In 1934, due to the rise of the German Christian movement, the church in Germany had officially become the Reich Church.
A group of theologians who opposed the movement, gathered during a synod, in Barmen, Germany, to sign the Barmen Declaration, which was a document that withdrew the church's participation in towing the Nazi party line.
Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth drafted much of the declaration, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the signors, (although he critiqued it for not speaking out more clearly against exclusion of the Jewish people), and all those who signed, saw it as an act of "divine obedience".
It is very important to be sensitive to the ways in which contemporary details are different from the details of that time, but it is also important for us to examine elemental similarities that should give us pause.
Here are just a few.
- The Barmen Declaration was drafted at a time when much in the day to day was still "normal" in comparison to the scope of horror that would eventually occur in Germany and around the world (we are still trauma carriers from that time... especially the descendants of holocaust survivors).
- The German Christian movement that became the Evangelische Reichskirche, was extremely anti-socialist and conservative in nature.
- Without the church aligning with the politics of Nazi Germany, the impetus for unspeakably unfettered power, would have been significantly lessened.
- Those who saw themselves as true Germans began to resent the "alien" Jews, who they saw as taking up space in their damaged economy.
- Those who sounded the warning in the early years, were seen as making a big deal out of nothing.
I was recently invited to compose and produce a song inspired by the Barmen Today: a Contemporary and Contemplative Declaration, which is a very well-crafted, ecumenical document written in the spirit of the original Barmen Declaration. It has been drafted and signed by leaders from varying faith traditions (and that is possibly what is most heartening to me... that today's declaration is "one deep calling to another", is a real beacon of hope.)
Why I believe the Barmen Today Declaration and the original declaration were drafted and signed in a similar spirit, is because when Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke of the "secularization of the church" he was not worried about the church choosing to include those who had previously been excluded, he was worried about who the church was excluding, and who was exercising the authority to do so.
So this Sunday Song and Rumination is a call.
To listen to the song.
To read the Barmen Today Declaration.
To search your own heart.
And to consider signing. No matter where you are in the world.
I hope this song will serve the declaration and instill courage... as time moves forward, I can see this declaration is more deeply needed, than I can say I wish.
Also, here is a link to read the letter Fr Richard Rohr has written, in support of Barmen Today.
Alana Levandoski is a song and chant writer, recording artist and music producer, in the Christian tradition, who lives with her family on a regenerative farm on the Canadian prairies.