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“We do not Foolishly Suppose that Victory on the Battlefield will Gaurentee Democracy at Home: Rabbi Roland Gittlesohn’s Sermon at the Dedication of the Cemetery on Iwo Jima

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Rabbi Roland Gittelson, Chaplain Corps U.S. Navy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been serving in the military for almost 38 years between the Army and the Navy, and I have been a chaplain for almost 27 of those years. Over six of those years as a Navy Chaplain were spent serving with the Marine Corps. During that time I have gotten to know, respect, and become with Jewish Rabbis serving in the Chaplan Corps. There are not many of them currently serving, and like so much of American religion, they are divided into different denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. Like all current military personnel they are volunteers. The Rabbis I have served with are primarily Reformed or Conservative, and all have done what they could to care for the spiritual needs of all who come to them. They serve in the highest tradition of the Chaplain Corps, and fight for and preserve the religious freedoms of  all personnel.

Like them, Rabbi Roland Gittelson volunteered to serve as a Navy Chaplain in the Second World War and like many Navy Chaplains he was assigned to serve with the Marines. He was the first Rabbi to serve with the Marines.

He went ashore with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima. The battle was one of the most brutal ever fought by the Marines. In the month long battle for the 8.1 square mile island the Marines and Navy suffered nearly 7,000 men killed and 19,000 wounded. Over 18,000 of the island’s Japanese defenders died. On March 21st 1945 the Rabbi was one of the Chaplains to dedicate the cemetery for the fallen. The prejudice was such that many of his Christian colleagues wanted nothing to do with him and nothing to do with any service that he conducted. Though the division Chaplain had wanted him to conduct the main service to commemorate all of the fallen: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, White, Black, and Mexican because no one else would conduct an ecumenical service, but both realized that the push back would be too much, so Gittelsohn conducted the Jewish service, expecting little to come of it except for the spiritual impact that it might have on his Jewish Marines, but unbeknownst to him a few Protestant Chaplains watched the service and then distributed it throughout the division and back to home.

Rabbi Gittelsohn’s message is one of the most remarkable that I have heard or read by any Chaplain and is very similar to the message of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is a message that needs to be heard today. That is why I am posting it here.

Have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

This is perhaps the grimmest and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-day. Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends. Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us. Men who were on the same ships with us and went over the sides with us, as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island. Men who fought with us and feared with us. Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the man who could have discovered the cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet—to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory.

It is not easy to do so. Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes. Any one of us might have died in their places. Indeed, some of us are alive and breathing at this very moment only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours. To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy. Of them, too, can it be said with utter truth: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. It can never forget what they did here.”

No, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men and the other dead of our division who are not here have already done. All that we can even hope to do is follow their example. To show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war. To swear that, by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of human will, their sons and ours shall never suffer these pains again. These men have done their job well. They have paid the ghastly price of freedom. If that freedom be once again lost, as it was after the last war, the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs. So it is the living who are here to be dedicated and consecrated.

We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in war. Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors, generations ago, helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor—together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.

Any man among us the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, them, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

To one thing more do we consecrate ourselves in memory of those who sleep beneath these crosses and stars. We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home. This war, with all its frightful heartache and suffering, is but the beginning of our generation’s struggle for democracy. When the last battle has been won, there will be those at home, as there were last time, who will want us to turn our backs in selfish isolation on the rest of organized humanity, and thus to sabotage the very peace for which we fight. We promise you who lie here; we will not do that! We will join hands with Britain, China, Russia—in peace, even as we have in war, to build the kind of world for which you died.

When the last shot has been fired, there will still be those whose eyes are turned backward not forward, who will be satisfied with those wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed. We promise you, our departed comrades: this, too, we will not permit. This war has been fought by the common man; its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man! We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons, the sons of miners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers, will inherit from your death the right to a living that is decent and secure.

When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to whom profit is more important than peace, who will insist with the voice of sweet reasonableness and appeasement that it is better to trade with the enemies of mankind than, by crushing them, to lose their profit. To you who sleep here silently, we give our promise: we will not listen! We will not forget that some of you were burnt with oil that came from American wells, that many of you were killed by shells fashioned from American steel. We promise that when once again men seek profit at your expense, we shall remember how you looked when we placed you reverently, lovingly, in the ground.

This do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: this shall not be in vain! Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come—we promise—the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Amen.

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Filed under faith, History, Military, Religion, US Marine Corps, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

Conservative Christians and Torture: Wedded at the Hip

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Friends, of Padre Steve’s World

It looks like it is time to piss off the Christian faithful again…, so here it goes…

Have a great night

Peace

Padre Steve+

“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.” Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Last week the Senate released its report on the American use of torture.

It was a glaring indictment of the policies of the Bush administration which had for all practical intents had legitimized the use of torture, which Americans and our allies had long considered to be war crimes .

I had pretty much avoided commentary until I was asked by a fellow priest in my old denomination to link a post about war crimes to a thread that he had started which had brought a lot of comments. One of the commentators, a bishop of my former church from Africa made a comment that the “end of repentance justified the means.” I objected and claimed that such was the justification of every Christian from the Inquisition to the Puritans and beyond for the commissions of crimes against fellow believers. He most graciously understood what I was saying, but sadly all too many Christians in the country are willing to throw the actual love of God in Jesus to the wind to support criminal activities and crimes against humanity that defy the imagination.

Associate Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson who was the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg noted:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Sadly, it seems that all too often that Conservative Christians, especially American Evangelicals and Catholics are decidedly in favor of torture and other actions that the United States has prosecuted others as war criminals for doing are now in vogue. The latest Pew Survey confirms these. Most Evangelicals and Conservative Catholics are okay with torture, in fact by overwhelming margins it seems that Christian conservatives are on board with criminal activity that our ancestors condemned and prosecuted the Germans and Japanese for doing and condemned the Chinese Communists and North Vietnamese captors of U.S. military personnel for using on U.S. military personnel.

Does it matter that previous generations of Americans considered such activate to be war crimes?

No.

Does it matter that previous generations of Americans tried as war criminals those who waged wars of aggression and committed war crimes on others?

No.

Sadly, besides the soulless former Vice President Dick Cheney and the American version of the infamous Nazi propaganda paper Der Sturmer aka Fox News, the strongest supporters of torture, war crimes and unjust, illegal and immoral wars are Conservative Christians. Sadly, if we applied the standards of the Nuremberg tribunals to former President Bush, Vice President Cheney and a host of their advisors and aides most of them would have ended up on the gallows of Nuremberg.

Earlier in the year, former Republican Vice Presidential Candidate, former half-term Governor of Alaska and failed reality TV star, and more damning, Evangelical Christian icon  and darling, Sarah Palin told the NRA national convention that “waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” In saying that, Palin equated one of the holiest and sacred of Christian sacraments with a war crime, and sadly few Christian pundits, preachers or politicians condemned her for it. Sadly they applauded her for it and in the process exposed themselves for the anti-Christs that they are in their heart of hearts.

But why should we be surprised? For over a millennia Christians and Christian leaders have advocated similar and horrible ideas.

Torture has been a preferred technique for Christians for over a millennia. In the days before the Great Schism of 1054 Christians persecuted and tortured as heretics those who did not agree with their theological definition of the Trinity or other theological questions. The fact is that if you did not agree with the “orthodox” position you were not just a heretic but a criminal against the state.

After the split of 1054 Christians in the East and the West used to power of the church and state to persecute, prosecute, torture and execute those who did not agree with their position.

After the Protestant Reformation things did not change. Lutherans and Catholics banded together in Germany to crush the Peasant’s revolt. John Calvin used the power of the sate to prosecute any deviation from his understanding. Ulrich Zwingli, drowned his former students in the Rhine River to make a point after they were “re-bapitized” in believers baptism. The Church of England persecuted Catholics, Separatists, Puritans and Baptists. In the new world the Puritans did the same to Baptists, Quakers and other dissenters. Later American Christians justified the extermination of native-Americans and the institution of slavery, of course using their interpretation of the Bible.

Torture? Wrong? Un-Christian? Of course not. Of course to all of these people it is justified. It is a part of all of them and almost always buttressed by a theology that said that anything was fair if it resulted in repentance. The most evil and un-Christian means ware justified for a theological and political end, the kind of end that would make it perfectly logical to kill Jesus to achieve.

Sadly most of today’s American Christians don’t even do that. They are just okay with torture because they have abandoned any semblance of empathy, care or love or for that matter any . It is no longer about Jesus. It is about unfettered political power buttressed by the blessing of the church. Gary Bauer, a long time political leads in the Christian right noted:

“We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.”

Sadly it no longer matters for many Christians what is right or what is wrong when it comes to torture and war crimes.It does not matter that the justification which was used against their theological and ecclesiastical ancestors; especially torture is something that they now bless. It does not matter that wars that are condemned by historical Christian understanding of the Just War Theory, and which most recently were condemned by Pope John Paul II are vehemently defended by conservative American Christians. It does not matter that Christians support torture, murder and repression of people that they disagree with because by doing so they are “bringing people to repentance.” 

Sadly that was the excuse of the Inquisitors and every other supposed Christian who killed others, even those who were also Christians in the name of Christ.

The sad truth is that for Christians to bless, promote and make a mockery of their faith by supporting such actions is unconscionable. If to such “Christians” that say this means that I am not a Christian than I would rather not be; I would rather follow Jesus than them; be they Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, the hacks of the American Family Association, Christian Dominionists, or any other allegedly “Christian” group party or individual. If they are right about the character of God I would rather be damned to Hell than agree with them.

But I do not believe the they are and I will fight them until I die. I no longer care what they call me, or even if they physically threaten me, as some have.

I have a higher duty to God, the same kind of higher duty that William Lloyd Garrison and William Seward, Christian abolitionists, inflamed “Bible believing Christians” in the South and the North when they condemned the “Christian” defense of slavery in the ante-bellum United States.

War crimes are war crimes no matter who commits them. The fact that a sizable number of Conservative American Evangelical and Catholic Christians not only condone but approve of the practices demonstrate, at least to me, that the faith that they claim t defend is a sham. Their actions show that they approve of such activities because of their political beliefs with which they buttress and baptize with selective Bible quotes. Such cannot be equated with faith in Jesus, however it can be equated with the defense of Christendom.

The two are not the same, despite what the most ardent defenders claim, but for the most part conservative American Christians and their theological ancestors are wedded at the hip. Torture, the use of unjust wars to achieve political ends and the subjugation of peoples, races and those even within their faith who are demeaned to be heretics. The list of such deeds done in the name of Christ and Christendom is mind boggling and sickening, but still Christians not only defend them but claim biblical justification to do so.

What Sarah Palin and so many other “Christians” support and endorse is nothing more than the evil perpetuated by every totalitarian regime that has ever existed.

For those that support her, Dick Cheney and those like them, be warned; like the non-Nazi German conservatives who initially supported Hitler but later had second thoughts you too could considered a terrorist using the methods that Palin advocates against others today. You get what you vote for…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian and a martyr under the Nazis wrote:

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.”

A man that I know, a member of my former denomination and leader in the anti-abortion movement named Randall Terry said: “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” 

Yes, it is not the love of God which motivates many conservative Christians today, it is hate, hate in the name of righteousness.

As Martin Niemoller said after the fall of the Third Reich:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Of cours by saying this I will be condemned as something less than a Christian and American by those who are willing to bless all types of war crimes to defend. Sadly such Christians just don’t get it, and help forge a link in a chain of torture, injustice and inhumanity that will ultimately swallow them. Sadly most of them, convinced by the all consuming hatred of their political patrons will adjust their theology in order to enhance their position.

In the words of Captain Jean Luc Picard:

“With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

When I read and watch the comments of so called “Conservative Christians” and their allies today I am convinced that should they ever gain the control of the franchise as they claim to want, that they will ensure the death of our republic.

If the United States is destroyed it will not be the fault of external forces. Nor will it be the fault of non-Christians, or “unbelievers.” It will be the fault of those who claim God’s mantle using the name of Jesus for their own political power and control and in the process invite the worst forms of violence and depredation against their fellow citizens.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Letter to a New Military Chaplain Part Three: The Minefields of the Soul: Power and Arrogance

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This is third part of a response to a question I had from a new Navy Chaplain. I have decided to post it here without any identification of the chaplain because I know that many men and women who are new to the military chaplaincy or who are exploring the possibilities of becoming a chaplain have the same questions. I was fortunate to have had a number of chaplains who at various points in my decision process and formation as a minister, Priest and Chaplain in both the Army and the Navy help me with many of these questions. Likewise I learned far too much the hard way and blew myself up on some of the “land mines” that almost all who serve as chaplains experience in their careers. This is the third of several parts to the letter and is my attempt to systematically explain my understanding of what it is to be a Chaplain serving in the military and in particularly the Navy. The first two parts are linked here:

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part Two The Minefields of the Heart 

Dear Chaplain

The late great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

The first two parts of this letter dealt with aspects of the chaplain ministry that were very much philosophical and theological in their emphasis. This part is more direct and will deal with things that are more associated with behaviors, mostly bad behaviors. I call them minefields of the soul because they are common to all human beings. They are dark parts of the soul that lurk within us that none of us like to admit exist.

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Sometimes they are merely weaknesses, but sometimes they are pathological or in some cases sociopathic. There is no restriction on such maladies of the soul, ministers are just as prone, if not more prone to them than others. It goes with the territory. One only has to look at the Christian and Jewish scriptures as well as the history of religious leaders of all religions throughout history to see this fact. Religious leaders, especially ones whose ministry involves some form of temporal power, be it in the religious structures of their religion, behinds the scenes in secular government and the political process or those whose ministries are in the secular arena of the chaplaincy often find themselves compromised by behaviors that others might not even consider that loathsome.

As I talked about in the first two parts of this letter, all of these behaviors are linked to who we are as human beings, as ministers and have a lot to do with our theological, ministerial and pastoral formation. They also have a lot to do with our upbringing, our cultures, family backgrounds and the family systems that were formative in our upbringing as well as the prejudices that we hold deep in our hearts.

CMH Chaplain O'Callahan

This part of the letter focuses on things that are more observable to most people, especially those who see us in action. When I was leaving active duty as an Army Captain back in 1988 to attend seminary, an Army Chaplain Major Wayne Lura took the time to pull me aside and preach to me a warning sermon about the minefields that existed in the chaplain ministry. It was a warning that I took to heart.

Likewise my Executive Officer at the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences Colonel James Wigger gave me this warning: “Steve, you think that the Army Medical Department is political and backstabbing. Let me tell you, we can’t hold a candle to the brutality of Chaplain Corps.” Unfortunately he was right. In my 21 years as an Army and Navy Chaplain I have seen this often up close and personal. I have had senior Line Officers and officers from other Staff Corps of the Navy talk about how bad of reputation many senior Chaplains have, especially in promotion boards.

The warnings of Chaplain Lura and Colonel Wigger hit me hard as a young officer, especially in the ideals that I held out about the Chaplain Corps. I took their warnings to heart but did not want to believe that they could be true. The sad fact was that they were all too true, Chaplains like all ministers and people often have feet of clay and at times hearts of stone.

Even so I had to find out the hard way about how destructive the “minefields of the soul” were in the lives of my fellow chaplains and and the Chaplain Corps of the Army and Navy.

I will first address the issues of power and arrogance. These issues plague institutional ministry and those minister within institutions. I think a part of this is that many who wind up in Chaplain ministry because of their lack of pastoral formation readily grasp at the apple of power, like the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that fruit is a powerful elixir. Yet even those that have a more thorough formal pastoral formation can fall prey to the lust of power.

Power is a great temptation and a minefield. The military chaplaincy is unique in ministry in that chaplains also hold commissions as officers in whatever military branch we serve. As I mentioned in my first article we have to be fully clergy of our own faith tradition and at the same time fully a commissioned officer if we are to succeed in the military chaplain ministry.

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Unfortunately there are some that embrace the fullness of the commission and leave behind their ministerial identity, and even more unfortunately when they do they do this they are neither aware of it, nor very good at it. They forget with the exception of a couple of billets or positions, one being the Commanding Officer of the Navy Chaplain School that all the rest of us are staff officers. We are officers but we have no command authority. That does not mean that we cannot supervise chaplains, chaplain assistants or religious program specialists and civilian or contract staff. But when we do so we function under the authority of our commanding officer. I have seen some in both the Army and Navy who have forgotten this and have become tyrants and used the power that they have to destroy the lives and careers of those that they do not like, or have somehow offended them. They are toxic and if they were serving in a denominational structure they would be the ones abusing that power as well.

The temptation of power is great, but just is dangerous is the temptation of arrogance. A Kenyan prayer says: From the cowardice that dare not face new truth, From the laziness that is contented with half truth, From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, Good Lord, deliver us.

Arrogance usually shows up in the Chaplain ministry in the way we advertise our selves and our beliefs. Arrogance comes in the form of deciding that whatever truth we proclaim trumps the rights of others to their beliefs. One of the chief complaints of people about chaplains is that some of us, perhaps even many of us are more intent on promoting our agendas, religious, social and even political than we are actually listening to and caring for the people whose religious rights that we are constitutionally mandated to protect. Yes, even those people that we do not agree with on doctrine or anything else. Our mission is to provide or perform ministry and care for the people we have been given to serve. That is a sacred trust. If there is something that we cannot do for someone by virtue of what our church or personal beliefs mandate we don’t have to do it, but we do have the legal and moral obligation to help them find someone who can.

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Our Navy Chaplain Corps motto of “Cooperation without Compromise” should be the bedrock of how we minister and how we respect the rights of others, both other chaplains and those that we serve. Sadly, there are horror stories about how some chaplains of various traditions, liberal and conservative, Christian, Jewish and Moslem have run roughshod over the rights of others. I have seen it first hand and there is no excuse for it. But that being said none of us can allow our own arrogance to dictate how we treat others nor can we allow the mistreatment we may have experienced from other Chaplains to justify doing the same to others.

The Navy policy is quite clear and when we apply for a commission we agree to do this, and in fact all of our religious bodies have agreed that their chaplains will do the same. SECNAV INSTRUCTION 1730.7D is quite clear on this. Like the Prime Directive in Star Trek it is non-negotiable.

(1) Chaplains are qualified Religious Ministry Professionals’ (RMPs) endorsed by a DoD-listed RO and commissioned as Naval officers in the CHC.

(2) Per reference (d), as a condition of appointment, every RMP must be willing to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment of the military, with tolerance for diverse religious traditions and respect for the rights of individuals to determine their own religious convictions. Chaplains must be willing to support the free exercise of religion by all Service members, their families, and other authorized persons. Chaplains are trained and expected to cooperate with other chaplains and RMPs and work within the specialized environment of the military while not compromising the tenets of their own religious traditions. 

(3) To meet the requirements of religious accommodation, morale and welfare, and to facilitate the understanding of the complexities of religion with regard to its personnel and mission, the DON has designated four core CHC capabilities: care, facilitate, provide, and advise. Chaplains care for all Service members, including those who claim no religious faith, facilitate the religious requirements of personnel of all faiths, provide faith-specific ministries, and advise the command. 

In my next installment I will discuss what I call “The Minefields of the Flesh” also known as Sex Alcohol and Money.

Until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights

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

“We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian” David Chilton (leader in Christian Reconstructionist and Dominionist Theology)

We love to talk about religious liberty in the United States, especially we who are of the Christian faith.  In fact religious liberty is deeply entwined in the story of the United States of America.  We love to call attention to those brave souls that came to North American search of religious liberty to the point that sometimes we fail to realize that we  have moved from history to myth.  The story of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is heralded by many conservative Christians as a triumph of religious liberty as English Separatist dissenters established that colony in the New World.  The story of the religious liberty of that colony is enshrined in the myth of American history presented by David Barton of Wall Builders and others that embrace the political, theological and historical ideas of R. J. Rushdooney who is the originator of Christian Reconstructionism or Dominionism.

I was introduced to this theology while attending college and attending a church of the Presbyterian Church in Americain denomination in theLos Angeles area.  We had a speaker come to the church who presented a series on “America’s Christian History.” It was a very Dominionist centered presentation and I remember buying a number of the books that the man was selling many of which are found in current Home School resources available on the internet.  It did not take long for me to see that what was being promoted bore little resemblance to historic fact. Now I find it hard to believe that what I was introduced to then is so influential today.

Unfortunately the myth of how the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and others like them does not address the fact that for these people religious liberty that mattered was their religious liberty.  Dissenters in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were persecuted with some being tried as heretics and burned at the stake.  The colony was a theocracy which is by many on the Christian Right being held up as a model of government.  The late Dr. D. James Kennedy an early popular exponent of Dominionist theology stated:

“Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost, as the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors — in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.”

Gary North a leader in the Christian Reconstructionist movement and son-in-law of R. J. Rushdooney noted:

“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.” Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 87.

An increasing number of conservative Christians seem to like religious freedom so long as it is theirs and some like David Barton will willingly falsify the historical accounts to bolster their position. Barton once quoted William Penn as saying “Whatever is Christian is legal; whatever is not is illegal” claiming that it was in the 1681 Pennsylvania Constitution or “Frame.” However the phrase is not in the document which is one of the most progressive civil documents of its era and goes out of its way to promote religious freedom and tolerance. Penn who was a member of the heavily persecuted Quaker denomination understood how deeply persecution and intolerance was ingrained in the Christian church, Protestant and Catholic.  The 1701 Charter of Privileges noted:

“no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge One almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World; and profess him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their conscientious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.”

Penn’s Declaration of Rights stated:

“All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishment or modes of worship.”

Yet the modern leaders of the Christian Right seem ready to in their writings and public statements are willing to embrace theocracy over freedom a position much more like the Iranian Mullah’s than our nation’s founders. The clash was highlighted for me today when Herman Cain a Republican Presidential Candidate, Christian minister and former CEO of Godfather Pizza claimed that it was the right of communities to deny Moslems the opportunity to build mosques I their community.  While being interviewed on Fox News Sunday Cain said:

“Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state, Islam combines church and state. They’re using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it.” Herman Cain

I don’t deny that in heavily Moslem countries that Islam and government are linked, but the same is true with those that promote Dominionist theology.  Their models of government are much like Islam, rather than Sharia law imposed by radical Islamists the imposed law is “Biblical law” or Biblical justice.  Take Greg Bahnsen:

“The New Testament teaches us that–unless exceptions are revealed elsewhere–every Old Testament commandment is binding, even as the standard of justice for all magistrates (Rom. 13:1-4), including every recompense stipulated for civil offenses in the law of Moses (Heb 2:2). From the New Testament alone we learn that we must take as our operating presumption that any Old Testament penal requirement is binding today on all civil magistrates. The presumption can surely be modified by definite, revealed teaching in the Scripture, but in the absence of such qualifications or changes, any Old Testament penal sanction we have in mind would be morally obligatory for civil rulers.”  Greg Bahnsen, No Other Standard (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), p. 68.

Gary North echo’s Bahnsen when he wrote:

“The principle of interpretation which is supposed to govern Christian orthodoxy is that Christ came to establish, confirm, and declare the Old Testament law (Matt. 5:17-18). Only if we find an explicit abandonment of an Old Testament law in the New Testament, because of the historic fulfillment of the Old Testament shadow, can we legitimately abandon a detail of the Mosaic law.

The proper exegetical principle is this: Mosaic law is still to be enforced, by the church or the State or both, unless there is a specific injunction to the contrary in the New Testament.”  Gary North, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), pp. 242, 255.

Personally I cannot find a difference in those that advocate Sharia and those that advocate for the imposition of their understanding and interpretation of “Biblical law.” The scriptures that they use may be different but the message is the same, religious law stands above civil law.  As far as teachings of Jesus that conflict with the militaristic dominion advocated by North, Rushdooney and others they are reinterpreted in ways never put forth by orthodox Christians of any kind. North wrote concerning Jesus telling his disciples to turn the other cheek:

“Nevertheless, this one fact should be apparent: turning the other cheek is a bribe. It is a valid form of action for only so long as the Christian is impotent politically or militarily. By turning the other cheek, the Christian provides the evil coercer with more peace and less temporal danger than he deserves. By any economic definition, such an act involves a gift: it is an extra bonus to the coercing individual that is given only in respect of his power. Remove his power, and he deserves punishment: an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Remove his power, and the battered Christian should either bust him in the chops or haul him before the magistrate, and possibly both.” Gary North, “In Defense of Biblical Bribery,” in R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), p. 846.

As far as any tolerance for any other religions or those at variance with the intensely hyper-Calvinist theology of the Dominionists there is none, not even for the Jews.  Chilton makes this case in the most severe of terms.

“The god of Judaism is the devil. The Jew will not be recognized by God as one of His chosen people until he abandons his demonic religion and returns to the faith of his fathers–the faith which embraces Jesus Christ and His Gospel.” David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1984), p. 127.

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association claims:

Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy. While there certainly ought to be a presumption of religious liberty for non-Christian religious traditions in America, the Founders were not writing a suicide pact when they wrote the First Amendment.”(Blog post of23 March 2011)

Pat Roberston extends such to fellow Christians:

“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

So the cry of Herman Cain that Islam is somehow unique in attempting to infuse religion into government is a fabrication because many Christians, especially he and his allies do the same thing.  This attempt to radically reinterpret American History and the Constitution as assuming that the founders of the country desired to found a theocracy is patently deceitful and being used to stir up otherwise wonderful Christians into embracing something that is neither American or Christian.

When I see Texas Governor Rick Perry organizing a “Prayer Rally” called “The Response” which is exclusively Christian and sponsored by a large number of ministers and ministries that embrace Dominionist theology, some in ways even more radical than I have mentioned here I get worried.  I don’t have any problem with Christians deciding to get together to pray for the country but when I see a likely Presidential candidate sponsoring such an event I have to ask myself if the event is simply a religious gathering or a partisan political rally cloaked with a veneer of Christianity.  Honestly I have to think that it is the latter.

Roger Williams the founder of the Rhode Island Colony was driven from the Massachusetts Bay Colony after being convicted of sedition and heresy. Williams had dared to criticize the treatment of the Indians, refused to sign a loyalty oath and was convicted of spreading “diverse, new, and dangerous opinions.” Williams later said:

“Enforced uniformity confounds civil and religious liberty and denies the principles of Christianity and civility. No man shall be required to worship or maintain a worship against his will.”

In the early days of this country a number of the former colonies retained their respective State religion.  In Virginia Anglicans fought to maintain their status as the state religion and persecuted other groups, especially Baptists.  The Constitution had said nothing about the Christian faith in fact Article VI specifically stated that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights guaranteed that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….

The Dunking of Baptist Pastors David Barrow and Edward Mintz in the Nansemond River by Virginia Anglicans 

While some have advanced that this was to keep the State from meddling in the business of religion it was actually brought about by the complaints of Virginia Baptists who were being persecuted by Anglicans. Madison and Jefferson both understood this andMadisonexpressly noted the danger of establishing the Christian faith as a State religion.

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

John Leland a leader of the Virginia Baptists attacked the foundation of what the current advocates of Dominionism in the Christian Right teach.  Leland cannot be accused of not being a Christian; he was an evangelical Christian in his day. He was not a Deist as were many of the founders of the country who Barton claims were evangelical Christians, he certainly was a believer in Christ and he understood the danger of this based on the history of persecution of Baptists in England, the New World and their cousins on the European continent, the Mennonites and Anabaptists by state mandated Churches. 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.”

To me it seems that the current push by the Dominionists that now lead the Christian Right is based on the fear that they cannot win the hearts of people by their witness as did the early church. Instead they must rely on the power of the government.  Those that oppose them are the enemy or aligned with the Devil himself.

If Cain wants to allow communities to ban Mosques then he should also allow those more secular communities to deny the same to Christian churches.  But wait…that’s Christian persecution.  Maybe Catholic neighborhoods can ban Protestants and Evangelical communities can ban Catholics or mainline Protestants. Rich Episcopalians then could ban those unsophisticated Pentecostals and Baptists from their neighborhoods.

Yes the sword cuts both ways. When any religious group turns to the government to advance its agenda and force its point of view on others it not only tramples their rights as Americans but also places their rights in danger.  I think that is why Madison  wrote 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).

Madison’s words are well worth considering now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, laws and legislation, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

The Unchristian Christianity of Modern America

I cannot and will not recant

We live in an era where religion and politics especially in conservative circles have become one just as they were in the days following Constantine’s granting of religious freedom to all in the Empire while making the Catholic Church the State religion which went from a persecuted Church to an Imperial Church overnight. The Church in the coming centuries became an arm of the State something that until the enlightenment it remained in many nations. Most of the English Colonies that became the United States had State Religions even after the Bill of Rights the last to disestablish its state religion being the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1833.  Most European State Churches remained until the fall of the Empires after the First World War but many countries in Europe still have State Churches which are not very vibrant now days.

The curious thing is that until the 18th and 19th Centuries the powers of State Churches were great and heavily benefited greatly through their allegiance to the State.  To disobey the Church was to disobey the State and to disobey the State was often tantamount to disobeying God since the State and the rulers thereof were not simply ordained by God but in fact God’s instruments. Unfortunately this led to many abuses of power by those in the Church as well as the State and thankfully we in the United States were able to for the most part break with that tradition which was and is repugnant to the Gospel as well as human freedom.

In fact the United States has been the foremost proponent of religious freedom and tolerance of any nation in history. It was something that we enshrined, the right of all people to worship according to their faith. Now we haven’t been perfect practitioners of our ideal as there have been plenty of religious based prejudice and persecution in this country dating to colonial times, especially of religions outside the mainstream of Protestant Christianity, it took nearly 150 years for Catholics to become part of mainstream America and longer for others especially religions outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Despite those instances our experiment of religious liberty has been an amazing success in which many denominations have prospered.

All that being said I fear we are entering a stage where authoritarian religious groups closely allied with the rich and the powerful are on the ascendant in the United States just as radicals in other religions, particularly Islam but not limited to Islam are on the rise. Frankly I expect that people who are either living in a culture that still believes that the world is like it was back in the 13th Century and those that have become fantastically rich and enamored with the technology of the West to be that way. Let us face facts most of the counties in the Middle East lack the centuries of related social, political, philosophic or religious development that is part of Western culture and we still screw things up. The Islamic World has not experienced anything like the Renaissance, Reformation or Enlightenment. There is a chance that it might amid the pro-democracy and freedom protests that are occurring throughout the Middle East even as radical Islamists dream of a new Caliphate, something that seems to be anathema to many of the young protestors in Egypt and other Arab Nations.

In the United States the movement to religious authoritarian systems closely allied with politicians and the State to do their bidding comes from conservative circles, particularly conservative and fundamental Evangelical Christian churches and the Roman Catholic Church which since the reforms of Vatican Two has retreated into its old Ultramontanistic self.

That being said I figure I should go ahead and continue to dig my grave with my conservative brethren who view anyone to the left of them as a wild eyed raving liberal and quite possibly a Socialist.  I am a moderate and I might be classed as a liberal conservative or conservative liberal.  Thus I and people like me stand in the uncomfortable middle of a deeply polarized society where most to our left or right despise us for actually deviating from the established dogmas of the left or the right.

To the extreme right I might be a raving liberal, and the far left an intolerant conservative but the I choose to live in the tension between the two, although I think that in today’s Tea Party charged environment I would be called a liberal.  But I am a moderate and I will not give up the middle ground simply because others have adopted a scorched earth policy in faith and politics where “if you ain’t for us you’re against us” is the norm. In fact I think that Jesus stood against that kind of thought process, if you don’t believe me look at Mark 9:38-40 where Jesus says something different when the disciples confront him about others casting out demons in his name “he who is not against us is for us.”

As a passionate moderate who is also a Priest and Christian my goal in life is to get along, find common ground among disparate groups and care for God’s people.  I do this by acknowledging and maintaining the tensions that are inherent in a pluralistic society and not simply going along what whatever is popular or expedient. This takes a lot of effort and does not exclude being prophetic.  However that prophetic role comes in relationship with others where there is mutual respect, civility and care for each other even when we do not agree. It does not come from being angry or acting disrespectfully just because I can.  The prophetic role does not come from the outside looking in railing at your opponents.  That only increases your isolation, eventually to the point that you are no longer a player in the debate, simply an annoying pest with absolutely no say in anything.  It takes more courage to be open and dialogue with people respectfully than it does to rail against them.  Anyone can be a critic and anyone can be a wrecking ball.  That’s easy.  There is little personal risk in doing so, because you don’t have to open you self up to the possibility that there may be some merit in your opponent’s view and once you have a relationship with someone it is hard to demonize or dehumanize them.  Unfortunately that is what is happening across the religious and political divide in our society.

Despite the rancor on the extremes I think that there are more people out there like me than not. My belief is that voices like ours are drowned out by drumbeat of competing demagogues on the far right and the far left.  Since I am a priest my focus will be on the dangers that I see in the current climate and the captivity that churches have unwittingly placed themselves in making political alliances.  These alliances, particularly those of conservative Christians have become so incestuous and so intertwined that they are seen as one with supposed political conservatives. As such these churches and Christian leaders have become the religious voice of political movements fighting a cultural war in which only one side can win and in which there is no room for compromise or dialogue.

In doing so these religious leaders have compromised themselves so that only their followers give any credence to what they are saying.  They are so to speak “preaching to the choir” and not reaching out to or even caring about the welfare of their opponents, they are in a sense like the Taliban. They frequently demonize their opponents or for that matter anyone, even other Christians that might disagree with their understanding of the Christian faith.

That is why I say that many have become like the Taliban. If you do not agree with them on their social-religious agenda you are a heretic regardless of how orthodox you are in your actual theology.  Theology and belief is no longer the test, the test is if you agree with a social-political-religious agenda which often is at odds with the Christian faith proclaimed by Jesus.  This is like the Taliban because the goal is to gain control of the government and use the government to impose a social-religious theocracy where the church uses the “police power of the government” to achieve its goals.  Such a message is anathema to the Gospel and its redemptive message that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting men’s sins against them.” What many churches and Christian leaders have done is to for practical purposes discard any real attempts to engage people with the message of the Gospel in favor of using political power to coerce non-believers into compliance through the police power of the government.  This in stark opposition to the early Church which was martyred for their faith in Christ versus their opposition to government policy or social ills, of which there were plenty that they could have protested.

Early in his “Reforming” days the young Martin Luther wrote a book entitled “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church.” It was a severe critique of abuses in the Roman Catholic Church of his era.  I think churches today have become captive to various political parties, social and economic theories, movements and ideas.  These are not necessarily Christian even though any churches have “baptized” them so to speak.  Capitalism for instance is has many benefits, however unbridled capitalism which is not moderated with true concern for the least, the lost and the lonely, is nothing more that economic social Darwinism.  It is the survival of the fittest with little concern or regard for real people.  People in the world of baptized unbridled capitalism are not people, but consumers and economic units.  In the United States we can see this in practical terms where historically US corporations which at one time employed millions of Americans and produced actual good that were in turn exported to the world have outsourced so many jobs and industries to other nations.

This was done in order to increase corporate profits by paying foreign workers almost nothing and not having to abide by US environmental laws or tax codes.  This may bring cheaper goods in the marketplace but it has endangered our economic and even strategic military security. Economic power is one of the key elements of national security.  In the military we call this the DIME:  Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic power and unless your economy can keep up you will fail.  Just ask the Soviet Union.  It is interesting to see many Christian leaders and churches talk of capitalism as if came down from heaven even using the Bible to try to bolster their argument.  This is just one of many areas where the church is not longer a prophetic voice, but a willing captive mouthpiece for political and economic institutions which at their heart could care less about the Christian faith and wouldn’t mind it going away.

On the left many churches have embraced social reform, the civil rights movement, women’s liberation as well as left leaning and even socialistic economic models and a demonstrated preference for the Democratic Party.  While none of these goals of themselves are anti-Christian the linkage to the causes often over the Gospel has hurt progressive Christianity.

On the right conservative churches beginning in the 1970s in reaction to the social revolutions of the 1960s moved lock, stock and barrel to the Republican Party. They were led by men such as Jerry Falwell who founded the Moral Majority in 1979, Pat Robertson who founded the Christian Coalition and Dr D. James Kennedy who founded the now defunct “Center for Reclaiming America for Christ.”  Ronald Reagan was the political spokesman and was an outspoken advocate of the role of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Conservative religious leaders solidified that relationship in the 1990s during the presidency of Bill Clinton, whose sexual proclivities did nothing to help his cause with Christians despite him signing the Defense of Marriage Act.  The 1994 “Republican Revolution” and “Contract for America” helped solidify Christian conservatives as a central component of the Republican Party and by that point there was a clear alliance between Christian conservatives and the Republican Party.  It was also during this time that politically conservative talk radio became a force in American politics and many on the Christian Right gravitated to broadcasters such as Rush Limbaugh and later Sean Hannity.  Conservative Christians now stand at the center of the Tea Party movement and are a force that no Republican politician can ignore if he or she wants to keep their job.

Despite what I have said I am not saying that people’s faith should not play an important part of their political viewpoint.  Churches and influential pastors have been an important part of American life and has contributed to many advances in our society including the civil rights movement, which could not have succeeded without the efforts of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and many other clergymen and women, from across the denominational and racial spectrum.

Other examples of where churches spoke to societal wrongs included slavery and child labor.  Now this was not a unified front as many churches especially regarding slavery and civil rights opposed these measures.  This included the major denominations that split into northern and southern factions over the issue of slavery prior to the Civil War.  The Southern Baptist Church is a product of this split.  Other churches such as the Methodists and Presbyterians eventually came back together, the Presbyterian Church USA doing so in 1982, 117 years after the Civil War…better late than never I guess.  This will not happen with the Southern and American Baptist Convention’s as they are now theologically poles apart.

There has been a trend over the last 20 years or so by many clergy and laity in both liberal and conservative churches to be uncritical in their relationships with political parties. In my view this has emasculated the witness of the church.  I have experienced this on both the left and the right. When I was a kid my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer was serving in Vietnam. New to the area we went to a church of the denomination that my parents had grown up in and in which I had been baptized.  This was a mainline Protestant church, the name I will not mention because it is irrelevant to the discussion.  The minister constantly preached against the war and the military probably assuming that he had no military families in the congregation.  At that church I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” when I told her that my dad was serving in Vietnam.  If it had not been for the Roman Catholic chaplain at the little Navy base in town who showed my family the love of God when that happened, caring for our Protestant family without trying to make us Catholic I would have probably never reconciled with the church.

I trace my vocation as a priest and chaplain to that man. Since I have spent more of my life in conservative churches in the days since I have seen a growing and ever more strident move to the political right in conservative churches.  I think this has less to do with the actual churches but the influence of conservative talk radio which has catered to conservatives, especially social conservative Christians.  Conservative Christians are a key part of this demographic and it is not unusual to hear ministers as well as lay people simply parroting what these broadcasters are saying. I often hear my fellow Christians on the right talk more vociferously about free markets capitalism, the war on terror and justifying the other conservative causes which are general less than central to the faith in public forums like Facebook.  Some of what is written is scary.  People who pray for the government to fail, pray for the President to be killed, call anyone who disagrees with them pretty horrible names or prays the “imprecatory Psalms” against their opponents.  I saw an active duty Army Chaplain call the President “that reject.” The words of a lot of these folks are much more like Sean Hannity than the Apostle Paul.  When I have challenged conservative Christian friends on what I think are inconsistencies I have in some cases been attacked and pretty nastily if I might add.

I see this in stark contrast to the witness of the early church.  Pliny’s letter to the Emperor Trajan sums up how Christians responded to real, not imagined persecution for their Christian faith, not social-political cause.

“They stated that the sum of their guilt or error amounted to this, that they used to gather on a stated day before dawn and sing to Christ as if he were a god, and that they took an oath not to involve themselves in villainy, but rather to commit no theft, no fraud, no adultery; not to break faith, nor to deny money placed with them in trust. Once these things were done, it was their custom to part and return later to eat a meal together, innocently, although they stopped this after my edict, in which I, following your mandate, forbade all secret societies.”

Pliny was perplexed because although he thought their religion to be “fanatical superstitions” he could find no other fault in their lives; they even obeyed his order to stop meeting together.  My view is that Christians some on the left but especially on the right lost any prophetic voice not only in society, in their respective political party alliances.  They have become special interest groups who compete with other special interest groups, which politicians of both parties treat as their loyal servants.  This is what I mean by captivity.  I think that the church has to be able to speak her mind and be a witness of the redemption and reconciliation message of the Gospel and hold politicians, political parties and other power structures accountable for their treatment of the least, the lost and the lonely; caring for those that to those who seek to maintain political and economic control, merely numbers.  The church has to maintain her independence or lose submit to slavery.  There are many examples we can look to in this just a couple of relatively modern examples being William Wilberforce and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  We can find many others throughout Church history. These men were not apolitical, but they and their ministries were both prophetic and redemptive.  They maintained peaceful dialogue with their opponents and helped bring about justice.  Billy Graham never gave in to the temptation to endorse any political party.  Instead he had a voice and relationship with every US President during his active ministry, be they Republican or Democrat.

It is incumbent on Christians and other people of faith seek to embody this witness in our divided and dangerous world.  Christians especially cannot allow themselves to be ghettoized in any political party, or political faction where they are just another interest group even an important one. Nor can they allow their public witness to be absorbed and consumed by the promotion of political agendas or causes, even if those causes are worthy of support.  It is a matter of keeping priorities causes can never take precedence over the message of God’s love and reconciliation in Christ.  Unfortunately this is too often the case.

My view is that if you build relationships with people by loving them, caring for them and treating them with the same respect that you would want for yourself; even with those that you have major differences, then you will have a place at the table and your voice will be heard.  If we on the other hand cauterize ourselves from relationships and dialogue we will be relegated, and rightly so to the margins of the social and political process of our nation.  In effect we will ensure that people will stop listening to us not only on the social and political issues, but more importantly in our proclamation of the faith in the Kingdom of God which was proclaimed by Jesus which that comes to us from the Apostles.

Unfortunately I believe that Christians thinking that they are more influential than they are have marginalized themselves.  This is because many have compromised the faith by allowing extremists to be the public face of the Christian church in public debates on social, morale and political issues.  I hope someday we will rebuild our credibility as people who actually care about the life of our fellow citizens and our country and not just those who agree with us.  God have mercy on us all.

Peace, Steve+

 

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Star Trek God and Me: Ecclesiastical Tyranny Today, the Drumhead Revisited

Picard being interrogated by Satie and her assistants (Paramount Pictures)

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again. Captain Lean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) Star Trek the Next Generation “The Drumhead”

Back in May of 2009 when still struggling with faith, belief and God as I wrestled with PTSD and a number of other life issues I wrote an article entitled Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 . At the time I was pretty much a mess but as I wrote it I realized that all of life is connected and my Christian faith does not occur in a void that has no connection with the rest of life. It is this rediscovery of the reality of faith that helps guide me now. I make no claims to be correct on everything and I am much more apt to err on the side of grace, although I have a lot of difficulty with those that use the Christian faith as a weapon to subjugate others and to deny civil and religious rights and human dignity to those that believe differently than they do.  This is why I write today.

I remember as a teenager going to a pretty conservative church which in many ways was basically an evangelical Christian subculture that looked out at the world as if it were the enemy and “non-Christians” as if they were lesser people because they were not “saved.”  In fact if you mentioned that you knew someone that was not a member of the church people almost invariably would ask if the person was “saved.”  This subcultural attitude which is actually quite prejudicial even if it is well intentioned pervades much of contemporary Evangelicalism and when some Evangelical leaders suggest dialogue and relationships with the “unsaved” which are respectful to non-Christians they are often labeled as “liberals” or “heretics.”

This has happened to me in the past couple of years since returning from Iraq and having to leave the Church that I served for 14 years as a Priest and Canon.  I wrote an article called Faith Journey’s: Why I am Still a Christian in September of 2010 which detailed the journey that I have been on. When I left the church I wrote another article that was picked up on another blog which was entitled The Church Maintained in Love: Maintaining Integrity and Preserving Relationships When Asked to Leave a Church.  A number of people made comments on that article either positive or handled with grace and love but one anonymous person posted a comment which showed the extreme ugliness of some “Christian” conservatives who are quite willing to use character assassination, sound bites and absolute lies to smear another Christian brother who happens to disagree with them.  The moderator of that blog took down the comment because it was so off base and offered his apologies to me having been a target of people in our former church when he left years ago. Though the post was anonymous it had to be someone that knew me because it was very personal couched in “religious piety” but filled with lies and distortions. So much for Christian love….

But back to the Star Trek theme which believe it or not weaves its way through this saga. It seems to me that a lot of Christians talk big but act like they are afraid of the big bad world and if criticized fall into the litany of how bad things are, how the world hates Christians and hunker down into a fortress mentality.  Others keep the fortress but decide that it is high time that they as Christians “kick some liberal ass” and declare “war” on those not like them.  Some couch this in more moderate terms but others like the bomb-throwing activist Randall Terry show the dark side of this mentality:

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.”  [Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, from The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Aug 15, 1993]

“Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…” The continued twisted “Christian”  message of Randall Terry (Life Magazine)


The quote is nearly 18 years old but the attitude is quite common today as “Christians” gird themselves for war.  If you ask me the attitude is not Christian at all, but something out of the Middle Eastern mindset of the Old Testament which found its way into some parts of the Christian faith especially the Calvinism espoused by the Puritans who initially settled New England which is used as a pattern by Christian “Reconstructionists” and others of similar thinking. It seems to me to represent all that Jesus condemned many of his religious contemporaries for doing.  Jesus preached the Kingdom of God was at hand and for people to repent, however his harshest warnings and condemnations came not on the people that the religious considered the “unsaved” the Gentiles, prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners but at the smug religious people that ruled that ruled their countrymen with a religious law often more draconian than that of the oppressive Romans especially in the way that it treated others outside the fold.

The attitude is actually quite poisonous when you look at it in light of history and the effect that such an approach to life and others.  I can go to historic examples galore since we as Christians often have a sordid record when it comes to treating those that Christ gave his life for with any kind of love, charity or compassion often engaging in wars, pogroms, persecution, the Inquisition and state/church sanctioned mass murder even against fellow Christians that don’t agree with are particular line of thought.  But if I do that it strikes some as if I am trying to be unfair, so I will go to a Star Trek example which I used a while back in another post on a different subject but it fits.

The example comes from the Star Trek TNG episode called “The Drumhead” The episode involves a suspected case of sabotage and spying on the Enterprise and a retired Admiral is sent to investigate. Though evidence leads away from this conclusion the Admiral and her aid drive home the point and widen the investigation for any suspicious acts. Soon the loyalty of anyone that raises a voice to question the premise of the investigation is suspect to include the Captain, Jean Luc Picard.

The Admiral is a true believer in the Federation, actually a Zealot who describes a life that is quite similar to modern Zealots of religious and non-religious varieties in conservative and liberal thought in this and other countries. Zealots tend to surround themselves with others like them and often live lonely isolated existences in which they are on a mission to make sure that the edicts of their faith are obeyed and enforced by whatever religious or governmental structures will accommodate them.  Admiral Satie, the investigator details her life to Picard: “Captain, may I tell you how I spent the past four years? From planet to starbase to planet. I have no home. I live on starships and shuttlecraft. I haven’t seen a family member in years. I have no friends. But I have a purpose. My father taught me from the time I was a little girl still clutching a blanket, that the United Federation of Planets is the most remarkable institution ever conceived. And it is my cause to make sure that this… extraordinary union be preserved.” Simply substitute the “United States of America” or “Christianity” for the United Federation of Planets and the picture paints a picture of us today.

After a lengthy opening the Admiral throws this at Picard: “I question your actions, Captain; I question your choices, I question your loyalty!”

Picard dares to reply with a quote from the Admiral’s father, a noted jurist: “You know, there are some words I’ve known since I was a schoolboy: “With the first link, the chain is forged. The first speech censured, the first thought forbidden, the first freedom denied, chains us all irrevocably.” Those words were uttered by Judge Aaron Satie, as wisdom and warning. The first time any man’s freedom is trodden on, we’re all damaged. I fear that today…”

The Admiral becomes furious and turns her wrath against Picard: “How dare you! You who consort with Romulans, invoke my father’s name to support your traitorous arguments! It is an offense to everything I hold dear! And to hear those words used to subvert the United Federation of Planets. My father was a great man! His name stands for integrity and principle. You dirty his name when you speak it! He loved the Federation. But you, Captain, corrupt it. You undermine our very way of life. I will expose you for what you are. I’ve brought down bigger men than you, Picard!”

One only has to look at other Zealots of the Reconstructionist theology to see where this is going: Gary North one of the long time leaders of this movement said: “So let us be blunt about it: 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 be get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” –Gary North, “The Intellectual Schizophrenia of the New Christian Right” in Christianity and Civilization: The Failure of the American Baptist Culture, No. 1 (Spring, 1982), p. 25

Another important leader of the Christian right noted “We are engaged in a social, political, and cultural war. There’s a lot of talk in America about pluralism. But the bottom line is somebody’s values will prevail. And the winner gets the right to teach our children what to believe.” — Gary Bauer, Family Research Council.

Unfortunately the leaders of this particular view of Christianity are not much different than the fictitious Admiral Satie and I do expect that their crusade will not be done anytime soon.  I know the character of such people having been their target.  Based on the words of my critic who totally twisted what I said and believe in this pejorative and frankly distorted screed:

From his writings on his blog, it’s quite clear that he is the one who’s taking a new direction away from Scripture and the ancient faith, which is the basis for his departure. Fr. Steve has changed his beliefs to now accept women priests, gay “saints”, Muslim “saints”, etc. I might call the acceptance of women priests “liberal”, but the other two are really just heresy – though I’m certain many (particularly Catholic and Orthodox) readers would lump women priests into the heresy category as well. Didn’t Jesus really die on the Cross to reconcile us to God teaching us that He is the only way to the Father? Yet Fr. Steve now believes that it was unnecessary for Jesus to atone for our sins as even Muslims can obtain Heaven without the Cross. And hasn’t God repeatedly taught us throughout Scripture that homosexual sex is condemned as an abomination. Yet Fr Steve now believes God didn’t really say that at all and that gay sex is okay with God….I will pray for Fr. Steve, that the Holy Spirit will reveal the Truth to him and bring him back to the true faith whether that’s with the CEC or another communion.”

The person that wrote this was anonymous and posed as an administrator on the other site using the name “admin.” What bothers me is the disingenuousness of the statement and the manner in which my beliefs were twisted to include implying that I had denied the “true faith” were bandied about by this person who as I said had to know me especially since my former church is a very small communion which has been shrinking for years due to its own internal problems. I have my suspicions of who the writer might be but cannot prove it beyond a doubt and the fact that he hid his identity is telling, only cowards that have no honor make such attacks from the shadows rather than speaking to a brother in person as the words of Scripture command.

The sad thing is that everything that I wrote is backed by the teachings of the Catholic Church and the Second Vatican Council and I never denied the Creeds, Councils and my Scriptural hermeneutics (not the way they were twisted) were within the bounds of the Christian faith in belief that the love and grace of God triumph over sin and unbelief and that we cannot earn that grace.  But according to my critic I am an apostate who has left the faith and my words are twisted beyond belief to “prove” his point.  This is the kind of person that uses the Creeds and Scripture not as means to faith and expressions of a living faith based on the mercy grace and love of God but as means of ecclesiastical control, not much different from that of the Medieval Catholic Church which I am sure that he would condemn since he refuses to be reconciled to Rome. It is funny to be criticized as a heretic by someone who would qualify as such if judged he were by Rome or even Orthodoxy.

Randall Terry, Gary Bauer, my anonymous critic and others represent the nature of the Admiral Satie in our universe and time-space continuum as opposed to the hypothetical future of Star Trek.  Just watch their behavior in the coming months and years. The war is afoot and woe betides anyone that stands in their way.  At the end of the Drumhead episode when Satie’s and her investigation are discredited Captain Picard and his Security Chief Lieutenant Worf a Klingon, gives us final word of warning about the Satie’s of this world:

Lieutenant Worf: [referring to Admiral Satie] I think… after yesterday, people will not be so ready to trust her.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Maybe. But she, or someone like her, will always be with us, waiting for the right climate in which to flourish, spreading fear in the name of righteousness. Vigilance, Mister Worf – that is the price we have to continually pay.

I guess that is why God still speaks to me through Star Trek; sometimes the words are pretty prophetic and speak to us in ways that those who loudly proclaim themselves to be on God’s side in a social, political and cultural war ever will.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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