Essays

A common impression of Christianity in the DDR (East Germany) is of the persecution of the church. Given the atheistic basis of communist states, the very act of confessing that one was a Christian was enough to land one in prison. Faithful ministers were persecuted, church buildings were ransacked, and the Christian churches went through a dark period comparable to that of the early church. Those who worked with the state or even – God forbid – dared to support communism were merely Stasi agents who had compromised the ‘true’ faith.

In order to offer very different perspective, I would like to tell the story of Dick Boer. In 1984, he was called to be a minister in Dutch Ecumenical Congregation in the DDR (Niederländische Ökumenische Gemeinde in der DDR). He was minister for eight years, until 1990, after the fall of the wall and the end of the DDR.

Today, speaking in tongues and prophecy are more apt to be equated with personal piety than political resistance. This too represents an incomplete understanding of Christ’s ministry and mission.

As the Iowa Caucus approaches, increased attention is being paid to the religious affiliations of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. Much of this discussion has centered upon Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, but the media has also paid a significant amount of attention to Newt Gingrich’s Catholicism. The latest round of controversy in the mainstream media began with Laurie Goodstein’s New York Times piece, in which she speculated about whether Gingrich’s 2009 conversion to Catholicism fits into a broader shift towards the right for Catholic participation in American politics in the post-Kennedy era. Likewise, Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s NPR piece narrated the details of his conversion process, highlighting the pivotal role of his current wife, Callista, as well as his attraction to the intellectual tradition of the Church.

Given the important role played by American Catholics in determining the outcome of presidential elections, many commentators have speculated that Newt Gingrich might be the one to capture the prized Catholic vote.

For Gingrich’s campaign, his recent conversion from Southern Baptist to Roman Catholicism almost functions like the makeovers of popular reality TV shows. His past record of “double spousal abandonment” and congressional ethics violations, we are told, are sins of a previous life that are irrelevant for the newly made-over “Catholic Newt.”

In late November, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, surged in the polls to become the frontrunner in the race for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election. In recent days Gingrich’s poll numbers have faltered, but he retains a slight lead over former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in national polls.

Having converted to Catholicism in 2009, Gingrich is one of two Catholics running for the nomination. He has not made his Catholicism an important part of his campaign rhetoric, although he has not hidden it, either. At many of his campaign stops, he shows the film Nine Days that Changed the World, a documentary on the role of Pope John Paul II in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe produced by Gingrich and his wife Callista.

So far, discussions of Gingrich’s faith have focused on his personal character, but less attention has been given to the influence of Catholicism on his political views…..

Without a Vision

Without a vision, the people perish. Let your young men see visions and your old men dream dreams. Those words sound particularly hollow at the moment, and yet they resonate with what is lacking and remind us of what inspired the original followers of Jesus and also the hopes of those who greeted his arrival. Where are the visions now, and what do we have to guide us through what may well be a dark period?….

‘In certain respects, a revolution is a miracle’ (Lenin 1921 [1965]-a: 153). Revolution = miracle; революция = чудо: this is the arresting formula I wish to explore. This formula is by no means an isolated occurrence in Lenin’s texts. So let us see how Lenin deploys the term, thereby enriching his sense of miracle.

During the past two decades, political liberalism has been put on trial. Political theorists indebted to Sheldon Wolin (William Connolly, Romand Coles, Bonnie Honig) have, in various ways, exposed liberalism’s tendency to conceal or downplay significant dimensions of political struggle. These authors indict liberalism for its narrow understanding of public reason, an understanding that underestimates qualities, practices and interactions within our lifeworlds that tend to thwart liberalism’s drive toward consensus and agreement (here I am thinking of clashing visions of the good life, memory of injustice, or the emergence of new movements that challenge our very notion of publicity and reason). This trend within political theory resembles developments in religious studies and theology. Recent discussions between Stanley Hauerwas, Jeff Stout, and Cornel West revolve around liberalism’s tendency to depoliticize religious commitments by relegating them to the private sphere. For these authors, this inclination overlooks the deep connections between democratic struggle and religious practice within American history. These authors remind us that democracy and faith are bedfellows (and not necessarily strange ones).

Jonathan Kahn and Vincent Lloyd, in recent blog posts here, attempt to move these discussions further and potentially in new directions…