Monday, October 25, 2004

Return of the Confessing Church?

On May 29, 1934, a group of leaders from the Christian organizations in Germany that made up the underground Confessing Church met in the German town of Barmen to discuss the increasing perversion of Christian church due to the radical teachings of Adolf Hitler. These perversions included the hailing of Hitler as a prophet by pro-Nazi German Christians and attempts at removing non-Aryan racial/ethnic elements from the church.

The Confessing Church had originally formed as a response to these dangers to provide a haven for dissenting German Christians to continue to practice their religion in churches that were not under the control, explicitly or implicitly, of the Nazi government. Early leaders of this anti-Nazi movement included Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was forbidden to preach by Nazis and assisted a group of Jews to escape to Switzerland, which he was hanged for in 1945.

At the May 1934 meeting in Barmen, the leaders of the Confessing Church put together a statement rejecting what they considered to be a collection of false teachings that had been incorporated into the German Christian church due to the influence of Hitler. This statement was given the formal title of the "Theologicial Declaration of Barmen", but is usually referred to now simply as the Barmen Declaration. The language used in the statement was clear and unmistakable in the doctrine it was intended to attack, as each of the 6 points contained a sentence beginning with "We reject the false doctrine..."

This historical document was brought to my attention last night while I was discussing the recent statement sent out via email by the Christian Sojourners organization, which bills itself as
...a Christian ministry whose mission is to proclaim and practice the biblical call to integrate spiritual renewal and social justice.
One of my friends informed me that the language used in Sojourners statement was nearly identical to that of the Barmen Declaration.

Without a doubt in my mind, the authors of the recent statement, and most of the 200 Christian theologians and ethicists that have signed it, intentionally used language and a format nearly identical to the Barmen Declaration. These are men and women that have Master or Doctorate degrees in Religion. I am friends with a number of Religion majors at my small Christian college, and they all are somewhat familiar with the Barmen Declaration. This is no small coincidence.

I believe that a large portion of conservative Christians will use this connection to the Barmen Declaration and Nazism to discount the validity of both the statement and Sojourners as the result of insane liberal notions. However, an examination of the Sojourners organization can undermine the idea that it is a raging liberal organization, as it teaches only what is firmly based in Christian scripture.

The mainstream Christian church today has, to a large degree, abandoned its calling to advance social justice and peace worldwide, and Sojourners has pointed this out. Such actions have led Bible-thumpers such as Pat Robertson to label the group as "semi-socialist", as if that is inherently a bad thing.

I'm currently attempting to find the list of theologians and ethicists that have signed the recent statement, in order that the concerns that led to its writing can be deemed valid. If I am able to find the list, I'll post it here.

My topics are usually not this religious-centric, but I just came upon both the statement and its connection to the Barmen Declaration, and believe that both such topics could be of great interest to the ASZ community as they relate to Christians opposing the actions of the current administration, which is a cause that brings most of us together.

UPDATE 10/26/2004 9PM EST: On the bottom of this site, you can find of list of the 200+ theologians and ethicists that have signed the recent statement. Much thanks to the wonderful Liz of BlondeSense for directing me to this!