October 2006 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


October 2006— Vol. XII, no. 10

Dear Friends,

I take the opportunity this month to send you a statement issued on August 22nd by four church leaders in the Middle East, the Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism.

Without necessarily endorsing the opinions expressed, I think it is an important document for Church historians and members of our Association to be aware of.

Please note that your comments on the contents of these Newsletters are always welcome. But please also note that you should NOT press the reply button, unless you want your views to be shared by all 500 subscribers. Instead, please send them to me at my own address = jconway@interchange.ubc.ca


1) The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism

2) Book reviews

a) Clements, Bonhoeffer and Britain
b) Roth, Ethics during and after the Holocaust

1) Comment by the Editor:

The current crisis in the Middle East has clearly done grievous harm to the efforts to promote dialogue and understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims. But it has also heightened tensions within the Christian community. One small segment, namely the supporters of Christian Zionism, which is largely supported by conservative churches in the United States, has unequivocally declared its wholehearted support for the military policies of the government of Israel, and has drawn parallels between Israel’s opponents in the Hezbollah movement and the Nazis. On the other side, the leaders of four main-stream churches in the Middle East, the Roman Catholic, the Syrian orthodox, the Anglican/Episcopal and the Lutheran churches, issued on August 22nd a Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism . This document explicitly denounced the false teachings’ of Christian Zionist doctrines, which they claim facilitate racial exclusivity and perpetual war . Instead these church leaders call for support from Christian churches on every continent to seek a peaceful settlement based on love, justice and reconciliation.

Many of you, I know, have a continuing interest in Christian-Jewish relations in general, and specifically in the role of the Christian churches in the state of Israel. Others, I feel, may regret the inflammatory language but agree with these church leaders in deploring the exploitation of theological concepts concerning an eventual Armageddon for more immediate political purposes. So, in view of the significance of this statement, and for the sake of historical accuracy, I send you the complete text, which can also be found, together with rejoinders from several organizations through the following link:

http://www.bc.edu/research/cjl/meta-elements/texts/cjrelations/topics.christian_Zionism.htm (This website is the best source for up-to-date staatements by various churches on the Middle East in general and Christian-Jewish relations in particular).

Statement by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches In Jerusalem

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organizations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in Churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism. These discriminative actions are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.

We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.

Therefore, we commit ourselves to the following principles as an alternative way:

We affirm that all people are created in the image of God. In turn they are called to honor the dignity of every human being and to respect their inalienable rights.

We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.

We affirm that Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. We reject all attempts to subvert and fragment their unity.

We call upon all people to reject the narrow world view of Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.

We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.

God demands that justice be done. No enduring peace, security or reconciliation is possible without the foundation of justice. The demands of justice will not disappear. The struggle for justice must be pursued diligently and persistently but non-violently.

“What does the Lord require of you, to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

This is where we take our stand. We stand for justice. We can do no other. Justice alone guarantees a peace that will lead to reconciliation with a life of security and prosperity for all the peoples of our Land. By standing on the side of justice, we open ourselves to the work of peace – and working for peace makes us children of God.

“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:19)

His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah
Latin Patriarchate, Jerusalem

Archbishop Swerios Malki Mourad,
Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate, Jerusalem

Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal,
Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East

Bishop Munib Younan,
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

August 22, 2006

2a) Keith Clements, Bonhoeffer and Britain. London: Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, 2006 154 Pp. ISBN 0 85169 307 5

One of the interesting, but little-known chapters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life was the eighteen months he spent in Britain from October 1933 to March 1935 as pastor to two small German Lutheran parishes in south London. He had come to escape the increasingly tense situation within the German Evangelical Church, following the take-over of power in the church hierarchies by pro-Nazi elements in the summer of 1933. This was to be only a temporary posting, before he was called back to direct a seminary for the newly-founded Confessing Church. But his experience in Britain and the contacts he made there were highly formative, and added greatly to his ecumenical experience and vision. We are therefore grateful to Keith Clements, recently retired as General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, for retracing Bonhoeffer’s footsteps, his friendships and his reflections about Britain in this brief but vivid depiction of the young German pastor’s impressions, and the legacy he left behind. Particularly valuable are the numerous photographs of places associated with Bonhoeffer’s stay during this period.

In fact, Bonhoeffer had already paid a few days’ visit to Britain in 1931, as a German delegate to a meeting of the rather august World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches. This ecumenical body was strongly, if rather sentimentally, interested in the cause of peace, but Bonhoeffer found it singularly lacking in any coherent theology. But it was there that he first met Bishop George Bell, already one of the leading figures of the world church scene. Despite his reservations, Bonhoeffer accepted the invitation to act as Youth Secretary for the World Alliance in central Europe. He had to organize seminars and conferences, which necessarily brought him in touch with the international ecumenical church leaders.

So, on his arrival in Britain in October 1933 he was already known and welcomed. Bishop Bell’s diocese was in Chichester, near Brighton, on England’s south coast, and only a short ride from London. He very quickly invited this young German pastor to come down to Chichester, who was so unique amongst his countrymen for his sympathy with the cause of peace. Indeed Bell encouraged him in his ambition to go out to India to visit Gandhi – a project which never came off. But Bell’s interest in Dietrich was also prompted by the fact that here was a first-hand source of inside information about what was happening in the German Evangelical Church, where developments were already causing alarm and dismay among the ecumenical church leaders, especially Bell. In particular, the Nazi antisemitic campaign and the dismissal of Jews from Germany’s civil service was taken as a direct blow against the international community. In the German Evangelical Church itself, the proposal to implement the so-called Aryan clause, and thus to eject all those of Jewish origin from the German church, led Bell to mobilize support in Britain against such a step. The Archbishop of Canterbury was persuaded to intervene with the German Ambassador in protest. All this meant that Bonhoeffer’s advice to the British ecclesiastics was highly important.

Bonhoeffer found that his English-based German colleagues in charge of other expatriate parishes shared his views about the scandalous behaviour of the so-called German Christians, whose pro-Nazi fervour was so misleading their congregations. The National Synod in Wittenberg in September 1933, where Hitler’s appointee had been made Reich Bishop, and the subsequent November meeting in Berlin, where a leading German Christian had called for Îliberation’ from the Old Testament, and for a purely racial German Christianity, were bad enough. The Reformation faith was being eviscerated. German paganism was flaring up.

These developments caused widespread alarm and disgust in British circles. And luckily for Bonhoeffer he found that his principal lay supporters, such as Baron Bruno Schršder, were equally rock-solid in resisting these Nazi attempts to overthrow their Lutheran heritage. With their support Bonhoeffer was able to draft a statement to be sent to the Reich church government warning that, if this tendency continued, the close ties between the British-based parishes and the mother church in Germany would be broken. This in turn led to his being summoned back to Berlin to receive a reprimand from the newly-appointed head of the Evangelical Church foreign office, Theodore Heckel. Bonhoeffer, backed by Schršder, refused to toe the line. And subsequently the German parishes in Britain solemnly resolved that they consider themselves belonging intrinsically to the Confessing Church and as such refused to acknowledge the authority of Heckel or his superiors in the German Christian hierarchy.

Throughout 1934, the British church leaders’ disillusionment with Hitler’s ‘new’ Germany grew apace. Hence they found the stalwart resistance of the Confessing Church, as expressed in the Barmen Declaration of May 1934, to express what they hoped would prevail. Bonhoeffer helped to draft a protest to be issued by Bell in June 1934 in the name of the Universal Christian Council of Life and Work protesting the imposition on the German church of state-sponsored coercion and racial categories incompatible with Christian principles.
The high point of this collaboration came at the next international ecumenical meeting of August 1934, held on the island of Fanš in Denmark. Here, under Bell’s chairmanship, Bonhoeffer gave an emotionally-charged address calling on the whole church community to commit itself to peace. It was a totally un-German pronouncement quite out of tune with the climate that prevailed in Bonhoeffer’s homeland. We would not be far wrong to see something of the English influence in Bonhoeffer’s words.

Given the multiplicity of Bonhoeffer’s commitments to the international ecumenical community s well as in Germany, how did he find time to look after his two congregations? Keith Clements rightly poses this question, but finds that the surviving evidence shows that Bonhoeffer was conscientious in his duties to his parishioners. In return, several of them were able to recall many years later the respect and admiration they felt for his pastoral care.

Bonhoeffer did find time, however, to widen his acquaintance with the Church of England outside London. In particular, he got Bishop Bell’s help in facilitating visits to several Anglican theological training colleges, which impressed him greatly, especially the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, near Leeds. Here he found that the priorities in training for ordinands were quite different from Germany. At Mirfield, the prime emphasis was on the times of corporate prayer. This was the inspiring cement which bound the community’s life together. The discipline of prayer, and reciting of the Psalms, was the basis of their discipleship. This experience touched Bonhoeffer deeply, and was reflected in the kind of daily disciplines he sought to inculcate when he was given the task of establishing a similar seminary for the Confessing Church in Finkenwalde.

Bonhoeffer’s career, after he was called back to Germany in early 1935, became more and more engrossed with mobilizing the opposition to Nazi tyranny. However, unlike his colleague and close friend, Franz Hildebrandt, who was obliged to flee to England on account of his partial Jewish origins, or Dietrich’s sister and brother-in-law similarly situated, Bonhoeffer never thought of himself as called to live in exile. Even when he was given the chance in 1939 to remain in the United States, he rejected this opportunity. As he wrote to Reinhold Niebuhr, he would lose the right to participate in the life of the German church after the war if he did not share the sufferings of his people during it. This should not be seen as an expression of German national solidarity. To the contrary, Bonhoeffer was the only pastor known to be praying for Germany’s defeat. But it was his contacts with the outside world, particularly in Britain, which sustained his confidence that Nazi totalitarianism would be overthrown. And the alternative future for which the German resisters were planning owed much to the ideals laid out by the English churchmen like William Temple, Joe Oldham and George Bell, all of whom Bonhoeffer esteemed highly.

After the outbreak of war in 1939, Bonhoeffer never again visited Britain. But he cherished all the more such indirect contacts as were possible. As he was drawn more and more into the conspiracy against Hitler, the planners recognized his usefulness as a channel of communication to the other side. Hence they arranged for him to be employed as an agent of the military Abwehr and given the task of assessing foreign church opinion. In reality Bonhoeffer used the opportunities to leave Germany for neutral countries, such as Switzerland and Sweden, to renew his contacts with his British friends and to send messages to his sister in Oxford. The most notable occasion was his last visit to Sweden in May 1942 when he once again met up with Bishop Bell. His object was to convince the bishop, and through him the British government, that the German resistance movement was a serious reality, and that it intended to destroy the Nazi regime and reverse its murderous policies. He also revealed to Bell the names of the chief figures involved.

Clements does not make clear – as Bonhoeffer’s previous biographers did not make clear – what exactly was said at this meeting. Did Bonhoeffer really think that a bishop – even one as experienced as Bell – could have such a significant impact on the British government’s policies as to persuade it to seek a negotiated peace? Or did he give Bell the impression that the resistance movement had a wide measure of popular support in Germany, which in fact it never achieved? Did Bell not warn the conspirators that open support from Britain was highly unlikely, or did his wishful thinking outweigh his political judgment? Or was he overly impressed by Bonhoeffer’s open acknowledgment of Germany’s need for a penitential peace to atone for her aggressions and war crimes?

Certainly Clements is quite right in his view that this meeting reinforced Bonhoeffer’s sense of solidarity with the international Christian community, whose British members he knew best. But shortly afterwards Bonhoeffer was arrested and all possible contacts ceased. Nevertheless, even in the grim desolate circumstances of the Gestapo’s prisons, Bonhoeffer continued to uphold his belief in a better world and a better church to come, as outlined by his British counterparts. And, as Clements notes, it was exactly this spirit which upheld Bonhoeffer to the end. On the day before he was taken off to Flossenburg concentration camp in April 1945, Bonhoeffer’s last recorded words were spoken – in English – to a fellow prisoner, Captain Payne Best. He asked Best to pass a message, if possible, to Bishop George Bell. Tell him that with him I believe in the reality of our Christian brotherhood that rises above all national conflicts and interests and that our victory is certain .
The next morning, at dawn, he was executed.

It was a notable act of courage that in July 1945, at a time when the British press was burning with indignation about the atrocities committed in German concentration camps, and inflaming public opinion against everything German, Bishop Bell undertook to organize a memorial service in the heart of London for the one good German he knew, who had paid the ultimate price. The service was broadcast and was the means by which Bonhoeffer’s parents first learnt of his death. Clements gives extracts from Bell’s moving tribute to his martyred friend.
He also has a final chapter on Bonhoeffer’s legacy in Britain, which points out how his writings were to become an important challenge and inspiration in the ecumenical post-war world, especially his prophetic call to the universal church to resist tyranny and oppression. It is therefore most fitting that Bonhoeffer was chosen to be one of the ten twentieth-century martyrs whose witness on behalf of the world-wide Christian community led to their statues being placed in 1998 on the portico of Westminster Abbey, the very citadel of British Christianity. It symbolizes the bond, in both life and death, linking Bonhoeffer and Britain. JSC

2b) John K. Roth, Ethics During and After the Holocaust: In the Shadow of Birkenau New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005 225 pages, ISBN: 1403933774

John Roth is not a contemporary church historian or even a historian for that matter, but rather a self-described Christian philosopher “tripped up by Holocaust history” (ix). The founding director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College, where he is a member of the philosophy and religious studies department, recalls being haunted by reading Elie Wiesel’s Night thirty-five years ago. The scenes of Wiesel’s horrific journey to Auschwitz-Birkenau where the Nazis murdered his mother, father, and little sister made an indelible impression on Roth. Wiesel’s description of Madam Schächter’s torturous screams in the cattle car transporting European Jews to their deaths, her visions of the fire and flames that awaited her and her young son, and Wiesel’s images of his first night in the camp have tripped up many young scholars. Some of them, primarily aspiring historians, would turn to Holocaust studies for answers but, as Roth laments, few philosophers heeded the call.

Historical inquiry alone, Roth maintains, does not do justice to the multifaceted nature of the Holocaust. What he feels is necessary is an interdisciplinary approach that includes philosophical inquiry, especially when the focus is on ethics. In addition to their study of churches as historical institutions, church historians should be particularly open to Roth’s view given their interest in the theological and ethical dimensions of church history.

Reflecting on ethics during and the after the Holocaust is nothing new for Roth. He has written, co-authored, and co-edited dozens of books, many of which address the Holocaust and the post-Holocaust world from an ethical perspective. Central to his scholarship is taking to heart Elie Wiesel’s assertion that “The Holocaust demands interrogation and calls everything into question.” Believing that the Holocaust could not have happened without the collapse and collaboration of ethical traditions, particularly Christian ethics, Roth writes, “It is precisely because of my Christian identity that I have immersed myself in the study of the Holocaust, for I believe that my identity (as indeed anyone’s identity as a Christian) is linked to that catastrophe” (46).

The Holocaust has revealed that ethical traditions are fragile and easily manipulated into serving evil. For this reason Roth addresses first what happened to ethics during the Holocaust and then considers how to make post-Holocaust ethics more credible and sustainable. Sensitive, balanced, and profound, the insights in this volume are that of a seasoned scholar, one who recognizes that he does not have all the answers but that he is contributing to an immensely important project – the restoration and reconstruction of ethics in the shadow of Birkenau.
Some mention should be made of Roth’s methodology. He is truly a historian’s philosopher in that he refrains from overly abstract discussions of ethics by concentrating on the experiences of real individuals. He proceeds from these experiences, often depicted in survivor memoirs, to their impact on ethics and finally to harnessing these memories “to reconsider and retrieve ethics, to recover and renew its vitality in the ruins of a post-Holocaust world” (xi). In addition to analyzing the ethical dimensions of accounts by survivors Roth also reflects on the work of a diverse group of scholars, writers, and filmmakers who have addressed similar issues including Primo Levi, Jean Amery, Sarah Kofman, Daniel Goldhagen, Claudia Koonz, Peter Haas, Mel Gibson, Pierre Sauvage, William Styron, and Raul Hilberg. Roth’s reflections are aimed at gathering insights into why moral standards and ethical traditions were so easily subverted during the Holocaust and how to ensure that in the future ethics is not only sturdier but that people, especially scholars, are prepared to identify and challenge those who would try to manipulate or undermine ethics. The Holocaust creates “a duty,” Roth insists, “to speak, an obligation to make ethics stronger and less subject to overriding, dysfunctionality, or subversion, an insistence not only to drive home the difference between right and wrong but also to influence action accordingly” (94).

Roth’s conviction that particular experiences, details, and facts contain moral insights and can serve as a new foundation for ethics is apparent throughout his book. In one example we are introduced to Sarah Kofman, a French philosopher, whose father, the rabbi Berek Kofman, was buried alive by the Nazis for trying to observe the Sabbath in one of the death camps. She struggles to speak and write about this unspeakable act but when she finally does she uses the experience as a source of ethical insight. In Smothered Words (1998) Kofman remarks that in Nazi Germany “community” — in the inclusive sense of humanity — was forbidden. The lack of an inclusive community of which her father could be a member left him and all Jews isolated, threatened, and ultimately easily disposed of. Kofman concludes that it is crucial in the post-Holocaust world to support “the community (of those) without community” and to build a new humanism that has at its core a commitment to defend human rights. Roth emphasizes the importance of listening to the experiences of victims such as Kofman because “knowledge roots itself in human experience” (184). It might also be added that it is the victims — more than the perpetrators or bystanders — who will refuse to return to the status quo before the Holocaust, to the old humanism, which failed so miserably.

It is therefore not surprising that Roth is critical of Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus in The Passion of the Christ because the film fails to question the traditional Christian depiction of this event in the wake of the Holocaust. “The problem is that Gibson’s film,” Roth states, “has much more in common with pre-Holocaust Christian animosity toward Jews than it does with post-Holocaust reconciliation between Christianity and Judaism” (49). Roth’s critique goes even further. He maintains that portrayals of the crucifixion in a post-Holocaust world must be linked to the Holocaust because if Jesus had not been crucified then the Holocaust would not have taken place. He reproaches Gibson for failing to acknowledge that “No crucifixion of Jesus = No Holocaust” (45).Whether a depiction of the crucifixion that did not blame Jews would be a sufficient link to the Holocaust for Roth is not clear. What is clear is that Roth believes that to produce a film or write a book after 1945 that addresses Christianity, particularly the crucifixion, as if nothing has changed since the Holocaust is not just unacceptable, it undermines the pursuit of a post-Holocaust ethics.

Considering Roth’s problems with the Gibson film and his demand for a radical rethinking of how Christians depict the Passion, one might expect cautious praise for Daniel Goldhagen’s A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (2002). While recognizing the book’s historical inaccuracies, Roth writes approvingly that the author “may be helping to create a new Christianity” (106). Goldhagen’s demand that Catholic Church carry out fundamental reform (“conciliatory language, good will, apologies, even the most heart felt expressions of sorrow, regret, and contrition are not enough”) is not radically different from the vision of a reformed Christianity shared by Roth and many other Christian scholars (see review of Seeing Judaism Anew: Christianity’s Sacred Obligation in previous Newsletter). Although Roth (and a growing number of Catholics) would agree with Goldhagen that real reform requires forthright recognition by Catholic leaders of the Church’s institutional antisemitism, he neither explicitly supports nor condemns Goldhagen’s call for the Church to abandon papal infallibility and dissolve the Vatican. Nevertheless, Goldhagen’s general message should be embraced, says Roth, and that doing so would advance the construction of a post-Holocaust Christian ethics.

Roth’s book is packed with insights he draws from the experiences of victims, from the research of other scholars, and from the interpretations put forth by artists and writers. His own skills as a philosopher are put to use in unique and innovative ways as he analyzes works from outside his field with admirable adroitness.

On a personal level, Roth acknowledges that the recent birth of a granddaughter has conferred on him a new sense of responsibility for the world in which she will live. His thoughts are worth quoting at length because they provides the best summary of his intentions in the book–intentions which he fulfills with grace, astuteness and wisdom.

“As Keeley’s grandfather, I want more than ever for her post-Holocaust world to be one in which human rights abuses, genocide among them, are minimized if not eliminated. I want more than ever – for her, for all the children and grandchildren – a world that embodies higher ethical standards and conduct than ours exhibits in the early twenty-first century. Having become a grandfather, my time to work for those goals grows shorter, and therefore the work seems increasingly urgent, more intensely required because it will remains so far from being done when my death comes. A book about ethics during and after the Holocaust is, at best, a modest contribution in response to that urgency. . . . I offer it as a present to her world, as well as to her, hoping that it may help to encourage justice, healing, and compassion” (xiii).

Matthew Hockenos, Skidmore College, Saratoga, N.Y., USA

With best wishes,
John S.Conway