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No Better than the Tyrant: The Christian Enablers of Evil Leaders

jeffress-and-trump

Conservative Evangelical Pastor Robert Jeffress and President Trump during the 2016 Campaign 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Earlier I wrote about the costs when the Church crawls into bed with Caesar. While there was some criticism of the President in the article it was directed and more of an indictment of the Christians who by their words, deeds, and silence destroy the witness of the Church in their quest for temporal power over those they believe to be unworthy of the grace, love, and mercy of God; not by any sense of Christian theological doctrine, the Creeds, or the Councils, but for reasons of race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or their political beliefs.

Unfortunately, this comes at a tremendous cost to those who claim to be Christians and for the Church itself. Paul the Apostle wrote to the church in Corinth: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us…” (2 Cor 5:19 NRSV)

The ministry of reconciliation has nothing to do with achieving political power no matter how it is done, especially when it comes at the cost of despising God become incarnate by supporting a would be tyrant, even if the tyrant was elected under a system designed to inhibit tyrants, a system that he used, very probably with the help of a hostile foreign power to conquer.

But despite the obvious culpability of the President and his close supporters for this situation, the culpability of the church and the Christian leaders who were his strongest supporters is much greater than the man with no morals, no empathy, and a who seems to suffer a greatly reduced neurological, psychological, and intellectual capacity to govern; a man whose actions are those of a sociopathic narcissist who appears to only care about himself and what profits himself. Throughout his life he has shown through his words and actions that he does not value other people except in regard to how they or their skills profited him, his family, or his businesses. People, regardless of who they are, or their relationship to him are fungible regardless of their personal loyalty, they are expendable: Bannon, Manafort, Flynn, Christie, Priebus, and so many others. Sadly, the Christians that excuse his actions on the basis of political power and expediency throw themselves before the throne of Caesar and crawl into bed with him will never understand because adorned in all of their jewels and riches like the Harlot of the book of Revelation will not understand the costs of their obeisance until the Beast turns upon them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Ethics: 

“For the tyrannical despiser of humanity, popularity is a sign of the greatest love for humanity. He hides his profound distrust of all people behind the stolen words of true community. While he declares himself before the masses to be one of them, he praises himself with repulse vanity and despises the rights of every individual. He considers the people stupid, and they become stupid; he considers them weak, and they become weak; he considers them criminal, and they become criminal. His most holy seriousness is frivolous play; his conventional protestations of solicitude for people are bare-faced cynicism. In  his deep contempt for humanity, the more he seeks the favor of those he despises, the more certainty he arouses the masses to declare him a god. Contempt for humanity and idolization of humanity lie close together. Good people, however, who see through all this, who withdraw in disgust from people and leave them to themselves, and who would rather tend to their own gardens than debase themselves in public life, fall prey to the same temptations to have contempt for humanity as do bad people. Their contempt for humanity is of course more noble, more upright, but at the same time less fruitful, poorer in deeds. Faced with God’s becoming human, this contempt will stand the test no better than the tyrant. The despiser of humanity despises what God has loved, despises the very form of God become incarnate.” 

Wittenberg, Nationalsynode

Nazi Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller with the S.A (above) and with Hitler (below)

ReichbishofMueller

Like the German Christians who supported Hitler, be they those who remained loyal to him or those like Bonhoeffer’s colleague Martin Niemoller turned against Hitler when they realized the nature of the beast; conservative American Christians who have supported the presidency of President Trump without regard to the Gospel or the commands of Christ are much more responsible when it comes to the final judgement than the man that they helped put into power. God and history will hold hem accountable for the debacle that they bring upon the world.

Those leaders are well represented by Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas, who said during the 2016 election campaign:

“You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” Jeffress said. “I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.”

Jeffress would probably agree with Reich Bishop Müller who before the Nazi seizure of power wrote:

“Mere compassion is charity and leads to presumption, paired with bad conscience, and effeminates a nation. We know something about Christian obligation and charity towards the helpless, but we also demand the protection of the nation from the unfit and inferior. We see a great danger to our nationality in the Jewish Mission. It promises to allow foreign blood into our nation…” 

I think that Jeffress and his brand of American Conservative Christianity is no better than that of Reich Bishop Müller which joined by young clergy from lower middle-class or non-academic backgrounds. Richard Evans wrote about them in his book Third Reich in Power: 

“Such men desired a Church whose members were soldiers from Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through the involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion.”

How many other prominent conservative Evangelicals, Charismatics and others have espoused exactly that type of Christianity?

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil rights, ethics, faith, History, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Problem of Scruples

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have written a lot about the dehumanization of people and genocide, and some of the things that create a climate where such events take place, and how political and religious leaders stir the primal passions of otherwise good, decent and law abiding citizens. I have written much over the course of the past year my fears of what is going on in our country, especially in regard to the unabashed lies, falsehoods, and violence being sanctioned and even promoted by President Donald Trump.

Back in 2015 I read a book by World War II German Luftwaffe ace Johannes Steinhoff. Steinhoff was unlike many of the German officers who wrote memoirs following the war, memoirs that historian Williamson Murray wrote “fell generally into two categories; generals writing in the genre of “if the fuhrer had only listened to me!” and fighter pilots or tank busters writing about their heroics against the productive flood from America or the primitively masses of the Soviet Union.” His book, The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goering should be essential reading for any currently serving officer.

steinhoff6General Johannes Steinhof (above) as a Bundeswehr and NATO officer, showing his burns and before his crash (below)

steinhoff WW IIIn his books, Steinhoff does something that you do not see authors do in most military or political memoirs, he actually does serious self reflection on his role in supporting an evil regime. In his introduction to his book The Final Hours the legendary fighter ace who was horribly disfigured when his Me-262 jet fighter crashed and burned two weeks prior to the end of the war wrote:

“In recalling these events, which had been long buried in my memory, it has not been my intention to make excuses. Our unconditional self-sacrifice in the service of the Third Reich is too well documented for that….

So it is because of what is happening today—with freedom threatened in virtually every respect by its own abuse—that I offer this contribution, in the form of an episode in which I was myself involved, to the history of the soldier in the twentieth century. Soldiers have always, in every century of their existence, been victims of the ruthless misuse of power; indeed, given the opportunity, they have joined in the power game themselves. But it fell to our own century to accomplish, with the aid of a whole technology of mass extermination, the most atrocious massacres in the history of mankind. This fact alone makes pacifism a philosophy worthy of respect, and I have a great deal of sympathy with those who profess it. 

The figure of the soldier in all his manifestations is thus symptomatic of the century now nearing its close, and it is to the history of that figure that I wish to contribute by describing what happened to me. I have tried to show what it is possible to do to men, how insidiously they can be manipulated by education, how they can be hoisted onto a pedestal as “heroes,” how they can be so corrupted as even to enjoy the experience—and how they can be dropped and denounced as mutineers when they discover that they have scruples. The complete lack of scruples that such treatment implies is peculiar to rulers who believe that the problems of their own and other peoples can be solved by imposing, through the use of military force, peace on their, the rulers’, terms—in our case a pax germanica, but the second Latin word is readily interchangeable.” from “The Final Hours: The Luftwaffe Plot Against Goring (Aviation Classics)” by Johannes Steinhoff

Since I am a historian and and a career military officer with service in the Iraq War, a war that was illegal and unjust by all measure I can understand Steinhof’s words. Because much of my undergraduate and graduate work focused on German history, particularly that of Imperial Germany after the unification, the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Reich, I draw a lot of lessons from the period. I also understand how people in this country can fall for the same kind of vitriolic propaganda that the Germans of that era did. I can understand because for years I fell for the lies and propaganda being put out by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the American political right.

10665323_10154041610267059_5277331492232210946_nA picture of me (on left) in Iraq 2007 with my assistant and bodyguard RP1 Nelson Lebron

One of those lessons is that in times of crisis, that people, no matter what their race, culture, religious belief system, educational, or economic background are still human. Humanity is the one constant in all of history, our prejudices are often ingrained in us during childhood and reinforced by the words of politicians, pundits, and preachers. In times of stress, crisis, and societal change or upheaval even good people, moral people, people of great intellectual, scientific abilities can fall prey to demagogues who preach hate and blame others, usually racial, ethnic, or religious minorities, as well as civil libertarians who champion the rights of those minorities for the problems of the nation.

Shrewd politicians, preachers, and pundits do this well. They demonize the target group or population and then let the hatred of their disaffected followers flow. The leaders need that disaffected and angry base in order to rise to power; such was how Hitler, Stalin, and so many other despots gained power. They took advantage of a climate of fear, and found others to blame. For Hitler it was the Jews, Slavs, Socialists and Communists; while for Stalin it was various groups like the Ukrainians, or the Poles who were the devil to be feared and destroyed. Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin wrote:

“Dead human beings provided retrospective arguments for the rectitude of policy. Hitler and Stalin thus shared a certain politics of tyranny: they brought about catastrophes, blamed the enemy of their choice, and then used the death of millions to make the case that their policies were necessary or desirable. Each of them had a transformative utopia, a group to be blamed when its realization proved impossible, and then a policy of mass murder that could be proclaimed as a kind of ersatz victory.”

But that being said, there are a lot of people who from childhood believe the lies about others without question. In good times such people continue on with life as normal, but in crisis those hatreds and prejudices come to the fore. Rudolf Höss, the notorious sociopath who commanded Auschwitz told American Army psychologist Gustave Gilbert about his reaction when ordered to turn the camp into an extermination center. He said that the order “fitted in with all that had been preached to me for years,” and “at the same time I didn’t think of it as propaganda, but as something one just had to believe.” 

Eugene Davidson in his book on the Nuremberg Trials wrote:

“Every society has in it at all times negative, criminal, sadistic, asocial forces. What holds them in check more than law and police is the consensus of the society – a general belief that despite everything wrong and stupid and muddleheaded in politics, the state is a going concern that will somehow make its way into the future.” (Davidson, The Trial of the Germans p.581)

But when things do not go well, when people do not feel that things will be okay, that the future will be better, and that they have a purpose they look for answers. However, they tend to find their answers in the rantings of demagogues, race baiters, conspiracy theorists, and others who they would tend to dismiss out of hand in good times. In Germany it was the loss of the First World War, the humiliation of Versailles and the economic chaos and social change of the Weimar period which allowed Hitler to gain an audience, then a following, then political power. The demagogues played to what was already in the hearts and minds of the disaffected masses, without that fertile soil, the rantings of Hitler and his propagandists would have never succeeded. Albert Speer wrote:

“As I see it today, Hitler and Goebbels were in fact molded by the mob itself, guided by its yearnings and its daydreams. Of course, Goebbels and Hitler knew how to penetrate through to the instincts of their audiences; but in the deeper sense they derived their whole existence from these audiences. Certainly the masses roared to the beat set by Hitler’s and Goebbels’ baton; yet they were not the true conductors. The mob determined the theme. To compensate for misery, insecurity, unemployment, and hopelessness, this anonymous assemblage wallowed for hours at a time in obsessions, savagery and license. The personal unhappiness caused by the breakdown of the economy was replaced by a frenzy that demanded victims. By lashing out at their opponents and vilifying the Jews, they gave expression and direction to fierce primal passions.”

In a sense a similar thing has happened in the United States which has experienced a series of wars beginning with Vietnam, the shock of the 9-11-2001 attacks, the economic crash of 2007 and 2008 which devastated the savings, home ownership, and investments of many Americans while at the same time benefiting the banking and brokerage houses whose government assisted policies brought about the crash. Of course there are other issues, many religious conservatives hate the progress made by the Women’s and Gay Rights movements, and their leaders play to their fears in apocalyptic terms. I could go on, but I am sure that my readers can identify other issues which demagogues and others use to spread fear and hate to further their goals. The fact is that without the the fertile soil that lays in the hearts of their most fervent followers they would never have a following.

In Weimar Germany hate mongers like Julius Streicher and propagandist Josef Goebbels stuck a chord with disenchanted people who felt that they had lost their country. They were fearful, angry, and desired a leader who would “make Germany great again.” Hitler and his Nazi media sycophants played to that fear, and took advantage of their anger at the existing order. Davidson wrote such people “exist everywhere and in a sick society they can flourish.” 

For decades the way has been prepared for true extremists to take advantage of the fears and doubts of people as modern American versions of Streicher and Goebbels have been at work for years. Rush Limbaugh was a modern pioneer of this in the United States, and he has been joined by so many who are even more extreme in their rantings that it is hard to name them all. Likewise, whole media corporations, websites, and political networks spread such fear every minute of the day, claiming that they, and they alone are real Americans. They actively support politicians who condemn, and sometimes even threaten people who oppose them, and all the while claim that “make America great again.”

When I was younger I devoured that propaganda, despite all of my learning I followed the rantings of men who I realize today are propagandists who promote the basest of lies, and hatred, often in the name of God. I was changed when I was at war, and when I returned home from Iraq in 2008 I realized through hard experience that I had been lied to, and that as a result that thousands of my brothers and sisters were dead, and tens of thousands shattered in body, mind, and spirit. Likewise I saw the massive destruction levied on Iraq and realized how terrible war really is. That was my epiphany, that is what it took to see how much I had been lied to, and it called me to question everything else that I had so willingly believed, things which had been fed to me by years of indoctrination in church, through the media, and by politicians who I believed were truly Christian. I can understand now how Martin Niemoller felt after the Nazi seizure of power when he said, “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

There was a time that I hated people who espouse the views that I hold today, the views that I write about so often here on this site. I can remember how angry I would get as I listened to the propaganda being put out by Limbaugh, Hannity, the Fox News Channel and all of the others that I listened to every time that I had the chance. But when I changed after Iraq, I felt the sting of that hatred in very real ways. I remember the day I was called by my bishop in my former church, who told me that I had to leave because my views on women, gays, and Moslems were to use his words were now “too liberal.” After that, many men who I considered to be the best of friends turned their backs on me, some in the most bitter and vindictive of ways.

But I realize now that what they did was because I had in a sense left the cult, and had to be ostracized. I can understand that now, because when I was under the spell I too turned my back on people who had fallen out of favor, or people who had rejected the tenants of the church or the political movement, and those are things that I can never undo. But at the time it made sense, it fitted in with all I had been taught for decades, as Albert Speer wrote of Hitler, “One seldom recognizes the devil when he is putting his hand on your shoulder.”

What happened to Steinhoff’s generation is threatening to happen again, in our country, an authoritarian movement is threatening to destroy our democracy and republic. In it soldiers are esteemed, until they realize what is going on and speak out, but by then it is usually too late. I am understanding that fact more and more every day, and having had people troll this blog and call me a traitor and worse, I understand just a bit of what happened to Steinhoff and his fellow officers when they protested to the highest levels what was happening to Germany in early 1945.

I don’t know when it will happen, but sometime I expect that know we will how military professionals react to being labeled as traitors. President Trump and his followers have been demonizing the personnel of the nation’s intelligence, law enforcement, and diplomatic communities since before the election and have increased that since his inauguration, especially against the FBI and Justice Department. In fact those attacks by the President and his sycophants have become much more shrill as the Mueller probe turns more and more Trump associates into witnesses against him.

The President has lambasted his critics on his Twitter feed which occasionally results in them receiving death threats from his followers.  Like a religious cult they have no capacity to tolerate dissent, loyalty to the man will supersede loyalty to the country or the Constitution. When that happens to a senior military officer, or perhaps even Secretary of Defense Mattis, it will be interesting to see the legion of people in the military and outside of it who support the President make the choice to impugn and punish men and women who have spent their lives in defense of their country.

Their’s will be a conscious decision. My opinion is that the Constitution and the country will always come first. When he was elected and inaugurated I gave the President Elect the benefit of the doubt and honestly prayed that he would do the right thing for the country, but since then I have become much more concerned for the country and the world because of his behavior before and since his inauguration has demonstrated that his only loyalty is to himself. General Ludwig Beck, who resigned rather than obey Hitler’s order to invade Czechoslovakia in 1938 and died in the anti-Hitler coup attempt in 1944 said:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.” 

I have no doubt that many military officers and Secretary of Defense Mattis understand that and will courageously speak his mind, even if he is condemned for doing so. Sadly I have many doubts about other leaders: military, political, business, or religious. There are many people who will sell their souls for their personal advancement, the advancement of their agenda, or an increase in their bottom line. It is after all human nature.

But the question is: will we see true men and women of courage who will stand when it appears there is no chance of success? As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” 

That will be what is demanded in the coming months as tensions in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe continue to escalate.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, Military, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary

Drive a Spoke into the Wheel of Injustice: Christ the King Sunday 2017

A Nazi Propaganda Poster Showing the Costs of the Sick and the Disabled

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I did some substitute preaching at my chapel. For me Thanksgiving weekend can be a challenging time to preach. It always falls on the Solemnity of Christ the King or the First Sunday of Advent, neither one of which works well with the holiday that we call Thanksgiving.

Today was Christ the King Sunday and the Gospel lesson was from Matthew 25 verses 31-46. Believe you me it’s not a lesson that you will hear preached in most of Trumpified Evangelicalism, or anywhere in the Prosperity Gospel movement that has sidled up to Trump and men like Roy Moore. Somehow I can hear the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer when I read this passage fully understanding that many of my fellow Christians in the United States today have completely abandoned the Gospel message for the raw and shameless pursuit of political power, masking it under the pretense of values that they blatantly; through their lives, actions, and silence, mock. Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Bonhoeffer’s words like those of the Gospel stand in stark contrast to people who seem intent on pursuing policies that not only are attacks on the poor but on all but the richest of the rich. They stand against the words and actions of Christian people who would in the face of overwhelming evidence would support the actions of men who are serial adulterers, perpetrators of sexual assault, abuse, rape, and even men who force their girlfriends to have abortions all because they support their political agenda. Honestly, if I was not already a Christian there is nothing that these people could say to ever convince me to become one. As Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

That being said these are the words of the Gospel in today’s lesson from Matthew 25:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[a] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus Christ is a different kind of King. He is not like the Kings of Europe who the founders of the United States rejected. He is not the one who insists on his “divine right to kingship”, nor is he a despot as much as some of the testimony of various church leaders and even biblical writers occasionally make him out to be. He is one who takes up the cause of the poor, the outcast, the sinner, the unbeliever, and yes, even the repentant perpetrator, for because they share his humanity they are all also his brothers and sisters. Juergen Moltmann wrote:

“In the raising and exaltation of Christ, God has chosen the one whom the moral and political powers of this world rejected – the poor, humiliated, suffering and forsaken Christ. God identified himself with him and made him Lord of the new world ….. The God who creates justice for those who suffer violence, the God who exalts the humiliated and executed Christ – that is the God of hope for the new world of righteousness and justice and peace.”

That was the message I preached today in somewhat a truncated form without mentioning any of the names of the politicians, preachers, or pundits that I was critiquing on both sides of the political divide; but the implication was clear. This isn’t just politics it is a matter of faith as my friend Father Kenneth Tanner, a theologically conservative and truly pro-life Priest noted:

“No. It is never OK to turn a blind eye to multiple and credible witnesses against a leader running for public office because utilitarian politics are more important than principles and human decency. It matters not one wit if a presidential agenda or a senate majority or the makeup of the Supreme Court or any other grave moral challenge—like the precious life of the unborn—hangs in the balance.”

I do not know many men like Father Kenneth, but hopefully he and others like him will become that voice that cries out in the wilderness of what calls itself conservative or Evangelical Christianity to bring life to what has become death. Bonhoeffer wrote:

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

With every breath I take and every word I speak I will endeavor within the scope of my faith, my priesthood, and my office to do exactly that. I never want to have the burden around my neck that Martin Niemoller had around his when he remained silent, and even supported Hitler until too late he recognized his error. His words remind me of how until just ten years ago that I supported men who were willing to turn the Christian faith upside down for the sake of a place at the victor’s table. Niemoller’s words haunt me.

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

Thankfully I know a number of Evangelicals with a conscience both inside and outside the military who do not bow the knee to political expediency, not to mention some more moderate, liberal, and progressive Christians who also speak out. That gives me hope to keep speaking and working regardless of the cost because no matter what happens with Donald Trump or Roy Moore I don’t see anything changing the amoral and diabolical political schemes of the Christians that support them. They will simply sell their souls to the next best beast who will satisfy they longing for political and religious power over others, completely disregarding the words of Jesus.

So until tomorrow I wish you a good night,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Downfall: Misplaced Loyalty

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I decided to watch again the film Downfall which is about the last ten days of Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich.” After the film was over I watched the special features which included a segment on the making of the movie along with interviews with the actors portraying Hitler, his entourage, and the defenders of Berlin. The film and commentary is in German with English subtitles but is probably the best film that deals with the subject ever made.

Since it is in German and since I speak German I do my best to try to listen rather than watch the subtitles and in doing so I pick up on some of the nuances of the language that do not necessarily come through as well when translated into English.

It is a hard film to watch because the producers, directors, and cast strove for historical accuracy. Since I have studied the people, the era, the ideology, and the battle for years I already feel like I know the people involved. The fact that the cast does such a good job portraying them is remarkable, these are not your typical cookie cutter depictions of Nazis seen in so many other films.

But what really struck me tonight was the absolute fanaticism of so many of them, and one of the actors noted in his interview that his character, SS General Wilhelm Mohnke, was a fanatical Nazi even at the end, something that was common among many of the Hitler entourage and the SS. The actors managed to put a human face on evil, that is hard to do in film.

As I watched the devotion of Hitler’s entourage and loyal SS soldiers I could only think of the devotion, fanaticism, and moral blindness shown by so many supporters of the American President today. The motto of the SS was Meine Ehre Heisst Treue, or My Honor is loyalty. The motto could be applied to President Trump’s most devotee followers in their Make America Great Again ball caps.

I just shake my head when I hear and see some of the things said and done by the President’s most fervent supporters. The President was right about them. When he said “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” he was absolutely correct. Despite the myriad of lies and untruths, the actions that are absolutely contrary to the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and for that matter the Gospel, his followers, many conservative Evangelical Christians dig in deeper to defend him even as he leads them to destruction.

It is the same kind of cult like devotion engendered by Hitler in his followers, who like the followers of Trump were conditioned by years of right wing propaganda to believe everything he says because he says what they already believe. I can understand them because from 1989 when I first started listening to Rush Limbaugh, until I deployed to Iraq and came back a changed man in 2008 I absorbed every bit of the same propaganda, that of Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage, and Fox News that the most steadfast followers of Trump did. But when I came back from Iraq I was like the German soldiers who returned home in 1942 or 1943 and realized all that they were fighting for had been a lie.

I think that one of the most disturbing things that I see is that the people who I was most like in the late 1990s until 2007, Conservative Evangelical and Catholic Christians seem to be the most loyal to Trump. That is disturbing because I think of the words of the German pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote:

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

Niemoller realized his mistake too late as I fear many well meaning people who follow Trump will as well. For Christians, to surrender honor, truth, and self-respect all for the sake of political power is to cease to follow Jesus. To do so may be an act of religious devotion, but it is not to God, it is to an idol.

Anyway, I recommend the film.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pastors go into Mooregasms to Defend Roy Moore

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today was a fascinating day to catch up on events, particularly from the panty and pussy obsessed scion of the American Christian Right former Judge Roy Moore.

I have to tell you. At one time in my life and ministry I would have been both surprised and shocked to see so many allegedly Bible believing Christian pastors mount a defense of a man who by his own admission as an adult in his 30s sought out teenage girls. When one complained about his sexual advance he told her: “no one will believe you” because he was a prosecutor and she was just a girl. But then, that was the 1970s, no-one believed women who were assaulted, molested, or even raped. In a sense he was right, and even now, some 40 years later Moore has found that his most strident allies, apart from Fox News, are supposedly Conservative Christian clergy, including some fifty plus from his home state of Alabama who signed a letter defending him today.

Their reasoning was that he had stood up to liberals by illegally placing a massive monument with the Ten Commandments on it outside the Alabama Supreme Court when he was Chief Justice, and for which he was later removed from office, as well as his decision not to enforce, but even resist the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergfell v. Hodges regarding the right to same sex couples to marry. That act also brought his removal from office.

But undeterred, Moore calculated that under the conditions created by Donald Trump that he could win a Senate seat in Alabama during a special election. With the backing of Alabama Evangelicals and alt-Right scion Stephen Bannon defeated the man appointed to take the place of now Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Luther Strange during the GOP primary, and now faces Democrat Doug Jones in the special election. Since the the Washington Post, in its tradition of solid investigative journalism tracked down women who had been the victims of Roy Moore’s unwanted advances. Their stories are so compelling that even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other Senators have said that they believe the victims and that Moore should withdraw from the race. George Will, who is factually one of the conservative columnists and commentators with any sense of decency and integrity said today that “Roy Moore is a disgrace and Doug Jones deserves to win.”

Needless to say, that did not deter these pastors from going into Mooregasms to defend Moore. In a letter issued by them which is also found on Moore’s website these men and women announced:

Pastor’s Letter

Dear friends and fellow Alabamians,

For decades, Roy Moore has been an immovable rock in the culture wars – a bold defender of the “little guy,” a just judge to those who came before his court, a warrior for the unborn child, defender of the sanctity of marriage, and a champion for religious liberty. Judge Moore has stood in the gap for us, taken the brunt of the attack, and has done so with a rare, unconquerable resolve.

As a consequence of his unwavering faith in God and his immovable convictions for Biblical principles, he was ousted as Chief Justice in 2003. As a result, he continued his life pursuit by starting the Foundation for Moral Law, which litigates religious liberty cases around our Nation. After being re-elected again to Chief Justice in 2012, by an overwhelming majority, he took another round of persecution for our faith as he stood up for the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman.

You can know a man by his enemies, and he’s made plenty – from the radical organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU to the liberal media and a handful of establishment politicians from Washington. He has friends too, a lot of them. They live all across this great State, work hard all week, and fill our pews on Sunday. They know him as a father, a grandfather, a man who loves God’s Word and knows much of it by heart, a man who cares for the people, a man who understands our Constitution in the tradition of our Founding Fathers, and a man who deeply loves America. It’s no wonder the Washington establishment has declared all-out war on his campaign.

We are ready to join the fight and send a bold message to Washington: dishonesty, fear of man, and immorality are an affront to our convictions and our Savior and we won’t put up with it any longer. We urge you to join us at the polls to cast your vote for Roy Moore.

In your service,

Dr. Tom Ford, III, Pastor, Grace Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Stan Cooke, Kimberly Church of God, Kimberly, Alabama

Pastor Jonathan Rodgers, Dothan, Alabama

Pastor Joseph Smith, Pine Air Baptist Church, Grand Bay Alabama

Dr. David E. Gonnella, Pastor, Theodore, Alabama

Pastor Mike Allison, Madison, Alabama

Dr. Terry Batton, Christian Renewal and Development Ministries, Eufaula, Alabama

Pastors Tim and Elizabeth Hanson, Smiths Station, Alabama

Pastor Mark Liddle, Dominion Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

Pastor Steve Sanders, Victory Baptist Church, Millbrook, Alabama

Dr. Richard Fox, retired Baptist pastor

Dr. Randy Cooper, Pastor, Warrior, Alabama

William Green, Minister, Fresh Anointing House of Worship, Montgomery, Alabama

Maurice McCaney, Victory Christian Fellowship Church, Florence, Alabama

Pastor Jamie Holcomb, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Paul Elliott, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Rodney Gilmore, Covenant Christian, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Mark Gidley, Faith Worship Center, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Bill Snow, Edgewood Church, Anniston, Alabama

Pastor Michael Yates, Webster’s Chapel, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Mark Holden, Webster’s Chapel, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Joshua Copeland, Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Anniston, Alabama

Pastor Bruce Jenkins, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Keith Bond, Young’s Chapel, Piedmont, Alabama

Pastor Jim Lester, Fannin Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Thad Endicott, Heritage Baptist Church, Opelika, Alabama

Bishop Fred and Tijuanna Adetunji, Fresh Anointing House of Worship, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor David Floyd, Marvyn Parkway Baptist Church, Opelika, Alabama

Pastor Bruce Word, Freedom Church, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Paul Hubbard, Lakeview Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Rev. Carl Head, Lakeview Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor Duwayne Bridges, Jr., Fairfax First Christian Church, Valley, Alabama

Rev. Edwin Roberts, Adams Street Church of Christ, Enterprise, Alabama

Pastor John McCrummen, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Rev. Mickey Counts, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Rev. Alex Pagen, Open Door Baptist Church, Enterprise, Alabama

Pastor Glenn Brock, Eufaula, Alabama

Rev. Tim Head, Montgomery, Alabama

Pastor/Elder Ted Phillips, Christ Church, Odenville, Alabama

Tim Yarbrough, Elder, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Pastor Myron Mooney, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Jerry Frank, Elder, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

Pastor Jim Nelson, Church of the Living God, Moulton, Alabama

Pastor Earl Wise, Millbrook, Alabama

Rick and Beverly Simpson, Summit Holiness Church, Alabama

Pastor Lane Simmons and Margie Dale Simmons, First Assembly of God, Greenville Alabama

Rev. Charles Morris, Pastor Grace Way Fellowship, Evergreen Alabama

Dr. George Grant, Pastor, Parish Presbyterian Church

Pastor David Whitney, Cornerstone Church

Dr. Peter and Roseann Waldron, St. Francis Anglican Church

Pastor Franklin and Mrs. Pamela Raddish, Capitol Hill Independent Baptist Ministries

Dr. Michael Peroutka, Institute on the Constitution

Reverend Bill Owens, Coalition of African American Pastors

**Church names are listed for identification purposes only

Honestly I hope that he and they continue fight it out so that they are discredited as representatives of Jesus Christ and I hope that Christians, especially Evangelicals finally get off this political train that is going to kill the church in the United States. I spent much of this afternoon reading the polling of George Barna (the leading Evangelical pollster) and the Pew Religion and Culture polls. The fact is that young people are fleeing the church and unbelievers are rejecting our message for a number of reasons, but most can be directly attributable to men like Roy Moore and his clergy enablers:

Hypocritical: Christians live lives that don’t match their stated beliefs;

Antihomosexual: Christians show contempt for gays and lesbians – “hating the sin and the sinner” as one respondent put it

Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts

Sheltered: Christians are anti-intellectual, boring, and out of touch with reality.

Too political: Christians are primarily motivated by a right-wing political agenda.

My friends, that survey was done over five years ago and there are many more from Barna and other pollsters that support it. Christians need to wake up and before it is too late discover what men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller did in the 1930s, sacrificing the Gospel for political power is always a losing proposition. As Niemoller wrote: “I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Will we ever learn? Honestly I don’t think so. Most pastors will continue to defend the indefensible as Moore’s supporters are, and they will only more strident if he loses, or if the Senate refuses to seat him. Sadly, they will continue to rake in money and find avenues to gain political power even as the church and Christ that they supposedly represent are rejected, not because of Jesus, or even the Bible, but because of them. If God is just, they will be held accountable for their actions. If he’s not, it doesn’t matter.

Honestly, I believe the the Crucified God is just and I will leave it at that.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Corker, McCain, Flake, and Von Papen: A Reflection on Words Without Actions

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been listening to the words and watching the actions of Republicans who at one time or another have criticized or stood against the words and actions of President Trump. Likewise I have watched and listened for any pushback from military leaders at the actions of retired Marine Corps General John Kelly when like any hired partisan political hack he went to the defense of the President, and made false statements regarding a Democratic Congresswoman while pouring more gasoline on a fire that never should have been lit in the first place. As I have watched that spectacle I have been reminded of the words of one of my football coaches in high school who told me when I protested not getting playing time “your actions speak so loud I can hear a word you are saying.” He was talking about my performance in practice and his words helped me to set a new course for my life. I only wish that President Trump’s Republican critics would have gotten that message.

A number of Senators, Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain, as well,as former President George Bush made sharp comments about the President’s actions, words, and his character, but were careful to avoid mentioning him by name. Corker was one of Trump’s earliest supporters but now has become one of the Presidents’s most stalwart critics. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has occasionally spoken out against certain policies of the President gave voice as to the real reason that congressional Republicans say little and do less to oppose the chaos of the administration, or President’s attacks on the Constitution, when he said that he wasn’t criticizing Trump because he was “working for tax cuts.”

Working for tax cuts while the President and his supporters like Steve Bannon threaten the very heart of the American system of government and the Constitutional rights of all Americans is a sad excuse for doing nothing. When I read the the comments of the erstwhile GOP opponents of Trump I am reminded of Franz von Papen and other German conservatives who in 1933 looked the other way when Hitler began his campaign to eliminate political opposition, including that of their own parties. Too late, Papen, who had helped convince President Paul von Hindenburg to make Hitler Chancellor. In a speech at Marburg University on June 17th 1934 Papen, then serving as Vice Chancellor spoke against some aspects of the National Socialist state without actually naming Hitler or the Nazi Party. Even so, the speech infuriated Hitler, and two weeks later Papen narrowly escaped death during the Night of the Long Knives when Hitler eliminated much potential opposition from inside and outside of the Nazi Party in a two day bloodbath in which three of his closest aides were murdered by the SS and Gestapo. Afterward Papen resigned his post and was appointed as Ambassador to Austria where he served during the Nazi takeover of that county, and later in Turkey.

Other German conservatives, especially in the Army lent a hand to Hitler by both tacit agreement and silent acquiescence in those early years when it was still possible under the Weimar Constitution to remove Hitler, but their hatred of democracy and Hitler’s opponents on the political left prevented them from taking the courageous steps necessary.

Papen bore heavy responsibility for helping Hitler gain power and to carry out his initial work to eliminate organized political opposition, and to eliminate his opponents in the Nazi Party. Without the cooperation of Papen and other non-Nazis as well as their later silence, Hitler would not have been able to gain full power over the German state.

I wonder how many American conservatives, including GOP leaders, Christian ministers, and military men will end up regretting their acquiescence to President Trump. When I do that I am reminded of the words of Martin Niemoller, a German war hero from the First World War who became an influential pastor. He wrote:

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

Niemoller later wrote the immortal poem First They Came. I wonder how many of the people who either cheer on the President today, or knuckle under to his threats will find Niemoller’s words apropos when they find themselves under the gun. Niemoller wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. 

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. 

Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me. 

Words matter, but actions matter more. This is a warning from history.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Not Just Words but Actions: My Support for LGBTQ Civil Rights

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am often asked why I write on the topics of civil rights and human rights and why I have over the past few years gone beyond writing but speaking and engaging in peace public protests for these rights. I guess it is because I have to. Writing is easy for me and apart from the occasional death threat from a Neo-Nazi or KKK sympathizer there is little risk. However, getting out in public and speaking or marching with others in support of their rights is not without risk.

As a historian I have always impressed by the struggle for equality and resistance against tyranny. It matters not to me if the cause is that of the African American fighting against slavery, Jim Crow, and continued discrimination; the Native American against whom genocide was committed in the name of a supposedly “Christian American” Manifest Destiny; the Jew targeted by Nazi Race hatred and genocide, or so many others who due to their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or political beliefs have been targeted for subordination or elimination by governments, or mass movements.

One man who inspired me is Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham Alabama had the courage to confront the people and the culture that allowed the brutal bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 that killed four little girls attending Sunday school and wounded many more. Morgan noted: “It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.” I have embraced his example to speak out publicly when I see the rights of my fellow citizens and other human beings trampled by those who only care about their power and privilege.

On this site I have frequently written about those subjects. Likewise, within the confines of still being a commissioned officer in the United States Navy I continue to support those discriminated and oppressed by people whose political, religious, or ideological beliefs support policies, measures, and ideas that go against the basic guarantees of the United States Constitution, as well as the bedrock ideal of the American experiment, the belief written in the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” and reinforced by Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg address that this Republic was dedicated to the proposition that “all men are created equal.” 

I know that there are many times that people wonder why I continue to write about and even take an active role in promoting the liberties of people who because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity are the targets of discrimination, legislative actions, threats, and violence. As such I write about these issues all the time, however, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I became an actual participant in rallies and marches on behalf of any persecuted group. In my case it was making a deliberate move to openly support my friends in the LGBTQ community.

My support of my LGBTQ friends has perplexed many people who predominantly knew me through church or military settings. The sight of a Christian Navy Chaplain and carer military officer supporting people who until 2012 were forbidden to even reveal under threat of criminal prosecution and discharge from the military that they were Gay, or condemned by the church to discrimination in this life and damnation in the next was anathema to many people who I counted as friends. Since I came out as a straight ally to my LGBTQ friends, many people who I believed were friends have long since written me off simply because my stand contradicted their religious beliefs. That bothers me by I have to move along. Likewise there are others who regardless of their beliefs have remained close friends and been supported even if they disagreed with me. That is a hallmark of true friendship. I honestly believe that if friendship is predicated on religion, political beliefs, or anything but on true care for one another it is not friendship.

It is interesting that almost all of my LGBTQ friends are people who I went to high school, college, attended church with, or served alongside in the military. In fact I didn’t know that most of them were Gay for years because the were closeted and that the act of coming out could cause them incredible harm. Over the years as I came to support them more and more have let me know that they were Gay, knowing that I would both protect their confidence and fully support them and they have come to trust me, and I cannot betray their trust by failing to support them in my words and in my deeds.

Knowing their stories and holding them sacred is important to me. I cannot imagine what it would be like to hold fast to the creeds of the church yet suffer the pain of excommunication because of my sexual orientation. I cannot imagine what it would be like to swear and oath to defend my country and go to war yet still be forced to be silent about the people that I love under the threat of punishment and discharge. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be evicted from my home or denied the opportunity to buy a house because I loved someone of my gender. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be able to be fired from a civilian simply because I was Gay. I don’t have to imagine what it would be like to have your best friends and your life partner forbidden to be with you on your deathbed, because as a hospital chaplain I have seen it happen even as the pastor of the man’s parents screamed at him to repent as he died with a ventilator in his throat.

Sunday I participated in the Equality March in Washington D.C. I was with friends and I represented friends that could not be there. It was important. I have been to D.C. many times but I have never experienced it in such a way, I never dreamed that I would be in any civil rights march that went past so many places that symbolize who we are as Americans including the White House and in front of the Capital building. On the way back home yesterday Judy mention how proud she was that I marched. That meant a lot to me, she is an amazing woman who cares so deeply about others that it humbles me. As we talked I remarked that had I been an adult in the 1960s I would have very likely been marching in support of the civil rights of African Americans.

John F. Kennedy said “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” This is something that I believe with my whole heart and now have decided to back my beliefs and words with action instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Yesterday I had friends who took part in the commemoration of the slaughter of 49 people, including an Army officer at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. It was a crime directed at them because they were LGBTQ people and Pulse was a place that they felt safe. Sadly they were not the first to die violently because of their sexual orientation in this country, nor will they probably be the last. That is a reason that I have to speak out. If I don’t I would be complicit in the crimes committed against them by my silence. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

I will not be a silent friend ever again. This week was for my LGBTQ friends, but I will do so for others as well. I cannot be silent in the face of hatred, even that legislated against already marginalized and despised people by supposedly Christian majorities in various statehouses and Congress. I remember all too well the words of the German pastor Martin Niemoller who wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

As such, I cannot be silent. To do so would betray all that I hold dear.

Until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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