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Stupidity Infects the Church

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

Those words are more profound than many of us would admit, and sadly in the United States they are the last thing thought about by supposedly orthodox Evangelical Christians.

Today I want to follow up on something my friend from my former church denomination, Fr. Kenneth Tanner posted on Facebook. Ken is both orthodox and conservative in his theology. He is a remarkable writer and he puts his faith into action at the local level in his parish in Michigan. Over the past couple of days he has posted comments that I wish I had posted because not only do I want to agree with him but because they call me back to who I am as a Christian and why in spite of everything I still remain one.

Yesterday Fr. Ken posted this gem which reminds me of so many of the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

“Every attempt by the church to tie its mission and destiny to a political leader, or party, or policy involves forgetting the Spirit. Presidents and legislatures and courts and banks and marketplaces are not in the business of resurrection. The church is.

The day before he posted a comment which I think in light of the political scandals, especially those of politicians, Republican and Democrat regarding sexual assault:

“This is for my people, speaking as a leader within our community. It may not apply to you but they need this right now; they need to know where I stand.

No. It is not OK for a man to seduce or pursue or be alone with teenaged girls. And, no, it is not possible for there to be a consensual sexual relationship between a man and a teenaged girl.

Yes. Women and girls who make allegations of sexual harassment or assault are almost always telling the truth and we should assume female veracity even as justice and accountability are pursued in ways that ensure the rights of the accused.

There is a reason that false accusation is for God on a level of moral seriousness reserved for murder, because it “murders” the reputation and life of those falsely accused, but we also have to understand that most victims of sexual harassment and assault are honest with near-mortal wounds of their own that they bear.

No. It is never OK to turn a blind eye to multiple and credible witnesses against a leader running for public office because utilitarian politics are more important than principles and human decency.

It matters not one wit if a presidential agenda or a senate majority or the makeup of the Supreme Court or any other grave moral challenge—like the precious life of the unborn—hangs in the balance.

It also make zero difference if it’s all so unfair or the other “side” doesn’t play by the rules or everyone is against “us.”

There is no justifiable reason for a pastor to support a candidate for public office that is accused by multiple women of sexual assault. It is an offense to the gospel and calls the integrity of the church into question.

In short, Christian faith is rarely about winning. It’s about dying and waiting for God to use our death in his grand promise to make all things well.

When I saw it I read it to one of my Chaplains who is also a theological evangelical conservative who was amazed at Kenneth’s boldness and how well he said what needed to be said.

As I have pondered his comments I meditated on some of the words of the German Pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Honestly, I don’t think I could even hold a candle to Bonhoeffer but in our country at this time I think that Kenneth does. Kenneth, like Bonhoeffer is a theologian of the Cross.

As I continue to read things being said in the defense of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, and the defense of the unprincipled and thoroughly un-Christian actions of President Trump and GOP lawmakers I am ashamed to even call myself a Christian. Honestly I cannot believe than anyone claiming to be a Christian would defend them, but these defenders of Moore and Trump are abusing utilitarian ethics while claiming to follow supposedly Biblical absolutes. They would condemn Bill Clinton (as he should be) but let Trump and Moore off the hook for even worse moral acts. Theirs is indeed a dark and dystopian world where Orwellian doublespeak is the norm, and the clear words of Jesus the exception. I do not know whether to hate them or pity them, but because of Christ, as much as I detest them and their actions I cannot hate them, as Jesus said from the Cross, “they know not what they do.”

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.”

This so totally describes those who defend Trump, Moore, or for that matter anyone from the other side of the political spectrum who have groped, assaulted, raped, or abused young women, or in some cases young men and then defend themselves as good Christians, or liberal humanitarians. As for me I care not a wit whether they are Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives, religious or irreligious, the point is, at least for me is that I have to be honest and not sacrifice my integrity for any kind of temporal gain. I cannot hold those who I agree with politically or socially to a different standard than those who I oppose simply because they are more representative of my political or social views.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

Despite all of my struggles with faith I am still drawn to the Crucified God, and as such my life, my politics, and my words, as hopelessly flawed as they may be and as I am, have to at least attempt to live up to the Gospel of Christ. Otherwise what use am I?

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary

Pastors go into Mooregasms to Defend Roy Moore

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor’s Letter

Dear friends and fellow Alabamians,

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

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

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

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

In your service,

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Rodgers, Dothan, Alabama

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

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

Pastor Mike Allison, Madison, Alabama

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

Pastors Tim and Elizabeth Hanson, Smiths Station, Alabama

Pastor Mark Liddle, Dominion Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama

Pastor Steve Sanders, Victory Baptist Church, Millbrook, Alabama

Dr. Richard Fox, retired Baptist pastor

Dr. Randy Cooper, Pastor, Warrior, Alabama

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

Maurice McCaney, Victory Christian Fellowship Church, Florence, Alabama

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

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

Pastor Rodney Gilmore, Covenant Christian, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Mark Gidley, Faith Worship Center, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Bill Snow, Edgewood Church, Anniston, Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Thad Endicott, Heritage Baptist Church, Opelika, Alabama

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

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

Pastor Bruce Word, Freedom Church, Gadsden, Alabama

Pastor Paul Hubbard, Lakeview Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Glenn Brock, Eufaula, Alabama

Rev. Tim Head, Montgomery, Alabama

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

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

Pastor Myron Mooney, Trinity Free Presbyterian, Trinity, Alabama

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

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

Pastor Earl Wise, Millbrook, Alabama

Rick and Beverly Simpson, Summit Holiness Church, Alabama

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

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

Dr. George Grant, Pastor, Parish Presbyterian Church

Pastor David Whitney, Cornerstone Church

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

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

Dr. Michael Peroutka, Institute on the Constitution

Reverend Bill Owens, Coalition of African American Pastors

**Church names are listed for identification purposes only

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

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

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

Insincere: Christians are concerned only with collecting converts

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

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

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

Bonhoeffer wrote:

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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

Some Civil War Reading for those Who Dare Question Trump, Kelly, and Sanders

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am still appalled at the remarks made by President Trump’s Chief of Staff on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News propaganda broadcast the other night. In my view a man whose military career was marked by honorable service has destroyed his reputation over the past month in defending the indefensible words and actions of President Trump. In doing that he also went to where no knowledgeable person should go in his remarks about the Civil War and the traitorous Confederate General Robert E. Lee. According to Kelly the war was simply due to an inability to compromise, disregarding decades of compromise by slavery opponents beginning with the 3/5ths rule which allowed Slave States which had far fewer white citizens than Free States to count their slaves as 3/5ths of a person to increase their representation in the House of Representatives and many other compromises, all of which benefited slave owners, Slave States, and businesses in the South and North who all profited from slavery.

The fact that Kelly also defended Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a man whose life has been baptized in myth for a century and a half, and was backed up by Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and the previous words of the President who called the White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis whose march in Charlottesville resulted in the deaths of one counter-protester and two Virginia State Troopers “good people.”

Like General Kelly I am a military and combat veteran of over 30 years of service, and though I didn’t know him at the time our careers crossed paths in 2000-2001 in the Second Marine Division at Camp LeJeune North Carolina. That being said I have more post-graduate education than the retired General, I am a historian, and I also have completed the same level of Joint Professional Military Education as Kelly. In addition my first book, Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory: Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era, which hopefully will be published in the next year deals extensively with the subject of slavery and Southerner’s inability to compromise as the chief cause of the Civil War will show that I actually have the gravitas to tell the retired General, the Press Secretary, or the President, that on this subject they should not make idiots of themselves by spouting such moronic and historically unsupportable comments.

But I don’t want my readers to just take my word for it. Here is a reading list of reputable and non-politically ideological historians and their works which demonstrate my points. So here they are in no particular order:

Battlecry of Freedom by James McPherson which is the definite one volume treatment of the era. It is followed by Allen Guelzo’s Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War, and David Goldfield’s America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. But there are more…

Eric Foner’s “Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction”, David Blight’s Beyond the Battlefield: Race Memory, and the American Civil War, and Charles Lane’s The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction are equally important in understanding how slavery and racism were paramount issues in what caused the conflict and the events following it. Of course one cannot forget the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass when contemplating the causes of the war in regards to race and slavery. Meanwhile Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South helps readers to understand the domestic politics of the Confederacy. Likewise, Elizabeth Pryor’s Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee helps bust the myth of Lee using his own words.

But religion in the South had a profound impact on the war, principally because Southern religious leaders were in the forefront of the support of slavery and the push for secession, and Michael Snay’s Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South is one of a number of books that demonstrate the importance that pro-slavery and pro-secession leaders ascribed to Religion and their view that God had ordained slavery and created blacks as less than human.

Less known stories are told by Brian Jordan in his book Marching Home: Union Veterans and their Unending Civil War, and Noah Andre Trudeau’s Like Men of War: Black Troops in the Civil War are especially important in light of the vast numbers of books that extol the Confederate Army and its soldiers.

If one wants to read collections of essays from individuals, politicians, and the press regarding the causes of the war and what happened afterward the must read collections include James Lowen’s The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause”, William Gienapp’s The Civil War and Reconstruction: A Documentary Collection and the New York Times collection Disunion: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War From Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation.

I could recommend quite a few more books and collections but I think this is enough for now. Reading books like these helps to discourage ignorance and makes one accountable for what they say about history, especially when people like Kelly, Sanders, and Trump, try to misuse it as a weapon to advance falsehoods and buttress unconscionable and unconstitutional ideas. I do have a draft of an article about Robert E. Lee that I will do some more work with before I publish it here, but honestly, the man is not one that any officer should aspire to be like, despite the myth that surrounds him.

Until tomorrow when I hope to be writing about what has been a great World Series I wish you a great night and day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under civil war, History, News and current events, Political Commentary

Character and Leadership: Kaiser Wilhelm II and President Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Theodore Roosevelt noted: “Character, in the long run, is the decisive factor in the life of an individual and of nations alike.”

As the dual crises of indictments and potential nuclear war swirl around the White House I think that it is important to see the President’s words and actions in light of a number of factors. One of those, as Theodore Roosevelt noted is character. Thus it is important to know how the character other leaders at other times influenced how they treated people, reacted to criticism, and led their nations.

In the American experience one is hard pressed to find a President with a similar temperament and character that corresponds to Donald Trump. Yes, Nixon had some similarities, Jackson as well, but both men even at their worst did, at least in public restrain themselves and Nixon, when confronted with the reality of certain impeachment did the country a favor by resigning.

But that was a different time. There were leaders in the Republican Party who chose to honor the Constitution and their oaths over blind party loyalty or their determination to pass a certain legislative act. Their resistance to President Nixon was instrumental in his resignation in 1974. But there seem to be few current members of the GOP congressional delegations willing to stand either for fear of the Trump base, or blind determination to press on with tax cuts even if it means the sacrifice of the Constitution, nuclear war, or their own integrity.

But I do think that there is a leader who in temperament was much like President Trump, who ended up helping to lead his nation and the world to the abyss of World War. That is not Adolf Hitler who many people often compare the President. I think that Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his reliance on his radicalized base, including armed mobs in the street, and hyper-partisan allies in the right wing media, especially Fox News and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp which serves as his de-facto state media are similar, but they do not speak to the President’s unstable, narcissistic, and paranoid behaviors. I think that the better comparison is to Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany with whom the President seems to share many similarities.

In his book The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, Christopher Clark wrote of Wilhelm in words that are strikingly reminiscent of the President.

“It was one of this Kaiser’s many peculiarities that he was completely unable to calibrate his behaviour to the contexts in which his high office obliged him to operate. Too often he spoke not like a monarch, but like an over-excited teenager giving free rein to his current preoccupations.

‘I am the sole master of German policy,’ he remarked in a letter to the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VII), ‘and my country must follow me wherever I go”

“Wilhelm frequently –especially in the early years of his reign –bypassed his responsible ministers by consulting with ‘favourites’, encouraged factional strife in order to undermine the unity of government, and expounded views that had not been cleared with the relevant ministers or were at odds with the prevailing policy.

“It was in this last area –the unauthorized exposition of unsanctioned political views –that the Kaiser achieved the most hostile notice, both from contemporaries and from historians. There can be no doubt about the bizarre tone and content of many of the Kaiser’s personal communications in telegrams, letters, marginal comments, conversations, interviews and speeches on foreign and domestic political themes. Their exceptional volume alone is remarkable: the Kaiser spoke, wrote, telegraphed, scribbled and ranted more or less continuously during the thirty years of his reign, and a huge portion of these articulations was recorded and preserved for posterity…”

Max Hastings wrote that Wilhelm “was a brittle personality whose yearning for respect caused him to intersperse blandishments and threats in ill-judged succession.” Sean McMeekin in his book July 1914 wrote that Wilhelm had an “insecurity complex, a need for constant attention and acclaim. As one of his many critics put it, the kaiser needed to be “the stag at every hunt, the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” He also noted “Eager for praise, taking offense at the merest slight, the kaiser was a difficult man to work for. Bismarck had disdained to gratify Wilhelm II’s fragile ego after he became emperor in 1888, which led to his sacking two years later.”

Like President Trump the Kaiser did experience some push back from different governmental ministers, and was somewhat restrained during the month leading up to the war, but his constant belligerence, instability, and unscripted remarks helped set the diplomatic and governmental crisis that led to the war. Of course this was not his fault alone, the Austrian-Hungarians, Serbians, Russians, French, and British all had a hand, but the Kaiser, through his words and actions during the three decades preceding the war bears much responsibility for what happened in 1914. If the Kaiser had had a Twitter account he would have certainly used it in a similar manner to President Trump.

But Germany had no checks and balances to restrain Wilhelm. He was an absolute monarch. Americans do still have institutional checks and balances to Presidential overreach or abuses should we choose to follow the Constitution, but for that to happen the leadership of the Republican Party must also act, as did their predecessors during the Nixon administration to put principle or party, and rule of law over blind obedience. This is not about partisanship; it is about the Constitution, our form of government, and yes, even the prevention of nuclear war.

Character and temperament are very important in times of crisis and elevated tensions. Character is also fate. We should all tremble when we think of the lack of character and maturity shown by our President.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Kelly Kerfuffle

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I was sad when I saw retired Marine General John Kelly and current Chief of Staff to President Donald Trump debase himself in order to defend the President’s remarkers to a pregnant and now widowed wife of a fallen Green Beret. But let me explain, because context is everything when dealing with a situation like this.

But please let me preface my comments by explaining a bit of my background. I have spent most of my life in military society and have been formed by my experiences as a Navy Brat, seventeen and a half years in the Army, Army National Guard and Reserve, and another almost nineteen years in the Navy in which I have served over six years with the Marines and another four years in Joint assignments. I was born in a Navy hospital in 1960 and the military has been my life. From the time I was a young child it was my desire to serve in the military. When I got old enough to join my parents talked me out of enlisting immediately after high school to check out college. I did that, met the girl that became my wife, and realized that I still desired to serve in the military. Thirty-six years after first swearing into the Army in August 1981 I still serve. I have made multiple deployments, suffer from severe PTSD and other afflictions but I neither regret any part of my service nor think that somehow my service makes me any more of a patriot than people who love this country and serve in other ways. My brother has never served in the military but he is a stellar school administrator in a very challenging school district and his wife is a teacher. Neither of them has served in the military but there is no doubt that they love the country and have made sacrifices to serve the people of my hometown when they could have done other things.

First let me say that while he was on active duty I both respected and admired General Kelly, especially after his son, a Marine Corps Lieutenant was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. His loss is some ways, from a personal point of view unimaginable to me because I have never fathered any children and thus never experienced the loss of a son. I have sat with hundreds of fathers and mothers who have lost their children from all kinds of reasons including war to understand their loss from a clinical and pastoral standpoint but I cannot completely empathize because I never had a child or lost one.

Unfortunately, at least from my point of view General Kelly jumped the shark in attempting to defend the words of an unapologetic, and at least from all I have read, uncaring, President Trump. Honestly there is nothing that General Kelly could have done to salvage our the situation for the President unless the President himself had done something to apologize or to defuse the situation before it blew up. All the President had to do, even if he was sincere about it, was to say, “I didn’t mean to come across the way that I and do care for you. Please if I can do anything to help during these terrible times let me know, I will,stand by you as long as you need and will make sure that you are not forgotten.” But the President can admit no fault and blames everyone else for his mistakes, missteps, and outright fuck-ups. Because of that General Kelly should have said nothing and simply worked to contain the damage of the President, but he and the White House Press Secretary poured gasoline on the fire.

Despite being a Gold Star father he showed no empathy to the wife of the Green Beret, Mrs. Johnson. Instead he launched into a speech about the decline in traditional values, including respect for women (which the three times married, lecherous, and misogynistic President has never himself imbibed in). General Kelly then made his statement an ad hominem political attack on Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Florida who listen to the call which riding with Sergeant Johnson’s widow. General Kelly, who had not been a target of any criticism then went to the defense of the President, insulted her, deprecated her, and was hugely and factually wrong in criticizing her remarks at an FBI building dedication in 2015, which was proven by video recordings of her comments in 2015. He also made a qualitative judgment about the value of those who have served in the military and those who haven’t. It was as he said, if you haven’t served I neither respect you or value your opinion. His comments sounded much like Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) in A Few Good Men.

In answering questions about General Kelly’s comments White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders basically told critics of Kelly:”If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.” But General Kelly is now retired. He serves in a civilian capacity and by the way no General or Admiral, active, Reserve, or retired is above criticism in our form of government and it is why that the founders had a deep distrust of military establishments and the machinations of Generals in politics. But Mr. Kelly does not seem to appreciate that distinction.

Conservative Republican columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote:

“Recognition is now sinking in that Kelly is not so different than all the other politicians and officials who come in contact with Trump. To serve him requires suspension of integrity, and therefore those who serve become morally corrupted.”

That is not good. Elliot Cohen who served in the Bush White House said that Sanders’s comments were “a statement worthy of Wilhelmine Germany at its worst.”

What Mr. Kelly did was to throw gasoline on an already raging fire, and to act more as a politician by launching attacks on a congresswoman who heard the conversation that as someone trying to be the adult in the room. I can imagine that he has not really gotten over the loss of his son and that he is still hurting, and like many of us who served, often blames civilians who have never served in the military, especially at war, as part of the problem. However, it was the military after the Vietnam War who in conjunction with legislators from both parties that helped design this all-volunteer military in the mid-1970s.

Please do not get me wrong, but Mr. Kelly hurt his reputation and moral standing by wading into the fray.

So anyway, I could write more from other perspectives but I will wait.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, Military, Political Commentary

What I Signed Up For: Reflections on “What I Signed Up For”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I enlisted in the Army National Guard about the same time I entered the Army ROTC program at UCLA in August 1981. When I enlisted I did so knowing that if I successfully got through all of my training that I would not only put myself in harms way, but be responsible for the life of the soldiers who served under my command. Back then there was much to worry about. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan, the Middle East was in turmoil following the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, while it appeared that the United States and the Soviet Union were on the precipice of a war which could destroy the world.

Once I was commissioned and stationed in Germany, all of my training, and all of our war plans had my house in the middle of a war that had it happened would have resulted in seventy to ninety percent casualties for my unit. In fact, I had signed up to die should a war break out. Thirty-six later, having been to war, I still know my duty as a military officer should a war like that which was imagined when I first enlisted and was commissioned should occur, I must be ready to die. The fact that I am already goofed up from PTSD and moral injury is irrelevant, I have to be ready to go to war and accept my fate.

That being said, my wife Judy didn’t sign up for that. So when I see and hear about politicians who dodged the draft like our current President tell a grieving widow of a Green Beret that he signed up for that, I get annoyed. It was a cruel thing for him to say, even if he meant well.

The fact is that I have been present at far too many death notifications, both military and civilian. Honestly there are very few good words one can say at such times and I have known, and I myself have totally screwed up when trying to go further than simply expressing my condolences and offering my help. Once a leader enters into the realm of trying to justify or soften the death of a military member it usually does not go well, especially when they are emotionally disconnected and cannot deal with the human cost of war, suffering and death, as seems to be the case with President Trump when he made a condolence call to the widow of Army Sergeant LaDavid Johnson. That call, the response of Mrs. Johnson, Sergeant Johnson’s mother, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, and the President’s lashing out at their criticism had ignited a firestorm that I wish had never occurred. It also points to the danger when anyone attempts to comfort loved ones who died in war, particularly when so few people have had to deal with the anguish of war.

When people like this make notifications or condolence calls as was the case here, their emotional disconnect often leads to painfully awkward and sometime very damaging experiences for the person on the receiving end of the call. While the young Green Beret volunteered for such duty he most certainly understood the risks, but that is not the point. I signed up knowing the risks and took many extra ones by volunteering for dangerous assignments, usually only telling Judy after the fact, but then a lot of us are that way, but like it or not the fact that we know what we signed up for is but cold comfort to a grieving widow. That is not what they want to hear, their husbands may have known what they were signing up for and maybe even pushed the danger envelope, but telling the grieving widow that does nothing to mitigate their loss. When offering condolences the best advice is just to try to be there emotionally with the person, to listen to their grief, to express sympathy, and to offer to be there to help; or if you are the President to make a solemn promise to ensure they get what they need and to get to the bottom of what caused the death of their loved one.

Honestly, since he didn’t comment or even issue the press release that was written for him, I believe that he made this call in order to control the political damage done by his previous inaction. Likewise, I don’t think that the President meant to come across as uncaring, or unfeeling to Mrs. Johnson, and when he was criticized he did what he always does, he lashes out. That is who he is, that is what he is and sadly I don’t think that he has the capacity to learn from his mistakes or to change. I don’t think that he truly has the capacity to enter into the emotional world of what military personnel in harms way deal with or what their families experience.

But like I said at the beginning of this, when a President who dodged the draft and avoided military service makes a comment like what Mr. Trump did, it adds context to what was said. I can understand why Mrs. Johnson would take it as an insult to her husband’s service. In the context of Mr. Trump it is not hard to understand why people would be outraged. He compared avoiding sexually transmitted diseases to what combat veterans went through, demeaned the service of a legitimate war hero, Senator John McCain, called military personnel who suffer from PTSD “weak”, and who before his election disparaged those who have fought our wars as losers. He is a man who has said that he “loves war” but who avoided military service at all costs.

I found this whole event discouraging from a personal perspective because while I do not believe that the President meant to to be disrespectful to Mrs. Johnson, she did take it that way, as would many widows. His response of going on the attack after being criticized was worthy of condemnation. I have served under six Presidents including President Trump and I cannot imagine Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, or Barack Obama responding to the grief of a widow in such an overtly self defensive, calculating, and politically expedient act in terms of shoring up his base as did President Trump.

I also what will happen when the President either through accident or intent stumbles into a war on the Korean Peninsula or the Persian Gulf that kills many more Americans in a shorter time than in the Korean War or World War Two. I am reminded of the words of General John Buford played by Sam Elliott:

“We will charge valiantly… and be butchered valiantly! And afterwards, men in tall hats and gold watch fobs will thump their chests and say what a brave charge it was.

I know what I signed up for up for. Judy and I talk about these things and after knowing me for almost forty years she understands me better than anyone. We were talking about the possibility of war a couple of weeks ago and she asked “will you resign or retire?” I said that I couldn’t because my place would to be with the troops. She said. “I knew that.” That doesn’t mean that she would take someone who said “he knew what he signed up for” better than Sergeant Johnson’s wife. In time she might be able to deal with that, but not in the immediate aftermath from someone who avoided war, suffering, and danger at every opportunity.

I hope that she never has to deal with that, but we live in an unpredictable world and have a very unpredictable and unstable man leading our nation.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, Military, Pastoral Care

I Will Bear True Faith and Allegiance: Patriotism and Protest

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the past month I have been watching and occasionally commenting on the kneeling during the National Anthem controversy on my social media accounts but not here. But tonight I want to share a few thoughts on the actions of NFL players who have protested continued inequities, injustice, evil, and racism in the United States by choosing to kneel during the National Anthem.

The fact is these players as much as their critics claim otherwise are not protesting the Flag, nor are they insulting the troops. They are doing what all true American patriots have done since the beginning of our American experiment. They are being as patriotic as our founders were when they not only criticized, but took up arms against England. After all as Adlai Stevenson once said “Do not… regard the critics as questionable patriots.  What were Washington and Jefferson and Adams but profound critics of the colonial status quo?”

They are acting in the best tradition of America, they are peacefully protesting. They are not committing violence, they are using their position to draw attention to things in our society which must be addressed if we are in the words of the Preamble of the Constitution “to form a more perfect Union.” They are speaking of how we as Americans still fail to live up to the promise embodied but never perfected in the words“we hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal…” From our earliest days as a nation we as a people have struggled with that ideal and at every point in our there have been Americans who have, often much to the chagrin of others have protested in some way how we failed to live up to that ideal.

When freshman Congressman Abraham Lincoln spoke up against James K. Polk’s invasion of Mexico in 1848 he was condemned as unpatriotic by many and was not returned to the House of Representatives, but he was heard. When Henry Clay, a slave-owner himself condemned that war as a means to expand slavery he lost his last chance to gain the Presidency. When Stephen Douglas opposed the attempt by pro-slavery partisans to use an illegitimate election in Kansas to have that territory admitted as a slave state he lost his chance to win the Presidency in 1860. I could go on with hundreds of examples, from the Suffragettes of the early Women’s rights movement who fought for the right to vote and equality in the workplace; the abolitionists, white and black, who resisted laws which enslaved Blacks in the slave states and enabled slave owners to go into Free States and avoid U.S. courts to re-enslave any Black be they a former slave or not solely based on the word of a slave holder; Civil Rights leaders who were imprisoned, beaten, and sometimes killed for defying unjust laws…

I am sorry but the list could go on and on and on. In every case they were declared by their opponents to be both unpatriotic and lawbreakers. Today, many are saying those things about those who protest during the National anthem at sporting events while defending people who are working day in and day out to roll back the rights of other Americans, and sadly, that does include the President and many members of his political party. When I say sadly, it is because I belonged to and supported that party for 32 years until after my tour in Iraq, when I saw the lies of how the war had been sold by my party, lies which I believed in spite of evidence to the contrary. The last part was my fault, I should have known better, yet I condemned the war’s opponents as being unpatriotic only to find that they were right.

So now, nearly a decade later I support the right to protest as I would not have before Iraq. While I would not take a knee at the National Anthem even if I wasn’t still in the military I cannot condemn those who do. Patriotism involves much more than respecting the Flag, it means respecting and honoring the principles and ideals in Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream and re-dedicating ourselves to the “new birth of freedom” that Lincoln alluded in the Gettysburg Address. To do that we must remove the blinders from our eyes, to re-look at our own history to get past the myths and untruths that have been used to buttress the the claims of those who want to squelch unpopular dissent and uncomfortable truths.

Mark Twain said some words that all should hold dear:

“Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn’t. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way accordng to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country—hold up your head.”

One cannot sit in silence while Americans, particularly racial or religious minorities, women, and gays are threatened through legislation and sometimes violent action by other Americans who for whatever reason want to return the country to a place where those people cannot exercise those rights. If we do what good are we? If we do are we any better than those who looked the other way in the Third Reich when Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Handicapped, and others were marched off to Concentration Camps?

When I salute the Flag I salute the symbol of ideals not yet fully realized, and when I do so I pay honor and respect to all of those whose patriotism was lived out over a lifetime, and while I include the men and women who served in the military in that, I also include all of those dissidents whose sacrifice paved the way for every new advance of freedom in this country. Likewise, I remember the times that we as a nation have fallen short of those ideals and I recommit myself to my oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same…

As I do that I have to stand for the right of the players and others to peacefully protest anywhere and by whatever means they choose no matter how unpopular it is or how uncomfortable it makes us. Frederick Douglass said:

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, News and current events, Political Commentary