Tag Archives: seven mountain theology

Religion & State: The Less Mixed the Better

baptistpersecutionvirginia01

Virginia Anglicans Persecution Baptists in the 1780s

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Robert Heinlein wrote that, “Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.” His words are quite relevant and in a way consistent with the desires of the founders of the United States.

Since I am still getting readjusted to life back in the states after my very nice trip in Germany where I was mostly off the grid I will just share a few thoughts. They are not really original to me, but they are born of reflection on the palpable political anger of the politicians, pundits and preachers of the political-religious movement that I refer to as the “Christian Right.”

In order to be clearly understood it is important for my readers to understand that I am not lumping all “conservative Christians” into the political Christian right. In fact some conservative Christian traditions and their followers are diametrically opposed to the political theology of the Christian Right, which has as its heart the theology of Christian Dominionism, something I have written about many times. This is a modernized understanding of political Calvinism, which has sometimes known as “Seven-Mountain” theology, as such I make a profound distinction between such groups and the political movement which calls itself the Christian Right and assumes that as such it speaks for all conservative Christians.

Gary North, a prominent ideologue of the movement who has advised many of the current Christian Right leaders of the Republican Party, and whose ideas are widely promulgated by the politicians, pundits and preachers of the Christian Right was quite clear in what this movement desires. “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.” Thus, every time you hear the words “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” being uttered by them, please understand that they are talking about their religious liberty only, and that that liberty has at its heart the desire to establish their political-religious dogma as law of the land. Thomas Paine, the author of the amazing little book “Common Sense” which was so much a part of the thought of our founders noted, “Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all religions established by law.”

Robert Ingersoll, one of this first prominent skeptics in this country and acknowledged atheists wrote something quite profound in understanding the nature of what our founders intended and why there were protections both for and from religion in the Constitution:

“They knew that to put God in the constitution was to put man out. They knew that the recognition of a Deity would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought. They knew the terrible history of the church too well to place in her keeping or in the keeping of her God the sacred rights of man. They intended that all should have the right to worship or not to worship that our laws should make no distinction on account of creed. They intended to found and frame a government for man and for man alone. They wished to preserve the individuality of all to prevent the few from governing the many and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”

Ingersoll correctly reflected the thoughts of Jefferson, Madison, Adams and even George Washington as well as early Virginia Baptist John Leland, and other pioneers of religious liberty like Roger Williams, the founder of the colony of Rhode Island.

According to every scientifically based survey of Christians and non-Christian attitudes toward the church and its religious involvement show that ever-increasing numbers of Christians are fleeing the church. Likewise, increasing numbers of non-Christians want nothing to do with it, even if they are favorably disposed to Jesus and his teachings.

In light of this fact, maybe it is time for Christians to get off their high-horse expecting that they should hold the rights to the political franchise and remember the words of James Madison who said, “Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Have a great night,

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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Silent Witnesses

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; 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?” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Letters and Papers from Prison)

It has been an exhausting summer for most Americans and much of the Western World. We are witnessing events that most of us could not imagine happening.  We are tired of war but seem to be unable to extricate ourselves from the most expensive and least strategically important wars we have undertaken inAfghanistan.  The numbers of killed and wounded continue to mount even as it becomes apparent that there is no way to win the war given that more troops, time and money would have to be employed none of which we have.

Our economy is in terrible shape with sustained high unemployment, a massive debt, decaying infrastructure and little prospects for improvement.  Standard and Poor’s downgraded long term U.S. debt creating even more uncertainly and fear in U.S.and world markets.  Several European Union countries are on the verge of economic collapse threatening the Euro Zone and causing a ripple effect around the world.

We demand that governments do something but seem to ignore the fact that governments control almost nothing because they are in the thrall of the financial industry which really does control what governments can and cannot do. They even dictate how governments should manage their debts as in the case of SP downgrading the United States.  Our founders understood the dangers and the control that bankers have over governments.  Thomas Jefferson noted “I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” His fellow Virginian and drafter of the Bill of Rights James Madison said “History records that the money changers have used every form of abuse, intrigue, deceit, and violent means possible to maintain their control over governments by controlling the money and its issuance.”  Across the Atlantic a leader of a different sort, Napoleon Bonaparte had a similar insight “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes.”

Catholic philosopher G. K. Chesterton wrote about how the worst vices and passions, selfishness, greed, lust and power were supposed to somehow bring about the best in people.  “It was the mystical dogma of Bentham and Adam Smith and the rest, that some of the worst of human passions would turn out to be all for the best. It was the mysterious doctrine that selfishness would do the work of unselfishness.” 

In the middle of this rapidly worsening situation we see the Unholy Trinity of politicians, pundits and preachers as they pontificate about and blame one another for things that they refuse to take responsibility for and of which they really have little understanding.  Stirred up by them we too have become polarized, angry and distrustfully of our neighbor to the point of hatred.  Conservatives now hate liberals, liberals hate conservatives, the radicals on both sides have pushed their more moderate colleagues into adopting their position because those “moderates” are even more afraid of the ideologues in their own party than they opposition party.

Our government if we can call it that anymore is hopelessly divided and set against each other and none of the most prominent political “leaders” seem to have any morale center or courage of conviction.  They all seem to be Bonhoeffer cynics, misanthropes, or clever tacticians.

Religion is even used a trump card by the right with erstwhile “pastors” blessing the most ungodly adventures, preemptive war, use of weapons of mass destruction, while cozying up to and advocating for the most powerful financial interests.  Some of the more blatant of these “pastors” like C. Peter Wagner advocate a Christian theocracy based on the Seven Mountains theology by which Christians must take dominion over seven key spheres of society which are government, arts and entertainment, media, education, family, religion, and business with business being the most important.  If he was an isolated case it would not be worth commenting on but Wagner and his allies in the Dominionist movement are closely connected to a number of Republican Presidential candidates and one who will likely declare, Texas Governor Rick Perry.

We have witnessed it all and we have to say what we have seen is not working and in fact is an embodiment of evil and anarchy as each group positions itself to gain the most. We have exulted power, vice, avarice and greed as the highest ideals Bonhoeffer said:

“Unless we have the courage to fight for a revival of wholesome reserve between man and man, we shall perish in an anarchy of human values…. Socially it means the renunciation of all place-hunting, a break with the cult of the “star,” an open eye both upwards and downwards, especially in the choice of one’s more intimate friends, and pleasure in private life as well as courage to enter public life. Culturally it means a return from the newspaper and the radio to the book, from feverish activity to unhurried leisure, from dispersion to concentration, from sensationalism to reflection, from virtuosity to art, from snobbery to modesty, from extravagance to moderation.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

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