of those kinds of books out there, not only that but a plethora of “self help” books that tell us the “three things we must know” the “five whatever’s to success” or the Seven Habits of Highly Defective People.” The sad thing is, even when these books contain nuggets of truth, they serve it like fast food and reduce it to the lowest common denominator. In a sense, even the most well intentioned of these “how to” or “self help” books promote a reductionist view of faith, spirituality, psychology and in some cases ethics and doctrine.

Reading is important, especially the hard stuff, philosophy, history, moral theology, but also things that you might not expect science fiction for example. In addition classic literature from antiquity and from non-western traditions also sheds light on those personal minefields. Heck we can even find truth in television and film, note my continued references to Star Trek. I find that God can speak to us in many ways.

As Christians we may also find lessons, insights and inspiration from the Bible that can be quite helpful. Unfortunately most of us have so many theological filters in place that we often miss the very things that would be most helpful to us. They can serve as blinders that keep us from sensing what the Spirit of God is trying to teach us. Our church, denominational or theological traditions as well as our hermeneutical methods often cloud our minds to what God is trying so hard to say. It was a problem that the religious establishment of his time had with Jesus, and often with the various prophets that preceded him whose stories we read about in the Old Testament.

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I am sure that others who are not Christians can say similar things about their faith, traditions and holy books. I remember an Iraqi General who I met who took the time to show me his well worn and read Arabic-English Bible. He was a Moslem, but he said that he learned so much from it because it was different than what was in the Koran and he meant no disrespect of his own faith by saying that. He had opened his mind to truth that others turn a blind eye to.

Some of the personal issues that prove to be deadly include what we don’t know about ourselves, usually dating back to childhood, how were raised, how we see God, if we perceive ourselves to be worthy of God’s love or worthy of the love and respect of others.  Those attitudes, especially those created as a result of negative relationships or even physical, emotional or sexual abuse, abandonment and rejection are powerful. Many of us like to pretend that we have gotten past those things but few of us actually do. Unfortunately there is a tendency for those issues to raise their heads in often very ugly ways as we minister as Chaplains.

For example: Let us say that we are distrustful of authority because of having an abuse parent, that we fear that no matter how well we do that there is always someone waiting to take us down. Let us say that we had previous experiences in the church, at work or maybe in prior military service where we were mistreated by those in authority.

I have found that if that condition is not dealt with that in a hierarchical organization such as the Chaplain Corps and the military that it is almost always fatal to the ability of the chaplain to minister in the organization. That is because the military is based on trust, our lives and mission depend on it. We have to trust the chain of command, we have to trust those that serve alongside of us and we have to trust our subordinates. There may be times when the chain of command fails and things don’t go right. There are toxic leaders and there are also toxic chaplains, one has to be aware that they are out there, know how to deal with them or survive under their command but one cannot presume that everyone is like that, trust is essential.

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I find it interesting that Jesus commended the faith of the Roman Centurion when instead of asking Jesus to come to his house and heal his servant simply said “But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”Matthew 8: 8b-9 Jesus told the people around that “he had not seen such faith in all of Israel.” Jesus saw the virtue of the Centurion, a virtue that many of his own people were lacking.

That is just one of a myriad of personal issues that can trip up a Chaplain in the military. The fact is that issues of the heart those things that we don’t like to admit are true about us, things that we are unaware about or in outright denial about in our lives are the things that go to the “heart” of who we are.

As fa as the minefields of my heart, they too are many. However the one that gets me time and time again is my passion for justice and my visceral reaction to those that I believe are bullies. That comes from my childhood. As a Navy brat I was always the new kid in town, and being that I was kind of the short, shy and introverted kid I was also kind of a nerd, or geek. I was not gifted with speed or great athletic abilities and it took me a while to find my academic prowess. That meant that I often didn’t fit in and though I was generally well liked that I would on occasion be bullied and I learned to defend myself, not very well at times but well enough to as the Klingons say “to die an honorable death.”

Jeremiah the prophet, who admittedly was most certainly clinically depressed if you look at his writings did note that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 Depressed or not Jeremiah did seem to understand that what he and many writers of scripture call “the heart” is hard to understand, especially when it is our own.

Thus I go back to Nouwen’s comment about the “twilight zone of the heart” that we cannot see. That it is why as Chaplains we have to develop relationships with people who can help us see what is in the twilight zone of our hearts and lovingly come alongside of us, not just as colleagues but as friends.

Those people may be clergy or other chaplains, but then they may not be. Perhaps they are senior enlisted personnel, long time friends, teachers, spiritual directors, counselors or our God forbid our spouses, I jest about the latter because my wife can see things about things about me that I cannot see, she is incredibly wise.

The minefields that exist in our hearts are so varied, so diverse and so treacherous. They have the potential to affect so many other parts of our lives. Thus for us as chaplains if we are not careful they can be destructive not only to us, but to those that we serve as well as those that we presume to love.

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When I look back at my career and I am honest about it, I can say without a doubt that most of the things that hurt me were a direct reflection of the minefields that were already present in my heart. When things that happened that I felt were unjust or threatening I reacted and quite often my reactions caused problems greater than what I was reacting to. All they needed was something to set them off. What I have come to understand is even though I have had a very successful and that I am now a Senior Officer that what lies in my heart can still blow me up and that I need to always be careful of those minefields that exist in the twilight zone of my heart.

Lao Tzu said: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

That is the key, those things that emanate from the deepest recesses of our hearts are full of minefields and we need to guard our hearts and minds in this ministry that we are privileged to have as military chaplains.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

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Note: This is a response to a question I had from a new Navy Chaplain. I have decided to post it here without any identification of the chaplain because I know that many men and women who are new to the military chaplaincy or who are exploring the possibilities of becoming a chaplain have the same questions. I was fortunate to have had a number of chaplains who at various points in my decision process and formation as a minister, Priest and Chaplain in  both the Army and the Navy help me with many of these questions. Likewise I learned far too much the hard way and blew myself up on some of the “land mines” that almost all who serve as chaplains experience in their careers. It will be the first of several parts to the letter and is my attempt to systematically explain my understanding of what it is to be a Chaplain serving in the military and in particularly the Navy.

Dear Chaplain,

“Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” Francis of Assisi 

I thank you for writing me about the questions that you have concerning ministry as a Navy Chaplain. They are incredibly good questions and I since you first asked me two days ago I have given them much thought before responding. I find that if I take the time to mull over such questions it is much more beneficial than simply spitting out whatever comes to mind first because if I don’t get the questions right my advice however good might be wrong. Of course even well thought out advice can be wrong in a given circumstance so you must contextualize the advice and adapt it to your own circumstances at any given time.

As a prologue to the actual questions that you ask I want to point you back to the words of St Francis. I think that they are they key to success in any ministry, but especially the chaplaincy.

As chaplains we are called by our churches or religious bodies to serve in an organization that is essentially secular. Our ordinations come from our churches or religious bodies and we are to be faithful to them. However our commissions as officers come from the President and this creates a dialectical tension that is hard to resolve for some. You will hear people talk about managing the “right and left side of our collars.” That of course is the fact that we wear our military rank on the right collar and the Cross that we wear as Christians or in the case of our Jewish, Islamic or Buddhist colleagues the Tablets of David, the Crescent or the Wheel of Life on the left.

Some attempt to seek a balance between the rank and the religious symbol. That is a bad model because but what typically happens is that chaplains become fall to one side or the other. By that I mean that they either place the military side higher and forget their call or minimize the military side and find that they have no voice in the system. I have seen many chaplains who have in their attempt to fit in with the military forgotten their call as ministers. On the other hand I have seen a number place such an emphasis on their own religious traditions and their perceived rights as ministers that they neglect the vast majority of the people that they are assigned to care for as chaplains. Both options are bad because ultimately we fail to serve those that we are called and given the privilege to serve.

A few years back I saw the travesty of trying to “balance” the two sides of the collar. From my observation those who tried this always end up becoming so military that they end up losing their faith distinctions or they never adapt to the military and even if they do “good ministry” they end up frustrated, are seen as an outsiders and have relatively short careers.

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As such I went back to Christian theology to find a model of ministry and that is in the hypostatic union of Jesus the Christ. By our understanding as Christians Jesus is both fully God and fully Human, not half and half, or any other percentage, but 100% God and 100% human. The fact is that as Navy Chaplains we are 100% ministers of our own faith group and 100% Naval Officer. As such we need to be the best we can at both and cannot allow ourselves to settle for anything less. If we attempt to “balance” we will fail in being ministers or being officers.

The military is not the church, as such  In the United States our service in such a capacity is not a right, it is a privilege. The right is not ours, it is right of the people that we serve to have the Constitutional right under the First Amendment to their “Free Exercise” of religion. As chaplains we facilitate the religious rights and freedoms of those who wear the same uniform that we wear, whether they of our faith, another faith or even of no faith. This is not about being “politically correct” but rather being faithful to two callings, both of which must be valid and respected in order for us to do what we are called to do as Navy Chaplains and there is always a tension in this. If you take a look at the chaplains that have trouble it is most often because believe that their right to free exercise is greater than the people that they are called to serve or that they lack a sufficient understanding of their call as Ministers, Priests, Rabbis or Imams. That is why Francis’ words are so important.

I think that many ministers, not just chaplains have a terrible understanding of our calling and vocation. To many the ministry is simply a job, their ordination and theological education the necessary prerequisites to perform the task. It is an attitude that I noted in seminary back in the late 1980s and early 1990s and have continued to observe over time. In seminary I had fellow students tell me that they were just thier to get a more advanced degree to help them get a bigger and better paying church. I had others friends disparage their theological education. I had one friend tell me that our degree was “only good for 5 years.” Obviously he was only thinking about the “how too classes” and not the courses that are really important to theological and pastroral formation.

But such is the state of theological education in this country. The fact is that most churches, seminaries or religious bodies do a pretty bad job at pastoral formation. We do a great job on teaching people how to manage churches, direct programs, teach doctrine, evangelize, run media empires or even become social and political activists, but a terrible job at actual pastoral formation and the latter is actually the most important task. Formation is primarily about relationships and relationships are what the Gospel is all about, beginning with the relationship of God to humanity and all of creation.

That may sound like I chased the proverbial rabbit but the attitude has a decided impact on the chaplain ministry. What happens is that this simply becomes a job and “skill sets” take priority over our calling and our service to those who were are called to serve during the time that we are allowed to serve in the Navy. We must never lose sight of who we are called to be as ministers, including the vows the we took when we were ordained as well as the oath that we swore as Naval Officers.

All that being said back to your questions. You asked first about the minefields that you might encounter as a chaplain. In a sense I have described some of them, they are very often related to who we are on the inside. It is as Lao Tzu said: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

The minefields that you asked are varied but most are related to what I have already described. They are often directly related to our own understanding of ourselves, our calling and our relationship to those that we are called to serve.

But to get into some detail on real, perceived and potential “minefields” you might encounter let me break them into several categories.

The first is the personal. As I stated before we have to know ourselves. This takes time and many people remain oblivious to who they are and what they are about, sometimes for most of their lives. Where this comes into play as a chaplain is that if we do not understand who we are and what we are about we will fail either in regard to our ministerial calling, our military vocation or our familial or ecclesiastical relationships.

The second is behavior. This is directly related to our personal behaviors and as we were told back during my early times as a new Army Chaplain. Most chaplains who self destruct tend to do so through SAM. Sex, alcohol or money. At any given time there are anywhere between half a dozen and dozen chaplains of all services serving time in Leavenworth or a regional Brig most having been convicted of charges involving SAM.

The third is professional. This is the nuts and bolts of what you will face as a Navy Chaplain. This includes your service to your crew, relationships with the chain of command and your fellow chaplains, your peers, your superiors and eventually those that you supervise as well as your Religious Programs Specialists or Chaplain Assistants. Likewise it includes your continuing relationships with your endorser and church that ordained you.

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I will continue the discussion of these three areas in the next couple of days. After those topics are address I will discuss the particularities of promotion and assignments in the Chaplain Corps. Since my experience includes 17 1/2 years  in the Army and 14 1/2 years in the Navy including service as a junior chaplain in both as well as service as a Field Grade Officer in the Army and now as a Senior Officer in the Navy Chaplain Corps my perspectives will be quite unique.

Thank you for your patience in reading through this as well as for asking your questions.  They have forced me to think about this subject in new ways and write in down my thoughts down ways that I never have before. Yes I have set down with and discussed these ideas and concepts with various chaplains but have never written them down in a systematic format until now. I do appreciate you giving me the chance to do this. It means a lot.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, leadership, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, philosophy