Tag Archives: resistence

YOU HAVE STOLEN THEIR SOULS by Jean Peterson, WTS Archivist volunteer

YOU HAVE STOLEN THEIR SOULS by Jean Peterson, 2nd installment

By the time we visited the cemetery in Herrnhut, we had already visited the White Rose memorial museum in Munich, and had spent a long morning the day before at the Flossenburg concentration camp, where Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed 9 April 1945.

When “new” prisoners were brought through the gates into Flossenburg concentration camp, if they asked when they would get out of this place, they were told frankly, “in about six weeks” … “You’ll be sent to the quarry to work, and in six weeks, you’ll be dead!”

At intake, the prisoners were herded into a large shower room, stripped of their clothing and any other personal possessions they had managed to retain until that time. They were stripped of their identity. They could no longer use their names. They were given numbers. At daily roll call, they had to answer immediately with that number. If they faltered, they had to start all over again. They were forced to stand at attention in all weather conditions. They were assigned ranks and a patch placed on their blue and white striped uniforms to identify them based on a hierarchical “caste system” classification, determined by who was considered most despicable or most to be degraded. There is now a sign at the shower room that says in essence, “You have stolen not only their clothes, but their souls.”

Professor em. Dan Olson writes about dehumanization: “The function of propaganda and spreading prejudice against groups of people is to dehumanize the ‘enemy,’ whoever that may be. Only when we look upon ‘the other’ as sub-human (as authorized by government propaganda or religious authorities), can ‘good’ people commit or tolerate such cruelties against the “inferior them” that we could not bring ourselves to do to other ‘human beings.’” (Dan Olson in “Evolution & Christian Understanding of Human Nature. 2002-2009 ) The groups of people who were dehumanized by the Nazis included not only prisoners of war (foreigners) but also Jews, the handicapped, homosexuals, “gypsies,’ and those of the “inner circle” who betrayed the Third Reich (“enemies of the State.”)

Children in U.S. schools during World War II were taught prejudice through government-authorized propaganda. We were taught that Germans and Japanese were evil – of the Devil. Posters caricaturized the enemy – particularly the “Japs” and Hitler. We were taught that Hitler was the most evil of men; but the “Japs” were far more dangerous. They were so “inhuman” that they glorified suicide and therefore were not afraid to go into combat to kill our men because they weren’t afraid to die in the process. They had no human feelings, or emotions, so they could tear us apart without giving it a second glance. We tend to overlook our inhumane treatment of the American Nisei in the containment camps in our Pacific Northwest and elsewhere in the United States.
In Neuendettelsau at the end of our trip, Sister Ruth spoke to us about the Deaconesses and teachers having been pressured by government (Third Reich) authorities into allowing their students to be loaded onto busses the government sent to take them away for “special education” or for “medical treatments” “for their good.” Martin Luther’s teaching that obeying the authority of government is a part of following the commandment to “Honor thy father and thy mother,” has been cited as a factor in their submission to government authority in this situation. Amidst tears of protest, children were torn away from those they trusted. One woman from town grabbed a child off the bus and kept him. I think they escaped or survived somehow, but I wondered what eventually became of them. The Sisters and teachers were deeply grieved later to learn that they had been betrayed, and that their wards had been tortured and executed in Holocaust.

Luther’s opinions on the Jews didn’t help. We Lutherans, collectively, still bear the guilt of believing what Luther wrote about the Jews. I came into the Lutheran Church as a young adult. I recall saying, “I’m not a genuine Lutheran, because I don’t agree with everything Luther wrote,” specifically, about the Jews. The ELCA recently issued an apology for Luther’s anti-Jewish remarks. Those apologies are words. How can simple words, much too late, salve or heal the wounds we (or our forebears) have inflicted on our neighbors for centuries?
German Resistance movements
Some of the German people did not sit passively by and accept Nazi Socialism and its atrocities. There was a resistance movement in Germany. This was the period of the emergence of the “Confessing Church.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer was prominent among these. Wartburg Seminary Professor Paul Leo belonged to the Confessing Church from the beginning. He was among those fortunate enough to escape the concentration camps and to have left Germany.

The young people, students in Germany did hear; did know what was happening. University students like White Rose martyrs in the German resistance movement risked their lives to spread the truth to the people who were being taken in by the Nazi propaganda. A young woman, Sophie Scholl, and her brother Hans Scholl gave their lives to the cause one Sunday afternoon by distributing leaflets to tell German citizens what was really happening. They were seized at the scene, “tried” on the spot, convicted, and executed within about two hours’ time, without even notification to their parents.

We worshipped at St. George Church in Eisenach on January 20 this year. An International Holocaust Remembrance Day is commemorated annually on January 27, not only in Germany and neighboring countries of Eastern Europe, but world-wide. January 27,1945, was the day that the Dachau camp was liberated. Both President Obama and Pope Benedict published remarks on this occasion in 2013. Some groups mark April 6-7 as a day of Remembrance for Holocaust victims.

WHEN CHRIST BECOMES CHRISTA by Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir

When Christ becomes Christa
The importance of a contextualization of the cross-event
By Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir
Excerpts of a lecture presented at Wartburg Seminary, November 13, 2012

Full lecture here: When Christ becomes Christa

As a key symbol of the Christian faith, the cross symbolizes God’s participation in human suffering and death. An empty cross signifies, on the other hand, the resurrection, or the important message about the final victory of life, over suffering and death. When the cross is interpreted particularly in light of women’s experience, it signifies God’s compassion with women, who suffer, amongst other things, because of domestic and/or sexual violence. Sometimes this compassion (or co-suffering) is portrayed in a female body on the cross.

In the past the cross has sometimes been used to discourage people from resisting injustice. When the cross is understood as a symbol of kenosis  of patriarchy, the self-emptying of male dominating power, the power of the cross becomes the power of love instead of the power of control.

For centuries women’s has been justified, based on the idea of its salvific meaning. Despite the abuse of theological arguments in order to justify women’s suffering, women have been able to experience Jesus’ solidarity with them not only in their suffering but also in their fight against unjust causes of their suffering. This is why the christological question, “Who do you say I am?” receives a response with yet another dimension, when answered from the perspective of women’s experience of suffering. Hence, the Christ who sided with women as “the oppressed of the oppressed” reminds us that also today the knowledge of God is to be discerned in the midst of suffering. By identifying with the suffering women, the foreigner, the deserted, the sick, and the social outcast of our time, we are identifying with Christ among us.[i] At the same time we are participating in God’s ongoing struggle against injustice, inequality, and oppression.

The power of the cross is not to be understood on the basis of our knowledge of power as control. The power of the cross is the power of life, as both unexpected and ongoing.

Christa – a Crucified Woman

Since the mid-seventies a number of images of a crucified female Christ (often referred to as Christa) have stimulated interesting discussions about contemporary interpretations of the passion story. Christa-figures have pushed for important discussions about the meaning of the contextualization of the Christ-event, especially the gender-question.

Christ as Christa liberates not by condoning the suffering of abused women, or proclaiming that there is an innate redemptive quality in it; but by being present with and sharing in the brokenness, identifying this as the priority for God’s healing love, Christ gives hope, empowers and enables the process of resistance.[ii]

Indifference is truly something we should worry about in our western societies. All of us have probably heard stories about people passing by, instead of helping those who have been assaulted or hurt and need help. Those stories remind us of the story of the good Samaritan, when the priest and the Levite saw him lying there “half dead” and decided to pass by without helping him (Lúk 10.30-37). Too often people do hesitate to intervene when they are witnessing violence of some sort taking place next door – because they don’t want to intrude on people’s privacy. They also hesitate to intervene when somebody is being bullied, maybe because they are afraid of risking being bullied themselves.

Compassion- to be able to feel with somebody, can be passive, meaning to express solidarity,to listen to and to offer to go along with the one who is in pain, which can prove invaluable for the one who feels left alone in his or her suffering. But compassion can also be active, encouraging resistance and not submission to injustice. We have examples of both in the gospel stories. This is why imitatio Christi, or to follow Christ’s example, can either mean to suffer with the suffering one (com-passio) or to stand up and resist, hoping that eventually justice will prevail. Sometimes we need to be creative in order to come up with effective ways to practice nonviolent resistance, like Jesus certainly was.

There has always been a strong tendency to silence women’s experience, particularly their experience of oppression and abuse. Churches and other faith communities have been slow in responding to the danger many women are faced with, due to violence and abusive behavior. Initiatives by large church communities have signaled an increasing awareness of the problem. As a follow-up to the Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women 1988-1998, the World Council of Churches (WCC) decided to confront the challenge of violence directly, by establishing a Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace, (2001-2010).[iii] While the WCC focused on manifold expressions of violence, violence perpetrated against women and children was among their central concerns. Bishop Margot Kässmann in her book Overcoming Violence. The Challenge to the Churches in All Places: “The inability of churches to deal with domestic violence is one of clearest indicators of the urgency of a Decade to Overcome Violence for the churches.”[iv]

Following the WCC’s initiative, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), in its document Churches say ‘NO’ to Violence against Women. Action Plan for the Churches from 2002, called its member churches to act on behalf of violated women. By offering this contribution to the WCC decade against violence, LWF sought to direct the focus of the international church community to the effect violence is having on women in their home as well as in the church and the society at large. In the foreword to the document the General Secretary of LWF, Ishmael Noko, depicts violence against women as a theological problem, and not simply a social one. Noko writes: “When those who are victimized suffer, so does God. Let us work together to overcome all forms of violence that are an offense against God and humanity.”[v]

A cross from El Salvador was painted in memory of María Cristina Gómez. Here we see a close relationship between the cross event and the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the cross remains an example of one more victim of evil; of  one more person who lost her/his life life for a good cause.  That is why it is crucial to keep the close relationship between the cross and our hope for the final victory of life over death, good over evil.

María Gomez spent her life fighting for a better living conditions for women in El Salvador. She particularly cared about women who were victims of rape or suffered from domestic violence. Among other things, she taught them to read. Eventually Gómez was murdered by her opponents in the year of 1989. This cross is a sign of hope because of the story told by the pictures of the cross. It is a sign of hope for those who want to improve the living conditions of  victims of violence and abuse. This is not only a story of the power of evil amongst us, and the sufferings caused by it; but a story of the power of non-violent resistence. It is also an encouragement to follow to imitatio Christi, not to give up, but to stand up and resist evil, holding on to our hope that good will eventually prove stronger than evil.


[i] Mt 25.31-46.

[ii]  Quoted by Clague, see ibid., 106.

[iv]  Kässmann, Overcoming Violence, 45.

[v]  Churches Say ‘No’ to Violence against Women. Action Plan for the Churches, 5.