The Longing of Advent

I recently finished a book called Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich, edited by Dean G. Stroud (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013). As the title suggests, it’s a collection of sermons preached in Nazi Germany by a variety of pastors. Some were obscure and little known outside their home parishes, while others are considered the most consequential theologians of the 20th-century. Most were Protestant, though one was a Catholic bishop. Some were able to continue their ministries in relative peace, while others were arrested or deported. Two were murdered in concentration camps. What they had in common was an unwillingness to abandon the Gospel in the face of Nazi terror.

We have much to learn from these brave preachers. I have profited immensely from studying their writings and lives- both their wisdom and their failures. But what struck me most this Advent season was their hope despite the facts on the ground. This is what Walter Brueggeman has termed “faithful imagination” (see Walter Brueggeman, “Faithful Imagination as Sustained Subversion,” in Disruptive Grace: Reflections on God, Scripture, and the Church, ed. Carolyn J. Sharp [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2011], 296-315). In the midst of the Nazi domination of society- during the times when Germany seemed to be winning the war, in the months and years when it seemed that the Third Reich would indeed last a thousand years, when resistance seemed futile and the Church defeated- in these times, they dared to believe that Christ was still Lord.

They knew that even if the Reich lasted a thousand years, it would ultimately be crushed, for

He will come again with glory

to judge the living and the dead.

His kingdom will never end.

They knew that even though the Gestapo could arrest and murder them and the Hitler Youth could brainwash their children, that the Church did not need to succumb to the blasphemies of National Socialism, for

the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. (Matt. 16:18b)

It is this hope that allowed Julius von Jan to stand in front of his congregation on November 16, 1938- the Sunday after Kristallnacht– and read from the Prophet Jeremiah:

Hear the word of the Lord, O King of Judah sitting on the throne of David—you, and your servants, and your people who enter these gates. Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place. For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their servants, and their people. But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation. For thus says the Lord concerning the house of the king of Judah:

You are like Gilead to me,

like the summit of Lebanon;

but I swear that I will make you a desert,

an uninhabited city.

I will prepare destroyers against you,

all with their weapons;

they shall cut down your choicest cedars

and cast them into the fire.

And many nations will pass by this city, and all of them will say one to another, “Why has the Lord dealt in this way with that great city?” And they will answer, “Because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshiped other gods and served them.” (Jer. 22:2-9 NRSV)

Von Jan was deeply aware of the apparent absurdity of these words. The economy was stronger than it had been in decades. Germany’s imperial power was growing, its land stretching further and further with the annexations of Austria and the Sudetenland and its military at an unprecedented strength. The Nazi Party had stretched its tentacles over every part of society and every aspect of life. With the violence of Kristallnacht, it had demonstrated the ruthlessness of its hatred and its utter contempt for the rule of law in service of its racist ideology.

And yet, in the midst of this, von Jan stood up and pronounced God’s sovereignty over the empire.

Preacher after preacher proclaimed this truth, that Jesus is Lord and Hitler is not, and that sooner or later God would put an end to this reign of terror. From where we stand, that may seem easy. We know now that the Third Reich would not, indeed could not, last forever, and that Hitler would be defeated. But what horror had to occur! What crimes had to be committed! How impossible it must have been to believe.

But indeed, believing despite the facts on the ground that YHWH is Lord is the heart of faith.

It is Abraham, the old man with the barren wife, who dared to believe the God who promised to make him the father of a great nation, and out of that belief dared to follow obediently into the wilderness.

It is Moses, the stuttering shepherd who at the command of YHWH dared to demand of Pharoah, over and over,

Let my people go! (Ex. 5:1)

It is Esther, who dared to risk her life to plead with King Ahasuerus not to murder her people.

It is the Psalmist, and indeed all faithful Jews, who dared to sing under pagan rule:

The heavens proclaim his righteousness,

and all the peoples see his glory.

All worshipers of images are put to shame,

who make their boast in worthless idols;

worship him, all you gods! (Ps. 97:6-7)

It is Israel, daring to await the Messiah who was to rescue them from their oppression and exile and inaugurate the reign of the God of Israel.

It is Jesus, the simple rabbi from a backwater province, who, in response to Pilate, a governor in one of the most powerful empires in history, claiming to have the authority to release of crucify Jesus, dared to say,

You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. (Jn. 19:11a)

It is the female disciples, along with Joseph of Arimathea, daring to stay by Jesus’ side until his last breath, as the soldiers taunted

If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself! (Lk. 23:37)

They dared to stay even into those darkest hours of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, when all appeared to be lost, when it appeared as though the empire had won by crucifying yet another would-be Messiah. It seemed as though everything Jesus had proclaimed and worked for was dead and destroyed. And yet, in the ultimate act of subversion, this turned out to be God’s wisdom and victory, through which he put all rulers of the world to shame and struck the penultimate blow against death, the final enemy, upon which the power of all the tyrants of the world depends.

Ultimately, it is all of us, as we languish between Christ’s ascension and his return.

Advent is the acting out of this waiting. Just as Israel awaited deliverance from exile and bondage- though she often misunderstood what this meant- we also await delivery,

waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Pt. 3:13)

All followers of Christ must dare to engage in this insane exercise, this irrational, unreasonable trusting in God and his foolish wisdom over the domineering violence of the empire. While the rulers and authorities of the world seek to assert their strength through ever increasing violence and envision a future where they will wield death as a weapon against all resistance, we await a day when the one true Creator God

shall judge between the nations,

and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore. (Isa. 2:4)

As Walter Brueggeman writes,

this vision sounds impossible. It sounded impossible the first time it was uttered; it has not become more realistic in the meantime. Advent, nonetheless, is a time for a new reality. It is not the poem but the old power arrangements of deathliness that are unrealistic. They are unrealistic among the nations and in our communities and churches and families. There is a new possibility now among us, rooted in God’s love and God’s suffering power. Power from God’s love breaks the vicious cycles. We have seen them broken in Jesus, and occasionally we have seen them broken in our own lives. It is promised that the cycles can be broken, disarmament will happen, and life can be different. It is promised and it is coming, in God’s good time. (Walter Brueggeman, Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent, ed. Richard Floyd [Lousiville: Westminster John Knox, 2017], 11.)

We hope, despite the pain and suffering of this present age, that God will fulfill his promise to restore all things and execute final judgment against evil in the world. We hope in the vision of Isaiah 65, when the dead shall be raised, all people shall live in harmony, and the whole of creation shall prosper and teem with life.

This is why, when at Christmas we sing

Come, thou long expected Jesus,

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee

it still resonates deeply in our hearts.

It is why we proclaim that

We look forward to the resurrection of the dead,

and to life in the world to come.

So this Advent, as we regard the shattered and broken world around us and the shattered and broken people within us, as we groan along with the whole creation, awaiting the redemption of our bodies and the world, let us cling to the voice that says,

Behold, I am making all things new. (Rev. 21:5a)


(By the way, here’s an Advent playlist I created on Spotify to help observe the season. I aimed mostly for a contemplative hymn vibe, but it wound up being a bit of a mixture. If you have suggestions for albums or songs to add, let me know in the comments!)

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV), published by Crossway. I slightly modified the translation of Matthew 16:18 to read “her” instead of “it” (Greek αὐτῆς aftēs) for clarity.

On Culture Wars and the Incarnation

Christmas is one of those days that has been nearly severed from its real meaning in public understanding. Most of the West celebrates it with a mixture of Northern European pagan traditions, and the “real meaning” is usually reduced to a vague sense of feeling good and being nice to people. This is typically given cultural expression via songs about snow and Santa Claus, along with lots of parties and baked goods and lights. The religious roots of the holiday are given a nod by lazy DJs, who loop various versions of the same 20 Christmas hymns for an entire month in a vain attempt to abate the excruciating mediocrity of the 20 basically secular “holiday” songs everyone pretends to like. The holiday has become so culturally ubiquitous that even followers of other religions (or none at all) celebrate it, either directly or by incorporating elements of it into their own holidays that fall around the same time.

This has led to an avoidance of any religious connotations surrounding Christmas in the public sphere. Oftentimes, this takes the form of basically celebrating Christmas, but being very careful to avoid using the actual word “Christmas”. Of course, the United States has a quite vocal contingent of people who are upset about this, and another, equally vocally contingent of people who are upset by people being upset about this, thus resulting in the annual War on Christmas, for which I spend the whole year stocking giant candy canes to use as swords and fruitcakes to use as cannonballs. (In other words, thesis: Religious Right, antithesis: New Atheism, synthesis: Culture Wars?)

While I’m certainly not a member of the Religious Right, I do sympathize with the desire to preserve the meaning of Christmas. Unfortunately, in all the yelling about the how Jesus is the Reason for the Season, we forget to ever actually explain what that means. I’ve only begun to appreciate it over the last couple years, so I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned.

The chief doctrine of Christmas is the incarnation. In the words of the Nicene Creed, this means that

For us and for our salvation

he came down from heaven;

he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,

and was made human.

There are a number of Biblical passages that describe this. Perhaps the most well-known is John 1:1-18. For us, I’d like to focus in on Philippians 2:6-11. It tells us that Christ,

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

but emptied himself, by taking the form of a slave,

being born in the likeness of men.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him

and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

There’s a lot to this passage, so I’ll attempt to summarize it briefly (you can find a more thorough analysis here). The first basic meaning of the incarnation is this: the Son of God, who indeed is God himself, descended from his place of privilege and power to the level of humanity, living a completely human life and eventually dying a horrendous, painful, shameful death, being killed with an execution technique so awful it was considered improper to even speak about. But through this horrible death, he actually conquered death and overcame evil, putting to shame the rulers and authorities of the world by rising from the dead and ascending back into heaven, where he reigns through his Church until the day when he will return to judge the living and the dead.

This is often referred to as Christ’s condescension. In this passage, Paul is using it to explain to the church in Philippi how they should conduct themselves. If God himself was willing to humble himself this far out of love for us, how much more should we mere idolatrous humans humble ourselves in the service of others?

Indeed, God’s love for the undeserving and outcasts turns out to be a constant theme in the Christmas narratives. Take, for example, the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. A genealogy would normally only list male family members, and given the intensely nationalistic understanding of the Messiah’s mission that was dominant in Second Temple Judaism, one would expect a purely Jewish heritage of men who faithfully observed the Torah.

Instead, Matthew lists five women, affirming their dignity and worth during in a society where a women’s testimony wasn’t even admissible in court. These women are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. They also did not fit the racial expectations of their day; Rahab was a Gentile (Josh 2), and Tamar may have been as well (Jubilees 41:1 lists her as an Aramean). Bathsheba was likely a Hebrew, but was married to a Hittite. This affirms that people of all ethnicities and races are included in God’s family. Rahab was a prostitute; Bathsheba committed adultery with King David (2 Sam. 11:1-12:25), which is how she became pregnant with Solomon; Tamar tricked her father-in-law into getting her pregnant with Perez (Gen. 38:1-30; yes, it’s a weird story).

This means that three of the four women recorded in Jesus’ genealogy were known as sinners, and for two of them, the sins they were known for were actually the means by which the became ancestors of Jesus. Remember as well that Mary, the mother of Jesus, would have been viewed as a sexual transgressor for being pregnant out of wedlock. That their sins, real or perceived, were sexual and took place in a patriarchal honor/shame culture compels us to consider carefully the interaction of shame & power with sex & gender in our own culture. Above all, we learn this: in Jesus, all we sinners are reconciled to God- male and female, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor. God shows no partiality. (For an excellent discussion of this, see Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels, [Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2008], 38-55).

But there’s another critical element to the incarnation, and it’s sadly missed or even denied within the Western church. This is that God’s entrance into his creation and indwelling of human flesh affirms the essential goodness of the created order and the material world. Many Christians have unconsciously swallowed a version of Christianity that says that the physical world, particularly the human body, is a prison, and the whole point of Christianity is to escape it and spend eternity as a disembodied spirit in an immaterial otherworld. I don’t have the space here to launch into a full discussion of this, which is why I’ve listed some additional resources at the end, but the short version is that this idea is a repackaging of the Gnostic heresy, which taught, among other things, that the material world was essentially bad and the product of a lesser, evil God. (For some reason, it’s become hip to say this is the better form of Christianity that should’ve prevailed, which Michael J. Kruger responds to briefly here).

So why does this matter?

It matters because how we view the material world has enormous implications for how we live our lives. If the earth that God created is a hindrance to our ultimate goal, we will not care for it. It matters because it affirms that our bodies will be redeemed; “for if the flesh were not in a position to be saved, the Word of God would in no wise have become flesh” (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.14.1). As Torrance put it,

Perhaps the most fundamental truth which we have to learn in the Christian Church, or rather relearn since we have suppressed it, is that the incarnation was the coming of God to save us in the heart of our fallen and depraved humanity, where humanity is at its wickedest in its enmity and violence against the reconciling love of God. That is to say, the incarnation is to be understood as the coming of God to take upon himself our fallen human nature, our actual human existence laden with sin and guilt, our humanity diseased in mind and soul in its estrangement or alienation from the Creator. This is a doctrine found everywhere in the early Church in the first five centuries, expressed again and again in the terms that the whole man had to be assumed by Christ if the whole man was to be saved, that the unassumed is unhealed, or that what God has not taken up in Christ is not saved. The sharp point of those formulations of this truth lay in the fact that it is the alienated mind of man that God had laid hold of in Jesus Christ in order to redeem it and effect reconciliation deep within the rational centre of human being. (Thomas F. Torrance, The Mediation of Christ [Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard, 1992], 48-49).

If we believe our only goal as Christians is to cram as many people into heaven as possible and ignore God’s concern for the entirety of the person, we will completely miss both our general purpose as humans to reflect the image of God and cultivate the earth (Gen. 1:28-30) and our particular mission as the Church to work for the Kingdom of God as outlined in Luke 4:16-30. Even more seriously, if we view the creation that God declared “very good” (Gen. 1:31) negatively, we blaspheme him and call him a liar. This is a grave- and dangerous- matter.

So this Christmas, let’s put away all the arguments and anger about losing our cultural hegemony. Let’s instead remember the beautiful truth of the incarnation: that God became human in order to reconcile all people to himself and redeem his good but fallen creation. Let’s sing with joy alongside all of creation, allowing its beauty to push us into a deeper love of the Creator. In the words of John Calvin, “there is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice!” Let’s bow in worship of our servant king, come to earth for us and our salvation.


Further resources on the goodness of creation and holistic eschatology:

-If you like videos, The Bible Project is a nonprofit that produces short videos on various biblical themes; see particularly their word study on “soul“. For a longer video introduction, see this excellent talk by J. Richard Middleton of Northeastern Seminary on God’s plan for humanity.

-If you like audio, see this sermon series from Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon.

-If you like reading, here’s a short but somewhat dense booklet by Sam Storms. For an incredibly accessible yet thorough book, check out John Mark Comer’s Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015). For a lengthier treatment of the topic of resurrection, see N.T Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco: Harper One, 2008). For a thorough examination of how this ties into the Biblical narrative, see J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV), published by Crossway. I modified the translation of Philippians 2:6-11 to read “slave” instead of “servant”, which most translators have preferred for this passage, as the Greek δοῦλος doulos has a fairly wide semantic range, including “slave”, “servant”, or “bondservant”, and “slave” seems to fit better in the overall context of this passage (see Thayer for usage examples).

Resources on Holistic Eschatology

-If you like videos, The Bible Project is a nonprofit that produces short videos on various biblical themes; see particularly their word study on “soul“. For a longer video introduction, see this excellent talk by J. Richard Middleton of Northeastern Seminary on God’s plan for humanity.

-If you like audio, see this sermon series from Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon.

-If you like reading, here’s a short but somewhat dense booklet by Sam Storms. For an incredibly accessible yet thorough book, check out John Mark Comer’s Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015). For a lengthier treatment of the topic of resurrection, see N.T Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church (San Francisco: Harper One, 2008). For a thorough examination of how this ties into the Biblical narrative, see J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014).

“You Shall Surely Die”?

a pattern of sound words

I’m reading through the first volume of Abraham Kuyper’s writings on Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World (Lexham Press, 2016), and thoroughly enjoying that project. The whole volume has been full of great insights, and here I want to summarize part of his chapter in that volume entitled “You Shall Surely Die”.

kuyper Abraham Kuyper

Kuyper is in the midst of extended reflections on what happened in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve fell into sin, and what that means for the way in which the world relates to God. Because Adam and Eve clearly did not physically die the same day that they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he points out that the expression “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17, ESV) is usually taken to mean that “the seed of physical death was implanted…

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News Sources

Just some of my recommendations on English-language news sources.


For US news:
  • The Associated Press is the standard news wire agency, aka where other newspapers get a lot of their stories.
  • NPR is probably the gold standard. Excellent coverage, balanced, good cultural and investigative reporting.
  • PBS News Hour is good as well.
  • New York Times and the Washington Post are two of my favorite newspapers. They have a liberal editorial bent, but they’re generally pretty objective and have good investigative journalism.
  • Wall Street Journal and Chicago Tribune are about the same quality, but conservative and with less investigative journalism.
  • The Atlantic and Vox both provide good analysis from a liberal perspective.
  • Reason Magazine is a libertarian publication that does a good job of bringing facts into conversations often dominated by emotions, especially in cases where something is being misrepresented.
  • Foreign Policy is also an excellent analysis source.
For international sources:
  • Reuters is the standard British news wire agency, also tremendously high standards.
  • The BBC is top notch as well and has good, well-rounded global coverage.
  • CBC is my standard Canadian source; I also occasionally read the Montreal Gazette and the Toronto Star.
  • Foreign Affairs and the Economist are British and provide good analysis. The Economist touts itself as being part of the “radical center“, which I honestly thought was just a meme until I read that editorial. (I’m still not convinced it isn’t.)
  • The Irish Times is decent as far as I can tell, but I don’t really read it enough to know.
  • The Guardian is British and intentionally liberal and very anti-Trump; they have an open agenda and their headlines can be misleading, but they have good investigative journalism and sometimes decent editorials.
  • I can’t really say I have a high-quality Middle East focused source just due to the level of tension, but Haaretz is my go to for Israel/Jewish news since they’re liberal Zionists, which is about as neutral as you’re going to get. They have a wider editorial range than most newspapers I’ve seen.
  • Times of Jerusalem is pretty conservative but OK; Jerusalem Post is conservative and a bit lower quality in my experience, though I don’t know that I have enough experience with both to make that call.
  • Al Jazeera is… good, but definitely has an agenda, so read/watch everything critically.
  • I know some people like Al Arabiyah and Middle East Eye, but I can’t really tell you anything about them.
  • Jacobin is a good US-based socialist magazine with an international eye, though they can get cocky sometimes and some of their editorials are straight trash.
  • RFE/RL is a news agency focused on Central/Eastern Europe that started out as an anti-Communist/alternative news source during the Cold War.
  • It’s hard to get unbiased news on Russia since the major English-language network, Russia Today, is state-owned and pretty much only good if you want the official Kremlin line, but I’ve heard good things about the Moscow Times.
  • Deutsche Welle is for German learners, so they have an English-language site/channel as well.
  • Generally, your best bet for countries that either lack a free press or don’t publish much in English is going to be the BBC and Reuters.
  • Politico and The Hill are good politics sources; the Cato Institute is a good conservative think tank.
As far as what to avoid:
  • anything 24-hours (CNN, MSNBC, Fox News- although CNN is the least egregious).
  • Anything hyper-partisan like ThinkProgress, Occupy Democrats, Right Wing News, Huffington Post (although I do follow their Black Voices and Women pages), or the Blaze.
  • Then there’s Breitbart, which is in its own category referred to in technical language as “shit-tier reactionary garbage”, and conspiracy sites like InfoWars, which I suppose has some entertainment value if you like watching Alex Jones gradually implode.
Basically, use common sense. If something is openly biased based on the title or written for the purpose of inflaming you, stay away or at least verify the story with other sources. (Occasionally ThinkProgress does publish something decent, but only occasionally, and you’ll want to verify their facts). Also avoid most British papers (the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Mirror) and anything that looks like a tabloid.
Times of London is pretty much the only decent one.

Tear Down the Walls: A Biblical and Systematic Response to Xenophobia, Ethnocentrism, and Racism

Note: These are my notes from a talk I gave at Cornerstone Christian Ministry on January 18, 2017. I’ve only recently gotten around to editing them because of various other projects and constraints on my time. Much has happened in the months since I originally gave this talk, including the firing of most of the officials mentioned and an awful lot of xenophobic policy and violence; I have not attempted to update this transcript to include those events. The end of this reflects that fact and deals only with the information that was available at that time. I encourage the reader to stay updated on current events and to learn more about these things on their own. My goal with this is simply to provide a framework for Christians to think about this topic and to make the reader aware of the gravity of the present situation so that they may be stimulated to learn more on their own. This is nowhere near exhaustive- indeed, it barely scratches the surface of what the Bible has to say about this, and as I review it one final time before publication, I am struck by how much more there is to be said. But I have judged it to be sufficient for what it is and for my abilities at the moment, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak where I have been silent and correct where I have erred. All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV); this translation and many others are available for free online here.


Good evening, everybody! I’m Nick, and tonight I’m going to be talking to you about xenophobia- what it is, what the Gospel has to say about it, how it manifests itself, and what we as Christians are called to do about it. This is a difficult topic. It’s a serious one. But it’s also a very important one. Some of you will probably be upset or offended by what I say tonight; that’s OK. My hope for this talk is that everyone, myself included, walks out feeling at least a little mad, a little upset, a little like we’re doing something wrong. We as Christians are not called to live lives of anger- quite the opposite. But we are called to be angry about the things God is angry about, and xenophobia is one of those. So I ask one thing of you: to listen, earnestly and sincerely. And if you disagree, if you think I’m way off base- let’s talk. We have a discussion time afterwards just for that. And if you don’t feel comfortable with that, then talk to me privately. Let’s get coffee and chat. But please don’t disengage. Please don’t look away.

So what is xenophobia? Can anyone tell me? Yes, it’s fear of foreigners, particularly immigrants and refugees. It’s often tied in with other prejudices such as racism. To be clear: this is not, strictly, a talk about racism. That talk is an important one to have. But it’s not one I personally feel equipped for, and so I’m going to discuss it primarily as it relates to xenophobia.

We’ll dive more into the particulars of xenophobia and how it has manifested itself in the past and continues today, but first, I’d like to equip you with a biblical/theological framework with which to approach it. There are three places from which I’m going to engage this: the doctrine of creation, the doctrine of reconciliation, and the example of the early church. The first two fall under what we call systematic theology. This is what comes most naturally to me- I study systematic theology, and so I’m inclined to think of these things in how they relate to the central teachings of the Gospel.

The biblical account of creation is amazing in its uniqueness. It is structured so as to parallel other Near Eastern creation myths in order to reject their doctrine. In other stories, the beginning of the universe is violent and chaotic; humans are slaves to the gods, and work is overwhelmingly bad. But in the book of Genesis, God actually shares his responsibility and power with humans. In Genesis 1:26-28, often called the cultural mandate, he commands humans to rule over and tend his creation. After naming all that he makes on the first three days of creation, he leaves the work of the remaining three days to be named by humans. Old Testament scholar J. Richard Middleton comments on the implications of this:

This sharing of power is radically different from the ancient Near Eastern worldview, in which only some elite person (typically the king) was regarded as the image of God. Indeed, the entire social order in the ancient world was predicated on the concentration of power in the hands of a few who controlled access to blessing from the gods, thus reducing the majority of the populace to a lower, dependent social status. Human imaging of God’s power on earth will therefore need to take into account the fact that in the biblical account no human being is granted dominion over another at creation; all equally participate in the image of God. The process of cultural development is meant to flow from a cooperative sharing in dominion, modeled on God’s own sharing of power with human beings.
The Genesis creation account provides a normative basis to critique interhuman injustice or the misuse of powers over others, whether in individual cases or in systemic social formations. Specifically, since both male and female are made in God’s image with a joint mandate to rule (Gen. 1:27-28), this calls into question the inequities of power between men and women that have arisen in patriarchal social systems and various forms of sexism throughout history. And since the imago Dei is prior to any ethnic, racial, or national divisions (see Gen. 10), this provides an alternative to ethnocentrism, racism, or any form of national superiority; beneath the legitimate diversity of cultures that have developed in the world, people constitute one human family. God’s intent from the beginning is thus for a cooperative world of shalom, generosity, and blessing, evident most fundamentally in his own mode of exercising power at creation.

-J. Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and A New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2014), 51-52.

Creation is the beginning of the Gospel. But what comes after that? The fall, and then redemption and ultimately restoration. The fall in Genesis 3 is essentially the collective turning of humanity from God. This is the beginning of what we call sin. Sin is rooted in idolatry, which New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop N.T. Wright defines as the failure to worship and reflect God’s image into the world. The result of sin and idolatry is that we give power to created things, power that they never should have had. And so these things rule over us, and the entire creation is out of joint. Our relationship with creation, with others, and with God is broken. Redemption is thus the correction of this brokenness, the restoration of this relationship. This is why when asked in Matthew 22 what the greatest commandment is, Jesus responds

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

20th-century Swiss Reformed theologian Emil Brunner explains this thus:

For sin as personal self-isolation from God is at the same time self-isolation from man. When through faith in Christ sin is removed, and man’s heart is opened to God, it is opened also to his fellow man; life for oneself is replaced by life for another, by the will to fellowship and the capacity for it. Thus regeneration means two things: that we become our real selves, and that we become capable of real fellowship. The faith through which we are born again includes the knowledge that the creation of a true self is identical with the creation of a true capacity for fellowship.

-Emil Brunner, Dogmatics: Volume III- The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation, trans. David Cairns (London: Lutterworth Press, 1960), 274-275.

The clearest way in which this is love demonstrated is in the means Christ used to save us. Being fully God, he could well have chosen to stay above us. But he,

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

–Philippians 2:6-11

This example of Christ is quoted throughout the letters of the New Testament as the basis of Christian ethics. What makes this especially mind-blowing is what the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 5:10: Christ did this while we were “enemies of God”. If the holy God of the universe gave up his rightful place and died to save his enemies, how much more should we mere idolatrous humans who have been saved by his grace lay aside ourselves and every claim to privilege for those around us? In light of this, what justification do we have to cling to our rights- or to what we believe to be our rights- at the expense of others?

Now that we’ve seen some of the basic Biblical principles of our relationship with others, I want to explore what the Bible has to say explicitly about ethnicity. The answer is a lot. Throughout the Old Testament, we see that the purpose of Israel’s election is not merely that Israel may be saved, but that it would be an instrument through which all nations would be redeemed. We see this made explicit in the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” says God to Abraham. This is also made clear in Isaiah 56:

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
 For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.”

Furthermore, Gentile figures feature prominently throughout the Old Testament, such as Ebed-melech the Ethiopian in Jeremiah 38 & 39, Rahab in Joshua 2, and Ruth, who even has her own book of the Bible. In fact, Rahab and Ruth are both listed in Matthew 1 as ancestors of Jesus, and this in a time when women were not normally included in genealogies. The implications of this for our view of ethnicity and sex cannot be ignored. We must also note that Rahab was not only a Gentile and a woman, but also a sex worker. It would be difficult to think of someone more outcast in this period, and yet she is an ancestor of Jesus.

There is doubtless someone who at this point has raised a question in their mind regarding other parts of the Old Testament that seem to indicate support for ethnocentrism and genocide. I will make two general hermeneutical comments in this regard. The first is that what we have seen thus far is sufficient to indicate a God whose justice is radically inclusive and concerned with justice for people of all nations. On this basis we are compelled to examine those seemingly problematic passages more carefully to see whether we are perhaps misreading them. The second is that much of what we see there has to do with Israel being set apart. Israel’s taking on of customs from the surrounding peoples of Canaan in Judges meant that they were worshipping false gods, and it is for this reason that the very particular cultural customs of the law, such as dietary restrictions, exist. We see this in Acts 10, where God speaks to Peter in a dream and declares all foods clean, as well in Acts 15, where the Council of Jerusalem decides that Gentiles who have turned to God should not be forced to keep the Law of Moses.

Both of these passages are central to the Acts of the Apostles because the book is so focused on the expansion of the church to include Gentiles. This theme continues throughout the Epistles and is the main reason for the writing of Ephesians, Philippians, and Galatians, which famously proclaims in chapter 3, verse 28 that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This does not mean that these distinctions cease to exist; it means that they are secondary to our identity as the redeemed in Christ and members of the Church Universal. No one has greater access to God on the basis of birthright, sex, or class. We are all called to live in equal, loving community with each other.

This is all consummated in the great image in Revelation 7 of every tribe and tongue worshiping together in the new creation:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Now let’s take a look at how Jesus announced this in his own ministry. We’ll start with Luke 4, where he proclaims the beginning of his ministry.

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”


And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61 to show what the kingdom he is proclaiming is like: a kingdom where justice reigns, where the oppressed are set free, where the blind see. Everything he says here, he demonstrates concretely in the course of his ministry by actually doing- hence why he proclaims that the Scripture is fulfilled. But just as important as what he says is what he does not say. He only reads the beginning of the oracle, cutting it off mid-sentence right before “and the day of vengeance of our God”. That line would have been understood by his audience to mean judgment on the Gentiles, and by leaving it out, he’s making a statement about that assumption. He then goes out of his way to make his point by recounting the story of Elijah and the widow from 1 Kings 17 and of Naaman the Syrian from 2 Kings 5. Both of these stories depict times of great need for Israel in which God chose to heal a foreigner instead of ethnic Israelites. Jesus points this out, and this so angers his audience that they attempt to kill him. In telling these stories, Jesus makes clear that the kingdom he is proclaiming is not what they have been imagining. Rather than a military revolution that would overthrow Roman rule and establish a state in which ethnic Israel would reign over Gentiles, he is proclaiming a revolution of peace and justice that will establish a kingdom where all are welcome and equal on the basis of God’s sovereign choice and their following him, not on their ethnic background or cultural practices.

Jesus teaches this more specifically by demonstrating it with a particular group; namely, Samaritans in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10, and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

And now the story of the Samaritan woman:

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”  Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

Both of these stories are incredibly theologically rich and are two of the most-cited passages in Scripture about love of neighbor. I won’t attempt a full exegesis here, and I encourage the reader to study and meditate on them on their own for the rich meaning in both. In these words you will meet Jesus.

The single most important thing to understand in order to comprehend these passages is the relationship between Jews and Samaritans in 1st-century Palestine. (John provides some commentary on this, as he was writing to a Gentile audience that would be largely unaware of this dynamic).

Samaritans were half-Jewish and half-Gentile, meaning that they were ethnically different from Jews. They also did not worship at the Temple in Jerusalem, meaning they were also religiously different from Jews. And yet Jesus chose one of them as an example of righteousness above Jewish religious leaders who did everything correctly. This of course is reminiscent of the prophets, especially Amos, who warned that true worship consists not of proper ritual but rather of service to God and neighbor. But it also highlights that everyone is your neighbor, even- especially- those who are different from us. In particular, the truth that we are commanded to love those of other faiths is of vital importance in a world where many of those suffering most are Muslim. This does not mean that we need to fall into some sort of universalism or shy away from the truth of the gospel- on the contrary. Jesus explicitly tells the woman that it is the Jews who worship correctly and confronts her personal sin (though he also flouts social standards of the time by being alone with a woman, and a woman known for her perceived promiscuity at that- again, Jesus has a great deal to teach us about sexism and shaming, but that’s a topic for a different talk). It is precisely this truth-telling that will save her; for Jesus himself is Truth.

So what happens when we forget this truth?


Holocaust Victims



These are images of Holocaust victims. People slaughtered en masse because they were perceived as a threat to the good, pure German Volksgemeinschaft and its empire. The middle picture is from the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich. Upon liberating Dachau, the troops of the US Army’s 10th Armored Division found train cars filled with corpses. My grandfather, Private Ray Vistain, was among those soldiers. He later told my mother that no matter how long he lived, he would never, ever forget those sights, and most of all, the smell- the horrendous smell of mass murder.

I want you to look at each one of those pictures. They are shocking, I know. It’s not comfortable to look at these images. It’s disturbing. And that’s precisely why we need to: so they we don’t let this become abstract.

Look at every single face. Think of that person: their life, their family, their hobbies, their job, their dreams for the future. Consider that each and every single one of them was created in the image of God. At which point you may ask: how could anyone do this?

The answer is dehumanization and lies.

Here are some more images for you:




These are from a Nazi propaganda film entitled Der ewige Jude, or The Eternal Jew. The first image shows still frames that placed stereotypical Ashkenazi Jews side-by-side with vermin, such as rats and insects, in order to create an association between the two in the mind of the viewer. The second image is another still displaying the “invasion” of Europe by Jews. (Sound familiar?) The final image is the film’s poster, depicting Jews as sinister, conniving, and foreign by giving them cruel facial expressions, emphasizing “Jewish” phenotypical traits, and using the color red in the Star of David and on their faces in order to evoke evil and Satan.

To be clear, the Holocaust had already been going on for years when this film was released in 1940. This one film did not convince everyone to go out and murder every Jew they could find. But it was one part of an enormous campaign to dehumanize and alienate Jews that paved the way for the attempt to eliminate them- which nearly succeeded. The NSDAP 25-Point Platform of 1920 already defined Jews as an other who could not be a part of the German nation and thus placed them under severe restrictions.

Why did enough Germans go along with this to give the Nazis a plurality in the Bundestag, from which they could make a backroom deal with President Hindenburg’s advisers to get Hitler in power? Because they wanted someone to blame. The war of attrition fought in World War I and the global depression had devastated Europe. Germany was hit especially hard because it had been decided by the Allies that it was responsible for the war and would have to pay massive reparations. Hyperinflation had obliterated the Mark’s value. People were angry and scared and confused and needed someone to blame. So Jews it was.

And this type of prejudice isn’t gone. Just take a look at these pictures of protests in Germany. This is a group called PEGIDA, which stands for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occidentt). They have been protesting every Monday night in cities across Germany since the winter of 2014/2015, starting in Dresden, a city I called home for a brief period.


The sign in the foreground of this picture reads “Enemies of the German People. [Chancellor Angela] Merkel, [Foreign Minister Sigmar] Gabriel and their minions. They are leading an campaign of destruction against us!” This sign implies that the immigration policies of the German federal government are part of a campaign to destroy the German people. Both the words Volk and Vernichtung have strong associations with the Nazi past; Volk was used to describe those who were “true Germans”- that is, fitting Nazi standards of racial purity- and Vernichtung is the term used for the campaign of genocide perpetrated at camps like Auschwitz. Thus, the demonstrator is saying that Merkel and Gabriel are like Nazis for taking in immigrants, employing a common tactic of PEGIDA and the AfD in which Nazi terms are re-appropriated both as positive things and as negative descriptors of ones opponents.


Although no signs are fully legible in this picture- besides perhaps the one in the back that reads Ausländer raus! (foreigners out!), an old anti-immigrant rallying cry often shouted at dark-skinned civilians in the streets- the flags say a fair amount. If you don’t recognize it, these are the flags of the Kaiserreich (the German Empire from 1871-1918). It was the collapse of this empire that bore the Nazi movement, which sought to restore Germany’s former imperial greatness. It is possible that these flags are being carried by members of the Reichsbürger movement, which refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the Federal Republic of Germany and insists that the Kaiserreich is the only true German state. Its members have been known for stockpiling weapons, which led to a shooting that killed one police officer and injured three others in Bavaria last year. Although not strictly speaking a Nazi movement, its focus on reclaiming the German Empire and longing for the past has much in common with these movements.

Hollanda’da ırkçı PEGIDA gösterisi


Both of these signs draw a comparison between Muslim immigration and an invasion. The second is parody of the common “Refugees Welcome” sign, depicting the women and children fleeing war zones as terrorists being chased by a Crusader. This, again, is reminiscent of the invasion propaganda from the Nazi era.


This sign reads “don’t give Islam a chance”. It is a reference to a German public health campaign with billboards reading gib AIDS keine Chance (“don’t give AIDS a chance”). This implies that Islam is a disease and that Muslims are carriers of this disease, similar to Nazi propaganda that depicted Jews as vermin carrying diseases to Europe.


This final picture is a screenshot of a Facebook post made by Heinz-Christian Strache, chairman of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ). It depicts three figures (left to right): “the banks”, “the government”, and “the people”. At first glance, this image may seem benign- a mere commentary on the preferential treatment given to banks, especially in light of the 2008 crash and subsequent recession. But a closer look reveals that the banker is depicted with a hook nose and Stars of David on the cuff of his sleeve, drawing on the old anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews secretly run the world via control of banking, film, television, government, and any other number of other industries. After an outcry over the image, Strache replaced it with a version that removed the Stars of David. Nevertheless, he sent a clear message to both Jews and anti-Semites about whose side he was on.

This same conspiracy theory popped up in a television spot on the eve of the 2016 Presidential election. Before I get into this, let me be clear that I’m not here to condemn or shame anyone for how they voted. That’s not the point here. I’m not here to say that anyone is Hitler or as bad as Hiter. That’s false, unfair, and offensive. This election was an ugly and difficult one, and I know many people voted how they did for many different reasons. What’s done is done, and I’m not going to dwell on it. All I ask is that you listen seriously to what I’m going to present to you and consider the role that xenophobia played in this election.

Do you recognize anyone in that ad? Certainly Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, Senator, Secretary of State, and Democratic Nominee for President. But there are three others who you may or may not know. The first is George Soros, a Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist who has given vast sums of his fortune to promote democracy, aid in the transition from communism to capitalism in Eastern Europe, and advance progressive political causes. The second is Janet Yellen, Chairwoman of the US Federal Reserve. The third is Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of finance giant Goldman Sachs. Now what do these three have in common? Obviously, that they’re all bankers.

They’re also all Jewish.

That’s right. In fact, Secretary Clinton is the only non-Jewish person to appear in a negative light in this ad, and considering it’s a campaign ad against her, it would be rather odd if she didn’t make an appearance.

Note as well what words are spoken while each person is on screen. When Secretary Clinton appears, the viewer is told that she “meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty”. This reflects a belief in an intentional, secret conspiracy at the highest levels of government to submit the United States to the will of global banks.

We are then told just who runs these international banks. The first is George Soros, whom we are told is one of “those who control the levers of power”. After him comes Janet Yellen, who is a part of “global special interests”- an interesting claim, given that she was born and raised in the U.S. and currently works for the U.S. government. Finally, we are given Lloyd Blankfein, who is part of the “global power structure”- again, an interesting claim regarding a natural-born American citizen who works for a U.S.-based company.

To be clear: I’m not claiming that Trump is a full-fledged anti-Semite. He likely had little to no involvement in the creation of this ad. It is even possible that the creators of this ad did not intend to be anti-Semitic (I am skeptical of this, but I will admit its possibility.) But regardless of intent, regardless of involvement, I can guarantee you that every single white nationalist, Klansman, and Neo-Nazi who saw this ad walked away smiling, knowing that the future President of the United States was on their side. And I can guarantee that every single informed Jew and ally watched this and walked away afraid and shocked at such brazen anti-Semitism being used in the campaign of a major presidential candidate.

Trump has also chosen to surround himself with figures known for their xenophobia. Close Trump advisor Steve Bannon is best-known for having turned right-wing site Breitbart News into a haven for extremists and the alt-right and referred to conservative commentator Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew” and journalist Anne Applebaum as a „Polish, Jewish, American elitist“. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who Trump has considered offering a position as Secretary of Homeland Security, is known for authoring anti-immigration laws that have been repeatedly deemed unconstitutional and discriminatory, including Arizona SB 1070. also known as the „papers please“ law. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 for reportedly being too racist. And Mike Flynn, Trumps nominee for National Security Adviser, is known for his affinity for conspiracy theories and Islamophobia, once tweeting that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL”.

Indeed, the whole election was soaked in xenophobia. Here’s an excerpt from the second presidential debate on October 9th, 2016:

Martha Raddatz: We go to Gorbah Hamed for a question for both candidates.

Hamed: Hi. There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States and I’m one of them. You’ve mentioned working with Muslim nations. But with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labelled as a threat to the country after the election is over?

Raddatz: Mr. Trump, you’re first.

Trump: You are right about Islamophobia and that’s a shame. But one thing we have to do is, we have to make sure that, because there is a problem. I mean, whether we like it or not and we can be politically correct, but whether we like it or not, there is a problem. And we have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on. When they see hatred going on, they have to report it. As the example in San Bernardino. Many people saw the bombs all over the apartment of the two people that killed 14 and wounded many, many people. Horribly wounded, they will never be the same. Muslims have to report the problems when they see them. And, you know, there is always a reason for everything. If they don’t do that, it’s a very difficult situation for our country. Because you look at Orlando and you look at San Bernardino and you look at the World Trade Center. Go outside and you look at Paris, look at that horrible thing. These are radical Islamic terrorists and she won’t even mention the word and nor will President Obama. He won’t use the term radical Islamic terrorist, no. To solve a problem you have to be able to state what the problem is or at least, say the name. She won’t say the name and President Obama won’t say the name. But the name is there. It’s radical Islamic terror. And before you solve it, you have to say the name.

Raddatz: Secretary Clinton.

Clinton: Thank you for asking your question and I’ve heard this question from a lot of Muslim Americans across our country. Because unfortunately there has been a lot of very divisive, dark things said about Muslims. And even someone like Captain Khan, the young man who sacrificed himself defending our country in the United States Army has been subject to attack by Donald. I want to say just a couple of things. First: We’ve had Muslims in America since George Washington. And we’ve had many successful Muslims. We just lost a particularly well-known one with Muhammad Ali. My vision of America is an America where everyone has a place, if you are willing to work hard, do your part and you contribute to the community. That’s what America is. That’s what we want America to be for our children and our grandchildren. It’s also very short-sighted and even dangerous to be engaging in the kind of demagogic rhetoric that Donald has about Muslims. We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lawns. I’ve worked with a lot of Muslim groups around America. I’ve met with a lot of them and I’ve heard how important it is for them to feel that they are wanted and included and part of our country. Part of our homeland security. And that’s what I want to see. It’s also important, I intend to defeat ISIS,to do so in a coalition with majority Muslim nations. Right now, a lot of those nations are hearing what Donald says and wondering why should we cooperate with the Americans and this is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists. Violent jihadist terrorists. We are not at war with Islam and it is a mistake, and it plays into the hands of the terrorists, to act as though we are. So I want a country where citizens like you and your family are just as welcome as anyone else.

Note how, in response to a question about discrimination against Muslims, both- yes, both, including Secretary Clinton- candidates wind up talking about terrorism committed by Muslims. Ms. Hamed wanted to know how her future president was going to help her and other members of her community feel safe in a country that has grown increasingly hostile towards them, and instead she was told how her community needs to do a better job of turning in potential terrorists who the vast majority of them have no more contact with than any other American.

Mr. Trump has been particularly blunt in his rhetoric. At a campaign rally in Charleston on February 19, 2016, he told an apocryphal story from the last century.

In the early 1900s, he recounted, Gen. John J. Pershing, known as Black Jack, captured 50 terrorists, dipped 50 bullets in pigs’ blood and had his soldiers execute 49 of the men. “The 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened,’ ’’ Mr. Trump said. “And for 25 years there wasn’t a problem.’’

“So we better start getting tough and we better start getting vigilant and using our heads, or we’re not going to have a country, folks,” Mr. Trump said.

Besides being almost certainly false, as well as graphically violent, this story draws on the fact that observant Muslims do not eat pork. This is commonly used against them in hate crimes, like when severed pig’s heads are left outside mosques. Make no mistake: this is a statement specifically against Muslims.

These attitudes go beyond words. After the San Bernardino massacre in December 2015, Trump infamously called for “a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States”. He later expressed support for a registry of Muslims. His exact plans regarding both of these are still unclear, though surrogate Carl Higbie cited Japanese internment camps as precedent for such an action.

So what do we do about all this?

The first thing we need to understand is that it starts with the Holy Spirit changing our hearts. We are all desperate, depraved sinners, and without his grace we are unable to please him. None of us is above reproach, and it will not do for us to condemn others’ xenophobia and ethnocentrism without first examining ourselves, confessing and repenting of our sin, and finding healing and forgiveness at the foot of the cross. To be blunt: I don’t care how far left your politics are. That does not give you a pass. That does not make you automatically prejudice-free. You can still be xenophobic. Being a liberal/leftist does not necessarily equate to supporting immigration justice, just as being in the right does not necessarily equate to xenophobia.

If I have erred on the side of saying too much and being too harsh in this talk, it is because the church has too often erred on the side of saying too little, and because I am acutely aware of the urgency of the task at hand. Forgive me if I have been judgmental; know that I grieve the sin in my own heart as well, and that I am preaching this to myself as much as to any of you.

We must learn to love another, to seek reconciliation, to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19), and to build meaningful relationships with marginalized people- not treating them as token friends who we expect to educate us on the entirety of xenophobia and ethnocentrism, but as the brothers and sisters that they are. We must speak up when we say people being oppressed, whether in the form of casual remarks, physical violence, or systemic injustice. And we must seek real relationships with those who embrace hate. Only through love will their hearts be changed. It is for this reason that we are commanded to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute” us (Matt. 5:44), and I don’t think it a stretch to connect this to the fact that “God’s kindness is meant to lead [us] to repentance”, as the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 2:4. If you want to learn more specifically what this means, I would point you to Matthew 5-7, Romans 12-15, and the Epistle of James as good starting points.

But we must also recognize that there is a systemic dimension to this. If you are a citizen of the United States, you have the right to vote. Exercise that right. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for. But know who your candidates are in all races, including- especially- local races, and know where they stand on the issues.

Of course, you can also lobby them outside of election years. Your representatives at the local, state, and federal level have publicly available contact information so you can write them, email them, call them, or even pay them a visit in person. If you’re not sure who your representatives are, you can find them here. It’s important, of course, that you know what specific issues to contact them about, so do your best to stay updated on the news. If you don’t do that already, here are some recommendations on English-language sources.

I personally am not a huge marcher, but I do think there’s a place for protests, especially in cases where something dramatic has happened and there needs to be a large, visible, public demonstration of opposition or support. More useful can be donating to organizations like the ACLU, NAACP, or SPLC that mount legal challenges to discriminatory laws, promote tolerance via education, and track extremist groups. If you’re financially unable to do so, you can also volunteer for numerous organizations that are involved in protecting immigrant rights and promoting justice.

I’d like to end tonight with a quote by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

I remember: it happened yesterday, or eternities ago. A young Jewish boy discovered the Kingdom of Night. I remember his bewilderment, I remember his anguish. It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.

I remember he asked his father: “Can this be true? This is the twentieth century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent?”

And now the boy is turning to me. “Tell me,” he asks, “what have you done with my future, what have you done with your life?” And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices.

And then I explain to him how naïve we were, that the world did know and remained silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.

-Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 10 December 1986

When Darkness Comes to Light

in the meantime

“But you know about the first amendment right? Freedom of speech?” A police officer asks my roommate. They’re standing on our front porch after she called the police about being verbally assaulted on the street. The officer is out of my view as I sit on the stairs just inside– through the cracked door I can see her shaking and a female officer staring ahead.

Fuck you cunt. Fuck you bitch. There’s a black car, two white males. There’s confusion. Head spinning. Muffled yelling. Breaking through the air she hears definitively one word: Trump.

She runs to her boyfriend’s apartment and he walks her home. And the car comes back. And it happens again. And again, she is powerless.

We will be okay, we said when Florida’s results came in. When we cried and hugged in our living room after North Carolina and Ohio. We will be okay, we…

View original post 559 more words

10 Points on Eric Metaxas

Chloe Hawker

In July, I wrote a response to a piece by Wayne Allyn Root advocating that Christians must vote for Donald Trump. Root’s piece didn’t turn out to have much readership, but then Eric Metaxas, of Bonhoeffer fame, wrote his own piece for the Wall Street Journal. This piece, in contrast, has gotten a lot of Evangelical response. It has the tone of many of the pieces written by this community: yes, Trump is distasteful, but hold your nose and vote for him because the alternative is worse. Here is, point by point, why I believe Eric Metaxas has it wrong.

1. “Over this past year many of Donald Trump’s comments have made me almost literally hopping mad. The hot-mic comments from 2005 are especially horrifying. … So yes, many see these comments as a deal breaker. But we have a very knotty and larger problem. What if the other candidate also has…

View original post 2,716 more words

Should We, as Christians, Be Drinking the Pumpkin Spice Latte?


Not Exactly Subtle

GTY_pumpkin_spice_latte_jt_150817_12x5_1600It’s that time of year when the weather begins to turn, the leaves start to change color, and all across the nation the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back on the menu.

I would caution my brothers and sisters (let’s be honest, mostly sisters) to think before they drink.

Anytime something becomes this popular and accepted by society, we need to step back and ask if we’ve ceased merely being in the world and have, in fact, become part of it (Couldn’t find the chapter and verse, but I know it’s in the KJV).  Allow me to incredibly humbly suggest a couple of things we ought to meditate on and pray over before we imbibe the PSL.

1. A study of “Pumpkin Spice” in the original languages

When we break down the etymology of the name of Satan’s favorite drink, it shows how truly subversive the Tempter can be in trying…

View original post 434 more words

“Frohe Befreiung aus den gottlosen Bindungen dieser Welt”: Überlegungen zur Barmer Theologischen Erklärung 82 Jahre später

Während der Gleichschaltung am Anfang der NS-Zeit teilte sich die evangelische Kirche in Deutschland in zwei Gruppen: die Deutschen Christen, die sich mit der nationalsozialistischen Diktatur arrangierten, und die Bekennende Kirche, die sich gegen das Regime wehrte. Obwohl es schwierig oder sogar unmöglich ist, die echten Motivationen der Widersteher festzustellen, ist es klar, dass der Konflikt zwischen der Lehre der Alleinherrschaft Jesu Christ und dem Führerprinzip ein Kernpunkt der Theologie der Bekennenden Kirche war, was sowohl in der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung als auch in den Schriften ihrer einzelnen Mitglieder zu merken ist. Die Verbindung zwischen Glauben und Tun- zwischen Orthodoxie und Orthopraxie- ist allerdings ein Hauptthema bei  den Theologen Karl Barth und Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Schon 1909 schrieb Barth „unser inneres Leben wird u. wächst in der Welt. Der Glaube ist mehr als ein schöner innerer Trost“[1]. In einem Brief an seinen Schweizer Freund Erwin Sutz schrieb Bonhoeffer seinen Widerstand der Bergpredigt, der Theologie Barths, und der Ethik Brunners zu[2]. Ich vertrete die These, dass die Theologie den Widerstand der Bekennenden Kirche trieb.

Die protestantische Theologie in Deutschland am Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts war sehr liberal und kümmerte sich nicht um die traditionellen Lehren der Kirche. Sie erlaubte eine enge Beziehung zwischen den Kirchen und dem Reich, einschließlich des Imperialismus und Ersten Weltkriegs. Die Gräueltaten des Krieges zerrütteten die Hoffnung dieser Theologie, die sich auf die Kräfte des Menschen verließ. Also suchten viele Christen nach etwas Reicherem, unter denen zwei junge Pastoren namens Karl Barth und Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Während diese Gläubigen auf der Suche nach einer Theologie waren, die ihrer Welt adäquat entspräche, war Deutschland auf der Suche nach einem politischen Führer, der seiner sozialen und politischen Lage entspräche. Die Geißel des Krieges und seiner Reparationen führte zu einer extrem chaotischen Situation in Deutschland. Hyperinflation und politische Gewalttätigkeit herrschten; die Regierung musste sich vor Putschversuchen verteidigen, sowohl von Protofaschisten als auch von Kommunisten und Sozialisten. Die politische Spaltung der Linke zwischen der Kommunistischen Partei und der Sozialistischen Partei ließ sie nicht imstande, eine vereinigte Kampagne in den Nationalwahlen zu führen, was zusammen mit der weltweiten Großen Depression und der folgenden Steigerung der Arbeitslosigkeit der NSDAP ermöglichte, Stimmen zu kriegen. 1933 gewann sie jedes Bundesland, weshalb ihr die Macht übergeben wurde.

Nachdem die NSDAP an die Macht kam, begann sie die Gleichschaltung der Gesellschaft. Staatsorgane, Schulen, die Kulturindustrie- alles wurde nazifiziert. Das galt natürlich auch für die Kirchen. Die sogenannten Deutschen Christen glichen die protestantische Kirche dem Regime an und lehrten ein „positives Christentum“, ein germanisiertes, antisemitisches System, das das Christentum von seinen jüdischen Aspekten säubern sollte und Hitler für eine neue, höhere Offenbarung hielt. Man solle dem Volk und dem Führer bis zum Tode dienen. Für Männer heiße das, man sei entweder Arbeiter oder Soldat. Egal was für einen Beruf man habe, dem solle man sich bedingungslos widmen. Müsse er seine Familie für seinen Dienst verlassen, dann solle er das fröhlich machen. Die Familie solle auch damit zufrieden sein und das sogar feiern, egal wie lang der Mann, der Bruder, der Vater, der Sohn weg sei. Frauen sollen so viele starken, gesunden und rassenpuren Kinder gebären wie möglich, um Arbeiter und Soldaten für das Volk zu produzieren, um es zu schützen und zu vergrößern. Vor allem müsse man Hitler treu sein; er sei die Partei, der Staat und das Volk selbst. In dieses Milieu wurde die Bekennende Kirche eingeboren.

Die Leiter der Bekennenden Kirche trafen sich 1934 in Barmen, um ihre Antwort auf die Deutschen Christen festzustellen. Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung galt als das Gründungsdokument der Bekennenden Kirche und wurde vorwiegend von Karl Barth geschrieben. In der Präambel werden ihr Kontext und ihr Ziel ausgelegt. Sie zitiert die Verfassung der Deutschen Evangelischen Kirche als die theologische Voraussetzung der Bekennenden Kirche, namentlich die ersten zwei Artikel, und setzt sie in den Kontext der Gleichschaltung, wobei sie eine ganz neue Bedeutung annahmen. Der erste Artikel dieser Verfassung lautet

Die unantastbare Grundlage der Deutschen Evangelischen Kirche ist das Evangelium von Jesus Christus, wie es uns in der Heiligen Schrift bezeugt und in den Bekenntnissen der Reformation neu ans Licht getreten ist. Hierdurch werden die Vollmachten, deren die Kirche für ihre Sendung bedarf, bestimmt und begrenzt.[3]

Mehrere Hauptpunkte sind hier zu merken:

  • Die Festigkeit der Kirche, was durch das Wort „unantastbar“ nachgewiesen wird[4];
  • Die Verkündigung der Alleinherrschaft Jesu Christi, in diesem Kontext gegenüber dem Führerprinzip;
  • Die Bestimmung und Begrenzung der Machten der Kirche durch das Evangelium anstatt durch den Staat; und
  • Die Sendung des Evangeliums als Ziel der Machten der Kirche anstatt der Selbsterhaltung der Kirche, des Volkes, oder irgendwelchem sonstigen Zweck. Diese These wird auch im Vorwort zu Nachfolge ausgelegt.

Diese Themen kommen in jeder These der Erklärung vor.

Nach der Präambel sind 6 Thesen. Das Thema Autorität steht im Kern jeder These, und alle außer der 4. erklären dies aus christologischer Sicht. These 1 lautet

Jesus Christus, wie er uns in der Heiligen Schrift bezeugt wird, ist das eine Wort Gottes, das wir zu hören, dem wir im Leben und im Sterben zu vertrauen und zu gehorchen haben.[5]

Die Alleinherrschaft Jesu Christi ist der Hauptpunkt dieser These. Doch werden noch zwei Genehmigungsquellen impliziert. Die erste sei die Bibel; obwohl die Erklärung das Königtum Christi verkündigt, behauptet sie daneben, dass er ausschließlich durch die Bibel spreche. Das stimmt Barths Meinung zu, dass obwohl Christus selbst und nicht die Bibel die endgültige Offenbarung Gottes sei, könne und müsse man allein der Bibel vertrauen, um über diese Offenbarung zu lernen.

            Die zweite These ist subtiler. Die Phrase „im Leben und im Sterben“ wiederholt die Worte des Heidelberger Katechismus. Da wird der Schüler gefragt, was sein „einziger Trost, im Leben und im Sterben“ sei. Die berühmte Antwort des Katechismus sagt sehr viel:

Daß ich mit Leib und Seele

im Leben und im Sterben nicht mir,

sondern meinem getreuen Heiland

Jesus Christus gehöre.[6]

Die Treue und Knechtschaft, von denen in der Barmer Erklärung (und auch in Nachfolge) gesprochen wird, wiederspiegelt den Heidelberger Katechismus und damit auch die reformierte Tradition. Diese Gründung in der Reformation schließt andere Interpretationen der Bibel aus, in dem sie auf explizite Aussagen der Kirche basiert ist. Damit werden auch die Rebellion der Reformation gegen menschliche Autorität und ihr Fokus auf himmlische bzw. biblische Autorität in Erinnerung gerufen, um den Widerstand der Bekennenden Kirche zu legitimieren.

            Die zweite These fördert das Konzept der Alleinherrschaft Jesu Christ durch die Erklärung der natürlichen Auswirkung dieser Lehre, dass seine Herrschaft über alle Bereiche des Lebens eines Christen gilt.  Sie lautet

Wir verwerfen die falsche Lehre, als gebe es Bereiche unseres Lebens, in denen wir nicht Jesus Christus, sondern anderen Herren zu eigen wären, Bereiche, in denen wir nicht der Rechtfertigung und Heiligung durch ihn bedürften.[7]

Dies ist ein zentraler Grundsatz der reformierten und insbesondere der neo-calvinistischen Theologie; dass es „keinen Zollbreit auf dem ganzen Hof unseres menschlichen Lebens [gibt], von dem Christus, der aller Souverän ist, nicht ruft: ‘Mein!’“[8]

            Die dritte These beschäftigt sich mit der Ekklesiologie der Bekennenden Kirche. Laut ihr ist die Kirche

die Gemeinde von Brüdern, in der Jesus Christus in Wort und Sakrament durch den Heiligen Geist als der Herr gegenwärtig handelt. Sie hat mit ihrem Glauben wie mit ihrem Gehorsam, mit ihrer Botschaft wie mit ihrer Ordnung mitten in der Welt der Sünde als die Kirche der begnadigten Sünder zu bezeugen, dass sie allein sein Eigentum ist, allein von seinem Trost und von seiner Weisung in Erwartung seiner Erscheinung lebt und leben möchte.[9]

Die Erläuterung der Kirche als eine Gemeinde stellt sie als Gegenteil der nationalsozialistischen Lehre der Volksgemeinde, der das deutsche Volk treu sein sollte. Die Erklärung verwirft in der ersten These die Ersetzung Christi durch Hitler, und hier wird die Ersetzung der Glaubensgemeinde durch die Volksgemeinde verworfen. Das ist Barths Christengemeinde[10] und Brunners Ekklesía[11], die wahre, unsichtbare Kirche- keine menschliche Institution, sondern der Leib Christi, der aus allen Auserwählten aus allen Epochen und Orten besteht. Die Unterscheidung zwischen der Kirche und der Welt stellt die Aufgabe der Kirche, Einfluss auf ihre Umwelt zu bewirken, anstatt von ihrer Umwelt beeinflusst zu werden. Die Barmer Erklärung warnt Christen vor extremem Nationalismus und mahnt sie, ihrem Gott und ihrer Kirche vor ihrem Volk und ihrem politischen Führer zu dienen.

            Dieser politische Aspekt wird in der letzten Zeile der These explizit:

Wir verwerfen die falsche Lehre, als dürfe die Kirche die Gestalt ihrer Botschaft und ihrer Ordnung ihrem Belieben oder dem Wechsel der jeweils herrschenden weltanschaulichen und politischen Überzeugungen überlassen.[12]

Dieser Satz wäre nicht schwer zu verstehen. Das ist eine noch direktere Anklage gegen die Deutschen Christen, eine deutliche Aussage, dass sie durch ihre Allianz mit dem NS-Regime das Evangelium wegen ihres Beliebens verworfen haben. Das Wort „jeweils“ konnotiert Vergänglichkeit und erinnert den Leser an die vielen gestürzten politischen Bewegungen im Verlauf der Jahrtausende. Die Erklärung ruft den Leser, von solchen Königtümern zu kehren und sich ihm zu widmen, dessen „Thron besteh[e] von Geschlecht zu Geschlecht“[13] und dessen „Herrschaft wird kein Ende sein“[14].

            Die vierte These erweitert die Ekklesiologie der vorigen These, aber sie spricht direkter über das Regime. Aufgrund Matthäus 20,25-26 erklärt sie

Die verschiedenen Ämter in der Kirche begründen keine Herrschaft der einen über die anderen, sondern die Ausübung des der ganzen Gemeinde anvertrauten und befohlenen Dienstes.

Wir verwerfen die falsche Lehre, als könne und dürfe sich die Kirche abseits von diesem Dienst besondere, mit Herrschaftsbefugnissen ausgestattete Führer geben und geben lassen.[15]

In diesem Auszug aus Matthäus spricht Jesus von der Niederhaltung der Völker durch ihre Herrscher und befehlt seine Lehrlinge, sich anders zu benehmen. Hier wird einen direkt Kontrast zwischen dem christlichen Leben und dem Nationalsozialismus gebildet und die Anklage gegen die Diktatur erhoben, sie unterdrücke das deutsche Volk. Dass der Begriff „Völker“ in der Bibel eigentlich Nichtjuden implizierte könnte auch den Antisemitismus kritisieren, besonders weil „Volk“ ein sehr wichtiger Teil der nationalsozialistischen Rassenideologie war. Ob das dem derzeitigen Leser klar wäre, ist schwer zu prüfen. Das Wort „Führer“ wurde aber wahrscheinlich mit Absicht verwendet und leicht verstanden.

            Die fünfte These erkennt die göttliche Anordnung des Staates an nach 1. Petrus 2,17[16]. Dadurch wird er in Übereinstimmung mit den anderen Thesen unter die Autorität Gottes gestellt, und seine Aufgaben und Begrenzungen werden bestimmt. Staat und Kirche werden hier getrennt, und die Erklärung warnt vor einer Kirche, die „selbst zu einem Organ des Staates“[17] wird. Es wird auch erklärt, dass der Staat nicht „die einzige und total Ordnung menschlichen Lebens“[18] ist. Das Wichtigste hier ist, dass beide Kirche und Staat begrenzt werden. Das soll darauf hindeuten, dass die Bekennende Kirche keine Macht für sich selbst sucht, sondern sie setzt sich dem Regime aus theologischen Gründen entgegen. Eine solche Selbstbegrenzung erwartet sie dann auch von dem Staat.

            Der letzte Artikel wiederholt in kürzerer Form die wichtigen Ideen der Erklärung: der Dienst Christi, Predigt und Sakrament als Mittel der Aufgabe der Kirche, und die Verwerfung von menschlichen Ideen als höher gegenüber göttlichen. Diese These spricht wie die letzte subtil gegen den Rassismus; sie behauptet, die Kirche solle „die Botschaft von der freien Gnade Gottes auszurichten an alles Volk“[19]. Damit wird die nationalsozialistische Idee der Übermenschlichkeit des deutschen Volkes verworfen und die Treue der Kirche zu Gott über irgendwelche Treue zum Volk oder zum Staat. Die Erklärung endet mit den Worten „verbum dei manet in aeternum“[20]– das Wort Gottes bleibt in Ewigkeit. Diese Phrase ist eine sichere Voraussage des Sieges der Kirche und stimmt der früher genannten Erwartung der Erscheinung Jesu zu.

     Aber was brachte eigentlich diese Theologie? Wirkte sie irgendwas? So dachten die Nationalsozialisten. Goebbels klagte über Barth in seinem Tagebuch, und die deutsche Botschaft in der Schweiz drängte die Schweizer Regierung öfters, ihn zu zensieren. Das machte sie auch; ihm wurde sogar die Telefonleitung angezapft[21]. Bonhoeffer wurde wie bekannt in Flossenbürg hingerichtet, was aber ein Konsequenz seiner Teilnahme am bewaffneten Widerstand war, insbesondere seine Rolle im Unternehmen Walküre.

     Die Bekennende Kirche wurde hauptsächlich nicht aus politischen, sondern aus theologischen Gründen gegründet, denn Barth hielt den Militarismus, den völkischen Nationalismus und den Antisemitismus des Nationalsozialismus für konfessionelle Probleme[22].  Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung zeigt das noch klarer, und bestimmte Lehren der Kirche und epistemologische Behauptungen kommen immer wieder vor. Die Lehre der Alleinherrschaft Jesu Christi steht im Zentrum der Erklärung, und ihr Verlass auf die Bibel und die Bekenntnisse der Reformation spricht den Deutschen Christen wider und bringt die Anklage gegen sie, die Kirche und Gott selbst verlassen zu haben.

     Wieso schreibe ich das alles? Weil ich glaube, dass wir das auch in unsrer Zeit hören müssen. Ich habe manchmal das Gefühl, dass die meisten Leute, die sich “Christen” nennen, keine Ahnung vom Evangelium haben. Wenn ich die Bibel lese und dann die Verhetzungen der AfD und der NPD höre, wenn ich eine Menge an Menschen jeden Montag  auf die Straßen gehen sehe, die für ein “christliches Europa” demonstrieren, wenn Leute sich über des Papstes Äußerungen gegen Habgier und für Barmherzigkeit beschweren, wenn amerikanische Pfarrer sagen, die Regierung solle das Christentum verteidigen, wenn der Präsident einer christlichen Universität es seinen Studenten empfehlt, Waffen bei sich zu tragen, um “diese Muslime zu beenden“, frage ich mich, wo diese Ideen herkommen.

     Das Christentum verteidigen als die Hauptaufgabe der Kirche? Häh? Wo steht das denn in der Bibel? Wer von den Kirchenvätern schrieb von einer christlichen Nation? Wer von den Märtyrern starb für sein Volk, anstatt für seinen Gott?

     Wenn es uns wichtiger ist, unsre Kultur zu schützen, als Geflüchteten zu helfen, dann haben wir das Evangelium vergessen oder gar nicht gehört. Wir müssen wieder zurück zu ihm Kehren. Wir müssen uns an ihn wenden, “um den es allein geht”, an Jesus. Wir müssen uns vor dem Kreuz verbeugen und Gott ernsthaft suchen. “Dein Wille geschehe”, nicht unser. “Dein Reich komme”, nicht unser.



[1] Karl Barth, Konfirmandenunterricht 1909-1921 (GA I.18), Zürich: Theologischer Verlag Zürich, 1987.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Nachfolge, München: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 2013, 7.

[3]„Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung“, Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, abgerufen am 8. November 2015,

[4] Was interessanterweise auch im 1. Artikel des Grundgesetzes vorkommt. „Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland“, Deutscher Bundestag, abgerufen am 22. Februar 2016,

[5] „Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung.“

[6] „Der Heidelberger Katechismus“, Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, abgerufen am 8. November 2015,

[7] „Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung.“

[8] Abraham Kuyper, Souvereiniteit in Eigen Kring (Kok: Kampen, 3rd ed., 1930), 33.

[9] „Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung.“

[10] Karl Barth, Christengemeinde und Bürgergemeinde (Bielefeld: Schriftenmission des Volksmissionarischen Amtes der Evangelischen Kirche von Westfalen, 1893), 5-6.

[11] Emil Brunner, Dogmatics Vol. III: The Christian Doctrine of the Church, Faith, and the Consummation, trans. David Cairns and T.H.L. Parker, (London: Lutterworth Press, 1962), 177.

[12] „Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung.“

[13] Klagelieder 5,19 (SCH2000).

[14] Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland, „Das Glaubensbekenntnis von Nizäa-Konstantinopel“, abgerufen am 29. April 2016,

[15] „Die Barmer Theologische Erklärung.“

[16]Und wahrscheinlich auch Römerbrief 13,1-7, obwohl es nicht direkt gesagt wird.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Michael Meier, „Karl Barth kämpfte gegen die Nazis – die Schweiz bremste ihn aus“, Tagesanzeiger, 09. October 2008,–die-Schweiz-bremste-ihn-aus/story/24651332.

[22] Arne Rasmusson, „Church and war in the theology of Karl Barth”, Dutch Reformed Theological Journal = Nederduitse Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif 54 (S 5): 254.