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1934 Germany All Over Again

The following Forward to Patrick Kahnke's recent book, MAGA Seduction: Resisting the Debasement of the Christian Conscience, was written by his mentor, Ned Berube, a friend of mine who was a pastor in St. Paul before retiring. Ned writes...

Pat Kahnke and I share a few characteristics. We were both evangelical pastors, we have both been pro-life advocates (he more extensively than I), and we both enjoy a good scotch and cigar.

We also both left our political view points out of our sermons and relationships with our congregations, holding to the formerly inviolable principle of not promoting any candidate or political party from the pulpit. And although I certainly had qualms about and disagreements with politicians and elected officials in years past, it's only since the election of Donald Trump but I felt compelled to raise my objections to the level of public discourse. Pat and I share a common concern and, dare I say, grief over our white evangelical brothers and sisters in the United States who have opted for the dehumanizing and debasing politics of the right wing under Donald trump's leadership.

I've been Pat’s mentor in ministry for 15 years. Were now both retired from leading churches which gives us a greater freedom to speak than active church pastors enjoy. So rather than becoming demoralized by the way so many evangelicals have followed after Donald Trump, we've both chosen to do what we do naturally - speak pastorally into the situation, for the benefit of Christ's people.

Over the past 4 years, Pat and I have spoken frequently and at length about the eerie resemblance the current white American evangelical church bears to the German Evangelical church of 1934 Germany, which became complicit with the nationalistic fascist agenda of Hitler. We both yearned for the confessing church of Martin Niemoller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer to rise out of the evangelical morass that we see today. Having formed an alliance with trump the white American evangelical church is poised to relinquish all claim to moral authority; indeed, to authority of any kind. In a painful departure from the father of the protestant movement, Martin Luther, who abhorred the mixing of political will with church doctrine, white American evangelicals have doubled down on trump's political rhetoric, baptizing phrases like "Make America Great Again" and "Build the Wall" into ecclesial vernacular. And while on the one hand what is chaff should be allowed to blow away in the wind, I fear that what is true and wholesome wheat is also about to be trampled into permanent disrepute by our own devices.

The words "unprecedented times" have perhaps been overused in 2020, but I do believe that we American evangelicals find ourselves at a critical crossroads as we look toward the 2020 election. The course of our future will be directed by whether or not we continued to collectively align ourselves with the depravity of Donald trump's vision for our nation.

This is not to say that Donald Trump or the Republican (or any other) party will direct the course of the broader church’s future. Jesus Christ remains the head of His body, the Church throughout the world, and no politician or party will stand in the way of His plans. But this is very different than the fate of the American evangelical church. The church worldwide will live on, thrive, and grow in every place where it follows Christ's downwardly mobile path of humility and love.

The white American evangelical church, if it persists on its current course of political co-optation, will die, and die quickly. Perhaps it will remain physically, as the German evangelical church did for 10 years, held in place primarily by political affiliation and messaging. But it will die a swift spiritual death, and those of us who loved it will mourn. We mourn now, for the beauty and grace we experienced, for the passion for serving a hurting world we remember, and for the love for God and our neighbor that compelled us. To be sure, many within the American evangelical church still exemplify these ideals. But when 81% of white American evangelical vote for Donald Trump, and, four years later, appear poised to vote for him again, something terrible has happened to the church I love and gave 40 years of my life to serve.

In my years of friendship with Pat, I have been regularly impressed with the way his Jesus style of spirituality and pastoral heart meshes with an incisive mind and a quick wit. He writes and speaks with wisdom and clarity yet doesn't talked down to his audience. His disarming affability has a way of bringing complex topics into accessible focus. This is why I'm so thrilled that he has chosen to write this book on a topic that crucially needs to be brought into clear focus without being alienating. I believe that Pat is up for this task.

He wrote this book out of passion for the church of Jesus Christ and its call to stay true to the values of the Kingdom of God, including a commitment to the sanctity of all life, from conception to the grave. Calling forth the American Confessing Church may be too lofty a goal for one book, but I believe it is a prophetic voice during our painful current wilderness.

--Pastor Ned Berube


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