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Christian Thinking in a Time of High Emotion

November 30, 2016

Do you think Christians, from progressive to conservative, should actively fight hate/fear with love/peace? Do they (or we) have an important role in discernment and preparedness to do so, at the least?

Christians certainly are not the only people who can and should actively counter hate and fear.  But I think most would agree that Christians have spiritual, ethical and other reasons to do so particularly.

More specifically, I’d like to suggest we (I’m a progressive Christian myself) use our venues and time spent on classes, Bible studies, etc., to include one particular kind of study and preparation, among others, for action right now.

That would be a look at and discussion of Christians’ discernment (or lack of it) and resistance to the lead-up to Nazism and Hitler’s chancellor appointment in 1933 and the subsequent years to 1945, but especially the 5 years from ’33 to ’38/’39 when his designs became crystal clear and his mechanisms were set in place.

In such discussion Bonhoeffer is prominent, of course. His life and work do present fertile story-lines and theological issues, etc. And he tends to be admired and even somewhat read across most of the denominational spectrum and range of theologies. But I’d hope it goes broader than just him, to especially include some of the following:

  1. Karl Barth (Swiss/German-connected) and his role in the important…
  2. Barmen Declaration, and other…
  3. Early warnings about the danger of what discerning people (chief among them, Barth) were seeing –
  4. The ways in which Hitler manipulated the German Lutheran church as a necessary part of his plans and how he also…
  5. Manipulated Catholics to keep them out of his way  

(The above just as a starting sample.)

Granted, this will be a stretching exercise!   To plunge into people like Barth, Bonhoeffer, Heidegger (philosopher well known to these theological contemporaries and who did not resist the Nazi regime), Pastor Niemöller and others in a theological as well as social/political way requires some thinking … Evangelicals used to pursue this some, particularly with Barth, along with some studying Bonhoeffer.  Many of the open, exploring types among them have departed.

Some years ago, Barth was hard to ignore given his broad prominence. However, he was and is not easy to pigeon-hole theologically. (He offered supportive things for traditionalists and broke from much of the liberalism under which he was educated, but operated in a different kind of “space”). To study Barth and the other Neo-orthodox folks of both Europe and America is to gain vital stimulation toward both careful/deep thought and application of that thought and spirituality to everyday concerns.

Not the least of these is civil government and advocacy for the “commonwealth” of God on all levels of life.  Many years ago, I led a class in an Asian (and fairly conservative) congregation of the United Methodist Church on Barth’s thought and the Barmen Declaration. It proved to be of real interest and provoked good discussions.  The topic is even more pertinent and of value today!

A few related thoughts to wrap up:

A famous adage attributed to Barth: “Do theology with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other” [or the Internet, now].

For what it’s worth (a lot), we no longer have any religious thought leaders of the likes of the Neo-orthodox (American version) Reinhold Niebuhr, a sort of “public theologian”. He and others used to publish commonly in newspapers and were widely read and influential. Niebuhr also published widely-read books, such as the classic “Moral Man and Immoral Society” (a highly recommended read despite its age… not nearly as “liberal” as the title may sound today).  Incidentally, hardly the flaming socialist (etc.) that his detractors have made him out to be, President Obama apparently cites Niebuhr as his favorite theologian.  I see this showing in the kinds of positions he’s taken, with the carefulness of thought and foresight (seldom recognized) that he has displayed. I do think another 2-5 years or so will begin to recast Obama, as a Christian as well as a national leader, as much more wise and accomplished [yes, as a leader] than even many liberals see him as.  And those who voted for him and then for Trump will gain some clarity on what they’ve misread in both men.

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