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Dealing With “Christian” Political Extremists: My Recent Experience

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I wrote about Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his newly formed Religious Tyranny Task Force. The goal of that task force is to make sure that white conservative Christians can impose their beliefs on other and suffer no recriminations from discriminating against Gays and others that they do not want to serve or care for, even if their religious rights trump the civil rights of others. It is perhaps one of the most incestuous and dangerous displays of marriage of the Church and the police power of the state in the history of the United States.

Likewise, last month I wrote an article about having been accused by a chapel congregation member of conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt towards the President of the United States. I wrote the article after I was cleared of the charges during the preliminary inquiry. But it left me with many questions about the people of my congregation; questions that I have been wrestling for the better part of the month.

Since I am the senior supervisory chaplain on my base and come from a tiny denomination of the Old Catholic tradition that is stuck in the middle between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism I am an odd fit. My denomination is orthodox in its theology of God and Christ but very much a part of the the understandings of the Protestant Social Gospel of the early 1900s, the social teachings that came out of the Roman Catholic Church during Vatican II, and the Civil Rights Movement. I am also informed by being a trained historian.  This includes having a strong understanding of influence of the early Baptists in the United States on religious liberty as it came to be written into the Bill of Rights. The Baptists of that period were highly persecuted, in Europe and in the North American colonies by state churches. As a result they were much more progressive and tolerant of the rights of all religious minorities and even non-believers.

These men included Roger Williams who founded the colony of Rhode Island as a colony with no state religion and Virginia Baptist John Leland who was the inspiration for James Madison drafting the Bill of Rights.

I do my best to support the congregation and my junior chaplains regardless of their theological beliefs or political viewpoints. As such I try to allow my junior chaplains the chance to do good by pastoring the congregation while I support by them substituting every four to six weeks so they can get a full weekend off once in a while. In fact my policy is that I will not police their sermon content or how they do ministry so long as they care about the people, are not abusive, do not violate the rights of others, or commit crimes. So if a congregation member were to complain to me about their sermon I would tell that congregant to talk to them and if they could not work it out to contact that chaplains church or religious organization. I cannot police the beliefs

Since the accusations were leveled and I was told that I was exonerated I have been thinking of how next to approach the congregation, and today I got a copy of the investigation. I was heartened by some of the statements given by members of the congregation, while others troubled me. In the investigation was a copy of the letter the complainant sent to my commander. The difference between his letter and even the even the most prejudiced other congregant was amazing for even those somewhat critical of the sermon admitted their prejudices and gave me some benefit of doubt. In fact his letter was over the top and in opposition to what everyone of the others said that the investigating officer decided not to get a statement from him. But I could never believe that someone could make up such venomous lies in an attempt to destroy my name, reputation and career in such a despicable manner.

My review of the investigation and the statements has made me even more concerned about going before the congregation again. Knowing the attitudes of many it feels like by doing so I will be exposing myself to other charges from people who are little different than the Gestapo, Stasi, and KGB informants who routinely denounced priests and pastors. Sadly, with the Justice Department now behind them such people will have free reign to denounce people simply based on their often quite shallow and narrow theological understandings which are far more informed by their right wing politics than by Scripture, Tradition, or Reason.

So in the next few weeks I have a decision to make on how I will deal with this. I have a few ideas and I discuss them with my Protestant pastors who are much more conservative than me are incredibly supportive. I also am thinking and praying about what to do. Whatever I do I will script my remarks and have at least one of my other chaplains in attendance. I may even record it because I don’t want to give any of these Trump cultists to make up anything that cannot be refuted.

The sad thing is that I even have to be concerned about this. I never in a million years could have imagined being denounced by retired military officer for my sermon content. That gives me pause and frankly makes me very concerned. The experience has embittered me.  Don’t get me wrong. There are a few people in the congregation who have stood behind me and encouraged me, but most have either turned their backs on me or remained bystanders.

So I ask for your prayers, thoughts, encouragement, or wisdom in what I should do next. I am struggling with anger while trying to love and forgive the people who hurt me that God still loves and who Christ died to save.

However, there is one thing that I do know. It is something that both Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood. Dr. King said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  While 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.” 

So I know I cannot remain silent because what is happening in the church in the United States not to mention the country is a manifestation of evil.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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For Us or Against Us: The Politics of the Christian Right & the Shutdown

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Once again the United States stands on the verge of another potentially dangerous, and costly government shutdown led by the fanatical religious leaders of a political party. While it appears that a short –term stopgap bill will pass both houses, it will leave the country hanging for the next couple of months with another showdown in December.

Senator Mitch McConnell who the day President Obama took office in 2009 colluded with other GOP leaders to set a policies  to ensure Obama failed as president blamed Democrats for not passing various spending bills offered to by the GOP.  But he failed to note that the authors of the GOP bills, mainly from the Christian Right planted poisoned pills in each of them that ensured Democrat opposition. Truthfully those bills were not offered in good faith and gave Democrats no reason to vote for them. 

When I see this behavior I am reminded of the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who prosecuted the major Nazi War Criminals at Nuremberg; “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

The leaders of this unabashedly shameless movement have no problem lying to, or deceiving their followers in order to accomplish their political goals. Sadly, almost all of them come from the supposedly Christian Right, and are determined to destroy the country in order to save it. They use the same kind of tactics used by extremists in other countries throughout history to destroy the political center and turn the government itself into an enemy, until they can take it over and use it for their purposes. Sadly, much of this is coming from a relatively small, but incredibly vocal and politically influential coalition of politically charged conservative Christians. The leaders of this movement have openly stated that their desire is to impose a Christian theocracy on the country, a theocracy where non-Christians, or non-believers of any kind would not have rights as citizens. The have taken up the mantle of the Emperor Constantine, who united the Roman Empire with the Church. George Truett, a great Southern Baptist champion of religious liberty noted:

“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.”

The late Senator Mark Hatfield, a strong evangelical Christian wrote “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.” 

Since I have written about these supposedly Christian leaders numerous times and quoted them at length I am not going to go back into that; however, I will note the warning of colonial Baptist leader Roger Williams, who founded the Rhode Island Colony after fleeing the Massachusetts Bay Colony over the religious oppression of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, which included killing heretics, conducting witch hunts and trials, and exterminating local Native Americans, especially those who had become Christians.

Williams wanted nothing of this and fled, swimming the Narraganset to reach Rhode Island. He wrote, “An enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.”

Another early colonial New England Baptist leader, Isaac Backus wrote, “God has appointed two kinds of government in the world, which are distinct in their nature, and ought never to be confounded together; one of which is called civil, the other ecclesiastical government.”

Both of these men, and those who followed them in the tradition of religious liberty realized the importance of the absolute separation of church and state. Well, the Christian Right now has control of the Republican Party. In their zeal to destroy their political and religious enemies they will also destroy that party. Likewise they will cause great harm to the church and the Christian faith in this country. From Williams and Backus, to John Leland, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, to George Truett, Robert Jackson, Mark Hatfield and Barry Goldwater; true champions of religious liberty have recognized the danger of what is happening today and fought against it.

But will American Christians be willing to stand against this before liberty is lost, and the Christian faith in this country, destroyed by the fanatics who are leading the charge to shut down the government once again? Sadly, I doubt it. We may yet avoid the shutdown, but until Christians police themselves and the political leaders that they have elected, this will continue until freedom is lost, the country damaged, and the church discredited and destroyed.

The leaders of this movement undermined and destroyed Speaker of the House John Boehner, a conservative pro-life Catholic because he was not extreme enough for them. They are currently working to destroy other conservative Christian leaders in the Republican Party, including Senator McConnell and other conservative Christians who do not completely submit to them. These supposedly Christian leaders who are bringing this about are not conservatives, they are revolutionaries who believe that they are on a mission from God which trumps all else. Barry Goldwater was right about them when he said, the late Senator Barry Goldwater said in 1994, “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.”

But the leaders of this movement don’t care. In their apocalyptic worldview, it does not matter because they speak for God.  If they cannot win it all then they will leave scorched earth behind. The shutdown of 2013 and their actions this year show us that they would if need be, destroy the country in order to save it. That my friends is a scary thought.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Toxic Faith of “Americananity” and its Antidote

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“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.” John Leland 

There is a form of religion and indeed the “Christian” faith that is toxic and if not treated leads to the spiritual and sometimes the physical and emotional death of the infected person.

There is a nationalized version of this faith which in this country with respect to the Christian tradition I will call “Americananity.” It is a bastardized version of the Christian faith overlaid with the thin veneer of a bastardized version of American history. Its purveyors are quite popular in the world of “conservative” American Evangelicalism and Catholicism.  Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote “[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.”

Pat Robertson, evangelist and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network is an example of what Leland and Jackson warned us about. Robertson said on his program that “You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991. The late David Chilton was another. He wrote: “We believe that institutionally Christianity should be the official religion of the country, that its laws should be specifically Christian”

It is quite fascinating when you look at it. This faith is a combination of a selective reading of American history, Christian teaching and Biblical interpretation which mixes and matches a wide variety of mutually conflicting and contradictory traditions. This Toxic Americananity is based on a reading of American and Western History which negates, marginalizes or willingly distorts the views or contributions of those who were not Christian or who like Baptists, John Leland and Roger Williams due to their own experiences of religious persecution refused to buy into any form of state sanctioned religion.

I find it interesting that Conservative Icon and champion of limited government Barry Goldwater had great reservations about those that sought to establish the superiority of any religion. Goldwater said on the Senate floor: “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.”

The leaders of this new and quasi “Christian faith” are many and include some of the most popular religious leaders in the United States such as Pat Robertson, the pseudo-historian David Barton, James Robison, Gary North, Bryan Fischer, James Dobson, Gary Bauer Phyllis Schafley and a host of others. For them the Gospel has been equated with government legislation of “Christian” values which conveniently are defined by them and their political allies often in complete contradiction to the Gospel and to nearly 2000 years of Christian experience. North, one of the most eloquent expositors of the Dominionist movement wrote:

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.”

That is quite a statement and those who think that they can co-opt people like North, Robertson or others are quite mistaken. Goldwater realized this. What is fascinating to me is to watch these men and women advocate religious and political positions in regard to Church-State relations that completely opposite of what early American Christian and non-Christian civil libertarians imagined when our country was founded. Positions that quite often are at odds with even the historical tenants of their own faith. Their only claim to innocence can be because not a one of them have any training in history and often are even worse when it comes to their understanding of the Christian tradition, which did not begin in and will not end in the United States.

In this confused and often hateful “faith’ we see men and women who hate centralized government but extol a centralized religion. I was talking with a friend who is adamantly opposed to a powerful Federal Government but extols the perfection of the centralized bureaucracy of his Roman Catholic Faith. He could not see the contradiction. I watch others who extol an almost Libertarian understanding of the government and the Constitution who supposedly in their religious tradition are from the “Free Church” who advocate the supremacy of the Church over the State and in doing so their particular and limited understanding of Church over that of the Church Universal.

In this confused and contradictory setting there are Catholics espousing political views that are in direct opposition to the understanding of government supported by the Magisterium of the Church. There are Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants that mix and match the untenable and contradictory beliefs of Dominionism and Millennialism which involve on one hand the takeover of earthly power by the Church and the ushering in of the Kingdom of God and the understanding that earthly power is ultimately under the dominion of Satan and must be overcome by the Second Coming of Christ.

Leland wrote:

“These establishments metamorphose the church into a creature, and religion into a principle of state, which has a natural tendency to make men conclude that Bible religion is nothing but a trick of state.”

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John Leland

Leland was one of the most important persons in regards to the relationship of the Christian Churches to the American Government. He was a champion of the religious liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights and helped influence both James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. He noted in 1791:

“Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.” John Leland, “Right of Conscience Inalienable, and Therefore, Religious Opinions Not Cognizable By The Law”

When the adherents of a faith, any faith, but especially the Christian faith enlist the government to enforce their understanding of faith they introduce a toxicity that is eventually fatal when consumed and acted on.

I think that much of what we are witnessing today is much more the product of fear mongering preachers that see opportunity in their political alliances and that are willing to reduce the Gospel to a number of “Christian values” in order to achieve a political end; even if that end is ultimately destructive to the Church and to the Gospel.

The message of the Apostle Paul to the Church in Corinth was this: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.” (2 Cor 5:18-19 NRSV) 

The early church thrived when it had no early power. It thrived when it was persecuted and when the Roman government openly supported almost every religion but it. However, once it became powerful and worldly it became ensnared in affairs far from that simple message of reconciliation.

It was in this country that the various sects of the Christian faith had the opportunity to make a new start, unencumbered by the trappings of power. But instead, like those that came before us we have all too often been seduced by the toxin of power. John Leland understood this and fought to ensure that all people of faith were free and unencumbered by state supported religion. He wrote:

“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 [Muslims], Pagans and Christians. Test oaths and established creeds should be avoided as the worst of evils.”

Leland’s friend James Madison wrote to Edward Everett toward the end of his life:

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

That is the antidote to the toxic faith of what I now call “Americanity.” It stands against any idea of a state sanction or religion or a religion that like in Saudi Arabia or Iran controls the state. It stands in opposition to the beliefs of so many “Christian” religious leaders work to  ensure that they control the powers of government. Attempts that try to proclaim their superiority above even the ultimate message of the Gospel which proclaims “for God so loved the world….” 

By the way there are always results. The Puritans who many extoll were some of the most intolerant of dissenters of any group that has every held the reigns of power over the state and religion ever known in this country. Their victims included Quakers as well as American Indian converts to Christianity. The picture below of the Puritans hanging Quakers in the Massachusetts Bay Colony should give pause to anyone who thinks that such actions are not possible today should any religion gain control of political power.

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Peace

Padre Steve+

PS. I do not expect some people to agree with me. It is a free country and I am not God, the Pope or Bill O’Reilly and thus quite fallible. While I welcome opposing viewpoints and comments I do expect them to be civil and respectful and done in a spirit of dialogue. Those that are not civil, respectful or which simply attempt to beat me down or which are sermons will not be approved and I will not answer them. It gets really old and I have learned that in some cases no matter how hard I try to respect the beliefs of others are treat others as I would want to be treated that some people just love to destroy everything and everyone in their path. I don’t have time for that and having allowed people to do it on this site in the past I won’t do it again. If you are that kind of person feel free to start your own website and attack my viewpoints on it and not here. After all it is a free country and you have that right. I promise not to come on your site and attack you. Like I said, I don’t have time for that kind of stuff. 

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The Hijacking of the National Day of Prayer

The modern National Day of Prayer was enacted by President Truman and Congress in 1952 in the 36 U.S.C. § 119 : US Code – Section 119: National Day of Prayer and various Presidents at different times have called for days of fasting, prayer or thanksgiving.  The heart of President Truman’s proclamation is contained in this section:

Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Friday, July 4, 1952, as a National Day of Prayer, on which all of us, in our churches, in our homes, and in our hearts, may beseech God to grant us wisdom to know the course which we should follow, and strength and patience to pursue that course steadfastly. May we also give thanks to Him for His constant watchfulness over us in every hour of national prosperity and national peril.

Ronald Reagan eloquently stated the purpose and significance of the National Day of Prayer in his 1983 proclamation which in part read:

It took the tragedy of the Civil War to restore a National Day of Prayer. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”

Revived as an annual observance by Congress in 1952, the National Day of Prayer has become a great unifying force for our citizens who come from all the great religions of the world. Prayer unites people. This common expression of reverence heals and brings us together as a Nation and we pray it may one day bring renewed respect for God to all the peoples of the world.

From General Washington’s struggle at Valley Forge to the present, this Nation has fervently sought and received divine guidance as it pursued the course of history. This occasion provides our Nation with an opportunity to further recognize the source of our blessings, and to seek His help for the challenges we face today and in the future.

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim Thursday, May 5, 1983, National Day of Prayer. I call upon every citizen of this great Nation to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind.

President Reagan’s 1983 and subsequent proclamations stood firmly in the American tradition of Civil Religion and was decidedly non-sectarian.  It acknowledged that our citizens “come from all the great religions of the world” and called on Americans to gather on the day “in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind.”  In fact the spirit of the declaration is much like that of the hymn God of Our Fathers which is recognized as our National Hymn.  This hymn is not explicitly Christian and never mentions Christ or the Trinity yet it is widely sung in churches on days such as the Sunday nearest to Independence Day.  The lyrics to that hymn are here:

God of our fathers, Whose almighty hand, Leads forth in beauty all the starry band Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies, Our grateful songs before Thy throne arise.

Thy love divine hath led us in the past, In this free land by Thee our lot is cast, Be Thou our Ruler, Guardian, Guide and Stay, Thy Word our law, Thy paths our chosen way.

From war’s alarms, from deadly pestilence, Be Thy strong arm our ever sure defense; Thy true religion in our hearts increase, Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.

Refresh Thy people on their toilsome way, Lead us from night to never ending day; Fill all our lives with love and grace divine, And glory, laud, and praise be ever Thine.

While the American religious tradition is highly Christian and even more so from the Reformed tradition this has always existed in tension with a decidedly secularist philosophy embodied by many of the Founding Fathers who were very careful to recognize the importance of religion but at the same time both sought to protect religious liberty by NOT enacting laws to establish a particular religion nor to entangle the government in the affairs of religion which could in their view be detrimental to true religious liberty.

In fact both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were very careful about proclamations and ensuring that government was not favoring any particular religious body. Jefferson wrote to Reverend Samuel Miller in 1808 that:

Fasting and prayer are religious exercises; the enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the time for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and right can never be safer than in their hands, where the Constitution has deposited it. …civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.”

Madison who was the author of the Bill of Rights and included religious liberty in the First Amendment in support of Virginia Baptists who were under pressure from those who were determined to make and keep the Episcopal Church as the state religion of the commonwealth. Madison wrote to Edward Livingston in 1822 that:

“There has been another deviation from the strict principle in the Executive Proclamations of fasts & festivals, so far, at least, as they have spoken the language of injunction, or have lost sight of the equality of all religious sects in the eye of the Constitution. Whilst I was honored with the Executive Trust I found it necessary on more than one occasion to follow the example of predecessors. But I was always careful to make the Proclamations absolutely indiscriminate, and merely recommendatory; or rather mere designations of a day, on which all who thought proper might unite in consecrating it to religious purposes, according to their own faith & forms. In this sense, I presume you reserve to the Govt. a right to appoint particular days for religious worship throughout the State, without any penal sanction enforcing the worship.”

President Obama’s 2012 Proclamation for the National Day of Prayer stands in line with the founders as well as that of Presidents Truman and Reagan. It calls Americans to join with him to

“On this National Day of Prayer, we give thanks for our democracy that respects the beliefs and protects the religious freedom of all people to pray, worship, or abstain according to the dictates of their conscience. Let us pray for all the citizens of our great Nation, particularly those who are sick, mourning, or without hope, and ask God for the sustenance to meet the challenges we face as a Nation. May we embrace the responsibility we have to each other, and rely on the better angels of our nature in service to one another. Let us be humble in our convictions, and courageous in our virtue. Let us pray for those who are suffering around the world, and let us be open to opportunities to ease that suffering.

Let us also pay tribute to the men and women of our Armed Forces who have answered our country’s call to serve with honor in the pursuit of peace. Our grateful Nation is humbled by the sacrifices made to protect and defend our security and freedom. Let us pray for the continued strength and safety of our service members and their families. While we pause to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice defending liberty, let us remember and lend our voices to the principles for which they fought — unity, human dignity, and the pursuit of justice.”

Even Republican Presidents such as Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were careful to attempt to keep this in tension only holding one official event each during their presidencies.  It was not until George W. Bush that the President hosted events in every year of his presidency.  Remember the language of the law was that the President shall issue a proclamation for the people of the nation to pray.  Likewise the proclamations are a call for Americans, as Ronald Reagan and Harry Truman wrote to gather together on that day in homes and places of worship to pray, each after his or her own manner, for unity of the hearts of all mankind. The National Day of Prayer was not intended to entwine the government in exclusively religious observances by any particular religious tradition as many of the National Day of Prayer observances in many local, state and federal government agencies.

In 1982 a group of Evangelical Christians led by Shirley Dobson formed The National Day of Prayer Task Force. This organization is is not simply a Christian organization with an ecumenical purpose, but rather a decidedly Evangelic Christian organization.  It was formed to coordinate and implement a fixed annual day of prayer, the purpose of which was to organize evangelical Christian prayer events with local, state, and federal government entities.  Its ministry partners included the heavily politicized American Family Association, Alliance Defense Fund, American Center for Law and Justice, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. The Leadership is a veritable “Whose Who” of political preachers and ultra-conservative politicians including Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. This organization has since grown in popularity and prominence often being the primary organizer of such events.

While I am not against the observance of the National Day of Prayer I am uncomfortable with an organization like the National Day of Prayer Committee, which is dominated not just by Evangelical Christians, but Evangelical Christian political activists sponsoring the vast majority of these observances. The group makes no pretense about not being ecumenical and being what they say is “Judeo-Christian.” However since it it has appropriated the name “The National Day of Prayer” as its moniker and has huge financial and political backing, many Christians and non-Christians alike assume that The National Day of Prayer Task Force is the official government sponsored and endorsed organizer for the event. The appearance is solidified by the fact that many of their events are held in government or military facilities. In my opinion the National Day of Prayer Task Force has hijacked the occasion to fulfill their political and religious agenda. As a Christian and member of a small Old Catholic denomination I find this frightening.

What I think has happened within the time of my military career is that many Evangelical groups have made the National Day of Prayer “their event” and use people within government agencies or the military to organize events which lean heavily toward Evangelical Christianity.  I have seen it myself at many locations. Not only has this occurred but many times the leadership of these religious groups promote the political agenda of a particular political party or philosophy and as such that political philosophy sometimes becomes part of the event.  It happens quite often and I actually think invites trouble and challenges that will eventually have a negative impact on all Christians.

In fact The National Day of prayer was ruled unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb who ruled in favor of a suit brought about by the Freedom from Religion Foundation against The National Day of Prayer Task Force, former President George Bush and others.  The suit was expanded to name President Barack Obama when he requested that Judge Crabb to dismiss the case in 2009 when the administration argued that the foundation had no legal standing to sue.  The President Obama and his administration appealed the ruling and went ahead with the proclamation and observance of the National Day of Prayer in 2010 and 2011. The Obama Administration’s appeal was successful and a Federal Appeals Court overturned Judge Crabb’s ruling in 2011. The reason the appeal was granted was because the Appeals Court ruled that the Freedom from Religion Foundation had no legal standing because it did suffer actual harm from the Presidential proclamation and call to prayer.

My contention is that when a very religiously exclusive and politically partisan group virtually takes over what was implicitly non-sectarian and non-partisan that the event becomes more of a sectarian event than national event. The National Day of Prayer Task Force seems to merge Evangelical Christianity with the Federal Government.  Somehow I don’t think that Jefferson, Madison or early Baptist leaders like Roger Williams and John Leland who all saw the separation of Church and State as essential to the preservation of the civil rights of all citizens, not just Christians.

I believe in and do pray for the United States of America, our people and our leaders. I even think that a designated day of prayer for the nation is a salient reminder of the necessity of citizens of faith to pray for this country and our leaders regardless of their faith, absence of faith or political party or ideology. It is what makes the American experiment in Religious Liberty so unique in the world and why we should resist all attempts to return to the hopelessly entwined and bankrupt systems embodied by the State Religions of Europe and the Middle East.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Double Edged Sword of Denying Religious Rights

Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony Hanging Quakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The long-term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant–baptism and holy communion–must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.” Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 87.

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

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

Penn’s Declaration of Rights stated:

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

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

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

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

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

Gary North echo’s Bahnsen when he wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association claims:

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

Pat Roberston extends such to fellow Christians:

“You say you’re supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense, I don’t have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist.” — Pat Robertson, The 700 Club, January 14, 1991

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The settled opinion here is, that religion is essentially distinct from civil Government, and exempt from its cognizance; that a connection between them is injurious to both; that there are causes in the human breast which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law; that rival sects, with equal rights, exercise mutual censorships in favor of good morals; that if new sects arise with absurd opinions or over-heated imaginations, the proper remedies lie in time, forbearance, and example; that a legal establishment of religion without a toleration could not be thought of, and with a toleration, is no security for and animosity; and, finally, that these opinions are supported by experience, which has shewn that every relaxation of the alliance between law and religion, from the partial example of Holland to the consummation in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, &c., has been found as safe in practice as it is sound in theory. Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of Independence it was left, with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among us now than there ever was before the change, and particularly in the sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than that the law is not necessary to the support of religion” (Letter to Edward Everett, Montpellier, March 18, 1823).

Madison’s words are well worth considering now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on the Well Deserved Death of Osama Bin Laden and some Christian’s Crocodile Tears for his Soul

Note: This is one of my Denny Crane moments indulge me

Osama Bin Laden got his just deserts yesterday at the hands of the Navy SEALS of Seal Team Six known simply as DEVGRU to those that have served in the SEAL and EOD community.  A head shot and a chest shot and Osama was off to meet his 72 Virginians via Davy Jones Locker.  Rumor has it that a pack of sharks trolling behind the USS Carl Vinson for lunch noted his enshrouded body sinking into the depths and passed on it leaving it to sink to the depths to be devoured by bottom feeding creatures.  When they were asked why they didn’t chow down on the murderous yahoo from Yemen one was quoted as saying “He gave our profession a bad name.”

All kidding aside I am glad he is gone and if I could have been in Washington DC, at Ground Zero or at the Phillies Mets game http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/blog/big_league_stew/post/Video-Phillies-fans-chant-8216-U-S-A-8217-?urn=mlb-wp5081  I would have partied all night long and I cannot imagine any American or for that matter any decent human being not celebrating this.  The good guys got a win for once and we should celebrate we deserve it. We haven’t had much to celebrate since September 11th 2001 and this is as good of occasion as any.

Now I know that I’m going to get some crap from some readers that this is not a Christian attitude and I will admit that they are probably right.  I know this to be a fact because I saw absolutely idiot comments from some of my Christian friends on a social ministry sight almost shedding crocodile tears about Bin Laden’s death saying that God doesn’t take any joy in the death of the unrighteous but if you are a good Old Testament type Calvinist, which by the way I am not by any means, you can interpret parts of the Old Testament as God having one big party as he has his people whack and shwack their enemies ethnically cleansing whole cities so they might have a place to live. Heck the Psalmist even rejoiced in bashing babies heads against big rocks.  Not a very pro-life sounding message there but it is the Old Testament and happens to be in vogue among some parts of Evangelicalism.  Thus to hear some of the same people who love to use these “imprecatory prayers” against fellow Americans on the opposite side of the political aisle cry these faux tears over the soul of Bin Laden it makes me sick.

The man was a brutal killer and thug who killed thousands of our own people and thousands of others, many which were his fellow Moslems.  Some of these folks such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell and even the recently deceased David Wilkerson and others even told us back after 9-11 that it was “God’s judgment on this county.”  I remember the aftermath of the September 11th 2011 attacks and seeing the internet for the first time in days after being locked down aboard Camp LeJeune NC. I was aghast to see some of these men and others that this was God’s judgment on America.  Of course when many of their own congregations and donors objected most retreated from their positions with immense “mea culpa” moments.

Back in the 1960s it was the liberals that said we were the bad guys for Vietnam and punished those that served in that war.  Now days it is a bit different especially because we have a Democrat in the White House, a black one without a good American name like Bob we have conservative Christians acting like the liberals of the 1960s crying over the death Che Guevara and extolling the Chinese “Cultural Revolution.” For some reasons and I can’t imagine why there seems to be such a loathing of their own country by such people. Sure we are not perfect and we have messed up a lot. If you read this site I am not uncritical of various actions of different Presidents, Congress or any part of our government and some of our actions around the world.  We’re not a perfect nation but but we still are one of the best shows in town. But I’ll tell you what I love this country and continue to serve her and defend the rights of all Americans to hold views about the country that I personally distain. But that is why I love the Good Old USA because we don’t have to agree to be Americans; well at least that’s what I think.  But sometimes when I see comments like this crying for Bin Laden’s soul and condemning the country I wonder what the hell is going on. I see them criticize the very country that gives them the right to criticize their government with impunity, even using the “judgment of God card” as they wish.  In fact that is why the Pilgrims and other English Separatists came here so they could criticize the crown without being harassed and ensured that those that disagreed with them couldn’t do so safely without having to go establish the Rhode Island Colony like Roger Williams did.  But I digress….

When I see such comments mourning Bin Laden or assuming that God’s judgment is on America I feel my inner Colonel Nathan R. Jessup rising up especially when I see so few of them flocking to the colors and run to the recruiting stations saying “here I am send me Sir!” You see it is so easy to theologize and criticize but so much harder to put your life on the line. However if you secretly loathe the country it is easy to condemn those charged with protecting it from the Commander in Chief down, especially when you claim God as your authority.  I love this quote from the great film A Few Good Men coming from Colonel Jessup played most delightfully by Jack Nicholson and I think it suits my mood right about now:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinburg? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago, and you curse the marines. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way, Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a weapon, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.” 

Now our forces from the Commander in Chief down did their jobs and did them well in providing Bin Laden an exit from his internet less misery in Pakistan.  I for one celebrate this event. If this makes me somehow less spiritual or Christian so be it. I am an American and Osama Bin Laden was our enemy personified. So go ahead and weep for Bin Laden if you wish my fellow Christians. Pray for his soul but let the rest of us enjoy a moment of victory in this painful and long war in which so many Americans and others have died because of the actions of Osama Bin Laden and his minions.  Don’t piss on their memory by feeling bad that Bin Laden didn’t get a chance to meet Jesus in this world.

Yes I’m a bit snarky today but I haven’t forgotten September 11th and I am glad that so many Americans are overjoyed by this. For once we got one in the win column.  We’re entitled to celebrate because we get to go back on the field tomorrow and hopefully whack some more of Bin Laden’s slugs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Book Review: Identity and War, the Lessons of King Philip’s War

This is a book review of Jill Lepore’s bookThe Name of War: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York NY. 1999

King Philip

The thesis of Jill Lepore’s book In the Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity” is that King Philip’s War helped lay the foundation of American identity. Lepore postulates that the history of the war and the war itself cannot be separated especially in regard to the identity of the participants.  This is of particular interest in how the participants record the history of the war and how it influences their perception of themselves and their enemies.

War and how it is recorded in history can define a people. Examples of this can be seen throughout history. For instance the history and identity of Serbia cannot be separated from the battle of Kosovo in 1389 . There are countless other examples of how war shapes the identity of people and nations.  One of the defining moments in the early history of Colonial America was King Philip’s War which lasted from July 1675 through August 1676.

Lepore maintains that King Philip’s War defined the ways in which the colonists and Indians shaped their views of themselves and each other, not just at the time of the war but in succeeding generations.  She takes an approach unlike a lot of histories of war.  Instead of simply analyzing battles Lepore looks at how war cultivates language and the questions that war provokes.

The most pressing to Lepore is “how do people reconcile themselves to war’s worst cruelties.”[i] She notes her own view of war in her introduction: “War is a contagion, the universal perversion. War is politics by other means, at best barbarism, a mean contemptible thing.”[ii] She says that her interest in war was drawn on the media coverage of the Persian Gulf War and her question of “how war could be represented without pictures.”[iii] This of course demonstrates how she views the nature of war and how she interprets it.

Lepore examines the literature of “King Philip’s War” beginning with the death of the leader of Wampanoag Indian King Philip in June 1675.  She examines the war from both sides inasmuch as that only one side had access to the means to record that history. Through the writings of the colonists she examines the brutal nature of King Philip’s War which “in proportion to population… inflicted greater casualties than any other war in American history.”[iv]

This is not a campaign history.  Instead Lepore selects incidents and battles of the war and looks at them through the eyes of the people that recorded them.  Lepore notes that “the central claim of this book is that wounds and words-the injuries and their interpretation- cannot be separated, that acts of war generate acts of narration, and that both types of acts are often joined in a common purpose: defining the geographical, political, cultural, and sometimes racial and national boundaries between peoples.”[v]

Lepore’s account is a literary and philosophical study of the nature of war and not a military history. Her understanding of the totality of this war and its effect through the years is noted by others such as Russell Weigley.[vi] She asks a poignant question that should be noted by any practitioner of war or military theorist: “If war is, at least in part, a contest for meaning, can it ever be a fair fight when only one side has access to those perfect instruments of empire, pens, paper, and printing presses?”[vii]

Lepore studies the literature of the war published by the colonists.  In particular she discusses the competing histories published by Increase Mather and William Hubbard, both pastors in New England and the writings of other colonists, especially those of Nathanial Saltonstall and Mary Rowlandson.  For Lepore the importance of the writing of these people is connected to the identity of the peoples involved, both the English colonists and the Native Americans.[viii] Lepore’s premise is that the writings of the colonists “proved pivotal to their victory, a victory that drew new firmer boundaries between English and Indian people, between English and Indian land, and what it meant to be “English” and what it meant to be “Indian.””[ix] This is still a critical question. She notes how King Philip’s War influenced later events such as the American Revolution and the deportation of the Cherokee nation in the 1820s.

For Lepore the formation of the identity of both the colonists and the indigenous people is the key theme of this war, and for that matter most wars.

Lepore depicts this in her prologue and the account of the torture of a Narragansett Indian by Mohegans Indians while the English watch.  The question that she raises and that she will ask again is “If they are to think of themselves as different from “these Heathen” whom they condemn for their “barbarous Cruelty,” how then can they consent to such treatment of a Narragansett before their very eyes? “Their enemy is killed, yet they do not have to kill him. They are allowed to witness torture, yet they not need inflict it.”[x]

Yet for the colonists such behavior risked their identity as Christians and Englishmen which was what they believed that they fought for in the first place.  Lepore notes Mather’s 1674 sermon The Day of Trouble is Near which emphasized the theme of decay and confusion present at the time.[xi]

Lepore notes the effect of literacy on both the colonists and Indians. She begins with the murder of John Sassamon a bi-lingual Indian as the seminal event which set the stage for the war. She then examines Sassamon’s relationship to the English and Christianity and his relationship with King Philip.  In Lepore’s account Sassamon was a victim of both his faith and literacy.

Lepore provides a good study of early missionary attempts to “bring the Gospel” to the Indians by translating the Bible and devotional texts from English to Massachusett[xii] and how that missionary activity converted many Indians including Sassamon.  Lepore notes that: “in a sense literacy killed John Sassamon. And herein lies one of the fundamental paradoxes of the waging and writing of King Philip’s War:  The cultural tensions that caused the war – the Indians becoming Anglicized and English becoming Indianized- meant that literate Indians like John Sassamon who were those most likely to record their version of events of the war, were among its first casualties.” [xiii]

Lepore’s depiction of the cruelties of war in chapters three and four is a study in contrasts.  Again this comes back to a question of identity for the colonists.  They saw themselves as different from the “uncivilized Indians” even the Christian Indians.  This was because the colonists believed that Indians did not value English understanding of identity which was connected to property and its improvement, houses, land and farm field’s cattle and possessions.  When the Indians destroyed English property it was a blow at their very identity as Englishmen. The tension between these tow opposite points of view remains a fixture of American life.

Religion played a major role in the conflict.  Lepore notes that “the colonists’ sense of predestination…, their natural affinity with the land, and their cultural proclivity to conflate property with identity, all combined to produce this oneness of bodies and land.”[xiv] The English did not view the Indians as having the same values because they did not have the same understanding of land and property, and thus they saw them as savage.  For example she discusses how the colonists view of how “the Algonquians’’ perceived nomadism, their failure to “improve” the land, formed the basis for the English land claims….”[xv] In  other words the English Colonists believed that if the Indians were want to improve the land upon which they dwelt than they did not deserve to remain on it.

Lepore discusses the metaphor of “nakedness” in relation to the loss of property and identity.[xvi] She notes how the Indians seemed to have understood the importance of land and property to the English. She cites a note left by a Nipmuck Indian at Medfield “we hauve nothing but our lives to loose but thou hast many fair houses cattell & much good things.”[xvii] She notes that the note offered an analysis missed by all the English accounts of the war.[xviii]

Likewise Lepore notes how religion informed both the colonists and Indians who both looked for supernatural messages in the natural world.  The English colonists, primarily Puritan Calvinists believed that the devastation of the war on them at the beginning of the war was “God punishing them for their sins, not the least of them their failure to convert the Indians to Christianity.”[xix] The English settlers were influenced by their Calvinist theology and believed that the Indians both “served the devil” but were also “the instruments of God.”[xx] The Indians also had a spiritual element to their conduct of the war and the clash of these beliefs gave the war a religious dimension especially for the Colonists a dimension that would pervade American perceptions of many of the wars which followed.

Another theme of Lepore in how the war shaped identity is in the context of the bondage experienced by the English captives of the Indians during the war that of and of the Indians following the war.  She uses the stories of Mary Rowlandson and Christian Indian James Printer to illustrate her thesis.

Rowlandson’s story is the account of her capture, captivity and release by the Indians following the attack on Lancaster, Massachusetts in February 1676.  Lepore calls the importance of Rowlandson’s account The Sovereignty and Goodness of God and how it shaped the colonial and later American understanding of the war by “the nearly complete veil it has unwittingly placed over the experiences of bondage endured by Algonquian Indians during King Philip’s War.”[xxi] Lepore writes that for Rowlandson and Printer that the story was one of redemption and return to English society, Rowlandson through her book, Printer through bringing back scalps of other Indians as a demonstration of his loyalty to the Colonists.[xxii]

Another point raised by Lepore here is the enslavement and deportation of the Algonquians by the Colonists following the war.  A key to the thinking of the colonists is elaborated by Lepore: “In the end, the colonists’ evaluation of Indian sovereignty was merely an extension of their thinking about Indian possession: Indians were only sovereign enough to give their sovereignty away.”[xxiii]

This again comes back to Lepore’s thesis of identity.  She states that the “colonists moved toward (but never fully embraced) in their writing about King Philip’s War was the idea that Indians were not, in fact truly human, or else humans of such a vastly different race as to be considered essentially, and biologically inferior to Europeans.”[xxiv] She argues that King Philip’s war was a defining moment where “Algonquian political and cultural autonomy was lost and where the English moved one step closer to the worldview that would create, a century and a half later, the Indian removal policy of Andrew Jackson.”[xxv]

Lepore’s final section deals with memory and identity.  She illustrates this by noting how the Reverend Nathan Fiske in 1775 equated the British to the Indians of King Philip’s War; and the play Metamora written in 1829 about King Philip and the war.  Both Fiske and the latter play had an impact.

Fiske’s sermon helped light the fires of American independence movement, something that which Lepore notes for the Indians was “not a gain but a loss of liberty.”[xxvi] The play Metamora opened the day Andrew Jackson declared his policy of Indian removal. It was the most popular American play of its era. Lepore says that when you “peel back all the layers …what remains is a struggle for American and Indian identity. Through plays like Metamora, white Americans came to define themselves in relation to an imagined Indian past.”[xxvii]

Overall Lepore’s treatment of King Philip’s War is a good treatment of how wars affect people and their relationships with those whom they war against.  Using Lepore’s thesis of the war, the history of war and how they shape the identities of peoples and nations’ one could conceivably analyze other conflicts from this perspective.

Since this is the premise of why Lepore began her study of King Philip’s War it is worthy of further discussion.  Such studies could be undertaken in the Balkans, Kurdistan, Palestine, Iraq or Syria as well as other regions where the impact of war is thoroughly ingrained in the minds, hearts and imaginations of the parties involved.  From this perspective one wonders what future generations of Americans and Moslems will write of the current conflicts that the United States is engaged in.

Another aspect of Lepore’s examination study is religion in the perception and interpretation of war.  In this case it is the impact of the colonists Calvinism and its relationship to other English theologies of its day as well as other Calvinistic understanding of war of that era that matters.

This is very important.  The more recent English colonists prior to King Philip’s War had in many cases experienced the brutality of English Civil War and the protectorate of Oliver Cromwell in which they dominated the English political landscape.  Thus for many of these colonists a return of the Crown and Anglicanism would drive them to seeking independence for the colonies.

Many of the soldiers among them would certainly recall the brutality of the civil war and the invasion of Ireland. The soldier’s views of the Irish were similar to the views of the colonists of the Indians, something that Lepore only mentions in passing. As such the experience of the more recent colonists and the soldiers added a dimension of brutality that was not as prevalent before the hostilities.

Likewise Lepore mentions little of Roger Williams’ beliefs and his relations to the Puritans whom he fled to found Rhode Island in 1631 on the principle of religious freedom.  Her treatment of Williams does not include his respect for the Indians and view that “perhaps their religion was acceptable in the eyes of God as was Christianity.”[xxviii] Despite this her treatment of King Philip’s War is worthwhile reading because it brings up the question of identity which seems to drive war and those who write of it to the present day.

The question that Lepore forces us to ask is how past wars shape our conduct in and interpretation of ongoing wars.  The Colonists would see their conflict with the Indians as one of life and death, one of their very survival as a people and as such they were willing at times to commit atrocities against Indian threats, real and imagined.  More recently the American understanding of the war against Japan was conducted in a similar vein with many of the same overtones.  Likewise the framing of the current war by some as a war of survival against the threat of Islam raises similar issues.  Thus Lepore’s study is valuable in examining how some view the current war on terror as well as a means to look at other wars in our nation’s history through a different lens, not simply through the eyes of battles, military forces, strategy and tactics but through the participants identity and who the war is both shaped and recorded by both sides.  Even if one does not accept her conclusions or her admitted biases the book can allow us to reexamine our own views of our past and how they shape our present view of war, conflict and identity as a people.


[i] Lepore, Jill. The Name of War: The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity. Vintage Books, a division of Random House, New York NY. 1999 p.xxi

[ii] Ibid. p.x

[iii] Ibid. p.xxi

[iv] Ibid. p.xi.  Additionally, Allen R. Millet and Peter Maslowski in For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America The Free Press, NYew York, NY 1984 note that “the colonists did not enjoy an “Age of Limited Warfare” like that which prevailed in Europe from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth century.  To the colonists (and to the Indians) war was a matter of survival. Consequently, at the very time European nations strove to restrain war’s destructiveness, the colonists waged it with ruthless ferocity, purposefully striking at noncombatants and enemy property.” p.18

[v] Ibid. p.x

[vi] Weigley writes in “The American Way of War: A Study of United States Military Strategy and Policy,  Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 that “In King Philip’s War of 1675-76, the Indians came fearfully close to obliterating the New England settlements. When the colonists rallied to save themselves, they saw to it that their victory was complete enough to extinguish the Indians as a military force throughout the southern and eastern parts of New England…” and that he “logic of a contest for survival was always implicit in the Indian wars, as it never was in the eighteenth-century wars …”p.19  Weigley notes how this would impact future American Wars beginning with the War against France and later the American Revolution in that “their success demanded the complete elimination of British power from all of North America, just as they had demanded and won the complete elimination of French power.” p.20

[vii] Ibid. p.xxi

[viii] Ibid. Lepore. p.x

[ix] Ibid. p.xiii

[x] Ibid. Lepore. p.4-5

[xi] Ibid. p.6.  Lepore notes a theme that will be later picked up by many in American history.  The idea that they were visible saints for all of Europe to see is a precursor to the idea of the United States as “A city set on a hill.”

[xii] See Leopre pp.33-39

[xiii] Ibid. p.25-26

[xiv] Ibid. p.82

[xv] Ibid. p.76

[xvi] Ibid. p.79

[xvii] Ibid. p.94

[xviii] Ibid. pp.95-96.  Lepore notes that the English interpreted Algonquian assaults and taunts as “expressions of mindless savagery rather than calculated assaults on the English way of life.” And the refusal of the English to “place Indian “cruelties” within the broader context of Algonquian culture, instead labeling them “barbarous” violations of English ideas of just conduct in war….”

[xix] Ibid. p.99

[xx] Ibid. p.102  Lepore does not dwell on this but this observation is entirely consistent with Calvinist theology which drew heavily on the Old Testament imagery of Israel and its relations with its neighbors.  The Old Testament prophets often spoke in terms of the enemies of Israel being used by God to punish Israel for its sin and  disobedience to God.

[xxi] Ibid. p.126

[xxii] Ibid. p.147-148

[xxiii] Ibid. p.165

[xxiv] Ibid. p.167

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. p.189 ff.  Lepore chronicles the losses of Freedom in the various states to the different tribes of New England.

[xxvii] Ibid.p.193

[xxviii] Gonzalez, Justo. The History of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Harper and Row Publishers, San Francisco CA. 1985 p.225

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