Lexington (KY) Bishop Questions Catholic Support of Donald Trump: He’s Brutally Vilified

Readings for 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time: JER 1:4-5, 17-19; PS 7:1-6, 15-17; I COR 12:31-13:13; LK 4:21-30

Last week, the bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, profoundly sharpened the recent controversy involving a student from Covington Catholic High School who confronted a Native American elder after this year’s pro-life march in Washington, D.C.

Writing an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bishop John Stowe attempted to deepen the entire conversation. He suggested changing it from superficial wrangling about the apparent disrespect the student displayed to a discussion of whether or not Catholics can support the current occupant of the White House and still be true to their faith.

Bishop Stowe said “no.” It’s a matter of faith, he said.

By taking that position, the Lexington bishop created what I would call a much-needed Dietrich Bonhoeffer moment for the church at a time when Mr. Trump exhibits traits and policies reminiscent of Adolf Hitler during his rise to power in the 1930s. (In the name of their faith, Bonhoeffer and members of his Confessing Church separated themselves from German Christians who supported der Fuhrer.)

The bishop’s words also incurred the wrath of Catholic Trump supporters much as Jesus in today’s Gospel selection sparked anger in his own hometown when he called his neighbors’ faith into question.

Let me explain.

First, recall the context of the bishop’s words. Then connect them to our reading and finally to Bonhoeffer and his church of resistance.  

As for context, a video of the stand-off between the high school student, Nick Sandman and the Native American, Nathan Phillips, had just gone viral. Initial viewings led many to condemn the student’s apparent disrespect.

Then, Sandman’s parents hired a P.R. firm to spin his side of the story. As a result, public commentary quickly changed from blaming the adolescent for his apparently offensive smirk. It centered instead on whose version of the story was correct. Was the student (as the PR firm put it) merely smiling in an attempt to deescalate a threatening situation? Or was he making fun of the Native elder by placing his grin inches from the old man’s face?

In an op-ed published in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Bishop Stowe reframed the debate by adopting the prophetic tack I just mentioned. He focused on the fact that the young student and many of his companions were wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats. That’s what the bishop found incompatible with Catholic faith and its comprehensive approach to life-issues.

He wrote:   

“Without engaging the discussion about the context of the viral video or placing the blame entirely on these adolescents, it astonishes me that any students participating in a pro-life activity on behalf of their school and their Catholic faith could be wearing apparel sporting the slogans of a president who denigrates the lives of immigrants, refugees and people from countries that he describes with indecent words and haphazardly endangers with life-threatening policies.”

In other words, Bishop Stowe was broadening the concept of being “pro-life” – the reason many Catholics back President Trump – to question that support itself. Catholic faith, the bishop implied, cannot tolerate Trump’s policies on immigration, refugees or other words or actions that disrespect Global South countries and endanger life (think capital punishment, drone assassinations, bombings, and illegal wars). Such behavior offends core Catholic beliefs about the inviolable sanctity of human life.

Specifically in reference to abortion, the Lexington bishop added:

“As the leader of the Catholic Church in the 50 counties of Central and Eastern Kentucky . . . I believe that U.S. Catholics must take a look at how our support of the fundamental right to life has become separated from the even more basic truth of the dignity of each human person. . .  While the church’s opposition to abortion has been steadfast, it has become a stand-alone issue for many and has become disconnected to other issues of human dignity.”

Still referencing the abortion issue, Bishop Stowe concluded:

“The pro-life movement claims that it wants more than the policy change of making abortion illegal but aims to make it unthinkable. That would require deep changes in society and policies that would support those who find it difficult to afford children. The association of our young people with racist acts and a politics of hate must also become unthinkable.”

Notice how these words unabashedly connect President Trump with racism and policies that embody hatred. They also recognize that many women are driven to abortion by government policies that make unplanned pregnancies problematic.

Now, that brings me to this Sunday’s Gospel reading and to Jesus’ words that “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” I make the connection because dozens of people chose to comment very harshly on the bishop’s op-ed. Instead of dealing with the more comprehensive understanding of the phrase “pro-life,” they called Bishop Stowe vile names, brought up the pedophilia issue, and defended Donald Trump as God’s servant. I was surprised that some of the on-line language was actually permitted by the Herald-Leader’s editors.

It was like what happened to Jesus in today’s reading. There the Master himself is pilloried by his neighbors in Nazareth for challenging (like Bishop Stowe) their narrow religious prejudices. When Jesus reminds the people from Nazareth that God cares as much about Syrians and Lebanese as about Jews, they actually try to murder him.

As I said, that proved the truth of his saying that “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” After all, prophets are those who speak for God. They connect God’s word to events of the day. And that’s what John Stowe did in his op-ed. He made the connection not only between the teaching of Jesus on the one hand and the event in Washington on the other. Echoing Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his Confessing Church, he also used the occasion to denounce Catholic support for latter-day fascism.

In similar circumstances 85 years ago, Bonhoeffer and the German Confessing Church courageously published their famous Barmen Declaration. It held that no one professing to follow Jesus could possibly accept Hitler as their Fuhrer; only Christ could hold that position.

In response, both Protestants and Catholics denounced Bonhoeffer and the others as traitors. Pope Pius XII would even persist in endorsing Hitler as “an indispensable bulwark against the Russians.”

The words of Bishop Stowe seem intent on preventing Catholics in his diocese from recommitting a similar error.

As a long-time Kentuckian and member of the loyal opposition within the Catholic Church, I’m proud of his courage. It’s time for Catholics and the rest of us to take Bishop Stowe’s words seriously.

Simply put, people of faith cannot support Donald Trump and still be authentic followers of Jesus. We must do all we can to frustrate Trump’s policies and see that he is not elected to a second term.

Yes, Bishop Stowe is correct: it’s a matter of faith!

The Western Powers Loved Adolf Hitler

Hitler Love

This is the second installment in a series on “How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War.”

Last Monday this series on the Second Coming of Adolf Hitler began with a brief allusion to the special responsibility Christians have to resist Hitlerism without Hitler. That first entry recalled how Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemoller and others formed a Confessing Church to counter the surrender of Germany’s mainstream churches to Hitler’s nationalism. The example of the Confessing Church and the tenets of its Barmen Declaration should be kept in mind as this series progresses. An underlying thesis here is that given the similarities between Hitler’s Germany and the contemporary United States, would-be followers of Jesus should emulate the defiant example of the Barmen Declaration’s authors.

Today’s entry focuses on the relevance of Adolf Hitler to U.S. policy since 9/11/01:

In the aftermath of the tragic events of September 11th, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, co-founded by Mrs. Lynne Cheney, the wife of Dick Cheney, the former United States Vice President, accused dissident professors of being the “weak link in America’s response to the attack.” To support its accusation, the Council published a list of more than a hundred recorded statements by such professors characterizing them as “anti-American.” Statements ranged from “Any attack on the Pentagon’s got my vote” to “Ignorance breeds hate,” and America should “build bridges and relationships, not simply bombs and walls.”

Of course, any professorial references to “fascism” and “Nazism” connected with U.S. policy were anathema to Mrs. Cheney’s group. Such accusations, it was alleged, revealed an ignorance or suppression of real United States history. A more genuine narrative of the past showed America to be an unparalleled opponent of Nazism and an unrelenting advocate of freedom and democracy in the face of fascism. Schooling in truer, more patriotic history, Mrs. Cheney said, would make students valued assets in civilization’s war against terrorism.

As a teacher of history in a small liberal arts college in the American South, I found extremely welcome the new centralizing of history’s importance. I also welcomed it as an opportunity to explore a suspicion that had been with me for some time – precisely in connection with the categories of terrorism and anti-terrorism, but especially connected to fascism, Nazism and the study of history.

The suspicion came from reading closely and teaching the standard Western Civilization text many professors use at Berea College, where I teach. It is a book of which Mrs. Cheney might approve – Jackson Spielvogel’s Western Civilization. For a long time, I had been finding unmistakable clues there to support the thesis that far from being a beacon of freedom and democracy, the United States is actually the opposite. More specifically, in relation to most of the world, it has since the conclusion of the Second Inter-Capitalist War (aka World War II) embodied Hitlerism without Adolph Hitler.

Put more starkly, the clues in my students’ textbooks indicated that Hitler’s system actually triumphed in World War II. Moreover, his system was police state capitalism, and Hitler was capitalism’s savior. Even more importantly, police state capitalism continues today in the process of globalization and, most recently, in the U.S. “War on Terrorism.”

Such challenging assertions find additional support in conservative histories like Hagen Schultze’s Germany: A New History, and Paul Johnson’s History of Christianity. Support appears as well in statements by U.S. government officials, and in the daily newspaper.

All of these sources indicate that at the beginning Adolf Hitler enjoyed the support of western powers because of his stern opposition to socialism and communism. Hitler was the West’s champion against the Soviets and those who admired Soviet accomplishments. So after his coming to power in 1933, Hitler’s international sponsors quickly rescinded the harshly punitive clauses of the Treaty of Versailles. They forgave Germany’s debt. British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain hastened to align Great Britain with Hitler. Pius XII referred to der Fuhrer as “an indispensable bulwark against the Russians.” Henry Ford loved the man. The admiration was mutual; Ford accepted a medal of honor from Hitler’s hands, as did the founder of IBM. Trans-Atlantic aviator, Charles Lindbergh and movie actor Errol Flynn were prominent among Hitler’s champions.

With such backing, the Western Powers allowed Hitler’s Germany to rearm. But in the end, der Fuhrer lost the support of his capitalist backers, because he went too far. His crime, however, was not gassing Jews. The West proved remarkably compliant with that. Rather, Hitler’s crime was his attempt to establish control of the world economy – over such capitalist competitors as Great Britain, France, and the United States. He proposed a New World Order, which, he promised, would bring prosperity to all. Nonetheless, Hitler’s attempts to impose his order ultimately met with stiff resistance from his opponents’ Allied Forces. The Second Inter-Capitalist War followed.

Afterwards, the United States emerged relatively unscathed from the conflict, and proceeded to establish its own dominance of the world capitalist system, in ways not extremely different from those employed by Adolph Hitler. That dominance of the capitalist world turned to imperial global dominance following the disappearance of the Soviet Union as the lone super-power adversary of the U.S. at the beginning of the 1990s.

In other words, there is surprising continuity between Hitler’s New World Order and the New World Order embodied in the contemporary system of globalization. To understand this perhaps shocking claim, it is necessary to (1) clear up some common misconceptions about fascism, (2) describe the connections between Hitler and capitalism, (3) indicate how fascism triumphed in World War II and its aftermath, and (4) show how Hitler’s system is continued today in globalization and the War on Terrorism.

These points will be elaborated here (on Mondays) during the coming weeks.

How Hitler Saved Capitalism and Won the War: The Barmen Declaration

Hitler

This is the first in a series on the parallels between Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s and the path to market totalitarianism which I ‘m convinced the United States is following in this second decade of the 21st century. In fact, it is my view that the U.S. has been on this path since the end of the Second Inter-capitalist War (1939-1945), and especially over the last thirty-five years.

The series represents the back story for an appeal I’ve been making to my friends in our Ecumenical Table Fellowship (an inter-denominational worship group formed over the last year in Madison County, Kentucky). There I’ve been urging that we explore the possibilities and procedures for becoming a “Confessing Church” of resistance like the church formed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, and their allies in Hitlerian Germany. In 1934 that church published “The Barmen Declaration” whose intention was to rescue the Judeo-Christian tradition from nationalistic interpretations which supported the Third Reich.

A similarly nationalistic interpretation, I fear, has characterized “Christianity” over the last quarter century plus ten in the United States. There, under the influence of Christian fundamentalists, “Christianity” has become virtually synonymous with the extreme right-wing politics that Hitler championed. Like Hitler, that form of Christianity idealizes white Anglo-Saxon culture above all others. Like der fuhrer, it manipulates the Judeo-Christian tradition to support racism and white privilege.

Let me begin the series by reprinting the Barmen Declaration along with parenthetical “translations” and a brief commentary. Subsequent Monday blog entries will trace Hitler’s rise to power, his program of saving capitalism, and how the U.S. adopted Hitlerism without Hitler following der Fuhrer’s demise.

Please begin by considering the Barmen Declaration as translated (in bold) immediately below:

“We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, of free synods, Church assemblies, and parish organizations united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together on the ground of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of German Confessional Churches. We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. (THE BARMEN COMMUNITY ASSERTS ITS FOUNDATION: JESUS ALONE IS ULTIMATE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH.)

8.07 We publicly declare before all evangelical Churches in Germany that what they hold in common in this Confession is grievously imperiled, and with it the unity of the German Evangelical Church. It is threatened by the teaching methods and actions of the ruling Church party of the “German Christians” and of the Church administration carried on by them. These have become more and more apparent during the first year of the existence of the German Evangelical Church. This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of the Church administration. When these principles are held to be valid, then, according to all the Confessions in force among us, the Church ceases to be the Church and th German Evangelical Church, as a federation of Confessional Churches, becomes intrinsically impossible. (NEVERTHELESS THE “GERMAN EVANGELICAL CHURCH” HAS ACCEPTED AUTHORITY OTHER THAN JESUS, NAMELY, THE AUTHORITY OF THE THIRD REICH.)

8.08 As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation. We commend to God what this may mean for the interrelations of the Confessional Churches. (THOSE WHO RECOGNIZE THIS CONTRADICTION ARE CONVINCED THEY MUST SPEAK IN OPPOSITION TO THIS OBVIOUS CONTRADICTION.)

8.09 In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths: (THEY THEREFORE FEEL COMPELLED TO CONFESS THE FOLLOWING EVANGELICAL TRUTHS.)

8.10 – 1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death. (WE MUST OBEY JESUS AND NO OTHER.)

8.12 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.
8.13 – 2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him. (IN ALL AREAS OF OUR LIVES WITHOUT EXCEPTION.)

8.16 – 3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions. (DESPITE CLAIMS AND PRESSURES ISSUING FROM POLITICAL OR OTHER WOULD-BE AUTHORITIES)

8.19 – 4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers. (THAT WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE THAT JESUS’ POWER IS ‘POWER OVER’ RATHER THAN HUMBLE SERVICE OF OTHERS.)

8.22 – 5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State. (OR THAT THE CHURCH SHOULD BECOME AN OPPRESSIVE INSTRUMENT OF THE STATE.)

8.25 – 6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.

8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.” (IN VIEW OF THESE CONVICTIONS THE “CONFESSION CHURCH” INVITES ALL CHRISTIANS TO RECOGNIZE THE PRIMACY OF GOD’S WORD OVER THE AUTHORITY FALSELY CLAIMED BY THE RIVAL POWERS OF THE STATE.)

Obviously, the Barmen Declaration is cautious, muted and politically astute in its opposition to the hijacking of the Christian message by the Third Reich and the mainline German churches. Nevertheless, the Hitlerian message is clear. Hitler’s ecclesial accomplices have indeed tried to co-opt the Christian message, and have largely been successful in doing so. Nevertheless the Barmen community recognizes that Jesus “WAY” is contradictory to the project of Hitler and his cohorts. The Hitlerian faction aspires to use Christianity as a weapon of power over their opponents. By way of contrast, the authentic Barmen Christianity exercises “power” through humble service and non-violence towards the very groups oppressed by the Hitlerians.

Once again, this blog series on Hitler will explore his parallels with the 21st century “New World Order” that appears to mimic his rise to power while attempting to avoid the errors which inevitably doomed his insidious project. Unlike their opponents, the Hitlerians have learned from the past and are determined not to re-commit the errors that frustrated the success of their totalitarian project.

Opponents of Hitlerianism are not nearly as wise.

(Next Monday: Cheney and Bush as Hitler’s disciples)