(For more on this, see Part One: Dandelions and White Supremacy – The Overarching Frame)
The Barmen Declaration As A Tool
If we are to take seriously the reality that white supremacy wants to reassert itself and will, we must look everywhere, even in our churches – ESPECIALLY in our churches – for the dandelion seeds lying dormant. We have to be aware of that one plant that is allowed to bloom in the corner because we’re too weary to dig it out, or worse, because we rather like the little yellow blossom and remember nostalgically bringing handfuls of them to our mothers on summer mornings.
I am connected to a faith tradition – the Presbyterian Church (USA) – that has confessional statements as part of its core identity. We recently adopted an important statement that gives us the theological grounding we need as we work to root out white supremacy – The Barmen Declaration.
“Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I 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.
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. 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.
The Barmen Declaration makes us do more than just analyze the immediate chain of events that allowed someone like Hitler to rise. It requires us to acknowledge that Hitler was not a one-time phenomenon. In that same era, the President of France capitulated with a peaceful surrender and allowed French Jews to be taken. The President of the United States and the United States Congress refused to let Jewish refugees land here for resettlement. It’s worth noting, in this time of threats to close borders, that the global south received more Jewish refugees than any nation with a majority of people of white European descent.
If we’re going to get to the bottom of this particular time, we must also ask: what lies within white European-descent people that causes us to look for scapegoats whenever trouble comes, rather than doing the deeper work of understanding and then tearing down systems of oppression from which most of us (white people) have benefitted. Blaming Hitler, like our current tendency toward blaming Trump, makes everything about the scapegoats, and deflects us away from our deep need for self-examination, repentance, and reparations. White Christians (white people in general) need to be able to see themselves in the acts of Hitler and his followers, in Trump and his followers. Racism, homophobia, misogyny, capitalism are the water we swim in. As much as we might try to #notme, #notmychurch #notmypresident our way out of this, we all participate in these systems. Every. Damn. Day.
Jesus overturned the tables in the Temple because the system was oppressive. We need to ask ourselves: what is the Presbyterian equivalent?