Adjusting to the Worship of Power: Evangelicalism in 2018

Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the most frightening things to me as a historian who happens of claim to be a Christian is the propensity for the Church and its leaders to be attracted to the worship of power and all of its folly. This has been the case since Constantine made Christianity the State religion of the Roman Empire. Leaders of the church in every place and clime as well as almost every denomination have cozied up to rulers in the pursuit of power almost always to the detriment the Church and sometimes their nation. The hierarchies of different churches were in the forefront of the extermination of supposed “heretics,” the persecution of non-state favored religions, the slave trade, the conquest, subjugation, and extermination of indigenous peoples in the Americas, Africa, parts of Asia; they were often the supporters of disastrous wars, and at home used their place of power to wealthy beyond all measure.

Conversely, on the occasions where the Church and its leaders have advocated for the poor, the marginalized, and others who had no earthly power it lead to advances in human rights and liberty. The abolition of slavery in Great Britain was led by William Wilberforce against heated opposition in Parliament and even the Church of England that spanned decades. During the period of the Industrial Revolution, some churches and Christians made a determined effort to end child labor, support workers’ rights, and advocate for the poor, but many others feasted upon the wealth that their rich benefactors lavished upon them and remained silent. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other African American church leaders helped lead the Civil Rights movement and were joined by some white religious leaders, but many others, including men who were early leaders of the Christian Right opposed the Civil rights movement and used their pulpits to advocate for segregation. Many other just remained silent, just as their forbears had from Constantine one. Silence and the acquiescence to injustice has been a hallmark of the Christian church.

The German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw the disastrous effects of the German church’s subservience to the Nazi regime and before that to the Kaiser. He wrote:

“Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness and pride of power and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear rather than too much. Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now. Christian should take a stronger stand in favor of the weak rather than considering first the possible right of the strong.”

Sophie Scholl (Center)

Bonhoeffer spoke those words in a 1934 sermon, just a bit over a year following the Nazi takeover as Hitler was still consolidating his power and before he and his regime began their war of conquest and extermination. Some German Christians did take the chance to stand up for those oppressed by the Nazis, both in Germany in in the areas the Nazis conquered. Many of those who did would pay for their opposition with either their freedom or their lives, but most of the church was silent. One of the young Christians who opposed the Nazis was Sophie Scholl, a 22 year old student at the University of Munich. She and a number of fellow students formed a group called the White Rose to distribute anti-Nazi materials and to speak out against the crimes of the regime. She wanted those Christians of her day that silence was not an option. She wrote:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

The same is true today in the United States. The vast majority of Evangelical Christians who support the policies of the Trump presidency in order to be at the table of temporal power have cast the church into the pigsty of lies. Likewise they vocally support polices that crush the lives of people who have no power and in doing so mock the words of Jesus. I can only shake my head that it has come to this.

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There is a choice to be made by anyone who claims the mantle of Jesus the Christ or claims to follow him. Will we do better than our ancestors or will we to silently slide down the road to perdition?

Sadly, I think that most Evangelical Christians have made that choice and that it is not the one that Bonhoeffer and Scholl made.

With that I will end for the day. Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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9 Comments

Filed under christian life, civil rights, ethics, faith, History, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, Religion

9 responses to “Adjusting to the Worship of Power: Evangelicalism in 2018

  1. Reblogged this on A Call to Witness and commented:
    Worship of power will lead to destruction

  2. Dear Steve,

    For some reason I have problems whenever I reblog but I will figure out a way. Thanks for a great post.

    Hugs, Gronda

  3. Brian Skar

    Steve, As a Baptist pastor, I still count myself among the Evangelicals, but I find it increasingly more difficult as the weeks go by. My conservative brothers and sisters have forgotten that there is a strong connection between credibility and consistency. The the sins they wail and gnash their teeth over when committed by someone on the left, such as, sexual immorality, dishonesty, and arrogance, seem to be forgotten when committed by someone on the right. The Evangelical stand for righteousness, which used to be their primary goal, now has become a joke. The test if integrity is the consistency by which you hold to a standard, even when holding that standard up to someone with who you are associated. The religious right doesn’t seem to care that so many in the Trump administration are far more “Crooked” than Hillary. They don’r seem to care that the President is womanizer and a liar and a pococurante when it comes to policy and the truth. This scares me, because it indicates they have sold out to extreme fundamentalism, the most dangerous “ism” of all.

  4. The evangelicals have turned against a democrats for two sins mostly. Democrats have championed gay rights (the rights of the minorities and marginalized) and the choice of women to have safe abortions. Both can be said to be sins if you read the Bible literally. Unfortunately in this choice they have made they are willing to accept almost all other sins. For today’s evangelicals you are ok if you are a cold blooded killer but support the rights of the unborn and subjugation of sexual minorities.

    • padresteve

      You are absolutely correct. I got tossed out of my former denomination back in 2010 for pointing that out while expressing support for LGBT people, women’s ordination, and Muslims

      • Well, I agree on giving LBGT people same opportunities to serve in the church as other Christians, but would not go as far as for Muslims, that is a different religious belief with differing beliefs.

      • padresteve

        Regarding Muslims it was how they often give more reverence to Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary than many Christians thru their theology with Mohammed learned thru heretical Araian Christian monks.

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