Paula Shepard

November 20, 2022
I have a pretty large family. My dad’s granddad had 26 children and they’re all
mostly still in the southwest Missouri area. My mom was one of six and she is
very close with her siblings, so Thanksgiving is always a production. This year
we’re celebrating at Aunt Cookie’s house and there are minefields I plan to stay
away from. I have no interest in their politics. I am appalled by what the
attendees have to say about their church. The Cox siblings, my mother’s family,
are a bunch of preacher’s kids with religious views that don’t fit me. The last
couple of years one of my sisters, who lives in Mississippi, is home alone for
Thanksgiving and Christmas. During COVID she lost her job of 26 years and got
divorced. Now she works at a company where she doesn’t get vacation time to
come home and feel the warmth of an old-fashioned minefield.
She called me this week with news. Her grandchildren’s Great Nana invited her to
come to Thanksgiving. Immediately I knew that she had hit the jackpot. I am no
longer worried about her. She’s going to celebrate with a group of southern black
ladies. The food is going to be fabulous. We agreed she will not be bringing food
because anything she could make will make her the subject of sad speculation at
this feast of greens and cornbread dressing. She’s going to bring the sweet tea.
There’s gonna be laughter and cherished grandkids. And I guarantee you, because
I know this family, there won’t be a minefield and they won’t be talking about
politics and religious conflicts. They will talk about Miss Betty’s new hat, how the
grandbabies have grown, and then they’ll get on down to some football. Sweet.
This period we’re in today–between All Saints Day and Advent is nicknamed the
The Feast of Christ the King is sometimes also referred to as Stir Up Sunday. The
term that comes from the one of the collects for today in the Book of Common
Prayer, which begins with the words “Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of
thy faithful people.” Since Queen Victoria’s time, in England, they take that as an
opportunity to start their holiday baking.
The oldest feasts predate Jesus’ life. Then in the 4th century, Epiphany and
Christmas were added as days of remembrance and contemplation and with
special church services. And then added were the feasts of the apostles and the martyrs and the confessors. And in the 6th and 7th century there became the
Feast of the Blessed Virgin. Easter lasted eight days. Pentecost was four days. By
the 18th century there were over 100 feast days. People began to protest against
the number and point out how the poor suffered from them. The creation of new
feasts cooled off.
Pope Pius the 11th was elected Pope in 1922 just after the Great War. There
hadn’t been World War II yet, so it wasn’t known as World War I. The War to End
All Wars had been especially devastating to England and the countries of
continental Europe.
Four great empires had collapsed due to the war. Old countries were abolished.
New ones were formed. Boundaries were redrawn. The end of the war for
Germany was a treaty so one-sided that they were humiliated. Millions of
Germans found themselves in newly created countries as minorities. Millions of
Hungarians we’re living outside of Hungary in Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the
Kingdom of Serbs and Croats. These national minorities found themselves in
hostile situations. The interwar years were especially hard for religious minorities.
Ethnic nationalism began to grow.
The Spanish flu of 1918 had devastated the entire world. One third of the earth’s
population contracted the Spanish Flu and 50 million people died.
The Jews were especially distrusted because of their minority religion and distinct
subculture. The Jews were hated because their population had been less devasted
centuries earlier by the Bubonic Plague and recently during the Spanish Flu
epidemic. One reason they suffered less was in their relative isolation in the
ghettos and their rituals of cleanliness. But they were accused of poisoning wells
and causing illnesses.
Inserting here a brief history of antisemitism. It finds its roots in Christianity. The
claim that Jews will forever be held responsible for the death of Jesus Christ
comes from a verse in the New Testament in Matthew, “His is blood be on us and
on our children.” It’s widely known as the blood curse.
The “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” appeared in about 1903 as a serial in Russian
newspapers. It claimed to be the minutes of a secret conclave of Jewish leaders
and said there was a plot to rule the world by controlling the media and rigging the economy. The Protocols made their way across the world and are still present
today. It is fiction but believed as reality.
So was the atmosphere that Pius the 11th instituted the Feast of Christ the King in
I could read the text of the encyclical, but it is a hard read. Not just because of the
formal language, but boy did that pope love a modifier. Each sentence might have
4 or 5 of them. A short paraphrase of his statements says “Let’s concentrate one
one part of Christ on this day. The part where he is King—let’s celebrate that part
and make it special and noteworthy.” The Pope then lists out the bible stories
wherein Christ is called the King.
Pope Pius repeatedly emphasizes the kingship of Christ as declared in the Creed.
“His Kingdom will have no end.”
I’m paraphrasing again, “So then let’s quit fussing over races, and countries, and
antisemitism and remember that none of it matters because Christ is King, and his
Kingdom will come and have no end. That’s supposed to be the purpose of
here—this church, we people—to bring God’s Kingdom to earth.”
Quoting the Pope’s encyclical as it quotes the Bible, “And his name shall be called
wonderful counselor, God the mighty, the father of the world to come. The Prince
of Peace. His empire shall be multiplied and there shall be no end…When its
citizens are happy what else is a nation but a number of men living in concord?”
He was trying to fix it. The Pope was trying to stop what was happening all around
the Western world.
It didn’t succeed. At least not in the decades following his creation of the feast
day. For his efforts, in 1940 the SS designated the Dachau concentration camp as
the internment site for Christian clergymen.
The crisis in Europe increased and across the world. A fear of being outnumbered
and governed by nonwhites spawned a rise of white supremacist and white
nationalist movements. At the time ethnic groups were called races. I know that
is not our current style of speech.

Germany boasted that its programs were humanitarian and educational. The wide
acceptance of social Darwinism as a government policy justified Germany’s right
to acquire territories and peoples as a matter of the survival of the fittest. War
was an instrument of policy.
In the 1920’s American intellectuals paid a considerable amount of attention to
Mussolini’s early fascist movement in Italy. He was especially popular in the
Italian American community. They developed a violent offshoot of the Ku Klux
Klan called the Black Legion that sought to establish fascism in the United States.
All the while the rise of fascism in the US during the interwar was largely viewed
in a positive light by the US government and the corporate community. It
destroyed the much-feared labor movement on the left. Benito Mussolini was
praised for improving the conditions of the masses.
Many well-organized fascist organizations in the United States came to
prominence. They were named the Friends of New Germany, and the Silver
Legion of America, and the Free Society of Teutonic American Citizens. An
organization called The America First Committee was the foremost United States
isolationist pressure group. It had 800,000 members and 450 chapters.
Midwesterners were especially attracted. It was virulently anti-Semitic.
The America First movement was led by people like Charles Lindbergh, who
memorably gave a speech to 30,000 people, where he criticized democracy, and
he praised Nazi Germany. In 1942 a Gallup poll showed that one in six Americans
thought Hitler was doing the right thing to the Jews. 1/5 Americans saw Jews as a
national menace. 1/3 of Americans we’re hopeful for a widespread campaign
against the Jews. 12% we’re willing to even take up arms against Jews.
In 1934 Father Charles Coughlin was on the cover of Time magazine. Father
Coughlin was a Roman Catholic priest who hosted a very popular radio program in
the 30s. He talked about politics. While he began as a fan of President Roosevelt,
he turned against him and became a harsh critic. He denounced Roosevelt’s big
banks and the Jews.
When the population of the US was about 120 million, Father Coughlin was
broadcasting from near Detroit and had 30 million listeners of his weekly
broadcasts. He supported the fascist policies of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. He
became openly anti-democratic, calling for the absolution of political parties and questioning the value of elections. Father Coughlin was receiving 10,000 letters
every day in support. That’s a forerunner of the modern talk radio that we’re
aware of.
Coughlin spoke of sympathy for the fascist governments of Hitler and Mussolini.
After Kristallnacht, or night of broken glass, which gets its name from the shards
of broken glass that littered the streets of Germany when the windows of Jewish-
owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed. It was in November 1938
and done by German civilians and Hitler Youth. Rioters destroyed 267
synagogues. Jewish homes, hospitals, and schools were ransacked as attackers
demolished buildings with sledgehammers. Thirty thousand Jewish men were
arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps.
What was the broadcast response of Father Coughlin? He said the Jews were only
persecuted after they had already persecuted Christians.
American voices welcoming fascism were not marginal radicals, but were
mainstream writers, presidents of major businesses, and editors of big
publications. In 1934 the nation’s oldest and largest group of American political
scientists spoke out against universal suffrage. They argued that abolishing
democracy would keep the ignorant and the uninformed from interfering in
public life.
Let’s define fascism. It’s a far-right authoritarian ultra-nationalist political
ideology. The movement has a dictatorial leader that centralizes power.
Militarism and forcible suppression of opposition are a tenet. Fascism rejects the
idea that violence is inherently bad. They advocate for the establishment of a
one-party state. They’re protectionists and economic interventionists. They
believe in racial purity or a master race. They demonize other people. Their leader
is the only one who can solve problems and all his political opponents are traitors.
Fascism is a form of politics with an obsessive preoccupation with community
decline, humiliation, and victimhood.
It’s hard for us to imagine it. The word fascist today is generally used casually as a
pejorative and an attack on political opponents. Christ is exactly opposite of
fascism. Clearly Christian nationalism is not Christianity. If you’re really a
Christian, you’re less susceptible to Christian nationalism. Please don’t take away
from what I am saying that Jesus supported democracy. I’m not saying that. But
he surely did not support the ideology of Fascism.

Repeating the reading from Jeremiah from earlier: “Woe to the shepherds who
destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” The leaders of Christian Nationalist
movements are certainly leading people away from Christ and repelling potential
Christians. They use fear and conspiracy theories to take advantage of people
who are ignorant of the truth. God will deal with them. Certainly not with the
immediacy that we would prefer.
The hardest societal question right now is will we let Christian Nationals take over
the good news as told by Jesus and the apostles and Augustine? The gospels that
were shared by C.S. Lewis and Harriet Tubman, and Thomas Cranmer, and
Dorothy Day. Will these evil doers co-opt the Jesus movement?
If you want to learn what the Kingdom of God looks like, ask a 5-year-old.
Believing in the Kingdom of God is to believe that there is a possibility to redeem
the ways we hurt one another to redeem the ways we wound those we love the
most. Treating others as different is not worthy of the Kingdom. This is the power
of Christ the King. Jeremiah again, “I will raise up shepherds over them who will
shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed.”
We live in the poverty belt, where the Bible has been used as a tool of domination
and division. Christian theology has been politicized and people believe that
poverty is a consequence of sin and a moral failure. Such is Christian nationalism.
Incidents of hate crime have exploded.
Mother Cathy says we are unlikely to reach those who have their whole identities
rooted in this ideology. We should choose to focus our efforts on the
accommodators. This is the group that’s less sure when it comes to the core
beliefs of Christian Nationalism and is open to movement away from the
extremes. This means we will engage less with the most notorious Christian
nationalists and choose instead to seek out those who are less strident. It’s likely
that some of these men and women are in our neighborhood and in our town.
Maybe we can start this Thanksgiving. It won’t be one conversation. The truth of
the Gospel is love. It’s how we truly celebrate the Feast of Christ the King.



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