Do we need a new Barmen Declaration?

/ 8 May 2004

Rosemary Ruether writes compellingly of the need for US Christians to reject “Americanist” Christianity in the April 23 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

In 1934 a group of German theologians gathered in Barmen, Germany, where they adopted a declaration drafted by Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen. This declaration denounced as heresy the emerging “German Christianity,” which accepted the Nazi Führer principle in church government. This Führer principle acclaimed Hitler as “lord” over the church and acquiesced to a racist ideology that made Christ and Christianity uniquely German (Aryan). By rejecting this German Christianity, the dissenting Christians were issuing the church a call to resistance against Nazism.

In the context of increasing use of an “Americanist” messianic nationalism by the Bush administration to justify its “war against terrorism,” the question needs to be posed, particularly for U.S. Christians, “Do we need a new Barmen Declaration?”

For Ruether, “Americanist” Christianity proclaims that “God chooses one nation above all other nations, “the US is God’s uniquely chosen nation,” “evil is socially located in the enemies of the US,” and “evil can be conquered by external coercion, ultimately by military force.” I think she’s asking a profoundly important question here, and those of us who call ourselves Christians and also are US citizens really need to dig into self reflection and self criticism — particularly in light of the recent disclosures of how much torture has been a part of our policy of interrogation abroad. We can not win any war if we lose who we are and what we stand for in the process.