“Christians against Trumpism” takes out ads in American newspapers

Here is Emily McFarlan Miller at Religion News Service:

An ad running in The Washington Post and other outlets Friday (Oct. 30) thanked a number of prominent evangelical Christian leaders and organizations for “standing up in this dark time.”

But at least one of the evangelicals named in the ad and on the website Christians Against Trumpism & Political Extremism doesn’t appear to appreciate the gesture.

Thousands of Christian leaders and institutions have stood firm on the foundational truths of our faith, against the disheartening embrace of Trumpism,” both the ad and the website read.

When the history books are written about this era, the principled, committed and courageous leaders who refused to compromise will be remembered, and we are deeply grateful for your stand.”

Christians Against Trumpism has some prominent supporters in the evangelical community, including Ron Sider, Randall Balmer, Lisa Sharon Harper, Skye Jethani, Napp Nazworth, David Neff, David Gushee, Michael Wear, Stephen Haynes, Rob Schenck, Vincent Bacote, Mark Galli, Miroslav Wolf, Nancy French, Steve Garber, and D.L. Mayfield.

Albert Mohler, a Trump voter, also signed the document, but was not one of the original signers.

Charles Marsh unleashes a devastating assault on court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s misuse of Bonhoeffer as it relates to Black Lives Matter

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Court evangelical Eric Metaxas wrote a popular biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that was  panned by Bonhoeffer scholars. University of Virginia theology professor Charles Marsh wrote a biography of Bonhoeffer that was praised by Bonhoeffer scholars.

When Metaxas invoked Bonhoeffer to justify his rejection of the Black Lives Matter movement, Marsh responded.

You may recall that Marsh is the scholar who gathered the Bonhoeffer quotes we published as “Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Stupidity.”

Here is Metaxas’s tweet:

Metaxas BLM

The Washington Times article Metaxas tweeted is here.

Here is Marsh’s twitter thread:

For the continuing debate over Bonhoeffer’s legacy, I recommend Stephen Haynes’s The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship in the Age of Trump. Haynes also has an essay in the recently released The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity.

International Bonhoeffer Society Calls for Ending of the Trump Presidency

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The International Bonhoeffer Society is an organization of scholars who study the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian who the Nazi’s hanged after learning of his role in a plot to assassination Adolph Hitler.

On January 15, 2020, the Society issued the following “Statement of Concern” regarding the presidency of Donald Trump:

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.

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.

As Bonhoeffer scholars, religious leaders, and confessing Christians, we have a special responsibility to name crises and discern responsible actions of resistance and healing. We confess our own complicity in the social order that has produced Donald Trump’s presidency, for many of the social and economic injustices we confront predate it. As we take responsibility for these injustices, we resist the policy goals of this administration that have contributed to everdeepening divisions and growing vulnerability among the marginalized sectors of our population, including the dehumanizing treatment of migrants, systematic attempts to strip rights from LGBTQ persons, the increased rapacious destruction of the environment, the marginalization and assault on communities of color especially through voter suppression, and the economic policies that have contributed to the largest disparity of wealth in the nation’s history. We believe that an honest reckoning with these realities must lead to dismantling the dehumanizing ideologies and systemic inequities in which they are rooted.

We believe that one crucial step in this reckoning is ending Donald Trump’s presidency. We do not make this statement lightly. Bonhoeffer’s writings have been influential for Christians from a wide range of churches and political views, but we feel called to address the grave moral concerns we have outlined here that call every one of us to account. During this new year, debates and discussion will continue to be held concerning the best way for America to move forward. We believe that the United States has the human resources to provide capable and willing leaders, and that together a more just and respectful future can be forged. Acknowledging that all human community and leadership is a mixture of blessing and brokenness, health and dysfunction, we stand with all those who believe this country deserves and needs a constitutional and peaceful change in leadership. And we commit ourselves to listen to the call and obey the commands of Jesus as we enter the year 2020.

We make this statement, in part, because we know that Dietrich Bonhoeffer – a theologian and martyr – is often cited in times of political contention. We offer the following theological lessons from Bonhoeffer’s work as a glimpse into the ways he understood his faith and his responsibilities as a citizen in his own times, and to encourage discernment about how these words might resonate for us today:

  • He spoke of God’s freedom and human freedom as “freedom for others” not “freedom from others.” (1932)
  • He preached that the gospel is “the good news of the dawning of the new world, the new order … God’s order,” and therefore it is good news for the poor. (1932)
  • He warned that leaders become “misleaders” when they are interested only in their own power and neglect their responsibilities to serve those whom they govern. (1933)
  • He warned that when a government persecutes its minorities, it has ceased to govern legitimately. (1933)
  • He reminded Christians that the church has an “unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” (1933)
  • He wrote, “For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. … The hour is late. The world is choking with weapons. … The trumpets of war may blow tomorrow. For what are we waiting?” (1934)
  • He believed that Jesus’s commands in the Gospels – like love your neighbor as you love yourself, welcome the stranger, and love your enemies – are to be obeyed in the social and political realm. He wrote: “From the human point of view there are countless possibilities of understanding and interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus knows only one possibility: simply go and obey.” (1936)
  • He wrote, “Behold God become human … God loves human beings. …Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are. … What we find repulsive … namely, real human beings … this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” (1941)
  • He wrote from prison, “… one only learns to have faith by living in the full thisworldliness of life. …then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane. And I think this is faith; this is [metanoia/repentance]. And this is how one becomes a human being, a Christian. … How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?” (1944)
  • He wrote from prison, “How do we go about being ‘religionless-worldly’ Christians, how can we be [ecclesia/church], those who are called out, without understanding ourselves religiously as privileged, but instead seeing ourselves as belonging wholly to the world?” (1944)

Signed by the Board of Directors, International Bonhoeffer Society – English Language Section,

Jennifer M. McBride, President
Lori Brandt Hale, Vice President
John Matthews, Secretary
H. Gaylon Barker, Treasurer
Christian Collins Winn
Stephen Haynes
Matt Jones
David Krause
Michael Mawson
Dianne Rayson
Robert Vosloo
Reggie Williams
Philip Ziegler
Keith Clements, Emeritus
Barry Harvey, Emeritus
J. Patrick Kelley, Emeritus
Michael Lukens, Emeritus 

NOTE: I added the links to these names.

Sojourners covered this story here.

It is worth noting that one of America’s most popular Bonhoeffer biographers, Eric Metaxas, is a Trump supporter.  His biography has been widely criticized by Bonhoeffer scholars.  The most recent critique of Metaxas came from Rhodes College professor Stephen Haynes.

“An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump”

 

 

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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 TrumpSome 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.”
• “[Hitler], the most German man, is also the most faithful, a believing Christian. We know that he begins and ends the course of his day with prayer, that he has found in the Gospel the deepest source of his strength.”
• “If the German who truly believed in Jesus could find the Spirit of the kingdom of God anywhere, he could find it in Adolf Hitler’s movement.”
• “In the pitch-black night of Christian church history, Hitler became like a wonderful transparency for our time, a window through which light fell upon the history of Christianity.”
• “[God has granted us an] hour of grace . . . through Adolf Hitler.”
• “God has once again raised his voice in a singular individual.”13 Compare these statements with those made in recent months by American charismatic and evangelical leaders:
• “God raised up . . . Donald Trump” (Michelle Bachman).
• “God has righteously chosen [Trump] to affect the way that this nation goes forward” (Chuck Pierce).
• “Donald Trump represents a supernatural answer to prayer” (James Robison).
• “God had raised up [Trump] for such a time as this” (Stephen Strang).
• “Donald Trump actively seeks God’s guidance in his life” (James Dobson).
• Trump’s victory “showed clear evidence of ‘the hand of God’ on the election” (Franklin Graham).
• “[Trump is] a bold man, a strong man, and an obedient man” (Kenneth Copeland).
• “I see this as a last-minute reprieve for America, and the Church” (Rodney Howard-Browne).
• “[Trump] does look like he’s the last hope” (Phyllis Schlafly).
• “God was raising up Donald Trump as He did the Persian king Cyrus the Great” (Lance Wallnau).
• “[Trump is] a man of faith . . . truly committed to making America great again through principles that honor God rather than defy Him” (Stephen Strang).
• “In the midst of . . . despair, came November the 8th, 2016. It was on that day . . . that God declared that the people, not the pollsters, were gonna choose the next president of the United States. And they chose Donald Trump” (Robert Jeffress).
• “We thank God every day that He gave us a leader like President Trump” (Robert Jeffress).14

How is Trump able to convince these Christian leaders that he is worthy of their support? Mostly by paying attention to them, inviting them to Trump Tower, and indulging their need to be listened to in an increasingly post-Christian culture. It is truly remarkable that they have been taken in by Trump’s vague and barely comprehensible statements about his “faith,” such as “I’ve always been spiritual,” “belief is very important,” and “I’m going to do a great job for religion.” Honestly, Hitler was better at pretending to be a Christian.

Read the entire letter here.

Has the Bonhoeffer Moment Arrived?

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer scratching his head

Stephen Haynes is a professor at Rhodes College in Memphis and the author of what appears to be three books on German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. (He also wrote a nice book on pro-slavery southerners that I recommend).

In a recent piece at The Huffington Post, Haynes reflects on what Bonhoeffer might teach Christians in the #ageoftrump.  In the process he challenges Christian writer Eric Metaxas‘s efforts at using Bonhoeffer to convince evangelicals to vote for Donald Trump.

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Bonhoeffer reminds us not to be surprised by the enthusiasm with which some Christians are greeting the Trump “revolution.” As Mary Solberg’s recent translation of documents from the “German Christian” movement in A Church Undone compellingly demonstrates, with a few notable exceptions Protestant Christians’ responses to Hitler’s “seizure of power” in 1933 ranged from cautious hope to giddy enthusiasm. For many Christians, Hitler’s quirks and lack of refinement were overshadowed by his promises to restore law and order, reassert the church’s cultural relevance, put the country back on par with its international rivals, and generally make Germany “great again.” Christians emerging from the economic and psychological morass of Weimar Germany were so enamored of the Nazi vision that they ignored what appear to us as flaming red flags, perceiving only the bright dawn of German redemption.

The reality, however, is that Bonhoeffer’s early antipathy toward Hitler was regarded with irritation by most Christian leaders in Germany, even among those who opposed the church’s nazification. Bonhoeffer’s contemporaries, in fact, viewed him as an unreasonable partisan who was too uncompromising in church disputes, too quick to criticize the fledgling Nazi state, and too pessimistic about Germany’s auspicious future under Hitler. If American Christianity seems dominated at the moment by Trump enthusiasts and those taking a wait-and-see approach, Bonhoeffer’s experience suggests that we should not be surprised.A

And this:

Evangelical Christian leaders could proclaim a “Bonhoeffer moment” in 2015 because those whom they were seeking to rally had come to perceive the German theologian as a defender of their own values. Given American evangelicals’ traditional ambivalence toward Bonhoeffer, this shift in perception calls for an explanation. The major factor, I think, is the success of Eric Metaxas’s 2010 book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Through the book’s commercial success (it is rumored to have sold over a million copies), its endorsement by evangelical leaders, its dubious claim that the theologian’s legacy had been craftily hijacked by liberals and radicals, and the author’s nearly constant presence on social media, television and radio, Metaxas has succeeded in fashioning a portrait of Bonhoeffer that American evangelicals recognize and embrace.

So when Metaxas became a vociferous advocate for a Trump presidency, it is quite likely that a good part of the 80% of the evangelical electorate that helped elect him viewed their choice as not only morally defensible, but prophetic. The Bonhoeffer scholars I know do not respect Metaxas as an interpreter of Bonhoeffer and view his invocation of Bonhoeffer in support of Trump as an egregious misappropriation of the theologian’s legacy. But in a cultural environment characterized by suspicion of credentialed elites, members of the Bonhoeffer guild must to do more to establish our credibility than refer to our degrees and publications. We have to make a careful case that thinking with Bonhoeffer during this fraught time in our political history means embracing our responsibility to those under threat, those who, like the Jewish victims of Nazism Bonhoeffer alluded to in Ethics, are the “weakest and most defenseless brothers of Jesus Christ.”

In October, after Trump’s notoriously misogynist “locker room” rant had become public, Metaxas used an editorial in the Wall Street Journal to double down on his bid to convince repulsed Christians of their obligation to pull the lever for Trump. Invoking his hero, Metaxas reminded readers that “the anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer also did things most Christians of his day were disgusted by,” refusing to let his decisions be governed by a desire for “moral pur[ity].”

However we evaluate that pre-election advice, the time is past for judging Trump on the despicable things he said during the campaign. The stakes now are much higher. Trump is no longer a candidate whose comments and opinions “many think odious” (as Metaxas conceded in October), but a president-elect whose policies and appointments have the potential to do real existential harm. In my view, at least one of Metaxas’s references to Bonhoeffer remains relevant: “God will not hold us guiltless.”

Read the entire piece here.