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Lutheran theologian and Christian pacifist.

Dorothee Soelle was a German theologian who came of age during the rise of Nazi Germany and World War II. Studying at the University of Cologne, she became a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminarym where she served from 1975 to 1987 during which time she embraced mysticism and saw justice and peacemaking as its natural expression in a world reeling from consumerism, economic inequities and ecological trauma.

“Not one to be as concerned about organized religion as about living out God in the world, Soelle’s brand of radical Christianity finds connections between mystical experience and political activism, between suffering and resisting the status quo… She insisted that being Christian meant one needed to stand against the war in Vietnam and was adamant that any theology that allowed soldiers to work in the gas chambers of Auschwitz and still go to church on Sunday must have some serious problems. Soelle called for a democratization of mysticism because experience of God is available for all and cannot be holed up in cathedrals or church dogmas. Like many others whose lives of the spirit are inspirational, Soelle seemed to have encountered and lived out God in ways that questioned much of what we accept as ‘given’ about our world. Her critiques of capitalism, consumerism, nuclear arms buildup, Vietnam and Christian theology that created the space for Auschwitz were all scathing.”

“She was and remains the political conscience of Protestantism,” said Maria Jepsen, the Lutheran bishop of Hamburg, where Soelle lived, reported the German Protestant news agency. A popular speaker in Europe, Soelle displayed radicalism and themes in her early works that prefigured later developments in feminist theology.

“She was genuinely and deeply rooted in the spiritual tradition of the Christian church and intensely engaged in the struggle for justice,” said Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of Churches. Soelle developed a massive following during the post-World War II student revolt in West Germany. With Fulbert Steffensky, the Benedictine monk whom she later married, she founded in 1968 the Politisches Nachtgebet in Cologne: Late-evening prayers linking spirituality and politics in churches that became full to overflowing. These were prayers for peace that directly tackled the current political issues in the world, such as the Vietnam War, Cold War, the dictatorship in Greece, prison conditions, the Solidarity movementm the Chilean coup and arms manufacturing.

Current events were linked directly to Gospel passages. For example about Vietnam she prayed that, “I was hungry and you have chemically destroyed the harvest in my country. I was naked and you have clothed me with napalm.” Such a form of prayer was shocking at the time, especially for the conservative Catholic Church which had participated in the first event, unaccustomed to directly engaging relevant political issues and using the Gospel as a yardstick to measure the world’s corruption.

“It was the first time, in this form, that conflictual political issues were used as the focus of attention in a context of liturgical celebration and prayer,” noted Raiser, who was then a university assistant in Germany.

Another notable feature of these events was the new creed Soelle penned:

I believe in God,
Though the world does not.
God always remains so,
Even while the world refuses to be governed by the eternal laws,
Which are designed for all from rich to poor,
Experts to the uninformed,
Rulers to the ruled.
I believe in God;
The contradiction of the world’s will.

Later she travelled to the United States where she led protest marchers against a number of wars, from Vietnam onwards to the Gulf War and Afghan and Iraq conflicts. She had faith that all true Christians would understand that pacifism was an essential tenet of their religion.

She wrote a large number of books, including “Theology for Skeptics: Reflections on God” and “The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance” (2001).

In “Beyond Mere Obedience: Reflections on a Christian Ethic for the Future” she coined the now-commonly used term “Christofascist” to describe fundamentalists. To Dorothee Sölle, Christofascism was caused by the embracing of authoritarian theology by the Christian church. It is an arrogant, totalitarian, imperialistic attitude, characteristic of the church in Germany under Nazism, that she believed to be alive and well in the theological scene of the late 20th and turn of the 21st century, particularly in the United States of America. Christofascism allows Christians, or disposes them, to impose themselves upon other religions, upon other cultures, and upon political parties which do not march under the banner of the final, normative, victorious Christ. This allows the fundamentalists to establish a dubious moral superiority to justify organized violence on a massive scale, a perversion of Christianity that is at the heart of Christofascism.

George Hunsinger, director of the Centre for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, regards the conception of Christofascism as being an attack, at a very sophisticated level of theological discourse, on the biblical depiction of Jesus Christ by fundamentalists. Douglas John Hall, Professor of Christian Theology at McGill University, relates Sölle’s concept of Christofascism to Christomonism, that inevitably ends in religious triumphalism and exclusivity, noting Sölle’s observation of American fundamentalist Christianity that Christomonism easily leads to Christofascism, and that violence is never far away from militant Christomonism. He suggests that the best way to guard against this is for Christians not to neglect the humanity of Jesus Christ in favour of his divinity, and to remind themselves that Jesus was a Jewish human being.

Perhaps Soelle’s best-known work in English was “Suffering,” which offers a critique of the assumption that God is all-powerful and the cause of suffering; humans thus suffer for some greater purpose. Instead, God suffers and is powerless alongside us. Humans are to struggle together against oppression, sexism, anti-Semitism and other forms of authoritarianism.

In 1983, invited to be a main speaker at the World Council of Churches (W. C. C.) assembly in Vancouver, Soelle began her speech: “I speak to you as a woman from one of the wealthiest countries in the world–a country whose history is tainted with bloodshed and the stench of gas.” Offering the W. C. C. platform to Soelle irritated leaders of her country’s main conservative religious body, the “Evangelical Church in Germany”.

Nonetheless, after her death, Manfred Kock, the church’s current head, praised Soelle. Her teaching was no longer a “marginal stance,” said Kock. “It is a significant part of our church, preserving it from pious exclusiveness.”

Soelle died after collapsing at a workshop in Göppingen, Germany in April 2003. She was 73 years of age.solle

Mr. Maurizio Benazzi,
Thank you for your kind and respectful letter and request. I am delighted to offer a response and to have you use any of the following for the newsletter Ecumenici – Leonhard Ragaz. It is a very important initiative and I am grateful for your leadership and service for peace and justice through it.

In addition to what I will share in this text, I invite you to use anything you find useful from our website – www.mlp.org – my bio, other writings, etc. You might find interesting that I just returned from a Benefit Climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro for LGBT Equality — and took an Italian rainbow PACE flag with me to the summit. Photos of that Italian PACE flag are on our website with the stories at www.mlp.org

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For your use in the newsletter:

 

First of all, we are very glad to welcome you among us, dear friend: how do you feel in yr job in MLP, psychologically, physically and spiritually?

As an out gay human rights activist, I work to foster understanding, acceptance and embrace of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender persons and their families within their faith communities of choice and civil society. I have been an activist serving in the LGBT and HIV-AIDS communities since 1988. Radical progress has been achieved toward LGBT equality and in raising awareness and support for those affected by HIV-AIDS, and there is much yet to accomplish.

Working for change and LGBT equality within faith communities in the United States, with particular attention to the Christian tradition and the Presbyterian Church (USA) as an out gay person of faith places me in remarkable situations. I am often interpreting “the church” to LGBT persons encouraging them to know that not all Christians are anti-gay, and at the same time, working to let Christians know that many of us who are people of faith want to fully participate within our church, tradition or faith community.

I do believe absolutely that as queer people, we are people of heart and spirit. I believe that being gay is a gift, a blessing and certainly not a mistake or curse. I believe that God creates all persons in the image of God, that God loves all of God’s creation unconditionally, and that all persons should be unconditionally welcome into all faith communities.

 

What are the purposes of the MLP? Do you believe you reached those goals in USA …and in Europe have you contacts?


Having worked full-time for More Light Presbyterians, the national LGBT equality network within the Presbyterian Church (USA) since 1999, it has become evident to me that this work of LGBT equality, like other peace and justice work, is a long-distance run, a marathon, not a sprint. It is important, therefore, for all of us who are activists to take good care of ourselves and each other, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

While we have some correspondence with LGBT people of faith in Europe, and around the world, we do not have a tangible network beyond the USA. I keep a global view by participating in Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

How can we the europeans, whether as citizens or as believers, help american people, to settle peace in Iraq by the means of non-violence?
It is important for all the people of the world who are committed to making peace and ending war to keep speaking up and speaking out. It is essential for each person to work for peace within their own country, to continue holding up the possibilities and necessity for peace to their own political and religious leaders. A growing number of citizens within the USA oppose war, and this war in Iraq. Many of us have opposed this war from its start. As Italians, please continue to place pressure upon your political leaders to not support the USA in such unilateral actions. And, may all of us continue to pray for peace while working to end this war. The other day my heart was encouraged by seeing a sign on a car in my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico that said this, “I oppose the next war.”

While it is necessary to persist in political action, to speak out, to voice our commitments to peace… it is also necessary to live together in peace where we are by recognized all persons and creation as sacred, worthy of respect, equality and care.

 

What spiritual message would you send to our subscribers, believers of every religious confession and non-believers?
As a person of faith, I take seriously the commandment of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, that we are commanded to “love God, neighbor and self.” And, Jesus was clear to say that their are no boundaries to that understanding of neighbor, that all persons are our neighbors. The spiritual ethics, teachings and example of Jesus parallel Buddha. The ethical teachings and essence of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism mirror each other in the call for all persons, all beings to dwell together in peace, harmony and community. Any departure from these ethics and values do not reflect the truth of each.

It is not possible for a person of faith, Christian, Jew, Muslim or Buddhist, to authentically claim that lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender persons are not equally created sacred and natural. Who we are, who we fall in love with, how we make love and create family as LGBT persons is natural and sacred.

 

What do you think about ecumenism in the U.S?


The ecumenical movement in the United States with roots back to the 1960’s finds some of its strongest expression and growth within the Welcoming Church Movement in the United States and Canada. Many of us who are working for LGBT equality within our own tradition share resources, network and organize across denomination or faith tradition lines. Those who study the growth of churches indicate that the Welcoming Church Movement is experiencing significant growth in the midst of decline for those who are unwilling to offer hospitality, welcome and affirmation to LGBT persons and their families.

While we continue to address homophobia and heterosexism within civil society and among some religious groups, the tide has turned. It is not morally or spiritually acceptable to “gay bash” as it was even a few years ago. In political, religious and social circles and discourse, it is not possible to “get away” with anti-gay remarks or discrimination without a challenge now.

 

Can we find in USA a sincere dialogue with islamic religion?


Interfaith dialogues for and between LGBT Christians, Jews and Muslims continue to be part of the welcoming movement within both the USA and Canada. We share common goals of working for understanding and acceptance within our own faith traditions, as well as dealing with mythology about us that seems to be similar across lines. Interesting, fundamentalist theology and language sounds quite the same whether it comes from a fundamentalist Christian, Jew or Muslim. It is not acceptable that any religion, society or government ruled by religion, treat LGBT persons as second-class human beings or citizens. All persons of faith, and all human beings committed to fairness, must challenge any and all ant-gay attitudes, laws or treatment that harms or discriminates against LGBT persons and their families.

 

Can you tell us about a few meaningful episodes of your personal and ecclesiastic life; what’s happen today in USA in LGBT community and the HIV-AIDS Community ?


I see many signs for hope. More countries are recognizing that they violate principles of fairness by not allowing same-gender couples to marry. Those of us working for marriage equality for same-gender couples in the USA are encouraged when other countries lead the way, lead by example and offer same-gender marriage and/or civil unions. While struggles continues within religious bodies, there is no turning back. Not too many years ago, invisibility and silence were the rule. Now, as LGBT persons we are out, we are claiming our spiritual birthright along with equal civil rights alongside heterosexuals.
My best to you and those you love,
Michael

Michael J. Adee, M.Div., Ph.D., Nationa Field Organizer
More Light Presbyterians, 369 Montezuma Avenue # 447, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501 USA
(505) 820-7082 , michaeladee@aol.com, www.mlp.org

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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