Tag Archives: robert jeffress

Trump and the Evangelical “Outburst of Folly”

D.Bonhoeffer im Gefaengnis Berlin-Tegel

D.Bonhoeffer im Gefaengnis Berlin-Tegel Bonhoeffer, Dietrich evang. Theologe, Widerstandskaempfer Breslau 4.2.1906 – (hingerichtet) KZ Flossenbuerg 9.4.1945. – Bonhoeffer im Hof des Wehrmachtunter- suchungsgefaengnis in Berlin-Tegel, Sommer 1944. – Foto.

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watch those who bend over backwards to defend the indefensible actions and words of President Trump, especially those who are very prominent “Christian” leaders I shake my head.

The naked aggression and reveling in their new found political power seems to have made many Evangelical Christians fools who will sacrifice all to bow in obeisance to a man who while delivering what they want, mocks the very Savior that they say they serve.

Observing this I am reminded of the words of the German Pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died at the hands of the Nazis in Flossenburg Concentration Camp on April 9th 1944 on the express order of Adolf Hitler. From prison Bonhoeffer penned these words which are most descriptive of our times:

“If we look more closely, we see that any violent display of power, whether political or religious, produces an outburst of folly in a large part of mankind; indeed, this seems actually to be a psychological and sociological law: the power of some needs the folly of others. It is not that certain human capacities, intellectual capacities for instance, become stunted of destroyed, but rather that the upsurge of power makes such an overwhelming impression that men are deprived of their independent judgment, and…give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves.” 

President Trump found in Evangelicals people who would blindly follow him in actions that they would have never tolerated in any other political leader. Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church of Dallas Texas defended Trump on Fox News saying that Trump paying hush money to silence porn-star Stormy Daniels:

“And let’s be clear — Evangelicals still believe in the commandment: Thou shalt not have sex with a porn star,” Jeffress continued. “However, whether this president violated that commandment or not is totally irrelevant to our support of him.” 

But he is not alone. As a whole Evangelicals have been the most loyal of all of Trump’s supporters and regardless of his actions they are willing to look past them because he dishing out policies that they approve; even if the majority of those policies go completely against the Gospel, the words of Jesus, the condemnations of the Old Testament prophets, the writers of the New Testament, and the words of every martyr of the ante-Nicene era; before Constantine made the Christian Church the State Church. Since men like Jeffress and countless others like him are complete Theocrats who desire to overthrow the religious liberty of the First Amendment propounded by our Founders the see nothing wrong with it.

Trump may be a scoundrel, but they are fools, and dangerous ones at that.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self- satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel.”

Their outburst of folly in support of the President has the potential to doom all of us.

This is something that any thinking person regardless of their faith or ideology must be aware of and must resist. So until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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

four chaplains

The Four Chaplains

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

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

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

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

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

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

The four men that I never met were Army Chaplains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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

“Are We Still of Any Use?” The Horrible Witness of Conservative Christians in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over his first year in office President Trump has managed to tell over 2,000 lies. That being said we all expect politicians to lie, it’s part of American life and political discourse. Will Rogers once said “If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics.” I think that the expectation that elected officials will lie is one reason that Mark Twain quipped: “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.”

However the shear numbers of lies and falsehood proclaimed by the President is having a toxic effect on our society, in particular on those in the church, men and women who call themselves by the name of Christ who not only believe them, but repeat them, and defend them.  The fact is that for decades these same Christian leaders and people have proclaimed their allegiance to what they call “moral absolutes” and  “Biblical values”while excoriating Democrats, particularly Bill and Hillary Clinton for their lies. The fact is that by doing this Christians simply become another political interest group hustling politicians for favors that benefit them, even at the expense of the credibility of their witness to Christ.

The constant repetition the President’s well documented lies, and their defense by his preacher’s daughter Press Secretary, his other administration flacks, Congressional supporters, the Fox News media empire, and the big name Evangelical Preachers who have sold their souls in his defense have damaged the soul of the country and yes the Church.

Of course one would expect the President’s opponents to point out his lies but in normal times you wouldn’t expect his conservative religious supporters to go to the mat defending him and his lies, and even calling him a “role model” for young people.  In a recent survey some 70% of his predominantly Christian, Republican supporters say that he is and that my friends is, if you value the long term witness of the Christian Church absolutely devastating, especially since for over a decade young people have been fleeing the church in never before seen numbers while unbelievers, even those that admire Christ and what some would call Christian values want nothing to do with the Church.

The fact is that the repetition of lies and falsehoods, whether you are a Trump supporter or opponent there is a not a good thing either for the Church or for the country. It has a terrible effect, and one only has to look to the countries of Europe to see how Christian support for malevolent leaders has reduced it to irrelevance. Whether it be the support of ethnic and religious persecution, or the participation in and protection of sexual predators masquerading and Bishops, Priests, and Nuns has eviscerated the witness of the Church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this and asked a question that should be asked by people that call themselves by the name of Christ who at the same time defend the indefensible and not only defend, but take great pleasure in defending the lies of the President. Bonhoeffer observed the same dynamic in his day. He wrote:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

Please believe me when I say that I am not being an alarmist about this situation. I know too much about history, human nature, and yes the Church not to see the danger.

But that’s part of the problem. The lies and actions of the President and his administration have been cumulative; what was shocking on day one became normalized over the course of the past year. The effect is both numbing and corrosive: first on the President’s defenders who surrender all pretext of moral or religious authority, and on his opponents who gradually are worn down by the barrage of lies and the fact that they are also the minority party, or if the are Republicans, the minority in the President’s party.

Since President Trump first announced his candidacy for President in 2015 I have been sounding a warning about the President. I have lost friends and been ostracized or attacked by others for doing so, despite the fact that until my return from Iraq in 2008 I had been both a politically active Conservative Christian and Republican for over thirty years. That being said regardless of the cost I would rather follow my conscience than surrender it to the cacophony of lies and acceptance of evil by people who were once friends.

I do not consider myself to be a victim of my former friends. In fact I understand how they got to this point. In fact what has happened with them did not begin with the lies of President Trump. For decades, they, like I did until 2008, bought the repeated lies of the politicians, pundits, and preachers of the American conservative movement. The leaders of this movement coopted them by constantly repeating that they were under attack and needed to take control of the government in order to both defend the faith and implement a Christian government.  Whole theologies were built around this and gradually many, if not most conservative and Evangelical Christians accepted the idea that Christians had to “take dominion”over the country regardless of the cost. The leaders of the so-called “Christian Right” including Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Albert Mohler, Robert Jeffress, and far too many others have sacrificed every bit of their integrity in defending the President and excusing his lies to further their own power.

Truthfully, I understand how they got there. If I hadn’t gone to Iraq, seen what I saw there, realized the lies that went into the propagation of the war and the lies of Christians who demonized all Muslims because of some after the attacks of September 11th 2001, I would probably still be one of them. For me it took war to understand the moral and theological bankruptcy the politics and theology of the Christian Right, of which over 80% voted for the President and over 75% still support him.

Bonhoeffer asked the right question in terms of Christians and their support of morally bankrupt regimes. Are we still of any use?

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The President’s Pathological Need for Revenge: A Disease that is Eating His Mind and Poisoning His Soul

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of my favorite television characters is that of Raymond Reddington played by James Spader in The Blacklist. In the episode Monarch Douglas Bank Reddington tells Milos “Berlin” Kirchoff played by Peter Stormare: “Revenge isn’t a passion. It’s a disease. It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.”

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That brings me to my subject today and in all honesty this has been a hard article to write and you’ll see why as I develop it.

As I watched and read in silent horror the extended Twitter and subsequent television meltdown of President Trump on Saturday following the release of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury I realized that Reddington’s comment perfectly describes the President, his need for revenge is a disease and it has destroyed his soul. That is frightening because by virtue of his position the President has the power to lead the country and world to oblivion, and he may well do it.

The President’s response included  threatening the publisher with legal action, lashing out at the media, his former adviser, Steven Bannon, as well as other opponents; even as he bragged about how smart he was and stated his desire to see restrictions on the First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and the press. This was on the heels of his careless talk about nuclear war and renewed threats against the Clinton’s and the decision of the FBI to reopen investigations of the Clinton Foundation, which the President had publicly demanded that the Justice Department do for months.

I do not know if this is simply his grossly deformed personality with its unbounded  narcissism and sociopathic lack of empathy in overdrive. Others, including psychiatrists of some note have suggested that the President might be suffering some kind of mental illness, he certainly demonstrates notable paranoia, whether that and others the possibility that he may suffering from a neurological condition such as Alzheimer’s disease or some other form of dementia.

But I am concerned because what is going on with this President is not normal, but of all because of his longstanding testimony of how revenge is a key part of how he views the world. His is an adversarial world where there are no real friends, only opponents, enemies, and those who might someday be enemies. This has been shown in his business life, his relationship with the media, political parties, and since his election how he is undoing and remaking seventy years of American leadership in the world.

Trump on many occasions has given interviewers a perspective on how he deals with those who are not absolutely and unconditionally loyal to him. In his book Think Big the future President wrote:

“When people wrong you, go after those people, because it is a good feeling and because other people will see you doing it. I always get even.”

Since coming to office the President has derided, insulted, and even threatened everyone from ordinary citizens, including Gold Star families; journalists, political opponents, former employees and members of his own White House team, and world leaders. His insecurity and inability to withstand criticism or admit error are pathological and are consuming him before our eyes. Sadly, most congressional Republicans and many prominent pastors and clergy don’t don’t seem to see how troubling it is, in fact many of his defenders say nothing so long as their agenda is fulfilled.

I think the support of prominent Christian clergy is the most troubling aspect of this whole sordid Presidency, because they both debase and contradict the Gospel that they claim to preach. I quoted Trump’s most vocal supporter among Evangelicals, Pastor Robert Jeffress last night in terms of this contradiction and it is worth saying again. Jeffress said:

“You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” Jeffress said. “I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.”

For a Pastor, who like many other Trump supporters claims to want the nation to be governed by Biblical Law above that of the Constitution the blatant disregard of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount is astounding. In many of his statements Jeffress is totally committed to bowing the knee to Caesar so long as it is a Caesar he approves; as well as giving in advance to that Caesar support to start a preemptive nuclear war with North Korea; drive out immigrants regardless of their status; deny Constitutionally protected free speech; and suggest denying rights to those who are not Evangelical Christians.

He stands in opposition not only to Scripture itself, but his own Baptist tradition and men like the Virginia Baptist john Leland who I have often written about on this site.  It seems to me that Jeffress, like Trump is totally committed to an ethic of revenge even though he does not outrightly say it.

In opposition to Jeffress I would quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who stood against the Nazi German versions of Jeffress when it comes to how Christians should respond, and it is not revenge:

“The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”

As for the President I find the vast majority of his policies abhorrent from the perspective of the Gospel, as well as the Constitution, and simple human rights. I cannot support those programs, policies, nor his behavior which threatens civil liberties and increase the possibility of world war, with the likelihood that the responsibility for that war would make him and the United States a rogue and criminal nation.

I wish no physical harm upon the President or his family though I do believe that his actions need to be scrutinized and investigated with the full force of the law. Even so as much as I dislike the man and oppose his policies he is still in need of the love of God as well as mine, and I do struggle with this. It is not easy to have any kind of compassion for a man who is consumed with hatred, and absent of empathy which is nothing but evil. It is probable that any real love for the President will be met with rejection, but the command of Christ is to love others seeking nothing in return, that is part of the paradox and tension that I am living in today. He may be mentally ill or have a neurological disease, or he may just be evil. I find nothing to love, respect, or admire in the man: but if I and others like me don’t follow the command of Jesus, is there any hope? Of course that is a rhetorical question, we will all answer it differently.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

“Love asks nothing in return, but seeks those who need it. And who needs our love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of love.”

Even so all of this being said, I fear for the worst  for the country and the world as long as President Trump remains in office and men like Robert Jeffress continue to support him and in the end I probably have more compassion for Trump than Jeffress because Jeffress who has preached hate in the name of Jesus for decades should know better. I don’t think that Trump does.

So until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Pastor Robert Jeffress and the Imperial Evangelical Church of Trump


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well it is Sunday and I’ll be the guest preacher in my Protestant chapel service at the base as I did last week. Since then I’ve been thinking over the week about what it means to be an American Christian at this point in our history. Frankly, based on the words of the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, Robert Jeffress, I must not be one because according to him Christian critics of Presdent Trump are “irrelevant to Christians.” That may be so and even if it is than I will continue to speak out against the idolatry of Pastor Jeffress and the other proponents of an imperial evangelicalism that is little more than an American version of the German Christian movement that went all in for Adolf Hitler. Pastor Jeffress would be an ideal candidate for the office of Reichs Bishop when President Trump proclaims Evangelical Christianity as the State Church. 

As for me I say the hell with those who want to establish the bastardized evangelicalism that we know today as the official state sanctioned version of Christianity. For those who don’t think that is likely or possible you are wrong. The words and actions of the President, the Vice President, a number of cabinet members, and many members of Congress all point to this. But worst of all men like Jeffress and most of the leading popular evangelical pastors and evangelists in the county are working toward that end and the day that it finally happens is coming sooner than you think. A minority of Christians who are better at making former Christians, agnostics, and atheists than disciples of Jesus want nothing more than to gain political power and are willing to use the most base and unchristian President in recent memory as their vehicle to temporal power. 

Barry Goldwater, the scion of the modern Conservative movement warned us about them over thirty years ago in the Senate chambers when he said: “The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent.” After he left the Senate he told John Dean: 

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

Sadly, Goldwater was right. Jeffress and others want no more than to use the power that they have with President Trump to rule with an iron fist that is no different than that of the Taliban, and no no different than the inquisition. 

Likewise the late Senator Mark Hatfield, an Evangelical Christian himself noted:

“As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.”  

It is time for people who actually believe in the sacred principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, the Four Freedoms, and the I Have a Dream speech to stand. It does not matter if you are a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, agnostic, atheist, or Free Thinker, or for that matter anything except being an American that cherishes liberty for all. 

The late George Truett, a great Southern Baptist pastor, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and also the pastor of Jeffress’s Fist Baptist Church of Dallas until 1944, wrote something that anyone with any sense and understanding of history and church-state relations should take note of:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

President Trump has recognized the same thing and with the help of the vast majority of American Evangelicals he is doing the same thing as Constantine and men like Robert Jeffress are to vain and power hungry to understand that they are sealing the doom of the Christian faith in the United States. That is why I will not stop writing, not stop speaking, and not stop fighting. I may be to use the words of Jeffress an insignificant and irrelevant gnat to him and the President but I’ll be damned if I let men like them use Jesus as a vehicle for tyranny. I’ll be damned when I let a political preacher like Jeffress stand on the same platform as the President and use it to condemn fellow Christians. as his very own church choir debates a hymn entitled Make America Great Again, a song which is a hymn of praise not to Jesus but to the nationalistic jingoism of President Trump. His predecessor in the pulpit of First Baptist, George Truett would be dismayed by the actions of the man who now holds that pulpit. 

Likewise our nation’s founders would be dismayed but not surprised to see this going on. Many wrote about the danger of it and did their best to build up a wall of separation, but that wall is being dismantled before our very eyes. When it is gone we will all regret it, and yes by all I even include the Evangelical Christians who now worship at the altar of Robert Jeffress and Donald Trump. 

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+ 

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The Pejorative use of the term Cult by people that should know Better: Reverend Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney: According to some unfit for office because he is a Mormon

“In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to Liberty.” Thomas Jefferson 

Cult: cult/kəlt/  Noun:  1) A system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.  2) A relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.

A prominent pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention made a political endorsement the other day.  Dr Robert Jeffress pastor of the venerable and massive 10,000 member First Baptist Church of Dallas endorsed fellow Texan Rick Perry. In doing so he said “Rick Perry’s a Christian. He’s an evangelical Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, Mitt Romney’s a good moral person, but he’s not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.”

This is not new for Jeffress who back in 2008 made a similar comment at the Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting “I believe we should always support a Christian over a non-Christian…The value of electing a Christian goes beyond public policies. . . . Christians are uniquely favored by God, [while] Mormons, Hindus and Muslims worship a false god. The eternal consequences outweigh political ones. It is worse to legitimize a faith that would lead people to a separation from God.

While the view that Mormonism is “outside mainstream Christianity” based on its doctrine of the Trinity and understanding of the Godhead is correct, it should never be labeled as a “cult.”  Mormons like a number of other splinter movements that have their roots in Christianity and even hold to some orthodox Christian theology would be more correctly labeled a heretical church.  The term heresy is a theological term and has been used by various churches to label others as such since the early days of the church. It describes people, groups and doctrines that are at variance with established religious beliefs and the adherence to such dissenting opinion or doctrine.

Every religion has their heretics and since the genus of Mormonism was Joseph Smith’s dissent from Evangelical Christianity and his new revelations that he claimed were delivered to him by the Angel Moroni it is better to describe Mormonism as a heretical form of Christianity.  The use of the word cult by Jeffress and others is sloppy theology and even worse public policy in a nation where religious liberty is enshrined in the very first amendment to the Constitution.  The use of the word cult to define Mormonism is prejudicial because the same word is used to describe Satanists and splinter groups where members are based and controlled by a “cult” leader who demands their unconditional submission, devotion and obedience.  Although Mormonism has its own core “orthodoxy” there is a wide variance in the practice of faith in that church.

I actually expect better of Baptist leaders because the irony is that at one time Baptists were considered a heretical sect by Anglicans, Catholics and Lutherans.  In fact if the term cult had been used then as it is today that is what those groups would have labeled Baptists.  In earlyVirginiathe Anglican Church was the state church and because the landed gentry were Anglicans they were the government.  The Anglicans made their church law apply to the civil realm which of course had an impact on Baptists and others that settled in the colony. Virginia’s General Assembly protected the established church in law. It enforced laws that penalized dissenters: for example, requiring all officeholders to be Anglican. When theUnited Stateswas founded Anglicans inVirginiawere pressing to retain their religious control over the society.   In the Constitution there was no guarantee of the Freedom of Religion until the Reverend John Leland of the Virginia Baptist Convention pressed James Madison on the issue.  The result is that that the right of Free Exercise and the corresponding Non-Establishment clauses were written into the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights along with Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Association.

My concern is that many Evangelical Christians are doing the same thing that the Virginia Anglicans did; they are trying to impose their beliefs as the law of the land.  The tragedy is that most Evangelicals hail from groups that have all been labeled as heretical or cults by other more powerful churches.  The descendants of persecuted religious minorities are now flexing political muscle backed by a militant understanding of a dominant Christian Church in a way that would have made their ancestors shake their heads.

We can all debate and decide who is and who is not a Christian based on the teachings of our church.  Christians simply do not agree with each other on many points of doctrine.  Some place an emphasis on one belief or practice that if not followed damns those that do not believe to hell.  Others are very open in their understanding of what constitutes the church.  Do all of us have values and even theological opinions that inform our life to include our political beliefs? Of course we do.  As Americans we live in the tension created by the fact that we live in a pluralistic society where all citizens have an equal right to practice their religion and equal rights as citizens to participate in the political process.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made the comment that we should judge people by “the content of their character.”  I believe that such a belief is exactly what our founders meant when they enshrined the rights of the Free Exercise of Religion and the non-Establishment clause together with the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Assembly in the Constitution.

The fact is that there are many conservative Christians who in their fear of secularism and humanism have decided to create a “Christian” theocracy and are quite militant in how they will establish it and who is not included.  Those that embrace Dominion or “Seven Mountains theology believe that there is no middle ground, even among Christians that do not believe like them.  It appears that Reverend Jeffress seems to agree.

I think that Reverend Jeffress those like him and the politicians that enlist their support need to really ponder what Thomas Jefferson said before they make political decisions solely based on their theological and religious beliefs and that enlist or commandeer the government to accomplish goals that they have been unable to achieve by persuasion and witness. To me that is not the mark of people confident in their faith but people reacting out of fear.  Such seldom bodes well for any free society. Jefferson wrote:

“Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.” 

His words are truer now than when he wrote them.  If a preacher or politician wants to call those that believe different from them to be a cult that is his or her right, but to blindly assert that those that believe different than us are unfit to govern because of their religious beliefs is ignorant and foolish and demonstrates a profound sense of insecurity on their part. Reverend Jeffress should know better, he should have taken at least one course in Baptist History in seminary….but wait, he didn’t go to a Southern Baptist seminary until he did his doctorate, I guess that he didn’t take the class.  By the way, I went to the seminary where he received his doctorate and although I am not and never have been a Southern Baptist I do know Baptist History and it stands against what Reverend Jeffress preaches in regard to politics.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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