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A Time to Stand Against Hate

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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.

 Martin Niemöller

There comes a time in every nation where people of faith need to stand up for the rights of others who do not share their faith. There are times at all decent citizens no matter what their religion, or lack of religion need to stand up for those deemed less than full citizens, less than loyal, and in some cases less than human. This is one of those times.

On Wednesday three young America students at the University of North Carolina; Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, were gunned down, execution style, in their home.  They were each shot multiple times in  the head. They were Moslems, and from all account not only good law abiding people who hated intolerance of any kind, even to Jews and Israelis, who were active in helping the poor and homeless in their local community, and just basically good, idealistic, humanitarians.

Their assailant Craig Stephen Hicks, was a man who doesn’t fit a typical right wing, at least from the terms of the Religious Right, or Left Wing stereotype.

All that we really know about him was that neighbors described him as angry and confrontational, that some feared him, that he was anti-government, unemployed, and hated the major religions; especially Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. He was also evidently a pretty big fan of expanded gun rights, which for a man in his state of mind isn’t unusual. His current wife, who is in the process of divorcing him described him as supporting marriage equity, abortion rights and other socially progressive causes.

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It is quite fascinating to me that Craig Stephen Hicks, was a follower of Richard Dawkins and what is called “the New Atheism” which more appropriately should be called anti-theism. This makes his case somewhat unusual, because he would be one of first of this breed in the United States to kill others in such a manner. Of course this is not to say that such people haven’t committed such acts on a mind-numbingly large scale in the former Soviet Union, Red China and other repressive atheist regimes. Likewise there are nations where state religions working hand in hand with the state do that as well.

But most of the time, recently in this country and Western Europe, those who kill others because of those  peoples religious beliefs, are religious themselves and defending their idea of God and righteousness. That my friends is what makes the act of barbarous hatred committed by Hicks so interesting from a sociological and historical point of view.

It is also why I don’t believe the claims by the soon to be ex-wife of Hicks, the police or the prosecutor that this was an isolated incident dealing with a dispute of guest parking in the condominium complex where the victims and the killer lived. That’ why the story just doesn’t wash, and the fact that it doesn’t wash causes it to stink.

Really, let’s face it, if Hicks was a Moslem and the victims were atheists would anyone believe that story? The hell no. But there are people who will not only believe it but as usual say this is a “isolated incident” because after all, white people in America don’t kill others for their religion, but that Moslems do and so a Moslem is automatically guilty of crimes simply by being a Moslem.

Evidently the killer’s ex-wife described him Hicks as a man without empathy, who incessantly watched the movie Falling Down while laughing his way through it. If you don’t know the movie it is about an unemployed engineer, angry for many reason, who goes mad and ends up in a killing spree. It is a tragic film, and I wonder if Hicks if Hicks saw himself as similar to the lead character played by Michael Douglas.

I don’t know what the final tipping point was for Hicks. From what I read he seemed like a mountain of hatred and anger just waiting to erupt.

While I don’t know his entire motivations, I do know that somewhere in his perverted psyche, he was motivated by hate, and that is all too common. Eric Hoffer said: “Passionate hatreds can give meaning and purpose to an empty life. These people haunted by the purposelessness of their lives try to find a new content not only by dedicating themselves to a holy cause but also by nursing a fanatical grievance.”   

Hicks found some measure of purpose in his hatred of religion. It is said that he was quite angry at the Christians and Jews who  participated together with Moslems and others in the ecumenical memorial services after the attacks of September 11th 2001. Evidently, that anger toward religions and religious people grew until it reached the point of murder.

Sadly, there are many people like this man who are consumed by some kind of hatred. In this case it appears to me, and I could be wrong, that it was Hicks’s hatred of Moslems and other religious people. I cannot think of any other reason why the man would execute unarmed people for a parking space, unless they represented something more to him.

The hatred something that the actions of the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups that claim the mantle of Islam  have helped to inspire. That hatred is also fed by much of the media, as well as supposedly Christian political pundits and preachers who lump all Moslems into the same camp as the terrorists and ignores the Moslems who condemn such actions and who put their lives on the line to fight those groups. This “reporting” feeds the fear, it feeds the anger of some, and it leads to people, especially people who are already angry, disturbed and possibly even mentally ill, to commit crimes in name of their religion or their ideology. In Hicks case it appears to be his militant atheism.

But let’s step back from that right now, and sometimes it is good to look at things in with a broader lens.

It seems to me that among the worst of the types of people promoting such hatred of Moslems are supposedly conservative “Christian” preachers. So I feel that I need to speak up. I say this because such hatred against a religion, any religion is not new. Militant Hindus in India kill Moslems and Christians, of course we know of the crimes of the terrorists who kill in the name of Islam, but there are places in Africa where Christians do the killing, and sometimes not even for religious reasons. Does anyone remember the Rwanda Genocide? But that is not an isolated instance, in Central and South America there were the American funded dictators and terrorist groups who had death squads all over the place, many killing to defend their “conservative Christian regimes.”

This kind of thing happens all the time and sometimes it takes place under godless regimes who co-opt religious people to bolster their evil. Chief among the times this happened was in Nazi Germany. My examples from that era include Protestant pastors Martin Niemöller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Herman Maas, and Catholic Biship Galen and Jesuit Priest Father Rupert Meyer of Munich. All were imprisoned or placed in Concentration Camps by the Nazis, and Bonhoeffer was be killed. 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. Of course there were others who died for attempting to help the Jews, including some European Moslems.

When Hitler took power the Jews, along with Communists, Trade Unions, Socialists were 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, they were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police, times their businesses, Synagogues and homes vandalized, burned or seized by the state. Eventually those who remained were condemned  and sent to concentration camps, where most with nearly 6 million other Jews they would be exterminated.

Today we face a similar situation in United States and Western Europe.  This time it is not the Jews, but Moslems who are the targets of xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media.

The ideological inspiration for the killings at Chapel Hill seems to be from English Atheist Richard Dawkins. Dawkins wrote something that the killer repeated almost verbatim in his social media posts: “All three of the Abrahamic religions are deeply evil if they take their teachings seriously. Islam is the only one that does.” Of course Dawkins statement is overblown because there are some Christians and Jews who kill in the name of religion. In fact as far as Christianity goes we have a host of them who litter our history justifying killing in the name of the Lord. To his credit Dawkins condemned the killings soon after they happened, however, his hyperbole and lumping together all religion as evil has the same effect on some people as the teachings of the radical religious preachers of hate whose ranks seem to grow daily.

Others, especially in parts of the Christian Right who have great sway in conservative politics and the Republican party advocate policies similar to the Nazi Nurnberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph.  Threats to deny loyal American Moslems the right to serve in the military, security organizations, government positions and academia are common today. More extreme are threats to put all-Moslems “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II, or to deport them as the Nazis did to the Jews before the “Final Solution”  are even more chilling.

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Wade Page

Of course there was the mass killing by neo-Nazi Wade Page in Oak Park Illinois in October 2012, like Hicks he was filled with hate toward religion, and took his out on the members of the Sikh Temple.

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Scott Roeder

I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested that 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 the late Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church? Likewise I wonder what atheists would do if someone suggested putting everyone who followed Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher, or Sam Harris in camps or depriving them of citizenship for the actions of someone like Hicks?

Thankfully, there are a few on the  Religious Right who have taken a stand. Reverend Rob Schenck, President of the National Clergy Council, commented in regard to the Moslem prayer vigil in Washington D.C. in 2009:  “With over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, it is important that Christians have an open dialogue with the Islamic community. The church must never be timid in reaching out to peoples and groups with differing beliefs and traditions. Too much is at stake for future generations not to begin this historic conversation. This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.”

What the people who advocate punitive actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but 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.  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.

Niemöller would discover this the hard way 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  to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times. We have entered a dangerous phase of American, and for that matter world history.

The killing of these three young American by this hate filled man should be a wake up call to all of us. It is time to start giving a damn and standing up to those who inspire and promote such hatred, no matter what their race, creed, or ideology. We have to stand up against hate. If we do not we are no better than all of those who throughout history turned their backs as others committed the most horrible crimes against humanity.

Peace,

Padres Steve+

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Jousting at Windmills: The Quixotesque Life of Padre Steve

I believe that I have reached a rather Quixotesque stage in my life.  I have in my passion for moderation decided to be fair and balanced and with a rather unexpected result. I now joust with windmills. Some of my fellow Christians have gotten upset at me for doing so as they rather seem to like those windmills. It seems that in the current political climate for a Christian to offer criticism of other Christians or for that matter the conservative political movement is something akin to denying the Deity of Christ or worse.

I have been taken to task for a number of things such as defending the rights of Moslems, women’s ordination, the rights of homosexuals, criticizing conservative talk show hosts (I criticize liberals too but seldom get attacked for that), criticizing the almost incestuous relationship between the “Christian right” with the Republican Party and even more conservative political groups and ideologies and the equation of nearly all things American with the Christian faith by some.

This attitude starts at the top of the Church; Pope Benedict gives a great example to follow when he censured Cardinal Chrisoph Schoenborn of Vienna for criticizing the retired Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Soldano for his handling of and interference in the discipline of clergy in the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church. The Pope censured Schoenborn, not Soldano and made the pronouncement that only he could criticize a Cardinal.  Not long afterward the Vatican released a document that supposedly makes it easier for the Church to go after the sexual predators in the Church while at the same time declaring women’s ordination to be a “major crime against the church” which I think is what pedophilia is.  Others have determined that since the world seems to be attacking Jesus, the Christian faith and the Church that criticism of Christian leaders by other Christians is off limits.

I commented recently on the case of Shirley Sherrod an official in the Agriculture Department that was smeared by conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart and made to look like the very face of racism in America.  A number of hosts on the Fox News Channel ran with the story before checking it out only having to recant a day later, a day after Sherrod had been forced to resign by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilseck and the White House.  It turned out that she was the victim and a story from her life of redemption and reconciliation presented as her being a racist by crafty editing of the video of a 45 minute long speech.  My comment that no matter whether it was Dan Rather using faked documents to try to damage then President George W Bush or Brietbart and his action against Mrs. Sherrod that these actions were both dishonorable.  A now former Facebook friend (she dropped me) and lay member of my denomination took issue with me and in what turned into a rather personal and harsh exchange I was called a number of names and accused of comparing me to her mother and stepfather like them having a “distortion of reality.” This individual chose not to deal with what my comments were but to take my posting as an attack on her conservative views, which they were most certainly not.  I tried to keep on point but this woman would have none of it.  I found the exchange as fascinating as one would a car wreck.  Now to be fair this woman was the only person that acted this way but her passion was to defend the actions of Breitbart and Fox News because “the country was hell bent on socialism” and that she was going to “do whatever she could to make people aware of it.” It was clear to me that she was so tied to her ideology that she could not be objective and I finally left the conversation. Now I know some liberals that are the same way to be sure, but for Christians to somehow almost equate a political and economic philosophy with the faith is somehow rather un-Jesus like.

Obviously in the interest of the truth I was looking for this confrontation, if not with her with someone else because I know that with some people and it does not matter whether they are conservatives or liberals there is no reasoning, no room for differing opinions.  In the religion and politics of 2010 there are no longer opponents but enemies, yea verily mortal enemies who with their repugnant ideologies must be crushed and in fact those close to them that deviate are even worse for they have betrayed the respective orthodoxy of the zealots of the left or the right.  In my rather brief public life writing on this site I have found the nastiest to be the religious conservatives that take issue with what I write.  The attitude reminds me of the Moslem extremists, militant Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Hindu Fundamentalists, all of whom have no tolerance for those different than them and often bent on enforcing their beliefs on those that do not follow their religion often violently.   Please know that I am only comparing attitudes not results as with the exception of a few people American Christians have not resorted to violence to achieve their ends though I would posit that the more radical and politically committed conservative or Fundamentalist Christians that have become with more extreme right wing groups have this potential.

Now as far as matter of criticizing big name Christian leaders which I did last week with the knowledge that some would be upset with me and I confess that I am guilty as charged.  I decided to joust with this windmill by posting a link to an article in that bastion of truth and moral turpitude the National Enquirer which showed the incredibly popular televangelist and faith healer Benny Hinn cavorting in Rome under an assumed name with the rather sultry female televangelist and pastor Paula White. Now White is divorced and Hinn’s wife has filed for divorce but it is not final. In old fashioned fundament talk this is called adultery.  Add to the mix that both are under investigation by a Senate Committee for financial dealings in their ministries.

Now I have a rather unique take on this as I worked for a television ministry the last couple of years of seminary and while waiting to enter into a Clinical Pastoral Education.  While the ministry that I worked with was definitely above board we occasionally had other televangelists including the previously mentioned Benny Hinn visit our studios and basically act like they were better than the people that worked there.  At conferences that our ministry hosted which included many of the top preachers of the day there were some speakers that acted the same way but thankfully some that exuded grace and kindness.  One of the things that I noticed was the vast amount of money involved in Christian Television and some of the rather cutthroat programming and financial practices of the largest network, the Terrible Blond Network.

Since the late 1980s and early 1990s scandals, financial, sexual and sometimes criminal have engulfed many of the largest names in the television ministry and mega-church world.  Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Larry Lee, Bob Tilton, Peter Popoff, Ted Haggard, Earl Paulk, Todd Bentley and others now including Reverend Hinn and Reverend White.  Others have become involved in politics up to their ears or have made incredibly thoughtless and asinine statements on events like the 9-11 attack and Hurricane Katrina. Still others organize book burnings of various types or other thoughtless and even un-Christian displays of hatred and ignorance.  Now this is a pretty impressive list by anyone’s standards and it does not include the host of lesser known others that have had affairs, financial and even violent encounters.  No wonder the name of Jesus is reviled by so many and that the church is held in such low esteem. We bring it on ourselves because we have forgotten the “Big 2,” you know the commandments that if you do them fulfill all the rest, love God and love your neighbor. I think that it was Jesus that suggested that this was important.

I was criticized for posting a link about the Hinn and White story by three ministers and I do not entirely disagree with then nor think that they were out of line to criticize me.  The biggest concern of all three was that with the Church under attack from many quarters as well as attacks on Jesus and Christian beliefs and values that I should not do it especially because of the source of the story, the National Enquirer. Now mind you that that Enquirer is actually, despite its rater sleazy reputation actually breaking stories that the big media initially missed such as the John Edwards affair and the current investigation into possible sexual assaults by former Vice President Al Gore one of which as of yesterday was closed by the State of Oregon but there are other investigations.  However that was not the point of posting the story. You see I figure that if the Church and its leaders did a better job of conducting itself in a Christian manner then there would be a little more love for it and also Jesus. I believe that much of what we call persecution is in large part due to how badly we as Christians have behaved and treated those in our care before the watching world.  I believe that it is better for Christians to police themselves so that their conduct may be seen as something to emulate, in fact I think that is what the early church did. They had no power, no money and no social status but in spite of real persecution that usually ended in death by crucifixion, being crushed to death by heavy stones, being burned at the stake, shot through with arrows, having their heads whacked off, getting flogged to death, drowned until dead and even tickled to death.   While this was taking place they were commended by Roman leaders as model citizens because of their behavior.  They were known by their love, not just for one another but for their non-Christian neighbors, the very ones that persecuted them.

That is not an isolated example, when I was in Iraq I had Moslem Iraqi Army Officers tell me of their respect for Christians because Christians were seen to be more trustworthy and caring than their Moslem brethren, and by the way Iraqi Christians often face persecution and death.  I was told by one officer that the Iraqi Army needed Christian Priests to take care of their soldiers and families, like the Americans have because they did not get this from their Imams.  In spite of persecution which includes the real possibility of being killed by Moslem extremists most Moslems see Christians as good citizens that they can trust their lives, families and property to.  This is not the case in our country despite the fact that there are a lot of really good Christians who still follow the “Big 2.”

But now in this country we seem to be more concerned with our power and social status and despite all the scandals willing to give these folks a pass on their actions and pony up more money to feed their ministries, usually money that comes from some of the poorest people in the country while many live in luxury.  I think that this is something that the Reformers had against the Catholic Church during the Reformation. May be we need a new Reformation to make things right again, after all only 56% of Americans rank the ethics and trust of clergy as very high. Honestly, we should do better than that and if the world exposes our leaders for compromising themselves and the Gospel then more power to them, we should take care of it ourselves ending our support for such “ministers” and “ministries.”

My church was torn apart a few years back by the actions of bishops who had made unwanted sexual advances another that bilked the church nearly bankrupting it through his financial wheeling and dealing and by others that exploited the chaos in a most un-Christian manner.  The Church is slowly recovering and those that were the primary culprits are no longer in the church.  Many were haughty and arrogant and it came back to bite them and it nearly destroyed the church.

So I will continue to joust at windmills knowing that like the legendary Don Quixote that nothing will really change.  The windmills of religious and political machines will continue to turn and more than likely result in people sending me hate mail for saying what I say and unfortunately the vast majority will be my fellow Christians thinking that they are defending the faith.

There have been others like me that have done some good. I do think that Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hans Kung rank up there so what can I say? Wait I know…Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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