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Monday, May 09, 2011

The Truth Is Out

Okay, readers. There's something Fr. A. hasn't been telling you, and it's kind of big. About some stuff he did before seminary.

We'll get to the secret in just a second. First, let's wag the finger at our clerical colleague, Rev. Jim Moats of Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville, Pennsylvania. According to his website, Moats "unashamedly preaches 'an old fashioned message' for 'new-fangled people.' " We're guessing that he's doing it with just a bit more shame these days.

See, word got a round in his parish that Moats had been a Navy SEAL in Viet Nam. He never said much about it, but there was this plaque in his office honoring all SEALS for their service, and, well, there you go. Then, in a recent interview, he came out of the, uh, closet: about SEAL training, being slapped around by his instructors, even about the time his wild side got the better of him and he was busted down to company cook. Just like Steven Seagal in Under Siege. And a little GI Jane.

Anyway, it was a lie. The guy was never a SEAL. He spent a few years in the Navy, on a ship in the Mediterranean. Maybe he really was a cook; we have no idea. But he wasn't a SEAL. He was just a wannabee, a regular guy who -- like his father before him and his sons after him -- served his country. But for whom that wasn't enough.

It took a genuine ex-SEAL, Don Shipley, one day to out the guy. Shipley apparently spends a lot of time checking up on guys who claim they were part of his old unit, largely because so many of them are lying. And here's the line that gives us pause:
“We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up,” Shipley said.
Ouch. Look, you know how we sometimes wax censorious about preachers who use "true" stories that aren't? Well, just in case you weren't sure, this is worse. We oppose pastors lying about their military service for just the reason we are in favor of letting gay pastors go public about their sexual preference: because a liar in the pulpit will inevitably give people reason to doubt the truth of the Gospel.

So, okay, lecture over. We promised you a juicy tidbit and here it comes.

For years now, there have been rumors about Fr. A's past. They were all started by a piece of art he used to keep in the church office, nothing too conspicuous, but a treasured memento just the same. He never said anything, but people started to talk, and he never told them they were wrong. And why should he? They were right. It's all true.

So there it is. We don't like to talk about it. We aren't proud. But yes, it's true: For a few years, just before seminary, Father Anonymous was a Blade Runner.*

* Not strictly true, but we'll say anything to build that flock up.


Pastor Joelle said...

I'm always flabbergasted by these stories. Not that someone, even clergy would make up stuff...but
I never understand how people (especially very public people) who spin these yarns think they can get away with it--even before the days of google there are people's whose life mission is to out fake military heroes but nowadays ANYBODY can check your story.

mark said...

'Sokay. I'm a pod person.

Mark C. Christianson said...

Somehow, and shockingly, I don't find myself at all that surprised that Don Shipley notes that he deals with clergy making false claims of military service. What would be interesting to hear would be how those claims distribute amongst denominations. Given the way that a good many American-style Evangelicals turn the United States into a new chosen people, and the use of military imagery and boosterism while conflating Christian faithfulness and patriotism (and, often, conservative politics), it is not terribly surprising that some clergy, especially within that set, would claim an identity closer to the heart of those sorts of images than is true.

Anonymous said...

Just like "progressive" christians claim to "celebrate their diversity" while remaining in churches and denominations that are over 95% White and middle/upper middle class. Claiming to celebrate difference while surrounded by people who are pretty much the same as you are in background probably doesn't do much for the Mainline's credibility.
It probably also has to do with the growing perception among young people (and a lot of men)that the clergy are disproportionately gay. Having a background as a SEAL, rather than a social worker, probably helps squelch suspicions.

Father Anonymous said...

Actually, Anonymous, I think you're missing the point here.

You've missed the depth of the real cynicism at work in mainline denominations celebrating diversity. It is not, in any conventioal way, hypocritical that they, or we, "stay" in our mostly-white churches; on the contrary, the sad part is that we are constantly surprised that nobody else has joined us.

Thirty years of celebrating diversity was, and remains, a plea for more members -- we keep hoping that if we sing a few songs in Spanish or Swahili, we will suddenly have an influx of Spanish or Swahili members. At the individual level, there is an immense deal of goodwill at work, but at the institutional level it is pure vampire evangelism. You know, "New blood! Let's suck it!"

As for the perception that the clergy are disproportionately gay -- a perception I'm not aware of among Protestants, but for which I will take your word -- I guess it depends, as I've said before, on how you define "disproportionately," something that over fifty years has proven nearly impossible for sociologists to do. But there is a lot of self-selection at work in the choice of work. If I had to guess, I'd say that there are probably more gay Protestant pastors than there are gay cowboys. There are probably fewer gay pastors than there are gay hairstylists. But beyond that, I don't think there's much to it.

I think Mark is closer to the truth when he suggests that neo-Protestant (rather than mainline) pastors are prone to inventing military careers because they serve communities which are likely to be impressed by that. A fair number of mainline communities, particularly those still nourishing some Vietnam-era knee jerk antimilitarism, would be as likely to be put off by it.

Anonymous said...

To what extent is this a class issue? Or a difference based on levels of education?
Self-selection and diversity are two contradictory impulses. After years of preaching "diversity" yet remaining virtually all white/middle class, this is probably the only incontrovertible miracle that Mainline Protestantism has managed to show anybody.
If you've got a lower percentage of non-whites than the Southern Baptist Convention, you're either hypocrites or you're too self-obsessed to deserve to be treated seriously.
Odd how nobody notices that barely a generation after women were allowed to become mainline pastors, they're already on their way to over 50%; why hasn't this happened yet in medical or pharmacy or engineering schools? Is there something intrinsically "feminine" about ministry?
And why the resistance from Black/Hispanic churches to women's ordination, but much less vitriol leveled at them compared to white evangelicals who don't allow female pastors for the same reasons?