I want to share with you a wonderful article I ran across just a couple of days ago. The author (Steven Dundas) kindly gave us permission to edit it slightly for our readers without changing the original content. He has a blog called Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionately Progressive Moderate, and you may access it by clicking on the following link:
If you like this article, please go on over to Steve’s blog, read more of his writings, and compliment him on his excellent work. We would also like to take this opportunity to offer our deepest thanks and gratitude to Steve for his more than 30 years of service in the American military and his 23 years of service as a military chaplain, friend of the trooper when he or she most needed a friend, and his continuing role as follower of Jesus Christ (the real Jesus―not the plastic pink flamingo Jesus).
Deny the Liberties of the Enemies of God: Christian Politics
“We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches, it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.”
―Captain Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek the Next Generation, “The Drumhead”
I expect this article and subject might make some people uncomfortable, but it is something I need to return to yet again. I fear what is happening to our country and the agenda of the politically motivated Christian Right and its leaders, especially those who are using what is known as Seven Mountains or Dominionist theology to implement laws at the local and state levels. These laws damage the fabric of society and encourage discrimination in order to solidify the political power of a minority of conservative Christians.
I get very frustrated with and tired of the way many leaders of the American Religious Right, that political animal that only thinks of itself, have worked so fervently to poison any sense of unity and community that we might have as Americans―regardless of our religious faith or lack of faith. From the 1940s through the 1970s, that unity was referred to as American Civil Religion. Robert Bellah defined it “at best” as a “genuine apprehension on universal and religious reality as seen in, or as one could almost say, as revealed through the experience of the American people” (S.P. Huntington, Who are We? America’s Great Debate, p.103). While I do have a lot of issues with the concept of American Civil Religion and how it has been used to justify some pretty horrible actions undertaken by the leaders of this country―as well as some harmful myths about our system of government and God’s blessings on our actions (even the immoral ones)―it did provide some positives in regard to how Americans of different faiths treated each other with respect in the public square. As Huntington has noted: “America’s civil religion provides a religious blessing to what Americans feel they have in common” (Huntington p.104).
In the decades following the 1970s, the United States underwent a seismic transformation in terms of religious makeup, and while those faith traditions that dominated the religious history of our first 239 years are still dominant in many ways, they are in decline, especially in terms of the fastest growing segment of the population. This is the segment that identifies itself as The Nones, those with no religious preference. In response, the more conservative and politically minded Christians of the Religious Right have launched a culture war to ensure their dominance in all areas of society. Central to their war is a fairly recent (1958) variant of Calvinist Reformed Theology called Christian Dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism, which is also known as the Seven Mountains Movement. This theology embodies a blatant attempt to legislate a particular type of Christianity as the law of the land. As Gary North, an adviser to Ron and Rand Paul (as well as other conservative Christian political leaders) has written:
We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.
You can see the influence of this theology in many of the state legislatures in what are called Red States. These are states that have passed laws specifically intended to solidify conservative Christian dominance of government, allowing for legal discrimination against others by public officials and private businesses. Likewise, such legislatures pass laws that crush the ability of local communities to pass nondiscrimination ordinances against gays. This has happened in both Arkansas and West Virginia. Similar proposals are being put forth in other states.
One of the leading proponents of this theology is Dr. C. Peter Wagner, who wrote a number of influential books on evangelism that are used in many conservative evangelical seminaries and churches. Wagner is credited with beginning what is called the New Apostolic Reformation, and he taught at Fuller Theological Seminary until his retirement from teaching in 2001. Wagner has written:
Our theological bedrock is what has been known as Dominion Theology. This means that our divine mandate is to do whatever is necessary, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to retake the dominion of God’s creation which Adam forfeited to Satan in the Garden of Eden. It is nothing less than seeing God’s kingdom coming and His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven (Letter dated May 31, 2007).
I am a Christian, albeit one with many doubts and concerns; a Priest; and a Navy Chaplain. I have grown up and seen this transformation of our society, especially over the last 20 years as a chaplain in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. I have concerns about the trends I am seeing, but mostly, I am concerned about this radical theology that has helped to turn faith into a war zone― and is destroying the fabric of American life. In fact, if you wonder why so many of these so-called “Christians” are doing their best at disenfranchising voters and supporting policies that have turned this country from a republic that functioned on the basis of democracy into an oligarchy controlled by a few, one only has to look to the words of the original Dominionist, the late father-in-law of Gary North, Dr. Rousas J. Rushdoony:
One faith, one law and one standard of justice did not mean democracy. The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state . . . Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies” (R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law p.100).
That being said, with all the changes in the composition of the population of this country, I really do not fear that change. But for the most part, I fear these politically minded Christians who are bent on imposing their form of Christianity on the people of this country. There are many reasons for this. Some are more general in the way I see Christians treat others (their own wounded as well as nonbelievers), the political machinations of pastors, and so-called “Christian” special interest groups masquerading as ministries. Wagner once said:
See, the problem is, is that Satan has had too much of his way in our society because he has a government! And the only way to overthrow a government is with a government. It won’t happen otherwise.
This is radical because it is the basis for a theocracy. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, used words of fear to motivate his base, saying the following at the Liberty Counsel Awakening Conference:
But we’re going to lose everything if we don’t win in this next election―and we only have this next election, I think for our voice to be heard.
I think it is pathetic that Graham has to resort to such fear and loathing in order to galvanize people to fight against the rights of others not to be discriminated against.
Dominion Theology groups have turned the Chaplain Corps in the U.S. military into a political football. I once found the chaplain ministry to be the epitome of how ministers of various denominations or religions should be able to work together for the benefit of others. Some of the chaplains I served with from across the denominational and religious spectrum helped ingrain in me a respect and care for others that I would never have received by working in a civilian parish. While I can do this with some chaplains even today, they are few and far between. The highly politicized environment is destroying the effectiveness and community of the Chaplain Corps. As a result, I plan on retiring without seeking a promotion to Captain, which I would be eligible for under the promotion boards in 2016. While I may help other priests and ministers in their parishes, I have no desire to work in any other form of chaplaincy when I retire.
I have been worn down by all of this, and sadly, the controversies are now unavoidable. As a result, I have experienced a lot of pain, heartache, and rejection at the hand of many Christians. I have counted some of these Christians as close friends, and many of them are pastors, priests, or chaplains. To experience rejection or being shamed by people you thought were friends is very hard, especially when I at one time trusted them implicitly to care for me. However, to be rejected by those I trusted “in the name of God” (or rather because I violated supposedly “correct” doctrinal beliefs about God) is frightening.
It seems to me that the many Christians and churches that hold to the unconditional love of God that they proclaim—actually hold on to something that is not really unconditional. Rather, it is totally conditional on believing what they believe or behaving in the way they think that you should.
For those who do not know me or my story, I am a career military officer with over 30 years of service between the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. I have been a chaplain since 1992 and have served in the National Guard, Army Reserve, Active Duty Army, and the Navy. I am a trained hospital chaplain; I have a great academic background. I went to Iraq in 2007 and came home with a terrible case of severe, chronic PTSD. I still suffer from some anxiety and depression―and plenty of insomnia. I find mental health care hard to get in my new assignment, and I realize how woefully unprepared our medical system, military, Veterans Administration, and civilian population are to care for the vast numbers of veterans like me.
After Iraq, I suffered a collapse of my faith, and for close to 2 years, I was a practical agnostic. Only my deep sense of call and vocation kept me going, and there were times when I wondered if I would be better off dead.
When faith returned through what I call my Christmas miracle, it was different. I totally relate to author Anne Rice who said:
My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn’t understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.
I have always questioned a lot that is taught by the church, but after my crisis of faith, I really began to see through the bullshit. I began not only to question things my former church taught, but openly stated my convictions about how we treat others as Christians, the equality of people in general, and tolerance for those different from us, including gays and Muslims (who for some Christians are rather low on the scale of those that God might love). As such, I openly support the LGBT community, American Muslims, and Arabs in general (as well as those who adhere to other nonChristian religions, are agnostic, or are even atheist) when they are attacked in the media or by supposedly Christian politicians, preachers, and pundits.
After Iraq, I was sickened by the crass politicization of conservative American Christianity and many of its leaders. These are men and women who advocate war without end, be it real wars against the “enemies” of America or promoting a culture war against other Christians they do not like or agree with. Of course, this is all done in “The Name of Jesus.”
Likewise, I question the opulence and materialism of the church. I question the nearly cult-like focus and near worship accorded to the Pastor-CEOs of the megachurches and the television preachers and teachers. I wonder in amazement at how many of these leaders live like royalty and have devoted followers who, despite repeated scandals, treat them as the voice of God.
I question the preference of many American Christian leaders for the rich and their disdain for the poor, the alien, and the outcasts among us. This actually comes from baptizing capitalism and objectivist philosophy as Christian—and leaving the gospel behind.
Back in 2010, all of that got me thrown out of a church I had served for 14 years as a priest and chaplain. I thought I had a lot of friends in that church. I still have some that keep in contact with me, but after my dismissal, most abandoned me. That hurts worse than anything.
In fact, when I came home from Iraq in crisis and falling apart, the first person who asked about how I was doing with God was not clergy. It was my first shrink. I was asked by a commanding officer after Iraq, “Where does a chaplain go for help?” I told him “not to other chaplains.” The sad thing is that the man who did care about me suffered untreated, terrible Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury―and committed suicide in January 2014.
I have had some experiences in the past few weeks that have opened that wound again and reminded me of why I am afraid of many that call themselves Christians. I have shared some of those, so I will not belabor them here.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.
That being said, I am thankful that I have a number of friends, including a good number of Christians from various backgrounds and some chaplains, who have stood by me even if they disagree with my theology, politics, or favorite baseball team. With the exception of such people who have been with me through thick and thin, I am mostly terrified today of being around conservative Christians.
Church in most cases is a frightening place for me, and the sad fact is that if I were not already a Christian, there is little in American Christianity that would ever cause me to be interested in Jesus. I can totally understand why churches are hemorrhaging members, especially young people whose religious preference is “none,” for I too am in some sense an outcast.
I would like to think that we have come so far in our understanding of people and of civil rights. But as Jean Luc Picard said, “It is threatening to happen again.”
Pray for me a sinner,