Prof. Gehrz on Memorial Day

For some historical and theological reflections on Memorial Day, Christianity Today this year turned to our own Chris Gehrz, who teaches courses on World War I and World War II and has written extensively about commemoration.

Fort Snelling National Cemetery
Fort Snelling National Cemetery, where Prof. Gehrz’s cousin Mike (d. 2014) is buried alongside over 220,000 other veterans – CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Chris Gehrz

On one hand, Prof. Gehrz emphasized that “every day is a memorial day for Christians, heirs of Moses’ exhortation to the assembly of Israel: “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past” (Deut. 32:7)” and suggested that Christians might embrace today’s call to remembrance as one more “way of loving our (temporal) neighbors and proclaiming that the grave has won no lasting victory.”

But he also wrestled with the fact that Memorial Day is “a festival of our nation’s civil religion… approached heedlessly, it will tempt us to pledge to the nation-state the ‘total allegiance‘ that we owe to nothing and no one but God.”

To read the full essay and learn how Prof. Gehrz found something potentially redemptive in American civil religion, click here.

Coming to Chicago: Chris Gehrz

Chris GehrzFor any of our Chicago-based alumni and friends… Prof. Chris Gehrz will be giving a free public lecture at North Park Theological Seminary next Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 7pm. Entitled “The Pietist Option for (Current and Former) Evangelicals,” the talk will preview some of the themes from Chris’ forthcoming book with Evangelical Covenant pastor Mark Pattie, The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity (coming out later this year from InterVarsity Press).

Coming to Chapel: AnneMarie Kooistra

AnneMarie KooistraJoin us for Chapel this Friday, February 17 (10:15am) in Benson Great Hall, when the speaker will be none other than our own Prof. AnneMarie Kooistra! To conclude a series on “The Art of Being WITH,” AnneMarie will reflect on finding God in the darknesses of our lives.

(If you can’t be in Chapel, stop back at Bethel’s iTunes U page to listen to AnneMarie’s talk.)

MUHS 2016: Academic Freedom

The closing session of this year’s Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium featured a faculty roundtable on academic freedom. Professors Tycho de Boer, from St. Mary’s University, and David Sellnow, from Martin Luther College, also spoke. The following were my remarks:

AnneMarie speaking at MUHS 2016In October 2015, the Atlantic Monthly carried a story about the ways in which sex-harassment policies were being used to “diminish” free speech on a variety of college campuses. The article claimed that compromised free speech was due, at least in part, to pressure from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights which has helped perpetuate the idea that “illegal sexual harassment extends to campus speech with any sexual content that anyone finds offensive.” Professors, consequently, have found themselves under attack to the extent that professors at Harvard are apparently “jettisoning teaching tools that make any reference to human sexuality.”

As a person who both researches and teaches in the field of sexuality and gender within American history, I found the article interesting and yet not surprising. The refrain of sexual misconduct and/or sexual scandal on college campuses is by now rather commonplace. From my vantage point, the arguments surrounding academic freedom and sexuality are minor compared to the problems confronting students in their navigation of the treacherous concept of what passes for “consent” with regard to their sexual activities. But. Here we are.

The Atlantic Monthly article noted that the harassment policy which seems to have diminished free speech has at its heart the goal of protecting students from exposure to ideas that make one uncomfortable and that such a goal is antithetical to education. It is unfortunate that even in the larger academic context, ideas surrounding sexuality and/or gender tend to be ones that are linked to creating a particularly uncomfortable situation. But it also makes me feel a little better about the peculiar context of talking about sexuality here at Bethel.

A couple of years ago, Bethel University had a conversation about a proposed gender studies minor. The pressure against the minor came not from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights or from students but from a number of faculty who expressed skepticism about the minor. One colleague, for example, asked if it was possible that those working in the field really had the “academic freedom” to “work from within a framework of biblical sexuality, as Bethel understands it,” a reference, I presume, to Bethel’s Covenant for Life Together which claims that sexuality is one of God’s good gifts but states that “monogamous, heterosexual marriage” is the proper context for “sexual intercourse and other forms of intensely interpersonal sexual activity” and condemns pornography, and sexually exploitative or abusive behavior as well as sexual harassment.

I think it is, and while I certainly strive to be transparent about my own beliefs, preferences, and feelings about sexuality, I also believe my commitment to a truly liberal arts education means that my students and I together confront ideas that make us uncomfortable. It is sometimes uncomfortable, for example, to acknowledge that in spite of Bethel’s commitment to a particular sexual ethic, Christians do not agree among themselves what “biblical sexuality” is. Views differ among individual Christians, by denomination, by culture, by time period even. Acknowledging those differences is often more uncomfortable than, for example, studying the history of homosexuality, pornography, venereal disease—all topics which we discuss in the History of Sexuality in the United States course. Studying the history of the sexual landscape of the past, knowing it too had its own pitfalls and complexity, I think makes us better equipped to enter into dialogue about how to approach the current sexual landscape—one that we share with a diverse group of people and communities, not just Christians who subscribe to Bethel’s interpretation of biblical sexuality.

I think that we do a great disservice to ourselves if we believe that silence and avoidance of uncomfortable topics or subjects will cause them to go away, and I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to engage in frank discussions with students about such topics. I am also grateful that the students taking my class seem to see the value of developing historical empathy for a range of views that don’t necessarily align with their own. Part of the success of the course, though, relies on what I think the original intention of the sexual harassment laws may have been, namely, to treat the people around you, with respect. Again, Bethel approaches this goal from a fundamentally different direction from the Department of Education. I doubt, for example, that the concept of imago dei appears in any of their documents, but possibly we may be trying to create what could amount to a similar learning environment which seeks to create a safe space for all people to learn together even while working through uncomfortable, even earth-shattering and heartbreaking ideas.  Because, really, as much as the world is beautiful, it is often, too often, one that breaks our hearts. And that is more than uncomfortable, it is tragic. We won’t be better at coping with tragedy, however, by pretending it doesn’t exist.

– AnneMarie Kooistra

What’s Coming Up at the 2016 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium

Today we’re thrilled to announce the full program for the 2016 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium, taking place at Bethel on Saturday, April 9, 8:30am-3:30pm.

Click here to view the entire schedule. A few highlights:

  • Thirty-seven students will give presentations on their historical research. That’s more than twice as many as last year and just over three times what we started with in 2014! Another eleven students and twenty faculty are scheduled to attend.
  • Together, the presenters represent eleven different Christian and church-related colleges and universities in Minnesota. Last year’s four participating institutions (Bethany Lutheran College, Martin Luther College, University of Northwestern-St. Paul, and Bethel) are all returning, to be joined by newcomers Augsburg College, the College of Saint Benedict/St. John’s University, Concordia College, Crown College, Saint Mary’s University, St. Olaf College, and the University of St. Thomas.
  • We’re grateful to colleagues from other schools for their help in promoting this symposium, and for agreeing to help chair panels in our three concurrent sessions. We’re particularly glad to welcome back to campus two of our own alumni: Dr. Rick Chapman ’79 (professor at Concordia College) and Nathan Weaver Olson ’97 (doctoral student at the University of Minnesota).
  • In addition to ten student panels on everything from immigration to genocide, the symposium will include a closing roundtable discussion on academic freedom in church-related higher education, featuring faculty from Bethel, Martin Luther, and St. Mary’s.

If you’re interested in attending any of the sessions, it’s not too late to register. Just email symposium coordinator Chris Gehrz by Wednesday. (Registration is free, though you’ll have to pay for your own lunch.)

Or follow the proceedings virtually, as participants live-tweet sessions using the hashtag #MUHS2016.

Reflections on GW: Janel Curry

Since his death last Friday, e’ve heard from many of GW’s former students, including several comments on our initial announcement of his passing. If you’d like to share your favorite memories of GW, send them to Prof. Diana Magnuson. As a sample of how our friend affected one student, we’re happy to publish this recollection by Dr. Janel Curry ’77, provost of Gordon College.

Today I am mourning the loss of a mentor: my undergraduate advisor and professor at Bethel College, G. William Carlson. I arrived as a 19-year-old junior political science transfer student, seeking a deeper understanding of myself and what it meant to be a Christian in the world. He introduced me to my Christian intellectual tradition—everything from Ellul to Stringfellow to Erasmus and Yoder. He was always a bit suspicious of Calvinists… I also read Goldwater and Hatfield—across the political spectrum. But in addition, I became part of his family, spending Sundays with them at church and their house. I taught Sunday school with them. He also provided a safe place for me when it came to my struggles with being a woman within the evangelical church, being supportive of women in all roles. He and his wife modelled this for me. They were my home away from home. He modelled civic engagement through serving on the St. Paul school board.

I also took peace and conflict studies and history—all areas where he taught. And he was the hardest professor I ever had. The reading in his courses would encompass hundreds of pages of material. In his Soviet politics course we got great pleasure walking around with a huge 800-page book titled An Anatomy of a Communist Takeover. I could never get higher than a B+.

When I graduated and went off to volunteer service in Louisiana, he would send me books in the mail. I stayed with he and his family when I flew back for my aunt’s funeral.

When I moved back to Minnesota I worked for a season at the Minnesota Department of Revenue, answering tax questions on the phone. In between calls I would read books provided by his library, which I visited each Sunday. I read hundreds of books during that tax season: E. Stanley Jones, C.S. Lewis, Augustine, Clarence Jordan, Luther, Martin Luther King, Tolstoy, and Menno Simons. I read church history and books about South Africa and apartheid, the Chicago 10… I read theology on church-state relations. At one point, one of my co-workers asked for my reading list. I read far and wide. I was helping him move his library from his old house to his new house just across the street when we heard on the radio that John Paul had been chosen as the new pope.

When I started graduate school we had an informal competition on which of us would finish our Ph.D. first—I won. His wife Cathy was not surprised.

Janel Curry
Janel Curry – Gordon College

We stayed in contact over the years, and he and Cathy would meet me for dinner when I was in the Twin Cities. He was concerned when I moved to Calvin College: The historians there drank beer with their pizza… and they were Calvinists…

His wife once told me that I was one of his best students. When I said I would have not known that because I could only get a B+, she told me that he got the same grades in college.

I saw G. William just last April when I was doing interviews at Bethel on women and leadership. He was pleased at the leadership roles that women had moved into. He was still involved in local politics. He was still reading voraciously. He was retired but still teaching—this time for a colleague who was ill. And I think he was pleased that I was now at Gordon because they weren’t Calvinists…

William is probably now chatting with Clarence Jordan, and Menno Simons. And he may be surprised to find John Calvin…

Rest well, good and faithful servant.

Call for Proposals: 2016 Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium

We’re honored to be hosting this year’s Minnesota Undergraduate History Symposium, coming to Bethel on Saturday, April 9, 2016. If you’re interested in learning more, check out the call for proposals that went out this morning to history departments around the state.

2015 MN Undergraduate History Symposium group picture
A few of the participants at the 2015 MN Undergraduate History Symposium at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, MN
This is the third installment of the MUHS, with previous symposia having been hosted by our friends at University of Northwestern-St. Paul (2014) and Bethany Lutheran College (2015). A delegation from Martin Luther College joined the founding trio last year in Mankato, and this year we’re hoping to expand the circle further, to other church-related colleges and universities in Minnesota.

Another change this year is that we’ll be accepting proposals for presentations in three categories. As usual, we’ll invite students to report on research projects from capstone courses like our Senior Seminar, upper-division classes, and independent research projects. (Of course, because it’s an early April event, some of these projects will still be in progress, but that’s okay — it’s a chance to share preliminary findings and get some valuable feedback from faculty and peers at other schools.)

But this year we also welcome proposals from students who want to share digital history/digital humanities projects, or their reflections on internships, student-teaching placements, and other experiences connecting historical studies to the workplace.

After concurrent sessions throughout the morning, we’ll take a break for lunch (on your own, at Bethel or off-campus). The symposium will conclude with a faculty panel discussing how historians relate to various publics.

If you’re a student interested in taking part, applications are due online by March 9th. Note that you can attend even if you’re not presenting; just email Prof. Gehrz by 3/9.

Modern Europe Journal: Collaboration and Resistance

Why did some Germans and other Europeans collaborate in the Holocaust, while others risked their lives to resist? Students in HIS354 Modern Europe asked this question last week, after having read Christopher Browning’s Ordinary Men, watched the 2005 German movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (about the arrest and execution of the students in the White Rose, an anti-Nazi resistance movement) and visited an online exhibit from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum entitled “Some Were Neighbors.” One of the many excellent responses came from History major Elizabeth Hynes ’16, who was kind enough to share this revised version of her essay with us.

Browning, Ordinary MenStudying the events of the Holocaust truly pushes my limits of “imaginative understanding.” It is especially difficult for me to resonate personally with the millions of ordinary citizens in Germany and other occupied countries who seemingly stood by as Hitler and the Nazis carried out genocide on an alarming scale. The “final solution” was enacted with the precision of a well-oiled machine and required many civilians to tacitly aid in the disposal of thousands of Jews and other Nazi targets. Hitler’s success in implementing the final solution was contingent upon the fact that no one in Germany or other occupied territories would go to great lengths to stop him. In fact, scenes from Sophie Scholl: The Final Days almost seem to indicate that people may have been brainwashed into thinking that Hitler’s xenophobic vision wasn’t all that awful, or at the very least that his actions were a necessary evil: that Germany would never flourish without a bit of initial violence.  At any rate, a very large percentage of the population had to be complicit with Hitler’s actions in order for the Holocaust to happen.

It is almost impossible for me to put myself in these people’s shoes. I tend to look incredulously at people who seem to have so much hate in their hearts. I struggle to find common ground or empathize in any way with people who leaned out of a schoolhouse, cheering as hundreds of Jews marched by on the way to their deaths. As a Christian, I want to believe that people have the capacity to be good; I want to believe in the prospect of seeing “the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). But I’m finding it really hard to maintain hope in a world where people can be so complicit in the maltreatment of others, a world where hate often seems to prevail.

In light of this, I find that it is ever important to constantly recognize and remind myself of how my own biases could be coming into play. It is easy for me to say that if I lived in Europe during the reign of Hitler that I would have been like Sophie Scholl — I would have stood up and done something. With hindsight bias, it’s easy to point fingers at people and call them bystanders to murder and say that they should have done more. It is easier to pass judgment on others and point out the ways in which their actions are flawed than to admit the commonalities between their attitudes and my own. In an event as gruesome as the Holocaust, the line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” often seems so clear. However, after looking at the Some Were Neighbors online exhibit and reading Ordinary Men, I think that it’s entirely reasonable to come to the conclusion that there was more going on than just blind hatred or laziness: factors other than some intrinsic heroism or superior moral scruples may have been at play and contributed to complicity in the Holocaust.

As we saw in Sophie Scholl, direct force was one of the main tactics used by Nazis to quell potential resistance. People who stood up to Nazism usually wound up dead. This fact alone probably provided enough deterrence to quell most dissent. Normal citizens could not reasonably go about their daily lives or maintain any semblance of peace of mind without conforming to Hitler’s vision for society. As we saw in Ordinary Men, people could also be forced to contribute more passively to Nazi violence through threats and coercion; people were probably more likely to submit to Nazi activities if they honestly believed that their jobs and livelihoods depended on it. No one wanted to return to the post-Versailles days of economic oppression or abandon their leadership in wartime. Additionally, Hitler may eventually have been able to rely on more insidious forms of power. By 1942, when Nazi violence began to escalate, Hitler had already been in power for nine years. By that time, people in Germany especially had grown accustomed to that way of life. In the face of extreme violence, the natural human response is often to go numb, especially if the violence has a certain air of inevitability. I think this certainly applies in this case. Although some German civilians and other Europeans openly expressed hatred toward Jews and others, many more may have passively accepted anti-Semitism as commonplace.

Picture of Martin Niemoeller
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
(Image: Dutch National Archives)

The troubling truth still remains that not everyone was passive or complicit. A not insignificant amount of people in Germany and other European countries did stand up to Hitler, even in small ways. I cannot possibly make any judgment about why those people found the strength to do so, while so many others did not. If anything, I think the lessons that I can draw from this entire situation focus on something akin to Martin Niemoller’s “First They Came…” poem (see right). It is really easy to look at this situation and say that I would never be blind to such obvious evil or to passively accept such oppression of an entire people group. But, people at the time likely did not see themselves as conspirators to murder, and it may be unfair of me to look at them in that light.

However, though many were not intentionally taking part in the Holocaust, their thoughts and attitudes resulted in the necessary complicity for the Holocaust to happen. Sometimes society subtly tells us to think a certain way about a group of people and we absorb stereotypes and prejudices without even realizing it. People use all kinds of beliefs and social constructs to justify their judgments of other people and I think that the dangers of such thinking were just as prevalent in the 1940s as they are now. If society seems to be telling us to look skeptically at an entire people group, we should probably question why we are being pulled toward such thinking, even if there seems to be no immediate consequences for us in the quiet marginalization of others.

Lately on social media, there have been posts circulating that compare the refusal of many governors to welcome Syrian refugees to the refusal of the U.S. to welcome Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

This easy correlation is perhaps not entirely valid, but it is certainly something to think about. Too many people learned about the Holocaust in school and came away with the lesson that “Hitler was a bad man” but not much else. I think that we cannot lose sight of the fact the Holocaust shows us just how awful circumstances become when (for whatever reason) people lose sight of their common humanity with others. This timeless lesson is relevant both in the study of the past and in making sense of the present.

–  Elizabeth Hynes

Introducing the Bethel 434 Campaign

Students looking for ways to help those affected by the violence in Syria can get involved by supporting the Bethel 434 Campaign.
The Bethel 434 Campaign presents a way for students to get involved with assisting those affected by the Syrian refugee crisis.

As college students, it is often easy to get lost in the difficulties of our own lives: dealing with exams, assignments, and student employment is enough to distract us from life outside of Bethel. We often forget that Bethel’s mission, vision, and values call us to seek out the truth, follow the teachings and example of Jesus, and to strive to be world-changers. Such a calling demands that we pay attention to the news, identify situations in which assistance is needed, and strive to do our part to help those in need.

Keeping that in mind, I would like to encourage each of you to do your own reading and research on the Syrian refugee crisis. However, if you don’t have the time for that at the moment, below is a brief overview of the situation provided by Professor Amy Poppinga:

“Did you know the world is facing the worst refugee crisis since WWII? 7.6 million Syrians are displaced within the country, and 3.8 million have sought refuge in other countries. The UNHCR’s latest figures show the crisis is getting worse. Families are moving not to simply better their lives, but to literally save their lives.”

Clearly, we, as the Bethel community, as Christians, and simply as human beings, are called to do something about this situation. But where do we even begin with such a major crisis? How can we organize ourselves and find a way to turn our concerns into tangible help? Fortunately, Bethel’s History and Political Science Departments have an idea- support the 434 Campaign.

The 434 Campaign began when History and Social Studies Education Grades 5-12 double-major, BTS minor, and current Modern Middle East student Brandon Sebey told his professor that something should be done. In his words, he “hates the idea of doing nothing when there is a problem and just couldn’t handle not doing anything.” After that, the campaign grew through discussions in Amy Poppinga’s Modern Middle East class, and has gained the support of the History Department and the Political Science Department. The campaign will last from November 2nd through November 6th, and will focus on two essential areas: awareness and action.

For the awareness portion of the campaign, we will see a visual representation of the number of refugees. 434 members of our community (or 17% of our 2500 member College of Arts and Sciences)  will be wearing orange on November 4th. This is to represent the estimated 17% of Syria’s population that is currently living as external refugees. Of these 434, 43 students, staff, and faculty members will be wearing orange t-shirts. These individuals will also be carrying laminated cards with important information about the Syrian refugee crisis. I would highly recommend that you stop to talk with one of the orange t-shirt bearers.

Please take the opportunity to discuss the 434 campaign with anybody wearing one of these orange shirts on November 4th.
Individuals wearing this shirt on November 4th will be able to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis and the goals of the 434 Campaign with students.

Of course, the call to do something about this crisis does not end with awareness. Awareness must be coupled with action. The campaign’s goal is to get 434 members of our community to become involved in at least one of three ways:

  1. Giving $5.00 to the campaign. The campaign is partnering with World Relief, an organization active in many of the countries that are directly caring for refugees (such as Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Greece.)
  2. Signing the official petition to the White House and to our members of Congress urging the U.S. government commit to resettling 200,000 refugees in the upcoming year, to increase support for the millions of refugees and internally displaced Syrians, and to pursue peaceful ends to the conflicts that created this crisis.
  3. Committing to pray on a particular day of the week for the remainder of the semester. Students who make this commitment will be given a prayer card stating their day of the week and their specific prayer area, based off of the We Welcome Refugees Prayer Guide.

Please consider stopping by the 434 Campaign’s table in the Brushaber Commons on November 4th, 5th, or 6th for more information or to get involved. If you aren’t able to make it to the BC, Brandon Sebey recommends checking out the We Welcome Refugees website for more information and ideas on how to get involved. As a closing reminder, I’d like to share a short statement from Brandon that clarifies what the 434 campaign is really about:

“There is a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer that says, ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ I think that this quote applies quite a bit to the situation. This campaign in a call to action. I pray that it will stir something in students and faculty that will make them see the world as a place in need. It is often easy to just stay in our own little bubbles and not worry about others. It sure is the easy thing to do, but not the right thing. I think once you see how it is around the world, it is almost impossible to suppress that and not care for others in this world.”