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What Did He Know, When Did He Know It? The Question that Now Haunts the Papacy of Pope Francis

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Please do not get me wrong, this is a difficult post to write. Those who know me will understand that this is not an ad hominem attack on the Roman Catholic Church. Though I am not Roman Catholic I have always loved it as our Mother Church and I have been an admirer of Pope Francis since he ascended to the Papacy when Pope Benedict resigned. Likewise I am not a particular admirer of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò nor his faction of the Church, his charges that Pope Francis was of the crimes of Cardinal McCarrack shortly after he was elected Pope seems within the realm of the possible.

Whether it is true or not I do not know, but the Vatican and especially Pope Francis himself must deal with these accusations before they destroy the Church, and left alone to fester without being refuted and disproved that will happen and the results are unimaginable, unless you are a historian. The last two times the Church split, in 1054 and 1517 the results were dreadful, nit just from a religious point of view but from a human perspective.

But the question of what Pope Francis knew and when he knew is is not only a good question, but a necessary question; what did this Pope know and when did he know it?

If I can ask that of a political leader that I despise, I can ask it of a religious leader I respect and admire because I value truth more than sentiment. While I acknowledge that Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the Vatican’s former top diplomat to the United States, and a conservative reactionary who often seems to be attempting to justify himself against criticism from across the spectrum of the Roman Catholic Church could have less than honorable intentions when he released an 11 page accusatory diatribe against Francis, I cannot simply dismiss his accusations. They are well within the realm of the possible, no matter what his motive.

The fact is every Pope in recent memory has been covering up scandal after scandal to protect their allies, the Roman Catholic Church, like all churches or religious organizations is a political beast and has been since Constantine. However, unlike what was said by Archbishop Viganò, this is not the fault of homosexuals. It is the fault of a secretive culture, absolute monarchy, and rules about celibacy which are not normal. Celibacy has to be a special grace, it is not the normal order. For a man or woman to maintain it is difficult. I know this for a fact because between 1996 and 2013 I spent 10 of 17 years away from my wife due to military deployments, schools and assignments. It was voluntary celibacy to remain true to my marriage vows when it would have been very easy to violate them and keep my reputation clean in the process. I cannot imagine trying to do that for life. Likewise, while it is probably true that some, and maybe even a sizable number of Catholic Catholic clergy are homosexuals, as were some of the offenders listed in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report, but the problem is bigger than them as was shown in that report.

I knew a Navy Catholic Chaplain who was removed from the service for multiple affairs with married women who were members his Navy Chapel parishes. Most were officer’s wives. He was turned in by a jilted woman who had was shacking up with until he told her to leave his home. She had the good on him and contacted close to 30 other women who corroborated her allegations which she sent to his Bishop as well as the Marine General commanding his unit, who by the way was Catholic.

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He was a sexual predator masquerading as a priest. He, as most predators was sent to a retreat center for such clergy. Unlike others, this man was such a sociopath that the retreat center, run by a world renowned Catholic pastoral care and psychologist sent him back uncured. He was not in the slightest bit repentant. He told me that when his bishop saw the accusations that all he said was “at least it wasn’t little boys” and before he was kicked out of the Navy tried his wiles on one of my neighbors.

The Navy had the courage to throw him out and remove him from service with an Other Than Honorable discharge, an administrative separation that is the equivalent of a Dishonorable Discharge without a trial by Court Martial. However the Church was slow to respond, after he was discharged from the Navy he retained his clerical faculties for many years. He is finally listed as having his faculties suspended and being forbidden to represent himself as a Catholic Priest as of the dates of the initial accusations, but that did not occur for years, during which time he took on a Ph.D. and spoke at many Catholic conferences.

Sadly the culture of the Catholic Priesthood, as well as many other religious vocations across the faith spectrum is attractive to men who want power. They do so in an institution that normalizes such power and for which the protection of offenders is the default setting of Church leaders regardless of whether they are liberal or conservative. In fact they don’t even have to be Roman Catholic. The Bishop who ordained me in a conservative Anglo-Catholic denomination in 1996 was hit with multiple accusations which took down him and the religious community that he had founded. I knew some of the accusers, the Bishop and that community were attempting to be more like the Roman Catholics of a century ago than the current Roman Catholic Church. If you want to know more details sent me an email and I will put you on the trail to discover that this is not just a Roman Catholic problem.

Likewise, this is not simply an American problem, it can be found around the world in the Roman Catholic Church and is bolstered when the Church is also the State religion or the religion of the colonial regimes whose native descendants rule in autocratic fashion. Of course other religious and other Christian denominations have similar issues, but they are not the Roman Catholic Church which for good or bad is so often the face of Christianity at large than it is not.

Regardless of this, there are many faithful priests and bishops who are not criminals and regardless of their sexual orientation have never harmed anyone. I personally know many of them who are disgusted by the power hungry prelates that scorn justice and defend the indefensible. They are men who I have served with in the military and in the civilian world, men who helped Judy and I in our spiritual development. Likewise there are the Nuns who helped and cared for both of us along the course of our life and faith.

That being said, I want the Church to face its demons, and reform. If it does not I am all for the State exercising it’s legal duty to protect citizens by investigating the Church, uncovering the truth, and bringing the guilty wherever possible to justice even if it brings shame to the Church. The same goes for any other church or religious body which allows such crimes to continue and attempts to cover them up.

I read a columnist today who noted two pathways to reform in the Church, that of Saint Francis of Assisi, and that of Martin Luther. As a historian, theologian, and student of both Saint Francis and Martin Luther I think that is a bit simplistic. There are reforms that take place within the Church, like Francis, and those that thrown out and branded as heretics for their dissent like Luther. But even with the Church there are “reforms” that are either progressive or reactionary, defensive or redemptive. There are many examples of all of these movements in Church history, and not just in the Roman Church.

As far as the costs of being a reformer who started in the Church and got thrown out like Martin Luther, I understand that. I got thrown of my former church about this time of year in 2010 for publicly stating my views about favorable views about women’s ordination, homosexuality, and Muslims. Thankfully, I had others who were willing to take me in to continue to serve as a priest, and that my former church was not the state religion. The ironic thing was that the Bishop who threw me out was later thrown out and stripped of his episcopate for attempting to go behind the backs of his fellow bishops to remove the nearly 25 active duty military chaplains to a different denomination. He extremely duplicitous and got his comeuppance.  If you want call it Karma.

But this is reality. If the Catholic Church does not face it the results will be more catastrophic for it than the Protestant Reformation. Wise leaders, and I really do pray that Pope Francis is one of them recognize the trends of history and the necessity to stand for justice and mercy even if it is costly. Truth and integrity matter. If religious leaders and institutions cannot stand for truth and integrity, if they cannot cry out for justice, and if they instead try to protect themselves and project an aura of infallibility, wrapped in historic myth they will only destroy themselves.

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As Luther said to the Emperor, princes, and prelates of the Holy Roman Empire at Worms:

“Hier stehe Ich, Ich kann nicht anders.”
(“Here I stand, I can do no other”)”

If that pisses off Catholics or Protestants, or for that matter members or leaders of any other religion or cult, even the Trump Cult, I am not sorry. Truth is truth, justice demands justice and as much as I admire Pope Francis, the truth must be told. It may not be pretty, and it may for a time seem like a disaster, but it will be the salvation of the Church. The same is true for the leaders of other Christian denominations and non-Christian religious.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Hard Truth, War, & ISIL

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The Imagined Caliphate of ISIL 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Please know this is a difficult article to write. I have been to war, I have seen its devastation and heartache and I came back changed from the experience. I hate it. That being said, despite being a progressive who hates war I am also a realist. I am not one that finds any romance or glory in war, but I know that sometimes it becomes unavoidable and sometimes necessary. I have written about the nature of war, the kind of war we are now engaged in with ISIL and some of the ethical and moral compromises that could easily be made in such a war. Thus what I write here is a continuation of those thoughts and I encourage you to look at those articles. That being said, I do intend on adding some more thoughts to this in the coming days.

I do not expect that all of my readers will agree with me. In fact I had a reader who took exception to yesterday’s article because he could not agree with the fact that the Bush administration’s criminal war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a major cause of today’s problem. He proceeded to lecture me that I was wrong, despite all of the evidence from Congressional hearings, the CIA, and other analysts that disproved his point. That is disheartening, but I expect that now.

That being said I know that there are people on the political right and the political left who will disagree with what I write today. All I ask is that people, regardless of their ideology actually read and take the time to think about what I write before they write me off.

I will be writing more on this subject in the coming days, including about the moral and ethical dangers, as well as the potential threat to our own civil liberties. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

Over the past two weeks elements of ISIL have brutally slaughtered nearly 400 civilians outside of areas that they control. The attacks on the Russian airliner, Beirut, and Paris were committed against innocent civilians going about their daily lives. In the areas that they control in Iraq and Syria, where their brutality is unmatched in modern times. This is disconcerting for those of us that would prefer a peaceful solution to the current conflict. But it is the truth.

Despite having served in the military for over thirty-four years, I am not a warmonger, and I am not enamored with the supposed glory of war, or American military superiority. I hate war, but I am a realist. I am a historian with a considerable background in ethics, philosophy, sociology, and political science. I have experience serving with American advisers in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.

Since 2012 ISIL has invoked a reign of terror in the areas of Syria and Iraq that they control. Massacres of opponents, videotaped executions of captives, including humanitarian aid workers and journalists, ethnic and religious cleansing, the forced conversion of female captives with the added element of rape, before and after their capture and enslavement, the execution of homosexuals, and the destruction or religious, cultural, and historic treasures. ISIL is not seeking peace, but rather to destroy everything that they find abhorrent. They are no different than Christians, Jews, Hindus, and even Buddhists that use the police and military power of the state to persecute those who do not believe just like they do.

We must recognize the significance of the attacks of the Islamic State in the past two weeks. These attacks have killed nearly 400 civilians and wounded close to 400 more. ISIL is not targeting military targets, but innocent people; as such their actions are nothing short of criminal. If they were a real nation state, their leaders would be war criminals.

Islamic scholar Reza Aslan understands ISIL better than many people. Aslan told CNN last year:

“Number one, you do have to respond militarily to ISIS soldiers and fighters. These guys are fighting a war of the imagination, a war that they think is happening between the forces of good and evil. There is no negotiation. There’s no diplomacy. There’s nothing to talk about with these guys. They have to be destroyed.”

Let that set in for a moment.

That is not the opinion of an American or Eurocentric scholar; it is not the ranting of an Islamophobic pundit or preacher, but it is the opinion of a learned, moderate, Moslem scholar. As such it needs to be given a lot of credibility. Aslan’s comment takes me back to the words of General William Tecumseh Sherman during the American Civil War. Sherman, who had to deal with insurgents and other Confederate sympathizers who attacked his supply lines and isolated garrisons noted, “This war differs from other wars, in this particular: We are not fighting armies but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war.”

President Obama came into office as a President determined to end the wars that the United States was engaged in and usher in an era of peace. That did not happen. The genie of war and chaos that was unleashed when President Bush stopped pursuing Al Qaeda and attacked Saddam Hussein’s Iraq refused to go back into its bottle. Obama, dealt with the situation with quiet diplomacy and soft power. One cannot blame him. He was hamstrung by the financial crisis of 2008 which blew up just as he became President, as well as the consequences of the Bush foreign policy, and the deal that the Bush administration made with the Shia Moslem regime of Maliki in Iraq for the withdraw of U.S. troops. Since Obama took office, new and more violent terrorist groups have been spawned from the loins of Al Qaeda Iraq. Now, the dogs of war that have been unleashed on the region, which threaten all of the peoples who live there, and now have reached out to other regions.

I know that many of my readers are liberals, and progressives who lean toward pacifism. I am okay with that, because at my heart I am a pacifist, I have been to war, and I hate it. Even the must just war, waged for the best of reasons, and with right motives, still can bring about evil. The well-respected ethicist and philosopher Michael Walzer understands the moral, ethical, and legal aspects of war. He wrote in his book Just and Unjust Wars:

“We don’t call war hell because it is fought without restraint. It is more nearly right to say that, when certain restraints are passed, the hellishness of war drives us to break with every remaining restraint in order to win. Here is the ultimate tyranny: those who resist aggression are forced to imitate, and perhaps even to exceed, the brutality of the aggressor.”

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is different than Al Qaeda. It is a hybrid that will not be defeated by traditional means. ISIL is a terrorist group to be sure, but it is also an embryonic state, which is conquering territory, subduing people, butchering its enemies and murdering innocents in cold blood. The leaders of ISIL boast in their atrocities and honestly believe what they are doing is blessed by their God. They have grown up and been nurtured by a culture of victimhood which they believe that past or present oppression justifies their actions. Eric Hoffer wrote something that is quite poignant if we are to understand the mindset of ISIL:

“It is doubtful if the oppressed ever fight for freedom. They fight for pride and power — power to oppress others. The oppressed want above all to imitate their oppressors; they want to retaliate.”

The leaders and fighters of ISIL are 12th Century people living in the 21st Century. They make use of 21st Century communications technology to further their crusade against all opponents. As Reza Aslan noted, they are incapable of negotiation, seeing it as only weakness and a way to impose their will on those unable to, or unwilling to resist them. Hoffer described their mindset well in his book The True Believer:

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

Thus this war will be something different, something that we in the west do not want to comprehend. We want war to be neat, fast and comparatively bloodless, but this will not be the case in the war against ISIL. Such wars may be possible against traditional nation states with weak militaries. But to believe that war with ISIL will be neat, fast, and bloodless is wrong headed and dangerous because it ignores the nature of that group. Carl Von Clausewitz noted that:

“Kind-hearted people might of course think there was some ingenious way to disarm or defeat the enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war. Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed: war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.”

Ultimately, despite the fact that I almost always counsel that war should be avoided and peaceful solutions found to resolve conflict, there are times that wars must be fought. If ISIL were a true nation-state with a conventional understanding of diplomacy and the relationship between nations it would be conceivable that the United Nations or perhaps the Arab League could help broker a deal. But ISIL is neither your father’s terrorist organization, nor a real nation-state. It is a hybrid that is not driven by realpolitik but rather a fanatical religious belief in their cause.  This allows them to dispense with diplomatic niceties and allows them no compromise with those they believe are the enemies of their God; including other Moslems.

Their war has been raging for some time in both Syria and Iraq. What they are doing is further destroying the mosaic of peoples who are part of the Arab heritage in both countries. The atrocities committed by ISIL against Shi’ite Moslems, secular Sunnis, Yidazi and Christians have been displayed around the world. Mass executions, beheadings and the destruction of historic sites, which are important parts of the Christian, Moslem, and Jewish heritage, are only part of their crimes.

The only condition for peace given by ISIL to those it considers the enemy is “convert or die.”  Whether we like it or not, war is now unavoidable, the attacks on the Russian airliner, the citizens of Beirut, and the people of Paris show that.

Some politicians and pundits seem to think that this will be easy, simply destroy ISIL where they stand. But that belief is illusory. ISIL and its sympathizers may seem to be concentrated in Iraq and Syria, which is enough of a problem for us, but their supporters, financial supporters and sympathizers are worldwide. Interestingly Pope Francis noted: “Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction….”

That being said there is a warning that all must remember about this war. It is at its heart ideological and for ISIL is driven by a perversion of religion. The war will be long, brutal and most importantly, the Islamic State believes that it can and will win it.

Winston Churchill said:

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events…. Always remember, however sure you are that you could easily win, that there would not be a war if the other man did not think he also had a chance.”

Thus in this war we cannot waver, and we must believe in our ideals of freedom, justice, equality and the value of a single human life. We must do this even though our own practice often makes a mockery of them. But they are still ideals that are worth fighting for, because without them we lose something of our already flawed humanity. Carl Clausewitz recognized this and wrote:

“If the mind is to emerge unscathed from this relentless struggle with the unforeseen, two qualities are indispensable: first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.”

Barbara Tuchman said, “War is the unfolding of miscalculations.” For over a century the leaders of the West as well as Arab leaders throughout the region have miscalculated far too many times, and what is going on now is the tragic and bloody result of all of those miscalculations. The suffering and the human cost will be great. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who wrote:

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out…

The young Union hero of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, Colonel Strong Vincent wrote his wife about how he believed the Union had to defeat the Confederacy. His words were much like Sherman’s and in dealing with ISIL I would hope that the American, Iraqi and coalition forces will take them to heart in combating ISIL: Vincent wrote:

“We must fight them more vindictively, or we shall be foiled at every step.  We must desolate the country as we pass through it, and not leave a trace of a doubtful friend or foe behind us; make them believe that we are in earnest, terribly in earnest…” 

Sherman and Vincent’s words may sound unduly harsh, but ISIL knows no other kind of war.

Pray my friends for peace, but remember reality, peace is not possible when the kind of religious extremism that motivates ISIL is the driving force. That kind of ideology cannot be negotiated with it has to be defeated.

It has been a long time since we in the west have had to wage that kind of war and it will come at some cost to our psyche, and it will take some getting used to, if you can ever get used to the evil, the carnage, the suffering and the devastation that is the essence of war. As William Tecumseh Sherman said “War is Hell.”

To be continued…

 

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The Wrong Train: The Christian Culture War

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Yesterday, I wrote about the scary similarities that I saw in the weekend gathering of Christian Right leaders at the Iowa Freedom Summit, to the prayer meeting in the classic film Inherit the Wind. I find those similarities amazing.  But even more troubling I find the fear, hatred and paranoia they display to all opponents to be reminiscent of church leaders in Germany during the 1920s and early 1930s.  These men, including Protestants and Catholics supported Hitler, because Hitler promised to fight against the things that they hated. Martin Niemöller, a man who now is nearly universally lauded for opposition to Hitler initially supported him. Later Niemöller, regretted that support and wrote:

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

The statistics don’t lie. The United States cannot and should not be considered a Christian nation and any sense of the definition. To be blunt that is not the fault of secularists. It is the fault of Christians especially those political partisan pastors and pundits of the Christian Right that for the past 40 years have sold their souls for political power at the expense of the Gospel.

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Freedom Summit 2015

While many people, even a majority describe themselves as Christians the fact is that what is now believed is not a Christianity that is in any sense Biblical, Catholic or Orthodox but rather a packaging of certain “Biblical values” that happen to be great political wedge issues for Christian leaders seeking political and economic power.

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Mike Huckabee: Preacher, Pundit and Politician

Nowhere was this shown more than the brazen flip-flopping of Christian leaders during the last Presidential election who first adamantly opposed the nomination of Mitt Romney. Not on political but on religious grounds,  so long as there was a chance that a non-Mormon had a chance at the Republican nomination. Of course those leaders, even those that opposed Romney on theological grounds rapidly gave him their blessing once he won the nomination. The theological gyrations made by those leaders of the Religious Right in that process were fascinating to watch, much like a train wreck, but fascinating nonetheless.

A recent Barna survey noted that less than one half of one percent of people aged 18-23 hold what would be considered a “Biblical world view.” This is compared to about one of every nine other adults.  Other surveys bear this out.

This should not be surprising to anyone that has watched the growth of what passes as Evangelical Christianity in the Mega-Church age and the retreat of conservative Catholics into the Church culture and theology of the 1400s. It is the same ideology that brought about the Reformation. But then maybe that is not a bad thing.

What has to be said is that the American Church cannot really be considered Evangelical or Catholic. Rather American Christians have subscribed to an Imperial Church model that must throw itself at those that hold power in order to maintain their own political, economic and social power.

While these leaders talk about and rail against things that they believe to be “sinful” such as homosexuality, abortion and birth control they willingly turn a blind eye to the treatment of the poor, advocate wars of aggression and bless cultural and economic norms that go entirely against the Christian tradition as they go about with a Bible in one hand and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in the other.

One can have legitimate debates in the Church about what the Bible and Christian tradition define as sin and we should have those debates taking into consideration Scripture, Tradition as well as what we have learned from the Sciences and the Social Sciences. But the fact is that those in the Religious Right are terribly inconsistent in this, much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day who he condemned for the same type of hypocrisy.

Think about it: The Barna Group in another survey of people 18-29 years old asked what phrases best described Christians: The top five answers “Anti-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical and too involved in politics.” This view was held by 91% of non-Christians and a staggering 80% of young churchgoers.

This hypocrisy was again demonstrated this week. Many of these politically corrupted religious leaders turned a blind eye to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by the Supreme Court, or cheered that decision despite the fact that many of not most of those adversely affected by that decision are African American Christians. The next day after cheering this result they lambasted the same justices for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act and refusing to hear a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, dealing with the Federal recognition of Gay marriage. The histrionics exhibited would be comical if the men and women ranting away were not so vehemently hateful towards their opponents. The tragedy of their behavior is that even more people will turn away from even reasonable Christians.

The fact is that young people are leaving the church in unheard of numbers and it is very evident to me why they are doing so. The Church has embraced the culture wars over preaching the Gospel, which if I recall correctly is based on loving people, even ones enemies.  Jesus said it so well: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35 NRSV.

The leaders of the Christian Right were able to bring enough culture warriors to hold their majority in the House of Representatives and gain the majority in the Senate. Admittedly it was an election where less than 40% of eligible voters voted and most of the contested seats were in areas where they dominate, which magnified their strength. However, in the coming 2016 Presidential election the demographics among voters will go against them, and even though these leaders know this, most continue on and with greater zeal wage the culture war.

But at what cost? Here I am not even dealing with the politics, as one can debate the merits of the Obama administration as well as its decisions and policies, even many progressives criticize the President on a wide number 0f issues, so that is not the point.

But the question is can Christians be an authentic witness in the political arena by simply being the religious appendage of a political movement whose leaders hold the Church and religious people in general in distain? It is amazing to watch as people mobilize Christians to support policies that are in the long term detrimental to those who claim the name of Jesus, and which are against many supposedly Christian or Biblical values. It is likewise astounding to see conservatives, including conservative Roman Catholics condemn Pope Francis  for having the gall to take issue with them.

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In the 1920s and 1930s the Churches of Germany and many parts of Europe did the same thing. They felt that their values were under attack by Communists, Socialists, Jews and yes, even Homosexuals. In order to maintain their influence and power they willingly allied themselves with the Nazis. When they spoke up against the Nazis it was seldom because they were defending anyone but their own ecclesiastical power and place in society.  When the war was over and young people began to question the actions of those that led the Church in Germany it began a process that has led to the de-Christianization of that country.

The current leadership of the Christian Right, especially those with yearnings to be the next President, are doing the same thing as their German brothers did in the 1920s and 1930s. The constant hate filled attacks of Christian leaders on those that are not Christians will come back to bite them. This is not fantasy, it is reality. One only has to look at the history of the Church to see it played out time after time. But then, unless we decide to re-write history like the fraudulent pseudo-historian David Barton does so well, why bother reading it?

The actions of many Christian leaders are dangerous to the faith as a whole, but it seems that they are willing to throw that away in order to gain political power, and as Gary North said “. The political opportunism is short sighted and ultimately will hasten the decline and fall of what we know as Christianity in America.

Perhaps Christian leaders who have sold their souls for such paltry political gains should be asking these questions: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul and what does it profit the Church to wield political power but lose its soul?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once noted “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” 

It is something to consider and they are questions that have to be asked.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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#Je Suis Charlie and the Conservative Christian Absence of Empathy

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The horrific terrorist murders and the butchery committed by radical Islamist agains the staff of the French satire paper Charlie Hebdo has brought much comment and discussion. I wrote about it yesterday and pointed out that a leading figure of the Catholic part of the American Religious Right, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, took the time to let everyone in his audience know that the cartoonists had brought the attacks on themselves. How? Well they insulted the prophet Mohammed. While Donohue gave lip-service that killing the journalist was wrong, he blamed the victims. 

Of course Donohue doesn’t give a damn about Moslem feelings, he is only looking for an excuse to excoriate anyone who would also dare to make satire of his rigid faith, even Pope Francis. But then Donohue will unite his cause, the destruction of secular democracy and pluralism with what Peter Kreeft described as an Ecumenical Jihad where Catholics, conservative Protestants, especially Evangelicals, Orthodox Christians, Jews and Moslems would fight secularism. You see for “true believers” like Donohue, and many leaders and pundits of the Christian right the current enemy is secular democracy, because it alone stands against theocracy of every kind.

Eric Hoffer wrote in his book The True Believer 

“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.”

Last night I complemented a friend of mine, a conservative Christian theologian and pastor who defended the rights of the journalists of Charlie Hebdo on his Facebook page. That post elicited a lot of commentary and I voiced my opinion supporting my friend and told my story. My story includes being, taunted, ridiculed, threatened with physical harm and even death by people who profess to be Christians on this site and on Facebook. I have to say that it interesting to note that I have never been threatened by a Moslem, Jew, Wiccan, Buddhist, Hindu or secularist of any kind, just Christians.

So when I see people like Bill Donohue, and other pundits, preachers and politicians of the Religious Right blame the victims who were killed by radical religionists (this time Moslems) I get nervous.

I guess I shouldn’t have even entered the conversation, but I felt that defending my friend’s post was the right thing to do. That was a mistake, for once again I found myself ambushed by a conservative Christian who listened to nothing that I said, mocked and belittled me and when I stood up for myself condemned me. It didn’t matter that I had been threatened even with death by alleged Christians, I was told that “blasphemers against Christianity have nothing to fear in the West.” When I said that I didn’t blaspheme I was met with derision. When I told my story and told her that since she didn’t know me to shut up, of course I was told by her: Not very Christian to tell people you don’t agree with to shut up.” Of course she had already for all intents and purposes told me to shut up without using those words. 

I am sorry, but I would rather have a completely secular society than to deal with theocratic religionists of any kind, Christian, Moslem, Jew, in any way. I totally agree with Eric Hoffer about true believers, they are dangerous and they will stoop to anything to silence dissent, even terrorism and murder.

It is true in the west just is it is true in places like Iraq where Sunni and Shia Moslems kill each other with abandon. I remember secular Iraqi Moslem Army officers telling me how they wished they had Christian priests like me to care for their soldiers because they did not trust the Sunni and Shia Mullahs who had helped destroy that country after we Americans did our part in 2003.

So if that offends any religionist of any sect, even people who profess with they lips to be my Christian brother or sister but could’t care if I lived or die, I don’t care, the truth matters more.

But then maybe I do, care too much…

But, when I think of it, Eric Hoffer was right. To this lady and many conservative Christians I am evil, because I will not toe their line and put up with their bullshit. Perhaps I will meet this lady in heaven or hell and we can have a bar fight.

But I am a realist. I do know that the external threat if Islamic radicals is a danger, but sadly, I felt safer on Iraqi bases with small groups of Americans than I do today among most conservative American Christians. The Iraqi military men that I knew, Sunni and Shia were much more welcoming of dialogue, relationships and capable of empathy than the vast majority of those who call themselves conservative Christians. Likewise, most of them had a more sincere faith in Jesus than many who I see in this country who use Jesus and the Christian faith as a wedge issue to promote their political power and position.

Gustave Gilbert, the American Army Jewish psychologist who worked with the major German war criminals at Nuremberg said that “evil was the absence of empathy.” Sadly, empathy is a quality that many, if not most const conservative American Christians have. Frankly, life was easier before I learned to feel compassion and have empathy for those who I thought were the enemies of God. When you honestly believe that you are the elect, that you are a “true believer” and all others are suspect, life is easy and Eric Hoffer nailed it.

So I need to have some beer and calm down, maybe watch a movie.

Have a nice night.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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Filed under christian life, civil rights, faith, News and current events, Religion, Tour in Iraq

Barak Obama and the Beginning of the End of the Castro Regime

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In 1961 the Kennedy administration imposed a diplomatic and economic embargo on the nascent Castro regime in Cuba. At the time with the Cold War going full steam ahead the decision seemed logical and appropriate. Never mid the fact that decades of American policy which favored the Bautista dictatorship, the economic interests of American corporations and did nothing to help Cuba’s poor had helped bring about Castro’s rule. Likewise never mind the fact that Americans using Cuban mercenaries only pushed Castro further into Soviet orbit with the Bay of Pigs invasion.

But following the Cuba missile crisis the embargo and diplomatic isolation remained in place. However, in 1972 President Richard Nixon brokered a deal of detente with the Soviet Union, a superpower that was an existential threat to the United States, as well as Mao Tse Tung’s Communist China, a power that we had fought to a standstill in Korea, and which had just a few years before embarked on its “cultural revolution” one of the bloodiest and ruthless events of the twentieth century.

Nixon was a diplomatic genius who was not so wedded to his own extremely anti-Communist ideology not to recognize when a moment to change history was in the offing. Otto Von Bismarck noted that “The statesman’s task is to hear God’s footsteps marching through history and then to try to catch onto his coattails as He marches past.”

Bismarck was right and both Nixon and Obama heard the footsteps of God in terms of diplomacy and foreign relations. Sadly very few ideologues, like Senator Marco Rubio ever get this nuance and would rather maintain a failed policy that neither benefits the United States or the Cuban people, but which is one of the few things that have kept the Castro brothers in business long after most Communist regimes ended up on the ash-heap of history.

The amazing thing is that the polices of Richard Nixon regarding the Soviet Union and China had dramatic and positive effects that his successors, be they Republican or Democrat really did not grasp. Instead, when the Iron curtain came down we in the west did all that we could to humiliate the former USSR and brought about the bellicose dictator by another name Vladimir Putin. Likewise we failed to understand the pragmatic and nationalistic nature of the Chinese Communist regime that was brought about by Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping. In both cases our failure to grasp the reality of our former opponents created new adversaries.

But such was not the case with Cuba. Cuba was different, especially after the Cold War ended. Despite our differences Cuba and the United States should have been able to overcome the effects of Castro’s seizure of power and brokered an understanding. Yes Castro was and is a Communist, but that, even during the Cold War did not prevent effective diplomacy with other Communist states such as Tito’s Yugoslavia, a country that had there been a conflict between the Soviet Union and NATO that might have well sided with the west. But with Cuba there was no nuance. Castro was the enemy.

The irony was that in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s it was Cuban soldiers that protected U.S. based oil company refineries, installations and American personnel in Angola against CIA sponsored insurgents.

The American economic embargo has been a failure for decades. This was even more the case after after the fall of the Soviet Union when our allies in South and Central America and Europe realized that Cuba was no longer a threat and refused to support our embargo, rendering it impotent, except in the domestic politics of South Florida. Only fools believe that continuing it will change Cuba. The economic and diplomatic isolation has been going on for 53 years, 23 of them after the fall of the Iron curtain, and it has failed. Fools like Marco Rubio who even before President Obama made his announcement was at a microphone condemning the decision. But then Marco Rubio is both an ideologue who basks in his status of being a victim of the dying Castro regime.

The arguments of Rubio and the other partisan flacks in the American domestic political scene for maintaining the economic embargo and diplomatic isolation are not only short sighted and play to their own local political constituency, but they work against the United States in trying to achieve a responsible and workable solution to the impasse that has poisoned Cuban-American relations for six decades.

The fact is, despite the protestation of Rubio and others we deal with a lot more unsavory characters than the Castros. Yes, they are thugs. Yes they run a police state with few freedoms and where religious liberty is not protected, but they didn’t support Al Qaida like some of our closest allies in the Middle East did, they never near sank a U.S. Navy ship like Israel did in the six day war, and they didn’t kill or wound tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel like the Chinese did when they intervened in the Korea War. From a terrorist or real military threat to U.S. National Security interests the Cubans are minor leaguers and their leaders know that.

President Obama has brought about a political and diplomatic coup in Cuban-America relations, and for now on there will be no going back. Maybe now the United States and Cuba will be able to fulfill our common destinies to work together for the betterment of our hemisphere and world.

Of course for taking this long overdue action, something that either President Bush or President Clinton should have done years ago is now being called a traitor and worse by his domestic political opponents. However, like Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis realized, the time has come for change in our relationship.

This is a historic day and a decision that was long overdue. It is a watershed, and even if the Congress refuses to lift the economic aspects, things in Cuba will change. Freedom will come and soon Cubans and Americans will finally have the chance to build a constructive and positive relationship that helps both peoples.

I have stood at the Northeast Gate of Guantanamo Bay, I have looked over the fence line at Cuba, and I pray that one day I will see the rest of that country.

This is a good night… And as a side note it will be great for baseball. Just imagine the course of history had Fidel Castro been drafted by the Yankees in the early 1950s. Hell he might be the President of the America League by now and he might not have agreed with the designated hitter rule.

But that being sad, Barak Obama should be getting the accolades given to  Nixon, and later Ronald Reagan when he dealt with Gorbachev in 1986 and 1987. This is a watershed and it will change Cuban-American relations for the better, and help the Cuban people. This is a win for the good guys, and even more importantly it will be a win for baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, leadership, national security, Political Commentary

The Enduring Message of Lent for those at the Mendoza Line

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Jesus said to his disciples:“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…”

Today was Ash Wednesday the beginning of Lent. For those who do not know me or are not familiar with my life, story or writings it is a time that I best describe as one where I am conflicted. Lent is my least favorite season of the liturgical year.

But before you start picking up stones, arrows or even bullets to schwack me, let me tell you why…

You see I have no issue with what Jesus said, which is at the heart of the Ash Wednesday Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter six. In fact I totally agree with what Jesus said in the passage because I know that I am a total screw up and as far as the Christian life goes I am a “Mendoza Line” performer.*

I am always amazed when I read the words of Jesus and compare them with the way many American Christians do the Christian life:

“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them…”

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them…”

“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting…”

What has become apparent to me is that many Christians are quite proud at being the new chosen people and many actually look down on unbelievers or for that matter even other Christians who do not fit with interpretation of either doctrinal correctness or personal holiness.

I can no longer do that and to think that for quite a few years I did is something that bothers me.

You see I am not bothered by people who really know their faith, nor am I bothered by those who those who live a beautiful life of personal holiness and piety. Such would be petty especially because people who are able to do this are probably doing better than me. What bothers me is when people hold their holiness over the heads of other people as if they were better than others.

Such attitudes are not the Gospel, but they are all too common and sadly the world can see right through Christian hypocrisy. That might be what people inside the church, especially young people are fleeing it, and why more and more people are rejecting what they see in the visible church, while still wanting to seek God and a spiritual life.
I have to admit that if I was not already a Christian in the face of so many intolerant, vile, hypocritical people who claim to represent Jesus that I would reject the Christian faith out of hand. There is nothing that I want from people that feel that they are superior to others when all that we have as Christians is from the “free gift of God.”

I really don’t need to be reminded that I am a screw up. At the same time there is something liberating in the message of Lent. It runs counter to the message of our culture. As I mentioned last night I will be giving up some things, but not because I am any better than anyone else, but to remind me of my humanity and my need for God.

I doubt that I will ever really look forward to or enjoy Lent, but I don’t have to look forward to it or enjoy the season in order to have some spiritual growth and benefit from it. I hope to have some spiritual growth during this season of Lent. For the first time since I returned from Iraq I am going to try to do a few of the more external observances, but will not get stuck in them. Instead I will seek to learn and grow spiritually during this time.

Pope Francis mentioned something last year that I think is relevant to us during the Lenten season, especially of we in our efforts to seek God find a way to exclude him through our own self righteousness:

“Spiritual worldliness, which hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church, consists in seeking not the Lord’s glory but human glory and personal well-being.”

To be honest that expresses the frustration I experience during Lent and I pray that somehow in my life and witness of Jesus the Christ that I will not through my own self-righteousness drive people away from him.

Peace

Padre Steve+

*Note: Mario Mendoza with a shortstop who played with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was an excellent defensive player but his hitting left much to be desired. In the course of his career he hit for an average of .215. To this day a ball player who hits at the .200 level is known as a Mendoza line hitter, it is the level that a player can hit at and still stay in the major leagues.

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Christian Culture Warriors Versus Pope Francis and Boarding the Wrong Train

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“If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It has been amazing for me to watch and listen to influential leaders of the Christian Right vilify Pope Francis for “being liberal” and “surrendering in the culture war.” I find it amazing because for the past 30 years I have been watching the culture warriors fight this war.

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It was in 1992 when Pat Buchanan announced at the Republican National Convention that “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

I had deep ambivalence that speech back then and I was a conservative Republican and moderately conservative Christian. I had already seen how vicious the politically driven Christian conservatism was when I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary during the early part of the Fundamentalist takeover of that school.

When I was ordained as a Priest in a more conservative Episcopal denomination back in 1996 I became part of a denomination at the time that had fully embraced the ideas of the culture war. When we went to clergy conferences our textbooks were those of Buchanan, Robert Bork, and Thomas Sowell as well as many others which espoused the necessity and rightness of the religious and culture war. Leadership indoctrinated us in this.

However as a military chaplain I had deep qualms about what was going on in this because I was already seeing the practical effects this was having on those who I served. I remember talking to some of the other chaplains in the denomination, a number who had similar concerns.

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So for many years I operated in the nether world of representing a denomination which by the day was growing more deeply aligned with the culture warriors. It began to come to a head in 2006 when Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Navy Chaplain on active duty began a campaign which ended caused a great uproar among religious conservatives and caused chaplains from many conservative denominations great grief as people in our churches looked to Klingenschmitt as a some kind of hero. In fact he was not. He was and is a pathological liar who has been on a Jihad since even before he entered the Navy as a Chaplain in 2003. I saw the unbridled vicious and unethical behavior exhibited by Klingenschmitt and his allies in the extreme Christian right and the right wing political hacks and pundits who use the Christian faith and unwitting but sincere Christians to advance an agenda which is neither Christian nor faithful to the vision of our founding fathers.

It was after that that I deployed to Iraq where what I saw and experienced changed me in profound ways. Suffering from chronic and severe PTSD I suffered a collapse of faith and for two years was for all intents and purposes an agnostic just hoping that God existed. Only my strong sense of vocation and the grace and mercy of God kept me going. But when faith returned it was different and as I began to write about it I realized who much I had changed. In September 2010 I was told by my Bishop that I needed to leave the church because I was “too liberal.”

So now when I see the same right wing political hacks, pundits, preachers and politicians who have been stoking this Christian version of Jihad against a plethora of enemies, Moslems, Gays, women, Liberals, progressives in fact anyone that they want to label as different then them or “enemies” of God or “America” I get my hackles up.

When I heard Pat Buchanan and Sarah Palin condemning Pope Francis for his alleged liberalism I realized that no Christian leader was safe from their foolish and shortsighted agenda. Pope Francis has chosen the way of Jesus, he is embracing people that conservative Christians have not only marginalized, but have persecuted for years and are still attempting to do so in the United States and elsewhere. There are times that I fear for the life of Pope Francis because there are people who believe so strongly that they would kill him if they believed that God wanted them to, and when people like Buchanan accuse Francis of surrendering in the culture war they help justify people wo will kill in the name of God.

What seems to me that most of these people lack is a real sense of historical context, not only of the importance that the founders of the United States placed on the freedom of religion and freedom from religion as well as the history of other countries.

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One of my special areas of study is the Weimar Republic and the Nazi period of German history. Religious conservatives were often willing partners with Hitler and the Nazi movement because of their opposition to socialism and what they saw as an atheistic movement in Germany, which many lamed on the Jews. Martin Niemöller was a prominent pastor in that era. His writings reflected the feelings of many. He wrote:

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

Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.

However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

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Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.

Bishop Galen of Münster and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.

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All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against inGermany.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat toGermany.  Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish.  The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in theSoviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked inGermany.  Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well inGermany.  Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War.  Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.

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When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state.  They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing.  Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state.  Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps.  Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they leftGermany.  This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.

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Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States.  This time it is not the Jews but Moslems, Homosexuals, and “Liberals” who are the targets of the xenophobic and ideological rage vocalized by many influential members of the “conservative” media including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others.

Their support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians.  It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Gays and Lesbians, trade unionists, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers and the Gospel.

It is if they have become an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians rather than a Christian church.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war.   That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible Project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.”  Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.

There are those on the far right that advocate eliminating all Moslems from the military, government, security intelligence and police forces and even universities as did Timothy Rollins of “The American Partisan.”

“this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities….”

Glenn Beck made this comment about a people reacting against Moslems:

“When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”

Doug Giles a seminary educated columnist for Townhall.com a leading conservative opinion site made this comment

“Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”

Similar threats are made against non-European immigrants especially those from Mexico or Latin America.  I have a friend; a Navy Officer who served a year in Iraq that was confronted by a member of the “Minutemen” in Texas to show his Green Card and threatened simply because he is Mexican.   Others especially conservative Christians suggest criminalizing homosexuality, jailing homosexuals and even deporting them. Some Christian political action groups are going overseas to Russia and Africa to help enact laws against homosexuals and recently the same people have been hosted by members of Congress to promote their ideology.

These actions and proposed laws are so similar to the Nuremberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary.  Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling.  I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?

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This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted.  I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say.  That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.

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I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers.  This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum.

What the good people who suggesting these “collective guilt” actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but ultimately for them.  American and English law is based on legal precedence.  Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law.  This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings.  If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground.  Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents.

Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone.   What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare.  With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state.  The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.

The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief.  The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment.  This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not.  Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:

“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”

It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times.

So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left.  Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary.  Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion.  Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination.  The movement of the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place.  It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.

We have entered a dangerous phase of American history.  These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems, Gays, Secularists and others and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious, ethnic, political or religious affiliation, sexual preference be jailed, banned from office or fired is totalitarian and dare I say Nazi like.

Christian culture warriors have become so enamored with political power and using the state to enforce their beliefs. They  have forgotten that the people are not converted by religious laws enforced by the police power of the state but on the love shown by God’s people to others. They have forgotten that the sword that they desire to use against those that they despise can easily be turned against them. Many German Christians found this out far too late.

Niemöller would say it well in this poem:

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.

If Christians would only learn that lesson.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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