Life was good, I had just turned 27, I finally moved into my first new home, and I was living in the bliss of a good honeymoon phase in my first called congregation, I could not imagine what things were to come. But then it happened, 9/11 changed everything. I was heading to a lectionary group as it was happening. Together we listened to the events unfurl and we knew that at that very moment everything changed, we just did not know how.
As we do in any crisis our government beefed up security, or at least the appearance of security, as armed soldiers stationed themselves in public places. That was understandable in the moment and as we would expect, it lessened in time and many only see the lingering effects as long lines at airports. But it changed a lot more. Not only did it spark a renewed a desire for isolationism among some, 9/11 brought fear, real fear, back to the mainstream in politics and community. This fear manifested in many forms and has become pervasive in many different parts of our everyday lives. But, what may be worse than fear is the longing by some to “get back” to a purer “Christian” nation. This is scary since the version of Christianity that they espouse is a form that really is neither supported Biblically nor history.
Now, 17 years after 9/11, we are in a place where we have a government that does not support anything that resembles Christian values yet is using Christianity to justify their devious actions. So, in trying to find some theological context and a vocabulary to address what I am seeing, I spent some time rereading the confessions and spending a good amount of time with one of the smallest and least known confessions in the reformed movement, “the Barmen declaration.” The Barmen declaration was a statement written in 1934 by a new denomination created in the resistance of the Reich. Like the evangelical movement today the Christians affiliated with the Reich took liberties with the Christian message to create a movement that supported the government and that assured a certain social order.
For the confessing movement, the very foundation of the church was Jesus Christ and the church was subordinate to Him. Moreover, the purpose of the church was to preach the Gospel and the message of the Free Grace of God. Within the declaration, there are 6 “evangelical truths” they make holding the Reich Christians to task. These are found towards the end of the declaration (8.10 in the PCUSA Book of Confession).
Since this election season is going to be a show and we already know how faith is being thrown around, I am going to spend the next six weeks writing about each of these points. My hope in doing so is that you can follow along and challenge yourself to see how faith is being used and abused in our country and how we need to become more vocal or we will find ourselves victims of a system that can easily justify truly anti-Christian actions.
But before we start a note about the term “evangelical”, this term has changed in meaning from the time the Barman Declaration was written. At that time Evangelical was both a denomination, a form of the Lutheran tradition and a term used to describe the Protestant “biblically based” traditions. In that respect, most mainline churches are evangelical. However, in America and other places the term “evangelical” became a politically correct term for fundamentalists, who, through social pressure, changed their terminology, but not their actual beliefs. To this end, when referring to modern Evangelicals I will use the phrasing Modern Evangelical.
I hope you enjoy!
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen