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The Logical End of Fear

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http://movieclips.com/FkTn-judgment-at-nuremberg-movie-dr-janning-explains-his-actions/

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still traveling in Germany and one of the places that we will have visited by the time that you read this is the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg. It was here that the war crimes trials of the Nazis were held; it was here that Americans helped set a standard of justice that our leaders since have ignored, of course for reasons of sate, or raison d’être.

I have written much over the past few years about the lack of empathy among conservative American Christians. In those articles I have drawn a number of comparisons to the German Christians of the 1920s and 1930s who despite some reservations supported ultra-right wing parties and later the Nazi Party.

As I have written this alliance with political parties that stood against any was brought about by the fear and hate propagated by those who had lost their favored status after the collapse of the Kaiser Reich, and especially the fear of what many Christians believed was the threat of atheistic Socialists and Communists. Their brief experiment with democracy which was devastated by political battles amid the 1919-1920 Weimar Inflation which destroyed the financial security of most Germans as well as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 which brought about the Great Depression made many receptive to the “Nazi Gospel.”

The more I look at our country the more I think that many conservative American Christians are going the same direction as their German predecessors. They have been swept up in the climate of fear, hate, distrust and perceived persecution at the hands of liberals, atheists, socialists and their own government. As I noted yesterday much of this stems not from actual persecution but from the loss of their privileged position as the dominant force in society.

I love the film Judgment at Nuremberg, because I think that it really does reflect how many prominent Germans who should have known better followed Hitler, and reflects how many conservative Christians see the political right as their standard bearers.. In the film Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning.

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

Hannah Arendt talked about this in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt’s account of the trial of Adolf Eichmann; who was one of the mid-level Nazi officers who sent millions of people to their deaths is riveting. In describing Eichmann and other ordinary people Arendt said:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

At the end of the movie Judgment at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy as Presiding Judge Dan Haywood concluded his sentencing remarks with this statement. It is perhaps one of the most powerful statement and something to remember as the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers urge us to hate one another and those different than us. It is something that is especially needed in times of great societal stress as well as real and perceived dangers from without and within.

IMG_2182

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

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This is an unsettling subject and people on the political right and left in this country are apt to compare their opponents to those that were tried at Nuremberg and those that led them. This has been an increasingly disturbing trend in the case of hyper-partisan Right Wing and so called Conservative Christians who blatantly demonize those who they hate and urge the use of the police powers of the state to enforce their political-religious agenda. For all intents and purposes they no longer care about “Justice, truth, or the value of a single human being” especially if those human beings are not Christians. That may seem harsh, but sadly it is all too often the truth.

The terrible truth is that it is possible that any parties in any society, including ours, when divided by fear, hate and the desire for power can behave exactly as the industrialists, financiers, doctors, soldiers, jurists, civil servants, pastors and educators who oversaw the heinous crimes committed by the Third Reich.

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Again, I am not calling anyone, even the people that I am criticizing today Nazis. I am only trying to show the logical end of the thinking that permeates much of the political right, particularly conservative Christians who are following a path that is destructive to the church and for the world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “if you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” By selling their birthright to right wing radical politicians and special interest groups who only seek to exploit them for their own power, conservative Christians, like those in the Weimar Republic have boarded the wrong train, and unless they get off that train they will find that they have no redemptive value in society.

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Sadly, I doubt that Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, Tony Perkins or any of the myriad of pundits, politicians and preachers driving conservative Christians off the rails will ever understand this. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools. Fools who in their quest for temporal power destroyed more lives and souls than they ever could have imagined.

Unlike Janning, I doubt if any of them have the capacity to reflect upon their words and actions and realize what they did and are doing are morally, ethically and by every measure of humanity are wrong, and are evil masquerading as righteousness, and thus doubly worthy of condemnation, for if they are Christians they should know better. I only hope that the vast number of conservative Christians who have not completely fallen for their hateful propaganda; men and women who have doubts about the message of such leaders are able to discern the truth will pause for just a moment, and like Bonhoeffer and others like him stand for justice, truth, or the value of a single human being.

Those who stood trial at Nuremberg were all people that should have known better, as should we, especially those who claim the name of Christ and presume to be bearing his good news. When I get back from Germany I am sure I will have more to add.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

The Fever and the Fear

IMG_0493.JPG

http://movieclips.com/FkTn-judgment-at-nuremberg-movie-dr-janning-explains-his-actions/

Friends of Padre Steve’s World 

My wife is going through surgery today and I have been in the hospital waiting room for a while. I’m anxious, as the surgery is a total hysterectomy being done because she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. While statistics tell us that the surgery should be the cure, there are some cases where the cancer has spread. Though I am well trained as a clinician and have worked many years in hospital intensive care units and other critical care areas, I don’t wait well and as much as I try to focus on the positive there is always the “what if” it is worse than expected which is in the back of my mind. Truthfully, Judy is the control rod in my nuclear reactor. She keeps me from really doing stupid things and if she weren’t around I would probably be like William Shatner’s character in Boston Legal, Denny Crane. Thankfully the surgeon came out a little while ago and told me that things look good, that Judy did fine in surgery. The only thing now is to wait for a few days to find out if pathology declares her free and clear of the cancer. 

So I decided to go back and edit an older post about something that does concern me, the climate of fear and hate that seems to me to be driving much of the political minded preachers, pundits and politicians of the Christian Right. Like so many of my articles this may be uncomfortable for people who are unfamiliar with history, or those who simply believe what the politicians, pundits and preachers tell them. 

So with that in mind, I hope that you have a good day and please, if you pray, please pray for Judy and pray for me, your miscreant Padre,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

I have written a number of times about the lack of empathy among conservative American Christians. In those articles I drew some comparisons to the German Christians of the 1920s and 1930s who despite the reservations of a few, supported ultra-right wing nationalist parties and later the Nazi Party.

ADN-ZB/Archiv Kirchenwahl am 23.7.1933 in Berlin. Wahl in der Marien Kirche am Neuen Markt. Nazistische Wahlpropaganda unter Maske des Christentums.

ADN-ZB/Archiv
Kirchenwahl am 23.7.1933 in Berlin. Wahl in der Marien Kirche am Neuen Markt. Nazistische Wahlpropaganda unter Maske des Christentums.

Much of the support was brought about by the fear and hate propagated by those who had lost their favored status after the collapse of the Kaiser Reich. There was a lost war, a harsh peace, as well as social and economic chaos. Political radicalism and violence was common in the early years of the Weimar Republic, and many Christians of all denominations became caught up in it. Many Christians were especially fearful of what many believed was the threat of atheistic Socialists and Communists. The brief experiment with democracy was devastated by political battles, the 1919-1920 Weimar Inflation which destroyed the financial security of most Germans, as well as the Stock Market Crash of 1929. The Great Depression made the economic, political and social chaos worse, and this made many people, including many conservative Christians receptive to the “Nazi Gospel.”

I think that conservative American Christians are going the same direction as they get swept up in the climate of fear, hate, distrust and perceived persecution at the hands of liberals, atheists, socialists and their own government. As I have noted in other articles much of this stems not from actual persecution but from the loss of their privileged position as the dominant force in society.

596554178-franz-pfeffer-von-salomon-sa-fuehrer-3 -reichsparteitag-julius-streicher

I love the film Judgment at Nuremberg, because I think that it really does reflect how many prominent Germans who should have known better followed Hitler, and reflects how many conservative Christians see the political right as their standard bearers.. In the film Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning.

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

Hannah Arendt talked about this in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, her treatment of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the mid-level Nazi officers who sent millions of people to their deaths. In describing Eichmann and other ordinary people Arendt said:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

At the end of the movie Judgment at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy as Presiding Judge Dan Haywood concluded his sentencing remarks with this statement. It is perhaps one of the most powerful statement and something to remember as the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers urge us to hate one another and those different than us. It is something that is especially needed in times of great societal stress as well as real and perceived dangers from without and within.

IMG_2182.JPG

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

einsatzgruppen executions

Einsatzgruppen Members finishing off Jewish Women

This is an unsettling subject and people on the political right and left in this country are apt to compare their opponents to those that were tried at Nuremberg and those that led them. This has been an increasingly disturbing trend in the case of hyper-partisan Right Wing and so called Conservative Christians who blatantly demonize those who they hate and urge the use of the police powers of the state to enforce their political-religious agenda. For all intents and purposes they no longer care about “Justice, truth, or the value of a single human being” especially if those human beings are not Christians. That may seem harsh, but sadly it is all too often the truth.

The terrible truth is that it is possible that any parties in any society, including ours, when divided by fear, hate and the desire for power can behave exactly as the industrialists, financiers, doctors, soldiers, jurists, civil servants, pastors and educators who oversaw the heinous crimes committed by the Third Reich.

Again, I am not calling anyone, even the people that I am criticizing today Nazis. I am only trying to show the logical end of the thinking that permeates much of the political right, particularly conservative Christians who are following a path that is destructive to the church and for the world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “if you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” By selling their birthright to right wing radical politicians and special interest groups who only seek to exploit them for their own power, conservative Christians, like those in the Weimar Republic have boarded the wrong train, and unless they get off that train they will find that they have no redemptive value in society.

Sadly, I doubt that Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Tony Perkins or any of the myriad of pundits, politicians and preachers driving conservative Christians off the rails will ever understand this. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools. Fools who in their quest for temporal power destroyed more lives and souls than they ever could have imagined.

dyer-hanging

Executing Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony 

Unlike Janning, I doubt if any of them have the capacity to reflect upon their words and actions and realize what they did and are doing are morally, ethically and by every measure of humanity are wrong, and are evil masquerading as righteousness, and thus doubly worthy of condemnation, for if they are Christians they should know better. I only hope that the vast number of conservative Christians who have not completely fallen for their hateful propaganda; men and women who have doubts about the message of such leaders are able to discern the truth will pause for just a moment, and like Bonhoeffer and others like him stand for justice, truth, or the value of a single human being.

Those who stood trial at Nuremberg were all people that should have known better, as should we, especially those who claim the name of Christ and presume to be bearing his good news.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Election 2016: The Coming Christian Holy War

barry-goldwater-preachers1

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

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

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

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

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

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

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

He contrasted them with old line conservatives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” 

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

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both. I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in ‘A,’ ‘B,’ ‘C,’ and ‘D.’ Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of ‘conservatism….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

The Fever and the Fear: Conservative American Christians and Judgment at Nuremberg

IMG_0493.JPG

http://movieclips.com/FkTn-judgment-at-nuremberg-movie-dr-janning-explains-his-actions/

Yesterday I wrote about the lack of empathy among conservative American Christians and I drew some comparisons to the German Christians of the 1920s and 1930s who despite their reservations supported ultra-right wing parties and later the Nazi Party. As I mentioned yesterday this was brought about by the fear and hate propagated by those who had lost their favored status after the collapse of the Kaiser Reich, and especially the fear of what many Christians believed was the threat of atheistic Socialists and Communists. Their brief experiment with democracy which was devastated by political battles amid the 1919-1920 Weimar Inflation which destroyed the financial security of most Germans as well as the Stock Market Crash of 1929 which brought about the Great Depression made many receptive to the “Nazi Gospel.”

I think that conservative American Christians are going the same direction as they get swept up in the climate of fear, hate, distrust and perceived persecution at the hands of liberals, atheists, socialists and their own government. As I noted yesterday much of this stems not from actual persecution but from the loss of their privileged position as the dominant force in society.

I love the film Judgment at Nuremberg, because I think that it really does reflect how many prominent Germans who should have known better followed Hitler, and reflects how many conservative Christians see the political right as their standard bearers.. In the film Burt Lancaster plays a prominent German legal scholar and jurist named Ernst Janning.

“There was a fever over the land. A fever of disgrace, of indignity, of hunger. We had a democracy, yes, but it was torn by elements within. Above all, there was fear. Fear of today, fear of tomorrow, fear of our neighbors, and fear of ourselves. Only when you understand that – can you understand what Hitler meant to us. Because he said to us: ‘Lift your heads! Be proud to be German! There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once these devils will be destroyed, your misery will be destroyed.’ It was the old, old story of the sacrificial lamb. What about those of us who knew better? We who knew the words were lies and worse than lies? Why did we sit silent? Why did we take part? Because we loved our country! What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through. It will be discarded sooner or later. Hitler himself will be discarded… sooner or later. The country is in danger. We will march out of the shadows. We will go forward. Forward is the great password. And history tells how well we succeeded, your honor. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The very elements of hate and power about Hitler that mesmerized Germany, mesmerized the world! We found ourselves with sudden powerful allies. Things that had been denied to us as a democracy were open to us now. The world said ‘go ahead, take it, take it! Take Sudetenland, take the Rhineland – remilitarize it – take all of Austria, take it! And then one day we looked around and found that we were in an even more terrible danger. The ritual began in this courtoom swept over the land like a raging, roaring disease. What was going to be a passing phase had become the way of life. Your honor, I was content to sit silent during this trial. I was content to tend my roses. I was even content to let counsel try to save my name, until I realized that in order to save it, he would have to raise the specter again. You have seen him do it – he has done it here in this courtroom. He has suggested that the Third Reich worked for the benefit of people. He has suggested that we sterilized men for the welfare of the country. He has suggested that perhaps the old Jew did sleep with the sixteen year old girl, after all. Once more it is being done for love of country. It is not easy to tell the truth; but if there is to be any salvation for Germany, we who know our guilt must admit it… whatever the pain and humiliation.”

Hannah Arendt talked about this in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,  her treatment of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the mid-level Nazi officers who sent millions of people to their deaths. In describing Eichmann and other ordinary people Arendt said:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

At the end of the movie Judgment at Nuremberg Spencer Tracy as Presiding Judge Dan Haywood concluded his sentencing remarks with this statement. It is perhaps one of the most powerful statement and something to remember as the Unholy Trinity of Politicians, Pundits and Preachers urge us to hate one another and those different than us. It is something that is especially needed in times of great societal stress as well as real and perceived dangers from without and within.

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3BwK51YFgQ

“Janning, to be sure, is a tragic figure. We believe he loathed the evil he did. But compassion for the present torture of his soul must not beget forgetfulness of the torture and the death of millions by the Government of which he was a part. Janning’s record and his fate illuminate the most shattering truth that has emerged from this trial: If he and all of the other defendants had been degraded perverts, if all of the leaders of the Third Reich had been sadistic monsters and maniacs, then these events would have no more moral significance than an earthquake, or any other natural catastrophe.

But this trial has shown that under a national crisis, ordinary – even able and extraordinary – men can delude themselves into the commission of crimes so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination. No one who has sat through the trial can ever forget them: men sterilized because of political belief; a mockery made of friendship and faith; the murder of children. How easily it can happen. There are those in our own country too who today speak of the “protection of country” – of ‘survival’. A decision must be made in the life of every nation at the very moment when the grasp of the enemy is at its throat. Then, it seems that the only way to survive is to use the means of the enemy, to rest survival upon what is expedient – to look the other way. Well, the answer to that is ‘survival as what’? A country isn’t a rock. It’s not an extension of one’s self. It’s what it stands for. It’s what it stands for when standing for something is the most difficult! Before the people of the world, let it now be noted that here, in our decision, this is what we stand for: justice, truth, and the value of a single human being.”

This is an unsettling subject and people on the political right and left in this country are apt to compare their opponents to those that were tried at Nuremberg and those that led them. This has been an increasingly disturbing trend in the case of hyper-partisan Right Wing and so called Conservative Christians who blatantly demonize those who they hate and urge the use of the police powers of the state to enforce their political-religious agenda. For all intents and purposes they no longer care about “Justice, truth, or the value of a single human being” especially if those human beings are not Christians. That may seem harsh, but sadly it is all too often the truth.

The terrible truth is that it is possible that any parties in any society, including ours, when divided by fear, hate and the desire for power can behave exactly as the industrialists, financiers, doctors, soldiers, jurists, civil servants, pastors and educators who oversaw the heinous crimes committed by the Third Reich.

Again, I am not calling anyone, even the people that I am criticizing today Nazis. I am only trying to show the logical end of the thinking that permeates much of the political right, particularly conservative Christians who are following a path that is destructive to the church and for the world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: “if you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” By selling their birthright to right wing radical politicians and special interest groups who only seek to exploit them for their own power, conservative Christians, like those in the Weimar Republic have boarded the wrong train, and unless they get off that train they will find that they have no redemptive value in society.

Sadly, I doubt that Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Michelle Bachmann, Tony Perkins or any of the myriad of pundits, politicians and preachers driving conservative Christians off the rails will ever understand this. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools. Fools who in their quest for temporal power destroyed more lives and souls than they ever could have imagined.

Unlike Janning, I doubt if any of them have the capacity to reflect upon their words and actions and realize what they did and are doing are morally, ethically and by every measure of humanity are wrong, and are evil masquerading as righteousness, and thus doubly worthy of condemnation, for if they are Christians they should know better. I only hope that the vast number of conservative Christians who have not completely fallen for their hateful propaganda; men and women who have doubts about the message of such leaders are able to discern the truth will pause for just a moment, and like Bonhoeffer and others like him stand for justice, truth, or the value of a single human being.

Those who stood trial at Nuremberg were all people that should have known better, as should we, especially those who claim the name of Christ and presume to be bearing his good news. I think I will be continuing this line of thought through much of the coming week, although there may be a detour into baseball or Gettysburg; so I will stop for now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Barry Goldwater was Right: Religious Leaders Endanger American Democracy

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

There is just over a month remaining before the 2012 Presidential Election. The campaign on both sides has been marked by distortions and lies as are most campaigns, but the most troubling aspect to me is the behavior of many professed Christians that are leaders of the religious right who seem to be more interested in their own interests than the interests of other Americans. All pretense has been thrown away this is not about Jesus, nor is it about the American principle of religious freedom, it is about conservative Christians of various denominations seeking to dominate through political means people that they have failed to convert with their message.

Unfortunately the political climate of the country is now dominated by the most extreme factions. Politicians and politically minded preachers, especially those of the religious right are using their “faith” to fuel animus against President Obama and before his nomination Mitt Romney to further their political aims.

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

Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham and others too numerous to mention have said that President Obama was a Moslem without saying it flat out. Until he became the nominee many of these same leaders attacked Mitt Romney is not a Christian and a “member of a religious cult.”

Likewise people like Rick Santorum and some political preachers have compared the President to Adolf Hitler. When Santorum was asked about this by reporters during the primaries said that he “didn’t mean anything by his comments.” Give me a break. If you compare any American politician to Hitler it is not something that “you don’t mean.” It is an attempt to compare your opponent with one of the most evil men that ever lived.

Back in my days as a confirmed member of the religious right Barry Goldwater would occasionally get under my skin by criticizing leaders of the Religious Right. At the time I loved the “Voter’s Guides” published by the Christian Coalition and God forbid that anyone criticize the work of God being done by Christian political leaders.

But it was Barry Goldwater the man who inspired Ronald Reagan to run for President and who was the conservative bulwark for many years in Washington DC who warned what would happen when the Religious Right took over the Republican Party. Goldwater said of the types of religious people that currently dominate the conservative movement:

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

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

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

What we are seeing today is the expressed manifestation of religious bigotry operating under the guise of defending religious freedom. It is being shown in its ugliness by the brazen If there is any way to lose religious freedom it is to follow this attempt to marry the Christian faith with the American government is not only short sighted but does great damage to the faith and our American liberties.

Rick Santorum, James Dobson, James Robison, Rick Scarborough, Gary Bauer, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Franklin Graham and a host of influential of Evangelical leaders, politicians and even Roman Catholic Bishops have said what they believe religious liberty means to them and it has little in common with the understanding of our founders. The Catholic Bishop of Springfield Illinois has even said in the official diocesan newspaper that the Catholic Church deems sinful “makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.” This has nothing to do with limited government nor religious liberty. It is the imperial religion of Constantine, dressed up a bit to keep up with the times.  It is simply an attempt by these leaders to use the apparatus of the government to support themselves.

I am so glad that I attended a Southern Baptist Seminary before the fundamentalist takeover and came to value religious freedom. The freedom that early Baptists in Virginia fought to have included in the Bill of Rights, a belief that was against the domination of the government by any religious body, even other Christians.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like it or not Goldwater was right about this crowd. They will drive their churches and their political party into the abyss. We are watching it happen before our very eyes. God help us all as Americans of all faiths because this is not the what men like Jefferson, Madison, Adams, or Washington desired. It is the re-emergence of the state religions of old Europe that they so strongly opposed, and which so many had fled.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Pain of Bain Will Always be the Same

I don’t know why but I have been amazed to see the Romney campaign turn into a total train wreck this week.  I really didn’t expect it but to me it looks like the wheels seem to be coming off with the continuing and expanding revelations of Romney’s involvement with Bain Capital. Documents from Bain signed by Romney point to a real possibility that Romney is not telling the whole story about his activity as owner, CEO and sole stockholder of Bain. These include filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission interviews, statements and even the paperwork for his residency for his 2002 campaign for the office of Governor of Massachusetts all of which point to him being less than honest in how he represents that time. Likewise there are the issues of Swiss and Cayman Islands bank accounts and unwillingness to disclose more than last year’s tax records.

Thus it was hard not to shake my head in amazement when Romney went of five different networks to say that that he “left any responsibility whatsoever, any effort, any involvement whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999.”  What got me was not just the words, but his facial expressions and body language, it was not believable.

One can think what they want of President Obama. One can call him an Anti-American Atheist, Communist, Socialist, Liberation Theology loving, pork eating, beer drinking Moslem. One can oppose every one of his policies.  One can even believe that he is the son of a Vulcan explorer and an earth mother that was beamed from Kenya to Hawaii so he be President and through the UN bring about a treaty that would cause the earth to cede its independence to a United Federation of Planets in a future alternate universe and one can vote against him for a multitude of reasons but one cannot ignore that Romney has serious character issues that are red flags that his supporters should pay attention to before they come back to haunt them.  Simply put I think anyone who fought against the Romney nomination and now backs him simply because he is not Obama is in for trouble.

Now nobody should be surprised by how the script is playing out. In fact almost every opponent of Romney’s in the GOP primaries warned us of this. They ran the anti-Bain commercials, they talked about Romneycare they pointed out every chink in the armor of a Romney campaign and got carpet bombed by Romney for doing so. In fact some even called Romney a “liar.” The problem was that none of them had the money or organization or the support of Wall Street and the Multi-National corporations that Romney had and his PACS destroyed them. He took no prisoners.

Rick Perry was blasted out by Romney early but he made these comments:

“I happen to think that companies like Bain Capital could have come in and helped these companies if they truly were venture capitalists, but they’re not — they’re vulture capitalists.”

“While you were the governor of Massachusetts in that period of time, you were 47th in the nation in job creation. … You failed as the governor of Massachusetts.”

“If you are a victim of Bain Capital’s downsizing, it’s the ultimate insult for Mitt Romney to come to South Carolina to tell you he feels your pain. Because he caused it.”

“I have no doubt that Mitt Romney was worried about pink slips — whether he’d have enough of them to hand out.”

Rick Santorum, arguably the most populist of the Republican candidates and the only one that mounted a real challenge to Romney said that Romney was “the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.” 

Santorum also said:

“If Mitt Romney’s an economic heavyweight, we’re in trouble, because he was 47th out of 50 in job creation in the state of Massachusetts when he was governor. He may have had some success at making money for himself and his partners at Bain Capital, and I give him a lot of credit for doing so, but that’s a very different thing than going out and creating an atmosphere for people to create — that create jobs.”

Newt Gingrich got off the Romneyvation early and got blasted but he tore some holes in Romney’s campaign:

“I just think he ought to be honest with the American people and try to win as the real Mitt Romney, not try to invent a poll-driven, consultant-guided version that goes around with talking points, and I think he ought to be candid. I don’t think he’s being candid and that will be a major issue. From here on out from the rest of this campaign, the country has to decide: Do you really want a Massachusetts moderate who won’t level with you to run against Barack Obama who, frankly, will just tear him apart? He will not survive against the Obama machine.”

“We are not going to beat Barack Obama with some guy who has Swiss bank accounts, Cayman Island accounts, owns shares of Goldman Sachs while it forecloses on Florida and is himself a stockholder in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while he tries to think the rest of us are too stupid to put the dots together and understand what this is all about.”

Michelle Bachmann said:

“He can’t beat Obama because his policy is the basis of Obamacare. The signature issue of Obama is Obamacare. You can’t have a candidate who has given the blueprint for Obamacare. It’s too identical. It’s not going to happen.” 

“He’s been very inconsistent on his positions. He’s been on both sides of the abortion issue, on both sides of the issue with same-sex marriage … he was for the TARP bill, the $700 billion bailout and the global warming initiatives.”

Former Utah Governor, Ambassador to China and fellow Mormon said of Romney:

“I think Romney will show leadership on the economy, but on the trust deficit, I don’t see a whole lot of leadership.”

And the only GOP candidate still in the hunt, Ron Paul ran this ad:

“Mitt Romney can’t fight against Obamacare because he supported the same mandates and government takeovers as governor of Massachusetts.  Romney can’t stand up against more bailouts because he supported them. He can’t lead the charge to shrink the government because he has grown it. Romney’s record is liberal and putting him up against Obama is a recipe for defeat.”

By the way did you notice that none of these people are Democrats? That should speak volumes.

One of two things are going to happen and please do not say that you were not warned. Either the wheels will continue to come off and Romney’s campaign will blow up leading to a defeat in November. That may also impact Congressional races because people may be so disgusted by their candidate that they don’t show up. They may not vote for Obama but they will not support Romney.

The other possibility is that hatred for Obama will cause people that cannot stand Romney to vote for him anyway and that he will win the election. Obama haters will rejoice until they realize that they voted in a man who still remembers what they said about him and only sees them as a means to the become President. They are simply votes to be bought and the bottom line is all that matters.  That is his history as a businessman and governor. He may not be a good politician but underneath that perfect head of hair he is a ruthless businessman, just asked those that ran against him in the GOP primaries this year.

When that happens those that opposed and denigrated Romney during the primaries should not expect for Romney to treat them well.  This is especially true for the Evangelicals who just a couple months ago were calling Romney a member of a religious cult.  Romney will govern based on what he wants, not what they want. Instead of four years of a lame duck Obama administration they will have either have Romney for eight years or end up with a different Democrat in the White House in 2016 and it will destroy the Republican Party.

Alan Keyes, who I never agree with made a comment that while I may not completely agree with probably needs to be heeded by religious conservatives whose hatred of Obama has driven them into Romney’s camp. If they believe like Keyes that Obama is evil then they need to look at what the results of their hatred of him may bring about:

 “As I tried to point out in 2008, the lesser of evils is still evil. No matter how such an election turns out, people content to choose between Satan and Beelzebub have made clear their willingness to let things go to hell. Moreover, the nature of their choice is so clear to them that they practically boast of the passionate hatred that impels them to it. With this practical boast they become the willing, proud accomplices of the very evil they profess to hate.”

People need to be careful what they ask for because they just might get it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Hijacking of the National Day of Prayer

The modern National Day of Prayer was enacted by President Truman and Congress in 1952 in the 36 U.S.C. § 119 : US Code – Section 119: National Day of Prayer and various Presidents at different times have called for days of fasting, prayer or thanksgiving.  The heart of President Truman’s proclamation is contained in this section:

Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Friday, July 4, 1952, as a National Day of Prayer, on which all of us, in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts, may beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue that course steadfastly. May we also give thanks to Him for His constant watchfulness over us in every hour of national prosperity and national peril.

Ronald Reagan eloquently stated the purpose and significance of the National Day of Prayer in his 1983 proclamation which in part read:

It took the tragedy of the Civil War to restore a National Day of Prayer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

Revived as an annual observance by Congress in 1952, the National Day of Prayer has become a great unifying force for our citizens who come from all the great religions of the world. Prayer unites people. This common expression of reverence heals and brings us together as a Nation and we pray it may one day bring renewed respect for God to all the peoples of the world.

From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Thursday, May 5, 1983, National Day of Prayer. I call upon every citizen of this great Nation to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind.

President Reagan’s 1983 and subsequent proclamations stood firmly in the American tradition of Civil Religion and was decidedly non-sectarian.  It acknowledged that our citizens “come from all the great religions of the world” and called on Americans to gather on the day “in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind.”  In fact the spirit of the declaration is much like that of the hymn God of Our Fathers which is recognized as our National Hymn.  This hymn is not explicitly Christian and never mentions Christ or the Trinity yet it is widely sung in churches on days such as the Sunday nearest to Independence Day.  The lyrics to that hymn are here:

God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand, Leads forth in beauty all the starry band Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies, Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past, In this free land by Thee our lot is cast, Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay, Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence, Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense; Thy true religion in our hearts increase, Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way, Lead us from night to never ending day; Fill all our lives with love and grace divine, And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

While the American religious tradition is highly Christian and even more so from the Reformed tradition this has always existed in tension with a decidedly secularist philosophy embodied by many of the Founding Fathers who were very careful to recognize the importance of religion but at the same time both sought to protect religious liberty by NOT enacting laws to establish a particular religion nor to entangle the government in the affairs of religion which could in their view be detrimental to true religious liberty.

In fact both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were very careful about proclamations and ensuring that government was not favoring any particular religious body. Jefferson wrote to Reverend Samuel Miller in 1808 that:

Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. …civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.”

Madison who was the author of the Bill of Rights and included religious liberty in the First Amendment in support of Virginia Baptists who were under pressure from those who were determined to make and keep the Episcopal Church as the state religion of the commonwealth. Madison wrote to Edward Livingston in 1822 that:

“There has been another deviation from the strict principle in the Executive Proclamations of fasts & festivals, so far, at least, as they have spoken the language of injunction, or have lost sight of the equality of all religious sects in the eye of the Constitution. Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere designations of a day, on which all who thought proper might unite in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith & forms. In this sense, I presume you reserve to the Govt. a right to appoint particular days for religious worship throughout the State, without any penal sanction enforcing the worship.”

President Obama’s 2012 Proclamation for the National Day of Prayer stands in line with the founders as well as that of Presidents Truman and Reagan. It calls Americans to join with him to

“On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience. Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation. May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other, and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another. Let us be humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.

Let us also pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have answered our country’s call to serve with honor in the pursuit of peace. Our grateful Nation is humbled by the sacrifices made to protect and defend our security and freedom. Let us pray for the continued strength and safety of our service members and their families. While we pause to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending liberty, let us remember and lend our voices to the principles for which they fought — unity, human dignity, and the pursuit of justice.”

Even Republican Presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were careful to attempt to keep this in tension only holding one official event each during their presidencies.  It was not until George W. Bush that the President hosted events in every year of his presidency.  Remember the language of the law was that the President shall issue a proclamation for the people of the nation to pray.  Likewise the proclamations are a call for Americans, as Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman wrote to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind. The National Day of Prayer was not intended to entwine the government in exclusively religious observances by any particular religious tradition as many of the National Day of Prayer observances in many local, state and federal government agencies.

In 1982 a group of Evangelical Christians led by Shirley Dobson formed The National Day of Prayer Task Force. This organization is is not simply a Christian organization with an ecumenical purpose, but rather a decidedly Evangelic Christian organization.  It was formed to coordinate and implement a fixed annual day of prayer, the purpose of which was to organize evangelical Christian prayer events with local, state, and federal government entities.  Its ministry partners included the heavily politicized American Family Association, Alliance Defense Fund, American Center for Law and Justice, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. The Leadership is a veritable “Whose Who” of political preachers and ultra-conservative politicians including Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. This organization has since grown in popularity and prominence often being the primary organizer of such events.

While I am not against the observance of the National Day of Prayer I am uncomfortable with an organization like the National Day of Prayer Committee, which is dominated not just by Evangelical Christians, but Evangelical Christian political activists sponsoring the vast majority of these observances. The group makes no pretense about not being ecumenical and being what they say is “Judeo-Christian.” However since it it has appropriated the name “The National Day of Prayer” as its moniker and has huge financial and political backing, many Christians and non-Christians alike assume that The National Day of Prayer Task Force is the official government sponsored and endorsed organizer for the event. The appearance is solidified by the fact that many of their events are held in government or military facilities. In my opinion the National Day of Prayer Task Force has hijacked the occasion to fulfill their political and religious agenda. As a Christian and member of a small Old Catholic denomination I find this frightening.

What I think has happened within the time of my military career is that many Evangelical groups have made the National Day of Prayer “their event” and use people within government agencies or the military to organize events which lean heavily toward Evangelical Christianity.  I have seen it myself at many locations. Not only has this occurred but many times the leadership of these religious groups promote the political agenda of a particular political party or philosophy and as such that political philosophy sometimes becomes part of the event.  It happens quite often and I actually think invites trouble and challenges that will eventually have a negative impact on all Christians.

In fact The National Day of prayer was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb who ruled in favor of a suit brought about by the Freedom from Religion Foundation against The National Day of Prayer Task Force, former President George Bush and others.  The suit was expanded to name President Barack Obama when he requested that Judge Crabb to dismiss the case in 2009 when the administration argued that the foundation had no legal standing to sue.  The President Obama and his administration appealed the ruling and went ahead with the proclamation and observance of the National Day of Prayer in 2010 and 2011. The Obama Administration’s appeal was successful and a Federal Appeals Court overturned Judge Crabb’s ruling in 2011. The reason the appeal was granted was because the Appeals Court ruled that the Freedom from Religion Foundation had no legal standing because it did suffer actual harm from the Presidential proclamation and call to prayer.

My contention is that when a very religiously exclusive and politically partisan group virtually takes over what was implicitly non-sectarian and non-partisan that the event becomes more of a sectarian event than national event. The National Day of Prayer Task Force seems to merge Evangelical Christianity with the Federal Government.  Somehow I don’t think that Jefferson, Madison or early Baptist leaders like Roger Williams and John Leland who all saw the separation of Church and State as essential to the preservation of the civil rights of all citizens, not just Christians.

I believe in and do pray for the United States of America, our people and our leaders. I even think that a designated day of prayer for the nation is a salient reminder of the necessity of citizens of faith to pray for this country and our leaders regardless of their faith, absence of faith or political party or ideology. It is what makes the American experiment in Religious Liberty so unique in the world and why we should resist all attempts to return to the hopelessly entwined and bankrupt systems embodied by the State Religions of Europe and the Middle East.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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