Sunday, January 18, 2009

America's Pastor suggests models for Christian evangelization

Pastor Rick, are you sure this is what Jesus had in mind?

The only sour point in the almost-here Obama inauguration is the fact that hardline Christian Right preacher Rick Warren will be doing to honors of the official invocation. There have been some interesting comments about Brother Rick the last few days.

Bruce Wilson, a critical-minded observer of the Christian Right, writes about America's Pastor in Rick Warren Cites Hitler Youth as Model For Christian Dedication Talk to Action, 01/15/09. David Neiwert (Rick Warren's vision of Christianity inspired by totalitarians Crooks and Liars 01/16/09) and Digby (Whatever it takes Hullabaloo 01/15/09) have commented on Wilson's post and provided text of the relevant Warren quotes.

For a recent article reflecting the press Village conventional wisdom on America's Pastor, see Obama, Warren and the new evangelicals Obama, Warren and the new evangelicals by Joe Garofoli San Francisco Chronicle 01/18/08. The Village version being that it's just those sore-headed gays and lesbians that are upset with that nice man Brother Rick because he's against same-sex marriage like Obama is, too. Garofoli did manage to notice Max Blumenthal's Daily Beast story on the dubious nature of Warren's anti-AIDS program. Though Garofoli seems oblivious to the fact that it largely undermines America's Pastor's claim to be a kinder, gentler variety of rightwing zealot. Garofoli also makes such highly dubious claims about the nature of Obama's appeal to evangelicals; he seems to be hazy on any distinction between evangelicals, fundamentalists and the Christian Right and also ready to make a shaky assumption that because more evangelicals voted for Obama than for Kerry in 2004 that it must have been the specifically religion-based appeals that produced that result.

I've provided the text of the passages in question later in this post. America's Pastor invokes the Hitler Youth, Russian revolutionary leader V.I. Lenin, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution as counter-examples of how he would like to see Christians organize and get inspired for the cause of Christianity.

It's not unusual for evangelical ministers to try to call up images of a rising, historic movement of Christians. It's also not unusual for conservative ministers to point to images of the enemies of Christianity and America - are aren't those the same thing? - to cast the historic battle as faced with a formidable, determined foe. And, at that level of generality, there's nothing inherently objectionable about it.

But I find Bruce Wilson's analysis of that sermon by America's Pastor to be a sound one. And a good example of specific contextual analysis. He's not making the kind of argument many rightwing Republicans made during last year election., i.e., Hitler attracted big crowds, Obama attracts big crowds, so therefore Obama is like Hitler. Wilson actually does a fact-based analysis, not just drawing polemical parallels based on superficial comparisons.

Leaving aside for the moment the wildly disparate nature of the movements Warren cites, Wilson summarizes:

Having cited dedication and zeal of young Nazis and the efficacy of Bolshevik Revolutionaries, Warren moved on to describe how the sayings of Chairman Mao, printed up in the "Little Red Book", had helped propel the revolutionary fervor of the Chinese Red Guard who had carried out the violent, anarchic revolutionary spasm known as the Cultural Revolution.
As I discovered, some of the history may not be exactly like America's Pastor describes it. But Wilson is almost certainly describing accurately the impression that Warren was creating among his audience of the Saddleback faithful. And he observes:

Though Warren's speech was in the idiom of Christianity, he did not seek to inspire his Saddleback audience with examples of great religious leaders who have changed history through persuasion or other nonviolent approaches. Rick Warren looked to 20th century exemplars of vision and dedication but not to Mohatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or any other religious leaders.
Being the geeky history buff that I am, the Lenin reference America's Pastor used caught my attention. Here is the relevant quote from the YouTube audio Wilson uses provided by the New Apostolic Reformation Research Group "Rick Warren Urges Followers To Emulate Hitler Youth", obtained from Warren's Saddleback Church of America's Pastor:

What is the vision of the next 25 years? I'll tell you what it is.

It is the global expansion of the Kingdom of God.

It is the total mobilization of this church.

And the third part is the dream of a radical devotion of every believer.

Now, I choose that word "radical" intentionally, because only radicals change the world.

Everything great done in this world is done by passionate people.

Moderate people get moderately nothing done.

And moderation will never slay the global giants.
And what examples does he have in mind? This is one he gave:

In 1939, in a stadium much like this, in Munich, Germany, they packed it out with young men and women in brown shirts for a fanatical man standing behind a podium named named Adolf Hitler, the personification of evil.

And in that stadium, those in brown shirts formed with their bodies a sign that said in the whole stadium, "Hitler, we are yours."

And they nearly took the world.

Lenin once said, "Give me 100 committed, totally committed men and I'll change the world." And he nearly did.

A few years ago, they took the sayings of Chairman Mao in China, put them in a little red book, and a group of young people committed them to memory and put it in their minds, and they took that nation - the largest nation in the world - by storm, because they committed to memory the sayings of the Chairman Mao.

When I hear those kinds of stories, I think, "What would happen if American Christians, if world Christians, if just the Christians in this stadium, followers of Christ, would say, 'Jesus, we are yours'? What kind of spiritual awakening would we have?"
A few minutes further in his speech, he tells the crowd:

Jesus said, "I want you to do this publicly". So what I want you to do is take the card and in just a minute, and if you say, "Rick I am willing to serve God's purposes in my generation."

I want you to open up to the sign that says, "Whatever it takes." "Whatever it takes."

And I want you to just say, "This is my commitment, before God and in front of everybody else. I'm in."

And I would invite you to just stand quietly and hold up, "Whatever it takes."


I'm looking at a stadium full of people who are saying, "Whatever it takes, God."
Among the Birchers and other far-right groups, apocryphal Lenin quotes have always been a favorite. I remember one that conservative ministers particularly like, which has Lenin saying something to the effect that Communists should encourage pornography and get people to read dirty books, because that will undermine their moral fiber and allow the Commies to overthrow capitalism.

The 100-men quote strikes me as a little odd in the context America's Pastor gives it. It doesn't really sound very Leninist on the face of it, a key element of the Leninist brand of Marxism having been the notion of the "vanguard party", a dedicated group of professional revolutionaries who lead the working class in the anti-capitalist revolution. But he was talking about building nationwide parties with functional international cooperation with other such parties. Not getting a hundred guys together in a big room and plotting a coup.

Now, it's not unthinkable that he would have said something like that at some moment of intra-party struggle, like possibly when he pushed the Bolsheviks in 1917 to mount a revolutionary opposition against the Kerensky regime that had immediately replaced the Czar.

But I don't know Russian and Lenin's works fill at least a couple of dozen volumes. So I focused instead on the Hitler Youth reference, which also struck me as a bit odd once I started thinking about it. He refers to young people in brown shirts at a big public event in Munich in 1939, which seems to be a reference to the Hitler Jugend (HJ, Hitler Youth) since he specifies young people, though he doesn't mention the HJ specifically.

So I fired up my trusty Yahoo! Deutschland search engine and searched for "hitler jugend muenchen 1939". It took me to articles in Wikipedia and Bildungswiki, a similar service. I saw entries talking about how membership in the HJ was made legally compulsory in 1939 even against the parents' wishes. But no reference to a giant rally in Munich.

I searched on "hitler jugend wir sind deine", which would be my first retranslation of "we are yours" back into German. Zippo.

Then I went to the library and did a quick check of 10 or so books on the HJ, in both German and English. It wasn't thorough research. But I didn't find squat about a Munich rally for the HJ in 1939. The most important events for the HJ in 1939 seemed to have been the introduction in March of that legally compulsory membership in the HJ for youth starting at 10 years old, and the start of the Second World War with the invasion of Poland in September. The theme of the HJ for 1939 was promoting health among young people.

The closest I came to anything resembling the "Hitler, we are yours" quote that Pastor Rick uses in that speech was a poster for the girls' parallel group, the BDM (Bund deutscher Maedchen), that said, addressing the BDM members, "Du gehörst dem Führer". Which I would translate as "You belong to the Fürher", which for what it's worth sounds like a more passive concept than "we are yours". "You are the Fürher's" would be a possible translation, but not the best one.

Later I found the following 1943 poster online at the Deutsches Historisches Museum site, which associates it with the HJ:

The main slogan here is, "Führer, dir gehören wir" (Führer, we belong to you), which could be less well translated as the phrase Pastor Rick used, "Hitler, we are yours". So something like that slogan was at least in use among the HJ and BDM. (The text at the bottom reads, "The future can bring nothing but victory. And if the world asks us the reason, we will say: Because the Lord God gave us the Führer." - Artur Axmann)

"Führer", by the way, is a German word for "leader". In one of the more obsessive-compulsive aspects of Nazism, the word was exclusively reserved for Hitler himself during the Third Reich, I believe by an actual law.

Now, as Rummy famously observed, absence of evidence isn't evidence of absence. But if there was such an event, it doesn't seem to have loomed as large in importance for the HJ as the Nuremberg Nazi Party rally of the Berlin Olympics did for the Party and the Nazi state.

More importantly, though, the HJ wasn't entirely a voluntary group. While it wasn't until March 1939 that the HJ membership became compulsory, the HJ and the BDM basically controlled access to recreation facilities for kids. If you wanted your kids to participate in athletics or the hiking clubs that were so popular in Germany, they pretty much had to be in the HJ or the BDM. They were definitely organizations that were meant to indoctrinate kids in Nazi ideology and militarism. But even before 1939, it was a quasi-compulsory organization for kids.

Which is yet another thing that makes it an, um, ah, imperfect model for a Christian religious movement.

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