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“As Men Can Die Heroically as Brothers so Should They Live Together in Mutual Faith and Goodwill” The Four Chaplains in the Age of Trump

four chaplains

The Four Chaplains

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today I am writing a brief remembrance of four men who I never met but whose lives helped guide me into my vocation as a Priest and Chaplain. I think I first read about them in junior high school and at that time I had never thought about becoming a minister, priest, or chaplain. To be sure, ever since I was in early grade school I wanted to be in the military but it would not be until my senior year of high school that I felt a call to become a Navy Chaplain. I’ll come back to that in a moment, but first a brief op-ed on religion in the United states.

In this day and age where fanatical religious extremists of many faiths seek to divide society, launch wars of religion, discriminate against non-believers or even people who believe differently than them, or hold different philosophical or political beliefs, it is important as Americans to find something that holds us together. The fact that our founders were profoundly against establishing or favoring any particular faith or denomination, there are those today who militantly fight to establish an Evangelical Christian theocracy that has no basis for existence based on the testimony of the Founders, and the earliest proponents of religious liberty in the United States including Virginia Baptist John Leland who helped influence James Madison in crafting the First Amendment of the Constitution wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Sadly, men like Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, and a host of others use their theocratic political judgments to condemn people of good faith in this life and the next. Aided by men like the President they stand in opposition to Leland and the others like him who understood that the American experiment in religious liberty could not be tied to fixed dogma, nor the Apostle Paul who wrote to the Church in Corinth: “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[a] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor. 5:19)

But I digress, you can read previous articles on this site in which I quoted Leland and other defenders of real religious freedom. For me it’s a matter of my Christian faith. So back to the story…

The four men that I never met were Army Chaplains.

George Lansing Fox was a 42 year old Methodist minister from Lewiston, Pennsylvania who had served as a medic in the First World War in which he was awarded the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, and the French Croix De Guerre. Thirty-one year old Reformed Rabbi Alexander Goode of Brooklyn, New York was the son of a Rabbi who before the war had applied but not been accepted as a Navy Chaplain. After Pearl Harbor he volunteered and was commissioned as an Army Chaplain. Clark V. Poling was a Baptist minister serving as pastor of a Reformed Church when the war broke out. His father had served as a Chaplain in the First World War and Poling, the married father of one child became an Army Chaplain in 1941. Father John Patrick Washington of Newark New Jersey was a Roman Catholic Priest who entered active duty in May 1942. The four men attended the Army Chaplain’s School, then at Harvard and were united for the journey across the Atlantic aboard the transport ship SS Dorchester.

On the night of February 3rd 1943 the Dorchester was torpedoed by the German submarine U-223. She went down in 20 minutes, of the 904 men aboard the ship only 230 survived. Despite the fact that the ship’s captain had ordered a high state of readiness and that all hands wear life jackets at all time, “Many soldiers sleeping deep in the ship’s hold disregarded the order because of the engine’s heat. Others ignored it because the life jackets were uncomfortable.”

When the ship was hit by a torpedo power went out and the four chaplains worked amid the chaos to calm the situation and assisted the soldiers, sailors, and merchant mariners aboard the ship as they tried to abandon ship. The four chaplains handed out life jackets until the supply ran out and then gave their own life jackets to soldiers that had none.

In doing so they signed their own death sentence, the water temperature was just 34 degrees, the air temperature was 36 degrees, many who survived the sinking died of exposure within minutes of the sinking, rescue ships found hundreds of bodies floating in the water. As the ship went down they died together, praying with arms linked after giving away their life jackets as the troop transport that they were on sank beneath the waves into the icy depths of the North Atlantic. A survivor wrote:

“As I swam away from the ship, I looked back. The flares had lighted everything. The bow came up high and she slid under. The last thing I saw, the Four Chaplains were up there praying for the safety of the men. They had done everything they could. I did not see them again. They themselves did not have a chance without their life jackets.”

Other survivors reported hearing the prayers of the chaplains in English, Latin, and Hebrew as the ship went down. Their bodies were never recovered. They have been remembered as heroes. In 1960 Congress named February 3rd as Four Chaplains Day. The U.S. Post Office commissioned a stamp in their honor in 1948. The Chapel of the Four Chaplains was dedicated in the basement of Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia in 1951. President Harry Truman spoke at its dedication noting:

“This interfaith shrine… will stand through long generations to teach Americans that as men can die heroically as brothers so should they live together in mutual faith and goodwill.”

The chapel was moved to Temple University in 1953 and to the former Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 2001.

 

ph-ph-ag-four-chaplains-preview-jpg-20140205

Father John Patrick Washington (Top Left), Reverend Clark V. Poling (Top Right), Rabbi Alexander Goode (Bottom Left), and Reverend George Lansing Fox

Of course my journey in finding that call and answering it had a number of detours in which I first rejecting following the call. Instead, when I was in college I simply enlisted in the Army National Guard, entered ROTC and then was commissioned as an Army officer. After a number of incidents on active duty which renewed that sense of call I left active duty to go to seminary, went back into the National Guard and in September of 1992 became an Army National Guard and civilian hospital chaplain.  On February 9th 1999 I resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Chaplain Corps to become a Navy Chaplain, and in the process accepting a reduction in rank.

In the nearly 37 years that I have served in the military of which almost 26 have been spent as a chaplain I have had the privilege of serving with many fine ministers of many denominations, priests, rabbis, and even an imam.  Of course I have served alongside some chaplains who regardless of their faith or denomination were simply assholes, but that being said I truly do appreciate those men and women from so many faiths and denominations who have cared for me. I do think that any of them could have linked arms with me and prayed after doing the last best things that we could do for the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who entrust themselves to our care.

Despite what some senior chaplains in both the Army and Navy had done to me at different points; when I think of those men and women who regardless of their beliefs or the beliefs of the religious organizations that endorse them for the chaplaincy, I realize just how blessed that I am.

In the day that we live I can still stand with Harry Truman when he praised these chaplains. Now I am sure that there are quite few people who would say that either Goode, Fox, Poling, or Washington are already in Hell; but I don’t believe that. I understand from Scripture and the teachings of Jesus that God looks on the heart, and that the most important commandments are to love God and love our neighbors. I think that Jesus said that in doing those things that people fulfill the entire law.

Thus I thank God for the Chaplains of various denominations, Mainline Protestants, Evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Anglicans, Mormons, Jews, and Muslims who I would be blessed to link arms with to care for those in our care.

So today, I ask my readers to share this message with others.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, History, Political Commentary, World War II at Sea, world war two in europe

I’ve had Enough of the Freedom of Religion Crap from Trump’s Evangelical Supporters

tony perkins

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every time I see men like Jerry Falwell Jr., Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham, James Dobson, James Robison, Pat Robertson, or any of the host of their lesser known minions, including men who are Priests, ministers, or chaplains  defend the indefensible actions and moral depravity of President Donald Trump I want to puke. Sorry, but the first time that I heard the word puke when I was a kid I loved it. I even loved it as an adult because it is an amazingly fun word, especially when you are on a Guided Missile Cruiser steaming down the Arabian Peninsula with a category five cyclone on your beam battering the ship with 18-20 foot swells for three days, and half of your shipmates are seasick and you are not, but I digress…

When I see and hear all of these modern day Pharisees or Inquisitors all that I can think is yuck.  Likewise I totally understand why so many people, especially young people are fleeing the Church in record numbers every single year and why so many others want nothing to do with the Church even if they are okay with Jesus.

In the wake of the latest “Stormy” allegations against the President in which his ecclesiastical defenders have again gone to the mat to defend him I think that it is wise to attack the motivations of the men and women who made morality, particularly their version of it a political wedge issue beginning with Bill Clinton’s sexual immorality, which I do  not defend. But to condemn him, and to demonize Barak Obama who was not a womanizer while giving Trump a free hand and pass on things that are worse than Clinton did or than they ever imagined Obama did is simply sick. They need to be called out and condemned because they are worse than hypocrites because their already tiny moral centers have shriveled up and their hearts have calcified into the hardest stone.

The fact that Tony Perkins who is one of the most extreme proponents of this hypocrisy said that Trump “gets a Mulligan”  for his dalliance with the relatively well know porn star Stormy Daniels. The fact that Trump’s lawyers paid her off with $130,000 as he began his campaign for President seems also to be a Mulligan. Honestly I can’t imagine what he would say if there was an allegation that Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton had been accused of the same thing.

As for the President I never expected anything better from him, and maybe he is deserving of the grace and mercy of God because he is a paranoid, narcissistic, Sociopath who no capacity for self-reflection or anything else related to the care of his own soul. But as to these supposed “men of God” who support the establishment of laws that benefit them and punish people that they believe to be infidels or unbelievers while excusing the  I have nothing but contempt. To see them crowing about how their supposed “religious liberty” trumps anyone else’s civil rights under the Constitution makes me want to vomit.

These are the same people who condoned or supported the heinous “imprecatory prayers” unleashed against President Obama in which they prayed for his death while subjecting him to a Jihad that the Taliban or the Iranian Imams would have been hard pressed to match.

I am a huge proponent of Religious Freedom as the Founders intended it to be, but these modern and supposedly “Conservative” Christians don’t believe in what the Founders believed, because they are Theocrats of the same kind that our Founders fled when they came to the American colonies. These men would have found the Spanish Inquisition leaders as true brothers in Christ. They would have cheered the killings of anyone deemed to be a heretic and the total destruction of the towns or cities that they lived in. The Virginia Baptist John Leland and their other American religious freedom proponents.

Leland noted:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

Imagine that. The man who is probably the most responsible for making sure that James Madison crafted the Bill of Rights and in particular the First Amendment would have died before agreeing to what the men and women who claim to be his theological descendent propose today.

I am actually sick of the religious liberty hyperbole of these damned Theocrats, all of them. I find that I agree with the argument of Alan Shore (James Spader) in Boston Legal when he said:

“I don’t know about you but I’m getting a little tired of the religious freedom thing. When did religion get such a good name anyway. Be it the Crusades, the reformation genocides, the troubles in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, mass slaughters in the name of Allah, the obligatory reciprocal retributions. Hundreds of millions have died in religious conflicts. Hitler did his business in the name of his creator. Religious extremism, it’s our greatest threat today, a holy jihad. If we’re not ready to strip religion of its sacred cow status, how about we at least scale back on the Constitutional dogma exalting it as all get out….

Everyone should get to believe in his God, pray to his God, worship his God of course. But to impose him on others, to victimize others in his name?  The founding fathers set out to prevent persecution, not license it…

At a certain point we have to say “enough with this freedom of religion crap. Yuck, yuck, yuck. I know, I’ll get letters….” 

I totally agree with the words of Alan Shore, enough of this politically driven “freedom of religion crap.”

Likewise I agree with Leland, this theocratic crap that Perkins and the rest of these assholes spew should be “exploded forever.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, History, laws and legislation, News and current events, Political Commentary

Clowns to the Left of Me Jokers to the Right… Irresponsible and

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post today about some of the most remarkable comments about the massacre in Las Vegas. Truthfully, I am still trying to get my head around what happened; and since there is as yet no evidence of why Stephen Paddock committed this heinous act I am still perplexed by it. I cannot imagine anyone whether they were in their right mind or not deciding to meticulously plan and execute such a cold blooded massacre. I can say that it was an act of unequivocal evil and had it been perpetrated by a Muslim, an undocumented alien, or an African American there would be more outrage and you can bet that people who in the immediate aftermath of the massacre said it shouldn’t be politicized would have politicized the hell out of it.

But instead of outrage I see Alex Jones blaming it on “the deep state,” Pat Robertson blaming it on “a lack of respect for President Trump and the flag,” Bill O’Reilly saying it was “the price of freedom,” Senator John Thune seemingly blaming the victims saying that “they should have made themselves smaller,” and a CBS News legal counsel said that she had no sympathy because “I’m actually not even sympathetic bc country music fans are often republican gun toters.” At least CBS fired her within hours of her abominable comments. However, I honestly doubt that any supporter of Robertson, Jones, Thune, or O’Reilly, would demand that they be fired. Of course there were a host of others that said that the shooting was part of God’s judgment or blamed people for any of a number of half-baked theological reasons.

The terrible thing about the commentators was that none of them seemed to give a damn about the victims, or those who lost loved ones or friends in this. For these soulless hacks it is all about finding blame and exculpating themselves from any responsibility when they all through their constant political invective and promotion of conspiracy theories help prepare the way for people to justify the massacre of so many people. In fact other right wing outlets like the Gateway Pundit seemed almost gleeful when they made a false identification of the shooter as “Registered Democrat and anti-Trump partisan.” They had to delete their posts and articles because they blamed the wrong person. But for a while they certainly defamed and libeled an innocent man all in the hope of making a cheap political point.

So anyway, I am frustrated and angry about those who make such comments, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that we shouldn’t debate the politics of the availability of the weapons and devices that made Stephen Paddock’s assault so deadly. As a career military officer I cannot imagine why we allow weapons like those used by Paddock, modified military weapons that have only one purpose: efficiently killing people in mass numbers, to be legal. I’ll probably write more about the subject another time, but the irresponsibility of ideologues only makes events like this even more tragic.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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All Should be Equally Free: Recognizing the Terror of the New Religious Liberty Laws

john leland

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This may seem a familiar topic for my readers, but due to events in a number of states I feel compelled to talk about it again. The issue of religious liberty and the right to free expression has once again come to the fore in the wake of the Obergfell v. Hodges ruling and the pathetically un-American passage of particularly odious, religiously based anti-LGBT laws in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Tennessee, as well as one that was vetoed by Georgia’s governor. I call these laws pathetic and un-American because they fly in the face of the ideals of the real champions of religious liberty in the United States. One of these early proponents of religious liberty and freedom in the United States was the Virginia Baptist pastor, John Leland.

Sadly, many American Christians either have never heard of him. Likewise, if they have heard of him, as the great pontificator, Mike Huckabee should have in his brief tenure as a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; they seem to have ignored his warnings about state religion. I guess that problems in his church history and Baptist history classes were a big reason that he left seminary. Ideologues like the Huckster didn’t last at Southwestern, at least until the fundamentalist takeover in 1994 that helped destroy the academic and scholarly reputation of that once fine school, but I digress….

Leland was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and without him it is unlikely that the First Amendment of the Constitution would have mentioned religious faith. Leland had a very personal interest in this as during the 1780s the Anglican Church in Virginia was attempting to again become the official state religion. Anglicans, with the help of local authorities were attacking Baptist congregations and even resorting to physical violence. In defiance of the Anglicans, Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

There is a form of religion and indeed the “Christian” faith that is toxic and if not treated leads to the spiritual and sometimes the physical and emotional death of the infected person.

There is a nationalized version of this supposedly Christian faith in the Untied Stats today. It is a bastardized version of the Christian faith overlaid with the thin veneer of an equally bastardized version of American history. Its purveyors are quite popular in the world of “conservative” American Evangelicalism and Catholicism.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and chief Nuremberg war crimes trials prosecutor warned us about people like them over a half-century ago. Jackson wrote, “[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.”

Pat Robertson, evangelist and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network is an example of what Leland and Jackson warned us about. Robertson said on his program that “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991. The late David Chilton was another. He wrote: “We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian”

It is quite fascinating when you look at it. This faith is a combination of a selective reading of American history, Christian teaching and Biblical interpretation that mixes and matches a wide variety of mutually conflicting and contradictory traditions. This Toxic “faith” if you can call it that; is based on a reading of American and Western History, which negates, marginalizes or willingly distorts the views or contributions of those who they disagree. It does not matter of their opponents are not Christians, or were Christians, including Baptists like John Leland and Roger Williams. Due to their experiences of religious persecution, Williams and Leland refused to buy into any form of state sanctioned religion.

I find it interesting that Conservative Icon and champion of limited government Barry Goldwater had great reservations about those that sought to establish the superiority of any religion. 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.”

The leaders of this new and quasi “Christian faith” are many and include some of the most popular religious leaders in the United States such as Pat Robertson, the pseudo-historian David Barton, James Robison, Gary North, Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, Gary Bauer Phyllis Schafley and a host of others. For them the Gospel has been equated with government legislation of supposedly “Christian” values; which conveniently are defined by their political agenda, often in complete contradiction to the Gospel and to nearly 2000 years of Christian experience. North, one of the most eloquent expositors of the Dominionist movement wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

That is quite a statement and those who think that they can co-opt people like North, Robertson or others are quite mistaken. Goldwater realized this. What is fascinating to me is to watch these men and women advocate religious and political positions in regard to Church-State relations that completely opposite of what early American Christian and non-Christian civil libertarians imagined when our country was founded. Positions that quite often are at odds with even the historical tenants of their own faith. Their only claim to innocence can be because not a one of them have any training in history and often are even worse when it comes to their understanding of the Christian tradition, which did not begin in and will not end in the United States.

In this confused and often hateful “faith” we see men and women who hate centralized government but extol a centralized religion. I was talking with a friend who is adamantly opposed to a powerful Federal Government but extols the perfection of the centralized bureaucracy of his Roman Catholic Faith. He could not see the contradiction. I watch others who extol an almost Libertarian understanding of the government and the Constitution who supposedly in their religious tradition are from the “Free Church” who now advocate the supremacy of the Church over the State and in doing so their particular and limited understanding of Church over that of the Church Universal.

In this confused and contradictory setting there are Catholics espousing political views that are in direct opposition to the understanding of government supported by the Magisterium of the Church. There are Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants that mix and match the untenable and contradictory beliefs of Dominionism and Millennialism which involve on one hand the takeover of earthly power by the Church and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God and the understanding that earthly power is ultimately under the dominion of Satan and must be overcome by the Second Coming of Christ.

Leland wrote:

“These establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state.”

Leland was one of the most important persons in regards to the relationship of the Christian Churches to the American Government. He was a champion of the religious liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights and helped influence both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. He noted in 1791:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.” John Leland, “Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law”

When the adherents of a faith, any faith, but especially the Christian faith enlist the government to enforce their understanding of faith they introduce a toxicity that is eventually fatal when consumed and acted on.

I think that much of what we are witnessing today is much more the product of fear mongering preachers that see opportunity in their political alliances and that are willing to reduce the Gospel to a number of “Christian values” in order to achieve a political end; even if that end is ultimately destructive to the Church and to the Gospel.

The message of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth was this: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, 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 5:18-19 NRSV) 

The early church thrived when it had no earthly power. It thrived when it was persecuted and when the Roman government openly supported almost every religion but it. However, once it became powerful and worldly it became ensnared in affairs far from that simple message of reconciliation.

It was in this country that the various sects of the Christian faith had the opportunity to make a new start, unencumbered by the trappings of power. But instead, like those that came before us, the toxin of power has all too often seduced us. John Leland understood this and fought to ensure that all people of faith were free and unencumbered by state supported religion.

Leland’s friend James Madison wrote to Edward Everett toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

That is the antidote to the toxic faith embodied in the politically motivated Christian Right. It stands against any idea of a state sanction or religion or a religion that like in Saudi Arabia or Iran controls the state. It stands in opposition to the beliefs of so many “Christian” religious leaders work to ensure that they control the powers of government. Attempts that try to proclaim their superiority above even the ultimate message of the Gospel that proclaims, “for God so loved the world….” 

By the way there are always results. The Puritans who many extoll were some of the most intolerant of dissenters of any group that has every held the reins of power over the state and religion ever known in this country. Their victims included Quakers as well as American Indian converts to Christianity. The picture below of the Puritans hanging Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony should give pause to anyone who thinks that such actions are not possible today should any religion gain control of political power.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Exploding the Myth of Christian America

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever.” John Leland, Virginia Baptist and Pioneer of Religious & Civil Liberties 

leland-1

John Leland

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The whole issue of religious liberty and the right to free expression has once again come to the fore in the wake of the Obergfell v. Hodges ruling and the fairly pathetic attempt of Kim Davis and her lawyers to stop gay marriage in Rowan County Kentucky. I call the attempt pathetic because it flies in the face of the real champions of religious liberty in the United States. One of these early proponents of religious liberty and freedom in the United States was the Virginia Baptist pastor, John Leland.

Sadly, many American Christians either have never heard of him. Likewise, if they have heard of him, as the great pontificator, Mike Huckabee should have in his brief tenure as a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; they seem to have ignored his warnings about state religion. I guess that problems in his church history and Baptist history classes were a big reason that he left seminary. Ideologues like the Huckster didn’t last at Southwestern, at least until the fundamentalist takeover in 1994 that helped destroy the academic and scholarly reputation of that once fine school, but I digress….

Leland was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and without him it is unlikely that the First Amendment of the Constitution would have mentioned religious faith. Leland had a very personal interest in this as during the 1780s the Anglican Church in Virginia was attempting to again become the official state religion. Anglicans, with the help of local authorities were attacking Baptist congregations and even resorting to physical violence. In defiance of the Anglicans, Leland wrote:

“The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever. … Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”

There is a form of religion and indeed the “Christian” faith that is toxic and if not treated leads to the spiritual and sometimes the physical and emotional death of the infected person.

There is a nationalized version of this supposedly Christian faith in the Untied Stats today. It is a bastardized version of the Christian faith overlaid with the thin veneer of an equally bastardized version of American history. Its purveyors are quite popular in the world of “conservative” American Evangelicalism and Catholicism.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson and chief Nuremberg war crimes trials prosecutor warned us about people like them over a half-century ago. Jackson wrote, “[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.”

Pat Robertson, evangelist and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network is an example of what Leland and Jackson warned us about. Robertson said on his program that “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991. The late David Chilton was another. He wrote: “We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian”

It is quite fascinating when you look at it. This faith is a combination of a selective reading of American history, Christian teaching and Biblical interpretation that mixes and matches a wide variety of mutually conflicting and contradictory traditions. This Toxic “faith” if you can call it that; is based on a reading of American and Western History, which negates, marginalizes or willingly distorts the views or contributions of those who they disagree. It does not matter of their opponents are not Christians, or were Christians, including Baptists like John Leland and Roger Williams. Due to their experiences of religious persecution, Williams and Leland refused to buy into any form of state sanctioned religion.

I find it interesting that Conservative Icon and champion of limited government Barry Goldwater had great reservations about those that sought to establish the superiority of any religion. 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.”

The leaders of this new and quasi “Christian faith” are many and include some of the most popular religious leaders in the United States such as Pat Robertson, the pseudo-historian David Barton, James Robison, Gary North, Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, Gary Bauer Phyllis Schafley and a host of others. For them the Gospel has been equated with government legislation of supposedly “Christian” values; which conveniently are defined by their political agenda, often in complete contradiction to the Gospel and to nearly 2000 years of Christian experience. North, one of the most eloquent expositors of the Dominionist movement wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

That is quite a statement and those who think that they can co-opt people like North, Robertson or others are quite mistaken. Goldwater realized this. What is fascinating to me is to watch these men and women advocate religious and political positions in regard to Church-State relations that completely opposite of what early American Christian and non-Christian civil libertarians imagined when our country was founded. Positions that quite often are at odds with even the historical tenants of their own faith. Their only claim to innocence can be because not a one of them have any training in history and often are even worse when it comes to their understanding of the Christian tradition, which did not begin in and will not end in the United States.

In this confused and often hateful “faith” we see men and women who hate centralized government but extol a centralized religion. I was talking with a friend who is adamantly opposed to a powerful Federal Government but extols the perfection of the centralized bureaucracy of his Roman Catholic Faith. He could not see the contradiction. I watch others who extol an almost Libertarian understanding of the government and the Constitution who supposedly in their religious tradition are from the “Free Church” who now advocate the supremacy of the Church over the State and in doing so their particular and limited understanding of Church over that of the Church Universal.

In this confused and contradictory setting there are Catholics espousing political views that are in direct opposition to the understanding of government supported by the Magisterium of the Church. There are Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants that mix and match the untenable and contradictory beliefs of Dominionism and Millennialism which involve on one hand the takeover of earthly power by the Church and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God and the understanding that earthly power is ultimately under the dominion of Satan and must be overcome by the Second Coming of Christ.

Leland wrote:

“These establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state.”

Leland was one of the most important persons in regards to the relationship of the Christian Churches to the American Government. He was a champion of the religious liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights and helped influence both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. He noted in 1791:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.” John Leland, “Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law”

When the adherents of a faith, any faith, but especially the Christian faith enlist the government to enforce their understanding of faith they introduce a toxicity that is eventually fatal when consumed and acted on.

I think that much of what we are witnessing today is much more the product of fear mongering preachers that see opportunity in their political alliances and that are willing to reduce the Gospel to a number of “Christian values” in order to achieve a political end; even if that end is ultimately destructive to the Church and to the Gospel.

The message of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth was this: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, 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 5:18-19 NRSV) 

The early church thrived when it had no early power. It thrived when it was persecuted and when the Roman government openly supported almost every religion but it. However, once it became powerful and worldly it became ensnared in affairs far from that simple message of reconciliation.

It was in this country that the various sects of the Christian faith had the opportunity to make a new start, unencumbered by the trappings of power. But instead, like those that came before us, the toxin of power has all too often seduced us. John Leland understood this and fought to ensure that all people of faith were free and unencumbered by state supported religion. He wrote:

“The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks [Muslims], Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and established creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils.”

Leland’s friend James Madison wrote to Edward Everett toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

That is the antidote to the toxic faith embodied in the politically motivated Christian Right. It stands against any idea of a state sanction or religion or a religion that like in Saudi Arabia or Iran controls the state. It stands in opposition to the beliefs of so many “Christian” religious leaders work to ensure that they control the powers of government. Attempts that try to proclaim their superiority above even the ultimate message of the Gospel that proclaims, “for God so loved the world….” 

By the way there are always results. The Puritans who many extoll were some of the most intolerant of dissenters of any group that has every held the reigns of power over the state and religion ever known in this country. Their victims included Quakers as well as American Indian converts to Christianity. The picture below of the Puritans hanging Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony should give pause to anyone who thinks that such actions are not possible today should any religion gain control of political power.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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First They Came: Why I Defend the Gay Community

pink-triangle-armband

The Pink Triangle: The Nazi Symbol of Anti-Gay Persecution

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Those who have been reading for this site the past few days know that I have been very passionately speaking out on the behalf of Gays and Lesbians.

Thus, I am sure that there are some Christians that marvel that another Christian, and a Navy Chaplain with a strong conservative petigree to boot would defend the rights of Gays, Lesbians and others that they disapprove. However, at this point in my life I can do no other. If I do not speak up I would be culpable of the same crimes that German Christians, clergy and military officers did when they said nothing when the Jews, Gays and others were persecuted, imprisoned and murdered by the Nazi regime.

In the early 1900s the Jews of Germany were making progress, gaining entrance into government, the military and the political process. Germany in those days was a haven for Jews, especially Eastern European Jews who had to live with open persecution and pogroms sanctioned by Czarist Russia and other eastern European states. German Jews in that era were preeminent scientists, physicians and had entered the government and military. The Germany Armaments Minister Walther Rathenau who helped keep the German military in the war through his immense talents was Jewish, as was the commanding officer who recommended the young Corporal Adolf Hitler for the award of the Iron Cross First Class in 1918. However, when Germany was defeated in the First World War, Jews took much of the blame, and conservative German Christians were at the forefront well before anyone knew the name of Adolf Hitler.

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Memorial to the Gay Victims of Nazi Terror 

Of course, they were a minority, and many were Socialists and in the search for villains after the defeat and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Jews were high on the hit list, especially for conservative Christians of both the Protestant and Catholic faiths who saw their dreams die at the end of the war.

Much is the same for the LGBT community in the United States. Conservative Christians blame Gays for all the social ills and maladies that German Christians did the Jews, Socialists and yes, German homosexuals did in the 1920s. If you actually bother to read the writing of the German right wing and conservatives of that era you will find language that is startlingly similar to the language used by conservative American Christians use today against Gays, liberal Jews, progressives and yes Moslems as well. It is an amazing study if you have the integrity and interest to bother to read it instead of listening to the pundits, politicians and especially the political preachers of the American right. However, if you don’t it matters not, because after all “God hates the gays” so why shouldn’t you?

But then wasn’t that what the German Christians who allied themselves to Hitler did concerning the Jews? After all the Jews were “Christ killers.” Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and all the leading Nazis said so. But today if there is a natural disaster in the United States who is to blame? The Gays of course, and almost every conservative political preacher in America agrees. Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, James Robison, John Hagee and even soon to be repeat presidential candidate Mike Huckabee all agree that it is all the Gays fault. Just like Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and others said of the Jews in Germany. Get rid of the Gays and voila, problem solved.

Since most of these preachers, pundits and politicians believe that Gays are destined for Hell and are the enemies of God, it is only a matter of time before they not only endorse legal restrictions and persecution, but endorse genocide. If fact some have, Scott Lively and others have actually went to Africa and campaigned for “Kill the Gays” bills in Uganda. They actually promote legislation in other countries that would make it legal not just to ensure that Gays have second or third rate citizenship, but to imprison and execute them. Given the chance they would do so here.

You see, every mass movement of religious and nationalist hate needs a scapegoat. For the German right it was the Jews, for the modern American right it is the Gays. As Eric Hoffer wrote: “Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.” To the German Right in the 1920s and 1930s the Jews were the Devil, to many conservative American Christians the Gays are the Devil.

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Men Convicted of Homosexuality with the Upside Down Pink Triangle in a Concentration Camp

You see it is just a short jump from thoughts, to words to actions. Those who embrace the hatred of Gays, just as those who embraced the hatred of the Jews are just a little ways from thoughts, to words to actions. Believe me, with a Congress that now has a sizable number of people who honestly believe that the Gays are the enemy, not just of them but of God, that actions may well follow. That being said I think that the tide of history is going the other direction, but that does not mean that such people are not dangerous should they ever be in a place to enforce their religious and ideological beliefs on others.

Mahatma Gandhi wrote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”

That is why as a white, male, Christian, Navy Chaplain and priest I must speak out against such hatred and support the rights of the LGBT community. I have to speak out, as do other Christians. As Martin Niemoller, a naval hero of the First World War and conservative German pastor who initially supported Hitler noted:

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me –
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Sadly, today, most conservative American Christians don’t understand this profound political philosophy. Likewise, they, like Martin Niemoller and others throughout history, will find that some of the people that they support will turn on them once they no longer need their votes or political support.

That my friends is a fact and why anyone should beware of any religious leader or politician who turns any minority group into a Devil should be feared, because they do mean business, and their ruthlessness is only concealed by the veneer of religion and law.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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We Were Warned about American Religious Extremists

Barry Goldwater - Preachers

It is ironic that back in the late 1970s and early 1980s that most of us were blind to the motivation and goals of the religious right. I can say that back then as a politically conservative Republican and evangelical Christian while I was all for the God and country stuff I really was not impressed by either Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority or Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition.

In fact back then it was laughable to think that the leaders of the movement whose words and actions seemed almost ludicrous. But times have changed and they are now a major force in the Tea Party and Republican Party. However, back then I think I can safely say that most people did not take these men too seriously, much less the lesser knowns of the Christian Dominion or Reconstruction movements, the New Apostolic movement, or Global Apostolic Network which is now such a force in the Tea Party and the Republican Party.

Since these people practically own that party today and honestly believe that they should use it as a political means to achieve their theocratic ideal, it is important not to forget that they were not always so powerful and that most of us misjudged them and their movement in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Back in the late 1970s such people were considered a fringe movement and not taken seriously by most mainline Republicans or liberal Democrats. They were simply a conservative special interest group.

However back then and until 2010 I belonged to churches whose leaders and members took the message of such people quite seriously, and while I might have had reservations about the legitimacy of their message in therms of scripture, reason or tradition, I said nothing. Sadly, I can empathize with Martin Niemoller who countenanced the rise of Hitler only to realize his mistake too late.

But there were those who warned us about this movement. Chief among them was not a liberal or progressive, but a man who epitomized conservative orthodoxy in the Republican Party for decades, the late Senator Barry Goldwater.

Goldwater was certainly a conservative, but he was in favor of many things scorned by his successors in the GOP including a woman’s right to choose, women’s rights, gay rights, and other progressive ideas as he matured from right wing Presidential candidate to the voice of reason and moderation in the Republican Party as he ended his Senate career.

Goldwater may have had his flaws and many progressives rightly criticize his stance on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but unlike so many politicians Goldwater was able to grow in his beliefs and change as he grew older. Today Goldwater would not be welcome in the GOP or the Tea Party movement, and though an Episcopalian would be labeled as something less than a Christian by many so called conservative Christians.

Goldwater was perhaps the last true “conservative.” He was consistent and rational and had no problem taking on religious extremists in his own party, who he realized were growing in both influence and power. He said in the Senate in 1981:

“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.’ ” Barry Goldwater 
(1909-1998) US Senator (R-Arizona) Source: Congressional Record, September 16, 1981

Sadly there are no leaders, elected or appointed, in the Republican Party today or the Tea Party movement willing to confront the American Christian equivalent of the Taliban.

After he left the Senate he continued to battle people that he labeled “extremists.” Responding to claims that the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition were the “new conservatism” Goldwater said:

“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.” 

Goldwater also noted something that most of us missed back in 1981, he said in the same address:

“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?” 

Of course Goldwater was right. Most politicians, regardless of their party are tempted to court religious groups assuming that they are basically benign. Unfortunately that is not always the case. The radical leaders who I have written about the past few nights do not care about the Constitution, nor do they even care about the integrity of Scripture, the Creeds or the Councils, and to whom reason is considered an abomination, but very few people understand this, assuming that religious people are basically good. Philosopher Eric Hoffer, a contemporary of Goldwater wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Goldwater understood this and warned:

“The religious factions will go on imposing their will on others, unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy.  They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives. . .  We have succeeded for 205 years in keeping the affairs of state separate from the uncompromising idealism of religious groups and we mustn’t stop now. To retreat from that separation would violate the principles of conservatism and the values upon which the framers built this democratic republic.”

Like Goldwater I have grown in my appreciation for basic civil liberties and the rights of others. Despite the fact that I am a Christian, I cannot countenance the evil machinations of those leading the politically motivated preachers, pundits and politicians who seek to run roughshod over the intent of those who authored the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and even the Gettysburg Address. Those that follow them thinking that they are being taught ideas that are either Christian or part of the American political ideal have been deceived and hopefully will realize it before these leaders drive them and the country over the cliff of religious intolerance and ultimately oppression.

In 1994 Goldwater wrote:

“I am a conservative Republican, but I believe in democracy and the separation of church and state.  The conservative movement is founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don’t hurt anyone else in the process.”

One does not have to agree with Goldwater on all that he believed.  His economic policies were much akin to Social Darwinism and his 1964 campaign and opposition to the civil rights movement were heavily tainted by racism, so much that baseball great and civil rights pioneer, Jackie Robinson, a longstanding Republican was threatened at the GOP 1964 National Convention where Goldwater was nominated as the GOP Presidential nominee. Those things being said Goldwater did change over time on a number of important civil rights issues and was absolutely correct about the nature and purpose of the leadership of the Religious Right, they seek as Gary North, one of their most eloquent ideologues noted: “The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise…” 

I spent over 30 years of my life as a Republican before leaving the party in disgust following my return from Iraq in 2008, largely due to the influence of the political preachers that now seem to own the GOP. Pat robertson knew the opportunity the Religious Right had in the early 1990s and his words are still gospel to many religious conservatives. Robertson noted: “With the apathy that exists today, a well organized minority can influence the selection of candidates to an astonishing degree.”

Goldwater spoke of Robertson and others late in life noting: “When you say ‘radical right’ today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.”

In that respect Barry Goldwater was a prophet. Goldwater realized the danger and was not hesitant to speak up against men that he knew would destroy the fabric of the country. Since Goldwater is dead, I will say it. These people are dangerous, extremely un-Christian and downright un-American in their approach to government. Their Orwellian doublespeak about “their” religious rights is a facade that they want to use to enforce their own brand of religious intolerance is well documented. 

Well that is all for tonight and until people wake up you can kiss it goodbye.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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