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The YUCK Factor: Religious Freedom & Kim Davis

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am getting so tired of people who decide that their religious freedom trumps everyone else’s freedoms as well as the law. The example of the Recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County Kentucky, Mrs. Kim Davis provides us a shining example of this from the Christian side of the house; and I can only say YUCK! So today I am taking a certain amount of delight that she is now in jail, the German word for my feeling of joy is schadenfreude. It’s a great word that we don’t use often enough.

I cannot speak authoritatively about non-Christians who decide that they can disobey law based on their religious freedom, and frankly I haven’t heard about too many of those cases;. However, as a Christian, a historian, a theologian, and a military officer charged with upholding the law; I can comment on Christians who decide to disobey the law in the name of their faith.

Freedom of religion is the most abused freedom that we have in this country. For the most part it is we can blame politically powerful conservative Christians abusing it. For them their religious freedom is a constitutional absolute which allows them to pick and choose what laws they do not want to obey; of course should a Moslem public official attempt this these same people will scream about Moslems trying to impose Sharia law on non-Moslems.

The fact that there are thousands of Christian denominations and split offs makes this messy. It is messy because while most of these Christians claim to believe in Jesus and the Bible, most cannot agree on any doctrine; except that they hate Gays. Other than that there is there is almost no consensus of belief. American Christianity is a pick-and-choose smorgasbord of beliefs, in which the individual’s right to choose what they want to believe about God is now spilling out of the church, and over into society at large. They chose what laws they will obey, and the religious beliefs that they want the government to enforce against others based on their “sincerely held religious views.” 

To that I say YUCK! As Attorney Alan Shore played by James Spader said in Boston Legal “Enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck. Yuck, yuck.”

But this is the latest “in-thing” for Christian bullies to do. In fact, the failing Presidential Candidate and seminary drop-out Mike Huckabee, got in on the act today. He commended Mrs. Davis today, saying that he called her and “let her know how proud I am of her for not abandoning her religious convictions and standing strong for religious liberty…” Likewise Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are conniving to find a way to legislate ways for Christians to do this, while forgetting the legal precedent that would allow others to do the same in the name of their religion, and they will cry foul when a Moslem uses that precedent.

The fact is that this pompous attempt to make Evangelical Christianity a State Religion, is positively abusive toward all other citizens.  To be fair the attempts by Mrs. Davis and her political and legal supports needs to be called out by Christians, if we want to be taken seriously. If we don’t we as will denigrate our witness in the community and if the time ever comes, will forfeit our rights if someone wants to use the legal precedent that we set against us.

Dr. Mark Silk, Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college’s Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, calls this “Spiritual Libertarianism” and it is dangerous both to society, as well as the church. Or should I say churches, since given the chance and the backing of the government, a big church with the majority of adherents in an area will always oppress smaller churches, non-Christian religions and unbelievers. Since I have written a lot about this facet of religious liberty I will not go into that in depth here. Just put “religious liberty” or “freedom of religion” in the little search box on this site, and you will see my long list of articles on the subject, most dealing with our religious history.

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But I digress… These people, including the Recalcitrant County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, Mrs. Kim Davis, all claim to be obey the Bible, but they totally ignore other parts of the Bible. Jesus said to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” and the Apostle Paul commanded Christians in his letter to the Romans, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

So, this absolute right that Davis and so many others a championing is overplayed and dangerous. To quote attorney Alan Shore:

“Ugh, please. It’s a dumb freedom….And I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little tired of this freedom of religion thing. When did religion get such a good name, anyway? Be it the Crusades, the Reformation genocides, the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters supposedly in the name of Allah, and then, of course, the obligatory reciprocal retribution. Hundreds of millions of people have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his Creator. 9/11 was an act of religious extremism. It’s our greatest threat today—a Holy Jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how ‘bout we at least scale back a little on the constitutional dogma exalting it as all get-out?” (Boston Legal “Whose God is it Anyway” Season 3 episode 5)

I am beginning to believe, like Alan Shore that religious freedom is a dumb freedom. This is not because I do not value it, but because it is so abused by people who want to establish a theocracy. This is something that our founders and even influential religious leaders of their day, did their best to avoid.

The fact is that these true believers, like Mrs. Davis, who desire to have their religious beliefs exalted over law and the rights of others are dangerous. Eric Hoffer wrote, that true believers, especially the religious type were likely to see themselves as “as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

People are looking for something different than this and they are fleeing the church in droves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was killed by the Nazis in 1945 wrote something about German Christians of his time that more American Christians should take to heart:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.”

Christians no longer have a good name in this country because we act like we are better than everyone else. What Mrs. Davis and her supporters are doing is to make that even worse. A pox on them.

Davis told Fox News before the ruling, “This is a heaven or hell issue for me and for every other Christian that believes…This is a fight worth fighting.” In other words, she is a Christian that believes and Christians who do not agree with her are not.

If you wonder why people are fleeing Christianity look no farther than Mrs. Davis’s and her supporters. Their perverted and insidiously malignant “Christianity” is the cause of this. As I said yesterday by the standards of Christian orthodoxy she is not even a Christian based on her beliefs about the Godhead. In Calvin’s Geneva and almost all countries with state churches in Europe, as well as the Massachusetts Bay Colony, she would have been burned at the stake for her beliefs; beliefs that she now presumes to hold as the standard for all other people. Basically, she has just had the nerve to say, in so many words, that the rest of us are going to hell. Of course in Jesus Name, Amen.

As to the ruling of Federal District Judge David Bunning which sent Mrs. Davis to jail until she complies with the law: it also requires her deputies to carry out their duties and authorizing county judges to issue marriage licenses. Five of the six deputies have agreed to follow the law. 

Now the Kentucky legislature which has tried to avoid the issue, and to kick the can down the road until next year might actually have to get off their asses and do something to amend their laws regarding marriage as well as what officials can issue a marriage certificate. That is if they want Mrs. Davis to keep her job and get out of jail before the next legislative session in 2016.

Davis and her followers, including the crass politicians trying to carve out exemptions for people like her to disobey the law have poisoned the water for anyone wanting to actually be a positive influence on society as Christians, and I include conservative “pro-life” Christians, as well as progressive Christians who advocate a more inclusive faith and relationship to society.

But, as more people flee the church and the Christian faith, the leaders of this movement to impose Christian beliefs on others through the power of the state, will have no one else to blame. They are the cause of this. The Barna group did a scientific survey of the attitudes of 18-29 year-olds on what phrases best described Christians. The top answers were “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers. Another Barna survey mentioned Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna survey of Evangelical Christians of the same demographic found that they believed that, “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.” 

As for now I am glad that she is in jail. The sad thing for her though is that the people who helped get her to jail at Liberty Counsel, will jettison her as soon as they can no longer make money off of her cause; and that will not be very long from now. They will move along and find some other dupe to do their bidding. By dupe, I do not mean a devout Christian, but rather one stupid enough to trust the judgement of politically motivated lawyers like Liberty Counsel who get them tossed in jail, and pocket vast amounts of money for their next legal crusade.

But then there seems to be an unending supply of dupes who think they are doing God’s will, and sadly, not just in this country. The Middle East is full of them.

God help us all.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, laws and legislation, LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Liberty & Those who Oppose It: the Aftermath of Obergfell v. Hodges

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I rejoiced yesterday when majority of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality throughout the country. I believe that this was an important continuation in or understanding of ever expanding liberty found in the Declaration of Independence that Abraham Lincoln said in 1854 was the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” 

Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Samuel Kercheval in 1816 that we should take to heart when we look at changes in laws that religious traditionalists oppose so vehemently:

“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.” 

When Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the case of Obergfell v. Hodges he made a comment that echoed the words of Thomas Jefferson when he wrote:

Changes, such as the decline of arranged marriages and the abandonment of the law of coverture, have worked deep transformations in the structure of marriage, affecting aspects of marriage once viewed as essential. These new insights have strengthened, not weakened, the institution. Changed understandings of marriage are characteristic of a Nation where new dimensions of freedom become apparent to new generations.

In the aftermath of Obergfell v. Hodges these people are scrambling to carve out exemptions to the law in order to ensure that the prejudices ingrained in their “sincerely held religious belief” can remain. Of course for churches that is not an issue, churches can grant or deny the sacraments or ordinances of their faith to anyone they chose to and this they routinely do. If you desire to get married in a church you must follow the rules for that church, and the clergy of that church are free to deny sacraments, including marriage to anyone. If you are not a Roman Catholic in good standing you are not permitted to receive the Eucharist, you may not be married in the church, and other churches including many Baptists and other “free” churches have similar prohibitions that no court has dared to overturn. This even includes rules that discriminate against women who cannot be ordained clergy. So when I hear pastors screaming that somehow they will be prosecuted or jailed for refusing to marry gays I have to throw the bullshit flag.

Now this may not apply to the “ministers” who set up their own so called marriage chapels where unconnected to any church they operate as for profit businesses. Sometimes courts do find in favor of litigants in civil proceedings when such businesses use their prejudice to deny services to people, especially gays.

While I am a historian and should know better, I am amazed to see many American Christians doing all they can in the name of protecting their Religious Liberty to deny rights to those that they disapprove. I shouldn’t be surprised, Thomas Jefferson wrote of what happens when preachers and priests lead political movements. Jefferson so rightly noted:

“History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”

James Madison, who crafted the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment wrote:

“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?”

Currently this is the case with the Republican Party, a party that I remind you that I belonged for over three decades, beginning with my work for the Ford campaign as a high school student. I left the GOP in 2008 after years of disillusionment, and lies when I returned from Iraq.

Barry Goldwater, a conservative if there ever was one, a man that would be driven out of today’s GOP spoke on the Senate floor in the early 1980s at the beginning of the Reagan Revolution and the commandeering of the party by politically minded preachers like Jerry Falwell, James Robertson, Dr. D. James Kennedy, James Dobson and of course our local Tidewater Taliban Mullah, Pat Robertson. Goldwater so wisely noted:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Well, now the preachers have control of that party. Every declared candidate for the GOP presidential nomination kowtows to these religious leaders and nearly every one of them has come out to announce their opposition to the Supreme Court ruling.

Some are suggesting that thousands of preachers run for office in the GOP in order to foist their agenda on the rest of the population. Right now Conservative Christians for all intents and purposes run many state legislatures. In the ones that they have controlled for the past number of years they have been enacting all sorts of discriminatory laws against those they find offensive, and have attempted to shackle the study of science, history, and roll back voting rights for minorities.

This is particularly true of the conservative Christian, antipathy towards Gays, Lesbians and others in the LGBT community. In the past number of weeks I have seen proposed legislation in several states that would allow people to discriminate against anyone simply based on a sincerely held religious belief.

Other laws passed within the six moths at the state level in Arkansas and West Virginia to nullify any city or county ordinances banning discrimination against gays. In other words, religious zealots in control of state houses are imposing heir beliefs on cities, towns and counties that are more progressive in regard to the treatment of gays.

The irony is that the people who complain about Federal laws which trump state law are doing the same thing that they object to in order to ensure that citizens of their states are treated less than equal.

The target of these laws are gays and the LGBT community, but anyone with half a brain knows that once they are on the books they provide ample room for religious zealots of any kind to discriminate and even persecute those that they despise.

They may start with the gays, but be assured, those who pass these laws will extend them to apply to anyone to whom they believe harms or interferes with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Jefferson also noted “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

It is something that our founders wisely chose to avoid, not wanting this nation to become like the European nations whose state churches had denied rights, persecuted and killed those that they deemed heretical. While the proponents of these new laws to “protect” religious liberty claim that they are done with no intent to discriminate, there is only one reason to enact them, that to give legal protection to people who want to discriminate. Is this not what is happening throughout the Middle East as Islamic fundamentalists of various sects impose similar laws on Christians as well as others including Moslems of rival sects?

Now just imagine for one moment living in such a society, a society where someone who was not of the right race, or belief did not enjoy the same freedoms of other citizens. Imagine a society where those that started with laws to supposedly defend their religious liberty, or rights then supported other more far reaching laws, laws which deprived those that they demonized and refused to serve of citizenship, freedom of association, freedom of movement, and robbed them of their homes and businesses, banished them to ghettos and eventually exterminated them. While the Nazis primarily went after the Jews, they also went after the gays.

Of course the Nazis did this in the years leading up to World War Two in their actions against loyal German Jews who simply wanted to fit in, and well we Americans, let’s not even go there… but the let’s go there. We have the extermination and the ghettoization of our Native American population, we have the African slave trade and the institution of slavery, we have the human trafficking and exploitation of Chinese workers in the 1800s, the Jim Crow Laws, and yes the incarceration of Japanese Americans in what we called “internment camps” in World War Two.

Now for one minute tell me that those that propose such barbarous laws now to be used against the gays, simply because Christians want to have a law that allows them to discriminate against those they hate and condemn to hell are that much different than those Christians, be they American or German who justified their actions with law based on their deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs? I think not. In fact the whole proposition that we enact such laws flies in the face of the wars that these same people want to send in the ground troops to fight Islamic State over. Heck, the Islamic State is actually acting out the fantasies of the most extreme American Christian anti-gay preachers. They are killing gays, throwing them off the roofs of tall buildings. Sadly, many American Christians so consumed by the hate and paranoia being preached in their churches and by right-wing political groups which pose, as Christian ministries don’t see that their actions are simply a different breed of the same animal. Right now, the difference is just a matter of degree.

I think that is why Thomas Jefferson wrote this very pertinent warning to us who might want to return to the barbarous ways of our ancestors:

“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 personally do not want to live under the laws of our barbarous ancestors, and I will fight for the rights of those who are being targeted, primarily the LGBT community, but anyone else, by the lawmakers and supporters of such laws.

That my friends is why I rejoice in the Supreme Court ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges. It is a step to moving forward in liberty and progress and away from barbarism.

So have a great and thoughtful Saturday,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, faith, History, laws and legislation, LGBT issues, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Bible on Our Side: Southern Religious Support of Slavery

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This week I have been relating religion to civil rights through the lens of the slavery, abolition, and the ante-bellum United States and today I will continue that with another section of my Civil War and Gettysburg Staff Ride text. It comes from the same chapter as my past few posts dealing with the role of religion and ideology in the period and its effect on the antagonists before, during and after the war. 

It is a lens through which we can view other topics that divide us today including the continuing battle against racism, Women’s rights and Gay rights. The fact is that we cannot isolate these issues from the understanding that the defense of liberty for all safeguards liberty for all. Sadly, there are a substantial number of Christians in the United States who do not believe that and through the legislative process seek to limit, role back, or completely deny rights to groups that they despise, especially Gays, but also women, and racial and religious minorities. We cannot get around that fact. It is happening with new instances occurring almost every week, and much of these laws are being passed due to the “sincerely held religious beliefs” of Christians to deny other people’s rights based on their interpretation of Biblical texts.

The words of the current politicians, preachers and pundits who fight to limit the rights of others is strikingly similar to those who defended slavery and attacked those who fought against it.   

This is not new, it has happened many times in our history, but the most notorious and injurious to American society was the defense of the institution of Slavery by American Christians, particularly those in the South. This article discusses that defense of slavery which arose in response to the tiny, but vocal number of Christians who helped lead the abolition movement.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

OTCauction

Southern Religious Support of Slavery

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side…” Reverend Robert Lewis Dabney on defending slavery and condemning its critics

In light of the threat posed to slavery by the emerging abolitionist movement, slaveholders were forced to shift their defense of slavery away from it being simply a necessary evil to a positive good. The institution of slavery became “in both secular and religious discourse, the central component of the mission God had designed for the South.” [1] Like in the North where theology was at the heart of many abolitionist arguments, in the South theology was used to enshrine and defend the institution of slavery. British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath notes how “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.” [2]

Southern religion was a key component of something bigger than itself and played a role in the development of an ideology much more entrenched in the Southern culture than the abolitionist cause did in the North. This was in large part due to the same Second Great Awakening that brought abolitionism to the fore in the North. “Between 1801 when he Great Revival swept the region and 1831 when the slavery debate began, southern evangelicals achieved cultural dominance in the region. Looking back over the first thirty years of the century, they concluded that God had converted and blessed their region.” [3] The Southern ideology which enshrined slavery as a key component of all areas of life was a complete worldview, a system of values, culture, religion and economics, or to use the more modern German term “Weltanschauung.” The Confederate worldview was the Cause. As Emory Thomas wrote in his book The Confederate Nation:

“it was the result of the secular transubstantiation in which the common elements of Southern life became sanctified in the Southern mind. The South’s ideological cause was more than the sum of its parts, more than the material circumstances and conditions from which it sprang. In the Confederate South the cause was ultimately an affair of the viscera….Questions about the Southern way of life became moral questions, and compromises of Southern life style would become concession of virtue and righteousness.” [4]

Despite the dissent of some, the “dominant position in the South was strongly pro-slavery, and the Bible was used to defend this entrenched position.” [5] This was tied to a strongly Calvinistic theology which saw slavery in context with the spread of the evangelical Protestant faith that had swept through the South as slavery spread. For many, if not most Southern ministers “the very spread of evangelical religion and slave labor in the South was a sign of God’s divine favor. Ministers did not focus on defending slavery in the abstract but rather championed Christian slaveholding as it was practiced in the American South. Though conceding that some forms of slavery might be evil, Southern slavery was not.” [6]

The former Governor of South Carolina, John Henry Hammond, led the religiously based counter argument to the abolitionists. Hammond’s arguments included biblical justification of blacks being biologically inferior to whites and slavery being supported in the Old Testament where the “Hebrews often practiced slavery” and in the New testament where “Christ never denounced servitude.” [7] Hammond warned:

“Without white masters’ paternalistic protection, biologically inferior blacks, loving sleep above all and “sensual excitements of all kinds when awake” would first snooze, then wander, then plunder, then murder, then be exterminated and reenslaved.” [8]

Others in the South, including politicians, pundits and preachers were preaching “that slavery was an institution sanction by God, and that even blacks profited from it, for they had been snatched out of pagan and uncivilized Africa and been given the advantages of the gospel.” [9] The basic understanding was that slavery existed because “God had providential purposes for slavery.” [10]

At the heart of the pro-slavery theological arguments was in the conviction of most Southern preachers of human sinfulness. “Many Southern clergymen found divine sanction for racial subordination in the “truth” that blacks were cursed as “Sons of Ham” and justified bondage by citing Biblical examples.” [11] But simply citing scripture to justify the reality of a system of which they reaped the benefit, is just part of the story. The real issue was far greater than that. The theology that justified slavery also, in the minds of many Christians in the north justified what they considered “the hedonistic aspects of the Southern life style.” [12] This was something that abolitionist preachers continually emphasized, criticizing the greed, sloth and lust inherent in the culture of slavery and plantation life, and was an accusation of which Southern slaveholders, especially evangelicals took umbrage, for in their understanding good men could own slaves. Their defense was rooted in their theology. The hyper-individualistic language of Southern evangelicalism gave “new life to the claim that good men could hold slaves. Slaveholding was a traditional mark of success, and a moral defense of slavery was implicit wherever Americans who considered themselves good Christians held slaves.” [13] The hedonism and fundamentalism that existed in the Southern soul, was the “same conservative faith which inspired John Brown to violence in an attempt to abolish slavery…” [14]

Slave owners frequently expressed hostility to independent black churches and conducted violence against them, and “attacks on clandestine prayer meetings were not arbitrary. They reflected the assumption (as one Mississippi slave put it) “that when colored people were praying [by themselves] it was against them.” [15] But some Southern blacks accepted the basic tenets of slave owner-planter sponsored Christianity. Frederick Douglass later wrote “many good, religious colored people who were under the delusion that God required them to submit to slavery and wear their chains with weakness and humility.” [16]

The political and cultural rift began to affect entire church denominations. The heart of the matter went directly to theology, in this case the interpretation of the Bible in American churches. The American Protestant and Evangelical understanding was rooted in the key theological principle of the Protestant Reformation, that of Sola Scripura, which became an intellectual trap for northerners and southerners of various theological stripes. Southerners believed that they held a “special fidelity to the Bible and relations with God. Southerners thought abolitionists either did not understand the Bible or did not know God’s will, and suspected them of perverting both.” [17]The problem was then, as it is now that:

“Americans favored a commonsense understanding of the Bible that ripped passages out of context and applied them to all people at all times. Sola scriptura both set and limited terms for discussing slavery and gave apologists for the institution great advantages. The patriarchs of the Old Testament had owned slaves, Mosaic Law upheld slavery, Jesus had not condemned slavery, and the apostles had advised slaves to obey their masters – these points summed up and closed the case for many southerners and no small number of northerners.” [18]

In the early decades of the nineteenth century there existed a certain confusion and ambivalence to slavery in most denominations. The Presbyterians exemplified this when in 1818 the “General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, while opposing slavery against the law of God, also went on record as opposing abolition, and deposed a minister for advocating abolition.” [19] There were arguments by some American Christians including some Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and others to offer alternative ways to “interpreting and applying scripture to the slavery question, but none were convincing or influential enough to force debate” [20] out of the hands of literalists.

However the real schisms between the Northern and Southern branches of the major denominations which began to emerge in the mid to late 1830s continued to grow with the actual breakups of the major denominations coming in the 1840s. The first denomination to split were the Methodists. This occurred in 1844 when “the Methodist General Conference condemned the bishop of Georgia for holding slaves, the church split and the following year saw the birth of the Methodist Episcopal Church.” [21] Not all Methodists in the South agreed with this split and a few Methodist abolitionists in the South “broke away from mainline Methodism to form the Free Methodist Church.” [22]

The Baptists were next, when the Foreign Mission Board “refused to commission a candidate who had been recommended by the Georgia Baptist Convention, on the ground that he owned slaves” [23] resulting in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Baptist split is interesting because until the early 1800s there existed a fairly strong anti-slavery movement in states such as Kentucky, while in 1790 the General Committee of Virginia “adopted a statement calling slavery “a violent deprivation of the rights of nature, and inconsistent with a republican government; and therefore [we] recommend it to our brethren to make use of every legal measure, to extirpate the horrid evil from the land.” [24]

However, in many parts of the Deep South there existed no such sentiment and in South Carolina, noted Baptist preachers including “Richard Furman, Peter Bainbridge, and Edmund Botsford were among the larger slaveholders.” [25] Furman wrote a defense of slavery in 1822 where he made the argument that “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures by precept and example.” [26] After a number of slave uprisings, including the Nat Turner Revolt in Virginia, pro-slavery voices “tended to silence any remaining antislavery voices in the South.” [27]

These voices grew more ever more strident and in 1835 the Charleston Association “adopted a militant defense of slavery, sternly chastising abolitionists as “mistaken philanthropists, and denuded and mischievous fanatics.” [28] Those who met in Augusta Georgia to found the new Southern Baptist Convention indicated that “the division was “painful” but necessary because” our brethren have pressed upon every inch of our privileges and our sacred rights.” [29] Since the Baptist split was brought about by the refusal of the Triennial Convention to appoint slaveholders as foreign missionaries the new convention emphasized the theological nature of their decision:

“Our objects, then, are the extension of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the glory of God. Not disunion with any of his people; not the upholding of any form of civil rights; but God’s glory, and Messiah’s increasing reign; in the promotion of which, we find no necessity for relinquishing any of our civil rights. We will never interfere with what is Caesar’s. We will not compromit what is God’s.” [30]

Of course, to the Baptists who met at Augusta, “what was Caesar’s” was obviously the institution of slavery.

The last denomination to officially split was the Presbyterians in 1861 who, “reflecting the division of the nation, the Southern presbyteries withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and founded their own denomination.” [31] The split in the Presbyterian Church had been obvious for years despite their outward unity. Some Southern pastors and theologians were at the forefront of battling their northern counterparts for the theological high ground that defined just whose side God was on. James Henley Thornwell presented the conflict between northern evangelical abolitionists and southern evangelical defenders of slavery in Manichean terms. He believed that abolitionists attacked religion itself.

“The “parties in the conflict are not merely abolitionists and slaveholders,…They are atheists, socialists, communists, red republicans, Jacobins, on one side, and friends of order and regulated freedom on the other. In one word, the world is the battle ground – Christianity and Atheism as the combatants; and the progress of humanity at stake.” [32]

Robert Lewis Dabney, a southern Presbyterian pastor who later served as Chief of Staff to Stonewall Jackson in the Valley Campaign and at Seven Pines and who remained a defender of slavery long after the war was over wrote that:

“we must go before the nation with the Bible as the text and ‘Thus saith the Lord’ as the answer….we know that on the Bible argument the abolition party will be driven to reveal their true infidel tendencies. The Bible being bound to stand on our side, they have to come out and array themselves against the Bible. And then the whole body of sincere believers at the North will have to array themselves, though unwillingly, on our side. They will prefer the Bible to abolitionism.” [33]

Southern churches and church leaders were among the most enthusiastic voices for disunion and secession. They labeled their Northern critics, even fellow evangelicals in the abolition movement as “atheists, infidels, communists, free-lovers, Bible-haters, and anti-Christian levelers.” [34] The preachers who had called for separation from their own national denominations years before the war now “summoned their congregations to leave the foul Union and then to cleanse their world.” [35] Thomas R.R. Cobb, a Georgia lawyer, an outspoken advocate of slavery and secession who was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg, wrote proudly that Secession “has been accomplished mainly by the churches.” [36]

The Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church, New Orleans declared in his Thanksgiving sermon:

“Our enemies…have “defamed” our characters, “lacerated” our feelings, “invaded “our rights, “stolen” our property, and let “murderers…loose upon us, stimulated by weak or designing or infidel preachers. With “the deepest and blackest malice,” they have “proscribed” us “as unworthy members… of the society of men and accursed before God.” Unless we sink to “craven” beginning that they “not disturb us,…nothing is now left us but secession.” [37]

The fact that so many Protestant ministers, intellectuals, and theologians, not only Southerners, but men like “Princeton’s venerable theologian Charles B. Hodge – supported the institution of slavery on biblical grounds, often dismissing abolitionists as liberal progressives who did not take the Bible seriously” leaves a troubling question over those who claim to oppose issues on supposedly Biblical grounds. Such men in the North spoke out for it “in order to protect and promote interests concomitant to slavery, namely biblical traditionalism, and social and theological authority.” [38] The Northern clerical defenders of slavery perceived the spread of abolitionist preaching as a threat, not just to slavery “but also to the very principle of social and ecclesiastical hierarchy.” [39] Alistair McGrath asks a very important question for modern Christians who might be tempted to support a position for the same reasons today, “Might not the same mistakes be made all over again, this time over another issue?” [40]

Notes

[1] Gallagher, Gary W. The Confederate War: How Popular Will, Nationalism and Military Strategy Could not Stave Off Defeat Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1999 p.67

[2] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[3] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.69

[4] Thomas, Emory The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 Harper Perennial, New York and London 1979 p.4

[5] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[6] Ibid. Varon Disunion! p.109

[7] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.29

[8] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.29

[9] Gonzalez, Justo L. The History of Christianity Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers San Francisco 1985 p.251

[10] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.54

[11] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[12] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[13] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.30

[14] Ibid. Thomas The Confederate Nation p.22

[15] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.116

[16] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.116

[17] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.60

[18] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[19] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[20] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[21] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[22] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

[23] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[24] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.383

[25] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[26] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[27] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[28] Ibid. McBeth The Baptist Heritage p.384

[29] Shurden, Walter B Not a Silent People: The Controversies that Have Shaped Southern Baptists Broadman Press, Nashville TN 1972 p.58

[30] Ibid. Shurden Not a Silent People p.58

[31] Ibid. Gonzalez The History of Christianity Volume 2 p.251

[32] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.13

[33] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.14

[34] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.97

[35] Freehling, William. The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2007 p.460

[36] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples p.39

[37] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.462

[38] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.38

[39] Ibid. Varon Disunion! P.108

[40] Ibid. McGrath Christianity’s Dangerous Idea p.324

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Why I Fight for Gay Rights

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I think that the question “why?” is important, and it is important for my readers to know just why I would be spending so much time to defending the rights of Gays and the LGBTQ community. Those who have been reading for this site the past few days know that I have been very passionately speaking out on the behalf of Gays and Lesbians.

“Why?” is an important question my friends, one that far too many people fail to ask of those who set or influence policy. I would love to see the media ask any supposedly Conservative politician “why” they are against gay rights. I mean seriously ask why, and then ask hard follow-up questions.

I am sure that there are some Christians that marvel that another Christian, and a Navy Chaplain with a strong conservative pedigree to boot would defend the rights of Gays, Lesbians and others that they disapprove. However, at this point in my life I can do no other.

I am a historian who also happens to be a priest and senior Navy Chaplain. I know too much, and if I do not speak up I would be culpable of the same crimes that German Christians, clergy and military officers did when they said nothing when the Jews, Gays and others were persecuted, imprisoned and murdered by the Nazi regime.

In the early 1900s the Jews of Germany were making progress, gaining entrance into government, the military and the political process. Germany in those days was a haven for Jews, especially Eastern European Jews who had to live with open persecution and pogroms sanctioned by Czarist Russia and other eastern European states. German Jews in that era were preeminent scientists, physicians and had entered the government and military. The Germany Armaments Minister Walther Rathenau who helped keep the German military in the war through his immense talents was Jewish, as was the commanding officer who recommended the young Corporal Adolf Hitler for the award of the Iron Cross First Class in 1918. However, when Germany was defeated in the First World War, Jews took much of the blame, and conservative German Christians were at the forefront well before anyone knew the name of Adolf Hitler.

Of course, they were a minority, and many were Socialists and in the search for villains after the defeat and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Jews were high on the hit list, especially for conservative Christians of both the Protestant and Catholic faiths who saw their dreams die at the end of the war.

Much is the same for the LGBT community in the United States. Conservative Christians blame Gays for all the social ills and maladies that German Christians did the Jews, Socialists and yes, German homosexuals did in the 1920s. If you actually bother to read the writing of the German right wing and conservatives of that era you will find language that is startlingly similar to the language used by conservative American Christians use today against Gays, liberal Jews, progressives and yes Moslems as well. It is an amazing study if you have the integrity and interest to bother to read it instead of listening to the pundits, politicians and especially the political preachers of the American right. However, if you don’t it matters not, because after all “God hates the gays” so why shouldn’t you?

But then wasn’t that what the German Christians who allied themselves to Hitler did concerning the Jews? After all the Jews were “Christ killers.” Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and all the leading Nazis said so. But today if there is a natural disaster in the United States who is to blame? The Gays of course, and almost every conservative political preacher in America agrees. Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, James Robison, John Hagee and even soon to be repeat presidential candidate Mike Huckabee all agree that it is all the Gays fault. Just like Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and others said of the Jews in Germany. Get rid of the Gays and voila, problem solved.

Since most of these preachers, pundits and politicians believe that Gays are destined for Hell and are the enemies of God, it is only a matter of time before they not only endorse legal restrictions and persecution, but endorse genocide. If fact some have, Scott Lively and others have actually went to Africa and campaigned for “Kill the Gays” bills in Uganda. They actually promote legislation in other countries that would make it legal not just to ensure that Gays have second or third rate citizenship, but to imprison and execute them. Given the chance they would do so here.

You see, every mass movement of religious and nationalist hate needs a scapegoat. For the German right it was the Jews, for the modern American right it is the Gays. As Eric Hoffer wrote: “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” To the German Right in the 1920s and 1930s the Jews were the Devil, to many conservative American Christians the Gays are the Devil.

You see it is just a short jump from thoughts, to words to actions. Those who embrace the hatred of Gays, just as those who embraced the hatred of the Jews are just a little ways from thoughts, to words to actions. Believe me, with a Congress that now has a sizable number of people who honestly believe that the Gays are the enemy, not just of them but of God that actions may well follow. One only has to look at the anti-gay measures in Russia, some parts of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and in particular Africa, where aided by anti-Gay American Christians nations like Uganda are criminalizing homosexuality and even speaking up for gays as a heterosexual.

That being said I think that the tide of history is going the other direction, but that does not mean that such people are not dangerous should they ever be in a place to enforce their religious and ideological beliefs on others.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words, Your words become your actions, Your actions become your habits, Your habits become your values, Your values become your destiny.”

That is why as a white, male, Christian, Navy Chaplain and priest I must speak out against such hatred and support the rights of the LGBT community. I have to speak out, as do other Christians. As Martin Niemoller, a naval hero of the First World War and conservative German pastor who initially supported Hitler noted:

In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me – and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Sadly, today, most conservative American Christians don’t understand this profound political philosophy. Likewise, they, like Martin Niemoller and others throughout history, will find that some of the people that they support will turn on them once they no longer need their votes or political support.

That my friends is a fact and why anyone should beware of any religious leader or politician who turns any minority group into a Devil should be feared, because they do mean business, and their ruthlessness is only concealed by the veneer of religion and law.

That my friends is why I write, why I speak, and why I fight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Jim Crow and the Anti-Gay Laws

jimcrowsignsorig

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

Yesterday I wrote about the case of Obergfell v. Hodges which will be argued in the Supreme Court tomorrow. I compared that case with the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1856 and commented on its importance to the LGBTQ community in terms of basic civil rights. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence something that is the heart and soul of the American experiment.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” 

It is a concept that has always been practiced imperfectly in the nation, Blacks, Women and others have not always enjoyed the same rights as others, and the same is true for the Gay community today. Sadly, even when civil rights of people who are the targets of legal discrimination are advanced and legislated at the national level, opponents often attempt to use local and state laws to legalize discrimination banned at the federal level.

This was done frequently in the post-Reconstruction era, when so called “Black laws” or “Jim Crow” laws were enacted throughout the South. These laws paid lip-service to the Federal law but legalized almost every form of discrimination imaginable and established a culture of legal lawlessness where Blacks were the targets of discrimination, harassment, segregation and violence.

“From the 1880s onward, the post-Reconstruction white governments grew unwilling to rely just on intimidation at the ballot box and themselves in power, and turned instead to systematic legal disenfranchisement.” (1)

In 1896 these codes were upheld by the Supreme Court in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. That ruling established the “separate but equal” doctrine and ushered in an era of de jure segregation in almost all arenas of life including education, transportation, entertainment and health care. What limited social equity and privileges enjoyed by Blacks were erased with the stroke of the judicial pen. The justices ruled on the concept that only peoples political rights were protected by the Constitution and that in the social arena that African-Americans could not interact with whites and assumed their racial inferiority.

Associate Justice Harlan wrote in dissent:

“The destinies of two races, in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all should not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law. What can more certainly arouse race hate, what more certainly create and perpetuate a feeling of distrust between these races, than state enactments, which, in fact, proceed on the ground that colored citizens are so inferior and degraded that they cannot be allowed to sit in public coaches occupied by white citizens? That, as all will admit, is the real meaning of such legislation as was enacted in Louisiana.” (2)

While the case of 1955 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education swept away most of the effects of Plessy v. Ferguson, the underlying attitudes and actions of those who support legal discrimination are still with us. Prejudice and discrimination, not only towards African Americans and other people of color, but also women and even more so the LGBTQ community  has come back with a vengeance in the decades following Brown v. Board of Education.  Opponents of equality hate the sweeping civil rights advances made in the 1960s and 1970s, and more recently the advances made on behalf of the Gay community in the past decade. The end of the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, a law which mush like the Black Codes set up legal barriers for gays to marry and enjoy other civil rights brought forth a plethora of new anti-Gay legislation, especially at the local and state levels. Most of these laws are cloaked in the concept of “Religious Liberty” and permit people to discriminate against Gays in almost any arena of life: to refuse to serve them at their place of business, to deny them service in local government offices and even to deny them health care, should the provider determine that he or she will not serve someone who is gay, all based on the amorphous concept that the providers “sincerely held religious beliefs are at stake.”

These laws are being set up with the full knowledge that Obergfell v. Hodges will likely legalize Gay marriage throughout the country. Knowing that the opponents are raising the specter of Christians being put in concentration camps for opposing Gay marriage, and other equally apocalyptic and patently untrue statements, many coming from leading Republican presidential candidates and their backers in the Christian Right. Justice Harlan was correct about the intent of the Jim Crow laws and correct about the intent of the new anti-Gay laws. The seeds of hate cannot be allowed to be planted under the sanction of law. 

These are the new Jim Crow laws, and they must be fought at every turn even if the Supreme Court affirms the legality of Gay marriage in its ruling in Obergfell v. Hodges.

Opponents of Gay marriage should remember 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.” 

We must move forward.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1. Guelzo Allen C. Fateful Lightening: A New History of the Civil War Era and Reconstruction Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York 2012 p.526

2. LaMorte, Michael W. School Law: Cases and Concepts 9th Edition 2008 p.300

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First They Came: Why I Defend the Gay Community

pink-triangle-armband

The Pink Triangle: The Nazi Symbol of Anti-Gay Persecution

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have been reading for this site the past few days know that I have been very passionately speaking out on the behalf of Gays and Lesbians.

Thus, I am sure that there are some Christians that marvel that another Christian, and a Navy Chaplain with a strong conservative petigree to boot would defend the rights of Gays, Lesbians and others that they disapprove. However, at this point in my life I can do no other. If I do not speak up I would be culpable of the same crimes that German Christians, clergy and military officers did when they said nothing when the Jews, Gays and others were persecuted, imprisoned and murdered by the Nazi regime.

In the early 1900s the Jews of Germany were making progress, gaining entrance into government, the military and the political process. Germany in those days was a haven for Jews, especially Eastern European Jews who had to live with open persecution and pogroms sanctioned by Czarist Russia and other eastern European states. German Jews in that era were preeminent scientists, physicians and had entered the government and military. The Germany Armaments Minister Walther Rathenau who helped keep the German military in the war through his immense talents was Jewish, as was the commanding officer who recommended the young Corporal Adolf Hitler for the award of the Iron Cross First Class in 1918. However, when Germany was defeated in the First World War, Jews took much of the blame, and conservative German Christians were at the forefront well before anyone knew the name of Adolf Hitler.

450px-Berlin_Pink_Triangle

Memorial to the Gay Victims of Nazi Terror 

Of course, they were a minority, and many were Socialists and in the search for villains after the defeat and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Jews were high on the hit list, especially for conservative Christians of both the Protestant and Catholic faiths who saw their dreams die at the end of the war.

Much is the same for the LGBT community in the United States. Conservative Christians blame Gays for all the social ills and maladies that German Christians did the Jews, Socialists and yes, German homosexuals did in the 1920s. If you actually bother to read the writing of the German right wing and conservatives of that era you will find language that is startlingly similar to the language used by conservative American Christians use today against Gays, liberal Jews, progressives and yes Moslems as well. It is an amazing study if you have the integrity and interest to bother to read it instead of listening to the pundits, politicians and especially the political preachers of the American right. However, if you don’t it matters not, because after all “God hates the gays” so why shouldn’t you?

But then wasn’t that what the German Christians who allied themselves to Hitler did concerning the Jews? After all the Jews were “Christ killers.” Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and all the leading Nazis said so. But today if there is a natural disaster in the United States who is to blame? The Gays of course, and almost every conservative political preacher in America agrees. Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, James Robison, John Hagee and even soon to be repeat presidential candidate Mike Huckabee all agree that it is all the Gays fault. Just like Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and others said of the Jews in Germany. Get rid of the Gays and voila, problem solved.

Since most of these preachers, pundits and politicians believe that Gays are destined for Hell and are the enemies of God, it is only a matter of time before they not only endorse legal restrictions and persecution, but endorse genocide. If fact some have, Scott Lively and others have actually went to Africa and campaigned for “Kill the Gays” bills in Uganda. They actually promote legislation in other countries that would make it legal not just to ensure that Gays have second or third rate citizenship, but to imprison and execute them. Given the chance they would do so here.

You see, every mass movement of religious and nationalist hate needs a scapegoat. For the German right it was the Jews, for the modern American right it is the Gays. As Eric Hoffer wrote: “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” To the German Right in the 1920s and 1930s the Jews were the Devil, to many conservative American Christians the Gays are the Devil.

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Men Convicted of Homosexuality with the Upside Down Pink Triangle in a Concentration Camp

You see it is just a short jump from thoughts, to words to actions. Those who embrace the hatred of Gays, just as those who embraced the hatred of the Jews are just a little ways from thoughts, to words to actions. Believe me, with a Congress that now has a sizable number of people who honestly believe that the Gays are the enemy, not just of them but of God, that actions may well follow. That being said I think that the tide of history is going the other direction, but that does not mean that such people are not dangerous should they ever be in a place to enforce their religious and ideological beliefs on others.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

That is why as a white, male, Christian, Navy Chaplain and priest I must speak out against such hatred and support the rights of the LGBT community. I have to speak out, as do other Christians. As Martin Niemoller, a naval hero of the First World War and conservative German pastor who initially supported Hitler noted:

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me –
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Sadly, today, most conservative American Christians don’t understand this profound political philosophy. Likewise, they, like Martin Niemoller and others throughout history, will find that some of the people that they support will turn on them once they no longer need their votes or political support.

That my friends is a fact and why anyone should beware of any religious leader or politician who turns any minority group into a Devil should be feared, because they do mean business, and their ruthlessness is only concealed by the veneer of religion and law.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Journey: Padre Steve and Gay Rights

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I hope that you are having a good New Year. I am having power fights with my blind nearly 14 year old Papillon-Dachshund mix Molly. It seems that she has decided that she no longer likes here special kidney diet dog food and resists eating it until she can’t stand it any longer. I even heat it in the microwave to get it to room temperature and sometimes she eats it like there is no tomorrow other times she looks at it, looks up where I am and seems to be asking “this shit again?” Tonight after refusing to eat I was getting some iced tea for my wife Judy and she was trying to get in the refrigerator. Power fights with Dachshunds are one thing. Power fights with Papillons another, but power fights with a mix… well what can I say? But I digress…

What I am writing about tonight is a subject that has become increasingly important to me, and a subject that probably makes some of my more conservative Christian friends really wonder about me.

The past couple of nights I have written about historic  discrimination against Gays and Lesbians, as well as what Gays suffered in the military under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policy. I do hope that you take time to read them and share them both if you haven’t already done so.

But anyway. I have been in the military coming up on 34 years between the Army and the Navy. When I enlisted and through the first two thirds of my career I can safely say that I fell rather strongly on the conservative-Christian side of the social issues debates. Over the years, especially the last seven since I returned a changed many from my time in Iraq, I have evolved significantly on most of these issues where although I while consider myself to be rather moderate I now fall decidedly on the liberal side of most social issues.

A lot of this has to do with the attitudes that I saw in churches that I was associated. Many people in my former denominations endorsed policies of the Christian Dominionist or Reconstruction movements, that basically upended First and Fourteenth Amendment protections and if enacted would basically turn the country into a theocracy. I have written about those things time and time again so I won’t elaborate on them now.

It was not only the policies, it was the attitude towards the LGBT community that really bothered me. For some reason it seemed that to many of my friends and colleagues that homosexuality was the only unforgivable sin, and not only that that homosexuals were somehow less than human and not entitled to the same rights as any other American citizen. Not only that they were blamed for every economic, social, foreign policy or natural disaster. Hurricane, blame the gays. Stock market crash, blame the gays, the 9-11 attacks, God’s judgement on the United States because of the gays. You name it, blame the gays, and that my friends still happens every day.

But my journey to accepting and fighting for Gays and Lesbians began a lot earlier.

When I first enlisted in the Army in 1981 it was not uncommon for gay slurs to be hurled at soldiers as a matter of course, especially at young men who did not appear manly enough or women who wouldn’t put out sexually when it was demanded of the. They were queers, fags, dykes and worse. There is a scene in the movie Full Metal Jacket where R. Lee Ermey, a man who actually was a Marine Corps Drill Instructor berates one of his recruits:

Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Where the hell are you from anyway, private?
Private Cowboy: Sir, Texas, sir.
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Holy dog shit! Texas? Only steers and queers come from Texas, Private Cowboy, and you don’t look much like a steer to me, so that kinda narrows it down. Do you suck dicks?
Private Cowboy: Sir, no, sir!
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: Are you a peter puffer?
Private Cowboy: Sir, no, sir!
Gunnery Sergeant Hartman: I bet you’re the kind of guy who would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I’ll be watching you!

The sad thing is that such behavior was still common even in the 1990s and though not nearly so pervasive still happened on occasion in after the 9-11 attacks. But those taunts really bothered me and when I was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer in 1983 I met gays in my officer training, they were closeted but they were targets. When I served as a company commander in 1985-1986 I had a number of gays and lesbians in my unit. As I mentioned before they were among my best and most trustworthy soldiers, always going the extra mile.

Meanwhile the unit had the highest drug positive rate in Europe when I took command and had so many real disciplinary and criminal cases on the docket I was told by the Group Commander to “clean that company up.” But when I got down to It I realized that I was so overwhelmed with the real criminals that I didn’t want to harass or prosecute my best soldiers, including those gays and lesbians. That was a watershed. While other commanders sought out gays in order to prosecute them and throw them out of the military I was protecting and promoting them, not because they were gay, but because they were excellent soldiers.

When I went to my next assignment as a personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences discharges of trainees for being gay was common. I know because I had to sign off on every discharge packet before it was sent for approval. Since we had five to seven thousand students at any time, both officers and enlisted I did not know the details of most of the stories nor meet the individuals concerned.

However, in 1987 I was given the responsibility of helping soldiers diagnosed as HIV positive with their career options. I also helped officers from the Army Medical Department draft the Army’s policies for those infected with the AIDS virus. At the time many of the Christians that I went to church with believed the myths and lies being promoted by leading Evangelicals about AIDS and displayed a tremendous amount of distain and even hatred towards gays and others infected or dying of that disease. I was dumbfounded that people who preached the love of God had neither compassion nor empathy for those suffering.

I left active duty to attend seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There I knew a few closeted homosexuals and lesbians who had deep faith in Jesus, were outstanding students and potentially outstanding pastors or chaplains but who had to remain closeted. After I graduated when I was going through my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency one of the men I graduate with did a one unit internship. During that time he made the agonizing decision to come out as Gay. For him there was much to lose, but his example was inspiring and I still stay in touch with him. I also met a chaplain from the Metropolitan Community Church who had been raised in a Black Pentecostal church. He was an amazing and compassionate minister.

In the hospital setting I worked with a lot of homosexuals, of which many were Christians who suffered in their churches as their pastors and friends railed against homosexuals. When I served as the installation chaplain of an Army base I hired an organist who was gay. He worked for the National Guard as a civilian and was a Log Cabin Republican. He grew up in a very conservative church and though he had deep faith was not welcome in most civilian churches. At the time I was a fairly new  in a very conservative denomination and my bishops held that giving communion to Gays was forbidden, in fact they called it a sin. However, when he presented himself for communion, knowing his faith I took the advice of a conservative Missouri Synod Lutheran chaplain, don’t ask, just trust the grace of God in the Sacrament. That became my model of ministry from then on. I never mentioned it to my bishop. Thankfully he never asked or I would have had to be honest. This encounter brought more homosexuals to the chapel, and the chapel community which was composed mainly of military retirees and National Guard personnel welcomed them.

In civilian churches of my old denominations I knew Gays and Lesbians who struggled and tried to do everything they could to change, but no-matter how hard they tried, how hard they prayed, how many times well meaning friends attempted to cast out their demons in rituals similar to exorcisms they struggled and suffered. Most eventually drifted away because they knew that they would not be accepted.  I have had friends in church whose children came out as gay or lesbian. Some loved and accepted them, others turned them away. Judy and I have always done what we can to support them as we would the children of any friend.

That understanding of God’s grace as well as what I believed were the fundamental Constitutional and human rights of Gays and Lesbians brought me to where I am today.

I know that a lot of conservative Christians have and will condemn me for these beliefs and actions, but for me honesty, integrity, empathy and love have to take precedence over hate, blame and prejudice, even when that prejudice is clothed in the words or faith and righteousness. I just figure that once we begin to use religion to condemn others and bolster our own political power that we are no better than people like Al Qaeda, ISIL or the Taliban. We are no better than the Inquisitors or others who destroyed cities and massacred people, even other Christians because they didn’t believe the right way.

I believe that it is just a small step from hateful thoughts and words to actions that end up in genocide. The “German Christians” of the Nazi era demonstrated that to a fine degree. The authors of the Bethel Confession, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer who protested the German Christian alliance with the Nazis noting:

“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.

That I believe with all my heart and that is why I will support and fight for the rights of the LGBT community in order to ensure that they have the same rights and privileges of any citizen. Otherwise what does the rule of law mean? What does the Constitution mean? What does that sentence in the Declaration of Independence that:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…” 

Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1854 concerning the rights of Blacks, something that is certainly applicable as well to homosexuals: “the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.” 

That my friends, especially my conservative Christian friends who do not understand why I would speak up for the LGBT community, is why I do it. So in the words of my favorite heretic Martin Luther I state today: “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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