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“Our Civil Rights Have no Dependency on Our Religious Opinions…” Celebrating the 233rd Anniversary of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

On this day, 233 years ago, the the legislature of the Commonwealth Of Virginia ratified a law written by Thomas Jefferson. It was the precursor to the Establishment and the Free Exercise Clauses Of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

It is the antithesis of, and the antidote to all theocratic movements, to include contemporary Christian Nationalism and it’s close cousin Christian Dominionism, or as it is sometimes called Seven Mountains Theology.

Jefferson, James Madison, and their Virginia Baptist ally, John Leland understood the threat to a republic such as ours posed by religious theocrats of any type, to include Christians.

The Virginia statute was necessitated by militant Anglicans who desired to re-establish themselves as the state religion in Virginia and had gone about using physical violence against various dissenters, especially Virginia’s Baptist minority. It is fascinating, in a frightening and grotesque sense of the word to see Virginia Baptists like Jerry Falwell Jr., and other Evangelical leaders of the Free Church tradition interpreting Religious Freedom in a manner similar to the Anglicans of Virginia in the 1780s, or in the manner of all Christians who follow the path of Constantine.

Such was the warning of the great Southern Baptist Pastor and seminary president George Truett, who wrote:

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

The Virginia Statute stood in complete opposition to theocratic minded Americans then, and now. The statute which I post below in its entirety is must reading for anyone who thinks that they understand what the founders of the United States believed about religious liberty:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions, which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Please, take some time to let those words sink in, especially if you think that religious liberty is only for people of your favorite religion, or the one that you belong to. The fact is, that those who established religious liberty in the United States, many of them like John Leland, professing Christians, did not think that religious liberty was for the powerful, or those who wanted to dominate others on the basis of religion wedded to government and political power.

Leland wrote:

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

With that I bid you a good night.

Until tomorrow and another day of Trump’s Evangelical supported Shutdown,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Calling Out the Spiritual Arsonists of Trump’s Imperial Clergy Cult

Pastor Ed Young Calling Democrats a Godless Religion

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Pardon the interruption last night, I was working on an article but about halfway through got a bit of writer’s block. I started well but ended up not knowing where I wanted to go with it, so instead I sat back and proceeded to read. That is not a bad thing. But tonight I do have something that I want to get off my chest.

Over the past couple of days I have experienced something rather disconcerting. A couple of people that I know from long ago but haven’t seen in years come out of left field and take me to task for pointing out the evils of racism, and anti-semitism that have become all too common since Donald Trump came down out of Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for President of the United States, and the Messiah of the Christian Right.

I won’t go into detail but the comments hit me wrong because both took aim at me for being a Chaplain and Priest who opposes racism and anti-semitism. One was definitely ideologically driven and quite nasty, while the other was more based on the person’s theology. One seemed to be denying that the environment created by Trump was feeding both, while the other admitted that people, especially elected officials who espouse racism are stupid.

Shortly following that exchange I saw an article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram that discussed comments made by former Southern Baptist Convention President, Pastor Ed Young of Houston’s massive Fifth Baptist Church, that: God would curse the United States because of the “Godless Democrats” who were elected in the mid-term elections. In fact, Young called the Democrats “a Godless religion and not a political party.”

Honestly, I don’t believe that either the Republicans or Democrats have a lock on Godliness or truth. This isn’t an argument for a moral equivalence between the parties, but neither can honestly claim to represent God.

Likewise, I don’t believe that the United States is, ever has been, or was established as a Christian nation. Such a proposition would have been abhorrent to Washington, Jefferson, Madison, John Adams, or even Abraham Lincoln. In fact one cannot find In fact like the great Virginia Baptist and champion of the religious liberties of the First Amendment, John Leland, I believe:

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

But Ed Young, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Robert Jeffress, and a host of other politically calculating and corrupt Christian preachers not only promote the lie that the United States is somehow a Christian nation; they effectively believe non-Christians of any stripe are less than equal and should be subject to their often heretical notions of Christian doctrine and morality.

Gary North, a man who is not well recognized by most people has been one of the most influential members of the Christian Right’s political theorists. North, who has been a close adviser to Ron and Rand Paul, as well as many other GOP leaders wrote:

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

That might have been the case of the State Churches of Europe from which our founders fled, and it is the curse that the Emperor Constantine bequeathed the Church. This was noted by the great Southern Baptist pastor, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President, George Truett:

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

The denominational descendants of Leland and Truett have much more in common with Constantine’s clerics, and the medieval concept of the Divine Right of Kings, than they do the tradition of religious liberty advanced by our Enlightenment informed founders. They are creatures of the Dark Ages and intent on establishing their own theocracy, while anointing a man who mocks the Christian faith and shows no evidence of being a Christian as their leader.

Nothing Trump does shakes their faith in him, in fact he seems to embolden their longings and actions to establish a theocracy. The defeat of many of their allies in Congress has frightened them, thus the histrionics of Young and others. It plays into their culture of perpetual victimhood and apocalyptic vision of this world. That is why they campaign so hard for him and are shocked when he is rebuked by the electorate.

But these religious leaders are seldom held to account by conservative Christians, instead they vent their ire on those sounding the alarm rather than the arsonists who are trying to burn down the American experiment in liberty.

Leland wrote:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

That is what I believe, but now we have entered a perilous time when Trump’s Christian supporters are voicing their support for policies that allow them to discriminate against others solely because of their religious beliefs, and less freedom for those who do not. Unfortunately, Trump and his administration are implementing policies on a daily basis that do discriminate based on religion. He knows that by tossing these crumbs to conservative Christians that they will excuse every one of his unethical, and authoritarian policies. Candidate Trump was right about them:

“You know what else they say about my people? The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.” 

The President has encouraged violence against opponents, called journalists and others enemies of the people, and stoked the fires of racism and anti-semitism by refusing to categorically condemn Nazis and White Supremacists. Instead he does all that he can to embolden them. In the wake of the mid-terms more and more of these heavily armed and militant groups are threatening violence against those who oppose the President.

Thus I have to make a stand, and it has already cost me. A parishioner at my chapel tried to have me tried by Court Martial last summer for opposing Trump policies based on scripture and the Christian tradition. I will not back down.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Likewise, I won’t stop sounding the alarm when I see Trump’s Christian cult arsonists trying to burn the foundation of the country to the ground.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Acting in the Name of God: Sessions Commissions Religious Tyranny Task Force

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Almost a quarter of a century ago the late Senator Barry Goldwater observed something that is now coming to full fruition. He remarked to John Dean:

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

They were always up front about who they are and what they believe and they galvanized Christians to follow Republicans for one purpose and one purpose only: to seize control of the government. Gary North was one of the intellectual leaders of the movement. Quiet and less known than the more prominent pastors and televangelists, North has been a long time adviser to Ron and Rand Paul and numerous other GOP leaders. North wrote:

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

Well they did and have made common cause with a President that under any other circumstances they would never have anything to do with and with his unwavering support are about to launch the biggest campaign of government sponsored religious discrimination and persecution ever seen in this country. It began early in the administration picked up a measure of legal empowerment by a with the issuance of an Executive Order by the President in May.

Today, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the formation of a Religious Liberty Task Force at the Department of Justice. The goal is to protect the ability of conservative Christians ability to discriminate on people based on “sincere and strongly held religious beliefs.” The sole object of this task force is to support religious zealots with the full police power of the government. This will be wielded mostly at LGBTQ people as the administration and the Justice Department have signaled their intention to roll back civil and legal protections for LGBTQ people having determined that that there is “no basis for these protections.” Be assured it will not stop there. The grossly satanic intertwining of Church and State is exactly what our founders warned against and exactly why the the great Virginia Baptist John Leland fought for the wall of separation between Church and State. Leland proclaimed:

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

Thankfully his friends Thomas Jefferson and James Madison agreed. Today many of the theological descendants of Leland are in the forefront of the ideas that he believed protected all Americans, not just Baptists.

Likewise, George Truett, the great Southern Baptist Pastor who served as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in his book Baptists and Religious Liberty in 1920 about the decidedly negative effect of when the Church became the State religion:

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

Under Trump todays “Christians” have thrown in  their lot with a modern Constantine, a man with no conscience, no empathy, and even less faith than the Roman Emperor.

There will be dark days ahead for all of us and we will have no one to blame but the so called conservative Christians who like Esau have throw out their faith for bowl of rancid porridge. They will given the chance tear down the wall between the separation of church and state and drive a dagger into the heart of the First Amendment.

God help us because these “Christians” will not. I know, because one in my own congregation tried to get me charged and court-martialed because he disagreed with my sermon. These people are not going to stop until they crush anyone that gets in their way. They must be fought from the pulpit, the polling place, and the public square.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pastor Robert Jeffress and the Imperial Evangelical Church of Trump


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well it is Sunday and I’ll be the guest preacher in my Protestant chapel service at the base as I did last week. Since then I’ve been thinking over the week about what it means to be an American Christian at this point in our history. Frankly, based on the words of the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, Robert Jeffress, I must not be one because according to him Christian critics of Presdent Trump are “irrelevant to Christians.” That may be so and even if it is than I will continue to speak out against the idolatry of Pastor Jeffress and the other proponents of an imperial evangelicalism that is little more than an American version of the German Christian movement that went all in for Adolf Hitler. Pastor Jeffress would be an ideal candidate for the office of Reichs Bishop when President Trump proclaims Evangelical Christianity as the State Church. 

As for me I say the hell with those who want to establish the bastardized evangelicalism that we know today as the official state sanctioned version of Christianity. For those who don’t think that is likely or possible you are wrong. The words and actions of the President, the Vice President, a number of cabinet members, and many members of Congress all point to this. But worst of all men like Jeffress and most of the leading popular evangelical pastors and evangelists in the county are working toward that end and the day that it finally happens is coming sooner than you think. A minority of Christians who are better at making former Christians, agnostics, and atheists than disciples of Jesus want nothing more than to gain political power and are willing to use the most base and unchristian President in recent memory as their vehicle to temporal power. 

Barry Goldwater, the scion of the modern Conservative movement warned us about them over thirty years ago in the Senate chambers when he said: “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.” After he left the Senate he told John Dean: 

“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.”

Sadly, Goldwater was right. Jeffress and others want no more than to use the power that they have with President Trump to rule with an iron fist that is no different than that of the Taliban, and no no different than the inquisition. 

Likewise the late Senator Mark Hatfield, an Evangelical Christian himself noted:

“As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.”  

It is time for people who actually believe in the sacred principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, the Four Freedoms, and the I Have a Dream speech to stand. It does not matter if you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, agnostic, atheist, or Free Thinker, or for that matter anything except being an American that cherishes liberty for all. 

The late George Truett, a great Southern Baptist pastor, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and also the pastor of Jeffress’s Fist Baptist Church of Dallas until 1944, wrote something that anyone with any sense and understanding of history and church-state relations should take note of:

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

President Trump has recognized the same thing and with the help of the vast majority of American Evangelicals he is doing the same thing as Constantine and men like Robert Jeffress are to vain and power hungry to understand that they are sealing the doom of the Christian faith in the United States. That is why I will not stop writing, not stop speaking, and not stop fighting. I may be to use the words of Jeffress an insignificant and irrelevant gnat to him and the President but I’ll be damned if I let men like them use Jesus as a vehicle for tyranny. I’ll be damned when I let a political preacher like Jeffress stand on the same platform as the President and use it to condemn fellow Christians. as his very own church choir debates a hymn entitled Make America Great Again, a song which is a hymn of praise not to Jesus but to the nationalistic jingoism of President Trump. His predecessor in the pulpit of First Baptist, George Truett would be dismayed by the actions of the man who now holds that pulpit. 

Likewise our nation’s founders would be dismayed but not surprised to see this going on. Many wrote about the danger of it and did their best to build up a wall of separation, but that wall is being dismantled before our very eyes. When it is gone we will all regret it, and yes by all I even include the Evangelical Christians who now worship at the altar of Robert Jeffress and Donald Trump. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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For Us or Against Us: The Politics of the Christian Right & the Shutdown

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again the United States stands on the verge of another potentially dangerous, and costly government shutdown led by the fanatical religious leaders of a political party. While it appears that a short –term stopgap bill will pass both houses, it will leave the country hanging for the next couple of months with another showdown in December.

Senator Mitch McConnell who the day President Obama took office in 2009 colluded with other GOP leaders to set a policies  to ensure Obama failed as president blamed Democrats for not passing various spending bills offered to by the GOP.  But he failed to note that the authors of the GOP bills, mainly from the Christian Right planted poisoned pills in each of them that ensured Democrat opposition. Truthfully those bills were not offered in good faith and gave Democrats no reason to vote for them. 

When I see this behavior I am reminded of the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who prosecuted the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg; “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

The leaders of this unabashedly shameless movement have no problem lying to, or deceiving their followers in order to accomplish their political goals. Sadly, almost all of them come from the supposedly Christian Right, and are determined to destroy the country in order to save it. They use the same kind of tactics used by extremists in other countries throughout history to destroy the political center and turn the government itself into an enemy, until they can take it over and use it for their purposes. Sadly, much of this is coming from a relatively small, but incredibly vocal and politically influential coalition of politically charged conservative Christians. The leaders of this movement have openly stated that their desire is to impose a Christian theocracy on the country, a theocracy where non-Christians, or non-believers of any kind would not have rights as citizens. The have taken up the mantle of the Emperor Constantine, who united the Roman Empire with the Church. George Truett, a great Southern Baptist champion of religious liberty noted:

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

The late Senator Mark Hatfield, a strong evangelical Christian wrote “As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.” 

Since I have written about these supposedly Christian leaders numerous times and quoted them at length I am not going to go back into that; however, I will note the warning of colonial Baptist leader Roger Williams, who founded the Rhode Island Colony after fleeing the Massachusetts Bay Colony over the religious oppression of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which included killing heretics, conducting witch hunts and trials, and exterminating local Native Americans, especially those who had become Christians.

Williams wanted nothing of this and fled, swimming the Narraganset to reach Rhode Island. He wrote, “An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”

Another early colonial New England Baptist leader, Isaac Backus wrote, “God has appointed two kinds of government in the world, which are distinct in their nature, and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.”

Both of these men, and those who followed them in the tradition of religious liberty realized the importance of the absolute separation of church and state. Well, the Christian Right now has control of the Republican Party. In their zeal to destroy their political and religious enemies they will also destroy that party. Likewise they will cause great harm to the church and the Christian faith in this country. From Williams and Backus, to John Leland, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, to George Truett, Robert Jackson, Mark Hatfield and Barry Goldwater; true champions of religious liberty have recognized the danger of what is happening today and fought against it.

But will American Christians be willing to stand against this before liberty is lost, and the Christian faith in this country, destroyed by the fanatics who are leading the charge to shut down the government once again? Sadly, I doubt it. We may yet avoid the shutdown, but until Christians police themselves and the political leaders that they have elected, this will continue until freedom is lost, the country damaged, and the church discredited and destroyed.

The leaders of this movement undermined and destroyed Speaker of the House John Boehner, a conservative pro-life Catholic because he was not extreme enough for them. They are currently working to destroy other conservative Christian leaders in the Republican Party, including Senator McConnell and other conservative Christians who do not completely submit to them. These supposedly Christian leaders who are bringing this about are not conservatives, they are revolutionaries who believe that they are on a mission from God which trumps all else. Barry Goldwater was right about them when he said, the late Senator Barry Goldwater said in 1994, “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.”

But the leaders of this movement don’t care. In their apocalyptic worldview, it does not matter because they speak for God.  If they cannot win it all then they will leave scorched earth behind. The shutdown of 2013 and their actions this year show us that they would if need be, destroy the country in order to save it. That my friends is a scary thought.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Christian Dominionism and the Shutdown: Barry Goldwater and Robert Jackson Warned Us

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“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” — Justice Robert H Jackson, American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 US 382, 438; 70 SCt. 674, 704 (1950)

Well we are in day two of the government shutdown of 2013 with no end in sight. Sadly I have to say that the groups most responsible for this on the Tea Party and Republican Party side of the house are Evangelical Christians and ultra-conservative Catholics. The Evangelical are held in the thrall of Christian Dominionism, or Recontructionism while the conservative Catholics long for the days when their church owned the governments of Europe.

If the shutdown was about pragmatic budgetary considerations I might give the authors of the shutdown some consideration. However, it is not and their leaders have either said it openly or all but said this to be the case.

I am a Christian and a Priest in a small Old Catholic denomination. I am a graduate of a premier Evangelical Protestant Seminary where I came to appreciate and revere religious liberty. What I am going to write today may offend some but it has to be said. I believe that the cause of religious liberty, and for that matter the liberty of the Christian Church to be faithful to its call and unencumbered by unseemly political alliances is in danger due to the actions of people that in many cases honestly believe that they are defending religious liberty. Justice Robert Jackson prosecuted the major Nazi War criminals at Nuremberg and was able to view the results of what happened when churches that entered into such alliances.

I back in my days as a more “conservative” Evangelical Christian I attended and unlike conservative Christian TV icon and former governor of Arkansas actually graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth Texas. This was in the days just prior to the Fundamentalist takeover of the seminary and the denomination. It was at Southwestern that I gained a distinct appreciation of and love for the concept of the separation of church and state and the importance of the rights, both civil and religious of non-believers, members of minority religions and others not in the religious majority, or those without power, be it religious, social or economic.

I look at what is going on today, just two days after the shutdown and it appears to me that the most vitriolic bunch pushing the Republican Party and their hapless, soulless and clueless Speaker of the House John Boehner into this are the Tea-vangelicals led by the like of SenatorTed Cruz, whose father Rafael Cruz is a prominent Dominionist pastor who has long been part of the movement to establish what amounts to a Christian Theocracy in the United States.

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However, whether people realize it or not we were warned by no less than conservative icon Barry Goldwater about such people.

Yes, I said it. Barry Goldwater. Goldwater was not a fan of the influence of preachers and religious zealots. In fact he warned us about them in very clear words.

My liberal and conservative friends both might be dismayed by this but Barry Goldwater, the man who inspired Ronald Reagan to run for President and who was the conservative bulwark for many years in Washington DC warned us of what would happen when the Religious Right took over the Republican Party. Goldwater said of the types of people that currently dominate the conservative movement, if it can be still called that:

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

Billy Graham, a saint if there ever was one and a man who used his faith to build bridges even while being unabashedly evangelical warned back in 1981 about the current crop of religious conservatives and stand in sharp contrast to the words and actions of Franklin:

 “I don’t want to see religious bigotry in any form. It would disturb me if there was a wedding between the religious fundamentalists and the political right. The hard right has no interest in religion except to manipulate it.” Parade Magazine February 1, 1981, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

What we are seeing today is the expressed manifestation of religious bigotry operating under the guise of defending religious freedom. Likewise it is little different (except in the religion involved) to the Wahhabi Taliban or the the Saudi Arabian state, the Shi’te Hezbollah government in Lebanon or the Mullah’s of Iran.

This ultra-religious intransigence of the Tea-vangelicals is being shown in its ugliness by the brazen acts of Evangelical political and religious leaders during this shutdown. And they wonder why more and more people want nothing to do with the faith that they espouse. If there is any way to lose religious freedom it is to follow this attempt to marry the Christian faith with the American government is not only short sighted but does great damage to the faith and our American liberties.

A host of influential of Evangelical leaders, politicians and even Roman Catholic Bishops have said what they believe religious liberty means to them and it has little in common with the understanding of our founders. It has nothing to do with limited government nor religious liberty. It is the imperial religion of Constantine, dressed up a bit to keep up with the times.  It is simply an attempt by these leaders to use the apparatus of the government to support themselves and to establish their specific religion as a state religion with the full legal means to subjugate non-believers or others who do not agree with them.

The whole debate over the Affordable Health Care Act in the shutdown is a red herring. The actual goal is to achieve a merger of church and state with the Dominionists leading it and dominating what they call the “Seven Mountains” of culture and society. Attempting to delegitimatize President Obama through the shutdown and the debt limit is only a tactic in a larger strategy to achieve “dominion” over the United States and the world.

George Truett, the great Southern Baptist Pastor who served as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in his book Baptists and Religious Liberty in 1920 about the decidedly negative effect of when the Church became the State religion:

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

The late Senator Mark Hatfield a strongly committed Evangelical Christian before it became popular in Washington made this comment concerning those that are now driving this spurious debate:

“As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.”  quoted in the pamphlet “Christian Reconstruction: God’s Glorious Millennium?” by Paul Thibodeau

The core of the current campaign in the shutdown is the imposition of Christian Dominionism onto the rest of the country. It may reference the Gospel and even certain Christian moral understandings even as it mocks other just as “Biblical” Christian teachings.

Back in 1981 Barry Goldwater said on the Senate Floor “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.” 

The leaders of this shutdown movement and their supporters are almost all self-proclaimed Evangelical Christians who represent gerrymandered congressional districts in which they only have to worry about being considered not extreme enough.

Like it or not Goldwater was right about this crowd. They will drive their churches and their political party into the abyss. The fractures in my former party, the Republican Party are becoming more and apparent and neither the Dominionist Preachers, or their allied politicians and pundits can see the end state of their party and for what they think they are fighting.

But then none are so blind as those who will not see. Please do not say that you were not warned.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

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Our 30th Wedding Anniversary Celebration 

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

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Our First Wedding Anniversary Neubrucke Germany 1984

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toxic Faith of “Americananity” and its Antidote  

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

The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights  

Religious Freedom and Religious Hypocrisy the New Improved 2012 Model  

The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It  

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

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

Glenn Beck Attacks the Churches and Threatens Religious Liberty  

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

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

Gordon Klingenschmitt and his Followers- The Klingenfraud and the Klingenban  

Bringing Faith to the Faithless and Doubt to the Faithful  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clear and Present Danger of Unrepentant Ideologues  

Taking the Wrong Train  

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

The Unchristian Christianity of Modern America  

The Road to Totalitarianism is paved with Good Intentions  

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

The Fruit of Glenn Beck’s Spirit   

Revisiting the Political Captivity of the Church 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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