Monday, June 4, 2007
Eberhard Bethge on American Christianity
m General, Theology, Political, Church, War/Militarism Sunday, June 3rd, 2007
Halden Doerge presents us with a passage from John DeGruchy’s biography of Eberhard Bethge, the biographer and close friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The passage recounts Bethge’s feelings after his visit to Jerry Falwell’s church.
Staying in Lynchburg, the headquarters of the Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell, also provided an opportunity for them [the Bethges] to experience the heartbeat of American fundamentalism. The Bethges were particularly bothered by what they experienced when they visited Falwell’s church because so much that was referred to as ‘American Christianity’ reminded them of aspects of the German Christianity of the 1930s. Eberhard later wrote,
As we entered the foyer, an usher stepped forward and gave me two badges to fasten to my lapel: the on on the left said, Jesus First and on the right, one with an American flag…I could not help but think myself in Germany in 1933…Of course, ‘Jesus First’, but and American Jesus! And so to the long history of faith and its executors another chapter is being added of a mixed image of Christ, of another syncretism on the American model, undisturbed by and knowledge of that centuries-long and sad history.
Bethge added some remarks that have an uncanny contemporary ring to them:
The disturbing fact is this new element, the battle for a ‘Christian nation’ against humanism. The flag has always been in the churches, but now it has come to represent the new threat of binding the political structure to an ideology, which models a whole new educational system, and a new kind of representation in Washington, and a newly interpreted Constitution.
For Bethge, who had a great love for the United States and the democratic vision of its Founding Fathers, and who enjoyed visiting there, these signs were disturbing. He could only hope that they would not develop along the lines he feared they might.
(John W. de Gruchy, Daring, Trusting Spirit: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Friend Eberhard Bethge [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005], 200-201.)
Halden’s remarks on the passage are right on, and relevant in light of discussions about American Christian nationalism that are taking place here and at Vox Nova.
Unfortunately, I fear that Bethge’s fears for America have begun to be realized. In an age of nationalism and uncritical patriotism in the churches in America we must all ask ourselves how close we are to becoming no different than the German Christians of Bonhoeffer’s and Bethge’s day. May God have mercy on us and forgive us and give us the strength to speak the truth to powers and embody the life of the kingdom of God though it send us to the cross or the gallows.