Guns, Abortion, and Healthcare

The percentage of Americans who are members of a church and attend regularly is steadily declining in our country.  Even those churches who are increasing their numbers are doing so at the expense of other churches.  The overall percentage is slowly declining, as is the membership of evangelical churches nationally.  There are a great many reasons for this, but when leadership aligns themselves in a partisan manner and speaks of only the causes of one political party, it makes those of the other side question why they should stay in the church if their values don’t match up anymore.  Many who lean to the Democrat or Independent side really do want to help the poor, see that everybody gets access to medical care and insurance, protect the rights of minorities and stop the loss of innocent lives in their own ways.  Maybe they are misguided at times, even impractical, but they do have some redeeming qualities and this should be recognized by Christian leadership.  Many evangelical church leaders have particularly missed opportunities to do this.

When I was growing up in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s bi-partisanship was considered to be a virtue.  Of course there were no abortions and no assault weapons.  Women’s rights were not as prominent and the NRA was not as rich.  There was no cable news channels or the internet.  A good journalist was taught to always present both sides of an issue.  The media and politicians were more middle of the road and much more civil to each other.  We have lost that ability and need to return more to this type of approach.  We can’t go back, but we can try to understand the other side.  Before we can understand the other side, we have to be able to first listen to them.

Another Inconsistency

Another inconsistency I see is if you are pro-life there is a good chance that you will be pro guns also.  If you want to develop a consistent argument on the taking of lives this needs to be looked at further.

The old adage we hear is “guns don’t kill people, people do.”  Well I say some guns are designed to kill a lot more people and faster than other guns.  I am talking about military style assault weapons like the AK-57 and the AR -15.  No self-respecting hunter needs them and home owners have a vast array of weapons to use on invaders.  The unfortunate thing is they are being used to kill innocent people, including our school children.  Would banning their sale stop these shootings?  No, but it might slow them down some if there were fewer of them available.  We had a ban on the sale of them nationally from Sept. of 1994 till Sept. of 2004.  There were still mass shootings during that time, but it is indisputable that mass shootings have gone way up since their ban has been lifted!

Early in my teaching career there was a special education teacher that the kids dearly loved, they spoke of her so sweetly.  If any child needed an arm to be put around them it would be from her.  She got out of teaching a long time ago but our friendship continued through the years.  She changed like everybody else does, but the starkness is noticeable on this issue.  She and her husband are more worried about a tyrannical government coming into their home and taking all their guns away from them than she is in removing the weapons that have been used in the killings of so many innocent children.  This argument borders more on paranoia than it does on reason.  The NRA has built a lot of fear into their membership.  They also represent gun manufacturers.

We can take too hard of stands on things and lose sight of our true intentions and causes.  If you are pro-life, anti-war, or pro assault weapons, the most important argument or result should be to reduce somehow the loss of innocent lives.  Don’t you think God desired that too! Those who are against unjust wars and assault weapon sales and yet are pro- choice have rationalized their main objective away.  They have accepted the false arguments that abortion isn’t taking a life and/or that a women’s reproductive rights, as they put it, is more important.  I see their argument, but I think the taking of a life is the most compelling argument against it.  Those who are pro-life and pro assault weapons have to see that both abortions and assault weapons are taking the lives of children away from us.  We all need to be more consistent in our logic and goals.  This would be an area for real leadership from men and women of God.

We have to get off of such hard positions within our own parties and compromise more.  We need to be more bi-partisan and try to achieve some of each other’s aims at the same time.  I could make a proposal now that will satisfy a little bit of both groups aim of reducing senseless killing and yet not come close to satisfying all their respective political constituent group’s aims.  This proposal is naïve and would need to pass court review, but I believe that it could.  I would like to propose that there be a federal ban on all 3rd tri-semester abortions and on all assault weapons sold in the United States!

This proposal would not satisfy all of the pro-lifers but it would prevent the most egregious abortions.  Women would lose some rights but could still retain their rights to abort, they would just have to make up their minds sooner.  Gun owners would still have their rights to all other weapons, and many victim’s parents could at least have a small sense of satisfaction of seeing a reasonable gun law passed.

What are the odds of this proposal ever passing?  Very little because one group won’t get everything they want or will be feeling like they are losing too much.  I can hope it could, but interest groups seem to be solely concerned with their rights and feel that if they give a little, they would lose everything.  In this day and age compromise is not rewarded by our own political parties, who would probably challenge any legislator in a primary fight who did compromise.

The next generation of church leaders could help shape society away from such partisan thinking and see what the just causes of all of society are.  Evangelical churches could be seen in a different light.  As Amy Black of Wheaton College put it “We can start by ensuring that biblical principles, not party or ideology, shape our political vision…Biblical values transcend party lines, so we should seek opportunities to build authentic alliances in both parties and space to speak meaningfully into political conversations.” 5   She has also said that some evangelicals have begun to address issues such as poverty, immigration, hunger, criminal justice, the environment, and even LBGT rights.  I would like to see us move into discussion of these issues as well, instead of being stuck on past issues for far too long.  I will attempt to do discuss these issues from my own experience before moving on to the problems we are experiencing today from the mixing of our politics with church identity.

It is better that the church not get involved in politics, but it is also inevitable that social issues will need to be concerns of the church.  Our approach to these need to be comprehensive and non-partisan.  If the church is pro-life and pro-family it should also want to see those children and family members have full access to health care.  This is an overall reasonable and balanced approach.  The Catholic Church has been much better about this kind of approach than the evangelicals have the last several decades.  Extending medical insurance coverage to more people who couldn’t afford it and securing it for those who lose their jobs is a noble idea! What greater purpose could we use our resources for than to provide medical care for everybody? Would that be making America great or not?

According to a study, by 3 Harvard scholars, the Tea Partiers vehemently opposed Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, which helped the young and the poor.  The distinction they made was between government programs they perceived as going to hard working productive members of society, such as themselves, and “handouts” that went to underserving “freeloaders” a category that largely seemed to be made up of African Americans, Hispanic immigrants and the young.8 The other point that needs to be heard is that the cost turned out to be too high, especially to the middle class that saw their premiums soar.  Just having Christian leadership to see both points could help sooth tensions, a gentle voice to turn away wrath. Unfortunately, neither the Catholic Church, nor the evangelical churches have pointed the way towards compromise on this issue.

Life in a Federal Prison

Life in Prison

Iraq brought back a lot of memories for my generation of Vietnam. I felt then, as I do now, that there are wars that a country has to fight, like the USA did in World War II, for example, and wars that you don’t have to fight, like the ones where you invade countries thousands of miles away without a just cause. I just couldn’t see that cause in Vietnam. As a history student and a Christian I felt if I were to kill someone for my country it should at least be for a just cause. I just couldn’t see that cause. Back in those days you were drafted into the Army and if you opposed the war on moral or religious grounds you had to oppose all wars to be classified as a conscientious objector. You could not just oppose some wars, you had to oppose all wars. I didn’t lie, I didn’t oppose all war, I just opposed this war, like thousands of others did. When my lawyer and I pled guilty to refusing my induction into the Army we asked if we could be sentenced to do 2 years of “alternate service” like conscientious objectors were allowed to. The judge sent me to a federal minimum security prison camp near Safford, Arizona instead, but for only six months.
I really learned a lot by being in prison. I met a lot of people who were there like me as a protest to the war. Michael Thompson, whose case challenged the constitutionality of the draft that went before the U.S. Supreme Court was there. He was doing a lot longer time than I was sentenced for. The court had ruled 5-4 that as Commander In Chief the president had implied powers to raise an army thus the draft was declared constitutional. By the time my case came around judges began sentencing Vietnam resisters to less and less prison time. Most of them were given “alternative service” in California courts where I had been living at. The draft would later be rescinded and replaced with an all-volunteer army. Too late for us, but all in all I came away with much more respect for the government than I did before I went in. I knew that if I lived in Russia I might get 10-20 years of hard labor for not fighting. We were treated humanely. I had plenty of time to think what I wanted to do in the future.
I met all kinds of Mexican illegal immigrants in this prison in Southeast Arizona. Many of those illegal immigrants were serving their second or third or fourth sentence. They would serve their time and then be sent back to Mexico. And probably try again. They said conditions were so bad there that they had little to lose. The largest group of the prisoners there by far, were these illegal Mexican immigrants. We also had regular criminal bank robbers, murders, embezzlers, who were finishing out their sentence in the middle of the desert. After a count of the prisoners, if they discovered a Mexican had left, they wouldn’t even go after them since it wasn’t that far to the border. If an American escaped it was a huge deal, but that only happened once I think.

There were prisoners doing short time and those that had a long time left on their sentence. Some were married, some were separated and most didn’t know what it would be like again when they got out. The proportion of blacks and whites, in this prison, were about the same proportion as the national population. There were Jehovah Witnesses in for the same thing we were, but they never felt they broke the law, they were obeying God’s law instead. We knew we were breaking the law because we wanted to protest the war through the law.
I became decent friends with a guard while there. He would drive us up to the state park near us and we would cut trees and maintain roads in it. It was something to do to pass the time. Most of us wanted to work to pass the time and had a job; you had to sign up for something. Smitty gave me books to read and I rode in the cab with him many times to work and back. When I was new all the other prisoners already rode in the back end of the truck and had their spots. I didn’t mind riding in the cab.

One day Smitty came over to our work group and I was sitting down on the job. I just stayed there for a while. Smitty said let’s go for a walk and told me all the way down on our walk that I was a U.S. prisoner, had broken the law, and that the government housed us and clothed us and fed us and didn’t treat us bad and that he expected us to always be working hard whenever he came around us. It was our duty. I asked if he was done and if I could talk to him on the way back. He said okay and I told him that I didn’t want to kill for Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, that we were supporting a corrupt side in the war that mistreated their own people, that I didn’t want to kill so they put me in here with killers instead. Further the law only said we had to do work on base that met prisoner’s needs like clothing, food and base maintenance, and what was wrong with sitting and seeing some beauty sometimes? Well Smitty decided that since he was the guard, that anytime he came around in the future, that I would have to jump up if I were sitting, or just continue to work if I was already working. When he left I could go back to sitting if I wanted to or keep working. I thought it was a reasonable request and that’s how we did it.

I remember when my time was up he said “Oh you probably won’t remember me.” I remembered him, he had a big thick moustache. You could see a smile somewhere beneath it too occasionally.

If you had been there for 30 days you could play on the camp basketball and softball team that played in town once a week. The basketball coach, a prison guard, waived my 30 day period so I could play right away. They needed the help. We really appreciated playing those games. We were respectable by the end of the season.
When fast pitch softball started we were the best team in the league by far. Young kids who could run and catch and hit. Plus we had an older pitcher in his 40’s from Colorado who had played for many years. We had won all of our games so far that year, and one night we were met not by our scheduled team, but by a group of all-stars instead from the other 7 teams. They were led by their good pitcher, and prison guard Mr. Tejah. We enjoyed the challenge and Tejah had put this all-star team together to teach us a lesson. We were all pretty pumped up to play and hit him pretty well that night. I got one of those key hits I remember and we went on to win 8-3. That was the last time they tried anything like that. Tejah never said a word to us the next day at camp and never spoke about the game to any of us when he did speak. I guess that was my “Longest Yard” story. I was released from prison before the end of the season, but I looked forward to those games all week long.
I also met a lot of homosexual men in a too close for comfort setting. I had to tell them a line every time I was propositioned. Charm and stalling was my tactics. I kept telling anyone who would hear; I’m not going to be here that long. But it was an experience watching and knowing these men. I hoped I had never come on to a woman the way some of them came on to me. I also observed and talked to them. Some of them had been like this all their life, and some of them became like this after being in prison for a long time.
I was released from prison on the same day that George McGovern was nominated for president. My hopes were high. They didn’t stay that way very long. I went back to college at the local university where I was living in California after a three year break. Only this time I didn’t have a double major in History and Political Science like I did in Illinois. I ended up getting my degree in Physical Education. I decided eventually on being a coach. A few years later I read that John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s advisor of Watergate fame, served his prison sentence at Safford, Arizona too.

Prison Reform and the Church

Another issue the church could address in a non-partisan issue is prison reform. We don’t have to choose political parties here and we could lead through reason and some godly principles. The longest three weeks of my life were spent at the start of my sentence in San Francisco County Jail. In there were prisoners who were serving their sentence, others who were awaiting their trials, and others who were waiting to be transferred, like me. It was way overcrowded, there were more prisoners in this cell than we had bunks for (12). The new guys had to wait till someone left until they got a bunk. There was also one open toilet in the rear of the cell. Nobody got out of the cell for exercise or anything. We got into each other’s personal space and onto other’s nerves. There were near fights and disagreements all the time. One time I thought someone who looked much tougher than me, was going to start attacking me because I had intruded into his space. I wasn’t even aware of his presence but he was aware of mine. Fortunately he didn’t attack me, but it definitely left an impression. There was no privacy at all! Many large county jails are like this. Cook County Jail in Chicago is much larger and has all kinds of problems similar to and worse than these. Some of the men there were not even sure what they have been charged with.

I was never so glad to finally leave there and arrive at our minimum security camp. I was happy to be there even when they cut my hair. I was lucky, we were all in large barracks, holding maybe 75 or so of us. We got our own bunk and a foot locker. We could walk around the perimeter of the camp in the evenings. You had opportunities to read books and write letters. Most prisoners are not treated this way in part because individual states house most of the prison population and not the federal government.

We have too much of a view in this country that prison is for punishment. When you take away a man’s ability to plan his day, or weeks, or months or years, believe me, you are already punishing him. When he loses the ability to do what he would normally do, he is already being punished. In truth the most important thing we could do is to remove him from society, not try to punish him further.

The European model is much different than most of our state systems. In this country we have a higher percentage of our population incarcerated and we have higher recidivism rates. Some of them give their prisoners two person rooms and a desk, some even private rooms. I feel you have to give them some space and time alone to reflect on how and why they got there and what they might do after they get out. Overcrowded prisons don’t give them this perspective. Overcrowding also throws them into a “survival” mentality. If they are treated like animals in a caged environment they will have a tendency to be more animalistic. If we treat them like humans, they may also treat others more humanely.

Prison guards won’t have to be in such a “survival” mode either this way. They are performing a very difficult job. Putting prisoners in a less crowded environment allows guards and prisoners a chance to see each other somewhat as individuals and reduces the constant everyday stress. Guards deserve better working conditions too.

Another consideration we need to address in state prisons is conjugal visits for married prisoners. It may lead to saving more marriages and it holds the opportunity of cutting down on other type of sexual behavior.

More states are experimenting with reforms. Some of them are incorporating unique forms of recreational activities for their inmates as well. We need to encourage these efforts and call for more of them in this country. It will take time, effort, money, understanding and compassion. Compassion for the victims and their families, time and effort for the prisoners. It is more of a Christian model and something evangelical and other church leaders can address without being involved in partisan politics. They could actually be for something instead of spending so much time being against social issues.

The Taking of Innocent Lives

The Taking of Innocent Lives

What concerns me now is how the evangelicals have continued along on the same political path until today.  I cannot recall hearing one good thing evangelical leaders have said about the other party.  No party, of course, is all good or all bad.  We need to see those good aspects in both sides and say so instead of being so openly partisan.  When a church gets that way it becomes associated with all the good and all of the bad aspects of that party.  This is unfortunate because backers of both parties have more in common than they may realize.  Let me try and give you an example.

Almost everybody feels that the taking of innocent lives is a terrible thing to do and try to stop or ban the cause of it.  This is manifested in many ways and is definitely present in the political arena on the left and right.  Millions of kind hearted, sincere Americans have worked for years for the restriction, overturning or elimination of abortion and rightfully so.  It is the taking of innocent life no matter how you try to justify it.  It is a procedure that has been allowed since 1973 and it is wrong!  Yes sometimes it should be allowed in the case of incest or rape.  Yes there is an argument that a woman should have the right to choose or control her own body and not have the State, or the government control it.  Argue whatever you want, but the bottom line is, it is the senseless slaughter of millions through the years.  I don’t blame people for working for this purpose.  It is a noble cause and I agree largely with them.

Fighting an unjust war can certainly be a way to take innocent lives also.  Estimates of civilian lives lost in Iraq and Vietnam range well over a million and perhaps easily double that.  Arguments can be made that this is just the way war is and there will always be wars.  Perhaps it is, but we can choose which wars we will participate in.

Most historians will now say that the invasions of Vietnam and Iraq by Presidents Johnson and Bush were unwarranted.  The Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which sent American forces into South Vietnam, was passed by Congress on an incident that probably didn’t even happen.  Mr. Bush’s explanation of war by finding weapons of mass destruction, didn’t occur either.  You could argue that both wars were justified because we were fighting communism in Vietnam and terrorism in Iraq, but it was much more complicated than that. The communist and the terrorist weren’t the same people we had been made to believe they were.  Whatever the justification, it tragically turned out to be a senseless taking of innocent lives.

Although both of these causes seem to be altruistic and somewhat similar there are other observations to note.  I bet that more than 90% of those who oppose abortion also disagreed politically with those who opposed the war in Iraq.  I also would be willing to bet that 90% of those activist who opposed the Iraq War would disagree politically with those activist who oppose abortion.

Both groups sincerely are against the taking of millions of innocent lives and yet sometimes vehemently disagree with each other.  Why is this?  They have more in common than they realize.  When we take the side of one party (or tribe) always, no one listens to us anymore.  It is when we can sometimes see the good intentions of both sides that our positions become balanced and maybe listened to by both sides.  The church is in a position to do this, but evangelical leaders have not risen to a higher level than supporting their own tribe or political party.  They also have not demonstrated higher moral leadership to their congregations. I will try and give more examples of commonality as I go on.

Part 3  My Life in Prison, next week

To The Next Generation of Evangelical Leaders, part 1

The recent death of the greatest evangelist of the 20th century Billy Graham brought back so many memories and tributes from Americans.  Many of those Americans gave their lives to Christ at his crusades and in front of their television sets.  From Harry Truman in 1950 to Barack Obama in 2010 he visited with presidents and was known as America’s pastor to many.  Yet even Billy Graham had to apologize for his close friendship with Richard Nixon when the Watergate tapes came out.  “I did misjudge him.  It was a side of him that I never knew, yet I had been with him so many times.  He was just like a whole new person.” Graham said.  “I almost felt as if a demon had come into the White House, and had entered his presidency, because it seemed to be sort of supernatural.”[1]

According to a January 2011 interview with Christianity Today he was closely aligned with Richard Nixon in the 1960’s and early ‘70’s and often took conservative stands on issues.  During the Nixon presidency Graham even became an informal White House advisor, dashing off memos offering advice on how to run the 1972 re-election campaign.2That was a campaign that he deliberately wanted to appear bipartisan “at least until about October” when he would “throw his support to the side of the President more effectively.”  A memo to Nixon from an aide went onto say Graham had vowed to “do nothing to hurt the President or to help McGovern.”2       An older, reflective Graham when asked if he had any regrets said “I also would have steered clear of politics.  I’m grateful for the opportunities God gave me to minister to people in high places; people in power have spiritual and personal needs like everyone else, and they often have no one to talk to.  But looking back now I know I sometimes crossed the line, and I wouldn’t do that now.”

Unfortunately that winning re-election campaign of Nixon’s brought the country the Watergate break-in, the revelation of the tapes, and shame and resignation for the president.  Graham later would have to apologize to the Jewish community when his own voice was heard talking disparagingly with the president and H.R. Haldeman about the Jews and the media.2Billy Graham spoke the gospel for decades and lived a scandal free life.  His coziness with Nixon was one of his few mistakes in his career lasting well over half a century.  He is a man to be loved and admired.  He learned from his mistaken ventures into politics and never repeated it again.

His lesson is a telling one today for evangelical and all church leaders including his son Franklin.  There will likely be apologies in the coming years from this of church and especially evangelical leaders for their political ventures of the last several years and especially with their alignment with the current president. They have openly been in the camp of one political party on all political issues and presidential candidates.  Any semblance of bipartisanship has been lost and the church’s spiritual message to the world has been diluted by their political messages.

The church’s spiritual message of love and forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ should be paramount.  That is the message that should speak loudest.  Sometimes this message gets drowned out by political messages.  The church is better off not to get too involved in politics period.  The church I am currently attending seems to do a pretty good job of not getting involved in politics. Their message, of Christ living in you and the power of the Holy Spirit is their focus, and their message is heard.  Too many other evangelical churches get involved in politics and their messages and their credibility gets muted.

As long as you don’t side with one party on all of the issues your credibility and point of view will be respected and influential.  Once you side with only one party you lose the trust and credibility of the other side.  There are good and bad in both parties and political parties will certainly “frame the issue” to take advantage of you.  Your religion will be secondary to their political goals.  When you climb in bed with one party only, you become associated with everything in that political party in the minds of other people.

The Biggest Example

The biggest example of evangelical leaders being taken advantage of was the re-election of George. W. Bush in 2004.  Bush’s campaign was run by a man named Karl Rove.  Mr.  Rove had identified 4 million evangelical voters who he claimed had not gone to the polls in the previous presidential election, and he felt that using the local churches was the key to getting them to vote.  He first took the unprecedented step of asking the evangelical churches for their membership directories.  These membership directory lists were then given to the Republican National Committee.  Some did not comply feeling this was an improper usage of their membership lists.  A great many of them did comply though.  A great many calls were made and mailers were sent from these church lists by the Republican Party.

Then there were two vital issues to be framed by Rove to get this group’s particular attention and vote.  One was a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage and the other was to change the conversation from the Iraq War, to the War on Terror.

The rallying cry for many was opposition to same sex marriage.  The Republican Party didn’t really want this amendment but knew it would activate the evangelical base.  They knew an amendment to ban something that didn’t exist at the time was a frivolous cause constitutionally, but it could be used to their advantage.  In Ohio scores of clergy members attended legal sessions how they could talk about the election from the pulpit.  Hundreds of churches launched registration drives, thousands of churchgoers registered to vote and millions of voter guides were distributed by Christian groups.3 Jay Sekulow chief counsel of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice advised in mailings to 45,000 churches that their clergy should avoid endorsing a candidate by name from the pulpit but “we told them they were absolutely free and should encourage their people to vote their convictions.”3These efforts certainly worked well.  Sekulow said he believed that thousands of clergy members gave sermons about the election and that many went further than they ever had before.  The Rev. Rick Warren author the best-selling “The Purpose Driven Life,” sent a letter to 136,000 fellow pastors urging them to compare the candidate’s positions on five “non-negotiable issues: abortion, stem cell research, same-sex marriage, human cloning, and euthanasia.3James Dobson a powerful figure among evangelicals endorsed Bush although he said he was doing so as an individual, not as chairman of Focus on the Family, whose programs were heard on 7,000 radio stations worldwide.3  Dobson would later go on to say that same sex marriage would undermine our own traditional marriages.  I don’t know about you but I know the major threat to my marriage would be if I did not fulfill my responsibilities as a husband and father.  My marriage is not threatened by anyone else’s marriage whether they are heterosexual or same sex marriages.

The second vital cause in the 2004 election was the changing or framing of the issue of the war in Iraq to the War on Terror.  When the horrific bombings of 9-11 occurred in 2001 our nation responded in many good and heroic ways.  After a thoughtful and intelligent debate by Congress, Mr. Bush sent troops into Afghanistan one month later to attack the training grounds and where the masterminds of 9-11 lived.  Somehow that war got sidetracked and in March of 2003 we also sent troops into Iraq.  We were told it was because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and that is what we told the world as well.  Whatever the reason was we had many more troops in Iraq than we had in Afghanistan.  When no weapons of mass destruction were found and most of the Iraqi people looked upon us as invaders, Bush had a serious problem with his impending re-election.  It was intimated by the administration that our invasion of  was in part as a response to 9-11.  When that was shown to be false, that Iraq had nothing to do with9-11, the campaign needed a new tactic.

Mr. Rove and the campaign declared that the Iraq war was merely part of the overall War on Terrorism instead.  Daily terrorist alerts were issued by colors, yellow or orange were the more serious colors.  Fox News had the color boxes on the corners of programs every day. Many Americans will support the president in wartime regardless of the cause.  Many older Americans who grew up during and immediately after World War II were taught that we were always liberating armies.  Polls showed more people trusted Bush on the issue of terrorism and more people trusted his opponent John Kerry on handling the Iraqi War.  So under these circumstances the Iraq War became just part of the War on Terror, never mind that it likely distracted our efforts on the real war on terror in Afghanistan.

Now this may just be smart politics, but then they got the evangelical churches to be involved in this campaign issue.  I thought that was using churches for political purposes.  In July of 2004 my church in Effingham, Illinois had a large banner displayed on Sunday across the church yard which said Support Our Troops.  The sermon was on the same subject.  The sign didn’t say Support Our War, but it was code words and meant the same thing.  It devastated me.  I had always been bothered by the times our church would pass out “family values” pamphlets at election times or anything that had the words Liberty or Freedom on them, giving their summary of how they felt the views of the Democrat and Republicans were on issues.  They took the worse generalities from one side and the best generalities from the other.  I remember once as an usher I saw them in advance and threw them in the waste can.  I later retrieved them before the service began and dutifully handed them out.  But this Sunday crossed the line with me.  I felt that the church was being used and willingly being used by a political party to support a war that had no real just cause.  I asked our pastor if I could speak with him about it the next day.  He agreed to meet me in his church office the following day.  I later found out that churches all over the country had done the same thing that Sunday.

I always loved our pastor and still do to this day.  When I asked him why this banner and why this sermon he replied that he was just trying to support our president who could use some and that the president knew a lot more things than we did.  When I asked him about supporting a war which was based on a false premise of Iraq having weapons of mass destruction, he replied that just recently they had found an artillery shell which contained traces of Sarin, a nerve gas there.  I remember saying “a single shell?”  He said it could be evidence of more, it turned out to be nothing at all.  Then I asked him about Thou shalt not kill.  I said that there had been thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives lost.  He said that in the original Greek or Hebrew or whatever it was, that it really didn’t mean kill in this case, that essentially the meaning of the word didn’t apply here.

I felt that our pastor was a good God fearing, loving man but that he had been used, misled and was misguided.  I told him that after 18 years in this evangelical church, I was seriously thinking of leaving.  My wife and I had started with this church when they were meeting at the top of the YMCA, we had brought up our two children there.  I didn’t want to stay and be an irritant in the church.  He said why don’t I come at least one more week, that he had a message he wanted me to hear.  I said okay and went to hear it.  It was a message on the sin of homosexuality and what was happening in our country.  I felt that he was putting politics ahead of the message of Christ, that Jesus’ real message was being politicized.  We stopped going to that church.

Of course later I figured out that it was the Sunday before the week the Senate was to vote on the constitutional amendment to ban the “possibility” of same sex marriage.  This of course was the same Sunday that thousands of other churches did the same thing.  I think something like 11-13 states banned it eventually, far short of the 2/3’s or 3/4ths of the states needed to ratify it in order to become an amendment to the constitution.  This idea was discarded after the election, but it was an excellent way to get out the evangelical vote.

I doubt if Karl Rove cared if the churches had been compromised or not.  I doubt if he cared if the church had been seen as entirely on the side of one party, or that it was completely in bed with the Republican Party now.  I doubt if he cared if Independents and Democrats were disillusioned with the movement and went to their churches less often or dropped out.  It really wasn’t the politicians concern, the evangelicals willingly went along with their efforts.  To many of these church goers, it didn’t matter anyway to them.  Nationally the organizations of Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson and others felt vindicated and Evangelical pastors all over America were happy.  Bush was re-elected president and we would get at least 4 more years of the Iraq War, accusations of torture, and a financial collapse at the end of his second term.

That was my story way back then.  I am still good friends with a great many in that church and do business with their members.  They are wonderful people.  I even gave them that year and the next years’ pledge money for the new church to our pastor before we left.  I doubt if many understood why my wife and I left, I wonder if they do now.  I was in the wilderness for the next several years.  I tried a country church for a while and attended another church in Effingham for a longer period.  A lot of times I just didn’t go to church at all. I did a lot of church shopping.

Part 2 to be posted shortly………..