Tag Archives: social justice

The Continuing Journey: Reflections of 6 Years Dealing with PTSD Faith and Life

tom-clancy-look-2

“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” T. E. Lawrence, Letter 1935

It has been six full years since I descended into the hell of the abyss that is PTSD. Back in the late spring and early summer of 2008 just a few months after my return from what I still consider my best tour of duty in over 30 years of military service with US advisors and Iraq Army and Security forces in Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008 I was in a state of emotional and spiritual collapse.

I really couldn’t believe then what was happening to me or they way that it would end up shaping my life to the present day. In retrospect my return from Iraq marked a beginning of a personal hell that for a number of years seemed like that it would never end. It was painful, it was isolating and it marked a profound change in the way that I saw God, faith, politics and social justice. It changed me in ways that I never could have imagined when I got on a bus heading for Fort Jackson South Carolina following the July 4th holiday of 2007.

Those brave souls that have followed me on this website as well as those that are still my friends despite occasional disagreements and misunderstandings, those that may not understand me but still are my friends have seen this.

So six years later what is it like?

I still have trouble sleeping, not as much as I used to but enough to impact my life. I don’t take heavy doses of sleep meds anymore, just some Melatonin as well as a mild dosage of an anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressant. A far better combination than medications that made me feel like I was hung over without that benefit of sharing too many drinks with friends at the local watering hole.

As opposed to the years immediately following my time in Iraq I have to say that I am no longer self medicating with alcohol. I remember in 2009 going out for dinner, having a few beers, then going to a ball game and drinking a few more and coming home with Krispy Kreme donuts and drinking more beer on a regular basis and usually taking a couple of shots or Jaegermeister or glasses of Spanish Brandy just to get to sleep so I could go back to facing life and death situations the next day in our ICUs. I don’t need that anymore, even though sleep can be problematic and dreams and nightmares rivaling anything I can watch on my HD TV…

I still love to pony up to the bar and share a couple of pints with friends but I don’t need it to numb myself into feeling no pain. Talking with many other vets who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam I know that I wasn’t alone in those dark days.

I have become a bit less hyper-vigilant though when I come home to Virginia Beach than I was just three years ago and most certainly five years ago in May of 2008. However, that being said I do notice that I am more on guard on the roads and that little things, sirens, emergency vehicles, loud noises and traffic still set me off more than when I lived in rural North Carolina while stationed at Camp LeJeune from 2010 until August of 2013.

I absolutely hate air travel. I don’t like the crowds, the stress of security or the constant delays, changes and overcrowding. Truthfully I felt more comfortable flying the skies of Iraq on Marine, Army and Air Force fixed and rotor wing aircraft and on occasion being shot at in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province than I do on any airline today in this country.

I have become exceptionally sensitive to tragedy, death and suffering. The loss of friends or major incidents where military personnel are killed in combat, training missions or just doing their job hits me hard. The worst times are when friends, or others that I know die by their own hand. When they are veterans who suffer from PTSD, TBI or Moral Injury it is like a dagger plunging into me.

Physical fitness matters more than it did before, even though I was in very good shape before and during my time in Iraq. But when I came home from that I was not only wounded in mind and spirit, but my body was beaten up. Chronic nagging injuries and chronic pain kept me from doing what I liked doing and what helped me keep my physical-spiritual and emotional balance. Those nagging injuries took a long time to heal, and they took some adjustments on my part which took me several years to adapt to and compensate in my physical regimen.  I can say now that I am in as good or better shape than I was before I left for Iraq in 2007. Maybe I’ll write a best selling book and do an exercise video like Jane Fonda…

Whereas in 2008 through 2010 and even until 2011 I was exceptionally sensitive to criticism to the changes that were occurring in my life including my move to the “left” both theologically and politically I have gotten to the point that I realize that it is more important to be honest and authentic as to who I am and what I believe. I have found that those that really matter to me don’t care so much about those things and that relationships maintained with people who don’t always agree with each other where all remain their personal integrity are far more rewarding than relationships that are first and foremost decided by allegiance to political or religious orthodoxy no matter what side of the spectrum it is from. I hate group think. Thus though I have to now consider me to be on the “liberal” side of the political and theological divide I still have to be considered a moderate simply because I refuse to make people my enemy simply because I disagree with them or they with me.

When I began this site in the spring of 2009 I named it Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate. I think I did that because it actually described me then, and now, even though I am pretty passionately liberal about some things and that doesn’t bother me in any way because it comes from my wrestling with God and faith and realizing that integrity matters more than about anything else. I have toyed with changing the title of the site but have decided against that because I am a moderate liberal committed to a Christian faith that speaks for the oppressed and is willing to confront those that would use faith, political or economic power to oppress the weak or those different from us.

Since I returned from Iraq in 2008 I discovered what it was to really question faith and God. To become for a couple of years a man who was for all practical purposes an agnostic praying that God still existed and cared. I discovered that in doing so that faith returned, different but more real than I had ever experienced in a life spent in the Christian faith and ministry.

My agnostic period gave me an immense empathy and appreciation for those who have lost faith, struggle with faith or reject any concept of God. I value reason as much, maybe if not more than faith now, not that reason is infallible or perfect, but it does allow me to evaluate my faith, and appreciate the amazing mysteries of the universe that our science and technology continue to reveal in ever more complex detail.

That brought change because my rediscovered faith brought me into conflict with people in the church denomination and faith community where I had been ordained as a priest. I was asked to leave and found a new home church and denomination that fit my life, faith experience and where I could live and minister in complete integrity. In the church that took me in during the fall of 2010 I can be faithful to the Gospel and care for the lost, the least and the lonely, especially those who have been abused by churches and ministries that have sold their soul to right wing political ideologues whose only concern is their political power and influence and would use churches and Christians to do their evil bidding. I guess that I learned that just because someone wraps the Bible in an American Flag, believes that Jesus brought us the Constitution and says that they “support the troops” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they care a whit about the Bible, the Flag, the Constitution or the Troops. I hope that isn’t too harsh….

Oh well, I feel that I am beginning to ramble so I will say good night and “God Bless,” no matter what God that you profess or for that matter don’t profess.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD

Social Justice from the Prophet Amos and Pope Francis

holy-saturday

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!

“When will the new moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain,

and the sabbath, that we may display the wheat? We will diminish the ephah,

add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the lowly for silver,

and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the refuse of the wheat we will sell!”

The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done! Amos 8:4-

There is a certain joy and challenge to having to preach every week, especially when one follows the lectionary instead of making things up as we go based on our favorite theological biases or interests.

Thus coming back to a place where I am having to preach each week it is a challenge. It is interesting for me to see what the Bible has to say on issues that Christians including me like to ignore. The funny, but not so funny thing is that those parts of the Bible that many conservative American Christians of all denominations, but especially Evangelicals like to ignore are the kinds of passages that are more the norm than the exception. Thus we tend to ignore the really challenging things and focus on what tickles people’s ears. Now I have never been a fan of having my ears tickled but evidently some do or the Apostle Paul wouldn’t have not warned Timothy about it.

In the United States Christians have it good. As rich and fashionably well to do entitled Christians we love to cite verses that talk about prosperity.  Those more theologically adept love to misuse the writings and theology of John Calvin to show who our material success somehow equals God blessing us. The sad thing is in order to do that many of us will totally ignore most of Jesus’ teachings about the misuse of wealth and the abuse of the poor as well as those of Paul, James, and the vast majority of the prophets of the Old Testament in such matters. But then what do they know? They didn’t study Ayn Rand did they?

I can only imagine what Amos, a prophet from Judah whose ministry was primarily directed at the Kingdom of Israel in about 750 BC would be if he walked among American Christians today. I mean really, think about it. Amos almost sounds like he is talking about the Prosperity Preachers and those in the church who for the sake of partisan political power are willing to ignore or even worse to sacrifice the most vulnerable people in society for their own place at the seat of power.

How Constantinian of them. Yet Amos and most of the other prophets seem to have a most egregious disregard for the issues that contemporary Christians have sacrificed on the altar of political power and expediency. Yes “Christian Right” I and they are talking about you.

Pope Francis is nailing the issue. For too long the Christian Church in the United States and western Europe have been engaging in the so called “culture wars.” While some of the issues are legitimate including some of the pro-life related issues, they are actually subordinated to a broader and much more insidious agenda which is neither Christian or for that matter American, at least in the sense understood by the religiously tolerant and pluralistic founders of the country understood.

Ever since Nazi apologist Pat Buchanan (See his book Hitler Churchill and the Unnecessary War) declared the beginning of the “Culture Wars” in 1992 and long after the foundations were laid by others on the Christian Right the Church, Evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic decided on the Christian version of Jihad to achieve political goals. In fact men like Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft actually wrote books like Ecumenical Jihad to define their strategy and goals. Clothed in the veneer of Constantinian virtue these people helped lead the church into an abyss that from which may not be able to extricate itself in our lifetimes.

Unfortunately the problem is that the culture wars are more often fought with the goal of maintaining the political power and influence of Christians while ignoring the very tenants of what writer after writer, prophet after prophet and even Jesus made foundational issues of their day. We Christians have sold out the Gospel in order to be co-opted by the very people and interests who hate the kind of justice that Jesus and  the prophets preached about.

When Pope Francis talked this week about those “culture wars” this week in a number of ways. He decried the manner in which some bishops were more at war with the culture than caring for the people of their own dioceses and how in terms of caring for and loving people “The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules…” He said that in regard to the focus that many Catholics have had on abortion and homosexuality. Pope Francis said: “The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you. And the ministers of the church must be ministers of mercy above all.” To finish the week, or rather to start this week on a high note Francis attacked the culture of greed which many in the church have blessed and furthered.

I am all in with Pope Francis on this because he is speaking the truth. The fact is that he is saying things that most of us do not want to hear. Francis is talking about redemption, the fact as the Apostle Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself counting men’s sins not against them.”

Yes these are tough words, but the proof of their validity is in the pudding. Non-believers want nothing to do with the church, even if they happen to like what Jesus says and many believers are fleeing the church and not coming back. And yes this is different than the days when young people would leave the church for a few years and then come back. The folks leaving now for the most part have no desire to return. The reasons are self evident. It is not Jesus, nor is it even doctrine. It is how Christians and the Church treat the world. Something that Pope Francis seems to understand while many of his Bishops as well as leaders of Evangelical Christian Churches in the United States seem oblivious.

George Barna, an Evangelical Christian who runs one of the most respected polling agencies around has done a number of polls on this very subject. Sad to say his polls, which are scientific in the way they are conducted line up with what I am saying here and what Pope Francis is speaking about.

One Barna poll asked the words which most describe Christianity. The results: Hypocritical, anti-homosexual, insincere, sheltered and too political. Another Barna study dealing with why young people are leaving the church included that nearly 25% of young people said “Christians demonize everything outside of the church” while 20% said that “God seems missing from my experience of church” while 22% said that “church is like a country club, only for insiders” and 36% said that they were unable “to ask my most pressing life questions in church.”  That survey was of young people of Christian backgrounds, people for the most part raised in the church.

Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Dr Francis Schaeffer noted in his book Crazy for God: “I personally came to believe that a lot of the issues that were being latched onto by the Christian Right, whether it was the gay issue or abortion or other things, were actually being used for negative political purposes. They were used to structure a power base for people who then threw their weight around.” Schaeffer should know, in the 1970s and 1980s he was a key player in the growth of the political Christian Right.

But I digress…. Soren Kierkegaard noted “The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.”

The fact is that if we actually decide to look at the way we do life, faith, politics and ethics in light of the writings of men like Amos, James and even Paul to some extent not to mention Jesus we might have to actually repent. But then, when all that matters is maintaining our political and social power who needs repentance?

But I digress, after all, repentance in our American Christian culture is never having to say your sorry. It is no wonder that Mark Twain noted: “If Christ were here there is one thing he would not be—a Christian.” 

I think that old Amos might just be talking to us as much as he was talking to the people and leaders of Israel. But hey, I could be wrong.

Peace

Padre Steve+

PS. I do plan on doing some articles over the next few weeks about how people of all religions attempt to use the political and police power of the state to advance their beliefs and to demonize dissenters.

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, faith, History, philosophy, Political Commentary

Trayvon Martin and the Pro-Life Movement: Do the Post-Born Matter at All?

trayvon-grave

I am perplexed tonight. I see people, many of whom are friends fight stridently against all abortion. I am not for abortion, but I do not think that it should be banned. That aside what I think the pro-life movement as a whole in the United States has become is simply an anti-abortion movement. Sometimes one where demented individuals in it feel justified in killing people who work in abortion clinics, even murdering them in church.

I am perplexed because I seldom see any of the high level culture warriors that fight the abortion battles ever raise a cry about issues of justice concerning people that are already born.

The Trayvon Martin murder and acquittal of the man that killed him should send a chill down anyones spine. In some places like Florida all someone has to claim is that they “felt threatened” to justify the use of deadly force against unarmed people. That is the law, and if there are no videos of the incident or eyewitnesses willing to lay it all on the line then there is a strong chance that the killer will go free. That is a fact and I will not go deep into the racial component of this but it doesn’t seem to me that we have advanced that much since young Emmett Till was murdered and his murderers also acquitted.

emmett-till-news-square-300x296

But going back to my main point I don’t think that we really have a true “pro-life” movement in this country. We have an anti-abortion movement which to some degree say that they are fighting for the lives of unborn babies. One does not have to agree with the theology, philosophy or science that they use, but that certainly has to be considered a part of a comprehensive pro-life ethic, abortion for the sake of eugenics including the selection of the sex of an unborn child or solely as a means of birth control are ethically problematic. That being said there are many times, more so than we would want to admit that abortions are tragically necessitated for the life and health of the mother. Sorry, the woman carrying the child should also have the right to her life.

You see I don’t think that simply being anti-abortion is being pro-life, unless you are willing to apply that right to life to already living people.

I have a hard time with people that claim to be pro-life not fighting against the death penalty, against unjust wars of aggression, against targeted assassinations, against the use of drones to kill supposed militants in the remote parts of Pakistan notwithstanding the fact that many infants and pregnant women carrying unborn babies are killed as well. But then I guess that they are just collateral damage and don’t count. After all they are all Moslems and not Americans.

I have a hard time with those that are anti-abortion who would fight against government programs designed to care for pregnant women such as good pre-natal care for the child and primary care for the medical needs of the mother.  I wonder why they are not fighting for the medical and nutritional needs of babies born to poor people and assist young families from impoverished areas get decent jobs and ensure that affordable child care is available. I wonder why supposedly “pro-life” people are not out marching against gun violence, why many will not lift a finger to help the poor, care for the needy, care for the sick and dying, including the elderly who our society seems to be throwing under the bus in every imaginable way unless they are fabulously well off.

Why does it seem that many pro-life leaders are not concerned about issues that effect the lives of pro-life people who happen to be poor, or members of racial or ethnic minorities? But what seems to be the case is that the most vocal and prominent leaders that call themselves “pro-life” or “family values” conservatives both the preachers and the politicians are more concerned about low taxes for the wealthiest people and corporations than they are about people.

Some conservatives and libertarians will say that these are not government responsibilities but the responsibility of churches and charities. I understand the philosophy and in fact I would love to see more churches doing more to alleviate the need for the government to step in. But by and large churches in general and especially conservative evangelical Christian churches have abdicated this responsibility which is mandated in the Gospels and exemplified in the lives of people like Saint Francis of Assisi and so many others. But now even churches that run hospitals frequently subordinate care to the insurance industry and while considered “not for profit” are as for profit as any non-religious hospital.  If evangelicals put half the money that they did into Sunday morning entertainment sessions masquerading as worship and building massive mega-church, media and television empires dominated by the families and friends of their pastors maybe I would have some faith that they were indeed “pro-life.”

I know that some of my conservative friends will see this as some sort of liberal screed. I get that but please, I ask that if people only want to be anti-abortion and not rest of the pro-life ethic then be honest and say that.

The fact of the matter is we are not a pro-life society now in any way shape or form and from our history including slavery, the genocide committed against native Americans, the exploitation of poor countries for the sake of our economy I have a hard time believing the myth that we ever were such a society.

Trayvon Martin is dead. The Florida law was followed, but justice was not done. A young black man was denied his right to life and it doesn’t seem to matter to the “pro-life” movement as a whole. I can’t wait to hear some of the political preachers and politicians that claim to be pro-life defend this verdict.

I guess that is why I am perplexed. It just doesn’t seem to me that the post-born matter to supposedly pro-life people.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

Leave a comment

Filed under christian life, civil rights, healthcare, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion

Back from the Abyss: Padre Steve’s Reflections of 5 Years Dealing with PTSD Faith and Life

295_26912097058_4309_n

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.” Elbert Hubbard

It has been five full years since I descended into the hell of the abyss that is PTSD. Back in the late spring and early summer of 2008 just a few months after my return from what I still consider my best tour of duty in over 30 years of military service with US advisors and Iraq Army and Security forces in Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008 I was in a state of emotional and spiritual collapse.

I really couldn’t believe then what was happening to me or they way that it would end up shaping my life to the present day. In retrospect my return from Iraq marked a beginning of a personal hell that for a number of years seemed like that it would never end. It was painful, it was isolating and it marked a profound change in the way that I saw God, faith, politics and social justice. It changed me in ways that I never could have imagined when I got on a bus heading for Fort Jackson South Carolina following the July 4th holiday of 2007.

Those brave souls that have followed me on this website as well as those that are still my friends despite occasional disagreements and misunderstandings, those that may not understand me but still are my friends have seen this.

So five years later what is it like?

I still have trouble sleeping, not as much as I used to but enough to impact my life. I don’t take heavy doses of sleep meds anymore, just some Melatonin as well as a mild dosage of an anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressant. A far better combination than medications that made me feel like I was hung over without that benefit of sharing too many drinks with friends at the local watering hole.

481801_10151367001287059_1003164983_n

As opposed to the years immediately following my time in Iraq I have to say that I am no longer self medicating with alcohol. I remember in 2009 going out for dinner, having a few beers, then going to a ball game and drinking a few more and coming home with Krispy Kreme donuts and drinking more beer on a regular basis and usually taking a couple of shots or Jaegermeister or glasses of Spanish Brandy just to get to sleep so I could go back to facing life and death situations the next day in our ICUs. I don’t need that anymore, even though sleep can be problematic and dreams and nightmares rivaling anything I can watch on my HD TV…

I still love to pony up to the bar and share a couple of pints with friends but I don’t need it to numb myself into feeling no pain. Talking with many other vets who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam I know that I wasn’t alone in those dark days.

n671902058_1153794_4301

I have become a bit less hyper-vigilant though when I come home to Virginia Beach than I was just three years ago and most certainly five years ago in May of 2008. However, that being said I do notice that I am more on guard on the roads and that little things, sirens, emergency vehicles, loud noises and traffic still set me off more than when I am in rural North Carolina. This week I have been home because my wife Judy had some surgery and I have had to readjust to the traffic, noises and other things that I haven’t really had to deal with the past few years. That has been both interesting and enlightening.

I absolutely hate air travel. I don’t like the crowds, the stress of security or the constant delays, changes and overcrowding. Truthfully I felt more comfortable flying the skies of Iraq on Marine, Army and Air Force fixed and rotor wing aircraft and on occasion being shot at in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province than I do on any airline today in this country.

Physical fitness matters more than it did before, even though I was in very good shape before and during my time in Iraq. But when I came home from that I was not only wounded in mind and spirit, but my body was beaten up. Chronic nagging injuries and chronic pain kept me from doing what I liked doing and what helped me keep my physical-spiritual and emotional balance. Those nagging injuries took a long time to heal, and they took some adjustments on my part which took me several years to adapt to and compensate in my physical regimen.  I can say now that I am in as good or better shape than I was before I left for Iraq in 2007. Maybe I’ll write a best selling book and do an exercise video like Jane Fonda…

flight-to-baghdad-4-me

Whereas in 2008 through 2010 and even until 2011 I was exceptionally sensitive to criticism to the changes that were occurring in my life including my move to the “left” both theologically and politically I have gotten to the point that I realize that it is more important to be honest and authentic as to who I am and what I believe. I have found that those that really matter to me don’t care so much about those things and that relationships maintained with people who don’t always agree with each other where all remain their personal integrity are far more rewarding than relationships that are first and foremost decided by allegiance to political or religious orthodoxy no matter what side of the spectrum it is from. I hate group think. Thus though I have to now consider me to be on the “liberal” side of the political and theological divide I still have to be considered a moderate simply because I refuse to make people my enemy simply because I disagree with them or they with me.

When I began this site in the spring of 2009 I named it Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate. I think I did that because it actually described me then, and now, even though I am pretty passionately liberal about some things and that doesn’t bother me in any way because it comes from my wrestling with God and faith and realizing that integrity matters more than about anything else. I have toyed with changing the title of the site but have decided against that because I am a moderate liberal committed to a Christian faith that speaks for the oppressed and is willing to confront those that would use faith, political or economic power to oppress the weak or those different from us.

Since I returned from Iraq in 2008 I discovered what it was to really question faith and God. To become for a couple of years a man who was for all practical purposes an agnostic praying that God still existed and cared. I discovered that in doing so that faith returned, different but more real than I had ever experienced in a life spent in the Christian faith and ministry.

fatherpippy

That brought change because my rediscovered faith brought me into conflict with people in the church denomination and faith community where I had been ordained as a priest. I was asked to leave and found a new home church and denomination that fit my life, faith experience and where I could live and minister in complete integrity. In the church that took me in during the fall of 2010 I can be faithful to the Gospel and care for the lost, the least and the lonely, especially those who have been abused by churches and ministries that have sold their soul to right wing political ideologues whose only concern is their political power and influence and would use churches and Christians to do their evil bidding. I guess that I learned that just because someone wraps the Bible in an American Flag, believes that Jesus brought us the Constitution and says that they “support the troops” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they care a whit about the Bible, the Flag, the Constitution or the Troops. I hope that isn’t too harsh….

Oh well, I feel that I am beginning to ramble so I will say good night and “God Bless,” no matter what God that you profess or for that matter don’t profess.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under christian life, faith, iraq,afghanistan, Pastoral Care, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Glenn Beck Attacks the Churches and Threatens Religious Liberty

Glenn Beck “Am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”  (Fox News Photo)

Preface: This post comes in the midst of my Lenten journey in which I have become reacquainted with the works of those who confronted Nazi policies that placed their ideology over the Christian faith. During this time I was not expecting to begin to see certain commentators actually attempt to blatantly attack a key part of the witness of the Christian Church in telling Christians to place political ideology over faith and recommend that church members leave their church if it does not conform to those commentators’ political ideology.  As a historian as well as a Priest I can only draw parallels to the Nazis who placed their ideology above the Church and persecuted those who stood against them, even before they took power. Glenn Beck did just that this week, though not in power he has thrown down a gauntlet to the Church which does not agree with his ideology and strikingly urged church members to leave their churches if those churches had “social justice” as one of their belief’s equating it with Communism and Fascism. This is an attack on the church and as a Priest I cannot be silent. There would be some that will disagree saying that the Left is more of a threat and I do not disagree that ideologues on any part of the spectrum can threaten religious liberty, however I have never seen anyone as popular as Beck is with the Right, who on the Left propose what Beck has this past week.  That is why I must oppose Beck on this issue now. I do hope that my readers understand that this is not an attack on conservatives or conservative principles but rather against a man whose ideas if carried to their logical conclusion would be dangerous. Beck talks a lot about faith and religion on his show which attracts many listeners but he seems to believe that religious expression is one in the same with political ideology.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

“It is not God who divides us but human beings. The Almighty has blessed our work; therefore it cannot be destroyed. No power within or without the Reich will keep us from going our way into the future.” Adolf Hitler speaking in an address at Regensburg July 7th 1937 referring to the arrests of 11 Catholic Priests who condemned Nazi policies.

“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?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” Martin Niemöller

“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.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16)

The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.” The Barmen Declaration Article Three.

I do not think that people learn anything from history.  This week Glenn Beck called his own church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints “Communist or Fascist” its official statements of beliefs regarding social justice.  Now I may disagree with LDS theology but I hardly think them to be Communist or Fascist in fact I think for the most part they are to be commended for their love of this country as well as their ethic of doing good and taking care of needy LDS members.  Not only did Beck call his own church these rather pejorative names but he recommended that people not only leave the church but urged the same for any member of any church that espouses social justice in their official beliefs.  To quote Beck:

“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Beck went on the attack this week against churches who teach social justice.  The reason according to Beck is that “Social justice was the rallying cry—economic justice and social justice—the rallying cry on both the communist front and the fascist front….” He went on and attacked his own church saying “Where I go to church, there are members that preach social justice as members–my faith doesn’t–but the members preach social justice all the time. It is a perversion of the gospel….” When called out had to try to reframe his very clear attack on his own church’s official doctrine as well as so many other churches and religions groups.  Speaking as a Christian I cannot answer for other religions but Beck has attacked the clear commands of Scripture and the Christian tradition of caring for the least and the lost in elevating his ideology above both his own church as well as the vast majority of Christian faith and belief that goes back 2000 years.  He has sought to divide people from their churches and from the faithful of their traditions for political expediency.  However Beck is not the first to do so.  Let us take a trip back to the end of the Weimar Republic and Nazi era….

Niemöller in WWI Inperial Navy Uniform

Martin Niemöller was a war hero.  He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships.  After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism.  This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.  Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor.  However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church.  Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned.  He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists.  Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.

Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor.  Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens.  He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral.  Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist.  Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration.  He too would be imprisoned and survive the war.  Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.

Bonhoeffer in Nazi Prison in 1944

Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews.  He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.”  He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity.  Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr.  For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war.

Karl Barth convicted of “Seducing the German people” and exiled to his native Switzerland

Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth.  Barth angrily denounced Naziism when it attempted to create new “German Christian” churches in which National Socialist political theories were given the same sanctity as theological dogma.  Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen after being removed from his professorship at the University of Bonn for refusing to take the mandatory oath to Adolf Hitler, alter his teaching to meet Nazi standards or begin class with the customary “Heil Hitler!” He would say that it would be in bad taste “to begin a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount with Heil Hitler.” For his efforts he was found guilty by a Nazi court of “seducing the minds” of German students.  For an excellent short article on Barth see “Witness to an Ancient Truth” Time Magazine April 20th 1962 online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,873557-1,00.html

Fr Rupert Meyer the “Apostle of Munich” and steadfast opponent of Hitler

Bishop Galen of Münster and Father and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church, the Jews and Nazi policies on euthanasia.  They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis, in fact over 2000 priests and Protestant ministers from Germany and occupied countries were housed at Dachau.

All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany as well as other groups, political and religious.  They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as well as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches.  Since I have dealt with the Nazi persecution and atrocities against the Jews and others in other posts I will not elaborate further here.

General Wilhelm Groener, despised by the Nazis for saving the by working with Socialists to prevent a Communist takeover

Not only were Jews the enemy but so were any parties that disagreed with the Nazi policies including the church or rather the church that refused to surrender to them.  Likewise military officers who stood by the Republic against Nazi and other right-wing putsches during the 1920s, men who risked all to defend the rights of people on both sides of the political chasm that divided the country.

Deposed after the Nazi seizure of power General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord was deposed as head of the German Army and in retirement worked against the Nazis including the Valkyrie plot until his death from Cancer in 1944

Leftist accused them of being reactionaries and Monarchists while the right did whatever they could to discredit men like General Wilhelm Groener, General Major Walther Reinhardt, General der Infantrie Georg Maerker, General der Infrantie Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord and General Kurt von Schleicher were either driven from office and ostracized, forced out of the military or in the case of von Schleicher killed by the SS during the “night of the long knives.”

Confidant of President Hindenburg, opponent of the Nazis and briefly Chancellor of the Weimar Republic General Kurt von Schleicher would be assassinated by the Nazis during the Night of the Long Knives

Additionally other men who kept the German Republic from becoming a Communist state notably Gustave Noske of the Social Democratic Party who was the first Reichswehr Minister and who with his successor Otto Geßler of the German Democratic Party worked with the military leadership to keep both the extreme left in the form of the Spartacist League, the Independent Socialists and from the extreme Right who attempted to overthrow the government in the Kapp Putsch.  All were treated shamefully by the Nazis and even their successors did not fare well, to consolidate power Hitler had the General Leutnant Werner Freiherr von Fritsch falsely accused of homosexual acts and disgraced and evidence points to his murder on the Polish front in 1939 as the “honorary colonel” of his old Regiment.  Those who opposed Hitler and the Nazis later in the war, even those who were genuine heroes were put to death before Nazi “People’s Courts.”  They did the same with politicians who they viewed to be threats to their rule, even conservatives not just Socialists or Communists.  Religious leaders who resisted both Protestant and Catholic were sent to concentration camps where many did not return from.

Too frequently we here Beck and others call Americans with views different from their ideology “traitors” or “un American.” Before Iraq I listened to talk radio almost every day and when I came back I could no longer stomach the invective and malice that is so widespread among these commentators.  If they continue to dominate “conservative” politics then I fear that they will use the power of the government and media to silence those that oppose them and it will not matter if the opponent has served in the military as they routinely condemn former high ranking military officers who disagree with them such. These propagandists are not patriots and neither Beck nor any of the major conservative talk show hosts have served a day in the military yet they influence “conservative” opinion more than anyone else and dare to slander those in the military or those who have served honorably including Senator John McCain who dare to disagree with them. The Nazis did the same thing.

Today we face a similar movement by some “conservative” voices in the United States.  Many influential members of the “conservative” media, including Rush Limbaugh and most recently Glenn Beck who I have previously referred to own the airwaves, their words listened to often more than those of the Gospel.  They derive some of their popularity from voicing support for “Christian moral values” such as being against abortion.  This has endeared them to many conservative Christians who listen to them more than their faith or religious institutions.  Unfortunately many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between the vitriolic and un-Christian rage of these talkers against anyone identified as the enemy that they have forgotten the Gospel and become simply an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians.  It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs agree lock stock and barrel Beck and others on the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war, even when they attacked Pope John Paul II when he refused to countenance the invasion of Iraq. Beck uses Scripture only to give his ideology, whatever it may be some semblance of decency.  What Karl Barth said of Nazi ideology can be said of Beck’s ideology: “This was a nationalist heresy…. confusion between God and the spirit of the German nation.” Pundits and politicians on the Left may also place ideology over religion however they seldom espouse the heresy of linking the Christian faith with the spirit and destiny of the United States.

That may seem harsh, but there is a group led by Andrew Schlafly the “Conservative Bible project” that seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with to the “Social Gospel.” I guess if Beck wants he can get a copy when it comes out.  If you don’t like what Scripture says change it…right?

I cannot sit by while Beck and others smear people including churches who disagree with their ideology which does not rest on Scripture or but merely uses it to inflame people into actions that turn them against the members of their own churches.  This unfortunately is evil masquerading as good.  Too many turned their eyes away from the Nazi menace thinking that Hitler could be reasoned with and that he really stood for their values.  Too few stood up early to sound a warning.  My issue with Beck and others like him be they pundits, talk show hosts, media personalities or politicians of any stripe regardless of whether they come from the right or the left do what Beck did this week I will call them on it.  People can play political games and fight all they want but when they attack the Church for political and ideological gain, seek to divide it against itself or co-opt churches to do their bidding then I have a problem.  I do not care if that threat comes from the Left as it sometimes does or the Right where a few years ago I would not think it was possible to come from. Unfortunately Beck’s message is main stream to many of his followers regardless of their faith and this is a threat to religious freedom for if those like Beck gained power then religious freedom would only be for those who agree not with Scripture or 2000 years of the Christian tradition but for those who agree with the ideology espoused by Beck and those like him.  It would be the “freedom” of the German Christians who gave themselves to the Nazi ideology to be “free.”  Ideas have consequences and when one advocates revolution and for people to leave their churches for any political ideology it is a grave threat to religious freedom.

Beck and those like him are enemies of freedom of religion. For Beck that cannot be blamed on being a Mormon. In fact he has attacked, perverted and misconstrued the doctrine of that church as well as the Roman Catholic Church and numerous Protestant denominations spanning the theological spectrum simply because he paints them “progressives” which is simply another word for Communist or Fascist. Beck is an enemy of religious liberty because he places his political ideology over that of the Gospel, not just that of his own church, but others.  That is why he should be opposed and confronted every time that he makes such statements. They reveal his true heart, ideology and intentions and no amount of backtracking, excuses or attempts to change the subject can alter that hard cold and brutal fact. His sleight of hand to go on the attack and criticize offenders on the left, notably Jeremiah Wright only clouds the issue and does not change the fundamental truth of Beck’s worldview. Likewise his attempt to separate the Church from the poor is destructive and if Christians want to follow Beck’s teaching then they chose evil over truth. As Father James Martin SJ said in America “Glenn Beck’s desire to detach social justice from the Gospel is a subtle move to detach care for the poor from the Gospel.  But a church without the poor, and a church without a desire for a just social world for all, is not the church.  At least not the church of Jesus Christ.” http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&id=21159420-3048-741E-7761300524585116

To again quote the Barmen Declaration”

“Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)

The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” The Barmen Declaration Article 6

I am afraid of the Glenn Beck’s of the world.  We appear to be at a precipice that we may or may not be able to pull back from. The Nazis used the same kind of language to attack the Christian faith and co-opt the vast majority of them. Men like Niemöeller, Bonhoeffer and many others were sent to the concentration camps, tried by kangaroo courts and some killed.  I was on another blog where the discussion of this has been heated. I don’t like getting called a communist by allegedly “Christian” people who have bought Beck’s vision hook, line and sinker. If this is Beck’s version of the faith he can keep it.  Unfortunately the rhetoric is so high, the division so deep and the anger so real that I am afraid that the fuse of violence may have been laid and that nothing will stop it especially with Beck  and others stoking the fire on a daily basis on television and radio. Beck seems to be predicting and almost hoping for some kind of violent revolution seizing upon the now boiling anger on the Right and to some extent on the Left, anger that has consumed and co-opted so many conservative Christians is so great that at sometimes I wonder if this can end well though I do not predict civil war or revolution like Beck.

While I criticize Beck I cannot exclude from criticism those on the Left who have used angry, inflamed and hateful language and actions which also raises ante in ideological clash because it does take more than one faction to stir the witches’ cauldron of hatred which threatens not just religious liberty, but all liberty in this nation.  I will pray for peace, respect and mutual understanding and I will not give up hope or resign myself to despair as my faith is in Christ crucified and resurrected.  I will maintain the faith and remember the words of Bonhoeffer which help to undergird me in times like these:

“The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

24 Comments

Filed under faith, History, philosophy, Religion