A Pastoral Letter on Resistance


A Pastoral Letter on Faithful Resistance

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke
Oregon Synod – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile." Matthew 5:38-48 NRSV


Resistance is Christian. Violence is not.

Welcome, hospitality, compassion and care are Christian. Walls are not.

Joy, hope, anticipation and confidence are Christian. Depression disengagement and spiritual desinigration and not.

Christians around the world are reading Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ this month. Sunday, February 19, 2017 many of us will reflect on these words: “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer…”

The notion of “turning the other cheek” is often understood as pointless passivity. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Turning the other cheek” is active resistance to abusive powers in a social/political context of violence and military occupation. If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, you might find “The True Meaning of Turning the Other Cheek” by Marcus Borg interesting. This article is a simple, one page, reflection on these words. Borg’s article rests on the work of Walter Wink in his 1992 book Engaging the Powers. A 1998 article by Wink, “Jesus’ Third Way” gives you more than Borg, but less than the whole book if you wish to pursue this further.

Resistance is Christian. Violence is not.

Christians often call the work of speaking truth to power, laying the consequences of oppression bare, and political/social commentary “prophetic.” The work of the prophet is hard. It is generally misunderstood or resisted, often resented, and usually deadly. Jesus was a prophet, and he was killed for it. Mahatma Gandhi was a prophet. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet.

Christians also call our proclamation of hope, salvation, life and love “the Gospel.” “Gospel” is a Greek word which means “good new.” Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s love for all people in a world that privileged a few. We are called to do the same. And Jesus died for bringing light to the darkness. That is confusing, but Christians must remember even the good we would do can put us, and others, at risk.

These past few weeks, pastors and church goers have asked me as their bishop “How should we now be?” We have seen marches, Facebook in flames, and executive orders from President Trump. We have fled the news, laughed at Saturday Night Live satire, prayed, and hungered for insight and sanity.

President Trump’s January 27, 2017 executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations has been found to be unconstitutional by federal judges. ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has issued a pastoral letter questioning this action in light of our Lutheran/Christian values and commitments. Other faith leaders have done the same. Even a four month ban on immigration has devastating effects on non-profit organizations and church institutions that seek to help oppressed peoples. The ban, first of all, hurts those most in need. As a side consequence, it costs the jobs of those who do this work and deeply weakens our capacity, long term, to do it. That, and apparently, it’s just plain wrong.

Bishop Eaton’s letter is one way we “turn the other cheek.” It unmasks the broader consequences of an ill-conceived action and demands deeper engagement.

Offering sanctuary is a way some congregations (and cities) now prepare to “give their cloak” as their coat is demanded of them. We will do more than demanded, and through word and deed live into our faith and commitments.

February 9 was Faith Advocacy Day at the capitol in Salem. Twice the number of people showed up than what we have seen in the past. People are already “going the extra mile.”

Meanwhile, we are watchful around issues of health care, education, environmental stewardship and deportation of sisters and brothers who live and work side by side with us in our churches, fields and forests. There are reasons for legitimate concern.

I commend to you a recent op-ed piece by David Brooks, published in the February 14, 2017 issue of the New York Times. It is entitled, “How Should One Resist the Trump Administration?” I understand that not everybody agrees that the Trump Administration needs to be resisted.  However, we in the Church see much that is happening contrary to our Christian values and resistance, as I suggest, is indeed Christian. We resisted much in the Obama Administration as well.

Brooks, a Republican voice, suggests three model of resistance which are appropriate to different kinds of crises. He references Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Benedictine tradition and the leadership for President Gerald Ford who assumed leadership following the Nixon years. I find Brooks helpful as we all grapple with “how to be” in these contentious times.

In Advent Christians prayed that God’s Spirit might “Stir us up,” teaching all to be watchful. Our nation is now stirred and we are fully awake!

Christmas offered us an unimagined gift of Grace and love in Jesus. Let our hearts remain open to all that is holy.

During this season of Epiphany, we have focused on Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’ speaking of light and darkness, discipleship, formation and new life. We are learning again, in Jesus’ words, to let our “Yes by Yes and our No be No.”

And in a few weeks, we will set out on our annual Lenten Journey to fully invest ourselves and contemplate once again in the cost of true discipleship.

How should we be in these days? We should be as we have always been. Hopeful, watchful, worshipful, humble, faithful, resistant, engaged, welcoming and unwavering.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us:

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right: “No lie can live forever.”
We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right: “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right: “Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne. Yet, that scaffold sways the future and behind the dim unknown standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.” With this faith we will be able to hue out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

Sermon at Temple Israel of Hollywood, February 26, 1965

Shalom, Salam, Peace be with you!

Bp. Dave Brauer-Rieke

Oregon Synod – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
February 16, 2017