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Bonhoeffer the Assassin?
Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call the Peacemaking
by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist
and Daniel P. Umbel
Foreword By Stanley Hauerwas
A Book Review
By Steve Hickey, University of Aberdeen
An intentionally controversial book, as the subtitle suggests, Bonhoeffer the Assassin? by Nation, Siegrist and Umbel is an attempt to challenge what the authors view as an unfortunate but pervasive myth; that by the end of his life Dietrich Bonhoeffer had retreated from his earlier held pacifist convictions in participating directly in plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. As Bonhoeffer scholars from within the Mennonite tradition, and each deeply committed to pacifism, it could be assumed this book is another biased attempt by yet another group to hijack the Bonhoeffer legacy and turn him into an endorser of their own ideals. Though there is the uncomfortable suspicion of such a subjective vantage point, and some truth to it, the book does challenge long-assumed claims of a compromised Bonhoeffer with some measure of good reason and scholarship.
Siegrist and Umbel are former students of Mark Nation and have each contributed two chapters in the second half of the book devoted to development of Bonhoeffer’s ethic. Nation begins the book himself with three biographical chapters providing a general orientation to the movements, associations and involvements of Bonhoeffer in the Church Struggle. Even more importantly this biographical section provides a closer look at what we actually know and do not know about Bonhoeffer’s time working for the Abwehr, and his remote connections to any conspiracies to stop Hitler, or assassinate him.
The more ill-informed of Bonhoeffer fans today may think any and all working for the Abwehr were resisters however Nation documents that of the 13,000 who worked at the Abwehr, only fifty were known to be connected to the resistance, barely four percent (p. 74). And of the known forty-two separate plots to kill Hitler, only five could have had any possible connection to Bonhoeffer. In taking time to review those five, Nation documents that there were only two of which Bonhoeffer may have been even aware. Drawing from Dramm’s Bonhoeffer and the Resistance, anyone who includes Bonhoeffer in these efforts “greatly exaggerates Bonhoeffer’s role and importance in the resistance.” Nation says “I believe this is Dramm’s way of saying there is not a shred of evidence that Bonhoeffer was linked in any way to these attempts of Hitler’s life” (p. 86).
Bonhoeffer is presented as a chaplain of sorts to the resistance, a spiritual advisor and pastoral counselor providing mental support, not so much moral support or justification (p. 82). In other words, he was in no way an assassin or even an accomplice of one. We are reminded his arrest was because of the role he played in the rescue of fourteen Jews, not because of any connection to assassination attempts. Regardless of the position one takes on the bias of this book, it importantly underscores the point that we are not as sure as we thought we were how directly Bonhoeffer was involved.
Perhaps it could be said that a person who only reads one book on a subject knows only a dangerous little about it. If this is the only book one reads on the matter of Bonhoeffer and pacifism, at least know that what is contained therein is contested strongly by Bonhoeffer scholars who are much closer to Bonhoeffer’s associations, students and his friends than the authors here. Particularly Clifford Green reviews this book expressing obvious agitation over what is conveniently left out of the book. But more so his angst is fuelled by how Nation builds his thesis by dismissing Bethge’s decades-later memories of informal conversations as unreliable, and even perhaps a deliberate attempt to give the world a Bonhoeffer different than the one he actually knew:
Perhaps Bethge desperately wanted his close friend to be perceived as a “Political” activist in the midst of the worst years of the Hitler regime. Bonhoeffer, so Bethge wants us to believe, was one of the Germans who directly tried to stop the massive slaughter that became the Holocaust of the Jews… (p.94)
For Nation, stunningly, Bethge is an unreliable source. Understandably, Green, who knew Bethge personally over several decades finds these insinuations outrageous. All that having been said, the first three chapters remain a generally informative and succinct, though a selective summary of the biographical unfolding of what transpired.
The second half of the book offers an helpful overview of Bonhoeffer’s theological ethic and development. The thesis of the book is that from 1932-1945, Bonhoeffer held a consistent pacifist ethic and did not (as others suggest) repudiate Discipleship by the time he wrote Ethics. There is really no debate that in his 1929 Barcelona lectures, Bonhoeffer was solidly an advocate of just war theory. And there is no debate that around 1932, through his friendship at Union Seminary with Jean Lassarre – a French Tolstoyian pacifist committed to the simple obedience of the Sermon on the Mount – that Bonhoeffer’s thinking on the matter dramatically changed and was the catalyst behind the later writing of Discipleship. The claim of this book is that between Discipleship (1937) and Ethics (1943) there is no repudiation of a strong pacifist ethic for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
This rather than being a repudiation of Discipleship either in its parts or as a whole, Ethics is a confirmation, as it is its continuation, amendment, clarification and culmination (p. 158).
Using JW for just war, P for pacifist, and upper and lower case for a soft or strong ethic, the basic claims in this book can be depicted as following. The pervasive “myth” in the development of Bonhoeffer’s life and thought could be pictured as:
JW – p – jw
1929 1937 1943
Nation, Siegrist and Umbel challenge this and propose a more accurate reading would be:
JW – P – p
1929 1937 1943
The four chapters in the second section of the book hit the major themes we find in Discipleship and Ethics; cheap grace, simple and paradoxical obedience, the ultimate and penultimate, the this-worldliness of Christianity and, guilt and responsibility. The analysis of the writings of Bonhoeffer show “that Bonhoeffer in no way checked his rigorous ethics at the door of World War II or his involvement in the resistance. Bonhoeffer held to an ethic centered on Christ– uncompromised, though not unaffected, by his circumstances” (p. 209). Readers are encouraged to consider how, to date, Bonhoeffer’s development of thought has been viewed primarily through a Niebuhrian-tainted lens in that loving enemies is an impossibility– “unrealistic and, in a vicious world, is even harmful” (p. 218). The contention is this, in part, is what has been driving significant misreadings of Bonhoeffer’s later work.
Book titles are intended to be catchy and provocative enough to sell books and start conversations but one wonders how Bonhoeffer would react to the use of the term assassin here in the title? Perhaps this important book might be better titled A Pacifist Rereading of Bonhoeffer or A Pacifists Guide to Bonhoeffer. In his conclusion Nation recites Larry Rasmussen’s standard work on the subject, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance, to bolster his own thesis: “All the twisting possible cannot make the author of The Cost of Discipleship a volunteer for even assassinating Adolf Hitler” (p. 222).
This is a repost of an article I did for the Justice House of Prayer in Washington, D.C.
Today we call it a global prayer movement. For centuries it was referred to as monasticism. Today we call them Houses of Prayer, or HOPs. For centuries they have been called monasteries. We call ourselves intercessory missionaries. For centuries our types were known as monks. At every point and place where Christianity came into crisis or compromise, God raised up a prayer movement, a new monasticism or faithful praying remnant to ensure that discipleship, grace and the Gospel were kept pure.
Most notably in the third century when Christianity became easy, grace cheap and the path wide, holy men and women went out into the dry places and deserts to die to self, stay pure, to encounter God, to learn to love him and obey, radically obey. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire into the Medieval Period it was the monks of Ireland who literally saved civilization (Good read: How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill).
Hung by his neck in a German concentration camp, pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s vision of “a new monasticism” also suffered an early martyrdom of sorts. Eight years earlier Bonhoeffer was leading an underground seminary in a chilly remote place called Finkenwalde. There he taught what we we know today as his Cost of Discipleship, much of which is a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount. There he and his students lived in community the daily rhythms of life and prayer which is spelled out for us in his short book Life Together.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer with students at Finkenwalde Seminary
In a earlier letter to his brother Karl-Friedrick, he made a very prophetic and important statement that many of us have adopted today as our guiding charge.
The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time people banded together to do this. (14th of January, 1935)
For Bonhoeffer, the Finkenwalde rule included life together in authentic Christian community, or in his words, banding together. In a 1936 letter to the Finkenwalde community, Bonhoeffer noted that it also included “assembling together every day in the old way to pray, to read the Bible, and to praise our God…” This illegal seminary at Finkenwalde was both a school of prayer and a singing seminary; the daily prayer rhythms and worship life of ancient monastic orders he revived in fresh form. The foundation of the curriculum was “The Discipleship of Christ” as given in the Sermon on the Mount.
The next generation of pastors, these days, ought to be trained entirely in church-monastic schools where pure doctrine, the Sermon on the Mount, and worship are taken seriously–none of which are at the university and cannot be under the present circumstances. (DBWE 13, 1/147, 217)
Bonhoeffer became captivated by and fascinated with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as the expectation Christ had of his followers. Bonhoeffer saw “these words of mine” in Matthew 5-7 as foundational for the Christian life and putting them into practice to be the key to successfully weathering the storms to come. The Sermon on the Mount ethic of enemy love was to Bonhoeffer the summit of the mount and his seminary at Finkenwalde was a training outpost for Christ-like passive resistors. He trained his students to use spiritual weapons and not take up the world’s weapons of war.
The crucible of political hostility and societal animosity toward Christians is definitely on the rise in the world and it tends to produce a more pure discipleship. And even though it only existed for two years before being shut down by the Gestapo, Bonhoeffer’s illegal seminary at Finkenwalde was a snapshot of Bonhoeffer’s prophetic vision of the essence of discipleship training within the context of a new monasticism resulting in the renewal of the Church.
In our day when church leaders more resemble CEO’s and celebrities than self-denying devotees of Jesus, and in our day when religious liberties are increasingly in peril again, Bonhoeffer’s model at Finkenwalde is truly a call back to the fundamentals of Christian discipleship, Christian community, a daily rhythm of prayer, Sermon on the Mount lifestyles and ethics.
A book I’ve been recommending to those in our house of prayer is the book, Punkmonk, by Andy Freeman and Pete Greig. The title conveys how today’s monks in 24/7 prayer/furnace rooms in the major cities of the world look more like a pierced and tattooed generation of youth. The monks of the earlier centuries looked different too. It’s no different than what our friend Lou Engle is calling us to with the Nazirite vow. It is my intention here to open our eyes to the breadth of what the prayer movement looks like in the world today. It spans all the traditions.
To keep the discipline and perseverance required to pray continually means that you begin to experience different styles and types of prayer: New models, ancient disciplines, silence, liturgy, open prayer, prophetic prayer. Our prayer flows in rhythms. (Punk Monk, 127)
I want to reawaken the contemplative you if the contemplative you isn’t already awake. There are daily rhythms of prayer and communion and encounter with God that we must never step out of. Far back into Judaism, and far back into Christian history, the faithful had set times for prayer and set prayers for those times – and there was a unison chorus.
Spirituality is very varied and there is a time and place for all kinds of praying and expression. Many reading this are no doubt fluent in things like authoritative and warfare prayer, healing prayer, intercession, declarations, binding and loosing and so on. But the ancient spiritual disciplines need to be reawakened too; Meditation, Fasting, Study, Simplicity, Silence, Solitude, Submission, Service, Confession, Worship.
Our spirituality needs to wider and deeper. It will take a deep root in God to withstand the days to come!
A native of Kansas City, Steve Hickey is pastor emeritus of Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls, SD and a former South Dakota Legislator. He and Kristen live in Scotland where he is doing post-graduate work at the University of Aberdeen on Bonhoeffer, the Forerunner at Finkenwalde. He’s written several books including Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and The Fall Away Factor.
A preliminary word is in order as to what could possibly motivate me to write three articles on the subject of transgenderism in the span of two weeks time. Primarily the fact that the South Dakota Legislature is making news on this subject all the way over here on this side of the pond (I’m living in Scotland) and until recently I was a member of that legislative body. Additionally, my difficult and surprising votes last year on this issue put me in some serious hot water with Christian friends, church members and pro-family values groups whom I’ve worked alongside for years. Then comes the year of Caitlyn Jenner and I sat quiet as I sorted through my discomfort and sadness at the course joking by Christian friends on social media. Finally, dealing with hot potatoes is something I’ve never shied away from and I typically have little restraint in firing away a prophetic challenge if I discern the Church needs a wake up call or a course correction. So here goes it.
This won’t be the place where I discuss inner healing and the power of Christ to mend the broken, including broken identities. Also I won’t take time to defend that statement but will simply refer to the three frameworks– integrity, disability and diversity – outlined in Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse of Wheaton and Regent Universities new book called Understanding Gender Dysphoria. Or, read my recent op-ed on this topic here: Empathy and Accommodation for the transgendered in South Dakota. What follows in this article is about the Church and its witness and welcome of transgenders and the matter of Christian Hope.
From my vantage point the Church, myself included, has utterly failed homosexuals in our communities. And now we have our chance at stewarding a message of hope and being a community of hope for the transgendered and those struggling with gender dysphoria. TIME magazine called 2014 the year of the transgendered. It is my opinion that though well-intentioned, the path we’ve chosen on this issue in the South Dakota legislature in the 2015-2016 Sessions, a path that the Christian contingency in the House and Senate have forged, is a path that has now done irreparable harm to our witness.
In an earlier post I wrote: Is there any hope of a transgender kid going to any of our churches? 41 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide, compared to a national average of just 4.6 percent. When kids kill themselves because we reject them with vehemence are we complicit and how could Jesus possibly say to us “Well done”? This is from my earlier article on this subject:
I’ve been on the scene of a number of teen suicides as a police chaplain, one in particular where the teenage boy hung himself from the ironwork around his parent’s back patio. He looked just like my son Thomas. It messed me up for a couple weeks. When you see that stuff you wish there was a way to turn back the clock and you’d do anything to make sure you weren’t a part of the rejection and despair in his life. The SD legislature and particularly the Christians are sending a loud message of vehement rejection to human beings in our state who have a far harder plight than even homosexuals.
Do you suppose our world will ever come to the place again where we have to hide Jews and Gays? (I’m aware there are differences between homosexuality and gender dysphoria.) If the days ever come again where we must hide the despised of this world, will they come to us and consider God’s House a safe house?
No. As long as Deuteronomy 22:5 is the only text the Church reads, our witness and welcome will continue to be disastrous. In no way am I advocating being selective or ignoring any text. I remain theologically conservative holding a high view of Scripture. The fact of the matter is Deuteronomy 22:5 can hardly be construed to be God’s view on gender dysphoria today. The situation behind the text was the matter of pagan swapping of sex roles and rituals in temple prostitution. That is what is abhorrent to God– not a seven year old boy who sneaks off to wear his sisters dress and feels crushing shame afterward. There are however other texts that more directly apply which I will illustrate shortly. Some of my friends will be again disappointed in me for the position I am taking on this issue but there is too much at stake to leave our present course unchallenged.
There is nearly a total breakdown in our society of traditional gender norms. But let’s be honest, this started long before the 1960’s. A few generations ago a young woman who wore pants was a matter of gossip and scandal among good churchgoing people. Today any female of any age could wear exactly what men wear – mens jeans, sweatshirt – and minimise any femininity and even don even some masculinity and really, does any one care? We view it as completely amoral. Boy hair cuts, girls on the football team and others who wear camo and hunt – the Church somehow found a way to successfully navigate it. Yet there is no grace or wiggle room for a male who dons femininity in hairstyle and dress – such a person is a pariah to us, a freak. A question I’ve been asking lately is: What makes us think someone else’s brokenness is a bigger deal to God than our own?
The following is a brief rereading of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 particularly in light of the challenge the Church is having welcoming the transgendered. I’ll start by presenting the text itself, a text which I suggest vitally important text relating to our welcome and inclusion of various members of the Body of Christ.
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The working title of this rereading I’ll phrase as follows. I’ll try to be brief.
The Body, it’s Members and the Body of Christ:
What Does Christian Hope Look Like For The Transgendered?
This text offers much for a theology of the body and a theology of disability within the broader framework of the Body of Christ as a community of inclusion– not severing disabled or unsightly members or members that are hard to look at or be around – all the while living in a fantasy or illusion of uniformity where everyone should just blend in.
In a variety of areas today, radical surgical and bio-enhancements including prosthetics are commonly encouraged strategies to help people find some measure of normalisation, functioning and sanity. Whether that is right or wrong, judgments about them have become a criteria for inclusion and welcome into Christian community. What I’m challenging here is the fact that those judgments are keeping people from the very place they most need to be.
My hope is we realise we have failed to figure out how to love the sinner and hate the sin and that we rethink what is amoral and what is actually immoral when it comes to the DSM-5 psychological designation of gender dysphoria.
The admonition in the text is to extend a special measure of grace toward the member that is hurting: “When one part hurts….” The Christian community is to be a fellowship of the suffering. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. We aren’t to leave people to hurt in isolation from the other members, or cut them off. Severing results in death of the member (think here of the 41% transgender suicide attempt rate). Attachment to the body is vital to the life flow. The life flow, and structural things like bones and ligaments, aren’t effected by anything superficial or cosmetic. If it is true that God looks at the heart, maybe we ought to look deeper. If it is true that nothing can separate us from the love of God, why have we been severing away the less presentable members?
On a number of occasions over the years I’ve told homosexuals who visit our church they are welcome on one condition – that they remain open to God touching any area of their lives, including that area. And I made a promise in return, to not press the timing of God dealing with whatever He wants to deal with in their life.
Parents may retort; But Pastor Steve, there are children in the fellowship too, doesn’t this sow confusion? No. It sows no more confusion than any other disability in our midst. How hard is it to explain to our children that some people struggle and that we ought to love those people all the more? A little loving explanation and our kids go… Oh, okay– and head back out to play.
On several occasions over the years this issue has presented itself to me in the pastoral context. The Christian people struggling with this confide deep remorse and conflict at giving God the impression they are rejecting his handiwork, or insinutating that he made a mistake when he made them. My response has been God understands entirely, in fact better than we do. He’s not offended or mad about their ingratitude. The Father is a father.
When my son Thomas was a teenager I bought him a light blue electric guitar for his birthday. He was thankful but I could immediately tell he was disappointed. He didn’t like the color and I could tell by the look on his face. It bothered me for a few weeks and one day when he was at school I swapped it out for the red guitar he really wanted. I wasn’t offended in the least. My heart was for his happiness. My suggestion here is not that God says to the transgendered, “Oops, my bad. By all means get the red guitar.” My suggestion is that God is a Father and he understands this far better than we ever will. People who have gender reassignment surgeries haven’t cut themselves off from the Father’s love. This article is a plea that the Church would reconsider whether this community should be treated as a severed member.
The Christian Hope for the transgendered is right up front in verses 12-13… Christ’s bringing together of separated parts (Jew/gentile, Male/Female), offering humanity wholeness and congruence again, and his Body being a community of inclusion where people are valued, indeed indispensable.
Could this mean the transgendered person has much to contribute and teach us? Isn’t the text saying the entire body becomes disabled if we cut them off? The Christian hope for the transgendered is not in a series of procedures that fixes all their problems. It is Christ and his new Body.
Anyone else notice the Great Meme War that is underway on Facebook these days? I rather enjoy it and even post ones that sting me a bit. (A meme – for those of you who are secluded from popular culture in some remote cave somewhere – is an image with text, typically humorous and satirical in nature that spreads rapidly over social media.)
Last night I posted this one:
Shortly thereafter a Facebook friend countered with one of his own:
And that set me off on yet another rant about how war isn’t working. Enjoy…
More slaves in the world today than ever in the history of the world. More oppression, genocides pop up every few years, nazism is back with a vengeance. We’ve spent most of my adult life at war in the Middle East and the world is not safer and there are a loads more people who hate us. With every bomb we plant a seed that produces ten more people who hate us. War hasn’t worked and isn’t working. It is not our only alternative. The same handful of international banking families fund both sides of our wars. Of course their sons and daughters don’t spill their blood. We don’t need to spend a billion on an experimental drone balloon that floats away from it’s tethers on its own and gets ruined landing three states away in a grove of trees. Selectively fiscal conservatives are anything but fiscally conservative when it comes to defense spending. They act like there is no waste to cut and that we have an unlimited supply of tax dollars for new wars. One week we are in the sky-is-falling-fiscal-emergency mode closing down national parks for the weekend because of a government shutdown and we can’t afford to pay a park ranger. The next week we somehow miraculously have a billion NEW dollars to send to some country in a never ended civil war and a trillion more to build a new ship for ourselves. We have no confidence our commander in chief is even on our team. Vets are treated like crap when they return but Congress gives themselves raises and a whole different set of benefits. We spent billions arm the wrong people (while moving toward the disarming of our own populace), we only make defense contractors rich spending double, triple and even ten times what should be spent on national defense – and btw, I think service men and women need a doubling of pay. And don’t read this as any indictment on the men and women who serve so sacrificially. I’m the product of a Vietnam vet who came home screwed up (a book called Vietnam wives descries what it was like to grow up in our home after the war). My dad resented our government the rest of his life, deeply. Did that war work? How about any of the ones we’ve been in the last twenty-five years?
- 90 days food supply – enough for you and others. Start with 3 days, then 7…
- alternative water sources
- Stash $500 cash (in small bills) to weather a fews days without ATMs
- Passports for everyone, kids especially
- Make this a-summer-to-save-and-sell, not spend and borrow. Cut up your credit cards and get out of debt.
- Adopt the poor and elderly. Talk to your neighbors.
- Find a community to connect with; Vets, moms, church, etc.
- Appeal to Heaven. Return to your spiritual roots. The tree planted by water has no fear of drought.
- Repent for squandering these years of plenty.
- Ask, who is my neighbor? Prepare for an influx of people to the area. How can we host them? Address any hostilities toward them.
- Teach enemy love now so we don’t just shoot back and do unto them what they do unto us.
This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.
There are stirrings in South Dakota that a Right to Die/Death With Dignity bill is being shopped around to those of us serving in the legislature. To date I’ve received two letters on the matter inquiring about my interest to support a bill. Below I’ll paste my reply to one of them. It’s an unusually preachy response from me but like it or not, in the matter of death, faith is a factor.
Thank you for your letter inquiring about my interest in supporting Right to Die legislation. Initially I want to extend my concern and prayers for you with regard to your declining health. Reading your letter reminded me of my great Uncle Thomas who shot himself rather than let his terminal illness drag on. Believe me, I understand the rationale, especially considering the hope we can have of eternity with God through our faith in his Son, Jesus. Perhaps you are a person who shares my Christian faith and also appreciate that sentiment. Countless times I’ve seen Jesus take the sting out of death for the believer.
Enclosed is an article which you perhaps have seen which tells some of the story of my own health situation. My mother died, and so did her brother and sister, from what I have been diagnosed with; pulmonary fibrosis. Doctors say there is no cure and the average patient lives only 3-5 years after diagnosis without a transplant. I lost another half liter of lung capacity since last fall. My uncle died before a lung transplant was available to him. My aunt lived two years after her transplant and my mom lived six years after her transplant. It’s a hard way to go. I’m only 48.
Also, you may know that I’m a minister and have been at the death bed of countless people over the years. As a Sioux Falls police chaplain I’ve also been at the scene of a number of suicides. The reason I share all this background with you is so that you can see the world of death and dying is a world that I spend quite a bit of time in.
Out of all of these experiences including my own situation, and my religious background, I have come to the conclusion that death is the strictly the domain of God and we need to quit figuring out reasons to justify killing people; abortion, death penalty, euthanasia. The Bible teaches God gives us sufficient grace to live and I have found this includes sufficient grace to die. I’ve written a few books and in one of them I write about how we have a fraidy cat view of death seeing it as the worst thing that could happen, as a travesty, final and the end. God sees it very differently. To him death leads to life. Confidence and strength in facing death comes from good theology. Please forgive the little sermonette there but these are things I deal with daily and have found to be true.
From my position in the legislature I can’t in good conscience be apart of a death with dignity bill. Hopefully my comments above are sufficient to explain my reasoning. Please feel free to respond as frank as you’d like. Again, know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.
Rev/Rep Steve Hickey (District 9, Sioux Falls)
This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.
The Watertown Public Opinion Editorial board says I’m wasting everyone’s time. Phooeey on that. Here’s my retort:
This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.
Every gold rush winds down sooner or later. That day has come for the poverty profiteers who bilk millions from South Dakota’s poor and elderly through high-interest predatory lending.
It’s called the poverty industry; payday and title loan shops, casinos, pawn shops and the subprime credit card industry. It’s the backside of our Great Faces and Great Places. Those who grew up here may not see it, but the rest certainly do. As Augustana economics professor Reynold Nesiba says; there are far better ways to help the poor than to give them the financial equivalent of rotten meat.
Small dollar high interest predatory lenders only thrive because they make misleading claims about how their products are designed. They offer an intentionally defective financial product intended to be a debt trap and market it to the financially unsophisticated barely surviving on the margins of our economy. They fool the rest of us to tolerate them by saying they offer a needed one-time fix for ordinary people in a financial crunch. However, if all they were offering were a one-time fix, no one would take issue with them.
Their business model only thrives because they quickly lock people into multiple successive loans on the same money borrowed. $1000 turns into $2600 in a matter of a few months. Lutheran Social Services Consumer Credit Counseling in South Dakota reports people coming in with ten different loans. Responsible lending is based on what people are able to pay back.
Their own annual reports and CEO’s state their profitability kicks in on these successive loans. An annual report to investors of one of the largest payday lenders, Advance America, shows the company made eight loans a year on average to their customers. The average payday loan is flipped eight times.
ACE Cash Express, a South Dakota lender, was brazen enough to put a graphic in their employee training manual explaining how to keep distressed borrowers in a debt cycle. The Department of Defense determined payday loans “undermine military readiness.” As such Congress unanimously enacted and President G.W. Bush signed into law a 36% rate cap on loans to active duty soldiers and their families. A 36% rate cap has been deemed the percentage rate a person can dig out of on their own. If high-interest loans aren’t good for our service women and men, they certainly aren’t good for our state’s poor and elderly.
Predatory Lenders point out their rates only seem high because we require them to disclose them as an annual percentage rate, seemingly unfair for a two-week loan. They say an overdraft fee at the bank is more costly. Again, what they aren’t telling us is the model isn’t based on one short-term loan that is quickly paid off.
Payday industry executives admitted last year South Dakota is the wild west when it comes to high-interest lending. In the early 1980’s, Governor Janklow repealed our interest rate cap to bring in 400 Citibank jobs. He later said he was after 400 jobs and certainly not 20% interest rates, which he called unhealthy.
Today interest rates of 300%-600+% are common here. The average payday loan interest rate in South Dakota is 574%. Last year the Sioux Falls Business Journal reported 56 payday/title loan shops in our city. If these places were helping the poor as they assert, why are half the students in our school still on free and reduced lunch? Truth is, predatory lenders leave people worse off than before and the taxpayers clean up the mess. Time to get the poverty profiteers out of the middle.
In the legislature I’ve drafted reasonable regulations and the industry resists every one. Our Republican-dominated legislature has a free-market approach to this industry. Somehow it’s free-market for our state government to be quick to financially help businesses come into our state but it’s dubbed anti-free-market for us to discourage some to stay out. It’s an irony.
Montana recently voted for a 36% rate cap and the sky didn’t fall. There was no discernable uptick in internet lending– it’s growing in every state requiring a Federal fix. You may hear the poor will have nowhere to turn. They managed somehow twenty years ago before we had loan sharks and today there are various creative alternatives. It’s not the case that payday loans help build your credit. These loans aren’t reported to the credit bureau.
A coalition has formed called South Dakotans for Responsible Lending. The partners include major groups in our state and cross party lines. Find us on Facebook. Shortly we will announce a signature drive to put a 36% rate cap on the November 2016 ballot.
As I write this I’m getting angry notes from friends for my op-ed in today’s Argus Leader which was a call for empathy and accommodation for transgenders and for us as state leaders to not be selective and misdirected in our morale outrage. You can read that here. Please do as it will help you make sense of what follows here.
I’ll use this space here to drop some of my follow-up comments which give additional insight into my thought process on the matter…
HICKEY: Is there any hope of a transgender kid going to any of our churches? When kids kill themselves because we reject them with vehemence (40% transgender suicide rate), are we complicit and does Jesus say to us “Well done”? I’ve been on the scene of a number of teen suicides as a police chaplain, one in particular where the teenage boy hung himself from the ironwork around his parent’s back patio. He looked just like my son Thomas. It messed me up for a couple weeks. When you see that stuff you wish there was a way to turn back the clock and you’d do anything to make sure you weren’t a part of the rejection and despair in his life. The SD legislature and particularly the Christians are sending a loud message of vehement rejection to human beings in our state who have a far harder plight than even homosexuals.
HICKEY: I have zero energy or interest to get all flustered about this bathroom issue. Obviously. This is a hurting population and I’m tired of Christians being so loveless and this is a bizzaro fixation for our legislature going on now for two years.
HICKEY: Do we really need bathroom laws too? This notion of limited government is so selective for many Republicans. Our idolatry/fixation on sports in high school is more unhealthy than a transgender kid in the wrong bathroom. It’s just sports. Why are they part of education anyway? My view is there is no problem with this in SD and it’s sucking up all the moral outrage from Republican Christians who have not a drip of moral outrage for the real immoralities in our state – a key point in my article . Instead we conjure up exaggerated hypothetical scenarios and produce multiple bills and effectually kill any opportunity for real Christian witness and compassion. All for what? For a problem we haven’t had yet in our state?
HICKEY: Why is our moral outrage so limited? I never hear our likes get riled about racial injustice in SD or economic injustice – the two issues I mentioned in the article. It’s not you (name). It’s Republican Christians in general.
HICKEY: Transgender people have been using the bathroom of choice for how long? Why is this such a stinking big deal in the SD legislature? Leave the laws alone. I’m not advocating indecency . Focus on real problems. Figure out how to have the broken people of the world come to us like they came to Jesus. As is, they hate us and ours sons and daughters are suicidal, including some here who will read this on my Facebook page.
HICKEY: I’m trying to make a point with our sport-centric culture and I’m not advocating for it to be out of schools. I know it teaches much to young people. But we take it too seriously. We already have girls playing football and wrestling. When your dad and I were bantering around this issue, and he – my very close friend- doesn’t agree with me either, we were talking about wrestling and a guy doing some manuver where he grabs the crotch of the other. I joked I think its wrong for guys to be grabbing crotches of anyone in high school and college.
HICKEY: Is there any example in America of a boy showering with a girl at school or are these just exaggerated hypotheticals?
HICKEY: If we are going to make laws, let’s bring back some modesty legislation where it’s illegal to show off too much regardless of who you are – pants below the crack, skirts up to the top of the bottom, skin-tight anything – and make the law apply everywhere public, including restrooms… illegal to be undressed in front of others. Period. And maybe we need to rethink locker rooms and group showers. I don’t want my kid naked in front of anyone at school. Maybe it should be illegal for the department stores to push soft core porn and the exploitation of women in glossy advertisements that I used to have to remove before my kid saw the newspaper. Modest is hottest no matter what gender flavour you are today. The rest of us don’t want to see it whatever it is you have.