Posts Tagged Trump

A Bonhoeffer moment – Bill Leonard* –

Bill LeonardIs this “a Bonhoeffer moment” in American political, cultural and spiritual life? A lot of people, across the theological spectrum, seem to think as much, or at least find the question worth pursuing. A cursory Google search reveals varying views and contradictory interpretations linking Bonhoeffer’s courageous dissent against the Nazis with events and ideas fostered by, but not exclusive to, the Trump Kulturkampf.

German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a major force in the Confessing Church that offered resistance to National Socialism; he led in founding an alternative seminary; and worked diligently to protect and rescue Jews. Accused of plotting against Hitler, he was imprisoned in 1943, and executed two years later. In works such as The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics, his powerful ideas have impacted generations inside and beyond the church.

Liberals have long claimed Bonhoeffer, particularly his reflections on “religionless Christianity.” Harvard’s Harvey Cox opens the final chapter of his classic work, The Secular City (1965)by citing Bonhoeffer’s prison-essayed assertion that, “We are proceeding toward a time of no religion at all”; and his question: “How do we speak in a secular fashion of God?” Conservatives long interpreted Bonhoeffer’s denunciation of “cheap grace” as a rebuke of liberalism’s accommodation to culture at the expense of orthodoxy. (Not that conservatives haven’t pedaled a little cheap grace here and there.)

Recent references to “a Bonhoeffer moment” appeared with evangelical resistance to government legalization of same-sex marriage. Conservative commentator Larry Tomczak wrote in 2015: “And with what’s happening in America, we must get ready to take risks in standing for truth, especially as it relates to marriage. We are facing a ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer Moment.’ You recall that he chose civil disobedience and disobeyed Nazi law that stated that protecting Jewish people was against the law. He was hung for his stand. He also said prior to his death, ‘Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’”

In response, Rhodes College professor and Bonhoeffer specialist Stephen Haynes cautioned against pressing the Bonhoeffer model too far, implicitly advocating violence in a society where, unlike Hitler’s Germany, “free speech and open debate” remain intact. Haynes noted that while “advocates of traditional marriage” had freedom to express their opposition to the court ruling, their use of “hyperbolic slogans” should not suggest that the U.S. government was comparable to the one Bonhoeffer worked to destroy.

Last year’s presidential campaign and election results revived the question of a Bonhoeffer moment as dramatized in Eric Metaxas’ book, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (2010). The bestseller again brought Bonhoeffer into the evangelical sphere, made even more controversial by Metaxas’ strong endorsement of Donald Trump for president. He called the election “A Bonhoeffer Moment” for Americans, and urged defeat of “Hitlery Clinton.”

In a Huffington Post response, Professor Haynes observed that most Bonhoeffer scholars “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.” He concluded: “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.’”

To speak of a Bonhoeffer moment does not mean that the U.S. is in the midst of a Hitlerian assault on democracy. Nonetheless:

  • when mass murders occur in elementary schools, houses of worship, music festivals, night clubs, shopping malls, and parking lots;
  • when Neo-Nazis surround a church chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”;
  • when courts find that voting law revisions have racist overtones;
  • and Christian leaders respond with contradictory visions of gospel, church and state;

then a Bonhoeffer moment may be at hand.

Bonhoeffer’s insights are worth revisiting when we feel “no ground under our feet,” a situation he describes in an essay written early in his imprisonment, now the first chapter of his Letters and Papers from Prison. In it, Bonhoeffer lists certain noble qualities by which religious people respond to evil, qualities that may become ineffectual when confronting wickedness masquerading as “light, charity, historical necessity, or social justice.”

  • Reasonable people” fail because “in their lack of vision they want to do justice to all sides, and so the conflicting forces wear them down with nothing achieved.”
  • Representatives of “moral fanaticism” (intensity) fail because they get “entangled in non-essentials” and fall “into the trap set by cleverer people.”
  • People of “conscience” fail because evil overwhelms them “in so many respectable and seductive disguises” that conscience becomes “nervous and vacillating.” They lie to themselves “in order to avoid despair.”
  • Those who “flee from public altercation into the sanctuary of private virtuousness” become numb or blind “to the injustice” around them.
  • At certain times, even these noble traits must be sacrificed, transcended by those who make their entire lives “an answer to the question and call of God.”

But it is Bonhoeffer’s description of “folly” as “a more dangerous enemy to good than evil” that seems eerily pertinent to our own historical moment. He writes: “Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous.”

Before we send that message to the White House, we’d best email a copy to ourselves. It’s too long, and too true, to tweet. Gott segne.

*Both Dr. Bill Leonard and Eric Metaxas were speakers at the John A. Hamrick Lectures in Charleston, SC at First Baptist Church.



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Love Is Stronger Than Hate*

Hate is too easy. It relieves us of any responsibility.  Donald Trump has made hate speech acceptable to thousands of his followers. His rhetoric encourages those who are dissatisfied to blame other Americans for their problems. He wants to divide us by appealing to our worst emotions.

We in Charleston have a stronger message. “Love is stronger than hate.”  We will not be bullied into hatting.  A year after the savage murders of worshipers at Mother Emanuel AME Church an act that was intended for evil has instead been transformed into acceptance and community.

Let us all use our words to create relationships, build each other up, encourage one another and build a stronger community. Let us build bridges of understanding and destroy the walls of bigotry and hatred.

*Published in the Charleston PostandCourier. June 19, 2016

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When religion turns hateful, it loses its moral voice – Dr. Molly Marshall – Baptist News Global


In this craziest of presidential primary seasons, I have not mentioned the Republican candidate with the “best plumage,” the colorful description offered by Marilynne Robinson. I have found his words so offensive, his narcissism so egregious, and his attitude toward “others” so despicable. I have not wanted to draw further attention to this headline-grabbing vortex, so he shall remain nameless. (It is unlikely that he could fire a seminary president, anyway.) Nonetheless, I cannot keep silent about his uncontrolled depiction of the world’s fastest growing religion or about his mocking use of Christianity for political gain.

The statement “Islam hates us” during CNN’s recent debate is one more example of his pattern of reckless speech; it only serves to foment alienation for American Muslims and recruitment opportunity for radical Islamic groups. We must see this statement for what it is: a dangerous pandering to the most exclusivist understandings of Christianity. It also stokes fear in the U.S. Jewish community, given the close ties with Israel.

As a Baptist, I get very nervous when the political realm speaks too much about religion. It is the role of the state to create a context where religious pluralism can flourish; it is not the role of the state to impose or favor one religion over another. As Rowan Williams contends in Faith in the Public Square, the state serves as “mediator and broker whose job is to balance and manage real differences.” Nor it is the role of religion to commandeer the state for its own purposes, and the cynical use of Christianity (a.k.a civil religion?) to further candidates’ prospects demeans responsible faith.

Respect for the religion of others is more than simply tolerating religious difference; rather, it draws from the common affirmation of the dignity of humans and their right to religious liberty. It is a critical task of our time to learn from adherents of other ways of faith. The last thing a politician needs to do is denigrate another religion en masse. Every faith tradition has its radical fringe, and we ought to know better than to measure the whole by those who distort its essential teaching.

I had a conversation recently with a treasured friend in Thailand about whether there is a state religion in his country. He noted that there were stringent efforts to inscribe Buddhism as the state religion in the constitution, but the royal family would not allow it. It seems that the family’s positive acquaintance with Christian missionaries over the years would not allow this legislation to go forward. As a committed Christian leader, he observed that this approach allowed the kind of healthy competition between religions that offered real choice.

While traveling to Southeast Asia, I have been working my way through Miroslav Volf’s new book, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World. Dense and carefully argued, the thesis is that the great world religions are a force for good as they prompt human reach for and response to the transcendent. For these religious pursuits to remain a constructive social force, adherents will have to embrace a distinction between religion and rule; i.e., religion and politics are two “distinct, though intersecting, cultural territories.”

As I head to Myanmar during this time of unprecedented political transition, I am eager to learn how the new government will deal with the ongoing contraction of religious liberty for Muslims and Christians. Outsiders and cautious insiders have criticized Aung San Suu Kyi for her tepid reaction to the brutal treatment of Muslims by radicalized Buddhist leaders. And Christians are always on the margin, too, as they are not members of the “favored religion.” Baptist churches in the United States have witnessed and welcomed the tidal wave of refugees, our spiritual kin. Observers on the ground are hopeful that this courageous leader was wisely biding her time until the election was completed and the new leadership comes to power, which will occur in early April.

A Christian friend in Myanmar gives this perspective:

It is an exciting moment in our history. For many of us, all these things are new in life. … We do hope and pray that things would turn toward the common good of our people in Myanmar and finally peace and justice would prevail.

March 13th was Global Day of Prayer for Burma, and Christians here welcome spiritual support. I encourage you to sustain this praying, especially in this delicate time.

When a religion is an instrument of hate, it has abdicated its moral voice. At the heart of faith traditions is love of God and love of neighbor. We can offer this as a common word, even as we seek to preserve the religious liberty of those who do not share our Christian faith. This will be the best witness of all, demonstrating the remarkable dignity Jesus accords all people.

Molly Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She spoke twice at the Hamrick Lectures at First Baptist Church of Charleston.


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Can Civility Be Restored in American Politics? Robert Parham – ethicsdaily

Can Civility Be Restored in American Politics? | Robert Parham, Civility, Presidential Election, Leadership

The Weekly Standard reported that Trump used some variation of “liar” or “lies” 10 times during the debate, Parham writes. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Republican Party presidential candidates have demolished the wall of civility.

Let’s review what happened at the Republican debate in Greenville, South Carolina, home of a historic Baptist university, Furman; a very conservative university, Bob Jones; and a South Carolina Baptist university, North Greenville.

“You are the single biggest liar, you are probably worse than Jeb Bush,” Donald Trump fired at Ted Cruz.

Cruz returned the fire. “You notice that Donald didn’t disagree with the substance that he supports taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. And Donald has this weird pattern. When you point to his record, he screams ‘liar, liar, liar.'”

The Weekly Standard reported that Trump used some variation of “liar” or “lies” 10 times during the debate. Marco Rubio hurled a variant of the word five times.

It isn’t only the use of the word “liar,” however, that degrades civil discourse.

It’s also profanity. Profanity is a constant companion of Trump, whose every outing seems laced with swear words and in some cases vulgarity. He has torn down the partition between private and public foul language.

He drops the “f-bomb,” the “s-bomb,” the “p-bomb.” He uses the word “hell” repeatedly.

One of his supporters sought to justify Trump’s profanity because Trump was so passionate.

It goes beyond profanity in Trump’s case. He denigrates the disabled, says hateful things about women and maligns Mexicans as rapists.

Trump has now promised to halt his swearing. If past behavior is a predictor to future behavior, then that promise is likely an empty one. Nonetheless, one can hope his better angels will win the war for his soul.

Beyond Trump, one wonders if civility and decency can be restored?

Given the large percentage of evangelical voters in the Republican Party, a segment of Christianity that has prioritized piety and respectfulness, one would expect evangelical leaders to say enough is enough, no more potty-mouth pronouncements at podiums.

Given the large number of conservative voters, a group that values decency, one would think that conservative opinion-makers and leaders would call a halt to such destructive discourse.

Incivility is already surfacing on the Democratic side with Bill Clinton throwing the verbal fireball of “sexism” at Bernie Sanders.

Another Hillary Clinton supporter, Madeline Albright, said there was a “special place in hell” for women if they didn’t vote for Clinton.

In an attempt to apologize, she later justified her accusation based on being “excited” and having used the line a thousand times before to advocate for women.

If Republicans and Democrats don’t strive toward the restoration of civility now, imagine how out of control incivility will be in partisan races across the country.

Surely, advocacy for the return to civility is a commitment that churches can make across the theological spectrum.

Civility isn’t a partisan issue. It’s a moral issue – and one where churches can speak with authority.

Thankfully the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas has a free resource on civility from a biblical perspective.

“Anyone who pays attention to democracy and congregational churches knows the process of influencing and deciding can quickly slide toward volatile speech and personal attacks. There is, however, a better way – one that involves mutual respect as people contend with ideas. We call it acting with civility, and the Bible affirms this approach,” the document reads. “To be civil does not mean a refusal to contend for a position; it means we contend in a Christ-honoring manner.”

The piece includes a seven-point covenant for civility with each point identified with a passage of Scripture.

Yes, civility can be restored, especially if church leaders and members decide to be vocal advocates for civility.

Robert Parham is executive editor of and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.

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