He (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) brought good material for his clothes and wore suits appropriate to the country and climate in which he lived, although he did not dress to impress others. He liked to eat well and knew the specialties of many regions. He was annoyed when the mushrooms or berries he had collected himself were badly prepared.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xvii.

May 24, 2016

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Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People is a collection of 52 readings, with accompanying discussion questions, that lay claim to a fundamental truth:  Christian faith is connecting faith. As a direct challenge to the individualism and isolationism of contemporary secular notions of “freedom,” Charles Moore has brought together some seminal thinkers for reflecting on the abundant life, the life together, that Jesus envisions for those who follow him. And make no doubt about it, those who follow him are bound together in a “mystical union” that takes flesh and blood in the life of the Church.

BC_CalledtoCommunity_1 (1)Gerhard Lohfink, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dorothy Day, Joan Chittister, St Benedict, Richard Foster, Mother Teresa, Jean Vanier – among so many others – are all given lengthy selections (most are around 5 pages, but several have much more) that offer us deep meditations on the connection that Christ makes in the Spirit to create that spiritual community that is the Church.

For the rest of the post..

“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to his word, so the beginning of love for our brothers and sisters is learning to listen to them.”

by Michael Jinkins President, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary

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“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”
(Edmund Burke, 1729-1797, Irish political philosopher)

Early on a gray spring morning in Flossenbürg, Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was taken from his cell, marched naked to the gallows, and hanged. The prison doctor later wrote a brief account of his last moments:

“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 unusually 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 I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”*

While virtually everyone now regards Bonhoeffer as a martyr to his faith, it is revealing to observe that at the end of the war, his home church refused to honor him as such, drawing a sharp line between those men and women who died for their Christian faith and those who died because of their resistance to the Nazi state. Perhaps this should not surprise us.

One of the most lamentable stories in all the history of Christianity must be the failure of the church in Germany to stand not only against Hitler and the Nazi movement, but to stand against the things that allowed fascism to flourish in Germany. There were notable exceptions in this sad history, of course; Martin Niemöller stands as an example of one whose faith placed boundaries upon the claims of his patriotism. But the relative paucity of exceptions (their notability, in fact) only makes the reality more painful. Christians became complicit in the crimes of the Nazi state, sometimes by remaining silent, and sometimes as enthusiastic and active participants.

Jack Forstman, in his remarkable study, Christian Faith in Dark Times: Theological Conflicts in the Shadow of Hitler, begins his book by quoting Kurt Tucholsky, a brilliant German Jew, who wrote: “Nothing is more difficult and nothing requires more character than to find oneself in open opposition to one’s time and to say loudly: No.”** And, if that “No!” must be spoken in opposition not only to one’s time, but also to the leadership of one’s country, to the followers of that leadership, and to one’s own church, how much more character does it require?

It is so easy – it is too easy – as a Christian living in the United States in the second decade of the twenty-first century to stand in judgment of German Christians in the 1930s, to pretend that if we had been in Germany in the time of Bonhoeffer, we would have been his supporters and his colleagues, and that we would have stood with him against fascism.

We ask:

Did the German Christians not see the evil of the anti-Semitism that raged in their society?

For the rest of the post…

Today marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most horrific episodes of racial violence in American history: the mutilation and public burning of Jesse Washington. It happened in my adopted hometown of Waco, Texas.

Historians call the late 19th and early 20th century the “nadir” of American race relations. The American South was ravaged and destabilized by the Civil War. The corrupt and abusive system of chattel slavery had formed the social structure of much of the pre-Civil War South. Emancipation had wrecked that structure.

For many whites, violence against “insolent” blacks seemed warranted in the war’s disorienting aftermath.

We Can’t Move On 

It wasn’t a coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan was founded right after the Civil War, or that “lynching” became much more common in the post-Civil War South than it had ever been before. White Southerners were grasping to reassert order in their upside-down region. To be sure, the whole nation was experiencing its share of racial strife: the Klan of the 1920s was as big in the northern states as the South, for instance.

But the South has a special burden to carry with regard to those racial “nadir” decades. As my Baylor colleague James SoRelle has noted, more than 3,000 lynchings happened in America between 1889 and 1918. The vast majority of the victims, like Jesse Washington, were African Americans, and the vast majority of lynchings happened in the Southern states.

If you’re from the South, you don’t have to dig around too much to find hideous examples of racial violence from around the turn of the 20th century. But you do sometimes have to dig. My native hometown of Aiken, South Carolina, witnessed the lynching of three members of an African American family, the Lowmans, in 1926. I didn’t learn about that lynching until I was in my doctoral program at the University of Notre Dame.

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I can understand why some might not be eager to discuss controversial topics like these lynchings. Shouldn’t we just move on, some might ask? Others would say—rightly, in my view—“No, we can’t move on.” Not until the history of racial violence in America is more fully acknowledged.

Hometown Horror 

The steps leading to Jesse Washington’s lynching began when the body of a white woman named Lucy Fryer was discovered. Fryer had been killed by blows to the head. Authorities identified Washington, a 17-year-old field hand at the Fryers’ farm, as the chief suspect. Scholarly studies have debated how likely it was that Washington was involved with the crime, but the evidence against him was mixed. It included a confession of guilt from Washington, but there were no eyewitnesses to the murder. Washington’s lawyers offered no defense of their client.

A hastily summoned all-white jury convicted Washington of the killing. Then a mob of whites seized Washington and lynched him before a lunchtime audience of thousands in downtown Waco. They cut off parts of Washington’s body, hung him from a chain, and slowly burned him to death. A photographer took pictures of the loathsome scene, providing rare visual documentation of an actual lynching.

Reactions to Washington’s execution ran the gamut from hearty approval to disgust and revulsion.

For the rest of the post…

by Trevin Wax 

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Now that President Obama has issued guidelines for bathroom access in public schools across the country, many parents and schoolteachers are suddenly engaged in conversations they never anticipated. Questions about bathrooms, sports teams, locker room access, gender identity, and potential dangers are bouncing around on social media and in blog comments.

Much of the conversation focuses on student safety, not surprisingly. Safety for children in public schools should be of the utmost concern—and that includes the safety of transgender students as well.

But the latest developments have bigger repercussions that we also need to consider. We need to take a step back and look at what the White House guidelines signify about our culture.

Repercussion #1: Blazing a Political Path Toward Tyranny

First, it is striking to see the description of the president’s guidelines as “a decree” (now softened to “directive”), as well as the White House’s threat of withholding funds from schools that do not comply.

Regardless of one’s views on gender identity, no one believes that the intent of the lawmakers who passed the Civil Rights Act in the 1960s and Title IX legislation was to include gender identity as part of their protections. To apply this legislation to gender identity today, apart from Congressional approval, is to effectively rewrite the law without any kind of legislative process. It is to create a new law out of nothing and then use the president’s powers to promote it.

Even if you agree with the president’s guidelines, I urge you to consider the precedent this sets for future presidents to invent and revise new interpretations of laws and then demand compliance. The Founding Fathers put guardrails in place to keep the legislative, executive, and judicial branches from careening toward tyranny. Ever since Woodrow Wilson, those guardrails have been weakening, making it easier for a future tyrant to seize power and have historical precedent for doing so.

Repercussion #2: Co-opting the Civil Rights Narrative

The fact that “segregation” has re-entered the American vocabulary, only this time in reference to bathrooms, is astonishing. It puts gender identity and race in the same category, and then applies the story of civil rights to the societal push to embrace transgender theories. To dissent from this ideology or to question the wisdom and prudence of this revisionist understanding of the human person is to join the ranks of bigots and racists.

In her speech that connected racially segregated bathrooms to gender identity, Attorney General Loretta Lynch claimed that, in both cases, there was merely a “distinction without a difference.” In other words, the fact that a transgender female possesses male anatomy is a distinction, but not a substantive difference.

This is not a scientific statement, but an ideological vision of what male and female mean. The detachment of “sex” from “gender” will have repercussions that extend far beyond the debate over bathrooms, and because of the complexities associated with various forms of gender identity, a soft despotism will be necessary in order to enforce the new tolerance.

Repercussion #3: Promoting a New Vision of What It Means to Be Human

As Christians, we believe that gender is a gift from God and that we ought to welcome this gift (part of God’s good creation), even when it may be difficult (as a result of our fallenness). We believe that true freedom comes within our acceptance of our bodily existence, as given to us by God, and our discovery of how best to glorify God within this finite frame.

Today’s world promotes another “gospel”: believe and submit to one’s own individual desires as an act of self-definition. Another “great commission:” to increase the number of people who affirm every act of self-definition, without question. Another “hope”: to create a world of peace and joy by embracing a queer cosmology that transforms society into less binary ways of being.

The bathroom debate is heated because of what it symbolizes: a redefinition of what it means to be human.

  • What does it mean to be a mother in a world in which men can have babies?
  • To advocate for medical procedures on the body that have no relation to deeper questions of what our bodies are for?
  • To see surgeries that sterilize as the only compassionate option for people experiencing gender dysphoria?

Repercussion #4: Exploring New Options for Educating Kids 

For the rest of the post…

Pastor’s Column

Friday, May 13, 2016

What do Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr., and untold Chinese church leaders have in common? Each of them had to wrestle through the ways that their faith intersected with politics.

Throughout history, Christians have had to wrestle with this intersection between faith and politics. Truth be told, this is one of the most important areas of application for faith, but it is also one of the most volatile. Our nation has shifted from merely disagreeing with people of a different political persuasion to demonizing them.

In such a delicate atmosphere, and during such an important time in our nation’s history, how should Christians respond? The Apostle Peter provides us with guidance in 1 Peter 2. For Christians, our allegiance to God makes us respectful citizens. This calling is true when “our guy” is in office. And it is especially true when he is not. Peter describes this calling in three ways.

First, Peter tells us our political calling: to submit to all authority. We live in an anti-authoritarian society that doesn’t like being told what to do. The only government we want to follow is the one we make up. But Christians are called to something different. Christians are called to submit to all authority that God has placed us under.

Second, Peter tells us why: we submit to those in authority for Jesus’ sake. Peter is telling us an essential principle about the Christian’s involvement in politics: A Christian’s political involvement is first and foremost about her and God. God is pleased when she submits to authority. It’s the way that he has structured things in this world. He has given us these sources of authority for our good.

Finally, Peter looks at what this should look like each day. In 1 Peter 2:17, he writes: “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (ESV).

This verse contains four simple commands that govern the way the Christian looks at politics.

First, honor everyone. As a citizen of God’s kingdom, I honor everyone. Peter starts off by saying how the Christian should interact with all people: he must show them honor. Peter is reminding Christians that just because they are citizens of God’s kingdom doesn’t mean they can neglect the here and now.

Second, love every Christian. Christians should honor everyone — Jews, Muslims, atheists and more — but they must love Christians. No matter how much a Christian may disagree with the politics of other Christians, they are deserving of intentional, sacrificial love.

Third, recognize God as the true king. The Bible never tells us to fear other people, only to fear God. God is the one who reigns and is in charge, no matter who is elected to public office. Which brings us to Peter’s final command.

Finally, respect elected officials. In Peter’s train of thought, he says that the Christian is to show the same honor to the Roman Emperor as every other person with whom Christians interact. This would have been massively subversive in Peter’s day, to say that both Caesar and a slave deserve the same honor from us. But this isn’t lowering the bar for how we treat Caesar; it is raising the bar for how we treat everyone else.

Today in the United States, our elected officials deserve our respect, not because of any inherent sense of worth in their positions, but because of their inherent sense of worth as humans.

How should the Christian look at politics?

For the rest of the post…

 

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One Follows the Other
We’ve already witnessed the spiritual demise of Europe. Can its physical demise be far behind?

John Stonestreet

In early May, Brussels Airport finally re-opened after being closed for nearly six weeks, following the March terrorist attack that killed sixteen people.

While it will not be back at full capacity until mid-June, the Belgian government sees the re-opening as part of their effort to regain some sense of normalcy after the attacks.

Another part of their efforts is figuring out how to deal with its restive and disgruntled Muslim minority, especially in places like the now-infamous Brussels suburb of Molenbeek. This tiny municipality, measuring less than 2.5 square miles, not only produced the March 22nd attackers, it’s also the reason Belgium produces proportionately more ISIS fighters than any other European country.

In recent remarks before the European Parliament, Koen Geens, Belgium’s Minister of Justice, told parliamentarians that “In Europe, very shortly we’re going to have more practicing Muslims than practicing Christians . . . That is not because there are too many Muslims, it is because Christians are generally less practicing.”

Not surprisingly, people, and not just Muslims, took offense at his comments. Belgium’s Interior Minister said that Geens was “making an enemy of Islam” and insisted that “the overwhelming majority of [Belgian Muslims] share our values.”

Lost in the furor over Geen’s comments was the fact that he was talking primarily about secularism and the decline of Christian practice, and values.

Also lost in this conversation over Belgium’s future, Islam and its jettisoned Christian heritage, is that the nation has turned euthanasia into a fundamental right. As PBS put it, and everyone already knows, Belgium has “the world’s most liberal euthanasia laws.” Physician-assisted suicide there isn’t limited to the terminally-ill – people with psychiatric illnesses or even children can also be euthanized.

As a member of Belgium’s Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission told PBS, at the heart of the law is “a respect to individual autonomy.” Thus rather than being limited to the terminally ill, the dark practice is available to anyone who sees his or her condition as “hopeless.”

And that includes, as we’ve previously told BreakPoint listeners, children as young as twelve. All that’s needed is the approval of two doctors, three in the case of psychiatric patients.

By all accounts, Belgium’s law, which goes against everything Christianity teaches about the sanctity and dignity of human life, enjoys wide support. While Geens’ party, the Christian Democrats, has opposed Belgium’s euthanasia regime, their view is a minority one.

For the rest of the post…

by Terryl Givens

Many would like to domesticate Mormon strangeness, what Richard Mouw recently called in these pages its “ill-considered and defective elements” (“Mormons Approaching Orthodoxy,” May 2016), in the hope of promoting a more productive Evangelical-Mormon dialogue. They consider Joseph Smith’s teaching that God was once an embodied human to be an unacceptable challenge to God’s radical transcendence, but note that Mormonism’s Christocentric piety shows the possibility of greater Mormon conformity with the “orthodox Christian consensus.”

This is a generous gesture, but it gets the direction in which the consensus is moving precisely backwards in some crucial ways. It also ignores the ­fluidity of the orthodox consensus. The history of theology features many teachings and positions that ­eventually failed in the orthodoxy wars, often to reappear centuries later—from Origen’s (and the early Augustine’s) teachings on human pre-existence to Montanus’s resistance to confining canons and creeds, from patristic teachings on divine passibility to Pelagius’s defense of free will. Heterodoxy, in other words, often depends on what historical moment establishes your baseline for orthodoxy.

From a historical perspective, the problem of Mormonism’s heterodoxy is not as simple as presentist dismissals of Mormon theology have presumed. In many cases, Mormon heterodoxy has become the current orthodoxy—or subject of renewed discussion. Mormons denied the original guilt and damnation of unbaptized children 177 years before Pope Benedict’s 2007 document, “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized.” Mormons recuperated a version of patristic teaching on theosis—neglected if not rejected for much of Protestant history—only to see it raised in such venues as Christianity Today. Mormons proposed a progressive, tiered salvation generations before Karl Barth asked, “If God’s . . . saving will is supreme, how is eternal loss possible?” And the Latter-day Saints ­elaborated a scheme of salvation for all the living and the dead a century and more before Pope John Paul II spoke of universal salvation and Rob Bell asked of the uncatechized, “What if the missionary gets a flat tire?” Mormon heterodoxy, in so many ­cases, appears to be a ­function of timing.

The history of one Mormon teaching in particular inverts the notion that “Mormons are approaching orthodoxy”: the doctrine that God the Father himself shares in human pain and suffering. Although there were early figures who spoke of divine passion or suffering, for most of Christian history, it was simply assumed that God cannot suffer. He is infinite, unchanging, and impassible. “Who can sanely say that God is touched by any misery?” asks Augustine in a typical formulation.

Mormonism broke decisively and unambiguously with this nearly universal theological consensus in 1830. The Book of Mormon contains an allegory attributed to a certain Zenos. In it, the chronicler Jacob relates the story of a servant who labors incessantly to preserve a dying olive tree. The servant’s intercessory role, pleading to forestall the tree’s burning, identifies him as the Christ. The lord of the vineyard who sends him, watching the object of his care fall into ruin, is a clear representation of God the Father. Seeing the fruitlessness of his servant’s efforts, “the Lord of the vineyard wept, and said unto the servant: What could I have done more for my vineyard?”

Months after the Book of Mormon’s publication, Smith further developed this motif of the weeping God in an ascension narrative firmly situated within the Enoch tradition in extracanonical literature. In Smith’s account, the prophet Enoch is taken into heaven and records his ensuing vision. He sees Satan’s dominion over the earth and then witnesses God’s response to a world veiled in darkness. “The God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept . . . And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep?” Three times he asks incredulously, “How is it thou canst weep?”

The answer, it turns out, is that God is not exempt from emotional pain. As the Father explains to Enoch:

Unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood . . . and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

It is not their wickedness but their “misery,” not their disobedience but their “suffering,” that elicits the God of heaven’s tears. Enoch’s weeping God participates in rather than transcends the ebb and flow of human history, tragedy, and grief.

These unambiguous 1830 Mormon pronouncements about the capacity of God the Father to suffer, to weep, to mourn in solidarity with human misery were harbingers of a broad change in the Christian consensus about God.

For the rest of the article…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a powerful man. He inherited his tall stature from his mother’s side, the Hases and the large-limped Kalckreuths, and his supple strength from the Bonhoeffers. His movements were short and brisk. He didn’t like leisurely walks. A successful jumper and a sprinter in his schooldays, he still competed with his students when he was a university lecturer. He was impatient with illnesses and tried to shorten their duration through the copious use of medicines. During periods of stress he did not hesitate to take pills in order to sleep.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Portrait (1970), xvii.

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