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Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Martyrs of Flossenburg: A Lesson for Christians in the Age of Trump

D.Bonhoeffer im Gefaengnis Berlin-Tegel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Seventy-three years ago at the Flossenburg Concentration Camp near the German-Czech border a pastor, an Admiral, and a General were martyred on the specific order of Adolf Hitler. The pastor was the eminent Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Admiral, Wilhelm Canaris the former head of the German military intelligence service; the Abwehr, the General, Hans Oster, Canaris’s deputy. All three were Christians and all three opponents of Hitler’s regime. Condemned with them were Karl Sack a senior military jurist, retired General Friedrich Von Rabenau who was also a theologian, and several others connected with the Abwehr and the resistance.

I think that in an age where politically conservative Christians have trampled their own faith to support of a leader who makes a mockery of the Christian faith as he blasphemes the very name of Christ and the teachings of Jesus in his words and deeds. While I am not comparing the President to Hitler I am comparing the corrupt and evil Christian leaders and organizations which support him to the German Christians who eagerly supported Hitler and his diabolical regime. Thus the men who lost their lives in the fight against Hitler on April 9th 1945 and their courage need to be remembered and emulated should the Trump administration continue down its path to trample the Constitution and crush civil and human rights, and quite possibly engage in aggressive preemptive wars that would be illegal under the precedents of the Nuremberg Trials; all in the name of Making America Great Again.

But it is Bonhoeffer that I will focus on tonight. As early as 1932 Bonhoeffer realized the menace and evil of Hitler’s growing Nazi Party and movement. In a sermon the recently ordained Bonhoeffer, then only 26 years old noted that danger and the complicity of all Germans in it, especially Christians.  He warned that resistance to it could well involve martyrdom. But he believed that the the evil of the tyrant gave no one the luxury of claiming innocence:

“the blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith. On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness” 

On February 1st 1933, two days after Hitler’s accession to power Bonhoeffer was beginning a previously scheduled speech on what was known as the concept known as the Fuhrerprinzep. The speech was not a direct attack on Hitler but a warning of the limits of power. He had barely begun the speech when for unexplained circumstances he was cut off. While there was no proof that this was deliberately done it would not have been unlike the Nazis to engage in such subterfuge. The speech was printed in a non-Nazi conservative newspaper and he was invited to give the speech in early March at the University of Berlin’s college of political science. At the end of the speech, which included no remarks on current events Bonhoeffer criticized the Fuhrerprinzep which he believed could easily become an idolatrous cult. However, Hitler had ridden into power upon upon that concept as people sought a strong leader to bring Germany out of political, social, and economic turmoil.

“The fearful danger of the present time is that above the cry for authority, be it of a Leader or of an office, we forget that man stands alone before the ultimate authority and that anyone who lays violent hands on man here is infringing eternal laws and taking upon himself superhuman authority which will eventually crush him. The eternal law that the individual stands alone before God takes fearful vengeance where it is attacked and distorted. Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stands alone before him, and must perish.”

german-christians-march

At that early stage Hitler whose office was conditional on the support of President Paul Von Hindenburg and headed a cabinet in which his Nazis were a minority partner realized that he had to say the right things to maintain it, he could not appear too radical. One group that he courted were politically conservative German Christians. In a speech delivered the same day as Bonhoeffer’s curtailed speech, Hitler claimed that the Christian faith would serve as “the basis of our collective morality.” It was a lie but it assuaged the fears of Christians in non-Nazi conservative and moderate parties, many who became a part of the Nazi German Christian movement which decidedly in the service of Hitler espousing Nazi racial doctrines and attacks upon the Jews.

As Hitler and the Nazis stepped up their persecution of their political opponents and the Jews based on the emergency provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree Bonhoeffer both worked and spoke his opposition to the tyranny that was beginning to envelop Germany. In April 1933 while speaking of the responsibility of Christians and the church to stand against injustice he wrote in his essay The Church and the Jewish Question: 

“The church has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” and also“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

He became a key member of what became known as the Confessing Church and the Pastors Emergency League where he helped draft the Barmen Declaration. He ran an underground seminary to train theology students. He had the chance to remain in the United States in June of 1939 but refused the pleas of his American friends to do so. He explained his position to the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

“I have come to the conclusion that I made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people… Christians in Germany will have to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose but I cannot make that choice from security.”

On his return to Germany he was forbidden to speak in public, prohibited from publishing and required to report his movements to the police. However he did have friends. His brother in law, the lawyer Hans Dohnányi who was a member of the opposition, recruited Bonhoeffer for the Abwehr the German military service in order to prevent him from being conscripted into the Wehrmacht based on the proposition that his contacts with British and American could prove useful to to German intelligence. While Bonhoeffer remained suspect to Nazi officials the appointment brought him into the orbit of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, General Hans Oster, and other leaders of the military opposition to Hitler.

From these men he began to comprehend the fulness of the Nazi evil and learned of early plots against Hitler’s life. Bonhoeffer, a pacifist realized that he must become an active part of the resistance and wrote: “the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live.” By participating in the conspiracy Bonhoeffer can be accused of hypocrisy, and he knew it. He explained his position in a letter to his sister:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

During his tenure with the Abwehr he served as a courier to make contact with Allied leaders in Switzerland in order to gain support for opposition efforts, attempts that the Allies ignored, even as he wrote his book Ethics. Bonhoeffer worked with Dohnányi and others in the Abwehr to smuggle fourteen Jews out of German to Switzerland along with large sums of currency. However, the Sicherheitsdienst, the intelligence branch of Heinrich Himmler’s SS  became aware of their activities and both were arrested in April 1943, not so much for that but in order to discredit the rival Abwehr. While the Abwehr was able to cover for most of their activities they were charged with breaking the Nazi laws regarding the Jews.

He was imprisoned in Berlin’s Tegel Prison while awaiting trial but during that time he produced many theological writings which were smuggled out of the prison to his student Eberhard Bethage by his fiancé and sympathetic guards. These uncensored works would become the book Letters and Papers from Prison. He expressed no bitterness in his arrest but reflected on what he and others in the resistance had learned, lessons that privileged Christians in the United States who worship the ungodly political, economic, and military power reveled in by President Trump would be wise to heed:

“We in the resistance have learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the excluded, the ill treated, the powerless, the oppressed and despised… so that personal suffering has become a more useful key for understanding the world than personal happiness.”

Documents that exposed Bonhoeffer’s connection to the anti-Hitler plot that resulted in the July 20th 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler by Lieutenant Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg were discovered by the Gestapo in September 1944 and he was moved to the SS Prison at the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, the Reich Security Main Office. When that facility was bombed in February 1945 he was moved to Buchenwald and finally to Flossenburg where he would die.

Two of his writings which he produced while in prison have had a profound impact on my faith.

“During the last year or so I’ve come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity.  The Christian is not ahomo religiosus, but simply a man, as Jesus was a man…I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!) a righteous man or an unrighteous one, a sick man or a healthy one.  By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world—watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian.”

“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith.”

Bonhoeffer’s fate was sealed when on April 4th 1945 Canaris’s secret diaries were found. When Hitler read them he became enraged and demanded that the Abwehr traitors be destroyed. Bonhoeffer and his companions were taken to Flossenburg, but at a stop Bonhoeffer became separated from them and was held with other prisoners in the small town of Schoenberg. While there on Sunday 8 April 1945, Bonhoeffer was asked to conduct a service on the second Sunday of Easter. He had just finished conducting the service at a schoolhouse when plainclothes Gestapo agents arrived to arrest him. British prisoner Payne Best noted that Bonhoeffer:

“spoke to us in a manner which reached the hearts of all, finding just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment and the thoughts and resolutions which it had brought.”

As Bonhoeffer was taken he said to another prisoner, “This is the end – but for me, the beginning of life.” He was driven to Flossenburg where he along with the other Abwehr conspirators was condemned at a drumhead trial by SS Judge Sturmbannfuhrer (Major) Otto Thorbeck without witnesses or records of proceedings or defense and hanged the next day, two weeks before American soldiers liberated the camp.

The only account of his death was written by the SS doctor of the camp.

“On the morning of that day between five and six o’clock the prisoners, among them Admiral Canaris, General Oster, General Thomas and Reichgerichtsrat Sack were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of the court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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“Are We Still of Any Use?” The Horrible Witness of Conservative Christians in the Trump Era

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over his first year in office President Trump has managed to tell over 2,000 lies. That being said we all expect politicians to lie, it’s part of American life and political discourse. Will Rogers once said “If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics.” I think that the expectation that elected officials will lie is one reason that Mark Twain quipped: “An honest man in politics shines more there than he would elsewhere.”

However the shear numbers of lies and falsehood proclaimed by the President is having a toxic effect on our society, in particular on those in the church, men and women who call themselves by the name of Christ who not only believe them, but repeat them, and defend them.  The fact is that for decades these same Christian leaders and people have proclaimed their allegiance to what they call “moral absolutes” and  “Biblical values”while excoriating Democrats, particularly Bill and Hillary Clinton for their lies. The fact is that by doing this Christians simply become another political interest group hustling politicians for favors that benefit them, even at the expense of the credibility of their witness to Christ.

The constant repetition the President’s well documented lies, and their defense by his preacher’s daughter Press Secretary, his other administration flacks, Congressional supporters, the Fox News media empire, and the big name Evangelical Preachers who have sold their souls in his defense have damaged the soul of the country and yes the Church.

Of course one would expect the President’s opponents to point out his lies but in normal times you wouldn’t expect his conservative religious supporters to go to the mat defending him and his lies, and even calling him a “role model” for young people.  In a recent survey some 70% of his predominantly Christian, Republican supporters say that he is and that my friends is, if you value the long term witness of the Christian Church absolutely devastating, especially since for over a decade young people have been fleeing the church in never before seen numbers while unbelievers, even those that admire Christ and what some would call Christian values want nothing to do with the Church.

The fact is that the repetition of lies and falsehoods, whether you are a Trump supporter or opponent there is a not a good thing either for the Church or for the country. It has a terrible effect, and one only has to look to the countries of Europe to see how Christian support for malevolent leaders has reduced it to irrelevance. Whether it be the support of ethnic and religious persecution, or the participation in and protection of sexual predators masquerading and Bishops, Priests, and Nuns has eviscerated the witness of the Church.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this and asked a question that should be asked by people that call themselves by the name of Christ who at the same time defend the indefensible and not only defend, but take great pleasure in defending the lies of the President. Bonhoeffer observed the same dynamic in his day. He wrote:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men. Will our inward power of resistance be strong enough, and our honesty with ourselves remorseless enough, for us to find our way back to simplicity and straightforwardness?”

Please believe me when I say that I am not being an alarmist about this situation. I know too much about history, human nature, and yes the Church not to see the danger.

But that’s part of the problem. The lies and actions of the President and his administration have been cumulative; what was shocking on day one became normalized over the course of the past year. The effect is both numbing and corrosive: first on the President’s defenders who surrender all pretext of moral or religious authority, and on his opponents who gradually are worn down by the barrage of lies and the fact that they are also the minority party, or if the are Republicans, the minority in the President’s party.

Since President Trump first announced his candidacy for President in 2015 I have been sounding a warning about the President. I have lost friends and been ostracized or attacked by others for doing so, despite the fact that until my return from Iraq in 2008 I had been both a politically active Conservative Christian and Republican for over thirty years. That being said regardless of the cost I would rather follow my conscience than surrender it to the cacophony of lies and acceptance of evil by people who were once friends.

I do not consider myself to be a victim of my former friends. In fact I understand how they got to this point. In fact what has happened with them did not begin with the lies of President Trump. For decades, they, like I did until 2008, bought the repeated lies of the politicians, pundits, and preachers of the American conservative movement. The leaders of this movement coopted them by constantly repeating that they were under attack and needed to take control of the government in order to both defend the faith and implement a Christian government.  Whole theologies were built around this and gradually many, if not most conservative and Evangelical Christians accepted the idea that Christians had to “take dominion”over the country regardless of the cost. The leaders of the so-called “Christian Right” including Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Albert Mohler, Robert Jeffress, and far too many others have sacrificed every bit of their integrity in defending the President and excusing his lies to further their own power.

Truthfully, I understand how they got there. If I hadn’t gone to Iraq, seen what I saw there, realized the lies that went into the propagation of the war and the lies of Christians who demonized all Muslims because of some after the attacks of September 11th 2001, I would probably still be one of them. For me it took war to understand the moral and theological bankruptcy the politics and theology of the Christian Right, of which over 80% voted for the President and over 75% still support him.

Bonhoeffer asked the right question in terms of Christians and their support of morally bankrupt regimes. Are we still of any use?

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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“It Merely Required No Character” The Truth About Trump’s Evangelical Cheerleaders

Catch-22 (1970) Alan Arkin Mike Nichols 24

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

When I see the political-religious leaders of the Christian Right defend the indefensible actions of President Trump I am reminded of the words of Joseph Heller in his classic novel Catch 22  who wrote about the Chaplain:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” 

As much as I doubt I am still a Christian, even if I wasn’t already a Christian I couldn’t think of a single reason to follow the false God of men like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, or any of the host of big name Evangelical Christian preachers who excuse the behaviors of President Trump and his decadently despicable defenders, including people that I once thought that I knew.

I used to think that most people like to believe that religion is a benign or positive influence in the world. As much as I want to believe the positive aspects I have to admit based on the historical and sociological evidence that this is not so, especially during unsettled times of great change. We live in such an era and when it comes to identity, God is the ultimate trump card.

If one wonders why the most fanatical individuals and groups on earth are tied to religions, whether it is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Orthodox Jews, radical Hindus and Buddhists as well as militant Christians. Of course all of these groups have different goals, but their thought and philosophy are quite similar.

Robert Heinlein wrote:

“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”

Heinlein, the author of the classic Starship Troopers was absolutely correct. Just look at any place in any time where any religion, sect or cult has gained control of a government. They are not loving, they are not forgiving and they use the police power of the state to persecute any individual or group that is judged to be in error, or even worse has the gall to question their authority.

Since the Christian groups tend to thrive in the West, they only speak in terms of violence, most, with the exception of Russian Orthodox Christians, do not have a government to translation of those words into action. Many, especially conservative Catholics and some Evangelical and Charismatic Protestants seem for a long for the day when they can assume control of a theocratic government.

Samuel Huntington wrote in his book The Clash of Civilizations:

“People do not live by reason alone. They cannot calculate and act rationally in pursuit of their self-interest until they define their self. Interest politics presupposes identity. In times of rapid social change established identities dissolve, the self must be redefined, and new identities created. For people facing the need to determine Who am I? Where do I belong? Religion provides compelling answers….In this process people rediscover or create new historical identities. Whatever universalist goals they may have, religions give people identity by positing a basic distinction between believers and non-believers, between a superior in-group and a different and inferior out-group.”

Huntington was right, you see the true believers, those who follow their religion without question and believe that it is superior to all others also believe that their religion entitles them to be atop the food chain, others who don’t believe like them be damned, if not in this life, the next. That is the certitude of the true believer, especially the religious one. Secular or atheistic fanatics could care less about the next life, for this life is all that they have. But the religious “true believers” are not only interested in destroying someone in this life, but ensuring that in the next that they suffer for eternity, unless they believe in the annihilation of the soul after death, which really spoils the whole Dante’s Inferno perspective of the damned in the afterlife.

The great American philosopher, Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self breed pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

That is why they, the religious true believers of any faith are capable of such great evil, and why such people can murder innocents in the most brutal manner simply because they do not believe correctly. In fact today when I see the words and actions of these supposed Conservative Christians.

Please do not get me wrong. I am a Christian, a priest, a historian and a theologian, but I also know just how insidious those who hold their religion over those of others can be. While I hold faith dear, I know that it can be abused for the claim of some to have God as their final authority is a sort of trump card with which they are able to justify the most obscene and evil acts against others.

Likewise I struggle with faith every day. If you have read this blog from the beginning you will see chronicle my struggles with faith and its practice, especially in life and politics.

I guess that is why I am even more frightened of religious true believers than non-religious true believers. While the non-religious true believer may sacrifice everything for the sake of power and control in this life, and may in fact commit the most heinous crimes against humanity, their hatred is bounded in space and time to this earth. The religious true believer is not content with that; their enemies must be damned and punished in this life, but for eternity, without hope of salvation.

When they look at people like me or Yossarian they believe as Heller wrote:

“Morale was deteriorating and it was all Yossarian’s fault. The country was in peril; he was jeopardizing his traditional rights of freedom and independence by daring to exercise them.” 

With that I wish you a good day.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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No Better than the Tyrant: The Christian Enablers of Evil Leaders

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Conservative Evangelical Pastor Robert Jeffress and President Trump during the 2016 Campaign 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Earlier I wrote about the costs when the Church crawls into bed with Caesar. While there was some criticism of the President in the article it was directed and more of an indictment of the Christians who by their words, deeds, and silence destroy the witness of the Church in their quest for temporal power over those they believe to be unworthy of the grace, love, and mercy of God; not by any sense of Christian theological doctrine, the Creeds, or the Councils, but for reasons of race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, or their political beliefs.

Unfortunately, this comes at a tremendous cost to those who claim to be Christians and for the Church itself. Paul the Apostle wrote to the church in Corinth: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us…” (2 Cor 5:19 NRSV)

The ministry of reconciliation has nothing to do with achieving political power no matter how it is done, especially when it comes at the cost of despising God become incarnate by supporting a would be tyrant, even if the tyrant was elected under a system designed to inhibit tyrants, a system that he used, very probably with the help of a hostile foreign power to conquer.

But despite the obvious culpability of the President and his close supporters for this situation, the culpability of the church and the Christian leaders who were his strongest supporters is much greater than the man with no morals, no empathy, and a who seems to suffer a greatly reduced neurological, psychological, and intellectual capacity to govern; a man whose actions are those of a sociopathic narcissist who appears to only care about himself and what profits himself. Throughout his life he has shown through his words and actions that he does not value other people except in regard to how they or their skills profited him, his family, or his businesses. People, regardless of who they are, or their relationship to him are fungible regardless of their personal loyalty, they are expendable: Bannon, Manafort, Flynn, Christie, Priebus, and so many others. Sadly, the Christians that excuse his actions on the basis of political power and expediency throw themselves before the throne of Caesar and crawl into bed with him will never understand because adorned in all of their jewels and riches like the Harlot of the book of Revelation will not understand the costs of their obeisance until the Beast turns upon them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Ethics: 

“For the tyrannical despiser of humanity, popularity is a sign of the greatest love for humanity. He hides his profound distrust of all people behind the stolen words of true community. While he declares himself before the masses to be one of them, he praises himself with repulse vanity and despises the rights of every individual. He considers the people stupid, and they become stupid; he considers them weak, and they become weak; he considers them criminal, and they become criminal. His most holy seriousness is frivolous play; his conventional protestations of solicitude for people are bare-faced cynicism. In  his deep contempt for humanity, the more he seeks the favor of those he despises, the more certainty he arouses the masses to declare him a god. Contempt for humanity and idolization of humanity lie close together. Good people, however, who see through all this, who withdraw in disgust from people and leave them to themselves, and who would rather tend to their own gardens than debase themselves in public life, fall prey to the same temptations to have contempt for humanity as do bad people. Their contempt for humanity is of course more noble, more upright, but at the same time less fruitful, poorer in deeds. Faced with God’s becoming human, this contempt will stand the test no better than the tyrant. The despiser of humanity despises what God has loved, despises the very form of God become incarnate.” 

Wittenberg, Nationalsynode

Nazi Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller with the S.A (above) and with Hitler (below)

ReichbishofMueller

Like the German Christians who supported Hitler, be they those who remained loyal to him or those like Bonhoeffer’s colleague Martin Niemoller turned against Hitler when they realized the nature of the beast; conservative American Christians who have supported the presidency of President Trump without regard to the Gospel or the commands of Christ are much more responsible when it comes to the final judgement than the man that they helped put into power. God and history will hold hem accountable for the debacle that they bring upon the world.

Those leaders are well represented by Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church Dallas, who said during the 2016 election campaign:

“You know, I was debating an evangelical professor on NPR, and this professor said, ‘Pastor, don’t you want a candidate who embodies the teaching of Jesus and would govern this country according to the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount?’” Jeffress said. “I said, ‘Heck no.’ I would run from that candidate as far as possible, because the Sermon on the Mount was not given as a governing principle for this nation.”

Jeffress would probably agree with Reich Bishop Müller who before the Nazi seizure of power wrote:

“Mere compassion is charity and leads to presumption, paired with bad conscience, and effeminates a nation. We know something about Christian obligation and charity towards the helpless, but we also demand the protection of the nation from the unfit and inferior. We see a great danger to our nationality in the Jewish Mission. It promises to allow foreign blood into our nation…” 

I think that Jeffress and his brand of American Conservative Christianity is no better than that of Reich Bishop Müller which joined by young clergy from lower middle-class or non-academic backgrounds. Richard Evans wrote about them in his book Third Reich in Power: 

“Such men desired a Church whose members were soldiers from Jesus and the Fatherland, tough, hard and uncompromising. Muscular Christianity of this kind appealed particularly to young men who despised the feminization of religion through the involvement in charity, welfare and acts of compassion.”

How many other prominent conservative Evangelicals, Charismatics and others have espoused exactly that type of Christianity?

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Cost of Crawling into Bed with Caesar: Base Meanness, a Pliant Church, and Trump

        Bonhoeffer in Prison

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The leader of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther noted: “When the Church crawls in to bed with Caesar, Caesar hogs the covers and leaves the Church exposed and naked”

Is that not exactly what is happening today?

The writings of some authors are timeless. This year I have taken to reading a collection of the writings of the German pastor, theologian, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer as my spiritual reading on a daily basis for this year. I’m also doing 365 days of Martin Luther in German as part of my spiritual journey for the year.

Luther is interesting, but Bonhoeffer I think is more relevant to our time. In his book Ethics which was written during the reign of the Hitler regime Bonhoeffer wrote something that strike to the heart of our present crisis in the United States and even more particularly that of the conservative Christian Church and its relationship to President Trump:

“The message of God’s becoming human attacks the heart of an era when contempt for humanity or idolization of humanity is the height of all wisdom, among bad people as well as good. The weaknesses of human nature appear more clearly in a storm than in the quiet flow of calmer times. Among the overwhelming majority of people, anxiety, greed, lack of independence, and brutality show themselves to be the mainspring of behavior in the face of unsuspected chance and threats. At such a time the tyrannical despiser of humanity (in the case of Bonhoeffer, Adolf Hitler) easily makes use of the meanness of the human heart by nourishing it and giving it other names. Anxiety is called responsibility; greed is called industriousness; lack of independence becomes solidarity; brutality becomes masterfulness. By this ingratiating treatment of human weaknesses, what is base and mean is generated and increased ever anew. The basest contempt for humanity carries on its sinister business under the most holy assertions of love for humanity. The meaner the business becomes, the more willing and pliant a tool it is in the hands of a tyrant. The small number of upright people will be smeared with mud. Courage is called revolt, their discipline Pharisaism, their independence arbitrariness, and their masterfulness arrogance.” 

We have seen this in our own day among President Trump, his supporters in Congress and the media, and especially among conservative Christians. The worst aspects of human nature have been elevated to virtues over the past two decades and like Germany in 1933 there was someone waiting in the wings to exploit it and make it his own.

 

I’ll leave you to mull that over and I will continue to post these theological and ethical criticisms of the church and of the President, and yes I will keep making the connections with the Nazi state and other authoritarian regimes as I do so. But for me this is a matter of faith, and for me that means confronting and battling the Christians who have gotten in bed with the Trump regime; in the long term they are at least as dangerous, perhaps more than the President for they serve as his enablers; as Bonhoeffer noted:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve

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“Silence in the Face of Evil is Evil Itself” Charlottesville and the Deafening Silence of Conservative Christians 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I spent time watching for the response of many friends on social media to what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend there was one thing that stood out more glaringly than anything else. It wasn’t the response or lack thereof of President Trump. It wasn’t the hate filled invective of the damned Nazis and Klan, or as they call themselves now, the “Alt-Right.” It wasn’t the response most elected Republican or Democrat office holders, or of civil rights activists. It was the silence of conservative Christians and ordained clergy of whom I have many friends, some going back decades. The silence was deafening. 

But the silence of conservative Christians was even more deafening when I heard the claims of the Nazis and their supporters who called the violence “a victory of victories,” “the beginning of their revolution,” “their Beer Hall Putsch,” and that it “fulfills the promises of Donald Trump.” Even so most remained silent, the great and the small, the elected and the ordained, the politically active and the non-politically active. 

As I thought about this I knew that it had happened before, both in the United States and elsewhere. So I mused upon the words of the German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer that he wrote while a prisoner of the Nazi Gestapo, and the question that he posed to himself, and to those who would read his writings after his execution at Flosseberg Concentration camp. He wrote:

“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?” 


It is a good question for all of us to ponder. But I think that it is a more pertinent question who for whatever reason cannot condemn the evil of racism, race hatred, and racial superiority. Whether it is those who excuse evil by using the argument of moral equivalence, those who are too afraid to speak up because it might cause them the loss of popularity or profit, and those who while maintaining their outward respectability quietly agree with the evil. I found it troubling that I saw very few conservative Christians, great or small, openly condemn the violence and death caused by the Nazis in Charlottesville, and like Bonhoeffer I ask, are we still of any use? 

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Yes, this does matter. It is a stain upon our nation, but even more for the Christian it is a profound witness against Jesus Christ, and a stain upon his Church. If those who profess the name of Christ cannot stand in the face of evil then what use are we? 

Bonhoeffer wrote: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” 

Please don’t get me wrong, I know a number of theologically conservative Christian friends, including my Friend Fr. Kenneth Tanner who have been a consistent witness for Christ and justice, and Kenneth is quite eloquent in his witness. But sadly I haven’t seen many who can even bother to put a like on an anti-Nazi and anti-racism post. Why I don’t know, maybe they don’t want to appear political, but there are times that even the most non-political people have to speak up. 


Charles Morgan Jr., a lawyer in Birmingham, Alabama, risked his status and reputation to speak out against the racism that helped bring about the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church by members of the KKK which killed four little girls and wounded many more. He noted: “It is not by great acts but by small failures that freedom dies. . . . Justice and liberty die quietly, because men first learn to ignore injustice and then no longer recognize it.” 

Too many Christians are turning a blind eye and remaining silent in the face of the evil of White Supremacy and race hatred, remaining silent and not surprisingly justice and liberty are dying. 

Thus I repeat Bonhoeffer’s question, are we still of any use?

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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All Men are Created Equal: The Standard Maxim of a Free Society

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am very concerned with the future of civil liberties in our country and much of that is based on my experience with and observation of conservative Christian political activists who now have tremendous power to oppress those who they deem to be God’s enemies.

Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson noted in his dissent in American Communications Assn. v. Douds wrote:“[I]n our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous.” — His words were true then and even more so today.

In December of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spoke these profound words to Congress prior to the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln.

“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history….This fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation….In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free – honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve.”

His words in giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free are part of an understanding of freedom, especially Lincoln’s radical understanding that the Declaration of Independence actually meant what it said that “all men are created equal.” For Lincoln this meant African Americans, including those that labored as slaves. Lincoln understood the Declaration in its most broad understanding; he saw it as a universal liberty. As early as 1854 Lincoln posed the idea that the Declaration of Independence was the standard maxim of free society …constantly spreading and deepening its influence,” ultimately applicable “to peoples of all colors everywhere.”

Today there are a lot of people, especially the loudly political preachers, pundits and politicians of the Christian right and their allies who are committed to rolling back the rights of blacks, but also of women, and to prevent Gays, Lesbians and others of the LGBTQ community from having any rights commensurate with their status as citizens.

But that is not all. In many states we have seen the protections of the Voter’s Rights Act being eroded as state legislatures enact laws to restrict voting rights and make it more difficult for people to exercise their right to vote. State legislatures are enacting laws that allow people to discriminate against others based on “a sincerely held religious belief” and while those laws are targeted against Gays they are in many cases written so broadly that they will protect just about any form of discrimination based on religion.

That is why what Lincoln said as he was preparing to sign the Emancipation Proclamation matters today. When we give freedom to people, we protect the freedom of everyone, but that my friends is not how many people in the so-called Christian Right see it.

For these religious ideologues the only freedom that matters is their freedom to discriminate against others in God’s name. This is because they, like the anointed lords of the Southern Aristocracy believe that it is God’s will for them to do this. Sounding like a Southern planter, preacher or politician of the 1850s the founder of the movement known and Christian Dominionism R.J. Rushdooney wrote: “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.”

British Evangelical-Anglican theologian Alister McGrath notes how “the arguments used by the pro-slavery lobby represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions to the text.”

That is what we are dealing with today and why it matters, to all of us, regardless of our political or religious ideology. There is a party of Christians who have tremendous political power who are using it for the most nefarious of purposes, using the law and the police power of the state to deny rights to others while preserving their own while claiming to be the victims of persecution, just as did Southern slaveholders in the 1830s to 1861.

So that is all for now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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