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UPDATE: It Depends on What Your Definition of “Christian” Is…

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This article was updated Sunday 23 November to clear up some grammar issues, and in doing so I have provided some updates to let you know what is currently happening, and to better enhance my arguments.

My friends, last week I had something occur that was so troublesome that I had to report it to certain Federal law enforcement authorities as well as a nationally known advocate for religious liberty issues.

Since the Feds are still doing their investigation I have to wait to post the article. I spoke with and I am in contact with the head of that group. Like me he is waiting to see what the investigators report. As things stand right now I expect that it may be sometime in December before I can publish in any detail what happened.

Conceivably this could end up getting some media attention because it involves a military member, civilian or contractor working for a military command that deals with IT issues. It is an organization which has been accused of hacking people and organizations across the political spectrum. Stupidly the individual did not think that I could look up his IP address and in this case track it down to the exact base, command and building where it originated.

The individual used the government network to post demeaning and harassing posts about my religious beliefs on this site under a pseudonym. What they said,their pseudonym and e-mail moniker left no doubt that they are some kind of politically minded and motivated right wing Christian intent on shouting down their opposition.

I cannot go into any more detail but it is troubling. If the comments had come from a civilian network I would blow it off as the work of a crackpot. The person may be a crackpot, but I figure that based on where this message originated it was someone working for the military who has a Top Secret security clearance. Why such a person would be attacking me, a senior Navy Chaplain and combat vet about my religious beliefs from a military network is beyond me.

But then maybe It all depends on what your definition of being a “Christian” is, and based on the religious-political hyperbole of the Christian Right, I don’t think I am a Christian anymore. But then being a “Christian” really does depend on what your definition of being a Christian “is” to use the words of former President Bill Clinton.

I am not a Christian if it means…

Elevating your interpretation of the Bible over Jesus…

Using your interpretation of scripture to damn other people to Hell or anywhere else, including Mississippi, even if there are equally valid interpretations from other Christian sources…

Elevating partisan political issues above the commands of Jesus…

Being more concerned with maintaining your political power than caring about people…

Demonizing anyone that disagrees with whatever pet doctrine that you hold dear, even if that doctrine was condemned by other Christians throughout history to be heretical…

Accuse others of the most horrible, unbelievable and false conspiracies and then claim that God told you to do it…

Claim a right or privilege for yourself based on your Christian Faith, and the use the police power of the state to enforce it, all the while denying the same rights to others…

When you are criticized by the very people that you condemn to Hell, or use economic boycotts against, or use the power of the state to condemn claim that you are now the victim of persecution…

The funny thing this is not new.

Such behavior by Christians goes back over a millennium.

In 1054 the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox split over one word in the Nicene Creed that described the precedence of the Holy Spirit.

The Protestant Reformers elevated their interpretation of scripture over the Roman Catholic instance on scripture being interpreted through Church Tradition and the theology of Thomas Aquinas.

The Radical Reformers insisted on believer’s  or adult baptism over infant baptism…

Early Pentecostals, as well as some today, insisted that unless one had been baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of “speaking in tongues” that you were not a Christian…

Sadly, the trend continues as every new Christian sect insists on its own version of “the truth” being absolute truth. History shows that nearly every time such religious absolutists gain control of a civil government that they either by legislation or fiat make their religious law the law of the land.

Among these various denominations and sects these doctrinal issues are still officially in place, even if many church members don’t understand. The only difference is now that many of these people, who I would say are sincere in their beliefs have come together under a political banner, condemning secularists, atheists, and other non-believers to ensure that the Christian franchise remains on top.

This was the whole intention of the Manhattan Declaration of a few years back. Throw aside centuries or actual theological and doctrinal differences in order to keep political power, yes that is the Christian way.

After the Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion of the empire a theological dispute between Trinitarian and Arian Christians became political. Whenever an Arian Emperor was in charge Trinitarians were persecuted, and when Trinitarian emperors were in power the payback was hell.

The Cathars in France were exterminated in military crusades by the Roman Catholics.

The early reformation led by John Huss in Czecheslovkia was not only condemned theologically but led to a series of wars as the Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire sought to suppress it.

Martin Luther united with the “anti-Christ” Roman Catholic Church to exterminate the “enthusiasts” and Anabaptists during the Peasant’s Revolt.

Ulrich Zwingli executed his former students who had become Anabaptist and been re-baptized to demonstrate their new faith by “re-baptizing” them until they drowned in the Rhine River.

John Calvin ran a religious theocracy in Geneva where any dissent was punishable as heresy. and his government routinely executed “heretics” who did not hold his truth.

The Roman Catholic Church ran the Inquisition in conjunction with with the Spanish crown, as well as other Catholic monarchies, condemning anyone who strayed from the Catholic faith to persecution, imprisonment and often death.

Of course there was the Thirty Years War in which nations with state religions, Protest or Catholic launched wars of brutal extermination against each other, wars which devastated Germany and which the ruins of castles along the Rhine testify to even today.

The Anglican Church in conjunction with the British crown made Catholicism an act punishable by death, and persecuted other dissenters from the state church including early English Baptists, and the Calvinist dissenters who eventually came to the new colonies as the Pilgrims and Puritans….

The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony had the exclusive rights to the franchise, and persecuted early Baptists and Quakers often executing them, and in the case of female dissenters accusing them of witchcraft…

Sadly many in the Christian Right under the sway of a Neo-Calvinist political theology called “Seven Mountains” or Christian Dominionism are working at the local, state and federal level in this country to institute a theocracy in this country, with them, like their Puritan and Genevan ancestors having the franchise….

I could go on as there are plenty of other examples that I will not cite here. However, forgetting doctrine and even forgetting Jesus to keep power is nothing new for Christians.

Be assured that if all the groups that the now supposedly politically unified Christians now oppose were wiped out and no longer existed, that these same people would start fighting each other again to gain the exclusive franchise of a state religion. That is the unalterable nature of humanity. That is the unalterable nature of religion, that is the unalterable nature of life.

If you are a “true believer” in any of these Christian traditions you may disagree with me. But in your heart you know that I am right because you know that you are right, and if you are right then no one else is. Thus your power and status must be maintained regardless of the cost. That my friends is the nature of the political Christianity which is more grounded in politics and power than it is in Jesus. Eric Hoffer wrote about people that he called the “True Believers”:

“A doctrine insulates the devout not only against the realities around them but also against their own selves. The fanatical believer is not conscious of his envy, malice, pettiness and dishonesty. There is a wall of words between his consciousness and his real self.”

Disagree with with me if you want, but since I paid a lot more attention to church history, systematic theology and philosophy in seminary than most people do I can whip this stuff out without even looking at my notes.

The fact is that once an external enemy is defeated, those within the politically motivated Christian churches turn on themselves. Christians of different denominations or are different must also be defeated, humiliated and destroyed.

That my friends is the truth of history. That is the ever present witness of supposed Christians who value their political power, their economic position, and their place and status above all others. Alliances between various Christian sects are almost always temporary, never once have Christian sects who have united to face down what they think is an existential threat to themselves  have maintained their unity after the threat is eliminated.

And so it is… For such people it is not about a truth, nor is it about really about faith, nor is it about love. Those are ruses used to justify the naked brutal power and domination that they strive to achieve. Power and domination that is only satisfied when the ones seeking it have eliminated all opposition, even that of former allies.

That is why I say that it is all about “what your definition of Christian is.” 

So if my belief and trust in Jesus is not enough for the true believers… I am okay with that.

If the fact that I am baptized, confirmed and even ordained is not enough for the true believers… I am okay with that.

If the fact that I have had a “born again” experience where faith in Christ became real is not enough… I am okay with that.

If my belief which is grounded in scripture, tradition and reason is not enough for the true believers is not enough… I am okay with that.

If I do not use the name of Jesus to bludgeon non-believers and  if I do not ally myself to the Christian true believers who seek their political power and are willing to make temporary alliances with  those that they despise in the process…. I am okay with that.

If all of that means that I am not a Christian…

Then I am not… and I am okay with that.

I guess that if valuing the rights of Christians above all others and forcing others to follow whatever version of the Christianity is allowed by the state means to some to be a Christian then I am not a Christian… and I am okay with that.

If being a hateful, self righteous person who despise all that do not believe like them,mor do not meet their slitmus test of what it is to be a Christian then I am not a Christian… and I am okay with that too.

If those are the things that are now what are the marks of being a Christian, then I do not want to be one… I am okay with that.  I would rather follow Jesus than be labeled that kind of Christian.

After all, in the end it is about what God thinks, and not what your definition , or my definition of what being a Christian is.

I guess that Bill Clinton was really on target when he said that it all “depends on what your definition of is is” especially for politically minded Christians. People who have sold their souls to maintain political power but who don’t give a wit Jesus. Who don’t care about what their churches actually teach until they eliminate external opposition; and who then can concentrate on eliminating  the “heretical” Christians who were at one time their allies.

That is the ugly truth of “Christian” history.

Condemn me if you want. But before you do please take a look at history, especially the history of other Christians who once they eliminated external threats persecuted other Christians that did not believe just like them.

As far as me, I am now no longer on the defensive. I am taking the offensive against people who value their privilege, power and place in society more than they do the simple command of Jesus. That command of Jesus, to love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself matters more than political power.

As far as me, I will fight and protect the rights of the same people that condemn me to Hell. I do this  because as an American who believes deeply in the ethos of our Declaration of Independence says that “all men are created equal” and because of my office and oath to the Constitution that am demands that I defend them.

I am obligated to give them the protections and freedom that they refuse to give others. That being said, when they decide to mock me, attack me or threaten me using government equipment on taxpayer time, I will not play the victim. I will use every legal and moral option available to me to expose those that do for what they are.

So I cannot say anymore about what is happening regarding what I mentioned up front, but I will update you when I can.

You cannot believe how much that I want to expose those that attack me using the freedom that I by my service and oath strive to protect. But at some point I will.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

The Manhattan Transfer: Why I Cannot Sign the Manhattan Declaration

“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others: or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own.” Thomas Jefferson

Note: I do not expect that everyone will agree with my views on this subject.  Thus it is good that I am neither the Pope nor even a bishop.  I fully support the rights of all who have signed this declaration to do so and have the utmost respect for Chuck Colson as well as the Bishops of my Church who have signed this declaration.  I would never impugn the earnest beliefs or motives of these men and women.  However I do not believe that the Manhattan Declaration is fully reflective of the preponderance of the Gospel being that it does not address any traditional theological distinctive of the Christian faith.  It addresses instead moral, social and political issues that are used as wedge issues in contemporary American society.  While I believe that every Church has a right to comment on such issues to use them in their own realm that in a democracy or constitutional republic that such statements serve little purpose other than to rally the troops who already are convinced of them and do little to change the hearts and minds of those who do not.

Recently a fairly sizable number of Christian Leaders from Evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches have drafted and signed a document called the Manhattan Declaration.  It is a statement of four basic sociological and political issues with significant religious and theological overtones.  Let me provide a brief synopsis of the major points of the declaration:

1. The sanctity of human life.
2. The sanctity of marriage.
3. The protection of religious liberty.
4. The rejection of unjust laws.

To be honest these are all worthwhile goals and I can agree with them.  In fact I agree that the right to life of the unborn as well as the born must be protected.  I believe in sanctity of Christian marriage but recognize that the institution of marriage pre-dates the Christian Church and that descriptions of “traditional marriage” in the Old Testament do not reflect a Christian understanding of marriage but rather a ancient Near Eastern Culture of marriage that is more reflective of Islam than Christianity.  I believe in the protection of religious liberty as defined by the founders of the United States in our Constitution.  While I am a Christian every citizen in the United States has a Constitutional right that protects their religious liberty even if offends and is in contradiction to the Christian faith.  The United States was the first nation of the Enlightenment and the drafters of the Constitution would not allow any denomination to impose its interpretation of the Christian faith on any citizen.  Finally there is the rejection of unjust laws; who can be against that?  At the same time who determines what law is unjust? Or is it a matter of political dogma and not the faith that defines what is or is not an unjust law?

By definition Christians should strive to protect life as a matter of course.  Defending the rights of the innocent both the unborn and the born are essential if one truly is pro-life.  As such simply being anti-abortion is not enough to call oneself pro-life.  Unfortunately the vast majority of those who have signed the Manhattan Declaration would limit it to that and pay lip service to everything else that would make one pro-life including the provision of adequate health to those of inadequate means or access to healthcare, the use of the death penalty and the proper application of the Christian understanding of the “Just War” which prohibits preemptive wars or attacks against nations that have not attacked us. Pro-life would also include the implicit command for the Church to be leading the way in caring for the poor, indigent and the foreigner among us.  Likewise such would assume that the government would also have some responsibility to care for its citizens as the institution that God has raised up to maintain public order and maintain a just society.

Likewise it is within the context of the Church define marriage recognizing that while the vast majority of Christians would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, that is the understanding of the vast majority of people who have signed this document.  No church or religious body should be required to perform rites that are in contravention to their beliefs. At the same time they cannot under the laws of the land impose those beliefs on others or force the government to do so.  The understanding of religious liberty as defined by the Constitution does not allow this.  One of the good things about going to a Southern Baptist Seminary before the Fundamentalist takeover of the denomination was the deep understanding of religious liberty and the freedom of conscience that is given to all citizens.

Likewise defending religious liberty, both to practice one’s religion as well as respect the rights of others to practice theirs is a sacrosanct principle of being an American.  This is especially true for those who serve as Chaplains in the Federal government.  To use a Star Trek metaphor, such is our “Prime Directive.”  Religious liberty is essential and protected in the First Amendment to the Constitution which also guards the rights of free speech and association.  It is my hope that what I model to others in word and deed, and definitely helped by the Holy Spirit, will allow people, even those hostile to the Church or the Christian faith to maybe reconsider, especially if they have rejected the faith because of the intolerance of other Christians or our sometimes sordid history in regard to the treatment of people.

Finally the rejection of “unjust laws” is a bit of a Red Herring.  An unjust law is in the eye of the beholder. The founders of the country believed that a African American only counted as 3/5ths of a person. Which 3/5ths I don’t know, but certainly this cannot be considered a “just law” however it was supported by many Churches including those that resisted anti-slavery provisions adopted by their denominations and left those denominations in the years preceding the Civil War.

However it is not the theological principles of the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage, freedom of religious expression and resistance of unjust laws that is the problem.  Rather it is the tacit political emphasis of the document in spite of the comments by major supporters such as the President and CEO of Focus on the Family:

“It is important, first off, to note that the Manhattan Declaration is not a partisan or political statement…Instead, it addresses and elevates four specific areas of universal consensus. Some have referred to these as “threshold issues,” meaning they represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows. This is the bedrock. If we can’t agree on these areas of doctrine, everything else will be of reduced value.” Jim Daly, President and CEO of Focus on the Family

As a Christian of the Anglo-Catholic tradition the bedrock of the faith resides in the Bible and the testimony of the Church in the Creeds and the first seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church. These are not areas that “represent the foundation of our faith and the pivot point from which everything else flows.” I dare anyone to show me this in scripture or church tradition.  While there are places that one can draw inferences of these issues to be scriptural one can claim that the Scripture at no point forbids abortion. In fact the one place where these is even an inference of this is in Exodus 21:22-25 where a man injures a woman to cause a miscarriage is fined and not treated as a murderer.  Likewise the “imprecatory prayers” in the Psalms calm for dashing infants against stones.  If one looks at marriage it is obvious that Israel, like all Middle Eastern cultures of the day and many of the Moslems condemned by many supporters of the Manhattan Declaration practice was more of a property transfer than a true union of husband and wife as we now understand it to be. As far as freedom of religion one can cite numerous examples in the Old Testament where there is no religious freedom or rights given to non-Jews.   So to claim any of these as universal and foundational is inaccurate, even if they are worthy goals.

The drafters of the document refer to the Barmen Declaration of the Confessing Church during the Nazi era as a precedent for their work.  This is a bad analogy and bad history.  The Barmen Declaration was a statement of faith. The bulk of the declaration dealt with historic Lutheran and Reformed beliefs in the context of bearing witness and being faithful as members of a State Church which was falling in line and becoming a political instrument of the Nazis sacrificing its actual Christian faith and adopting a Nazi-Aryan faith.  This was viewed as heresy and apostasy by the members of the Confessing Church.  These men had no political party to support them, they were alone.  This is not the case with those who sign the Manhattan Declaration.  It is not a statement of orthodox Christianity against the apostasy of a church but a statement of political and social beliefs that have a religious component.

The partisan nature of the document is shown in the timing.  It now occurs with a President who is a liberal Democrat.  It well could have been issued during the Bush administration where little than political speeches were made in support of pro-life or anti-abortion causes.  In fact the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in his confirmation hearings referred to Roe v. Wade as “settled law.” Likewise the Bush administration adopted the policy of pre-emptive warfare as a matter of doctrine.  This is blatantly in contravention of both international law as well as the Christian understanding of the Just War.  One has to remember that the United States prosecuted the Nazis for wars of aggression; wars that the Nazis believed were justified.  Likewise the open support of Gay marriage by the former Republican Vice President was never criticized by many of these people.  It seems that such a document would have had much more credibility has the writers published it during the past administration.

The point of this article is to reaffirm actual Christian doctrine defined by the Creeds, Councils and Scriptures as the standard of the Christian faith and not a list which is not and has never been the central component of the Christian faith.  It is my belief that the Manhattan Declaration is well meaning but ill-conceived and can and is being construed as the litmus test of what it means to be a faithful Christian.  I have seen two friends this weekend, who are totally orthodox in their denomination’s understanding of the Christian faith, theological conservatives who have difficulty with such declarations attacked as liberals and unbelievers.  I expect that some will do this with me.  It is my belief that this statement will serve to ghettoize Christians into a particular wing of the Republican Party providing their critics with the opportunity to simple count them as a subgroup of that party.  That is a real and present danger.

I do find that the preamble to the declaration has much that I can agree with, however it is the focus on a narrow band of issues that concerns me, issues that have been for the past 30-40 years hot button political issues where both major political parties play upon religious groups to further their agendas.

Again, I am totally pro-life and orthodox in my faith as a Christian.  I just believe that such declarations serve only to reaffirm the previously held positions of those who support them and have little effect on the vast majority of people and almost none on the government.

My friends Joel and Jared have made some interesting observations on their own sites.  Joel is at

http://thechurchofjesuschrist.us/ and Jared at

http://jzholloway.wordpress.com/

The text of the Manhattan Declaration is here:

http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/images/content/ManhattanDeclaration.pdf

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under marriage and relationships, philosophy, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion, Religion