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Letter to a New Military Chaplain Part IV: The Minefields of the Flesh, Sex, Alcohol and Money

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This is fourth part of a response to a question I had from a new Navy Chaplain. I have decided to post it here without any identification of the chaplain because I know that many men and women who are new to the military chaplaincy or who are exploring the possibilities of becoming a chaplain have the same questions. I was fortunate to have had a number of chaplains who at various points in my decision process and formation as a minister, Priest and Chaplain in both the Army and the Navy help me with many of these questions. Likewise I learned far too much the hard way and blew myself up on some of the “land mines” that almost all who serve as chaplains experience in their careers. This is the third of several parts to the letter and is my attempt to systematically explain my understanding of what it is to be a Chaplain serving in the military and in particularly the Navy. The first three parts are linked here:

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part Two The Minefields of the Heart 

Letter to a New Military Chaplain Part Three: The Minefields of the Soul: Power and Arrogance

Dear Chaplain

It has been about a week since my last letter concerning the minefields that so easily ensnare those in the various Military Chaplain ministries. This section of my letter to you will be of the more practical type of advice and less philosophical and theological than the first several installments even though at the heart these observations are both theological and philosophical.

I chose the title of this section carefully because I do think that the way a number of New Testament writers deal with the subject of sin, calling it “the flesh” as opposed to “the spirit” is appropriate to the topic.

I think that people of my generation and earlier had a very high view of clergy. We didn’t think that they could do much wrong. Of course we all knew that they did but we didn’t like to talk about it, even productions such as Elmer Gantry did little to dissuade us from our beliefs that Ministers, Priests and Rabbis were somehow morally and certainly spiritually better than us. Even Hollywood maintained the myth, movies like The Bells of St Mary’s showed the essential goodness of the parish priest, while The Fighting 69th in which Pat O’Brien played the legendary Father Duffy, a man both streetwise and holy became the quintessential Chaplain of his generation.

18722 - The Fighting 69th

In fact the prayer that he prays in the movie is one that I have echoed in my career as a Chaplain and I am sure that many others have as well.

“Almighty God, in Thine infinite mercy grant me, thy servant, the wisdom to guide my young flock through the trials of war. Oh, Father, they’re so young. So young and they know so little of life and nothing at all of that terrible and bloody altar towards which they move, carrying so eagerly the bright sacrifice of their youth. Their need will be great, O Lord, and I am weak. Therefore, I beseech thee through Thy Son, Christ, our Lord, grant me the strength to keep them steadfast in the faith, in decency and courage to the glory of God, their country, and their regiment in the bad times to come. And if in battle you see fit to gather them to your protecting arms, thy will be done, but let them die like men, valiant and unafraid.”

Of course there is Father Mulcahy of the movie and television series M*A*S*H. I actually liked the portrayal of him by William Christopher in the series better than the movie, perhaps because he became more than a bit player, but like many real life chaplains of every denomination an integral part of the life of his unit. His struggles are the same that many of us who serve as chaplains. In one episode he says to Hawkeye “For some time now, I’ve been comparing the disparity of our callings – Doctor versus priest. You fellows are always able to see the end result of your work. I mean, you know immediately if you’ve been successful. For me, the results are far less tangible. Sometimes… most of the time… I honestly don’t know whether I’m doing any good or not.” 

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The film and television portrayals of chaplains such as Father Duffy and Father Mulcahy are inspiring, as are the examples of so many good men and women who have served as military chaplains. Some of these even gave their lives in combat so others might live, or placed themselves in harms way to be the the visible representation of God’s presence in places that God himself seems to have abandoned.

That being said there are minefields that exist which even the most noble, caring  and committed Chaplains can fall victim. They primarily lie in the real of Sex, Alcohol and Money, what we referred to as “SAM” when I was an Army Chaplain. Those are general categories to which unfortunately we need to discuss, illicit drugs, disobeying lawful orders and simple rudeness. I will save the issues of disobeying lawful orders and simple rudeness for part five, or Part V as they say in Roman numerals.

At any given time there are between a half a dozen and dozen military chaplains serving time at either Leavenworth or one of the regional Brigs. Others end up in trouble, are disciplined and then discharged from the the service often after devastating the lives of those that they served with. Those numbers are not included in the numbers incarcerated.

You wouldn’t think that sex would be a big issue being that we are supposed to be better at keeping our zippers up than others, but this is not always the case. I can cite from personal knowledge case after case where chaplains that I have known from across the denominational spectrum conservatives and liberals alike. Those actions have included heterosexual and homosexual relationships, inside and outside their units and sometimes involved the spouses of their unit members or parishioners.

For some this is due to the isolation that many Chaplains experience, be they married or single. Some are sexual predators, loathsome and evil animals masquerading as good, while others in moments of weakness succumb to temptation. I have had to go into a number of billets where the chaplain just before me had been relieved of their duties for sexual misconduct. Regardless of the reason the real fact of the matter is that when a chaplain is relieved and disciplined for their sexual misconduct their actions radiate out and damage the ministry and reputations of Chaplains who are completely innocent of wrong doing. This is much like how the actions of disgraced televangelists, pastors of large churches and Bishops or Priests implicated in pedophile or other sexual crimes cause problems for others in similar positions who again are without reproach. In every case where I have had to go into such a situation the onus has been on me to help heal the wounds and rebuild the credibility of the Chaplain Corps. This is true for every Chaplain who has to take a job where his or her predecessor was a criminal.

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A Navy Chaplain being taken to the Brig after being convicted at Court Martial for sexual crimes (Marine Corps Times Photo)

Sexuality can be one of the greatest minefields that a military chaplain has to navigate, but there are others less visible that also trip men and women up.

The second major area is alcohol. I know a number of chaplains who have become alcoholics. I like to drink good craft beer, but I do know my limits now and am very careful about my consumption of alcohol. When I first came back from Iraq that was not the case. I did drink too much, mainly because I was in the process of coming apart with severe and chronic PTSD. I almost ended up in a bar fight one night and I am thankful that I never ended up in an accident or involved in any other alcohol related incident. There were times at various conferences that I would sit around and drink late into the night at the hotel with other chaplains going through similar problems as I was going through. For us it was safer than going to our superiors either in our churches or the chaplain corps.

That being said I have seen other Chaplains succumb to alcoholism and know one who in dealing with his own demons from service in Vietnam committed suicide while on active duty. Alcohol is also related to many of the incidents regarding sex, so even if it was not the primary issue it was a factor. I also know a number of chaplains who are involved with Alcoholics Anonymous and fight the battle of sobriety on a daily basis.

Related to alcohol are drugs. This is a relatively new phenomena and in most cases is related to prescription medicines, especially pain killers and anti-psychotics prescribed to treat the wounds of war, injuries and things like PTSD and TBI. Once again these are easy to become addicted to and chaplains are much like others when dealing with chronic pain, PTSD or TBI. Recently I saw something that I never thought I would see and that was a chaplain who tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in Marijuana. I figure that if there is one there probably are more that are using, many who battled addictions before their faith conversions and call to the ministry but when placed under the stress of this ministry go back to old friends.

The last component of SAM is money. I think this is a more difficult area in the Army than the Navy because in the Navy chaplains are not allowed to deal with the Religious Offering Fund, where in the Army a Chaplain at every installation is the Religious Offering Fund Manager. It is said by some that “money is the root of all evil” but I am not sure if that is exactly true in this case. I think that money and the power it brings sometimes reveals the inner character of a man more than anything. The great televangelist scandals of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the continuing saga of corruption at the Vatican Bank and the all too frequent revelations of ministers of all faiths misusing church finances are legend. When I had to manage a relative small installation chapel fund I lived in terror of making an innocent mistake, and thankfully I had an outstanding Chaplain Assistant and Parish Council to work with and maintained close contact with the fund manager at our higher headquarters.

Another issue dealing with money is what we are paid when in a travel status. I know that there are Chaplains who play fast and loose with this and I know people in the travel and disbursing offices who tell me about the actions of chaplains that they have to deal with who are not playing straight with the system. In my case I don’t make claims that I cannot substantiate even if it costs me money. I would rather be absolutely honest on a travel claim and lose money that claim something that I may or may not be entitled to that might cause scandal and bring disrepute to God, my church or the Chaplain Corps.

Money is a great temptation and more than one military Chaplain has fallen to it.

The sad thing about all of this is that most of our religious traditions deal explicitly with all of these matters as do our various Service Regulations and Defense Department Instructions. They are not rocket surgery but they are the downfall of far too many chaplains, many of whom actually came into the ministry and chaplaincy with good motives. Once again I lay a lot of this at the feet of our churches and theological schools which for decades have stressed how to run a church program over any real pastoral or theological formation process.

I am lucky. I have made mistakes but I have had numerous chaplains in both the Army and the Navy help me to see the blind spots and teach me about these things. They span the denominational, theological and even political spectrum. Conservatives, liberals, men and women, Protestants, Catholics, Later Day Saints, Jews and even a Moslem.

I could easily have gone into detail about the specific incidents where I knew the people involved or had to deal with them or follow in their footsteps. Some have made the national media, but somehow to do so would be unseemly, after all I do not work for the National Enquirer or for that matter the Navy or Army Times. That being said the Chaplain Corps of the various services all have by percentage among the highest incidences of misconduct of any officer branch or community and this has been a constant since I began my military career in 1981.

That should be a warning. If you know something is wrong don’t do it. If you are unsure about something ask someone. If you need help get it before your actions destroy the lives of those you serve and bring disrepute to your office, your religious body, the Chaplain Corps of your military service and yes even God. After all God does tend to get the blame for all of the actions of those in his service so be careful, guard your heart and mind and for God sakes keep your zipper up and all appearances thereof.

Until the next installment,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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So God gets the Blame for Dropped Passes….the Prosperity Gospel strikes again

Padre Steve’s Disclaimer: This post deals in a humorous manner with the Tweet of Buffalo Bills Wide Receiver Steve Johnson.  His tweet is a foil for a bigger point about the “prosperity Gospel” and the distorted view of God of those that teach it and their unfortunate victims.  I am sure that he is a sincere young man who was very emotional after dropping a pass. I wish him well and he will let up on himself and God. Peace, Padre Steve+

Well, well isn’t this special. Buffalo Bills receiver Steve Johnson dropped an easy pass that would have won the game for the Bills and stunned the Pittsburgh Steelers. After the game at the Bills press conference the young man was up in front of the reporters taking responsibility like a man all but offering to commit Hari-Kari to atone for his sin against his team which cost them the game.  I saw the interview on ESPN and heard it on the radio and I thought that while I liked the fact that he owned up to blowing the play that it sounded a bit overdone and even a bit histrionic if you asked me.  Lucky for Johnson and quickly recovered his composure and realized that God had thrown him under the bus. I mean he had obviously done all the right things to make God happy except to play for the Cowboys who in addition to claiming to be America’s team have also conjured up the image of being the Deity’s team but I digress.  You have to look at what the young man said in the context of his Twitter account:

The “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS IS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!!” is a little strong if you ask me. How anyone finds time to praise God 24/7 is beyond me and I would assume that he means “a lot” and not a literal 24/7 Praise-a-Thon.  I’m sure that since he used so many exclamation points that he lost the chance to remind God about his tithes, vows and other offerings in the tweet, alas the limitations of Twitter.

You see it is obvious to me that God had to let him down. He’s playing for a bad team getting whacked around by opposing defenses and all the while praising God and giving until it hurts. Let’s face it anyone knows if you take the time to watch or listen to much of what passes of “Christian teaching” on almost any “Christian” television network you know that the young man speaks the truth. He praised, prayed and gave and what did he get for his trouble? I’ll tell you what he got, he got the shaft and he should sue.  He should go for God’s big pockets.

Look at this, I mean if you listened to some of the guys that really are tight with God you would do the same thing as Johnson, and if you do listen to God’s anointed you would probably do the same thing in Johnson’s situation.  I mean these guys are called anointed, apostles, prophets and even “God’s Generals” so they can be trusted right?

Prosperity Doctrine Poster Child: Robert Tilton

I mean I have seen some of them actually getting messages from God on camera with the whole constipated look while they are struggling to hear exactly what God is saying because the Old Testament talks about the severe penalties for getting God wrong.  With that kind of accuracy and authority it is no wonder that people fall all over themselves to give to these ministers and their ministries.  Seriously the basic message of the “health, wealth and success” prosperity preacher in its crudest form is that if you give you get.  If you do things like praise God, something that certainly a good thing for us to do and give of your time talent and treasure, especially the treasure part that God is obligated to give back to you. The Prosperity preachers love to quote Scripture but only in regard to people giving to them and their ministries, they just love Luke 6:38 “Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full–pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Can I get an Amen? No of course if you look at all the troublesome verses around this gem the context is not how it is presented by the prosperity crowd.  The passage is Jesus giving a lecture about the Christian life to include humility, forgiveness, judgment and even hypocrisy and the giving is just one part of it and certainly if you look a the broader context of Scripture regarding material prosperity generally talks about it as an encumbrance that often leads to sin, excess and even presumption on God denying the very way of the Cross.

So you get my drift, what Steve Johnson did is no different than the person that gets upset at God when they didn’t get a promotion, or get something that they really wanted and even prayed for, and all of us including yours truly have had meltdowns where we have words with God.  However the problems arise when we presume that because we do something good that God is obligated to return the favor like God is some sort of cosmic ATM. With the proliferation of the prosperity teaching on television, in mega-churches and on the internet we have seen a cultural shift in how the Christian faith is presented in often very narcissistic ways.

So my best to Steve Johnson and I do hope and pray that a more mature Christian in his circle of trust will pull him aside and help him. These things happen and once you “tweet” or hit the send button on your e-mail or text you can’t take it back.  Live and learn, it’s hard to be a rookie on Twitter, maybe the NFL should keep rookies off of Twitter until they can learn not to look stupid using it.

Have fun and God bless,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Jousting at Windmills: The Quixotesque Life of Padre Steve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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More Thoughts on Religious Freedom: By Job I think that Christians might actually be Under Attack, but not like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity say that they are

Once again I the defender of religious liberty find that even in the elucidation of my thoughts of said subject that I remain a woefully misunderstood man.  Religious freedom is a sticky wicket, everyone wants it, everyone claims it but few want to give it to those that they disagree with or find to be against whatever their particular creed is. Now I am basically a moderate Anglo-Catholic which means that I am a Catholic with Anglican tendencies or Catholic slightly more independent and Anglican tendencies.  My faith is found in the Holy Scriptures, the Creeds and the Councils of the Church, it comes from 2000 years of Christian experience, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative the human and the Divine.  I stand firmly in the tradition of the Christian faith certainly not a heretic or unbeliever but when I question actions of fellow Christians I am viewed with suspicion. In fact a lady from my denomination told me to “don’t watch it if I don’t agree with it” when I asked hard questions about something she said on a social networking site.  Now I know that this woman is both sincere and passionate in her beliefs, but her beliefs while firmly within the mainstream of modern American Evangelical Christian thought actually have little to do with the Christian faith but rather a defense of beliefs that many Christians in the United States as well as the world would find distinctly un-Christian.

You see my friend is symptomatic of the myopia typical of modern American Evangelicals, or for that matter many “conservative” Christians regardless of their tradition proclaim.  You see many American Christians do have legitimate and compelling reasons to be concerned, the society is becoming much more secular, much more religiously and culturally diverse and in many places individual Christians and even churches seem to be the targets of a plethora of lawsuits, attacks on the symbols of their faith as well as many of the values that they hold dear from groups on the left.  Likewise there are Christians from more liberal or “social Gospel” minded traditions that would likewise see their faith under attack from conservative secularists, those in positions of great financial advantage and Libertarians and others that believe the their faith should not be allowed a place in the public forum, especially when they champion the rights of those that are economically disadvantaged or that are not in the mainstream of American life.    Seems that no matter what your point of view that being a Christian is not a particularly popular thing to be in the United States now days, my goodness well how can it not be?  First there were the televangelists, and then the pedophile priests, and then the financial and political scandals involving various clergymen of both the left and the right, and clergymen and churches that demand special status and privilege from government agencies simply because they are “religious” who would blame the secularists and even believers from being skeptical?

But I would argue that many good Christians from various traditions in all sincerity and devotion to their beliefs as well as the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and with no malice whatsoever feel attacked.  And why should they not feel attacked?  Their faith is mocked in the media, their symbols protested or outlawed, their beliefs ridiculed and the values that they want and earnestly seek to teach their children thrown back at them at every chance.  You see whether the issue is the rights of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage for conservatives or the right to same sex marriage espoused by liberals or the rights of illegal or undocumented workers, the needs of the poor and destitute there is always someone in power that wants to shut these people down and most always the issue is power and money where corporations, local and state governments and even individuals use the law to squash out dissent by churches or other religious bodies and individuals at every turn. Who can blame these people from feeling attacked?  Who can blame them for rallying to the cry of those that would take up their cause even if those people have ulterior motivations from religious or secular groups from the right or from the left?

This brings me back on point, I do not condemn men and women of faith that live their life with virtue and seek to serve both God and their neighbor in love.  In fact I would dare say that many Christian and Churches in good conscience believe that they are attempting to do well and see their efforts maligned in the press and in the media and attacked by politicians with something to gain from attacking various Christian Churches and their activities which quite often are grounded in nothing more than the mandate to love Goad and love their neighbor.  No matter if it is a Church that holds prolife or anti-abortion beliefs or those that give sanctuary to undocumented workers or those that care for others that are the cast offs of American society it seems that there is no shortage of those willing to file lawsuits or initiate criminal proceedings for even the most preposterous of offenses be it holding a Bible study in a residential area, operating a soup kitchen from the back of a truck or simply displaying the symbol of their faith in a public place or even upon their bodies.

Now I am not one of those going about screaming that Christians are being systematically persecuted but what reasonable person would not feel attacked if the very signs, symbols, sacraments and actions that were central to their faith were ridiculed day in and day out? Nor am I one that proclaims that the United States has some manifold destiny wrought by God or that the Founding Fathers were great believers in the Christian religion, not by far.  I am a defender of religious liberty and firm advocate for the separation of Church, or Mosque or Synagogue or even Wiccan bonfire and State. This is something that this robustly moderate Anglo-Catholic learned in a Southern Baptist seminary, before the Fundamentalist takeover, that our religious freedom is to be guarded and the rights of all religions safeguarded against the designs of a predominately secular and materialist state and corporate culture if there is to be any religious freedom for anyone.

In response there are extremist who take legitimate fear and turn it into anger and paranoia even as they collect vast amounts of money from people desperate for someone to take their side.  But despite all of the “herculean” efforts of these worldly “saviors” nothing ever changes even as they grow rich at the expense of the people the purport to serve all the while accomplishing nothing and further alienating their charges from the rest of society.  Yes persecuted Christian send your $20, $50, $200 or $1000 gift to our ministry and by God our lawyers will eventual defeat those that persecute you. By God give our candidates money so they can go to Washington and make things right again and protect your values even while they engage in marital infidelity at taxpayer expense, Governor Sanford thank you for the ammunition, ditto to you Senator Ensign and my goodness how can I forget you Vice President Gore? You see I am an equal opportunity pundit when politicians and preachers fleece the flock of God and then convince them that they need to give more for their efforts.  I love America.

That’s what they all say isn’t it? “Give me your money and or your vote and I will get results for you.”  But they don’t despite the hundreds of millions, maybe even the billions of dollars that have been donated to fill their coffers. Mass marketing mailings and e-mails targeted by groups that play upon the worst fears of believers which keep these people on edge and anxious about everything when I think it was the Lord that told his disciples to “be anxious for nothing” or maybe it was Saint Paul, but whoever it was it’s in the Bible, you can look it up.

I think I will continue this series as I believe that religious liberty is under threat in a thousand different ways, well maybe not a thousand I haven’t counted lately but at least I am sure in a number of ways some more insidious than others.  I do not believe that this threat should only alarm Christians but that people of any faith that take it serious should be concerned.  I am not asking or desirous of governmental favors for religious groups because that only leads to tyranny as religious people and groups prostitute their faith for special status. That is the nature of the beast, maybe even like the Beast in the Book of Revelation which had a political, religious and economic nature.  However I do think that it is high time that people of good intent and real faith regardless of what it is start looking out for each other otherwise no one’s faith will be safe.

To be continued….

Peace

Padre Steve+

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