by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
August 21, 2022 — Except for those who cannot see it and those causing it, the present moment in our country’s history is a time of crisis. The entirely legal and justified FBI search of Donald Trump’s palace in Florida has unleashed vicious reactions across the country. These have simmered for several years and now are in the open. They are not only the reactions of extreme right-wing anarchists. Millions of U.S. American citizens have gotten caught up in an untruthful narrative that essential systems of government are corrupt and must be destroyed. The national divide is deep and wide.
Without getting into partisan politics, it is true, as one commentator put it, that we are in uncharted territory much like the pre-Civil War history; democracy is on the line; there is a deepening rupture in the U.S. commonweal.
One should not (as yet) draw too fine a line between this current reality and the rise of Nazism in the 1930s Germany. However, some parallels exist: the desire to “make Germany great again” and more ominously, using legitimate political processes which initially gave rise to Nazism.
At the same time, Pax Christi USA (emphasis on USA) – and indeed the U.S. Catholic Church in general – should give serious reflection to the ways the Lutheran Church in Germany responded to those events. They are a snapshot of where Catholics are today.
One Protestant historian has described reactions of that Church, the largest denomination at the time there, as Nazism began to show its true nature. The Lutheran community had three distinct positions on what had moved from a possibility to a reality: right wing destruction of all democratic structures.
First, some were in full agreement, enthused, even complicit with what was happening in their country. This segment of the Lutheran Church applauded the “reforms” which the new regime was successfully initiating in Germany. One could even say that their reaction was understandable after the dreadful effects of the conditions imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles 10 years before. Germany had become in common parlance a “basket case.” The Brown Shirts were setting matters right again.
Next, a majority of Lutherans congregants remained indifferent to what was happening. They were being permitted to conduct the usual business of their church. Now with the advantage of historical perspective, it is clear that what Hermann Goering advised Hitler had proven effective: “Give them religion and that will keep them quiet.”
Finally, there was the “Confessing Church,” extraordinarily brave people of faith who publicly opposed what was taking place. The most famous of these folks (many of whom sacrificed their lives for this righteous cause) was Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who left the security of a pastorship in the United States to return to Germany and oppose Nazism.
We claim with great reason that we are Pax Christi USA, the official Catholic peace movement in the United States. That gives us a national projection, an important word to say in public discourse, so needed at this time in our nation’s history. Our strength, as with so many similar organizations, lies in local and regional chapters, vigorous grassroots communities. And Pax Christi USA already plays a prophetic role at each of these levels.
However, a compelling demand insists that we take seriously — revitalize — our national character. We are called to be prophetic, speaking truth where falsehood seems to reign. As a non-hierarchical lay movement, we have the freedom and expertise to engage with our fellow citizens in this vital public debate.
We are spokespersons for integrity, for true patriotism, for respect of one another and our public institutions, for nonviolence – in a word, for the values we hold as followers of the One who spoke forcefully to his nation 21 centuries ago.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.
4 thoughts on “What is the role of Pax Christi USA during times of national crisis?”
Powerful reporting of what can happen if our thinking gets lopsided as what happened in Germany! Thanks for the insight.
Once again Fr Joe clearly gives us a responsibility as Christians to be active in our opposition to forces of hate and power that so often are able to dupe the masses as certain European hate mongers did in the previous century and are doing now as Brown Shirts types plot violent attacks to support their cult leader.
Pope Francis told a joint session of the US Congress that the arms industry is drenched in blood.
We need not forget our responsibility to expose the merchants of death–the arms industry that pays employees well (with our tax dollars) to make systems of death and destruction. They need to convert to life giving projects, products and services. Pax Christi and other Christians and all who respect life need to be at the gates of the merchants of death promoting sustainability. Silence and inaction is not the answer. We need to be at the doors of the merchants of death–e.g., Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BAE, General Atomics etc etc
I largely agree with this argument except fir the assertion that the “narrative that essential systems of government are corrupt” is “untruthful.” And I do think that deep reform or transformation (and NOT “destruction”) is indeed long overdue.
I feel the author is speaking from the extremely privileged position of being a white male in the dominant religious tradition who is not tormented by financial insecurity. If there is not deep corruption in our political system, how do you explain the deep disconnect between policies that would serve the actual public interest and what our government offers us? And it is facile to simply say that it is just the Republicans and a few bad Democrats. Why do the vast majority of Democrats keep voting for increased military expenditure while children go hungry and the homeless population continues to grow? Why is our foreign policy skewed toward militarism instead of human rights and peace? Why does so much of our foreign aid support countries that are massive human rights violators? An important study by some researchers at Princeton some years ago demonstrated that policies that would help ordinary people that are favored the majority of Americans are not even on the agenda of our legislators. How do you explain this except to point out that we DO have a system of legalized corruption in our country because of our campaign financing laws—and Citizens United was just another nail in the coffin. Many average people have realized that the system is not meant to work for them and are at a loss as to what to do about this and are thus vulnerable to right wing “solutions.”
People who consider themselves liberals need to address the root cause of so many of our problems, which is the outsize influence of money in politics that enables the wealthy to squelch the voices of the majority who are in real pain.
And mainstream’s media corporate ownership generally precludes any true discussion of these very important real concerns. Right wing forces take advantage of the sufferings of working and middle class people and press for their own “solutions” that worsen the divides between those with shared interests who should be uniting.
The church should tread carefully and sensitively into these discussions—being sure to recognize real and legitimate grievances with our governmental systems— and not serve to aid the interests of the elite (please see Antonio Gramsci’s theory of hegemony) by claiming with Pollyanish naivety that our political systems are not corrupt when indeed they clearly are.
Thank you for these hopeful, inspiring words that we need to heed.