Tag Archives: fundamentalism

Marching Backwards Again: the Scopes Monkey Trial at 82

Scopes 1 newspaper Bethlehem Globe July 10 1925.gif

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Eighty-two years ago today a high school biology teacher in Dayton, Tennessee was convicted of teaching the theory of Evolution and fined $100 in defiance of The Butler Act, a state law written by Tennessee State Representative John W. Butler, a farmer and the head of the World Christian Fundamentals Association.

The text of the law stated:

“That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.”

Butler’s legislation did face some opposition in the State Senate. However it passed there on a vote of 24-6 after the famous Fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday preached as series of revival meetings to incite public opinion in favor of the bill. Sunday’s message was clear, he preached that “Education today is chained to the Devil’s throne” and praised Butler and the House for their “action against that God forsaken gang of evolutionary cutthroats.” The bill was signed into law by Governor Austin Peay, but Peay expected little to come of it.

martins-booth-in-dayton

It was a show trial that pitted a prosecutorial team led by proponents of Butler’s legislation and headed by William Jennings Bryan, a former Secretary of State and four-time Presidential Candidate against Scopes, who was defended by the renowned attorney Clarence Darrow. Though Bryant “won” the trial the result was not to his satisfaction and proved embarrassing to him and his cause. The trial judge refused to admit scientists and scholars as witnesses for the defense but Darrow, despite the “defeat” was the clear winner.

scopes1

Scopes-6

William Jennings Bryan (above) Clarence Darrow (below)

Marcet Haldeman-Julius wrote of Bryan at the trial:

“As he sat there in the court room, day after day, silent, fanning, fanning, his face set I was appalled by the hardness, the malice in it. No one who has watched the fanatical light in those hard, glittering black eyes of Bryan’s can doubt but that he believes both in a heaven and in a hell. At the same time the cruel lines of his thin, tight-pressed mouth proclaim, it seems to me, that he would stop at nothing to attain his own ends. It is anything but a weak face–Bryan’s. But it is a face from which one could expect neither understanding nor pity. My own opinion is that he is sincere enough in his religion. Also that in it is included the doctrine Paul so frankly taught–that a lie told for the glory of God is justified…”

I find it interesting that 82 years later the Republican Party has been hijacked by Christian Fundamentalists like Butler and Bryant. This was shown in a poll last week in which over half of the GOP respondents thought that college education was a bad thing and harmful for the country and propose bills that devastate education budgets, scientific studies, and promote an agenda that is harmful to the planet that we live on. Ignorance is forever busy.

Then of course the creationist descendants of Butler and Bryant are taking the State of Kentucky for all the money that they can with their massive Noah’s Ark Creation Museum paid for in part by taxpayer dollars. With the museum failing the group is doing its best to avoid paying taxes on the property by selling it to their non-profit entity for $10.

Such people claim to love God, but they manifestly hate his creation, including people God created who don’t believe like them. Scopes has passed into history but it lingers today.

Spencer Tracy, who played the fictional version of Darrow in the movie Inherit the Wind gave a speech in that movie which should be required reading for anyone:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind!”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, movies, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Hedonism and Fundamentalism: The Hallmarks of Ante-Bellum Pro-Slavery and Modern Evangelicalism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I spent part of yesterday reviewing my text of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory! so I could continue to write what I need for my literary agent to help in the process of getting it marketed and published. To quote the President “who ever thought it could be so complex?” but I digress…

In re-reading the text I came across a passage that struck me as entirely contemporary in its application and I had to stop. It was the fundamentalist theology of Southern Evangelicals that both justified slavery as well as the most hedonistic aspect of Southern life. It was a religion that defended slavery from biblical literalism and excused the worst aspects of the greedy, slothful, and lust filled life of the Southern slaveowners and oligarchs. This is the same kind of theology that today permits the enrichment of oligarchs and preachers while neglecting almost every other aspect of the Gospel simply because those in power promise to protect and empower Christians over others, especially white Christians, the more affluent the better. The love of prosperity Gospel and the gilded cage of Donald Trump’s Christianity are a great combination.

Some things never change, especially for Christian fundamentalists who in order to maintain their temporal power must justify the worst and most repugnant aspects of their culture; as the British Evangelical Anglican theologian Alister McGrath wrote: “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text. How else could supposed Christians support a leader who mocks their beliefs and tramples on the example of Jesus? Of course that too as a rhetorical question. It is a fact that throughout history many Christians in Europe, America, and in other parts of the world have had no problems supporting the most anti-Christian leaders and regimes and even participated in genocide for their benefit justifying it in the name of God.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, civil war, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Truth Deniers: The Fundamentalist Idolatry of Preachers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is, and some people cannot handle it.

Have a great Saturday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Friday Interuptions 

 
Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Interruptions are the spice of life. Carl Von Clausewitz talked about war being “the province of chance” and of course that can be a metaphor for life.  Shit happens and even the best laid plans of mice and men get way layer and mangled. Old dead Carl wrote that “chance makes everything more uncertain and interferes with the whole course of events” and that my friends has been my week so far. 

Of course as you know we lost our oldest and best furry child Molly on Monday which hit us hard. There is something else which I cannot say much about right now that is a source of concern for us, and then this morning as I wow working away we lost power at the staff college when a transformer blew. That interrupted work on my latest Gettysburg chapter revision and has forced a retirement ceremony for my friend Commander Lisa Rose to be moved outside. 

Lisa’s retirement ceremony will be special. Lisa is a great nurse who I worked with at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth back in 2008-2010. Back then while I was struggling with faith and life while working 80 to 100 hours a week, mostly in the ICU, Lisa who was Nurse Manager for our Inpatient Oncology Unit would put her arm around me and tell me to go home. Lisa is a tremendous Christian who lives her faith in a real and powerful way. She had to live most of her military life wondering if someone was going to try to get her kicked out of the Navy during the days of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell edict, something that gave a modicum of protection for Gay and Lesbian service members but did not protect them from the witch hunts of those who hate them. As such Lisa was not able to have her wife Karen attend functions that most of us consider routine for families to attend. Today was special because not only is Lisa a friend, but like the rest of us her wife was finally able to be honored like other military spouses who devote so much of their lives to their spouse’s careers. That meant a lot to me and it is an honor to be a part of her ceremony. I’m sure I will shed some tears today. 

After the ceremony I will likely be heading home for the day, unless power comes back. We have already dismissed our students and because to much of what we do is dependent on technology there is almost nothing I can do. 

Since I was bored I got on Facebook and tweaked some preachy preacher’s post on a friend’s page, sending him into a theological rage which has given me much ammo for a future blog post. The guy got so spun up so I tweaked him more and he just didn’t get the irony, or the humor of what I was doing. But sadly that is the base line for religious extremists of any persuasion. They cannot deal with history, humanity, or life, so they spend their lives building theological fortresses that make in impossible for the undesirables to enter and from which the cast aspersions and condemnation on all that disagree with them. But I digress…

So, that said it is time to get suited up and get ready for the ceremony and probably an early beer. As we know, beer is good, and as Oscar Wilde said “work is the curse of the drinking classes.” 

Let the games begin.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, Just for fun, Military, Religion

I Guess I am Not a Christian



i think that I am a Christian. I have been baptized, made my profession of faith, been confirmed, married in the church and been ordained as a Deacon and Priest, but I guess to some that isn’t enough. Of course I am talking about the Christian Taliban of the Christian Right, people whose theological knowledge and expression is about as articulate as a hamster on steroids, and who think that only they have the keys to the kingdom of God. 

I have consumed a fair amount of excellent craft beer tonight but even so, my understanding of faith, the  Christian Faith and theology is better than idiots that I encounter. I had it happen again tonight and of course it was some ignorant fundamentalist from Texas who decided that I was not a Christian. 

Frankly I have had it. The ignorance of the supposedly Christian Right, which sadly I have to say I once considered myself to be a part,  has so poisoned discourse in this country that it is embarrassing. If such is the Christian Faith I would rather be be condemned to Hell than to be considered a Christian by their standards. 

As Pedro Cerano (Denis Haysburt) said in the movie Major League “fuck you Jobu, I do it without you.”

Of course I am not talking about Jesus, who I like very much, but who is no help with curveball, but rather the ignorant fundamentalist who sit as prosecuting attorney, jury and judge over those who they hate. Yes I said hate, because that is the only explanation for such behavior. If that means that I am not a Christian, then so be it. 

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+ 

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

I Like Jesus Very much, but He no Help with Militant Angry Christians

Did you ever have one of those days where a militantly religious person attacks you ceaselessly because they are offended at something you said and continues to attack no matter how many times you try to let it go? It has been one of those days for me. On days like this I get weary of militant, angry and all too often ignorant Christians.  They make me tired but even still I will serve to ensure that they have their religious liberty.

There is a scene in the movie Major League where the Cuban defector Pedro Cerrano played by Dennis Haysbert, who has an altar to his God Jobu in his locker to help him hit the curveball. One of the other players ask him about Jesus and Cerrano says “Jesus, I like him very much, but he no help with curveball.” Well for me Jesus is no help with militantly angry Christians.

I have written over 1200 articles on this site some of which attract criticism and so long as the critic is polite and sticks to facts I deal with it pretty well. However I find that the nastiest of my critics are supposedly Christian. I cannot believe the hateful, rude and uncivil manner displayed by these people and on rare occasion I have responded with blunt criticism of their behavior. In fact in posts where I have been critical of any faith it is Christians who are the most vicious in their attacks. Even Moslems that have written when I have criticized either the actions of Moslem extremists or aspects of their religion are more decent than these Christians.

The funny thing is that I never get attacked for big stuff, but rather having the nerve to criticize their favorite preacher or suggest that Christian leaders that they idolize may have feet of clay. Even people that disagree with me on doctrine or divisive social and political topics, including those espoused by Christians generally try to stick to some kind of ground rules when they comment. They stick to the issues and don’t for the most part make it personal.

However, there is a type of religious personality that cannot abide any criticism of their leaders. You name the religion and you will find people that are militantly aggressive and even violent to those that criticize their current earthly leader or some previous leader. It as if you criticize them you are criticizing God even when it is well deserved criticism completely backed up with facts. But then to such people facts don’t matter.

Likewise the viciousness levied by such Christians against “sinners” is appalling, especially homosexuals and people of non-Christian religions. Jeremy Affeldt, an Evangelical Christian and pitcher for the San Francisco Giants commented on his blog recently:

“It’s getting harder all the time to say, “I’m a Christian.” I’m not afraid to say I’m a Christian. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say it! I’m embarrassed by how people view Christianity, as a judging faith. The way people view Christianity is not the way that sinners viewed Jesus. Sinners loved Jesus! They knew He loved them! And as much as it is possible, I want to be viewed like Jesus was viewed, as someone who loves people.”

I stand in total agreement with him. I deal with a lot of people who have been for a large number of diverse reasons been treated badly by the church as an institution or by some of the people who act as if they are the final arbiter of truth or God’s judgement.

I find it little wonder that people are leaving Christian churches of all denominations in droves. For most of these people it is not about God or Jesus, or even the Bible. It is due to the lack of love, care, compassion exhibited by Christians and the institutional corruption, lack of transparency, double standards and political machinations of churches over people that are not of their faith or under their institutional control. The surveys conducted by Christian pollsters like George Barna bear this out. When asked what words or phrases “best describe Christianity” the top response of 16-29 years olds was “anti-homosexual” while 91% of all non-Christians surveyed said this was the first word as it was for 80% of Christians in the survey. Here are those words that describe Christians. Personally I don’t like them but it is what it is.

Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;
Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it
Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts
Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality.
Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda

The sad thing is that we are not simply alienating non-Christians we are losing young Christians in this cesspool of Christless Christianity. I wrote about this about a year ago in an article entitled Reaching the Lost Christian Generation.I wrote another article when novelist Anne Rice announced that she was leaving the Catholic Church called Anne Rice and the Exodus. Both articles deal with reality that many conservative Christian leaders refuse to recognize. The fact is that in many western countries Christians and the institutional church behave as if they are both entitled to being at the top of the heap and play the victim when they don’t get their way or when someone dares to criticize them or their leaders.

Jesus told his disciples that people would know they were his disciples by their love for one another. It was a sentiment that even the Roman persecutors of the early Church echoed.

I just hope that despite my own faults that people who come to me in person, or on this site see me as someone that loves people hopefully as Jesus would. What grieves me about some of those that attack and attack and attack is that they try every nerve that I have, and the sad thing as most of them don’t take the time to actually find out anything about me or what I believe before they launch their attacks. I can in a small way understand Jesus’ frustration with the religious leaders of his time.

Here is to hoping that things will get better.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Learning from David Wilkerson: A Reflective Moment

David Wilkerson died Wednesday in a tragic car wreck on a rural East Texas highway bridge. I wrote about this yesterday and have had more time to reflect on Reverend Wilkerson’s life and ministry and what struck me again and again as I read his blog posts and some of his books, was how he defied being put in a neat box.  It is a time for us to reflect on the life of the man and the content of his ministry so we might learn from him and serve God’s people.

If you cherry picked his writings you could paint a picture of him to make him in your own image. His theology was classic Pentecostalism and he was a Pre-Millennial Dispensationalist. These two pillars were foundational to his ministry. He was a young Pentecostal minister before Pentecostalism hit the mainstream and became a fashionable faith for well off political conservatives.  Pentecostalism began as a movement among the not so well to do back in the early part of the 20th Century. I think that gave David Wilkerson a heart to go into the slums of New York City and begin a ministry to gang members, drug abusers and prostitutes, people that most churches across the denomination spectrum of the day held in distain kind of like the religious crowd back in Jesus’ day.  He certainly didn’t go there for the money or for that matter with the goal of building a mega-church.  He went there because he heard about the violence and the suffering and he was used by God to change a lot of lives.  Likewise he never lost sight of that ministry but took it worldwide and then in the late 1980s when New York was in the tank awash in poverty crime and gang violence he went back. He took a former theater in Times Square which was the hub of all sorts of nastiness and planted a church there which is there to this day attracting a wide variety of parishioners and pilgrims.  By the church-growth school models it was not a smart move but he was obedient to the call that God had placed upon him two decades before.

His message was influenced by his Eschatology or belief in the End Times.  That message saturates his writings as he called people to be ready for the coming of the Lord, something that if I recall correctly is scriptural even if one does not embrace Wilkerson’s Dispensationalism as their eschatology. The Creed even says it “and he shall come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” Wilkerson was a Pentecostal in his understanding of this and also believed that God still speaks today and that the spiritual gift of prophecy was still operative in the church. In this he was not unique even if some of his warnings seemed overblown or did not take place.  However his messages were always full of sadness when he spoke of judgment and he obviously was not watching CNN on a daily basis to check out what changes he needed to make to his message to sell more books and tapes.  He was authentic and honest and the message that he preached came out of a heart that was broken for the people of the earth. Through his work with the least, the lost and the lonely he was very sensitive to injustice, greed and the cult of personality.  When he preached a message of impending judgment it was because he believed it and because like so many of the Biblical prophets, especially Jeremiah who he reminded me of.  One could disagree with his interpretation of the signs of the times but one could never doubt that he actually cared about those he was warning.

If that was all that you wanted to believe about him you could paint him as just another Fundamentalist preacher.  But he defied that label.  His work, preaching and life showed that he was a man who also embraced the call of Jesus to care for those who were not welcome in respectable circles making him somewhat of a social Gospel type as well. In his prophetic preaching he condemned the Social Darwinism of unfettered Capitalism and some of his harshest messages were to the financial elites especially the banking industry.

Another interesting thing about him was that as he grew in ministry he refused to judge or condemn individuals and unlike many popular preachers had friends who were homosexual.  He did not agree with their lifestyle and he was honest in what he believed about homosexuality when he dealt with them but he did not drive them away.  He hated what he believed were the sins of homosexuals but he actually had compassion for them and maintained friendships with homosexuals, in other words he hated what he believed to be their sin but loved them and had compassion for them.

Wilkerson held himself and others to very high standards of Christian conduct a direct outgrowth of Pentecostalism’s roots in the Holiness movement.  Again he wasn’t a hypocrite, in his writings he admitted his own struggles in regard to his faithfulness and what he believed were his own failings. When one reads his last several months of essays on his blog you see a man engaged in an intense personal spiritual struggle even as he sought to encourage others going through similar times.  His willingness to write about this was remarkable by present standards where so much allegedly Christian preaching is shallow and insipid pop-psychology covered with a veneer of Bible verses and baptized as “Christian teaching” by men and women that never admit their weakness or faults until a scandal erupts and they have to apologize.  His writings as I pointed out last night reminded me of Jeremiah the weeping prophet who undoubtedly suffered from severe depression and even a bit of Martin Luther who struggled with his own worthiness even as he proclaimed the message of being saved by grace through faith.

I think that we can really learn from David Wilkerson’s life without putting him on a pedestal and proclaiming him as some sort of extra-special Christian that he would tell us not to do.  He was not a man of pretense and if you read his writings there are in them a sense of humility and unworthiness that at times comes to the forefront.  I think we need to remember him as someone who was obedient and authentic in the way that he lived his life and conducted his ministry.  He didn’t seek out the approval of the rich or powerful and was not one who was a partisan political activist. Where he was politically active it was mostly at the local level in trying to help those without a voice.  He was not a pawn of either major political party. Liberals could agree with his messages against corporate greed while conservatives could agree with his message of personal responsibility.  He was simply a Christian minster who cared about the kind of people that Jesus hung out with most of the time.  He embodied the traditions of his Pentecostal faith and was not a man that pursued the latest and hottest ministry fads.

I think that those things make him unique and hard to copy. There will be those that seek to emulate him and if they do it in his spirit versus trying to “claim his mantle” as some would want to do they will do well. I hope that those that emulate him will do it in humility and seek to be who they are as Christians and ministers and care for those that he cared for rather than trying to mimic his prophetic messages.

As I read article after article about Reverend Wilkerson today I was struck that even those that disagreed with him had nothing bad to say about him. The closest thing to a snarky attitude in an article came from the Wall Street Journal which appeared attempt to smear him by noting that Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart were fellow Assembly of God ministers and was the only paper to make light of his preaching.   The “liberal” New York Times, USA Today and others were much classier than the journal in writing about Wilkerson and good on them.

I didn’t agree with his eschatology and some of his teachings as I theological moderate from a catholic tradition. Likewise I see his struggle in his writings and I wonder about the circumstances of his death in light of those writings, but none of that takes away my admiration for his authenticity and willingness to care and be a voice for the least, the lost and the lonely.  We can only hope than in our time of economic crisis and political division that we will have more men like him who are authentic and faithfully proclaim the Word of God while caring for God’s people without seeking their own aggrandizement or power.

We thank God for David Wilkerson and for the lives that were changed through his ministry even as we pray for his family, friends and co-workers.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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