A Response to Tyranny

A Response to Tyranny

Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.

Esther 4:13-14 ESV

Prior to the events that convulsed the entire world in the mid-20th century, a group of Lutheran and Reformed churchmen and theologians penned and signed a document remarkable for its prescience and courage. For some, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, their signature was costly indeed.

The Barmen Declaration was written in May of 1934 by Karl Barth, Hans Asmussen among others, representing some leaders of the German Evangelical Church. It was a direct repudiation of many of the claims of their church’s developing relationship with the Third Reich. It was a response to one of the earliest efforts of the Nazi Party to control society, in this case by co-opting the Protestant Churches into a single Protestant Reich Church headed by a single bishop and representing “German Christianity.” The process had its collaborators from within the church. For a good synopsis see “The Protestant Church in Hitler’s Germany and the Barmen Declaration” at http://www.gci.org/history/barmen.

Here are a few of the highlights of the Barmen Declaration:

We declare before the public view of all the Evangelical Churches of Germany, that the unity of this confession and thereby also the unity of the German Evangelical Church is severely threatened. . . .

Together we may and must, as members of the Lutheran, Reformed and United churches, speak today to this situation. Precisely because we want to be and remain true to our various confessions of faith, we may not keep silent . . .

We repudiate the false teaching that there are areas of our life in which we belong not to Jesus Christ but another lord . . .

We repudiate the false teaching that the church can and may . . . set up special leaders (Fuhrer) equipped with powers to rule . . .
We repudiate the false teaching that the state can and should expand beyond its special responsibility to become the single and total order of human life, and also thereby fulfill the commission of the church.

For the entire declaration see: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/barmen.htm.

Difficult times produce enduring faith statements. The Manhattan Declaration spearheaded by Robert George, Timothy George, and Church Colson in September, 2009, and endorsed by many Catholic, Orthodox, and Evangelical leaders addresses social issues critical to the contemporary church – it is a statement of commitment to stand for specific principles of the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, and religious freedom. Its premises are prescient and its authors and signatories may yet be seen as courageous. A pertinent section:

While the whole scope of Christian moral concern, including a special concern for the poor and vulnerable, claims our attention, we are especially troubled that in our nation today the lives of the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly are severely threatened; that the institution of marriage, already buffeted by promiscuity, infidelity and divorce, is in jeopardy of being redefined to accommodate fashionable ideologies; that freedom of religion and the rights of conscience are jeopardized by those who would use the instruments of coercion to compel persons of faith to compromise their deepest convictions.

(Manhattan Declaration, emphasis mine)

For the entire document see http://www.manhattandeclaration.org/the-declaration/read.aspx.

As if in fulfillment of prophecy, the Obama administration through a department of Health and Human Services mandate has recently required many people of faith to “compromise their deepest convictions.” All institutions run by religious organizations which employ or serve individuals not of their own faith were required to supply health insurance which includes coverage of both birth control and abortion-inducing drugs.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops responded with a pastoral letter which has been shared in pulpits throughout the land. In part, it states:

And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled to either violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so)…

We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. Our parents and grandparents did not come to these shores to help build America’s cities and towns, its infrastructure and institutions, its enterprise and culture, only to have their posterity stripped of their God-given rights…

Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (1835, 1840) saw tremendous strength in the many voluntary societies of our culture, whether churches, political organizations, or social circles with specific mandates and missions. We might call these mediating institutions.

“As Yuval Levin noted in National Review Online last week, institutions such as the Catholic church represent a mediating layer between the individual and the state. This layer, known as civil society, is one of the principal differences between Western liberal order and the socialist view . . . The attack on Catholics is, Levin concludes, ‘an attack on mediating institutions of all sorts moved by a genuine belief that they are obstacles to a good society’.” (Jonathan V. Last in The Weekly Standard).

Since the outbreak of the controversy, the White House on Friday offered a compromise – insurance companies, not faith-based employers, would have to pay for these employee benefits. Some have simply called this a shell game. So, since the outbreak of a stiff backlash from many quarters, there has been some backpedaling, but hardly a surrender of policy objectives from the administration, objectives which directly assault the concerns expressed in the Manhattan Declaration. Can we really be confident that this assault is over, or is this only a shift in tactics?

The scripture quoted at the outset of this entry is taken from the book of Esther. In the reign of the Persian despot Xerxes (Ahasuerus), powerful political forces led by a man named Haman had engaged in intrigue to eliminate the covenant people. The question is, Are we now in such a moment of peril? Certainly death and extermination are not threatened (except to the unborn), but has the fundamental right to religious liberty been threatened in a pervasive way? If so, the lesson of Queen Esther is preserved in scripture as a lesson for people of faith in all ages:

Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.

Esther 4:13-14