Feldbericht von Ruth Steinhof
(Aufenthalt: 14.-17. April 2006)
Von Donnerstag, dem 14. April an konnte ich die Organisations- und Funktionsstruktur der Covenant Church in Charlottesville kennen lernen. Die Kirchenangestellten waren weit weniger auf meinen Besuch vorbereitet, als ich das bei den Quäkern erfahren hatte. Ein wahrer Einblick in private Glaubenspraxis blieb mir von Anfang an verwehrt. Ich verbrachte meine Zeit ausschließlich im Kirchenkomplex der Covenant Church. Gespräche mit den Mitarbeitern waren lediglich während der üblichen Büroöffnungszeiten möglich. Darüber hinaus sahen die Angestellten sich nicht genötigt, mir erklärend zur Seite zu stehen.
Zunächst möchte ich erklären, wieso ich mich hier auf den Begriff „Kirche“ statt „Gemeinde“ stützen werde. Zum einen habe ich vorwiegend die kirchlich-öffentliche Seite der Glaubenspraxis kennen gelernt. Gespräche mit Kirchgängern haben sich leider nicht ergeben. Ausgehend von meinen Beobachtungen und der Eigencharakterisierung der Kirche und ihrer Gemeinde, kann man die Kirchengemeinde als überwiegend aus Immigranten bestehend beschreiben. Darunter sind viele Menschen, die häufig von weit außerhalb mit dem Auto zu den Gottesdiensten anreisen. Allerdings habe ich gleichzeitig nicht den Eindruck eines reichen Gemeindelebens gewinnen können. Daher kann ich mich in meiner Beschreibung nur auf die Kirche an sich und nicht auf das vermeintliche Gemeindeleben konzentrieren.
Der Senior Pastor PHD Harold Bare ordnet seine Kirche selbst in die Kategorie „Megachurch“ ein. Selbst, wenn ich aufgrund der Zahlen der Anwesenden nicht diesen Eindruck gewonnen habe, so ist doch die Größe des Kirchengebäudes beeindruckend und nahe an der Grenze zur Kategorie einer Megachurch. Der Kirchenkomplex beherbergt zwei Gottesdiensträume. Der kleinere wird vorrangig für kleine, „normale“ Gottesdienste und an Sonntagen für den Gottesdienst der Jugendlichen genutzt. Der große Kirchenraum befindet sich in einem anderen, dem Kirchenkomplex 1996 hinzugefügten, Gebäude und bietet circa 1400 Menschen Platz.
Die Kirche selbst hat neun fest Angestellte. Gemeindearbeit, Arbeit mit finanziell schlecht gestellten Familien und auch die Zusammenarbeit mit der Salvation Army in Charlottesville werden größtenteils von freiwilligen Gemeindemitgliedern übernommen. Darunter auch …, welche zum damaligen Zeitpunkt gerade eine eigenhändig organisierte Mission zusammen mit ihrem Mann nach New Orleans plante.
Mit dem Jahr 2002 erhielt die Covenant Church nach und nach einen neuen Angestelltenstamm. Unter den Angestellten befindet sich nun unter anderem Robert McCready, der Executive Pastor, Adam Frye, Fine Arts Pastor, Chris Underwood, der LifeNet Pastor und Chris Chappell, der Business Administrator, wichtig erscheint mir noch Bill Woodruff zu nennen. Bill ist der Student Life Pastor. Lediglich Krista Darcus (office administrator) und der Seniorpastor Harold Bare waren bereits angestellt. Interessant erschien mir der Fakt, dass Harold Bare kein Pastor im üblichen Sinn ist. Vor seiner Karriere innerhalb der Covenant Church war er Geschäftsmann. Beobachtet man sein Verhalten während des Gottesdienstes und seine Aussagen in Gesprächen, so bekommt man zwar durchaus den Eindruck, dass ein gottesgläubiger und gotteserfürchtiger Mann vor einem steht ( Er sei schon seit frühester Kindheit gläubig und habe sein Konversionserlebnis bereits im Alter von neun Jahren gehabt.). Dennoch erweckt Harold Bare mit jeder einzelnen Geste auch den Eindruck eines wahren Geschäftsmannes. Natürlich bringt das „Kirchengeschäft“ die Notwendigkeit dieser Eigenschaft zwangsläufig mit sich. Dennoch hatte ich das Gefühl, dass das erforderliche Maß an Geschäftssinn im Fall Harold Bare um ein gehöriges Maß überschritten wurde. Sein Verhalten vermittelte Gottesglaube im Privaten aber gleichzeitig Geschäft im Öffentlichen Glauben. Auch die anderen (männlichen) Priester, angefangen vom Jugendpriester bis hin zum Familienpriester vermittelten nicht den Eindruck rein gottesgläubiger Menschen.
Überall in dieser Kirche spürte man die Aura eines Marktes. Eine Art Kampf um Mitglieder und die Pastoren waren die feilschenden, gewieften Händler. Nichts schien zufällig. Vor allem die Erscheinung des Jugendpriesters wirkte alles andere als zufällig. Dieser Eindruck erhärtete sich, als ich die Bekanntschaft mit Amy, einer jungen volunteer machen durfte. Amy, an diesem Tag mit lediglich einem dünnen Minirock und einem Holderneck-Shirt bekleidet, war erst vor kurzem zum Gottesdienst der Covenant Church gestoßen. Sei sehr interessiert an der Kirche und wolle sich nun bei Bill Woodruff erkundigen, wie sie helfen könne. An diesem Tag entstand bei mir der Eindruck, dass Bill Woodruff lediglich als Lockmittel für jüngere potentielle Gläubige dienen sollte. Amy jedenfalls schien nicht wirklich an der Botschaft Gottes – vermittelt durch Pastor Bare – interessiert zu sein. Während der Ostersonntagsgottesdienste saß sie zwar mit ein, zwei Freundinnen in der ersten Reihe der Kirche (auch dieses Mal in kurzen, knappen Sachen). Statt aber der Predigt zu lauschen, wurde der neueste Klatsch und diverse Klamotten besprochen.
Das Gespräch, das ich zunächst mit Krista führte, war zunächst inhaltlich fundamentaler, ihre Aussagen viel bibeltreuer, als ich es von den Quäkern gewohnt war. Dennoch erschien sie mir aufgeschlossen und, für die Art der Kirche, in der sie angestellt ist, doch recht liberal. Ihrer Aussage nach gäbe es auch in ihrer Kirche kein generelles statement of believe. Wichtig seien eher gewisse „standards“. Dinge, wie „no abortion“, „no sex out of marriage“, „homosexuality is sin“. Wobei sie Homosexuellen den Zutritt zu ihrer Kirche nicht verweigern würde. Sie dürften kommen, könnten aber keine leading-role übernehmen. Sollten sie allerdings ernsthaft in Betracht ziehen, Mitglieder der Kirche zu werden, müssten sie dieses Leben natürlich ablegen. Reinschnuppern ja, aber Mitglied nur unter Vorbehalt. Weiterhin konnte ich einige interessante Dinge über den Glauben in Kristas Alltag erfahren. Sie beschrieb, dass sich seit ihrer Wiedergeburt alles geändert hätte. Sie würde jetzt ein völlig bibel-zentriertes Leben führen. Selbst kleinste Entscheidungen stünden in religiösem Kontext (Essen gehen oder Shopping à sie betet darum, nicht Dinge zu kaufen, die sie nicht braucht). Ihr Leben vor ihrem Glauben beschrieb sie als „fearfull, upset, angry“. Sie ergibt sich völlig in Gottes Hand, in seine Vorbestimmung für sie. Geschieht etwas schlechtes, so hat auch dieses Sinn, ist Teil Gottes „solution“. Sie glaubt an Gott und bittet ihn sie so werden zu lassen, wie er sie haben möchte. Allerdings ist auch für Krista Gott nicht immer allgegenwärtig. In Situationen, in denen sie Gottes Anwesenheit nicht spürt, entscheidet sie basierend auf ihren Bibelkenntnissen.
Ich hatte nicht das Gefühl, dass Pastor Bare in seiner Kirche als „role-model“ fungiert. Zumindest nicht, wenn man Krista Darcus betrachtet. Ihre Aussagen klangen wesentlich liberaler und christlicher Nächstenliebe verwandter, als dies in dem Interview mit Pastor Bare der Fall war. Allerdings musste ich diese Meinung aufgrund eines Ereignisses zumindest zum Teil revidieren: Während des Pfingstsonntag-Gottesdienstes streute Harold Bare viele Aussagen in die Rede, die meinem Empfinden nach, eher privater Natur als allgemeiner Glaubensnatur waren. Jedes Mal, wenn so eine Aussage ertönte stimmte die versammelte Gemeinde lauthals zu, rief „Amen“ und „Halleluja“. Dabei handelte es sich nicht unbedingt um Aussagen aus der Bibel. Besonders erstaunt war ich, als der Pastor (er wusste zu diesem Zeitpunkt nicht, dass ich mich noch in der Kirche aufhielt) Inhalte unseres Interviews und aus dem Zwiegespräch mit mir vor versammelter Gemeinde wiederholte. So erzählte er den Mitgliedern, dass ich ihn gefragt habe, ob auch Hitler hätte in den Himmel kommen können. „And I said to her: ‚Of course Hitler could have get in heaven.’“. Dabei handelt es sich nicht gerade um eine Aussage mit allgemein anerkanntem und bekanntem Glaubensinhalt. Dennoch drangen aus allen Ecken zustimmende Rufe und Bestätigungen.
Zwar lässt sich die Covenant Church anhand ihrer Eigencharakterisierung zu den Pfingstkirchen zählen, dennoch erschien mir das Verhalten der Mitglieder alles andere als leicht einordbar. Auf der Homepage der Kirche kann man folgendes statement zum Thema „Beliefs“ lesen: „Covenant Church is a bible believing, evangelical church, Protestant & Wesleyan in doctrine, Holiness in conviction and life-style, Pentecostal/Charismatic in worship, Spirit-filled in operation, Evangelistic in mission, Christ-centered in intention, International/cross-cultural in constituency, and Loving in practice.” Die Wesleyanischen Glaubenssätze gehen zurück auf John Wesley. Im 18. Jahrhundert gründete er mit seinem Bruder und mehreren Freunden (darunter auch George Whitefield) die Glaubensbewegung der Methodisten. Später dann unterlag Wesley stark den Einflüssen von Jacobus Arminius. Aus diesem anticalvinistischen Zweig ging die Wesleyanische Glaubensrichtung hervor. Sein Freund, George Whitefield, hingegen begründete die calvinistisch methodistische Glaubensrichtung. Über die Wesleyan doctrine und somit auch über die Glaubenssätze der Covenant Church lassen sich Dinge wie: „The doctrines which Wesley emphasized in his sermons and writings are prevenient grace, present personal salvation by faith, the witness of the Spirit, and sanctification. He defined the witness of the Spirit as: ‘an inward impression on the soul of believers, whereby the Spirit of God directly testifies to their Spirit that they are children of God.’” Aus der Wesleyanischen Glaubensrichtung entstanden wiederum der Pentecostalism, das charismatic movement und die Christian and Missionary Alliance. Vielleicht liegt die Problematik der Einordnung auch an den Vergleichen, die während unseres Aufenthaltes angestellt werden konnten. Ich konnte nichts pfingstlerisches und auch nichts charismatisches an dieser Kirche und ihrer Kirchenpraxis entdecken. Vielmehr empfand ich das rationale Kalkül und den Businessgedanken als vordergründige Merkmale der Charakterisierung. Vor allem der Karfreitag-Gottesdienst konnte dem Merkmal „charismatisch“ nicht gerecht werden. Adam Frye (Fine Arts Pastor) hielt an diesem Tag die Messe ab. Mit vollem Elan versuchte er vollkommen verkrampft und ohne jegliches Gespür für Natürlichkeit die Dramatik der historischen Bilder zu vermitteln. Auch hier bekam ich nicht den Eindruck vermittelt, dass diese Menschen Gott leben, fühlen. Zumindest konnten sie nicht vermitteln, was es bedeute dieses Leben zu führen. Die schlechte Schauspielerei fand ihr Ende schließlich in forciertem Weinen.
Die Kirche finanziert sich, nach Aussage von Krista Darcus ausschließlich über (Privat)Spenden. Hierzu gibt es während der Gottesdienste, wie in anderen Kirchen auch, vorgedruckte Formulare, in denen man das Ziel seiner Spende bestimmen kann. So kann man sich aussuchen, ob man die missionary work der Kirche oder die Kirche selbst unterstützen möchte. Ab und an wird ein Mitglied oder ein Priester auf einen mission trip geschickt. Die eigentliche Missionsarbeit der Kirche gestaltet sich aber anders. Die Kirche, bzw. ihre Angestellten, recherchieren in Missionsländern (vorwiegend osteuropäische Länder und die Philippinen) nach potentiellen Missionären. Sie beobachten deren Arbeit und entscheiden anschließend, ob sie die jeweilige Person finanziell unterstützen möchten. So erhielt ein russischer Bauer u.a. einen neuen Traktor, finanziert mit Spenden der Kirche. Einmal im Jahr fliegt die Covenant Church ihre Missionare aus allen möglichen Winkeln der Welt ein und tagt mit ihnen, um zu erfahren, welche Fortschritte sie vor Ort erzielen konnten.
(Interviewer: Martin Gehlen, Ruth Steinhof)
RS: What do you think is most important for the members of your community?
Most fundamentally for them is to know that Christ is their Lord and their savior. That is the first and most important thing. But the question bags also: what’s important for them? When we receive members in the church - we do an orientation seminar we call it “Covenant One in One”. That’s an introductory course that lasts for two months. By the time a person wants to become a member, we say you have to attend this class. And in that class we deal with Christian doctrine and we deal with the governmental structure of the church. This is also an introduction to how the church operates in pragmatics and who are the personalities of the church and how finances are handled in the church. By the time they get to the question of membership they’re fully aware of who the personalities of the church are, what is the doctrinal basis of the church and how we function internally.
MG: What do you think is most attractive for the members to come here?
In Germany all churches still have financial support from the government, if I understand correctly. Here that is not true. In America, people do smorgasbord. But 9/11 has effected this smorgasbord as well as the buckles of the 1980s - some ministers doing some things they shouldn’t have done. That was a huge blow to the church in America. In addition the whole transition of the last decades – just quickly let me rehearse this because that’s an area of my expertise: In the 50s after World War II the whole idea was for people to have a house and a garage for their car and to go to church. So there was a sense of people going to church across America. The truth of the matter is, a good percentage did not. By the late 50s we did a presidential study and found that American families were in trouble. That study was not released during Eisenhower’s administration because it was so bad. Because people thought that Eisenhower was really a great man.
MG: Was this the Moynihan report?
HB: I don’t remember the name. But it was commissioned by Eisenhower but he refused to release it. Until Kennedy was in office. Kennedy then came to understand quickly that American families were in great trouble and than we had the whole unleashing of the Vietnam War, the sex-and-drug-revolution and by the late 60s, we had another very significant little thing happen in America. I don’t know if you have heard of it. But there is a book “Everything you want to know about sex but was afraid to ask” written by Dr. Ruben. And what he did was actually ask questions. And he asked questions that had never been put into print for the common reader in America. And so he talked about things in very blunt terms: homosexuality, oral sex etc. About the same time a women who said she was a prostitute wrote a book “Jay”. And that book was about her life as a prostitute. That may not seem significant today. But prior to 1968/69 every book in America that had been written about marriage had been written by ministers or doctors. So marriage manuals were written basically by ministers and doctors by that time. Those two books opened a whole floodgate of publications. And if you just go to university libraries in America and check, you’ll see that by the mid 70’s only very few ministers are any more present in terms of writing about marriage. Because the field is wide open and if you are saying some pretty bold things about sex and sexual behavior, your books are not read. And so by the mid, late 70’s, people who don’t even have a degree are just writing trash and as well as some scholars. And now you have psychologists and other people, who are writing books about marriage and sex. All the while during the 1960’s and 70’s the divorce rates were climbing and then we’ve approved abortion and the rates are climbing. By the time we get to the 1980’s, Reagan runs for president on a platform of the American families in trouble. Many people thought, that what they are going back to in their minds was the 1950’s and prior family kind of concept. But actually what Reagan was dealing with was more the nuclear concept of the family and single parent families. But there was an emphasis on families but it was not the old concept of “let’s all have a Mommy and a Daddy and go to church.”
MG: Reagan was the first and only divorced president of the United States.
HB: Yeah. And so you had a radical turn during the 80’s. In the early 80’s you remember there was the debacle with Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. That caused a schism of the church in America. Until the 80’s the Roman Catholic Church had said over and over again we need all to get together. They were constantly talking about ecumenism. Constantly! But after Swaggart and Bakker, the Roman Catholic Church and some other liturgical churches got together and put up three million $ and started their own TV station. So they would have nothing to do ever again with one of the other Christian stations that was not liturgical. And so the river really divided very radically at this point. Now something else happened. Out of the sexual revolution and the Jesus freaks and all their guitars and playing music and some of them coming to Jesus in coffee houses and all. That began to drift in to church basements. But it was scary stuff for the old traditional Christians. And so consequently what emanated was a whole new brand of music. Praise and worship music came from the Jesus freaks, longhaired hippies on the beach shores playing their guitars and enter coffee shops and enter the basements of churches. Then some churches were bold enough to bring in drums and guitars. The praise and worship music is only been around in churches since like the 1980’s. In 1985 and 1990 it began to make its wave into Pentecostal churches and by 1990 it’s getting a pretty good hold. And now, you don’t even have high liturgical churches that will have what they call a downgraded, they’d say “conventional” service or “traditional” service. They say traditional for the liturgy, but conventional or contemporary, that’s it. So they bring in the guitar and maybe some snare drums. That caused a whole new wave now. 1960 if you had asked a Methodist to go down to the Baptist church, they probably had to pray about it for three days. If you would have asked a Pentecostal to go to a Baptist church they would have thought “hell”. Now, I meet people and I say: Please, come visit our church. And they might say: I’m Roman Catholic. I say: we have two rows of them, we can have another chair. I’m Presbyterian. Oh, we got a nice group of those. Lutheran. Fine, we’ve got some of those too. The walls came down. All the while, there were other variables in there, as you are aware. Many liturgical churches began to approve of abortion, they began to approve of homosexuality and other kinds of things. And they began to go inward until people just began to cut off their funds and the churches were dying. So the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church have been in a process of dying, loosing members. The Catholic Church will maintain, it is not loosing members. But the Catholic Church has the problem, that people don’t believe anymore. And in America they want to do regardless of what the pope says. So they go to the Catholic Church and practice birth control, they go to Catholic Church and have abortion. And by the way, I only learned recently that the Roman Catholic Church does so many annulments of marriage. It is not funny. If you got the money honey … they got the time. They do annulments of marriages by the thousands in America. So that they say it [the marriage] never really existed. So that their people can continue to be catholic. So if you got the money, and you pay, the priest can dissolve your marriage. And you can continue to take communion. The priest has that power. So what happened is: since 1980 primarily the church had a huge loss.
MG: But what do you do with divorced people?
HB: This is a very curious question. Almost every denomination in America had to address this and had to deal with it in hard terms. In their earlier days there have been very few evangelicals but now there are 90 million evangelicals in America and 20 million of them are divorced and remarried. The evangelical church has had to address it. It’s a theological dilemma that is still being dealt with. You know, I’m also sociologist, so I studied those things and I write about it. And I’m concerned. We don’t have enough history to know if this is going to mature the church. Many churches have cut their bible studies, they just have praise and worship services. In 1960, if you went to church there would be a large group for Sunday school and a lot of people would have left and few had stayed for preaching. Now people don’t come for bible study, but they come for the preaching. So it’s completely flipped.
MG: Are they looking for entertainment? How would you interpret that change in behavior?
HB: They go for the religious experience. Yes, they care and it matters, but the question is how much depth is there. There are now actually beginning to be some gatherings of elite scholars in America who meet and say: theologically we don’t know where we’re going.
MG: That means on the one side you are very successful and on the other side you are suspicious about the depth of the success.
HB: Absolutely. So here, in this local church, we are tenacious to try and get people into small groups and into bible studies and encourage them to read the bible. I share that with them from the pulpit countless times. I tell them, folks, if my sermon is all you living on, is not enough - is not enough. You need small group accountability. You need a system for bible studies.
MG: So what do you do: Do you accept people who live in a way they should not live?
HB: We tell them “You need to come out of this lifestyle, you need to repent, you need to come under accountability.” If somebody comes to church and they’re living together not married, we clearly advise them to get on the track. If we had people come to the church and give their hearts to the Lord - and then they say we’re not married. We would say: Ok, let’s get a wedding set up. I performed a number of weddings for people that have been living together for years, with children half grown. I don’t just say “quick”, but we put them in a path of accountability. Let’s take an example: a woman’s daddy forced her to marry a man, she is Moslem. And he treated her cruelly and she was finally able to escape and get away and she comes to U.S. and gives her heard to the Lord. So she got a divorce, whatever that means in terms of tradition, culture, and paper work. And she comes one day and says “I’ve met someone and I think I love him and would like to get married. But I was married before.” Well, here’s what I say: One: Read the bible and here are sections you need to read. Two: Talk to people that you respect and get their council. Pray about it. Then she comes back one day and says “I think by the bible I can get married. I feel okay. I think in my prior life that I feel the approval of the Lord.” I’m not ready to marry her. My next question would be: “How about in your mind: are you ready?” Because, I typically find people who have been divorced and remarried and they jump into it and are so exited about it. And oftentimes what happens is the woman becomes extremely frigid after marriage because she’s locked up with guilt in her mind. She feels she’s still married. So, in fact, if God says so, if man says so, the bible says so, that doesn’t mean your psyche is free.
MG: So ultimately you leave it to the people to decide.
HB: Not totally. There are some boundaries, I established. And I do so by the church, by what is accountable here and by what I think is God’s word. But finally there is the other side, the person’s own psyche, their own mental health, they have to answer that. If a person doesn’t free their mind, they are not free. Even if the Lord frees them. They are not free, if they are locked up in their minds. If a woman promised to her daddy she would never get married. And that happened once: I had a woman, her daddy was dying and she had promised him on his deathbed she would never get married. And then she met someone. So that was not a God thing, that was not a bible thing, not a church thing. But it was like a lock in her mind with the key thrown away. And that’s something she has to deal with.
RS: What kind of people respond to the calling of your church?
HB: Typically in America we would say a church becomes much like it’s pastor. However what I have done is, very aggressively pursued, hiring a young staff. And trying to make sure they’re very capable and talented. So our church is very young. I mean, I am 61 and yet we have a very young church and energetic church.
RS: What about ethnics?
HB: Again, I think my sociology has played into that - because of my love for people, for cultures and preaching about it and teaching about it. Our church loves people who come from other nations. We got about 40 flags in the sanctuary that represent the different ethnicities and nations of our people. That’s a whole area of discussion. Our church is said to be the most blended church culturally in this area. And in many churches they would say they’re transcultural. If you go and look there would be a pocket of blacks sitting over here and a pocket of Spanish over here and then some white people and one or two blacks sitting together. But if you come on Sunday morning to Covenant Church, you would see a black family may come in and their children would sit with Koreans or Spanish. Our congregation looks like salt and pepper put in and shaken up. And scholars have been here saying that is extremely unusual. Usually you see white, brown, black.
MG: What is the reason?
HB: It is something you have to constantly nurture. You have to make clear that you believe in those people and their things. If I find a Sudanese coming to Covenant - and then they bring a couple more. I’ll say: Look I want you to cook your food and invite me into your home with my wife and I want to listen and you tell me how to love your people and how not to offend. That’s the question. How do I not offend Sudanese? And tell me about your culture, tell me about your way of life and finally tell me how I can be a good pastor for you. So that’s something I do: I have some sensitivity to these different ethnic groups and I can share that with staff and we are being relational. Many churches just think that if someone shows up and appears - they think they are transcultural. They’re not. They just got a hungry soul who just wanted to go to church and that’s the desperate place they found. But they’re not integrated. L Last Sunday morning I looked up and every usher we had was not white. We don’t have one white usher.
RS: Lets move to a different topic: What is your opinion of the division between state and church?
HB: In America we have that wonderful amendment that says separation of church and state. The truth in the matter is that historically and in its inception is not the way it is been practiced. At present time, there is a very aggressive erosion of the Christian right in privilege in America. Maybe we had too much of it at one point in time. But the erosion at this point of time is to keep Christians out. They are letting Moslems in. If I asked to come to High School here and share about Christianity they would say “absolutely no”. But if a Moslem comes, they’ll say, “oh that’s interesting. We have to learn more about the Moslem culture”. So we’re getting very murky in that area, in this country. I think monetarily, I think we’re on a fairly sensible basis in this country. Churches have their own finances. I think that’s one of the more punitive things in Germany why the church has not done better in the last 100 years or so, because still there’s the thing that people give paychecks to the government – and the government pays the church. I think that is sociological impediment. That makes the church dependent upon the state. In America, I think the church ought to produce or ought not to be tax exempt.
HB: If the church is not going to produce - if this is not going to be a viable agent in society – if this is not going to be an arm to touch people’s lives. If a church is only open from 11 to 12 on Sunday morning and locked for the rest of the 168 hours of the week, I say they’re ought to be taxed.
MG: The interest in the Moslems faith is not a surprise after 9/11 and after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Was it a mistake to go to war?
HB: I don’t think so! We have already had been hit a number of times. People are forgetting that. We’ve been hit in the 80’s; we’ve been hit in the 90’s, in 9/11. So they were coming for us and the matter of fact is they’re trying to hit us here. So I think we had to go. I think history will proof it was the right move. And that’s what about I gave Ruth a lesson yesterday – were I gave some of my thoughts about the old Europe, the old guard, and how they’re very glad for the US spending all this money so we can weaken the dollar and strengthen the Euro because that’s elevating their power. See, I just happen to think that the old Charlemagnian-napoleon spirit of the old guard of Europe has a bad taste about the US, this young upstart kid across the ocean, being Number One in the world. I think they don’t like the terrorists, they don’t like what’s happening over there. They like for us to take care of it, but they’re not going to do too much about it as long as we’re doing something about it. Because we’re spending our money on a war and that’s weakening our economy and is allowing the European common market to get a better toehold – to do what it’s going to do.
MG: So for you that is primarily a political and economical issue. (Bare: Exactly!) Has this also something to do with Gods will? The Mesopotamian area was always a kind of counter-power to Israel. (Bare: Absolutely!) Do you think the war in Iraq is also a religious issue?
HB: Oh yeah! Absolutely! It’s unequivocally a religious issue. There are the over 100 million people in the US who hold to the values of a prophecy of the bible that Israel is the people of God. And that favoring Israel brings favor. There are a 100 million people in the US and every Jew in the US who believe that. That’s a powerful political wave. And that’s a powerful economic wave. And that’s why we in America, we cannot just simply cut Israel off. And we forget something: If you line up the worlds major military powers right now: There will be American, then China or Russia and then Israel. Israel is militarily one of the top four most powerful nations in the world - with only four million people.
MG: Has that to do with Gods plan for history?
HB: We believe it. That is based upon of our understanding of the bible. What most people don’t get, they think that we approve of everything that happens. No, right is right and wrong is wrong. If Arabs own this land – they should own this land. And it’s not someone’s right to take it away from them. So we don’t approve of everything Israel does, not here, not this faith that we belong to. At the same time we believe indeed and in fact that Israel is home. And that it will stay there. And that they’ll not leave again. But we also believe the European common market will come together – that is the foot-print of the Roman-Empire. That will be the driving force that someone will rise up and lead and become the dominant military power in the world. That is bound up in evangelical theology, the evangelical eschatology.
MG: Who will rise up in Europe?
HB: The Antichrist. He will have some Jewish blood and he will have an answer and he will say: This is the solution, guys. And it will be to kill people massively. I mean it will be a brutal, brutal … that is what the bible prophesies.
MG: Is that on hand? Is that eminent? Or is that far away?
HB: Here we’re backflip again. And here is where sometimes my scholarly past comes into conflict with my theological present. In my mind either that is eminent or we are likely to see a limited nuclear war. I think it is inevitable that we are probably in the next ten years going to have a fairly significant world event in terms of military conflict.
MG: Do you think that the Iraq war is the first sign of that last battle?
HB: No. I think Israel is your black ship. Israel is it. In the bible Israel is it.
MG: Do you think maybe the upcoming conflict will take part in the nuclear program of the Iran?
HB: Personally, I can’t separate myself. Once I had a Jewish professor and he was very agnostic and he said something very hard to me. He said – and I looked at him and finally he cursed and he said something to me. I said to him: ”Something happened” and I said Professor that’s not fair. And he said: “Fair”. And he cursed and he vituperated and ventilated and then he said: “You, a minister of all things – saying ‘not fair’ …” And he gave me a whole speech about fairness and about World War II and him being a Jew and about the whole thing. And when he was through he was just like almost spitting - he was so angry.
MG: Why that?
HB: I told you he was just a cynic agnostic. And here I am a minister and I am a PhD student under him and I used the word fair and he is letting all of his Jewish anger just ventilate. And when he was through he said: “So now what do you have to say?” And I said: “Sir, I have a problem.” He said: “What is your problem?” And I said: “Well, Sir, I was born into a culture, I grew up in a culture, I went to church in a culture and I went to school in a culture. Culture. I said: “Everything about me, the fiber of my bones, the very inside of it and the fiber of my muscles and the bones inside of it has taught me to respect Jews even when they’re wrong.
MG: He does not see Israel as a divine entity?
HB: Israel not a God thing to the agnostics. They’re just Jews who have been persecuted. To him, they’re Jews who have been hounded by the world and they’ll fight back. To the orthodox Jews – they’re still looking for the Messiah to come. They’re still waiting for that Messiah. The bible is very clear about that. And even if we think we understand that part…we can look at it and think we understand: that’s what the Antichrist will propose to be. He’ll propose to be the Messiah.
MG: Do you sometimes travel to Europe? Or is that an area that you avoid?
HB: No, I have been to Europe on a number of missionary trips.
MG: But you are convinced that the Antichrist will rise up in what you call the old Europe?
HB: I mean the Roman Empire, that old footprint there. The Roman Empire, the European market. And by the way, that’s not a unique belief on my part – not a unique opinion. This is where I go back and forth with my trained mind in university and with my being a man of faith. I don’t have to have the answer to that. I don’t go to the pulpit preaching this every week. What I preach the people is: You need to know the guy – you need to know the life and the story of Jesus Christ who came from heaven as the son of God and died for you and shed his blood. So you start there. I have my thoughts but that’s not what I’m spending my time with when preaching and writing.
MG: If you foresee a limited nuclear war and the coming of the Antichrist in Europe - that war has to happen in Europe and not in China. Is that correct?
HB: In terms of practicalities it could also be Taiwan. I think it could be a conflict with Iran. And if Iran would happen to strike Israel we’re going to have… Israel is not going to wait.
MG: Were in this scenario do you see the role of the United States?
HB: We’re not nearly as united as we used to be. You know, the old “united we stand” is not as common now. And so consequently the politics is overtaking us in this country and divorces are becoming more of a cacophony and less of a unison and harmony. I think there is a good chance that we may have a Democratic president the next time. But I think that Democratic president is going to have one horrible time because if they pull the troops back we’re going to get hit. And when we get hit in this country, then we are - in my estimation –inches away from martial law in America. Inches, not feet! One dirty bomb over New York City could bring martial law in the US. Just one! I mean a million people dead in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, an earthquake in California and a dirty bomb in New York. We’re on a very marginal edge.
MG: But how can you live as a person in such a situation, waiting for the apocalyptic events to unfold?
HB: Go back what happened to Germany. Mothers turned against their own sons. Mothers turned their own sons in to be executed.
MG: You are very pessimistic. Do you see any future?
HB: Absolutely! Jesus! That’s the message! That’s why I can smile, that’s why I’m happy. That’s why I’m so full of hope. Because the more people that can come to understand the passion of life of a man who gave himself away and forgive sins, then the more hope there is. And the more we can look for change. And there is so much happening in the world. I mean, this is my personal belief again: until today, more than 80% of all missions giving in the world is from the US. So the evangelism of the world – you see why the Moslems hate us… The funding of the evangelism native missionaries around the world: 80 out of 100 dollars come from the US. So that evangelical spirit is driving the spiritual forces to say: Go, you’ve got to tell people “The hope is Jesus!” So underneath, even with churches struggling, even with all our political dilemmas, there is a growing synergy in America. I can tell you there are people writing checks over half million dollars, million dollars or more just to send missionaries now. I know this. It’s a phenomenal effort that is happening because people are sensing that these are apocalyptic times. And that we must go with a message of hope. On the human side if you say: Ok, no Jesus – then I go back to historic times and I say what happens? What happens is that people resort to animalistic behavior. The Book of Judges says: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” [Judges 17:5] So you fall into sexual perversion, you fall into anarchy or despotism.
MG: The one thing I didn’t understand is why the Antichrist must be Jewish?
HB: That’s biblical. He has to be Jewish.
RS: Do you think that there is a special religion, which can play a leading role when the Antichrist rises?
HB: Yes. Let me speak what will be historically the protestant perspective and more particularly the evangelical perspective. Ruth asked me if I am a fundamentalist. You’re hinging on: am I a cousin of the Islamic terrorists and Nazis? When you say fundamentalist we’re talking about people who are in my mind radically off the chart. So I would never identify myself as a fundamentalist. But if you’re talking about the evangelical role in the US then you are talking about: basically there will be a tradition of literature and of ethos of this religious tradition that the Roman Catholic Church will be the bride of the Antichrist. In other words: the person that will assume that power (= the Antichrist, R.S.) will have a religious body that will do his bidding. And that will be the Roman Catholic Church. Now regardless, if you go out and ask ten people and two disagree – don’t mistake the fact that there is a river of tradition written, oral, strong that that is still true. So with all the tolerance, which is out there right now, there are still those who believe that. Then I jump back over into what my professor’s head and I say, pragmatically it has to be the Roman Catholic Church. From a pragmatic structural perspective it must be the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church is the only church that is recognized as a government that has ambassadors in countries all over the world, that is treated on a government level and that the whole world recognizes as a political force. And that has a military. The Roman Catholic Church has a military.
MG: Do you mean the 120 Swiss Guards?
HB: They have a highly trained military and they have one of the best spy systems in the world.
MG: So you identify the Roman Catholic Church as the collaborator of the Antichrist because of its state-like structures.
HB: I think because of the state-like structures – really, what we don’t say publicly much anymore, but what I grew up hearing and hearing preached about a lot and read a lot about: Their doctrine is not sound, it’s corrupt. It’s idolatry. They teach, the Virgin Mary is the way to Jesus. That was not even expounded until 500 years after Jesus ascended back into heaven. They teach that what the Pope speaks is higher than scripture. So whatever scripture says becomes second, if the Pope says it transcends that. They preach, that tradition can become sacred. That is repeated over and over again so that it becomes sacred in and of itself.
MG: Can the pope be the Antichrist?
HB: No, he cannot. I don’t think he can be the Antichrist. If I read right and understand right and from my tradition the European common market will be a basically God-less exercise. And it is curious, but the years since World War II have seen a progressive deterioration of the church in most of the European Countries. I mean France is now like 30% Atheist, less then 15% of England goes to Church. There is no country in Europe that is part of the European common market design or invitation list, that is experiencing any kind of Christian revival at this moment. Churches and missionaries there have a bitter time getting governmental favor. It’s not an easy territory.
MG: What do you hear back from your missionaries in Europe?
HB: Very hard! Very tough! Even those who are stationed on military bases. They say it’s very, very difficult. So revival is coming, curiously, from Third World countries: South America, China. There are over 30,000 people a day who are coming to know Christ in China. Some say more: 30,000 every day. Africa is having a huge revival. Africa is loosing 500,000 people every month to AIDS.
MG: Aids is closely related to sexual behavior. So Africa is a continent with very pious people who don’t behave the way they should. In Europe it’s the other way around: you have very low Aids rates. Germany has also extremely low teenage pregnancy rates compared to the United States. How do you explain that? Other topic: the incarceration rate. In Europe you have 10 percent of the incarceration rate of the United States. You are a sociologist. If you compare the societal figures of teenage pregnancy, incarceration or Aids, Europe is in all counts much better than Africa and substantially better than the United States. How do you explain that?
HB: One: We are a huge piece of geography with a low population in terms of square mileage. We’re less then 300 million people with a huge piece of geography. Two: We are people who are predicated in prosperity and freedom. In America, anybody who’s grown can go to college. Were else is that true in the world? We pay poor people to go to college. We pay and give them money for babysitting so they can go to college. In America we think people ought to have freedoms and we pay them to have them.
MG: I went to a church in Roanoke and the people told me they care for a 10-year-old girl who is pregnant. I never heard of such a case in Europe. Never before. How do you explain that? In Lynchburg, I was there with a pastor he told me he had a huge pile of food. And I asked him why are you stocking that food here? And he said to me: People are hungry in the City. They come here because they’re hungry. Never heard of that in Germany. So what is going on?
HB: Well, those are big questions. And from a German mind that makes a lot of sense. In the US, I would say that our tendency to ensure freedoms costs us. You don’t have the freedoms. The freedom in the European countries doesn’t tend to be as loose as it is here, or as guaranteed. It’s my perception. I never lived in those European countries but I have studied and traveled there. When I studied and traveled the European countries I certainly felt the presence and the power of the government more than I do here. Here we think the government ought to be unobtrusive and we think the soldiers ought to be friendly and kind but in many countries I’ve traveled you feel very much the government is the driving force.
MG: But that does not explain for example teenage pregnancy rates. I give you another figure: In Germany we have altogether 1,500 women in prison. In the United States are 300,000 women in prison. In Germany there are 15,000 teenage pregnancies per year – in the U.S. there are 300,000. The U.S. has three times higher abortion rates than Germany. The role of the government does not explain that. The government does not educate people, does not put values into the heads of people..
HB: I think disastrous to us is the hugeness of our country, the prosperity of our country and the assurance of liberty in our country. In our country, any child in school, if all of our children from this church who are in school, the only way that I can speak for that child in school … say a child said “I don’t want to attend the sexual class, it’s talking about homosexuality.” I can’t go to the principal and say anything, I can’t go to the school and say anything and the parents come in and say “pastor we want you to talk to the principal.” And I say: “You know, parent, these gentlemen want me to speak about their child. And the principal says: I’m sorry pastor, you don’t have any voice. The only way I can speak is if the student says: I want my pastor to speak for me. And the parent cannot override that.
MG: You have criticized very much the state-church relationship in Europe. But the church there has a say in the schools. There is religious teaching in the school, guaranteed by the state. That seems to work in terms of value-building.
HB: I wouldn’t be prepared to say that. What I can say is that in America there’s a fairly conventional belief in the thought of many – if I can put it that loosely – that since the 1960s the Democrats have been insistent on putting forth judges for the federal bench. Who have been ruling liberally? Many believe that that has been the erosion of our value system. So it’s a subtle kind of process. Can we arrest it? I don’t know. I’m not highly optimistic. And I’m also not very optimistic because of – you know my life is primarily as a pastor and the church in America is in crisis. We’re in crisis.
MG: You think so?
HB: Oh absolutely! It’s not a question; it’s not even an opinion. We’re in crisis. The larger percentage of pastors in America is over 50 years of age. We’re going to graduate - some denominations, over 50% are over 55 years of age of the pastors. So in the next 10, 15 years we’re off the chart. There’s a vacuum – a huge vacuum. We have not generated young ministers to mature them. So even if guys come up – right now – I’m on of the board of directors of the seminary in America – the average seminary graduate in America is over 40 years of age. The average seminary graduate has some dysfunctional history. Approximately half of seminary students in America, non-catholic, are women. So there’s a huge shift. And you don’t make that much shift and know where you’re going in one generation. You can’t do that. You can’t predict on that. You need 3 to 4 generations to say: This is working. So we don’t even know where we’re going. We really don’t. For the voices who are prophetic – they would say: “all this says that Jesus must come soon.” I understand that throughout the millenniums there have been crises. I look back, certainly people thought the world is coming to an end with the bubonic plague, and certainly people thought the world was coming to an end when the Chinese invented gunpowder. You know there have been many things, in many times have been crises. And truly World War II was a close call. So, I’m not prepared to say that and the bible says that that’s not given ours to know. That is a theological point for me. My job is to forebode hope. I tell people you ought to be honest, you ought to work hard; you ought to be the best employee in your job. If you’re a Christian you should be envied by the other employees for the favor that’s upon you. You know, you punch the clock honestly, if you punch the clock and you give more then your fair share and you’ll be thoughtful and considerate and everyday shape your life into the image and the character of Jesus Christ. That’s what I preach. And so meanwhile extend your hand, don’t live for yourself, get outside of yourself. And make sure that you are trying to touch the lives of other people. I am president of the inner-city foundation and the targeted area. So I give a lot of my time and energy to inner-city work, to people that are going through the hardest challenges of poverty in America. It’s not easy.
You make me red-faced when you tell me about America’s pain with our morality. Because it is embarrassing. From a logical standpoint I understand why the Moslems think we’re the devil. We’ve got 10-year-old girls getting pregnant and teenage girls prostitutes in the streets. To a Moslem that’s abominable – only the devil could be doing that. And then we say Christian America. And they think: that’s what Christians do. And they don’t separate us. When I travel the world every American is rich to many people – no they’re not. 80% of Americans retire without probably not more then a thousand dollars cash. Millions of Americans live in just subsistence economy as retirees. When you look on the face of it, you see our magazines, you see our prosperity and we make it look like everybody in America is rich. But it isn’t true. We keep pulling the poor along and that distance between the poor and the rich is becoming greater and greater. There is so much money in America right now. Mega-money. And people are spending … I mean right now there are supposed to start 700 churches, not one is below 300,000 dollars, up to three quarters of a million. That’s just right there. And that’s all over America. Where is all this money coming from? And why would we be happy? Why isn’t it paradise, that ought to be. But the distribution of the wealth becomes an increasing problem. The Democrats say: Take it away and give it to the poor. But then all they really do seems spending it on the government. The Republicans say: Help people to make money and they’ll pay more taxes. Those seem to be the classical lines. But tied up in that is a vast bureaucracy that seems to be lumbering along at a snail’s pace. And the one thing I’ve learned is if you want to know how to get around things study our politicians because they designed the laws and they always design the laws to pay for themselves. Whatever it is, you know you need to study the politicians.
There are two things I want to leave before you go. One: I am not comfortable with where the church is in America. In the final years of my life I am dedicated to trying to spend time with ministers, younger ministers and to teach and to train them. Because these are very challenging times. It’s difficult to be a pastor in America right now. It is not easy at all. But if you’re going to get any joy out of it you better get back to where you were called of God. You know that calling, you know how you are and you know what you’re doing. Because if you not, the stresses are overwhelming. We have many ministers in America who have ceased to be productive and who are falling by the wayside, leaving the ministry, going into other careers. Pastors – 1200 a month leaving the ministry.
MG: Have you been a pastor all your life?
HB: I’m the son of a pastor, married the daughter of a pastor, did not want to be a pastor because I saw the hardness of the pastor’s life. At this moment I am almost 30 years a pastor. But I’ve done many other things mixed with it. Being a professor, worked in mental hospital, taught college and university, was a businessman. I’m a very eclectic person. I’m not a normal pastor. That is just a flat statement. Because I’ve worked in a mental hospital and because I’ve been a school teacher, a professor and headmaster of a private prep school, and business and come from a family of business people and because of my training in criminology and law enforcement. Many things come my way that do not come to other pastors. There have been other pastors who have even referred things to me, counseling cases or other things through the years that would not be normal. I even had a psychiatrist in the city call me and say: “I have a patient here and he doesn’t need me he needs to be with you. Can I refer him to you?” That’s not a normal kind of pastoral life. And that itself makes it challenging. I can’t look to the right or left and find my mentors at this point. I had to find my way. And I had to have many voices that I respect in different areas of expertise and that’s a real challenge for me in my life. I have many people in my life that I must feel free to pick up the phone and call them and say: Hey, I got a tough spot here and it is your area, give me some counsel. I’m by no means a lone ranger at this point. But I am a person that has many resources with prayer and scripture and with my wife to try and keep balance and I must bring all this together to trying to offer the best that I can to the church. But I no longer see myself as just serving this church. I see myself serving other pastors and other churches and missionaries.