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By Marv Repinski

By Marvin Repinski
United Methodist Pastor (retired)

In the past week, people who were part of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump were asked to give oaths of impartiality and honesty.

The presiding official of the Supreme Court of the United States was requested to: “Place your right hand on the Bible.” Chief Justice John Roberts did so, and repeated a solemn pledge. I assume that he will give legal oversight that the deliberations and process be just, fair, and balanced. More than a symbolic ritual, I believe, is a long held tradition that affirms our nation has Jewish-Christian commitments that are enhanced by the teachings of the Bible; that values attributed to the Bible be one of the basics of the impeachment participation.

The Jan. 24 issue of the Austin Daily Herald placed a historical note. In this column “Today in History,” we read: “In 1848, James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in northern California; a discovery that led to the Gold Rush of ‘49.” Are there “golden nuggets” in the Bible?

There are millions of seekers worldwide in search of a religious life, and they often find strength and at least a partial philosophy to maintain their loyalties. There too are those persons — you’ve met them — who say, “I don’t want to disappoint my mother,” in church on Christmas Eve. You have heard: “I do go to weddings in the Synagogue.”

We face the fact that times change, needs change, other commitments are forged. Our relationships shift one’s outlook, but the Bible remains as a guide to inspiration, values, and a reminder of historic loyalties.

Ask me: “Marvin, as a believer in the Messiah, the salvation through Jesus Christ, are you welcomed in any church to participate in Holy Communion?” Now we have an array of gender questions. Some are told, “You have a different gene, a basic human function or manner of sexual orientation, so membership in my church is not for you.”

A member of the Supreme Court is asked to place his hand on a Bible, which means to me its writings, both Old and New Testaments as the division is made, are offered to a nation. They are out of a foundation to have open covers to divergent applications.

Peter Gomes, in his book, “Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living,” writes: “The only thing that stands between rank and utter chaos, insanity, and an attempt to stand whole and full and complete in the middle of ambiguity and beyond tragedy — God’s love is the only thing.”

Central to the Bible’s message is, for many of us, the love of God. Why keep people away from that love? The Bible first and foremost is a message of GRACE. Can we believe that?

In the devotional booklet “The Upper Room,” writing for the January page, a believer, James Townsend, is listed from Mississippi. (Hello Mississippi!) I find agreement with the following and pass it on to you, the reader. “On my first trip to New York City, I was greatly impressed by the tall skyscrapers that form the Manhattan skyline. However, the exteriors of these structures conceal much more than they reveal. The buildings can reach so high only because of what is inside them. They are fortified inside with steel, concrete, and wire mesh. This reinforcement allows the building to rise upward and remain stable and strong, even when storms come and winds blow. Each structure is a marvel of engineering and construction — on both the outside and the inside.”

“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.” What is it that motivates a person to write such sentences? That person is Dietrich Bonhoeffer (born Feb. 4, 1906 — died April 9, 1945). To get the larger essence of the manner that this man lived, read from one of several books and commentaries of this pastor. My present writing is to relate his passion, his risks, to the deepest messages of the Bible. Among my resources are “Letters from Prison” and a biography: “Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet.” A background of Bonhoeffer’s situation may be necessary to grasp the importance of his life and how the Bible resonated with his work. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and name-called and slandered all who opposed them. There was a fierce kind of self-interest in policies, politics and lies.

The realities that came forth may be captured in three words: Auschwitz, Holocaust, and death camps. Bonhoeffer, as a Lutheran scholar and pastor in Germany for some years, used his teaching, his associations, and his public protests to defeat, if possible, a virus of Jewish hatred. He spent some time in the United States relating to the Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He then returned to Europe.

During the final months of his life, Bonhoeffer was arrested on account of his opposition to the Nazi menace and spent time in several prisons. He was taken to Flossenberg as a prisoner. While there, a record of one of his writings pleading for humane politics is preserved: “Death is hell and night is cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous — that we can transform death.”

Bonhoeffer joined the millions (note the number!) of other victims of the vicious Third Reich. Many of us regard him with a sacred term: martyr. The Gestapo called him out of his prison confinement on April 9, 1945 ,and he was executed. He, with many others that day, climbed the steps to the gallows. It is stated that the crematorium was not working, so the bodies of the men hanged that morning were burned in piles. Some of his writings and materials were also burned.

Bonhoeffer’s journey was marked by and with a Bible as a primary focus of learning. In a class in his early years, while teaching young men, he kept a record of this time, and it says, “No one can ever obstruct the way to God. The church still has the Bible, and as long as she has it, we can still believe in the holy Christian Church.” This, a conviction, though he being Lutheran, was that the Roman Catholic Church must also be regarded as an authentic voice of faith. It’s a look into the ecumenical (no labels) view of Christianity.

In a study of Bonhoeffer’s preserved writings, and of those who knew him, the Bible was foundational and all important to his life. The scriptures were the van-guard to his passionate commitments.

For the rest of the post…

I know many evangelicals support Donald Trump. I personally don’t know any who sees him as the chosen one of God. No doubt, they are out there. Trump is far from Hitler! ~Bryan

Authoritarian Oppression Is Rampant

To The Editor:

I want to write about many expressions of authoritarian oppression which are rampant in our county, our state, and our nation. I don’t have space to address them all, so I’ll start at the top.

I am shocked by the support that many so-called evangelical church leaders espouse for Donald Trump. They need to study church history in Nazi Germany. An excellent resource is “A Church Undone: Documents from the German Christian Faith Movement 1932-1940” by Mary M. Solberg.

In this book, one can read translations from original documents, testimonials such as, “…Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God…” and “in the person of the Führer we see the one God has sent…”

From our historical perspective, we can clearly see that the pro-Nazi Protestants in Germany were wrong about Adolf Hitler. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke truth and said “No” to Hitler and his followers, and Bonhoeffer was hung for his resistance.

Today, human beings who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear need to recognize the similarities between those Protestants who supported the Führer Hitler and the Protestants who proclaim that President Trump is God’s chosen one to do God’s will.

For the rest of the letter…

Here is another perspective from an evangelical Christian and his support of President Trump. ~ Bryan
By Shane Idleman, CP Guest Contributor
(Photo: Shane Idleman)

Like many, I’m perplexed by the divide in the Christian community over President Trump — but I’m not surprised. The media is fueling lies, and the world is listening. This was demonstrated in a worship song by Daniel Deitrich (talk about the wrong place to express political views). Deitrich’s song was written in response to the 81% of white evangelical Protestant voters who supported Donald Trump in 2016. Here are the lyrics: They started putting kids in cages. Ripping mothers from their babies. And I looked to you to speak on their behalf.

This, of course, is in response to what is “perceived” as happening at the border. I assume that Mr. Deitrich is sincere and his heart truly wants to help people, but we must get our facts from reputable sources or first-hand experience. God willing, I’m touring the border with other California pastors very soon and hope to gain that perspective personally (look for that op-ed in mid-February).

Some say, “How can you follow Jesus and Donald Trump?” We are not following a man, we are shaping a movement. A better question to be asking, though, is “What direction is the country heading?” If a leader lacks Christian character but is pointing the nation back to God, is that a bad thing? If they are minimizing murdering babies and maximizing godly values, is that a bad thing? If they are being a terror to terrorists and making America secure, is that a bad thing? If they are honoring hard work and minimizing free handouts, is that a bad thing? God doesn’t judge a nation based on the character of one man; He judges it based on the spiritual health of her people. Never forget that.

I regularly say that we Christians love refugees and immigrants and are eager to help with food, lodging, and jobs. But at the national level, the president is to put the safety and provision of the American people first. When an airplane loses cabin pressure, parents put on their oxygen masks first to better assist their child. This isn’t selfishness; it’s wisdom. Opening the borders parallels cabin pressure falling and a limited supply of masks. Our law enforcement officers could not sustain the load, nor could our nation. Let’s streamline the process and welcome God-fearing immigrants and have them contribute to society so everyone benefits. The truth is, kids are not being put in cages and ripped from their mothers, as the song accuses.

The majority of news outlets spin everything (yes, everything) to put President Trump in a bad light. Their hatred for him trumps the truth. Their agenda is simple and clear: remove him from office at any cost! And I hope you realize this: they are really coming after you, me, and our  Christian values.

The push toward open borders is more about votes than truly helping people. Open borders would be like me telling my kids to leave their windows open in case a stranger needs a warm night’s sleep. That would be severe parental neglect because many harmful things could also enter through those open windows. Open borders would parallel that type of irresponsibility. Additionally, our financial system cannot support people flooding in who need assistance. How is that using wisdom? It’s not a matter of if this type of financial irresponsibility causes damage but when and how much. Our California representatives in Sacramento need to wake up to this fact—and wake up quickly. There is a better way, but our leaders must repent and seek God for wisdom.

Most critics don’t care what the facts are. Their hatred for the president overshadows their desperate need for humility. Let this sink in: innocent children are being protected, godly counsel is surrounding President Trump, terror is being restrained, good judges are being selected, socialism is being resisted, families are being encouraged via employment (black employment is at an all-time high), prayer is being brought back in schools, God’s wisdom is being sought, and on and on it goes. So again, we are not following a man, we are revitalizing a movement — a movement back to God. I’m more concerned with our nation’s national character than I am with the president’s personal character.

An analogy that I often use will bring this point home. The head of a neighborhood watch program, who took the late-night watches, had previously had an affair. He was occasionally gruff and impulsive, and sometimes his words were crass and offensive, but he watched over the neighborhood diligently each night. Each week he invited church leaders into his home to pray for him and his family and to seek their advice. He often stood against others on the committee who wanted to enact policies harmful to the neighborhood and to the children, such as advocating an open-door policy where residents were required to allow anyone into their homes at all hours of the day for handouts.

Is this not the kind of person you would want leading your neighborhood watch? Does his past or his demeanor matter more than the results he is accomplishing? If you are intellectually honest, the answer is not difficult. In the same way, the answer is simple for America.

For the rest of the post…

In the age of Trump, the life and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer are often used to justify the removal of President Donald Trump from office. President Trump (yes, he is my President. So was Barack Obama!) generates both hate for him or love for him. I struggle with some of his tweets and statements. I don’t hate him. To compare him to Hitler is silly. And to compare those who voted for him (I did and will again) to those who mindlessly fell under the curse of Hitler is just as silly. Hitler was a monster who was responsible for over 60 million deaths! Anyway, here is yet another attempt to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer to try to get rid of Trump. Blessings to all! ~ Bryan

Two years ago, Sojourners magazine released our February 2018 cover story, asking the question, “Is This a Bonhoeffer Moment?” This week, the board of directors of the International Bonhoeffer Society — an organization dedicated to research and scholarship on the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — issued an answer from their discernment.

Here is how the statement, obtained exclusively by Sojourners, begins:

As grateful recipients, and now custodians, of the theological, ethical, and political legacy of the German pastor-theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we believe all persons of faith and conscience should prayerfully consider whether our democracy can endure a second term under the presidency of Donald Trump. We believe it cannot. In 2017, we issued a statement expressing our grave concerns about the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the rise in deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening of respectful public discourse ushered in by the election of Donald Trump. We articulated the need for Christians to engage in honest and courageous theological reflection in the face of the threat posed by his leadership. Over the last three years, the need for such discernment has grown more urgent.

The statement starts where any Christian statement in a time like this should — by evaluating a political regime by the standards of the gospel — how their governance affects those on the margins of society. They say:

A hallmark of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy is his insistence that we see the great events of world history from “the view from below” (1942). That is, he urges us to see from the perspective of those who suffer. The policies of the Trump administration both threaten and disempower the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims and other religious minorities, immigrants, refugees, the poor, the marginally employed, and the unemployed. Moreover, Donald Trump has now taken ill-advised military action that raises the specter of war. One of the greatest lessons learned from the history of the Christian churches during Germany’s Third Reich is that it is crucial to respond to threats to human life, integrity, and community when they first appear, and to continue to challenge them.

The signers of this statement are not megachurch pastors, powerful leaders of religious institutions, or influential figures to whom the media typically pays attention. Rather they identify themselves, “As Bonhoeffer scholars, religious leaders, and confessing Christians,” who have “a special responsibility to name crises and discern responsible actions of resistance and healing.”

And this is the significant and sobering conclusion the Bonhoeffer Society leaders have reached:

We believe that one crucial step in this reckoning is ending Donald Trump’s presidency.

For the rest of the post…

President Donald Trump is often compared to Hitler. And American Evangelical Christians are compared to the German Christians who supported Hitler and saw him as a savior for the nation. Sad to say, it seems that many Christians in America are placing more faith in Trump than Jesus. Leaders come and go, but the worship of Jesus will last forever. As far as Trump’s faith, I don’t know! I am a Trump supporter. Is he a brother in the Lord? I don’t know.

~ Bryan

Eric-Metaxas-Graphic-TBN

Stephen Haynes is the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  He is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholar and author of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship  in the Age of Trump (Eeerdmans, 2018). In this book, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Today Eerdmans has published the postscript to The Battle for Bonhoeffer.  It is titled “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump.  Some of you may recall that Eric Metaxas recently published an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal under the title “The Christian Case for Trump.”

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Your embrace of Trump is eerily reminiscent of German Christians’ attachment to Hitler in the early 1930s. I make this point not to convince you that Trump is Hitler but to remind you of the troubling ways Christians have compromised themselves in endorsing political movements in which they perceived the hand of God. I developed a scholarly interest in the churches’ role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist the wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants.

Being familiar with this history, I have been struck by how reminiscent many of your responses to Trump are of the way Christians in Germany embraced a strong leader they were convinced would restore the country’s moral order. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Christians in Germany let themselves be persuaded that Hitler was a deeply pious man, placed in power by God through a graceful act of intervention in German history. Hitler encouraged these ideas not by claiming any allegiance to Christ but by employing vague religious language, promising a return to the “good old days,” and posing for photographs as he left church, prayed, and entertained ecclesiastical leaders.

Here are a few examples of how Protestant Christian leaders in Germany spoke about God’s role in Hitler’s accession to power:

• “With National Socialism an epoch in German history has begun that is at least as decisive for the German people, as for example the epoch of Martin Luther.”
• “No one could welcome January 30, 1933 more profoundly or more joyfully than the German Christian leadership.”
• “Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God became the framer of German destiny and the liberator of our people from their spiritual misery and division.”
• “[Hitler is] the best man imaginable, a man shaped in a mold made of unity, piety, energy and strength of character.”

For the rest of the post…

As Faith Leaders Criticize CT Editorial, Subscriptions Surge

Trump editorial

On December 19, CT editor-in-chief and former pastor Mark Galli published an editorial decrying Trump’s “profoundly immoral” actions, saying they harm Christians’ credibility and evangelistic effectiveness. Trump immediately condemned the magazine (founded by Billy Graham) as “far left” and touted his efforts on behalf of evangelicals. Galli and his critics have been appearing on various TV programs to discuss the controversy.

Faith Leaders Say They Feel Targeted by Trump Editorial

In their letter to Dalrymple, evangelical leaders say it was “astonishing” that Galli “offensively dismissed our point of view” during a CNN appearance because “historically, we have been your readers.” They also point to Galli’s essay in the book Still Evangelical? in which he characterizes Christians who voted for Trump as largely uneducated and unemployed—as opposed to so-called “elite” evangelicals.

The letter-writers maintain they are “Bible-believing Christians and patriotic Americans who are simply grateful that our President has sought our advice as his administration has advanced policies that protect the unborn, promote religious freedom, reform our criminal justice system, contribute to strong working families through paid family leave, protect the freedom of conscience, prioritize parental rights, and ensure that our foreign policy aligns with our values while making our world safer, including through our support of the State of Israel.”

The leaders emphasize their reliance on grace, their commitment to public service, and their objection to “the entirely partisan, legally dubious, and politically motivated impeachment” of Trump by the House of Representatives one day before Galli’s editorial was published. They also imply that CT will be championing a Democratic candidate in the 2020 election.

Signatories—including Gary Bauer, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Jr., Jack Graham, Danny Gokey, Greg Laurie, Eric Metaxas, Rod Parsley, Robert Jeffress, Tony Perkins, and Chonda Pierce—close by writing: “Your editorial offensively questioned the spiritual integrity and Christian witness of tens-of-millions of believers who take seriously their civic and moral obligations. It not only targeted our President; it also targeted those of us who support him, and have supported you.”

CT: ‘We write for a readership of One’

In an update posted on CT’s website Sunday, Dalrymple says responses to Galli’s editorial “have spanned the spectrum.” While the magazine has “received countless notes of encouragement from readers who…no longer feel alone [and] have hope again,” it also has “heard from many readers who felt incensed and insulted.” Though CT welcomes all input, Dalrymple writes, “At the end of the day, we write for a readership of One. God is our Tower.”

CT’s president asserts that the publication, which has no editorial board and doesn’t endorse political candidates, is “theologically conservative” and “pro-life and pro-family.” As part of a global ministry that supports the “global Body of Christ,” Dalrymple adds, CT “can no longer stay silent.”

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas speaks at Judon University’s annual Constitution Day chapel service on Sept. 26, 2018, near Chicago. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

LAS VEGAS (RNS) — Eric Metaxas might be the most perplexing evangelical in America.

A best-selling author and nationally syndicated radio host, Metaxas spent his early career writing children’s books and video scripts for Rabbit Ears Productions and VeggieTales before becoming a cultural commentator and author of popular biographies of religious figures like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther.

At one point, he was best known for founding Socrates in the City, a series of conversations with writers and thinkers like NT Wright, Francis Collins, Lauren Winner and Sir John Polkinghorne, where he developed a reputation for thoughtful commentary on faith and public life.

Then he discovered Donald Trump.

Since then, the once-genial Christian author who penned “Lyle the Kindly Viking” has become a full-throated supporter of the president and critic of the liberal forces he believes pose a threat to American culture.

His latest book, “Donald Builds the Wall,” features a blond-headed caveman dressed in an American flag saving his people from the forces of evil by building a wall to keep out swamp creatures and a “caravan of troublemakers.”

Metaxas was recently in Las Vegas to appear on a panel during a meeting of the Religion News Association. Bob Smietana, RNS editor-in-chief, spoke with him there about his support for the president and his concerns about the state of American culture.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do you wish people would understand about your concerns for the future of the country that they don’t get?

Since the ’60s, we’ve kind of drifted away from some basics, and, as with everything, there are some good reasons for that. But at the end of the day, some of it’s gone very wrong. I think this kind of creeping disdain for the founders and the founding vision and the Constitution has now come to a point, unfortunately, where we no longer know what we believe.

We just go by our feelings.

The issue of religious liberty is the most clear example of this.

It’s something so basic, that was so taken for granted, that we’re now living in a time where people hardly know what it is. Every American is similarly supposed to be able to exercise his or her faith in a way that not only would the founders applaud, but they would encourage.

In other words, they wouldn’t just say it’s possible to exercise your faith in every part of life, but they would actually say it’s necessary that we have some large portion of the American electorate that is practicing its faith — that’s living out (its) faith. That’s part of the strength of freedom.

If somebody has a belief you consider backward or stupid, it is that person’s right in America to hold that belief. We should not force people to believe things.

And so to my mind, it’s this ignorance of religious liberty and the ignorance of the founders’ vision that has allowed this to happen. And I don’t just think it’s bad for religious conservatives.

I think it’s bad for America.

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

The issue of religious liberty often comes up in discussions about LGBT rights. Judges have begun to see discrimination against LGBT people as equivalent to racial discrimination. And despite the fact there were, for a long time, religious arguments made for race-based discrimination, we’ve rejected the idea that religion could be used to justify discrimination.

That is a false equivalence.

It stuns me that I have to bring up that it’s a false equivalence.

To me, it’s part of this victim culture that attempts to silence dissenting voices. You can’t even have much of a conversation about it because people immediately (think) you must be a bigot.

You always hear about slave-owning Christians, or you hear about people using the Bible to justify slavery. Well, even though that’s true, do you hear about the fact that it was what we would today call ‘Evangelical Christians’ who led the battle for the abolition of the slave trade?

They were in the front lines of saying that slavery is wrong — and you can look to the civil rights movement. It’s very similar. The churches were the place where you found that. The ignorance of that history makes it possible for us to kind of slide into this false equivalence between, you know, LGBT folks and blacks in America.

And yet the dominant groups in the United States who practiced slavery and Jim Crow were people who took the Bible very seriously — people in the Bible belt and Southern Baptists who believed slavery was God-ordained and who used the Bible and the doctrine of Ham to justify it.

What I’m trying to say is just because stupid people have existed and have misapplied the Bible is no reason to say that everybody who is taking the Bible seriously has been misapplying it.

Is it possible that intelligent people took the Bible seriously and misapplied it?

Intelligent people have always misapplied everything.

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas. Courtesy photo

The whole point is if you want to be sloppy and use, you know, loud clichés to silence people, there’s plenty of ammunition. But these things are way too important for that. People of faith do feel misrepresented and not listened to because of things like this. Because they know, for example, they’re not racist.

I think there’s a huge disconnect. That disconnect doesn’t just harm social conservatives. I really think it harms the fabric of America.

Because I can tell you most Christians that I know, if they really see racism or injustice, they get more angry about it than any secular people I know. They would rightly get outraged by it.

The idea that being a white evangelical means you are sort of comfortable with white privilege is deeply offensive to people — because not only do they disagree with it, but their whole lives are meant to represent the opposite of that.

Do you think there are long-term unintended consequences of the evangelical support for Trump? He is a person whose business practices and personal practices do not line up with the kind of morality that evangelicals have stood for in the past. Does their association with the president harm the evangelical witness?

A lot of people have said that. I have to disagree. There are many reasons (why) I disagree.

Let’s, let’s start here. JFK routinely brought prostitutes into the White House. This wasn’t something that he did 10 years before being elected. While he was the president.

His face is still on our coinage. We have an airport named after him. Lyndon Johnson behaved extremely swinishly during his time in office. We know, obviously, Bill Clinton did. We’re not talking about in their lifetimes, but while they were in the presidency. I think the idea that we would expect everybody in the White House to act like Mike Pence is silly.

Now, when you have a leader, let’s say, who commits adultery or who does anything like that? If you vote for them, are you voting for adultery or are you voting in spite of adultery? When you vote for Trump, are you voting for every bad thing about him? Or are you voting for him in spite of those things?

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, on Aug. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

But I think with Trump, I think they looked at a guy like that and they said, ‘you know what, I’ve screwed up in my life. I know tons of people that have screwed up in their lives. I have a different attitude toward people who screw up than I would have in the past where I wanted everybody to be an upstanding citizen and never get divorced and never do this.’

So evangelicals are trying to process Trump very differently than they would have processed him 20 years earlier.

I think, people looked at him and they said, you know what, he can be really rough around the edges and he’s got some terrible stuff in his past. But looking at him now, I see a guy who actually loves his country or seems to love his country and in his, kind of wild way, seems to care about some of this stuff that I think is vital to freedom and liberty. And I am willing to take a risk on him.

Why?

Because the alternative is Hillary Clinton. If the alternative had not been Hillary Clinton, I think a lot of people would’ve said, nope, we’re going to go for this other person.

Do you think the president’s use of social media is problematic? Does it exacerbate the divides that are already in the country?

I think most people I know who voted for Trump would prefer that he not use social media as much as he does.

I wrote a biography on Martin Luther and there are bizarre parallels — because what happens with Trump, and it happened with Luther, is that they are both incorrigible counter punchers, and their friends, Luther’s friends would beg him not to do this, and he didn’t seem to be able to help himself and observe somebody attack him. He would attack back three times as hard.

What do you think Bonhoeffer would say about Trump?

I think there’s no question that, from a cultural point of view, Bonhoeffer would not have been a fan of Trump’s style any more than George Bush Sr. is a fan of Trump’s style.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived from 1906 to 1945. Photo courtesy Joshua Zajdman/Random House

My study of Bonhoeffer and of what happened in the ’30s initially made me dislike Trump. But at some point, I began to wonder if the kind of predictable narrative was not the real narrative.

In other words, I think that in the same way that the national socialists gained the upper hand in the ’30s, the cultural elites in America have slowly persuaded themselves, I guess, that they are right on a number of issues. And if it means going around the electoral process, if it means going around the usual procedure that they’re going to do what they must.

I think Bonhoeffer was very lonely in his opposition to Hitler because he was trying to wake up the church at the time and say, ‘Listen: This nation’s going to go down in flames. We’re going to be hanging our heads in shame for a hundred years unless we stand.’

And if in his sometimes ham-fisted way the president is any kind of a counterforce against that, you have to be glad he’s there because of the mad rush toward the left, it’s been so fast and so dramatic.

So to take it back to Bonhoeffer, I think that Bonhoeffer saw some things other people didn’t see, and he tried to wake people up, and he knew he would look unpopular. He knew he would look foolish. But at the end of the day, he had to do what he felt was right for Germany, what he felt was right in God’s eyes. And he knew that tons of people — good people, Christian people — would not understand him.

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How Would Bonhoeffer Vote?

LESS THAN A MONTH before the 2016 presidential election, evangelical journalist and biographer Eric Metaxas made the case in The Wall Street Journal that, though they might find his morals odious and his behavior unconscionable, American evangelicals had no choice but to vote for Donald Trump. Metaxas admitted that Trump’s lecherous Access Hollywood hot-mic audio comments, which the Washington Post had made public five days before, might be a deal-breaker for some religious voters. But Trump’s opponent, he argued, had “a whole deplorable basketful” of deal-breakers, and, purity be damned, Christians were obligated to stop her from reaching the Oval Office.

To make his point, Metaxas needed a weighty moral example, a name that had currency among churchgoers. Attentive observers of American Christianity could almost have predicted his choice. “The anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer also did things most Christians of his day were disgusted by,” Metaxas wrote, implying that pulling the lever for Trump was analogous to conspiring against Hitler’s regime, while voting for Hillary Clinton was roughly equivalent to joining the brownshirts. As everyone knows, evangelicals bought what Metaxas was selling.

This was far from the first time the Berlin theologian and pastor’s name was used to gain leverage in American politics. The Bonhoeffer of Metaxas’s 2010 best seller, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, had all the theological orthodoxy and manly grit an evangelical could want. Conversely, though Charles Marsh’s 2014 biography, Strange Glory, was exquisitely crafted and meticulously researched, his Bonhoeffer looked suspiciously like an American liberal Protestant with some inclination toward activism and progressive politics. He even spent the years he was incarcerated in the Nazi military prison at Tegel (1943–1945) suffering from unrequited love toward his best (male) friend, Eberhard Bethge, rather than pining for his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer.

More recently, both conservative and progressive journalists, pastors, and academics have entered the fray, claiming that either the Obergefell v. Hodges decision to legalize gay marriage (the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ronnie Floyd) or the election of Donald Trump (Sojourners magazine) constitutes a “Bonhoeffer moment,” one in which Christians must resist cultural or governmental authority in order to obey God. The debate about who has the right to claim Germany’s most famous resistance figure has become so fierce that last year Rhodes College professor Stephen Haynes penned The Battle for Bonhoeffer to address the United States’s recent reception of his theology.

With so many American Christians wielding his name in this cultural proxy war, one might assume Bonhoeffer’s political commitments were common knowledge among college-educated believers. One would be wrong. Books on Operation Valkyrie and Bonhoeffer’s association with the July 20, 1944, plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler are a dime a dozen. English-language studies that touch on Bonhoeffer’s work on behalf of the Jews or his interest in the American Black church appear frequently enough. But if one sets out to peg Bonhoeffer as an ally of either American Democrats or Republicans, only a deep dive into current scholarship will offer any clarity.

That, of course, is because Bonhoeffer lived in a very different time and culture. He grew up among the Berlin Bildungsbürgertum — the city’s cultural elite — in the western suburb of Grunewald. Many academics lived in this upscale neighborhood. Dietrich’s childhood ambition to pursue a doctorate would not have seemed entirely abnormal in that environment. By his teenage years, his father, Karl Bonhoeffer, had become one of Germany’s most famous psychiatrists; the eminent church historians Ernst Troeltsch and Adolf von Harnack were regulars at neighborhood gatherings. However, these were hardly liberal, American-style academic circles. Most found themselves in agreement with their government’s bellicosity when war broke out in 1914. In fact, many were passionate advocates of imperialism; Harnack even acted as a speechwriter for Kaiser Wilhelm II.

A different political mood prevailed in the Bonhoeffer family. Dietrich’s older brother, Karl-Friedrich, joined the Social Democrats after a conversion to socialism during the war. The other siblings drifted toward the German People’s Party and similar parties. Theirs was a bourgeois politics sympathetic with the more open and liberal atmosphere of the Weimar Republic of the 1920s, a stance that may help explain why so many in the Bonhoeffer family would later play active roles in the resistance.

Dietrich, however, stood mostly aloof from wranglings over political ideology. His friend Eberhard Bethge has written that in the 1932 elections Dietrich supported the moderate, lay Catholic Center Party because he thought their international ties — that is, partly ties to the Vatican — could provide “stability and independence” in a rather unstable time. This was an extraordinary step for a German Protestant minister, yet in one sense it fits Bonhoeffer perfectly. His foremost political concerns were never about economics, war and peace, or even the treatment of minorities, though obviously these things were not unimportant to him. Above all else, Bonhoeffer cared about the preservation of the gospel message and the freedom of the Christian church from political and cultural entanglements that might obscure its message. The intricacies of politics, he firmly believed, were not the business of the Protestant pastor or theologian.

“There is no doubt that the church of the Reformation is not encouraged to get involved directly in specific political actions of the state,” Bonhoeffer wrote in his 1933 essay “The Church and the Jewish Question.” “The church has neither to praise nor to censure the laws of the state. Instead, it has to affirm the state as God’s order of preservation in this godless world.” There were rare exceptions to this rule of nonintervention, of course, and the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany was clearly one of them. That was not, however, simply because the Nazi government was engaging in morally repugnant deeds and implementing unjust laws, but because those deeds and laws had driven the church into a status confessionis, a situation where the very truth of the gospel was at stake.

Republicans more anxious about safeguarding religious freedom than President Trump’s peccadillos may read these lines and believe they have found a kindred spirit. When they encounter Bonhoeffer’s conclusion in his Ethics that abortion is “nothing but murder” and discover his intense impatience with American liberal theology, they might feel themselves justified in christening the Obergefell decision a status confessionis — roughly what today might be called a “Bonhoeffer moment.” Perhaps those who are potential targets of an anti-discrimination lawsuit feel especially justified in doing so.

Yet when Bonhoeffer came to Union Theological Seminary in New York for the 1930–’31 academic year and, again, for the summer of 1939, he had some harsh words for those obsessed with religious liberty. “The American praise of freedom is more a tribute to the world, the state, and society than it is a statement concerning the church,” he wrote. “But where the gratitude for institutional freedom must be paid for through the sacrifice of the freedom of [gospel] proclamation, there the church is in chains, even if it believes itself to be free.”

Bonhoeffer, it would seem, may have found the conservative panic over Obergefell more faithless than politically feckless. He may have thought their “Bonhoeffer moment” more about self-preservation and power politics than gospel proclamation.

American progressives might feel even more justified in appropriating Bonhoeffer’s legacy. After all, the first thing most people learn about the Lutheran theologian is that he resisted a tyrannical government that systematically oppressed minorities. And, as many on the American left argue, the Trump administration has at least tried to do just that. These progressive believers might buttress their case by lauding Bonhoeffer’s courageous philosemitic efforts or citing the Sundays in 1931 he spent with the Black community at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. And when they read the blistering criticisms of “otherworldly” faith in his essay “Thy Kingdom Come!” or discover his hope for the future development of a “religionless Christianity” in his final letters, enthused Democrats might be ready to enlist Bonhoeffer’s help in the 2020 election. Those “Bonhoeffer moments,” after all, will come in handy on the campaign trail.

Yet letters and documents from his year in the United States reveal a Bonhoeffer at odds with the progressive American version as well. The historical Bonhoeffer was sometimes appalled by the oppression of African Americans, but he spent much more of his time filling letters and essays with criticisms and even contempt for American liberal Protestantism and progressive politics.

“God is not the immanent progressive ethical principle of history; God is the Lord who judges the human being and his work, he is the absolute sovereign (God’s kingdom is not a democracy!),” Bonhoeffer fumed in a memo about American Christianity. “The ideal of international, democratic, collectivist life together on the basis of the value of individuals (notice the inner contradiction!) is not identical with the kingdom of God.”

For Bonhoeffer, American liberals had misunderstood an essential part of Christianity: no matter how hard we try, human beings cannot inaugurate the kingdom of God. The best believers can do before that bright day in which Christ returns is preserve human rights, political stability, and a modicum of justice and proclaim the gospel message whether or not they find it politically expedient.

So how would Dietrich Bonhoeffer vote in 2020? Which side would he back in the United States’s vituperative, divided political landscape, and which would he think has the right to claim their political program as a righteous reaction to a “Bonhoeffer moment”?

For the rest of the article…

January 20, 2019

Article by Scott Klusendorf

ABSTRACT: The pro-life movement in America seemed in dire straits in 2016, with losses on almost every front. Donald Trump’s surprising win appears to have stalled the abortion juggernaut. An escape, however, is not a triumph. Dunkirk was not Normandy. Abortion is here to stay as long as millions of young Christians are uninformed, unequipped, and unconcerned.

The pro-life movement faced a gathering storm in 2016.

In California, pro-life pregnancy centers were forced to advertise abortion services or pay crippling fines. In New York, Catholic nuns were told to fund abortion in their health-care plans or dissolve. Nationally, pro-life doctors were pressured to refer patients for abortion or risk their medical credentials. Politically, the outlook was grim. Abortion activists were one appointment away from commanding the Supreme Court. A conservative justice was dead. The Republican presidential candidate had lamentable character, and his pro-life commitment was unproven. And the candidate sworn to uphold abortion at any stage of pregnancy appeared to be running away with the election.

Then, in God’s strange providence, Donald Trump’s win stalled the abortion juggernaut. Given a choice between a flawed presidential candidate who might limit abortion and one who affirmed it wholesale, a majority of pro-life advocates voted to limit the evil and promote the good insofar as possible.1Political ambition did not drive them to the polls. Survival instinct did. They feared a Clinton presidency would irrevocably crush their efforts to save children.

Pro-lifers received some immediate relief from the new president. He cut off overseas funding for abortion. He created a special office to protect the conscience rights of health-care professionals. Most importantly, he began overhauling the federal courts. Last summer, the Supreme Court tossed the California law that forced pregnancy centers to promote abortion. The decision was 5-to-4. Without Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch, that ruling goes the other way.

All this is good news for the pro-life movement, but an escape is not a triumph. Abortion is here to stay as long as millions of Christians are uninformed and unequipped, as long as those predisposed to accept our view and contend for it never actually experience pro-life teaching. Whatever gains have been made in Washington, we are failing in our churches and Christian schools. And the political cost of that failure is steep. Sustained political victory happens when large coalitions of pro-life voters command the electoral landscape to the extent that we can protect candidates who support us and penalize ones who don’t. Christian students are especially vital to building that coalition, but they’re not hearing from us. The problem is not messaging. It’s access. For many Christian leaders, the thought of pro-life teaching is dead on arrival.

Only Two Percent

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez presides over a political party dedicated to the proposition that an entire class of human beings can be set aside to be killed. For Perez, the right to abortion is absolute. “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. . . . That is not negotiable.”2 Perez blames churches for hamstringing his party’s messaging on abortion. The Sunday morning pulpit elevates abortion above everything else “and people buy it. Because that’s their only source,” the DNC chairman laments.3

Anyone who thinks Perez is right should visit Summit Ministries. Each summer, Summit runs regional worldview conferences in Colorado, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. The purpose is simple: prepare Christian students for the intellectual challenges they will face once they leave the safety of their local churches and step on to the university campus.

I teach the abortion sessions at Summit. For the last five summers, I’ve conducted an informal survey of attendees. I ask for a show of hands on a specific question: “How many of you, prior to coming to Summit, heard a pro-life apologetics presentation in your church aimed at equipping you to defend the pro-life view?” The numbers are remarkably consistent. Out of 1,800 students present each summer, an average of 45 have prior exposure to a pro-life apologetics presentation in their local churches. Let that sink in: 45 out of 1,800! That’s only 2.5%.

What Makes Pro-Life Teaching Hard?

Churches aren’t the only challenge. Life Training Institute (LTI), where I serve as President, trains Christians to make a persuasive case for life in the public square. The primary way we fulfill our mission is by making pro-life apologetics presentations in Catholic and Protestant high schools. Last year, our speaking team reached 72,000 students with pro-life apologetics talks. Unlike other pro-life presentations that focus on chastity or sexual purity (programs we fully support), LTI presentations focus exclusively on why the pro-life view is true and reasonable to believe. To my knowledge, we are the only pro-life group that systematically targets Catholic and Protestant high schools with pro-life talks of this sort.

It takes a Herculean effort and a lion’s share of our budget to get in front of 72,000 Christian students. Many schools ignore us. Why is that?

Credentials aren’t the problem. Anyone who spends five minutes on Google can see that LTI speakers engage students with persuasive content and earn favorable reviews everywhere they go. Nationally syndicated programs like Focus on the Family and Issues, Etc. feature our presentations. We’ve published books with Crossway and Hendrickson. The Gospel Coalition publishes our articles. We’re contributing authors to the Christian Research Journal. In addition to Summit, we lecture at Biola University’s worldview conferences and teach pro-life apologetics to aspiring lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom’s Blackstone Academy. We were asked to advise a presidential candidate on abortion. Christian leaders like John Piper, J.D. Greear, Al Mohler, and John Stonestreet reference our training materials. We have secular credentials as well. I’ve debated my friend Nadine Strossen — former president of the ACLU — on several university campuses.

Messaging isn’t the problem. Students routinely thank us for making persuasive arguments instead of emotional appeals. A common response is, “That was amazing. You’re the first person to actually give us reasons.”

Speaking fees aren’t the problem. We understand that most Christian schools are broke. Thus, with few exceptions, we send our speakers for free. We pick up the airfare, hotel, car rental, and speaker stipend. We absorb the cost of hiring a full-time staffer to secure the event in the first place. The school pays nothing.

It’s still tough getting in.

What They Don’t Want to See

Put simply, our problem is subject matter. We’re offering an abortion presentation many Christian schools and churches don’t want. Our challenge is to make them want it, to convince them it’s vital to the formation of a Christian worldview, and to persuade them that students will thank them for hosting it.

Once a Christian high school agrees to have us, we face another challenge: negotiating an effective presentation. The best talks include persuasive arguments, gospel, and the careful use of abortion imagery. Gregg Cunningham puts it well: “Pro-lifers should stop protesting abortion and start exposing it. When you show pictures of abortion, abortion protests itself.”4Our pro-abortion adversaries know this and candidly admit their rhetoric is no match for the visuals. “When someone holds up a model of a six-month-old fetus and a pair of surgical scissors, we say, ‘choice,’ and we lose,” writes feminist Naomi Wolf.5

Nevertheless, opposition to the images is stiff, even among pro-lifers. Last year, I spoke in chapel at a large Christian university. The event host refused to let me show a 55-second clip depicting abortion as part of my presentation despite acknowledging my documented history of using visuals responsibly. He knew that I never spring disturbing pictures on unsuspecting audiences, that I fully disclose the contents of the film before showing it, and that I invite people to look away if they wish not to watch. He knew that I situated the pictures within the context of the gospel, stressing God’s grace to wounded people rather than condemnation. Nevertheless, he wouldn’t fight for the clip when his staff objected to its use. He admitted the images save lives and resonate powerfully with audiences but said students at his university were too fragile to handle them.

Event hosts say this all the time. They want other people to see the images, just not their people. They hope FOX News will do the heavy lifting for them. Ironically, that same chapel host said he was on a personal mission to recruit more students for the campus pro-life club, whose numbers were abysmally low. How? By hiding the truth from them? As Cunningham points out, “When pro-life leaders care more about the feelings of the born than they do the lives of the unborn, the pro-life movement is in real trouble.”

If you think accessing Christian schools is tough, try popular Christian conferences. Students ages 18 to 24 are most at risk for abortion, yet you would never know it by surveying the speaking lineups. You’ll find sessions on global sex trafficking, world hunger, economic justice, climate change, refugees, and racism, but there’s no passion to engage the culture on the legally sanctioned killing of 61 million innocent human beings in our own nation since 1973. At times, pro-lifers encounter outright hostility. In 2015, Urbana — once the premier evangelical student conference — featured a Black Lives Matter speaker who used her keynote slot to bash pro-lifers for “only doing activism that is comfortable” and for “withholding mercy from the living so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn.”

Does any of this sound like an evangelical community woke to elevating abortion above everything else?

Functionally Pro-Choice?

It gets worse. The 2017 Evangelicals for Life conference, where I presented a session on pro-life apologetics, featured a keynote address from Eugene Cho, the former lead pastor of Quest Church in Seattle. Cho told pro-lifers to rewrite their job descriptions to include a comprehensive, whole-life ethic. “We can’t just be anti-abortion. We should be for the sanctity of life from the womb to tomb. . . . Not just American lives, but Syrian lives. Not just Christian liberty religious lives, but Muslim refugee lives.” We can’t cherry pick. “All life is sacred and every single human being bears the image of God.”6

Except when that image-bearer isn’t sacred enough to legally protect. What conference attendees may not have known is that Cho is functionally pro-choice. He personally opposes abortion and wants to reduce it but thinks it should remain legal in a pluralistic society due to the high cost of outlawing it. He writes, “Like most Christians I know, I am against abortion. However, I just do not believe we can legislate it. . . . Can we maintain choice but do all that we can to preserve and ensure the life of an unborn?”7

Has it ever occurred to Cho that a society which dramatically reduced the lynching of blacks, but left it legal to lynch them, would be a deeply immoral society? Imagine telling blacks, “We will do all we can to protect you so long as it’s not too expensive and meets with popular approval in our pluralistic society. After all, we want to maintain choice.” This is beyond mind-boggling. When a pro-choice pastor, who thinks it should be legal to intentionally dismember innocent human beings because it costs too much to protect them, uses his platform at an evangelical pro-life conference to tell abortion opponents they aren’t really pro-life, “pro-life” has lost all meaning.

Cho isn’t providing students or anyone else biblical leadership on abortion. He’s conveying what the secular culture already believes. As journalist Christopher Caldwell points out, Americans love to condemn abortion with words but keep the option legally available. “Even where Americans claim to disapprove most strongly of abortion, they booby-trap their disapproval so that it never results in the actual curtailment of abortion rights. A pro-life regime is not really something Americans want — it’s just something they feel they ought to want.”8

Moreover, why is the “whole-life” argument never used against other groups who target specific forms of injustice, only pro-lifers? If an inner-city daycare ministry only receives grade-school kids from 3:00 to 5:00pm on weekdays, do we cast aspersions on them for not operating 24/7? Do we insist they spread their already scarce resources even thinner fighting poverty and gang violence? True, abortion isn’t the only issue — any more than slavery was the only issue in 1860 or killing Jews the only issue in 1940. But both were the dominant issues of their day. Pro-lifers are right to give greater weight to the greater moral issue.

My colleague Marc Newman writes, “Individuals and organizations that make it their exclusive mission to save innocent human beings from a culture hell-bent on butchering them have nothing to apologize for. They don’t need additional causes; they need additional support.”9

Meanwhile, we shouldn’t assume that Christian students will get pro-life teaching from evangelical thought-leaders when some of the most influential ones consider pastoral silence a theological virtue. In 1994, Billy Graham said that addressing abortion in the pulpit could impede his “main message” of salvation. “I don’t get into these things like abortion,” Graham told talk show host Larry King.10

More recently, WORLD magazine reports on an evangelical pastor in New York who says that abortion is a double-justice issue and people should be stopped from doing it, but he doesn’t focus on it from the pulpit because “pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion” — something Jesus warns about. The biblical approach to controversial sins, he says, is to preach the gospel and let congregants arrive at the right conclusion. He cites the example of an Ivy League graduate who thanked him for not focusing on abortion from the pulpit. She added, “If I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service.” She was a lawyer, a resident of Manhattan, and an active ACLU member. Her history included three abortions. Eventually, the woman converted to Christianity under the pastor’s influence. Later she approached him to ask, “Do you think abortion is wrong?” He said yes. She replied, “I am coming to see that maybe there is something wrong with it.”11

I’m glad she eventually figured it out, but what are we to conclude — that clerical silence in the face of child sacrifice is an acceptable means of evangelism? That’s cold comfort to dead children who, this pastor candidly admits, “are not being treated as they deserve.”

Prudence in the pulpit is essential, but the pastor presents a false choice. Pastors don’t have to choose between “pushing moral behaviors” or “lifting up Christ.” They can preach truthfully on abortion but do so within the context of the gospel.

For the rest of the post…

From Bryan–Most recent articles that link Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Donald Trump will use Bonhoeffer to criticize the President. The truth does need to be expressed by both the left and the right.

JANUARY 12, 2019

BY VANCEMORGAN

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of the figures we will be studying in “’Love Never Fails’: Grace, Truth, and Freedom in the Nazi Era,” an interdisciplinary colloquium that I will be teaching with a colleague from the history department this coming semester. The first thing I read when on retreat last week was a new translation of Bonhoeffer’s “Ten Years After,” an essay Bonhoeffer wrote for colleagues and friends in 1942, reflecting on various aspects of the past decade in Germany as he and others had, in various ways, resisted the rise and entrenchment of the Nazis. Less than year after writing this essay, Bonhoeffer was arrested by the Nazis for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, for which he was executed in 1945, just weeks before the end of World War Two. “Ten Years After” is comparable to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” as a document addressing the specific challenges of their times by speaking to greater issues, including the human capacity for decency, courage, and engagement in political culture that honors integrity and these values. How is one to think beyond self-interest and toward the common good in challenging times?

In “Ten Years After,” Bonhoeffer observes how easily human beings are swayed and seduced by peer pressure and crowd behaviors. Although his context was Nazi Germany, his observations about what happens to human decency and courage when a political culture begins to disintegrate and a social atmosphere becomes toxic read as if they were written this morning. Bonhoeffer wrestles with what happens to good people, what to the soul, and to the human sense of morality and responsibility, when evil becomes so embedded in a political culture that it is part of the very fabric of daily life, and it becomes impossible for good people to remain untouched by it.

One of the most written about and often quoted portions of Bonhoeffer’s essay is “On Stupidity,” a stupidity that Bonhoeffer claims “is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice.” By “stupidity,” Bonhoeffer does not mean low IQ or lack of intelligence; indeed, “there are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull, yet anything but stupid.” By “stupid,” Bonhoeffer means something that contemporary Americans encounter every day, from the White House to the local coffee shop.

Against stupidity, we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential.

When President Donald Trump denies saying something that was recorded less than a month ago on television (at his own insistence), when Vice President Mike Pence and White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders spout numbers that a brief session on Google shows to be blatantly false, stupidity is in the ascendant. When millions of citizens are uninterested in fact-checking lies or changing their minds in the face of new evidence, stupidity reigns. And as Bonhoeffer notes, we misjudge the situation when we dismiss such believing persons with condescending pejoratives—persons with PhD’s and people with no formal education are equally susceptible to stupidity as Bonhoeffer defines it. How can this be?

According to Bonhoeffer, people either consciously choose to become stupid or allow it to happen because their defenses are down.The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them . . . Every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity . . . The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other.

In our current political climate, stupidity ranges across the spectrum from the most obsessed Trumpster to the most avid Berniebot. Whether in support of or in opposition to any particular agenda or political figure, stupidity always dehumanizes, replacing thought and deliberation with soundbites and memes. Bonhoeffer’s diagnosis seventy-five years ago could have been written this morning.

One virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him . . . Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil.

So, what is to be done? Bonhoeffer expresses his prescription for stupidity in religious terms: “The internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.” This is not a call for everyone to become a person of faith, however; from a prison cell a couple of years later, Bonhoeffer will write that God wants people of faith to live as if God does not exist. Bonhoeffer’s call is for people to take responsibility for who and what they are, rather than turning this responsibility over to others in exchange for perceived power or solidarity.

For the rest of the post…

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