Friday, December 01, 2006

Religious War

What is wrong with the following headlines?
"Artist Immerses Cross in Urine. Christians Riot Worldwide, Death Toll Mounting."

"Artist “Paints” Virgin Mary Using Feces. Art Museums Ransacked and Burned by Christians."

"Islamic Cleric Insults Jesus. Crowds of Christians Attack not only Mosques, but Worshipers Exiting Mosques."

"Crèche Scene Removed from Civic Center. Conservative Christians Threaten Lives of City Council."
Although the headlines seem familiar, they’re reversed. When Islam is denigrated in any way, violence is actual or threatened. Christianity is attacked with impunity, and no violence results.

Yet we still hear from liberals and progressives that Christianity is a “violent religion.” The specter of the Crusades (900+ years ago) is most often raised. Abortion clinic bombings are cited. Foreign wars are also raised as examples.

Some even try to characterize the current war in Iraq as a “Christianity vs. Islam” conflict. The initial casualties, including thousands of deaths, of the Iraq war were appalling, as is the case in all warfare. Now, though, the fact is that there is much more internecine violence between Muslims of different sects than there is Americans killing Iraqis. This has never been a religious war on our part.

One recent commenter to this site seems to believe that I, and people like me, somehow approve of violence done by Christians. I had mentioned to this writer that I wasn’t aware of any religious warfare today involving Christians. In addition to raising the Crusades, he says the following:
“The German Christians (representing many denominations) who supported Hitler's National Socialist agenda in the 1930s and 40s to exterminate Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others. The majority of the world recognizes this as attempted genocide.”
The subservience of the nationalist German Church to Hitler is a terrible stain in the history of Christianity. But the genocide of WWII was not done in the name of religion or in the name of Christ. Hitler was a pseudo-pagan whose faith was best expressed in Wagnerian Opera, not Christian hymns.

Orthodox Christians held out against Hitler and everything he did. The Barmen Declaration, written in the mid-1930s, demonstrated that traditional Christianity resisted, sometimes even to death. The nationalist Church, coming out of the liberal tradition, wrote hymns to Hitler and included the Nazi salute as a church ritual. When one doesn’t have a clear faith, one can be vulnerable to any alteration.

This writer goes on to mention what he considers to be modern religious war, part of which was perpetrated in Jesus' name.
“Serbian and Bosnian Serb forces (Orthodox Christians) who perpetrated the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks (Muslims) and Bosnian Croats (Roman Catholics) in Bosnia in the early 1990s. International courts are still debating the question of genocide.”
Chrissie and I have traveled frequently throughout Croatia and have been in Bosnia. We have friends there who lived through the vicious warfare of the 90s and we’ve personally witnessed the damage to villages and, particularly, churches. I have in my home a piece of rubble that used to be part of an altar in a destroyed Croatian church.

The warfare there was between Croats and Bosnians, largely seen respectively as Catholics and Muslims. The source of their ancient anger, though, is not their religion. It is surviving nationalist hatred dating back to the middle ages. I am not aware that any Christians or Muslims justified that war by their faith.
“White supremacists who intimidate, abuse, and/or murder people of other races and religions in an effort to keep Christianity and the human race ‘pure.’”
There are white supremacists who, sadly, cover themselves in a mantle of so-called Christianity. These people, though, are more related to the 1934-45 German nationalist Church than Christianity. They do act in the name of Jesus (something the German church didn’t), which is reprehensible.

As bad as their thinking is, I’m not sure that they’ve done much violence. They bear watching, but they are such a tiny minority that they really represent no one but themselves.
“…Muslims cannot be held accountable as a group for the actions of extremists and terrorists who call themselves Muslims.”
I wouldn’t blame a Muslim neighbor for actions done by terrorists, but I would hold her or him accountable if they refused to decry such violence. I do blame Muslim leaders who call themselves moderate, yet do not speak out against Islamic terrorism. I'd also like to ask this writer, "Why do you hold Christians accountable for all the accusations you make, yet feel we cannot do the same with Islam?"

I'll say it for myself. I am opposed to any and all violence done in the name of Jesus. If Christians blow up an abortion clinic, they are wrong. If they kill an abortionist, they must face the full effect of the law. (I have actually written newspapers saying these things.) If they deny someone their legal rights in the name of Jesus, they are wrong. If they persecute someone because he or she is not Christian, they are wrong. If our nation says that it must invade another because Jesus calls for it, I'll join the picket lines in opposition.

But there really is religious warfare going on right now. If you found yourself in a city center, surrounded by thousands of people shouting “Jesus is Lord,” would you fear for your life? What if it were thousands of people shouting “Allah u akbar”? There is religious war today, but it is not being perpetrated by those who follow Jesus.

Tomorrow I’ll write further on this subject.

Keep praying—keep the faith,


Karl said...


Do you have any references to your suggestion that it was a liberal German Lutheran church that failed to stand up to Hitler? That is a curious interpretation of history.

Nazism is generally considered an authoritarian totalitarian regime and as such it is the opposite of the type if government that is acceptable to Progressives and Liberals. It is generally seen more as an extreme form of right wing government. Although clouded by its anti-Jewish paranoia, its other chief characteristics were also homophobia and anti-communism.

Furthermore, the Confessing church of Germany is not generally understood as having been “orthodox”. They were rather part of the “neo-orthodox” movement. The neo-orthodox reject the doctrine of inerrancy of scripture. By the definition of “liberal” and “conservative” that you have been using in your blog, it seems they would most likely fall in the category of apostate liberals.

It is not usually assumed that the fault of the German Lutheran Church was that they were too liberal. Only the few that put Christ first (not scripture) were able to find the faith and courage to resist the ultra-conservative authoritarian God-and-country type of religion that Hitler promoted. The main point of resistance was that it was impossible to accept the authority of the government or the head of government over the authority of Christ.

Your interpretation doesn’t seem right to me.


TomGray said...

I think we both might be right here, with the terms all being inadequate.

The German nationalist church--the Lutheran church--had bought into what is "liberal" in Christianity. That is, they were strong proponents of the historical-critical school of Scriptural interpretation. As you probably know, this school cast doubt on the reliability of Scripture, putting much of belief up for grabs. My point is that the nationalist church was not grounded enough in belief in Scripture to counter the Nazis.

Certainly, they were not "liberal" in the left-right of strictly political schemes.

Interestingly, neo-orthodoxy arose from dissatisfaction with the historical-critical system, so they were conservative by comparison. I'd also argue that not all of the Barmen signatories were neo-orthodox.

Pamela Cook said...

Pastor Tom,

I read a local blog The past few days he has been reporting on a moderate Muslim man here in town that wrote an editorial in the Tulsa World comdemning Muslim violence. He was immediately kicked out of the mosque. That explains one reason why they do not speak out. I'm sure there are more scary reasons why they do not speak out. The man's name is Jamal Miftah. He wrote the article the end of October 2006. If you go to you can find his posts on this issue. They started about a week ago.

Paul said...

The "German Christian" Movment drew much of its inspiration from the work of late 19th century liberals like Adolf von Haranack (that spelling may be a bit off... I'm not working from notes here). That continental liberal movement urged people to find God's revelation in places besides and in addition to scripture. God was at work revealing truth to us in science, in culture, in the experience of living, in many places. So, when the apologists for the National Socialist regime appealed to then-current scientific knowledge, the mainstream established churches were ready to accept that.

Indeed, the Barmen Declararion was decried as too conservative by those church leaders. Remember how the Declaration says Jesus Christ revealed in scripture is the one word of God we have to hear and obey? Remember how it declares the church should not acknowledge other authorities as sources of its message? (Obviously, I'm paraphrasing here.) Well, the respectable church leaders found that much too narrow minded. What of all the other ways God speaks words we must hear?

Whether or not the Barmen Confessors and the Confessing Church generally would have used the word "inerrant," they were clear there was one trustworthy place to hear God's word to us to day: the witness to Jesus Christ in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament.

Regarding Karl's comment "Only the few that put Christ first (not scripture) were able to find the faith and courage to resist the ultra-conservative authoritarian God-and-country type of religion that Hitler promoted." First, remember Hitler led the National Socialist German Workers Party. Does that sound like the name of an ultra-conservative party? But more important, the Confessing Church movement did put Christ first... and insisted the one place where we knew about Christ was in scripture. It's not that they put Christ first not scripture. It's that they put Christ first over all other authorities. And they knew the only way they could know Christ was to put Scripture first over all other sources of knowledge.

I will agree with Karl about this: the liberals who teach in the academies don't usually assume the fault of the German church was that it was too liberal. But Tom is on solid historical ground: it was the Christians who held to the primacy of scripture as the place to know God who found the greatest strength to resist Hitler.

John West said...

All of the arguments about history in-re the Germans and WW-II miss the main point of the cause of the rise of the Axis powers. At the end of WW-I the terms of unconditional surrender were so severe they left Germany destitute with no real means of rebuilding. This plus natural hatred and distrust by other countries led to the conflict. These terms were complicated by the world wide depression of the late 20's and 30's which worsened the situation. As free societies the Allied powers learned something from this and at the end of WWII helped former enemies rebuild into the great economic powers they are today. Most Americans do not realize that modern participative management techniques utilized by the Japanese came as a result of high level studies and commissions sponsored by no other than General MacArthur. Now we study those techniques as a Japanese invention. The result at least with those countries has been a relatively good peaceful relationship. Unfortunately, religion, plus or minus, Lutheran or whatever, didn't have much to do with any of the above. A starving proud people were an easy target for the man who promised two VW's in every garage. If you look into the history of that country and Dr. Porche's contract to design a people's car there were some very revealing things going on.

The US and its allies can take pride in the current economic status of S. Korea as well, which has now engineered at least two of the best economical automobiles made there and here in the USA. With this economic growth there has been an astounding growth and acceptance of Christianity in that country.

The reason for this ramble into economics is to point out that some of the most successful mission endeavors sponsored by Nazarene, Baptist, and Catholic denominations have had as a springboard economic and health (hospital and doctor) considerations. Hungry, hopeless, sick people respond well to the message of Jesus Christ presented with economic and health giving endeavors. The tremendous expense and complexity of such efforts seem to me to be the main reason for the continuance of denominations. Otherwise I see little need for denominations as we have known them in the past. This is the reason that the basic intent of Tom's blog is so important. Whatever denomination we support must reflect our own beliefs as much as possible. Our own beliefs should reflect our own understanding of the unchanging word of our Lord. John West

Karl said...

I would humbly agree with Karl Barth that protecting one’s allegiance to Christ is greatly aided by understanding the evidence presented in the Scriptures of God’s self revelation in Jesus Christ.

According to Barth, who basically wrote the Barmen Confession, what allowed the German church to fall under the spell of National Socialism was its readiness to choose sides with conservative and anti-socialist ideologies. That’s a far cry from saying it was their liberalism – maybe even the opposite. But his call back to a radical submission to the lordship of Jesus Christ above all other lords is a call that transcends the differences between liberals and conservatives, the left and the right.

Bloger Paul reminds us of one of Nazism’s greatest contributions to the art of political lying. There was nothing socialist about National Socialism in Nazi Germany. The accent was on the word “national”. But by calling it socialism, it took the wind out the socialist sails.

It is important to understand this correctly, because those who deny the true character of political ideologies are prone to fall for them. Nazism was a right wing form of totalitarianism. It scapegoated the Jews, the homosexuals, the communists, and eventually everyone else who did not fit its own view of reality.

Being a Christian conservative does not automatically protect one from doing the same. There are unsettling trends in America today in the ties between the theologically conservative and the politically conservative ruling elite. Both are prone to scapegoating, authoritarianism, blind militaristic nationalism, and refusing to decry the crimes of our own government. We are not far from replacing the Muslims for the Jews and committing under a new name the same crime the German church committed.


TomGray said...

Being a Christian liberal doesn't prevent anything either. Remember, it was liberals in the US state department that prevented many Jews from coming here to escape the death camps.

karl said...



Fortunately the conservatives have corrected the problem by opening America’s immigration gates to victims of genocide around the world ever since.


Paul said...

Karl writes I pointed out "one of Nazism’s greatest contributions to the art of political lying. There was nothing socialist about National Socialism in Nazi Germany." I rather suppose it depends on how you define socialist. From the Merriam-Webster web site,, I find this definition: "a system … in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state." There may have been some vestigal private ownership, but people were not free to do things that did not fit in with Hitler's centralized master economic plan. But at some levels, that becomes a distinction without a difference.

The major point I contest, though, is Karl's comment "According to Barth, who basically wrote the Barmen Confession, what allowed the German church to fall under the spell of National Socialism was its readiness to choose sides with conservative and anti-socialist ideologies." That's the symptom, the visible manifestation. The problem is deeper. Why was the church ready to make that choice of sides?

In terms of the Declaration, the church was willing to see Hitler as God's anointed for their age because they had already made a decision to accept "other events and powers, figures and truths, as God's revelation." Otherwise, the church is in danger of becoming the uncritical enabler of secular totalitarianism -- a role the church played in National Socialist Germany.

The key remedy is to hold to Jesus Christ, not as he's reveled to us in science or culture, but as he's revealed to us in Holy Scripture. That gets back to the question of the primacy of scripture, which is the quesiton at issue in all of this. Is the Jesus Christ of Scripture the one word we have to hear? Or is that a word which we have to weigh against other words, other ways of knowing Christ? Is the source of our proclamation the Christ of scripture, or do we look to other places?

We must choose where we stand with things. Lots of well-educated people like the breadth of experience that comes from finding God's word in many "events and powers, figures and truths." But for me, I find the narrow Barmen doctrine of revelation a better protection against catastrophic faithlessness.