The other day when I twote: Those carrying water for #GeneralissimoStrongman warn “don’t leak!” #FascistDemonology #ALittleBonhoefferInYourHeilsgeschichte Mark had already published the following. I only add the requisite Ezekiel 34 to the list of prophets he recounts.
Late in 1945, amid ruin-choked, refugee-filled cities, church leaders of Germany issued the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt. This short, yet controversial confession acknowledged the church’s partial responsibility for National Socialism. By their acquiescence in the gradual degradation of civil society, the persecution of all who did not “fit,” and their embrace of the national mission of domination, many Christians had failed to stand for the Gospel. Some had pulled the trigger while most had sat by consoling themselves with patriotism and personal morality.
As the “Declaration” put it, however, “Founded on Holy Scripture, with entire seriousness before the Church’s only Lord, we are undertaking to purify ourselves from influences alien to the faith and bring ourselves into order.” The church had to do better.
I have been thinking lately about all those Europeans who had to reckon with their own complicity with fascism and hyper-nationalism in its various forms. Were they different from us, less enlightened, more blind to what was slowly unfolding around them? Maybe not, for the monstrosities of the 1940s grew slowly, as the powerful gradually stigmatized the “other” until their humanity vanished beneath the reckless appeals to renewed greatness and venting of age-old fears. Truths and lies became entangled in the ceaseless propaganda. The European church has still not recovered.
I think of that era because I wonder what faces the church in America after this one. Many evangelical Christians have embraced “influences alien to the faith:” nationalism without self-restraint, fear of immigrants, a readiness to make social warfare upon the young, stern opposition to science and knowledge in all its forms. The list goes on.
Certainly there are noble exceptions such as the objections from ethicists in the Southern Baptist Convention, and of course the call to moral clarity from Catholic bishops. But much of the church pretends to be focused on the gospel while supporting political leaders who promise to make us great again. No meek inheriting the earth for us.
Above all others, however, the most pernicious “alien idea” is the cult of the strong leader. Some evangelical Christians tell us, with all seriousness, that we must turn a blind eye to the character of the leader or the consequences of the policies under consideration and simply fall into line. “Support” means “obey.” Such a person might be a fulfillment of prophecy, after all.
Yet for Christians, such an unquestioning attitude, which reeks of the 1930s, flies in the face of the Bible’s understanding of leadership. While Christians must pray for leaders — all of them, not just those of one party or viewpoint — we also point out abuses of power. How funding for the humanities helps public college students become better Texans
Ever read Amos or Isaiah or any of the prophets? It would be hard to imagine them taking such a supine view of political authority. Think of 1 Samuel 8’s critique of power, which lays out an immediate ancestor of the idea of checks and balances so central to the American system.
Or take Jesus, who insisted not only that his kingdom was not of this world, but that his followers must pursue its commitments with their whole lives, not just on Sunday mornings. Or St. Paul, whose suspicions of authority as a source of violence have been turned around into praise for the state. We badly misread the Bible if we see in it support for the cruelty now celebrated in the public sphere.
Someday soon, then, much of the church will be writing its own declaration of repentance for our complicity in the hate-filled, dishonest, vulgar, rhetoric filling our land. Perhaps we should begin now while there is still time.
Mark W. Hamilton is a professor of Old Testament at Abilene Christian University. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.