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

rockwell_worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dyer-hanging1Hanging the Quakers in Massachusetts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barton’s friend and ally Gary North wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

Hating Lebron: The New State Sport of Ohio

The dethroned “King” AP Photo

I am not a fan of Lebron James. I also think that his juvenile actions have served to increase the public invective against him. In other words I think that he has been “deep throating” his size 16 Nike’s since last summer when he went on ESPN to announce his move to Miami.  At the same time I am not a Lebron “hater” and think that some have gone overboard in turning him into the most hated man in sports.

Of course the media and his fans had a lot to do with how Lebron is perceived. When he was in Cleveland they hailed him as “King James” and extolled everything about him. In fact they pretty much put his basketball abilities up with King James the First who I understand could put a heretic’s head through a basket from half court three out of four times. Since there were a lot of heretics in those days he got a lot of practice. Of course James as most young and relatively emotionally immature do got a big head.  Now he elected to go for less money to Miami to try to win a NBA title. Is there anything wrong with that?  Not necessarily but he could have left in a much more classy fashion. He would have still been disliked by Cleveland’s championship deprived fans and much of the rest of Ohio, but there were better ways of making his announcement.

His next faux pas was his landing in Miami where he promised big things, “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” championships.  The one thing about this is that it is very easy to get carried away on the big stage and promise things that you do not have ultimate control over. This was once again a sign of Lebron’s immaturity.  Let’s face it Lebron was drafted out of High School and we all know the maturity level of most high school graduates which is somewhere above a house broken puppy but lower than a person that has taken some setbacks in life.  Getting knocked on your ass is the beginning of wisdom.

Of course the Lebron haters have been nasty all year, yes I understand the connection that many fans feel toward professional ball players and how they feel when their idol leaves their team for greener pastures. But I’m sorry but professional and often collegiate sports are a business and the players are the commodities that bring in the bucks. So when a player leaves a city for another that it life, you have to deal with it.  Unfortunately a lot of people in Ohio including the Governor John Kasich have spent entirely too much energy on Lebron when their state has a lot more pressing issues.  Instead of making the Dallas Mavericks honorary citizens and poking the defeated “king” in the eye Kasich could have issued a “Bull” of excommunication” for Jim Tressel who has probably helped sink the Ohio State University football program.  That Ohio State is probably going to go down hard is not a problem for me, I even root for the USC “Troy Tech” Trojans against them and being a UCLA Army ROTC alum that says a lot.  But give me a break, why does a governor have to sink to this level? It seems below the dignity of the office but then what the hell, just how many politicians in the country are even acting like they have any dignity in office?

So for a year Lebron has been a rich target for his haters and they got their revenge through the efforts of Dirk Nowitzky and Mark Cuban’s Dallas Mavericks who shut James and the Heat down hard.  “King James” got to eat some humble prairie shit pie, not just a piece but the full pie.  He should have simply congratulated the Mavericks, promised to work hard in the off season and work hard to win next year. Instead he poured gasoline into the ring of his hater’s fire by saying this when asked if the he was bothered by those that want him to fail:

 “at the end of the day, all the people that was rooting on me to fail, at the end of the day they have to wake up tomorrow and have the same life that they had before they woke up today. They have the same personal problems they had today. I’m going to continue to live the way I want to live and continue to do the things that I want to do with me and my family and be happy with that. They can get a few days or a few months or whatever the case may be on being happy about not only myself, but the Miami Heat not accomplishing their goal, but they have to get back to the real world at some point.”

Personally I have no issue with the point that he makes, but it was dumb for him to come out and say it. I know that he felt the need to defend himself and he later sort of apologized but again it was a case of his immaturity as a person that caused an even bigger fire.

But when he left Cleveland Lebron became the most hated athlete in sports overnight.  Before that he had been considered a good guy and my friend Carl Long who played in the Negro Leagues and was a civil rights pioneer who has met Lebron says that is the case. He is a good guy that has made some decisions and said some things that have made him look like the bad guy.  That transition, going from being the good guy hero to the evil villain is a hard thing for anyone, except pro wrestlers who seem to be able to do it at will. Lebron will simply have to get used to the black top hat and handlebar moustache that comes with being the villain even though that is not the man that he is. Like Anakin Skywalker he will have to get used to being on the Dark Side of the Force. The sooner he gets used to it the better, Darth Vader doesn’t need to talk much, and he just goes out and crushes people and destroys planets.   Lebron needs to shut up and concentrate on what he needs to do on and off the court to win and remember that even Darth Vader finds redemption.

In the mean time Lebron will have to get used to the late night comedian jokes and even legitimately funny things like the Peoria Chief’s “Lebron James 2011 NBA Championship Replica Ring Giveaway.”

As far as the haters, whatever, there is a real world and we all got to live in it. The same and even more applies to Governor Kasich who has sullied his office by acting the fool.  Governor; go fix your state and excommunicate Jim Tressel for the mess he allowed to develop at the Ohio State University. As for me I don’t have time to hate, well maybe the Los Angeles Dodger’s but that’s different. I am a San Francisco Giants fan and the Dodgers are evil.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under philosophy, sports and life

The Gift of Religious Liberty and the Real Dangers to It

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

“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is a central tenant of the Bill of Rights and has been a central facet of American life since our inception as a country, in fact pre-dating our founding in some of the original 13 colonies most notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.  Now before anyone gets the idea that I am about to write something in favor of limiting the freedom to worship or for that matter any limitation on religious practices I am not in fact I am a stalwart supporter of religion in the Public Square and not just mine. You see I am a bit of a purest about this at least most of the time and my view is as long as the practice is not hurting anyone who cares. Some might take me to task for that as a Christian, but my point is not to argue for the Christian faith in this article but rather point out some of the inconsistencies of those of various faiths who while proclaiming their defense of this fundamental right of all American citizens who seek to limit the practice of others that they find disagreeable or even repugnant. What I will do in this essay is to do what I did back in my seminary days, where fellow students asked me why I hadn’t gone to Law School instead of seminary, which mind you was not a complement and actually play the “Devil’s advocate” in the matter of the free exercise of religion as it currently exists in the United States.

You see my gentle readers it is my view that while many individuals and religious organizations loudly proclaim their defense of the right to free exercise it is more their free exercise rights that they are defending than the rights of others. In fact many that proclaim this the loudest are also those that would seek to limit the religious rights of others using the laws of the Federal Government and the various States and Commonwealths that make up the Untied States to do so.  Since law in the United States is based on legal precedence everything that goes to court on matters of religious liberty as well as the actions of various legislatures matters, precedent matters and once precedent has been established it is very hard to change. Thus it is a matter of importance to all that no one acts hastily and emotionally on any issue that I might bring up since each decision sets a precedent and can effect decisions in entirely unrelated matters.

Our First Amendment Rights are marvels which are envied by the citizens of most of the rest of the world and why shouldn’t they be?  In many nations simply being born as a member of a minority religion is enough to ensure that you will never have full legal rights and may even face persecution and death at the hands of those in power, Sudan anyone? Kosovo? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Indonesia?  These rights have provided the opportunity for churches that were suppressed on the European continent and elsewhere to thrive free of government persecution, take Baptists for instance.  In the early 1600’s the first Baptists, English Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs by the English Crown in particular by King James who despite authorizing the Bible given his name and loved by many Baptists as the “only” valid English translation was a notorious homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that, hated those early Baptists and persecuted them throughout the land.  On the continent itself the Anabaptists and Mennonites as well as others referred to as “enthusiasts,” obviously forerunners of the Pentecostal movements of the 20th Century were brutally suppressed in many European lands.  The Jews were persecuted often brutally almost everywhere except surprisingly in places like the Ottoman Empire where in places like Baghdad they composed a rather sizable part of the population and were quite prominent in the Empire.  Of course Catholics were heavily persecuted in England and could not hold public office for many years following the English Reformation.  In fact there were hundreds of Catholics martyred for simply practicing their religion in private, simply celebrating Mass could get them a death sentence. Then there were the Huguenots in France, they were French Protestants who had gained a great deal of influence and power that were brutally suppressed and many killed by the French Crown and the Catholic Church.  The Lutherans were not big fans of other religions in Germany and worked with their Archrival Roman Catholics to kill off the Anabaptists and the Enthusiasts.  Spain was a great place to be anything but Roman Catholic but I jest, even some Roman Catholics now canonized as Saints were brought before the show called the Inquisition, Protestants, Jews, Moslems, none had a good time in Spain and Spain was equally repressive of native religions in the lands that it colonized in the “New World.”   The Russian Empire was known for its toleration of Catholics, Protestants and Jews especially in the equal treatment given to them in various Progroms conducted by the government and the Orthodox Church.  The Ottoman Empire had a limited amount of religious toleration; one cannot call it liberty and persecuted anyone equally that threatened the Caliphate or that they thought were heretical including the Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula that practiced something called Wahabi Islam.

Of course one can go around the world to see other stirring examples of religious toleration and expression.  Then along came the United States where our forefathers said to each other “gee wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along” or something like that and enjoined that right in our Bill of Rights right up there in the number one spot along with freedom of speech, assembly and the press.  Well it seems that we have a few contradictions in the applications of these rights in our history and sometimes the more religious people have had a negative influence in this notwithstanding all of the good things that many have done as religious individuals, particularly Christians and that churches have done in promoting human rights and the civil rights of all in our country.

While Christians were in the forefront of the Abolitionist movement whole denominations split on the issue of Slavery including the Southern Baptists, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Curiously neither the Episcopalians nor the Catholics split over the issues although the war found them heavily engaged on both sides of the conflict.  After the war many American Christians worked for the rights of workers, the abolition of child labor and even something that I oppose, Prohibition. Notwithstanding the unbiblical and inhuman temperance movement, at least some Christians and Churches advocated  for the full civil rights of African Americans though few spoke up for rights of the Native Americans. Chinese immigrants to California were frequently mistreated and worked for almost nothing on the most demanding jobs like building the trans-continental railroad, mining gold and building stone walls for ranchers.

While enshrining the right to the free exercise of religion the Founding Fathers kind of ignored the human rights of a whole class of people, African American slaves and allowed the practice of slavery every allowing Blacks to be counted as 3/5ths of a person, which 3/5ths I don’t know but nonetheless only 60% of a full human being.  We also did wonderful things to Native Americans driving them off of their lands, hunting them down and confining them to reservations all while ignoring the treaties that we made with the various Indian Nations, try that with a European Country and see what happens.  Of course if we believe the “history” promoted by some on the Religious Right we have to believe that the vast majority of the people perpetuating these acts were solid Bible Believing Christians, but then how do we reconcile these crimes against humanity, even crimes against fellow Christians with the Christian faith?  In fact nearly every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States has experienced some form of discrimination, often religious from the good citizens of this land.  It turns out that throughout history we have had some problems in the matter of religious liberty and toleration, especially of those whose customs, language, culture and religion are different than our own.  My goodness my own family owned slaves and the family patriarch who fought as a Confederate officer in the American Civil War and after the defeat of the Confederacy refused to sign the loyalty oath, which good honorable men like Robert E Lee did and lost the family lands to the Federal Government.

But the crux of all of this comes down to religious liberty which as Americans we hold dear, at least our own religious liberty though I cannot be sure about the extension of this right to others that we disagree with in belief, practice or even politics.

Now everyone is for religious liberty in the Public Square until a loathsome man like Fred Phelps and his family owned and operated “Westboro Baptist Church” shows up to protest and hurl vile epithets at those grieving the loss of family members killed in war, taunting these people in the most abhorrent of ways.  However, as grievous as these people are they do this under the right to the free exercise of religion.  Fundamentalist Moslems have as a stated goal of instating Sharia Law in this land, at least for Moslems. This they proclaim under the banner of religious liberty, however the imposition of Sharia Law on Moslems in the name of their religion also takes away their civil rights under the Constitution and the various laws of the Federal Government of the States that make up our fair land.  The Roman Catholic Church at the direction of the Vatican has attempted rather successfully until a recent Supreme Court ruling to shield Bishops that were complicit in personnel moves and cover ups regarding Priests accused or convicted of sexual misconduct and the sexual abuse of minors from criminal prosecution and civil suits under the guise of diplomatic immunity as the Vatican is a nation state. Now I ask you dear reader could any other religious organization shield its clergy from the laws of the land that any other citizen would be subject too? Not on your or my life, but the Vatican has blatantly done so and since we all value religious liberty we have as a nation turned a blind eye to this until now.  What about those of various beliefs and practices that use television, radio and the internet to espouse hatred and violence in the name of their religious beliefs and under the banner of religious liberty?

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

What about adherents of Wicca and other Earth based religions or Native American religions? Some of their practices would not be welcomed by those of many Christian denominations as well as secularists and atheists but if they are not hurting anyone else why should others object? Likewise why should people object if a religious symbol is displayed on private property or on state property where it has been displayed for decades or longer? Is it hurting anyone? Not really but hurt feelings and being offended count as much as real injury to the litigious and as such there have been long, expensive and divisive court proceedings that have served little purpose.  Now am I in favor of the government using such symbols to advance the rights of a given religion?  Absolutely not, but there are times where religious symbols and American culture, particularly that which seeks to honor veterans from previous wars is not about the advancement of any religion but simply a memorial with intent of promoting a religious cause.

Likewise there are those that would attempt to limit the free speech rights and religious rights of Christians and others that protest the practice of abortion using civil disobedience to do so, some in polite and well mannered demonstrations but others in pretty unseemly manners.  At the same time there are Christians who call themselves “pro-life” who bless and baptize practices condemned by the same Church Fathers and Biblical writers who they uses to support the rights of the unborn. They support the death penalty despite evidence that in many states that the practice is abused and sentences often wrong. Many advocate for harsh treatment of aliens and exhibit a xenophobic attitude towards some immigrant groups, especially those that are not Christian. Then there is a now popular belief that the economic Social Darwinism of unfettered Capitalism is not only Biblical but God’s best ordained economic system while treating the poor and the elderly with distain and treat their political opponents as agents of the Devil rather than people that God might actually care about.

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

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

So as you can see my dear friends the subject of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our religions is one that is not as clear cut as we would like to admit.  The question, to play the Devil’s advocate here is “Should we limit the rights to the free exercise of religion?”    If we do so where do we draw the line? If we say everything goes does this mean for everyone or just us?  Could it be that in the enshrining of this right that the Founders actually meant the expression of rational and enlightened religion and not religious expression that limits the rights of other groups or supports the abolition of others Constitutional Rights?

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

You see the lawyer that dwells deep within my heart that my fellow seminarians saw could argue the point for any position in this debate, which I guess kind of makes me a bit of a prostitute but still there are valid points to be made on all sides of this issue and to the extenuating civil, social and even economic and national security concerns that the absolute right to the freedom of religious expression impacts.  It seems that the waters get pretty muddy here my concern is that those on various sides of this issue are more about promoting their religion if they have one and do not really care about the religious rights of others while the devoted secularists would seek to expunge religion from the public square.  As I said at the beginning of this essay the issue is about legal precedence and sometimes the unintended consequences of decisions reached hastily when those on the various sides of an issue take it to court.

The question of religious liberty and the tension between competing Free Exercise rights and concerns about the “excessive entanglement” of religion in government will be with us for a long time. I think the result of the heated and often litigious nature of the debate will actually turn people away from the more strident groups in the debate and will actually do damage to the First Amendment protections that we all enjoy.  This causes me great concern and if you value your rights to the free exercise of your religion or expression or your right not to have the religious views of any group made the law of the land.  Religion can be abused and used as a dictatorial bludgeon and those who now advocate so stridently for their faith to be made the law of the land should well remember the words of James Madison:

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Theater of the Absurd: King James Goes to Miami and a Vuvuzela Fatwa

Lebron James Flies Away

Well it is settled.  After weeks of speculation and media prostitution “King” Lebron James the First is leaving the City on the Lake and the Cuyahoga River, the fair city of Cleveland for the sunny beaches and maybe if you are a Clevelander the sunny bitches of Miami.    Of course as always I want to be fair and balanced about this as I am in all things to ensure that Lebron supporters and detractors find something to be mad about when they read this.

You see I don’t condemn Lebron for taking a pay cut, yes a pay cut to go to Miami to play with two buddies and 2010 Summer Olympic teammates, Chris Bosh and Dewayne Wade who are like King James among the top players in the NBA.  The NBA above all is about titles if you are to be considered a great, not individual statistics and regular season wins as important as those are. Everyone looks at rings and King James’ fingers are conspicuously naked in this regard.  I can understand the desire of King James, Wade and Bosh to band together and maybe enjoin others to their cause in the quaint South Florida village of Miami Beach from whence they shall go out to do battle flying on Miami Air across this great land to put the rest of the NBA in its place and establish themselves as the “Three Kings” of the NBA. Unfortunately he has left his legacy in the toilet in the manner that he made his exit from Cleveland.

Now of course I think the way that King James and his court went about this was pathetic and self serving and obliterates his reputation as an otherwise decent man who had given a great deal to his home town and state. King James was a beacon of hope in a land of otherwise abject misery, at least according to a recent poll and an icon of all that was good.  Unfortunately his little show made him look like a spoiled child.  It would have been better for him to let the people of Cleveland know that it had been a good ride that he loved them and appreciated all that they had done for him over the years early on and let them know that he wanted to move on while continuing to do good things for the community.  Sure Cleveland fans would still hate King James but it would not give the appearance of rubbing their faces in Cav excrement.  King James hurt his town while actually doing something that most people would never criticize him for and would never hold themselves to.  How many people would move to another city to get a job where thought he money may not be as good that they can work with friends who like them are among the best in their business and have the chance to do something special together? I doubt that many would not blink an eye in signing the contract and calling the moving van.  However it seems that while King James was repugnant in the way that he made his move that most of us would not condemn him for the actual move.

This was an unseemly affair but it entered the realm of the absurd when Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert published a letter in Comic Sans font on the Cavaliers website.  The letter using great invective sounded like a teenager who was just dropped by his girlfriend screaming betrayal and cursing the person’s future endeavors.  My God and this man owns and NBA franchise? I guess that if you have enough money you can buy anything. But even so to act this childish and churlish flies in the face of what any smart PR agent would do like issue the following statement: “While we disagree with and are incredibly disappointed in Lebron’s decision and the manner in which he announced the decision we wish him well and commit all of our talent and resources to building a better franchise and bring the NBA championship to Cleveland and the loyal fans that deserve it.”  You see that would have been smart, but Dan Gilbert appears to have the emotional maturity of a 14 year old boy in heat, or whatever hormonal surges we as 14 year old boys are wont to have.  Gilbert has made himself look like a complete fool in his published tirade. I can see being upset but this tantrum is best done off the world wide web in the privacy of one’s home or office with no one having a cell phone to video it for You Tube.  No smart Mr. Gilbert; you could have been the hero but instead have played the fool. What agent is going to recommend that his clients sign with Cleveland now with the possibility that they might be demonized when they leave? I reckon that not many will be beating down your door for that privilege.

Despite this he had been good to King James; he was willing to spend a butt load of money to keep him Cleveland, fired his coach shuffled the front office and if they could have convinced other players to come and enjoy the six months of lake effect snow offered by the City on the Lake King James might still be in Cleveland, but neither King James nor Dan Gilbert could get them too.

The people of Cleveland should be disappointed and I don’t blame them for being angry. King James was one of them a hometown kid and that was beloved by his fans and they rightfully feel betrayed by him and this sense of betrayal was only made worse by King James’ silly display of self in making this announcement and the media prostitutes that began this talk even before the Cavaliers were eliminated from the playoffs.  The Cleveland fans deserved better from everyone involved in this sorry display, tantalized by the prospect of maybe finally having a championship team after more than 50 years they have seen their best chance of a national title die for good Lord knows how long and Dan Gilbert has ensured that the Cavaliers will not field a championship team anytime soon.

You see I view King James’s desire to want to join together with some of the best players in the league to win championships and take less money to do so amazing. So many players will get some team to pay them abhorrent sums ensuring that few other players of quality can be signed and these overpaid players do nothing but revel in themselves for years while producing no championships for the teams that they play for and the fans that pay their salary.  Yes this is about King James but he wants to win. In fact in Cleveland he was the franchise and opposing teams knew that and the good ones that faced the Cavaliers in the playoffs were good enough to shut them down because it was Lebron against the other team one man against five.  See in the regular season the Cavs could get by because most of the league is pathetic and had no answer to him but the really good teams deep in the playoffs stopped them in their tracks.  Lebron had to want more; one of the most celebrated players in the game without a ring and despite his efforts as well as the efforts of the Cavs couldn’t land the high powered players to play in Cleveland.  Lebron decided to look elsewhere and when the Heat signed Chris Bosh and Dewayne Wade was willing to go from being the main man to one of a triumvirate no wonder he went there.  Of course there is no guarantee that they will win as many real NBA commentators suggest but there is something to be said for the camaraderie of these men, something that is not always seen in professional sports.

So enough about this sordid saga it will play out eventually a Fatwa will be issued against King James, in fact I think that Dan Gilbert did just that in his letter.

Subject of a Fatwa

Speaking of Fatwa’s this is too good.  The good Imams of the United Arab Emirates General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments have decided that the favorite annoying noisemaker of South African football fans is verboten in the UAE, at least the loud ones, but wait are there any others?  Anyway the  General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments fatwa against vuvuzelas (Fatwa 11625) is now the law of the sand in the UAE much to the disappointment of UAE football fans who were so looking forward to using them at matches in that country.  I guess it really blows for them; don’t tell Pat Robertson he might get ideas.

Peace and laughs,

Padre Steve

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

Norman Rockwell’s Freedom of Worship done in response to Franklin Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms”

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

“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.” Thomas Jefferson in the 1779 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Religious freedom is a central tenant of the Bill of Rights and has been a central facet of American life since our inception as a country, in fact pre-dating our founding in some of the original 13 colonies most notably Rhode Island and Pennsylvania.  Now before anyone gets the idea that I am about to write something in favor of limiting the freedom to worship or for that matter any limitation on religious practices I am not in fact I am a stalwart supporter of religion in the Public Square and not just mine. You see I am a bit of a purest about this at least most of the time and my view is as long as the practice is not hurting anyone who cares. Some might take me to task for that as a Christian, but my point is not to argue for the Christian faith in this article but rather point out some of the inconsistencies of those of various faiths who while proclaiming their defense of this fundamental right of all American citizens who seek to limit the practice of others that they find disagreeable or even repugnant. What I will do in this essay is to do what I did back in my seminary days, where fellow students asked me why I hadn’t gone to Law School instead of seminary, which mind you was not a complement and actually play the “Devil’s advocate” in the matter of the free exercise of religion as it currently exists in the United States.

You see my gentle readers it is my view that while many individuals and religious organizations loudly proclaim their defense of the right to free exercise it is more their free exercise rights that they are defending than the rights of others. In fact many that proclaim this the loudest are also those that would seek to limit the religious rights of others using the laws of the Federal Government and the various States and Commonwealths that make up the Untied States to do so.  Since law in the United States is based on legal precedence everything that goes to court on matters of religious liberty as well as the actions of various legislatures matters, precedent matters and once precedent has been established it is very hard to change. Thus it is a matter of importance to all that no one acts hastily and emotionally on any issue that I might bring up since each decision sets a precedent and can effect decisions in entirely unrelated matters.

Our First Amendment Rights are marvels which are envied by the citizens of most of the rest of the world and why shouldn’t they be?  In many nations simply being born as a member of a minority religion is enough to ensure that you will never have full legal rights and may even face persecution and death at the hands of those in power, Sudan anyone? Kosovo? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Indonesia?  These rights have provided the opportunity for churches that were suppressed on the European continent and elsewhere to thrive free of government persecution, take Baptists for instance.  In the early 1600’s the first Baptists, English Baptists were persecuted, imprisoned and even killed for their beliefs by the English Crown in particular by King James who despite authorizing the Bible given his name and loved by many Baptists as the “only” valid English translation was a notorious homosexual, not that there is anything wrong with that, hated those early Baptists and persecuted them throughout the land.  On the continent itself the Anabaptists and Mennonites as well as others referred to as “enthusiasts,” obviously forerunners of the Pentecostal movements of the 20th Century were brutally suppressed in many European lands.  The Jews were persecuted often brutally almost everywhere except surprisingly in places like the Ottoman Empire where in places like Baghdad they composed a rather sizable part of the population and were quite prominent in the Empire.  Of course Catholics were heavily persecuted in England and could not hold public office for many years following the English Reformation.  In fact there were hundreds of Catholics martyred for simply practicing their religion in private, simply celebrating Mass could get them a death sentence. Then there were the Huguenots in France, they were French Protestants who had gained a great deal of influence and power that were brutally suppressed and many killed by the French Crown and the Catholic Church.  The Lutherans were not big fans of other religions in Germany and worked with their Archrival Roman Catholics to kill off the Anabaptists and the Enthusiasts.  Spain was a great place to be anything but Roman Catholic but I jest, even some Roman Catholics now canonized as Saints were brought before the show called the Inquisition, Protestants, Jews, Moslems, none had a good time in Spain and Spain was equally repressive of native religions in the lands that it colonized in the “New World.”   The Russian Empire was known for its toleration of Catholics, Protestants and Jews especially in the equal treatment given to them in various Progroms conducted by the government and the Orthodox Church.  The Ottoman Empire had a limited amount of religious toleration; one cannot call it liberty and persecuted anyone equally that threatened the Caliphate or that they thought were heretical including the Arab tribes of the Arabian Peninsula that practiced something called Wahabi Islam.

Of course one can go around the world to see other stirring examples of religious toleration and expression.  Then along came the United States where our forefathers said to each other “gee wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get along” or something like that and enjoined that right in our Bill of Rights right up there in the number one spot along with freedom of speech, assembly and the press.  Well it seems that we have a few contradictions in the applications of these rights in our history and sometimes the more religious people have had a negative influence in this notwithstanding all of the good things that many have done as religious individuals, particularly Christians and that churches have done in promoting human rights and the civil rights of all in our country.

While Christians were in the forefront of the Abolitionist movement whole denominations split on the issue of Slavery including the Southern Baptists, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Curiously neither the Episcopalians nor the Catholics split over the issues although the war found them heavily engaged on both sides of the conflict.  After the war many American Christians worked for the rights of workers, the abolition of child labor and even something that I oppose, Prohibition. Notwithstanding the unbiblical and inhuman temperance movement, at least some Christians and Churches advocated  for the full civil rights of African Americans though few spoke up for rights of the Native Americans. Chinese immigrants to California were frequently mistreated and worked for almost nothing on the most demanding jobs like building the trans-continental railroad, mining gold and building stone walls for ranchers.

While enshrining the right to the free exercise of religion the Founding Fathers kind of ignored the human rights of a whole class of people, African American slaves and allowed the practice of slavery every allowing Blacks to be counted as 3/5ths of a person, which 3/5ths I don’t know but nonetheless only 60% of a full human being.  We also did wonderful things to Native Americans driving them off of their lands, hunting them down and confining them to reservations all while ignoring the treaties that we made with the various Indian Nations, try that with a European Country and see what happens.  Of course if we believe the “history” promoted by some on the Religious Right we have to believe that the vast majority of the people perpetuating these acts were solid Bible Believing Christians, but then how do we reconcile these crimes against humanity, even crimes against fellow Christians with the Christian faith?  In fact nearly every ethnic group that immigrated to the United States has experienced some form of discrimination, often religious from the good citizens of this land.  It turns out that throughout history we have had some problems in the matter of religious liberty and toleration, especially of those whose customs, language, culture and religion are different than our own.  My goodness my own family owned slaves and the family patriarch who fought as a Confederate officer in the American Civil War and after the defeat of the Confederacy refused to sign the loyalty oath, which good honorable men like Robert E Lee did and lost the family lands to the Federal Government.

But the crux of all of this comes down to religious liberty which as Americans we hold dear, at least our own religious liberty though I cannot be sure about the extension of this right to others that we disagree with in belief, practice or even politics.

Now everyone is for religious liberty in the Public Square until a loathsome man like Fred Phelps and his family owned and operated “Westboro Baptist Church” shows up to protest and hurl vile epithets at those grieving the loss of family members killed in war, taunting these people in the most abhorrent of ways.  However, as grievous as these people are they do this under the right to the free exercise of religion.  Fundamentalist Moslems have as a stated goal of instating Sharia Law in this land, at least for Moslems. This they proclaim under the banner of religious liberty, however the imposition of Sharia Law on Moslems in the name of their religion also takes away their civil rights under the Constitution and the various laws of the Federal Government of the States that make up our fair land.  The Roman Catholic Church at the direction of the Vatican has attempted rather successfully until a recent Supreme Court ruling to shield Bishops that were complicit in personnel moves and cover ups regarding Priests accused or convicted of sexual misconduct and the sexual abuse of minors from criminal prosecution and civil suits under the guise of diplomatic immunity as the Vatican is a nation state. Now I ask you dear reader could any other religious organization shield its clergy from the laws of the land that any other citizen would be subject too? Not on your or my life, but the Vatican has blatantly done so and since we all value religious liberty we have as a nation turned a blind eye to this until now.  What about those of various beliefs and practices that use television, radio and the internet to espouse hatred and violence in the name of their religious beliefs and under the banner of religious liberty?

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

What about adherents of Wicca and other Earth based religions or Native American religions? Some of their practices would not be welcomed by those of many Christian denominations as well as secularists and atheists but if they are not hurting anyone else why should others object? Likewise why should people object if a religious symbol is displayed on private property or on state property where it has been displayed for decades or longer? Is it hurting anyone? Not really but hurt feelings and being offended count as much as real injury to the litigious and as such there have been long, expensive and divisive court proceedings that have served little purpose.  Now am I in favor of the government using such symbols to advance the rights of a given religion, absolutely not, but there are times where religious symbols and American culture, particularly that which seeks to honor veterans from previous wars is not about the advancement of any religion but simply a memorial with intent of promoting a religious cause.

Likewise there are those that would attempt to limit the free speech rights and religious rights of Christians and others that protest the practice of abortion using civil disobedience to do so, some in polite and well mannered demonstrations but others in pretty unseemly manners.  Many Christians including leaders and members of my own denomination have gone to jail over their opposition to abortion, been brutalized by police for their expression of faith and their opposition to the practice of abortion which they believe to be not only against their beliefs but against their belief in the fundamental rights to life of the unborn.

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

Many Christians had little problem with the suppression of the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound after all David Koresh was a “dangerous” cult leader nor do many have a problem in limiting the rights of Moslems that happen to be American citizens and protest if a Moslem clergyman becomes a military Chaplain or if Moslems want to build a Mosque in their neighborhood.  A big controversy is the plan to build a Mosque on or near the site of the World Trade Center which was destroyed by Islamic terrorists and applauded by many Moslems around the world to include some in the United States. While I have no problem in general with the religious groups including Moslems to be able to build a religious facility wherever they want the construction of one on or near this site would seem to be less of a religious liberty issue but more of a propaganda victory for the terrorists groups that brought down the Twin Towers, a mosque on the site of the hated symbol of American economic power and capitalism would be a propaganda victory for declared enemies of the United States.

So as you can see my dear friends the subject of religious liberty and the freedom to practice our religions is one that is not as clear cut as we would like to admit.  The question, to play the Devil’s advocate here is “Should we limit the rights to the free exercise of religion?”    If we do so where do we draw the line? If we say everything goes does this mean for everyone or just us?  Could it be that in the enshrining of this right that the Founders actually meant the expression of rational and enlightened religion and not religious expression that limits the rights of other groups or supports the abolition of others Constitutional Rights?

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

You see the lawyer that dwells deep within my heart that my fellow seminarians saw could argue the point for any position in this debate, which I guess kind of makes me a bit of a prostitute but still there are valid points to be made on all sides of this issue and to the extenuating civil, social and even economic and national security concerns that the absolute right to the freedom of religious expression impacts.  It seems that the waters get pretty muddy here and I am curious to what others think. My concern is that those on various sides of this issue are more about promoting their religion if they have one and not really caring about the religious rights of others and that the devoted secularists would seek to remove religion from the Public Square in its totality.  As I said at the beginning of this essay the issue is about legal precedence and sometimes the unintended consequences of decisions reached hastily when those on the various sides of an issue take it to court.

I’m glad to hear from all sides of the issue even from those that disagree with anything that I have said in this little essay, just don’t get too nasty or personal if you are criticizing me, unless you know me well and would join me for a beer later and remember I am playing the Devil’s advocate here and not espousing any particular viewpoint, I only want to see people get spun up so I can have a little fun so feel free to tell me what you think.  Tell me whose rights you want to protect or take away, this should be fun.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Reformation Day: How Martin Luther and Hans Kung Brought Me to an Anglo-Catholic Perspective, a Book and Bible Burning Reaches Ludicrous Speed and Yankees take Game Three 8-5

Today is Reformation Day that is right sports fans, Reformation Day.  Now most people, unless they are Lutheran or a really “reformed” Presbyterian or Reformed Church kind of Christian have no clue about this. However when a young Priest and Theology Professor at the University of Wittenberg named Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg it changed the course of Western as well as Church history.

martin-lutherMartin Luther

Luther posted his “theses” which was basically points of theological debate on the door of the Schlosskirche it broke the hold of the Roman Catholic Church of Europe, brought about what would become an increasingly fractured and diverse church in the west and established the primacy of the State over the Church in Western nations.  Luther intended nothing more than reforming and curtailing abuses in the Catholic Church and how the Church saw grace, faith and scripture.  His act and subsequent actions when put under the “ban” by the Pope drew to him the support of German nobility who desired to be free of the Holy Roman Empire and rapidly engulfed Europe in religious, political and military conflict.

The theology that Luther developed based upon the Three Solas; Sola fides by faith alone, Sola Gratia by grace alone and Sola Scriptura by scripture alone became the hallmarks of the Reformation and without getting into the weeds to dissect all the ramifications for the Church and the world impact the way that many Christians practice and express their faith to the current day.

For me Martin Luther was along with Fr Hans Kung, Jurgen Moltmann, and Alistair McGrath a key figure in the development of my faith.  At some point I will probably get deeper into this on this blog, but right now it suffices to say that it was Martin Luther who confirmed to my the essential nature of the Eucharist to the Christian faith and which helping bring me to a catholic understanding of the faith versus a truly reformed Protestant understanding of it.  I do not agree with all of Luther’s points or ideas but his Theology of the Cross brought me to a much more incarnational understanding of the Christian faith especially in regards to understanding that it is only through the Cross that we come to know God in a truly Christian sense of understanding.  For Luther the Cross was central to understanding the humanity’s relationship to the Trinity, not as Calvin would enunciate God’s will and predestination from before time began.  Kung from the Catholic side is a big Luther supporter (see On Being a Christian) and Moltmann has brought Luther’s thought to the 21st Century in Theology of Hope and The Crucified God as has Anglican Theologian and Luther scholar Alistair McGrath (The Mystery of the Cross.) All of these men helped me in my transition following seminary to a moderate Anglo-Catholic expression of faith that places a high place to Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and Reason in interpreting and living out the faith.

luther_at_wormsLuther at the Diet of Worms

I did a lot of study on the Lutheran Reformation in and after seminary and in 1996 while stationed in Germany as a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain had the privilege of organizing a series of Reformation tours to Wittenberg on Reformation day where we attended the Reformationstag service at the Schlosskirche and I led a walking tour of the town.  One of the parishioners from the chapel asked me if I had been to Wittenberg before because I seemed like I knew every place in the town.  I had to tell her that I had not been there in person but because of my study felt like I had from the time we stepped off of our tour bus.  I also directed a tour to Worms where Luther on trial before Charles V was told to recant his writings and made his timeless statement:

“Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” It is legend that Luther said the words “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!” These words were probably only added later by someone else to make the story more interesting as they do not appear in the council notes.  Not that Luther would have objected.  The film version is linked here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0tk_EvWXQQ&feature=player_embedded

marburgZwingli and Luther at Marburg

Likewise his debate with Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli at the Marburg colloquy regarding points of doctrine was significant for me. It was held that they might unify their movements. They agreed on all points except the Eucharist where Luther enunciated a very catholic understanding of the “Real Presence” and Zwingli held to be a symbolic memorial though might have some spiritual component.   Luther would not budge and to each of Zwingli’s arguments pulled back the tablecloth to reveal the words “This is my body, this is my blood” which he had carved on the table.  They departed without achieving unity, something that has plagued Protestants to this day and when Zwingli was killed in battle when leading the militia from Zurich to fight the approaching Catholic Army.  When Luther heard about the Zwingli’s death he commented Zwingli drew his sword. Therefore he has received the reward that Christ spoke of, ‘All who take the sword will perish by the sword’ [Matt. 26:52]. If God has saved him, he has done so above and beyond the rule.” (Table Talk #1451)

I have always had a special place in my heart for Luther even with all of his flaws which were many; he was earthy, spoke his mind, and had no problem with having fun or good beer.  Additionally he had a bit of an anger problem, suffered from clinical depression and had issues with his father.  Luther could be an ass, but then I can be an ass too.

Well the “unhappy few” at the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton North Carolina are moving right along in their book and Bible burning crusade led by their Grand Master Pastor Marc Grizzard. In the past few days he has gotten into a pissing contest with a very conservative and should I even say “Fundamentalist” theologian named James White.  Evidently Mr. White is on the opposite end of the Fundamental spectrum according to Grand Master Pastor Marc along with “the agnostics, liberals, New Evangelicals, and Bible doubters.”  I did find it fascinating to see how Grand Master Pastor Marc’s little brain works in the text of their terrible translation tiff which is linked here: http://amazinggracebaptistchurchkjv.com/subpage570.html

I especially enjoyed this comment from his most recent webpage update where he castigates Mr. White:

“I had rather be uneducated and irrational and know that I have God’s preserved, inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God, than to be a scholar who doesn’t know where God’s Word is. One person said, “I’d rather be an fool on fire, than a scholar on ice.” Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying a person should not better themselves or study. They should! But if study and education is going to rob you of your unwavering faith in the KJB, than leave the education to the Bible doubters. I will never be open to anything but the KJV, call me what you want. I don’t care!” Pastor Marc Grizzard

MARC KNEELING2Profiles in Stupidity Pastor Marc Grizzard

Since he has invited people to call him anything they want I think idiot works well. Have no fear he is already talking about next year’s event:

God has showed me why this years event went around the world. Check back in a couple of weeks as we begin to “Turn this world upside down.” Acts 17:6 “…These that have turned the world upside down” “Coming to a town near you!!!!” Please not my town.

Make arrangements now, if it gets popular you might have to book through Ticketmaster or the Amazing Grace Baptist Church Box Office.  By the way the start time is 7PM and Marc has said if you are not a member or have an invitation from him you are not welcome, and that includes law enforcement who promise to be there, kind of reminds me of the concert in the Blues Brothers. Of course he will have to compete with the folks at the fictional Landover Baptist Church to have the world’s greatest book and Bible burning. http://www.landoverbaptist.org/news1002/bookburning.html

Of course I wonder about a group of separatist Baptists staking their faith not on Jesus but the King James Version. It seems absurd for a group that descends from people who valued religious liberty to be burning book or Bibles of any kind.  The fact that they have set an Anglican translation, authorized by a flaming homosexual who hated, persecuted and killed the early English Baptists and which is actually a later version than the 1611 that has multiple versions, the Oxford and the Cambridge and is based on a text that was not the most common text used by the early or “ante-Nicene” church is beyond me.  The fact that King James onlyism is only about 100 years old and comes from a unusual 7th Day Adventist preacher and was advanced by the founder of the Pensacola Bible Institute who experimented with Zen Buddhism, thought about becoming a Jesuit and believed in a bunch of stuff including UFO;s that most Fundamentalists would deride only adds to my mystification.  But then to quote Forrest Gump “stupid is as stupid does.”  Congratulations Pastor Marc you win the Gump award for 2009. Congratulations, your 1973 orange Ford Pinto is waiting in the A-1 Auto Salvage in Fayetteville.

Tonight the Abbess and I will go to a Halloween party at our favorite restaurant the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach.  I went as a baseball player from a scary team, the Orioles and the Abbess is going as a Hippy Chick.  It was fun, nice people, good music and 70’s and 80’s music videos and great beer.

Mariners Yankees BaseballAlex Rodriguez Broke out of His Slump

Now I sit watching game three of the World Series. For once replay was used to overturn a bad call, Alex Rodriguez getting his first hit, a 2 run home run that hit the lens of the right field television camera that was initially ruled a double.  Cole Hammels was hit hard as I predicted giving up five runs before he was pulled in the 5th, one of the runs coning off the bat of Andy Pettitte who drove in Nick Swisher and then later scored.  The Yankees bats began to come alive, Nick Swisher who had had a miserable post season hit a home run and a double, and Alex Rodriguez broke out of his slump with his 2 run homer. Hideki Matsui hit his second home run of the series with 2 outs in the 8th as a pinch hitter against Brett Myers.  For the Phillies the hot hitting Ryan Howard has continued to slump striking out 3 more times tonight to make him 2 for 13 with 9 strike outs in the first three games.  On the other hand Jayson Wirth continues to hammer the ball hitting two solo shots tonight.

Tomorrow should be nice, Church in the morning after an extra hour sleep, followed by some study for my exams and game four of the series tomorrow with C.C. Sabathia coming back against Joel Blanton.  Advantage has to go to the Yankees with Sabathia on the hill and thier bats starting to come to life. Should be another great game.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Give me that Old Time Religion: Book & Bible Burnings that Warm Your Heart…Can We Make Smores? Witch Children…Shall we Duck Them? And Can VDOT ever Clear the Crap off the Road?

I’m a Scripture, Tradition and Reason kind of Christian, pretty moderate in about everything and maybe a bit cynical about some things, however nothing warms my heart more than a good old fashioned book burning.  There is something about this tradition that makes for good fellowship on a crisp fall night. Everyone is gathered round the fire and the grand master of the congregation, sometimes referred as the “Pastor” or in some cases “Preacher Boy” exhorts his otherwise illiterate congregation to burn books which they have never read and for which in many cases cannot pronounce the author’s name, much less know anything about the books being burned.

The cool thing for the folks doing this at Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton North Carolina near Ashville is that they not only are burning “heretical” books, but Bibles too, I think over 10 different translations to boot…now that really adds “fuel to the fire” if you ask me.  The “Pastor” of the 14 member congregation a Marc Grizzard who seemingly appropriately is wearing bib overalls in his interview with a local television station, which coincidently is of the Devil too.  That link is here and they have a nice little video too: http://www.kbmt12.com/news/local/63968712.html

The church has a pretty good list of Bibles and authors and even musicians, of course everyone knows that musicians are all Satanists so why shouldn’t they get their stuff burned too?  Some of the Bible translations which are called by Grand Master Marc “Satan’s Bibles” include the New International Version.  Now I admit I’ve never been a fan of what I consider a pretty bland and unexciting translation, but can’t see burning them.  Likewise the New American Standard Bible, the Good News for Modern Man and a bunch of others make the list.  I’m sure that my two preferred translations have to be in the mix somewhere, the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version.  Since these too have to be the Devil’s handiwork I will guard them with my life just in case Grand Master Marc comes up my way at 666 Lake of Fire Way.

Burning books is one thing, I would actually start with most Christian fiction, especially the Left Buttocks series if I were to start burning books, but even then I figure that maybe the Deity Herself would not approve.  Of course the Grand Master Marc being a good Scripture only kind of guy, screw that demonic tradition reason too, does find scriptural precedent for this in Acts 19: 18-20 which I quote from one of Satan’s Bibles, the New Living Translation or the NLT:

“Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. So the message about the Lord spread…”

Of course the passage in questions refers to recent converts who had been into sorcery in a place where this was big business and not to Bible translations, or works of popular Christian writers of their day such as Peter, Paul and Mary…wait sorry, Peter, Paul and John my bad.  Likewise the “Amazing Grace” church has identified a number of heretical authors whose works will be burned including such known betrayers of the faith as the Pope, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Rick Warren.  Now I wouldn’t read Rick Warren if you paid me too, well maybe I’d prostitute myself if the money was right, but still I can’t recommend burning his books.  I like the way that Billy Graham preached but was bored by his books, but still burning?  I don’t know…and Mother Teresa’s books are too small to be more than kindling.  As to burning the Pope’s books, which Pope, all of the Popes with a number after their name, or maybe those with a Latin or Italian name?  Nope, must be all of them.  Add to the mix others such as conservative stalwart James Dobson, award winning Chuck Colson, John, “no I’m not having fun” MacArthur and a host of others you get a pretty good pile of books to burn.

The church website: http://amazinggracebaptistchurchkjv.com/Download99.html is hard to reach right now because it has exceeded its bandwidth however they plan a good time including serving food for those who attend.  Since there is food can I make Smores?

The interesting thing about the good folks at Amazing Grace Baptist Church which I think is a pretty uninspired name for a church which is to say the least a bit intolerant and has been used in a really popular song that I heard Willie Nelson sing is that the are KJOVers .  In English that means King James Only Version people.  For them there is no other version in English that is the true, inspired, inerrant Bible, the King James Version 1611, or 1611 for short. I knew a Army National Guard Chaplain in Texas who once visited one of his church “shut-ins” at her home. He asked her if she would like him to read something out of the Bible to her.  She told him that only if he would read from the original language.  He was dumbfounded, he didn’t have his Greek New Testament available nor anything in Hebrew, so he said that he didn’t have it with him. The lady said “Oh I have it in my drawer.” She reached to her bedside nightstand and pulled out; you guessed it the KJV 1611.

Now I have nothing against the KJV, I even have one or two in my collection.  However it is not my language, I’m an American of the late 20th and early 21st Century.  All the doests, don’tist, thousist and shallists really killeth me.  Even in the liturgy I’m a 1979 Book of Common Prayer Rite Two kind of guy.  Rite One is a lot like the KJV and while nice I find myself stumbling all over it like I was trying to celebrate the Mass in Urdu or Pashto. It just doesn’t work for me.  If that makes me a heretic or worse I’m sorry.

However there is something I find perplexing about the KJOV crowd.  The King James Bible as it was originally published in 1611was a little different than that called the 1611 today.  First, it was translated by a bunch of Anglican scholars from the Greek and Hebrew assisted by the Latin Vulgate and Luther’s German translation.  Second, it included the books commonly referred to as the Deuterocanonicals, sometimes known as the Apocrypha.  Third the King James Version was “Authorized” not necessarily by God, but rather the Good King James of England, defender of the Faith who happened to believe that the “Faith” was that prescribed by the Church of England, not Catholics, nor Puritans and especially not Baptists was the faith to defend.  In fact the Good King James despised the forefathers and foremothers of the Grand Master Marc and the stalwart Amazing Grace Baptist Church persecuting them, jailing them and even executing them.  Of course the Defender of the Faith happened to be a flaming homosexual, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  Somehow I wonder why they wouldn’t pick a Bible that was more Baptist friendly.  Oh well, I love irony but will take my shirts to the cleaners.

Moving on to Africa where some rather extremist type Christians are trying to go back to the times of the Round Table up to the 1600s in England and Her Colonies in the “New World” aka Virginia and the Massachusetts Bay Colony by deciding children are witches and deciding the exorcise them.  I said “exorcise” and not “exercise.”  Unfortunately these folks have updated the exorcism manuals to include forcing acid down their throats.  The story is heart rending:

The nine-year-old boy lay on a bloodstained hospital sheet crawling with ants, staring blindly at the wall.

His family pastor had accused him of being a witch, and his father then tried to force acid down his throat as an exorcism. It spilled as he struggled, burning away his face and eyes. The emaciated boy barely had strength left to whisper the name of the church that had denounced him – Mount Zion Lighthouse.

A month later, he died.

Nwanaokwo Edet was one of an increasing number of children in Africa accused of witchcraft by pastors and then tortured or killed, often by family members. Pastors were involved in half of 200 cases of “witch children” reviewed by the AP, and 13 churches were named in the case files.

Some of the churches involved are renegade local branches of international franchises. Their parishioners take literally the Biblical exhortation, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/wire/sns-ap-af-nigeria-child-witches,0,5276725.story

There is little humor in this story, it is tragic.  The fact that anyone anywhere would abuse and kill children in such a manner is abhorrent and unfortunately happens far too often.  I live about a mile from “Witchduck” road in Virginia Beach Virginia.  If you have seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail you will understand what I am talking about.  I think that if anyone is going to accuse someone of witchcraft they should be tried by the ancient tradition of the witch ducking.  I will not go as far as some to deny incidents of demonic possession but think that we need to be careful when we deal with the subject.

And lastly, is it wrong of me to think ill of the Virginia Department of Transportation, better known as VDOT? I have a number of beefs with the kind folks who manage our Interstate and State Highways.  In the nearly 6 years that I have lived here I have had to replace two windshields and 8 tires due to debris that has littered I-64 and I-264 in the Hampton Roads area.  Tonight as I pulled tire number eight off of my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V this afternoon to find a piece of metal imbedded in it I muttered a few epitaphs concerning the agency of ill-repute and leadership of questionable parentage and oedipal tendencies.  I am tempted to send Governor Tim “Eyebrows” Kaine a bill for the money that I have had to spend to buy windshields or tires.

Tomorrow I have duty and the Abbess will take my tire back to the place that I bought it to see if it is still salvageable or if I need to get a new one with a bit of credit on my road hazard warranty.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under hampton roads and tidewater, philosophy, Religion