Doctorow's City of God and a question for you...

I just got back from a short trip to Denver that was tough on technology. My laptop failed, permanmently. (Sorry, Jordan, no meditation on Sunday. And I left my cellphone with the kind security folk at the DIA (and they are kind, they are mailing it back to me even as we speak).

I reread E.L. Doctorow's City of God. It's one of my favorite novels. Doctrow wrestles with the concept of God from the perspectives of several well drawn, clique-free characters.

One of those characters is the Rev. Tom Pemberton, an Epsicopelean minister who found himself in trouble for a sermon he gave. I'll give you the passage in his own words:

"Oh that's simple enough. I merely asked the congregation what they thought the engineered slaughter of the Jews in Europe had done to Christianity. To our story of Christ. I mean, given the meager response of our guys, is the Holocaust only a problem for Jewish theologians? But beyond that I asked them-- and it was big crowd that morning, and they were with me, I could feel it, after the empty pews of St. Tim's it seemed to me like Radio City-- I asked them to imagine... what mortification, what ritual, might have been a commensurate Christian response to the disaster. Something to assure us that our faith wasn't some sort of self-deluding complacency. Something to assure us of the holy truth of our story. Something as earthshaking in its way as Auschwitz and Dachau?

I read this passage and stopped noticing the Hispanic woman who, just moments ago, knocked herself out with Ambien and kept flopping her head on my shoulder. Docotrow reminded me that action, as much as information, is apologetics.

So here are my questions, to myself first, and then you: How should have the church responded to the Holocaust? And what should our response now be to Darfur?


  1. I'll be brief. Do something. Now, and always.

    It's Darfur, it's Congo, it's Africa it's injustice in its many forms and shapes.

    Our God is a God of prophets, not of feel good rituals and meetings.

  2. Whatever you do, don't send money to Africa. If you want to take action in the face of injustice go and give yourself to the people, wholly and completely as Christ did and not just short term so you can pat yourself on the back and say, "I did my part." Give your life and sacrifice your ideas to better others.

    Western money thrown blindly at "problems" has only had a ruinous effect on African people.

  3. This is an astonishing question, Larry. I don't know.

    I'm not entirely sure how the Christian church responded post-World War II, though the rise of Christian Zionism and the belief in World War II as a righteous war indicate there was both a guilt, a backlash against anti-Semitism, and the shift in theology where war became a viable recourse for Christians at large.

    As for Darfur (or Bosnia, or Rwanda, or any other example of genocide post-World War II), I'm not sure, and while I see the link, I'm still missing something.

    I guess my point is, the Holocaust was special, primarily because Christian nations (Britain, the US and allies) were the rescuers.

  4. The Allies were Christian nations?

    In what sense, Jordan?

  5. I didn't word that right.

    It's not that they were Christian nations, but that's what we tell ourselves now. I'm not sure how the Holocaust was viewed at the time, but my point is a lot of how we responded to the Holocaust may have resulted in how the American church operates today.

    Further, the Holocaust took place in a European country, and the US was filled with German and Italian Americans.

    I guess what I'm saying is, the difference is one of heritage, money and power. The nations and people involved in World War II and the Holocaust were close to Americans.

    It's not that it's fair and good and Christ-like that we would ignore genocide in Darfur, or Myanmar, or any other place it's happening right now. It's that it does not directly impact us.

    I'm focusing more on the "How should have the church responded to the Holocaust?" question, and having a hard time connecting it to the second. The church reacted in two ways to the Holocaust. In Europe, it recoiled. In the US, it responded with guilt.