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Silence and Shame after Charleston

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been amazed over the past couple of days following the terrorist attack committed by Dylann Roof on the pastor and parishioners of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. What has amazed me is the number of prominent Republican politicians, including a number running for president who are in full denial mode about the motivation of this young man. Not only that, anyone now asserting the truth that this was a racially motivated terrorist attack committed by a White Supremacist who evidently wrote a manifesto on a White Supremacist website, who told his victims “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” He confessed to the killings and even said that he almost didn’t go through with them because the people were so nice to him.

Even so prominent Republicans, Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum can’t admit that the motivation was race hatred. It is mind boggling and disgusting. I’m sorry these men are no better than the German citizens and politicians of non-Nazi conservative political parties who turned a blind eye as Nazi thugs harassed and murdered Jews even before the Nazi takeover, who then turned a blind eye as Hitler passed his anti-Semetic laws. They may not have committed the act but their silence makes them complicit in the continuing racism that infects our country. They should be ashamed and they should be shamed by all of us for their silent complicity in the face of evil.

However, by saying this, I am now guilty of the latest attempt to silence those who condemn the abject racism which still exists in this country, white shaming. In fact someone accused me of that last night on a social media site. I had never heard of it, so I had to look it up. I was amazed be because of how disingenuous the argument is. If you are honest and speak up you are yourself racist, and if you are white you are suffering from white guilt syndrome. The people who posit this remind me of Reverend William Leacock of Christ Church New Orleans who said in 1860:

“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.”

I’m sorry but we American whites have a lot to be ashamed of in our history; slavery, the extermination of the Native Americans and their subsequent de-facto incarceration on reservations, the war with Mexico where we forced Mexico to cede 40% of its territory to us, the exploitation of the Chinese immigrants who helped build the transcontinental railroad and other projects, the Jim Crow laws, the Tuskegee medical experiments on African Americans, the incarceration of Japanese Americans in our own concentration camps in World War Two, the exploitation of Mexican immigrants who labor illegally for American agribusiness and construction firms doing the work Americans will not do all the while treating them with contempt. 

We don’t even hide it, the use of racist terms of nigger, gook, wetback, chink, jap, slope, flip, rag head, camel-jockey and so many others to describe people racial and ethnic minorities are still prevalent in parts of white society. You see them on social media, blogs, and occasionally some political, pundit, preacher, or celebrity gets outed as a racist when they slip up and say those words. I have had people that I know come up and show me supposed “jokes” and cartoons the content of which is racist bile and they don’t even think twice about it.

I could go on and on and on but I would be beating the dead horse that will not die. But then maybe we need more than a little white shaming, after all our history is full of things that we should be ashamed about.

If this is offensive to anyone I dare say that I am not sorry. As a historian I am committed to the truth, and sometimes the truth is unpopular and it matters. It is my first duty. As Marcus Aurelius said:

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.” 

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Election 2016: The Coming Christian Holy War

barry-goldwater-preachers1

My friends, there is a Holy War that is about to overwhelm us, and it is not an Islamic Jihad. No it is a very American and allegedly Christian version of jihad, without the beheadings, at least for now. Pat Buchanan announced it in 1992 during the Republican National Convention:

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

For those that do not know me well and just think that I am a run-of-the-mill liberal type, they need to understand that I was at one time a solid Republican who had strong ties to the religious right and though moderate almost always followed the party line on the issues supported by the political preachers of the religious right.

Frank Schaefer, the son of the late Dr. Francis Schaefer was one of the leaders of that movement. Eventually, he left it and has become a stalwart critic of the rabidly political nature of conservative Christianity in the United States, Evangelical and Roman Catholic alike. Schaefer has written and talked about how he and other leaders of the religious right in the 1970s and 1980s worked to build an alliance with the then, relatively secular Republican party. Though conservative, may Republicans, including men like Barry Goldwater, a conservative icon were suspicious of and opposed the goals of religious conservatives. In 1994, Goldwater who was the leader of the conservative takeover of the GOP told John Dean something that made Christian conservatives profoundly different from secular conservatives:

“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.”

The problem is unlike 1994 when the preachers were on the outside attempting to force the GOP into their ideological mold, they now are the leadership of the GOP. There is not one of the leading potential candidates that the GOP will field for the 2016 Presidential campaign who are not either wholly or in part either a leader, an ally or completely controlled by the religious faction of the GOP. Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, Rick Perry and probably Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin as well. Some like Huckabee rate not only political leaders, but former pastors and religious leaders as well.

If Barry Goldwater was alive today he would oppose them all. He understood, even as an unabashed conservative that they were a dangerous crowd.

He contrasted them with old line conservatives:

“Well, I’ve spent quite a number of years carrying the flag of the ‘Old Conservatism.’  And I can say with conviction that the religious issues of these groups have little or nothing to do with conservative or liberal politics.  The uncompromising position of these groups is a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength.” 

I came to realize that in 2008 when I returned from Iraq after having believed the lies for decades. When I finally began to speak out about what I saw I was kicked out of the very conservative and evangelical Anglo-catholic denomination that I had served as a priest for 14 years. Why? Because I openly stated that I believed that Gays could be Christians, that women should be allowed to be priests and that not all Moslems were bad. Since that time I have been castigated by many in my former denomination, including people who I thought were friends, not to mention of host of other Christian fanatics.

The fact is that to them, anyone who they think deviates from their interoperation of God’s law is the enemy. In fact if the religious conservatives now running the GOP every took all their reigns of government, after quashing all secular or religious dissent that they opposed would turn on each other. The alliance would split along ancient and unresolved theological lines, Catholics against Evangelicals in a struggle to establish the true government of God.

Most Democrats, progressives, secular conservatives or Libertarians cannot understand how such people think and what motivates them, simply because they are much more pragmatic and less motivated by religious ideology. President Obama is a good example. He like many others are willing to defy his liberal base to compromise, even if he does not get all that they want. This was a fatal flaw of what is now know as Obamacare. Instead of simply expanding Medicare for all, Obama used the plan of the Heritage Foundation which Mitt Romney used in Massachusetts. Obamacare is not socialized medicine. Far from it, it is a hand out to insurance companies who now feed at the government tax money feed stalls that they never had access to before.

But you have to understand the mindset, the theology, the history and the sense of destiny motivated by faith that these people bring to the table, even the most cynical and openly hypocritical of them.

Religious conservatives cannot do this, because for them it is not merely about temporal politics, it is about establishing “God’s law ” (as they interpret it) as the norm and are willing to use every means, constitutional or not, fair or unfair, kind or evil to accomplish their goals. Why can’t they compromise? Simply put, because to do so would be to deny God.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who oversaw the prosecution of the major war criminals at Nuremberg noted:

“[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.” 

Goldwater stated on the Senate floor in 1981 about the danger of the religious conservatives, of which I was an early convert thanks to the Dominionist theology promoted by the Presbyterian Church that attended in college: Goldwater said:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. 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. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism….

Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution.  We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution.  We treasure the freedoms that document protects. . .  “By maintaining the separation of church and state,” he explained, “the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars . . .  Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers?  Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?’ ”

Well my friends, those religious leaders now own the Republican Party. Those religious leaders are one in the same as the politicians they are influencing, and dare any stray from the reservation, as did Eric Cantor, they will be cast aside and replaced with a Christian religious extremist.Such is only possible where people adopt the theocratic presuppositions of the Christian Dominisionists, as so many have. Gary North, one of the prominent leaders of this movement whose reach goes to the heart of the “Conservative Christian” political movement and who has served as an advisor to both Ron and Rand Paul wrote:

“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

My God, in what country could a disgraced, pathological liar, who had been court-martialed and cashiered by the Navy be elected to any office? But Gordon “Dr. Chaps” Klingenschmitt, was elected to the Colorado State Senate by a sizable margin and still keeps his extreme radio program. How can that be unless Goldwater was right?

Such people, even supposed faithful Roman Catholics  even condemn Pope Francis when he disagrees with their political ideology. Their hatred and need for control knows no bounds.

I came to realize too late the dangers of these people. I scoffed at Goldwater in the 1980s, and hesitated to believe him in the 1990s. Sadly it took me a tour in Iraq, visits to the Balkans, a lot more study, and getting thrown out of a church that I had faithfully served, to realize that I had been deceived. Sadly, I don’t think that most of my Christian brothers, smothered in the hateful dualistic “us versus them” ideology of the religious right will understand this.

Martin Niemoller, a German War hero of the First World War who became a pastor and hated the secular Weimer Republic. Out of that hate, Niemoller initially supported Hitler realized too late the evil that he had helped put into power. He ended up being jailed and put in a concentration camp for the duration of the war. He wrote:

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

Niemoller’s fate will be the fate of the people who elect any of these religious extremists to the Presidency. My advice to any is neither to fall for their promises nor disbelieve their most hateful and incendiary proposals. Those lay at the heart of the movement, and millions of otherwise faithful Christians have already been decided by them. In fact, look around around you. You probably know a few.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Killing Trayvon: The Power of Fear and Racism

Trayvon Martin and his Killer George Zimmerman

By all accounts George Zimmerman is nothing more than a vigilante and thug, a self-deputized “Neighborhood Watch Captain” who may well get away with the cold blooded murder of a teenager.  A teenage who was unarmed and returning to where he and his dad were visiting was killed by a man who despite being told by police not to intervene got out of his car and provoked an altercation that left an unarmed teenager dead.

The killing of Trayvon Martin sends chills down my spine for a number of reasons. First is the pre-meditated way in which it occurred. Zimmerman was conducting his own armed patrol of his neighborhood. When he spotted Trayvon walking he called 911 because he thought Trayvon who was black and wearing a hoodie looked suspicious. The 911 operator let him know that police were on the way and not to pursue the teen. Instead Zimmerman left the safety of his vehicle, got out of it, accosted the teen and put a bullet in his chest. The Sanford Florida police did no investigation outside of taking the killer’s word that it was self defense.

George Zimmerman was a habitual caller to 911, nearly 50 calls in a little over a year. In the latest call leading to Trayvon’s death he can be clearly heard using the term “f***ing Coon” a derisive term for blacks.  I would dare say that the killing was racially motivated. Saying that however will have some say that I am “pulling the race card” as if somehow pointing out the obvious is a crime. Racism exists and there are racists amount all ethnic groups, but in the United States historically blacks have been the victims of it.

The shooting has provoked uproar and even Tea Party Republican Representative Allen West and Republican Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have condemned it and demanded a full investigation. Protests and marches are being organized with good reason. George Zimmerman was not even booked. Even a police officer would be investigated for a shooting and placed on administrative duty until the situation was fully investigated but Zimmerman is still walking free with his gun.  Had Trayvon Martin killed Zimmerman there is no doubt that he would be in jail regardless of the circumstances.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who signed the “Stand Your Ground” legislation into law in 2005 said today that “This law does not apply to this particular circumstance…. Stand your ground means stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.

Some conservative commentators have blamed the victim for his death. Geraldo Rivera said that Trayvon’s hoodie was to blame for his death as much as Zimmerman. Say what? I don’t think that it is illegal to wear a hoodie the last time that I checked. Sean Hannity posited that it might be a “tragic accident” but why even offer that explanation when the killer ignored the police and acted on his own to provoke a confrontation?  In regards to hoodies in cool weather I almost always wear a black Baltimore Orioles or San Francisco Giants hoodie. Does that mean that I am more likely to be a criminal?  I think not but then I am not an African American teenager. However I wear hoodies all the time but the dirty little secret is that Trayvon Martin was black and as we all know the equation: Young Black Male+Hoodie=Criminal Thug that deserves to die; at least in the minds of some people.

President Obama did what any parent should do in regard to this and for him it is personal. On a day where a spectator at a shooting range where Rick Santorum was practicing yelled out “pretend it is Obama” the President said remarked that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon. Of course Newt Gingrich called Obama’s comments “disgraceful.” Newt Gingrich is an ass who will do anything he can to make the story about him when he is being trounced by Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum who both by the way condemned the shooting and called for an investigation.

Racism is at play in this and African Americans should be incensed about how the Sanford Police department handled this killing. The killer is free. The victim dead. The parents of the victim were not notified and Trayvon’s body was not released for three days.  Some have said that Zimmerman was “Spanish speaking and had black friends.” Well that does not not mean that the killing was not racially motivated, the fact that Zimmerman was calling him a “Coon” on the 911 tape is indisputable evidence.

I don’t live in some “white liberal dream land” when it comes to crime. When I was 19 my wife and I along with her parents were held up at gunpoint by two black men in our home town of Stockton California. I had a gun at my head and Judy had her glasses ripped off by the other assailant and ground into the parking lot. I don’t think that violent criminals should go unpunished or that people should not maintain a sharp eye and or not be able to defend themselves when actually threatened.

But that does not mean that I think that young black men are all potential armed robbers. I live in a racially mixed neighborhood with many black neighbors. A couple of years ago there was a series of break ins and robberies in the neighborhood that brought about the formation of a neighborhood watch.  Some of the criminals were black and eventually the burglary ring was broken. However that being said I cannot simply assume that a person is a criminal based on their race or how they dress.

When I am in town I am part of our neighborhood watch. However for law enforcement purposes I am a civilian. If I see something that I think is suspicious I call the police. I don’t take the law into my own hands. Being part of a neighborhood watch doesn’t give me or anyone the authority to take the law into our hands.

It really is that simple. George Zimmerman exceeded any measure of authority that he had under the law. He decided that he knew better than the police and ignored their guidance not to pursue the victim. The fact that he was given a pass by the Sanford Police under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is unconscionable.  Stand Your Ground was not designed to provide someone a license to kill. Zimmerman was not threatened. He took the initiative, ignored the police 911 operator and provoked a confrontation in which he killed an unarmed teenager while mumbling racial slurs on the 911 tape.  Zimmerman the vigilante pursued and killed a teenager who posed no threat to him and who was trying to avoid a confrontation.

Jeb Bush is right. The “Stand Your Ground” law provides no cover for Zimmerman who I view as a cold blooded killer. At the same time if charged Zimmerman deserves his day in court no-matter what I think which is far more grace than he gave to Trayvon Williams.

That my friends is premeditated murder motivated by racial prejudice and enabled by a law that gives a pass to anyone who claims that they “feel threatened.” It is a crude form of racially motivated vigilantism and it was not a tragic accident nor it was not the fault of the victim for wearing a hoodie.

Justice needs to be done in this and hopefully the attention that has been brought to this case will shake us from our complacency about the power of racially motivated fear that empowers men like George Zimmerman to kill kids and claim that they are the victim. There is something unjust about such a situation and I have to agree with the great civil rights activists that if there is not justice there can be no peace. Trayvon Martin is dead at the hands of a vigilante. His killer is free.

When will we ever learn?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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