The Hands of Peacemakers

By Michael Himlie

I stop my thoughts for a moment, to pause and ask where I am now. I found myself standing on the beach, on Lesvos, Greece in the night, looking through binoculars over the Aegean Sea, spotting refugee boats crossing from Turkey and being harassed by the coastguard. I found myself in a refugee camp playing soccer with children. I found myself packing my bags to start full-time work in Palestine and Israel. This is my story in Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).

My name is Michael Himlie. Harmony, Minnesota is where I call home. I graduated from Manchester University, and I am a 24-year-old Church of the Brethren member. In August 2017 I completed training for CPT, an organization committed to building partnerships to transform violence and oppression in difficult circumstances where the work is proven to be highly effective. When I was 12 years of age, I eagerly began learning of elder CPT’er role models sharing stories of their work with me, and at the time, I asked questions of them every chance I had.

MH Photo 1At last, I went to Palestine in 2014, where I found the work of those with CPT to be just, humble, and fiery at the sides of the Palestinian nation. My most memorable moment of Palestine was doing school patrol with full-time CPT’er Ashley. At tense Israeli checkpoints, children are almost daily subjected to tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and sometimes the use of rubber-coated steel bullets or live ammunition. Suddenly, the space around me was filled with a loud bang, the hissing of tear gas spread, and children dispersed from the area. One Palestinian girl, aged 6 or 7, ran to Ashley crying out of fear, and yet the need to get to school on the other side of the tear gas cloud was still there. Rachel calmly comforted the child, giving her a wet rag to hold over her face to filter the tear gas, and a hand to accompany her to school.

What I take with me from my time in Palestine is the image of two fearless women disappearing into a cloud of teargas, one going to school, and the other, simply doing her work. This is what I desire to do, and why I need your help, because I know Ashley’s hand was not the only hand that little girl was holding that morning on the way to school. Many people support Rachel to engage in the work she desires, and the work of CPT as a whole. The hands of CPT’ers like Ashley and myself are the hands of our supporters like you.

One day, I hope to see what an army of one hundred thousand soldiers of nonviolence looks like, but first, we must foster well the few who are doing the work now. This is why I am asking you, my fellow peacemaker, to join me. The work that CPT’ers do, in accompanying those impacted by violence, war, and oppression, is funded by those who believe a better world is possible. People who long desire to build their financial structures closer to their moral values are those who take part in changing the world through CPT’s work.

In 2012, the cost to maintain one US soldier in Afghanistan was between $815,000 and $1.4 million a year, mostly funded through the taxes we US citizens pay. It costs a fraction of that to drive CPT’s peacemaking mission, about $20,000 a year, or $55 per day. Can you commit to donating $55, supporting a day of CPT’ers like Ashley and myself, accompanying children to school, followed by the rest of the day’s’ work ahead? With your help, together we will support the Palestinian led movement to end the seventy-year military occupation Israel and the United States is committing against the people of Palestine.

To make the work of CPT possible, go to, and select the tab “donate”. Here you can learn more about CPT’s work, and how you can get involved.

Michael Himlie, 24, is a member of Christians Peacemaker Teams, working to promote peace in Palestine and Israel. He is a graduate of Manchester College and a member of the Church of the Brethren.


We Haven’t Earned the Right to Call White Supremacy “UnAmerican”

Pslam 99:

The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!
   He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2 The Lord is great in Zion;
   he is exalted over all the peoples.

3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.
   Holy is he!

4 Mighty King, lover of justice,
   you have established equity;

you have executed justice
   and righteousness in Jacob.

5 Extol the Lord our God;
   worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!

6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
   Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.

7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
   they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.

8 O Lord our God, you answered them;
   you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

9 Extol the Lord our God,
   and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy.

This weekend, we watched in horror at the unfolding saga of a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, VA. Hateful protesters marched onto the campus of the University of Virginia wielding tiki torches and shouting racist, homophobic, and antisemitic slurs and chants. Carrying flames, assembling in the cover of darkness, and intending to intimidate people of color in the university community, they were eerily reminiscent of the Ku Klux Klan, with one crucial difference: they felt so emboldened and secure in their hate that they didn’t even feel the urge to mask their faces.

Soon, the racist protesters were surrounded by a crowd of counter-protesters, igniting a days-long standoff between the two groups that spread throughout the city and spilled into the streets. On Saturday, tensions boiled over when one racist sympathizer used his car to ram into a group of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring a dozen others.

Over the course of the day, public figures from across the political spectrum denounced the protests and the violence, drawing a clear line in the sand that racism and bigotry ought not be tolerated in civic discourse, and that violence is unacceptable, particularly when it is used to inflict terror upon the vulnerable and the marginalized. Not everyone got it right, such as the president, who glibly tweeted that the situation was “So sad!” and equivocated violent, racist protesters with non-violent, anti-racist counter-protesters by denouncing both sides as “hateful” and violent.

But, for the most part, public figures across the political spectrum were quick to stand up against white supremacy and call out this toxic ideology and the violence its adherents precipitated over the weekend. In particular, people of all stripes stridently classified the rally, its participants, its tactics, and its goals as “unAmerican.”

That’s a nice sentiment. One with which I agree completely in the abstract ideal. There is no room for white supremacy, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sexism, homophobia, or any other hateful ideology in a civil and compassionate society. And the values we claim to hold in the United States, such as life, liberty, equality, and justice, and many more, are totally incompatible with white supremacists, neo-nazis, and all other hate groups.

But just because we want something to be “unAmerican” doesn’t make it true. This is the simple truth: we have not earned the right to call white supremacy “unAmerican.” And until we earn that right, we have no business distancing ourselves from white supremacists as if we haven’t bought into the toxic and violent reality of racism.

No, most of us don’t knowingly and actively harbor hatred in our hearts. Those who do, and especially those who act upon it violently or prejudicially, are particularly broken and infected people who deserve both swift condemnation and sincere prayers for transformation and healing.

But each of us who benefits from being an American, and particularly those of us who are white, like me, have staked a claim in a society in which white supremacy is every bit as central and foundational as the Constitution itself. White supremacy is as American as apple pie, and we can’t effectively speak out against white supremacists for taking a slice because our cheeks are too stuffed to say a word.

We may not light up tiki torches and rally in favor of Confederate idolatry, but we do live in and love a nation in which white people are half as likely to be homeless as people of color. We may not chant racist slogans or use racial slurs, but we are comfortable with a national reality in which the average white household has a net worth twenty times that of the average Black household. We may not wave around Nazi or Confederate flags, but we seem perfectly happy with an economic system in which Blacks and Hispanics live in poverty at three times the rate of whites.

No, we don’t all beat Black people up in parking garages, but we do all accept public health outcomes that subject Black people and Hispanics to lower rates of insurance, less access to quality healthcare, greater environmental health risks, and, as a result, higher instances of chronic and deadly diseases, and shorter life expectancies.

We may not have gathered on the University of Virginia’s campus Friday night to voice our support for white supremacy, but we all give our silent approval to white supremacy when we fail to question an education system in which unequal investments leave Black students twice as likely to drop out of high school and half as likely to earn a college degree.

We might not commit violent hate crimes, but we seem fairly content with a criminal justice system that incarcerates Black people at five times the rate of whites and policing practices that rain indignity, exploitation, and brutality upon communities of color.

I could go on with hundreds of other statistics about entrenched racial inequities, but I think my point is clear: the United States is awash in white supremacy, brutally and sinfully enforced by the structures that guide just about every facet of our society. Let’s not pretend that we can do the politically and socially expedient thing by denouncing white supremacist marchers, thinking that we have therefore absolved ourselves of any culpability in the system, or any responsibility to change it.

Should we refrain from condemning and denouncing white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups? Of course not. We must do so loudly, swiftly, and unequivocally.

But let’s not condemn white men carrying torches unless we’re also willing to condemn white men in suits scheming to suppress the voting rights of people of color.

Let’s not bother condemning white men chanting against Black lives unless we’re also willing to call out white police officers taking Black lives, and the white prosecutors and juries that let them get away with murder.

Let’s not condemn white men ramming cars into protesters until we’re also willing to condemn white folks who prefer comfortable silence over hard conversations.

Let’s not condemn white supremacists until we’re willing to name and repent from the ways in which we have benefited from systemic racism and institutionalized white supremacy personally.

It’s easy to denounce and decry white supremacists and neo-Nazis. That’s low hanging fruit. And it’s a convenient way to create distance between ourselves and any responsibility we bear to bring about change. But not being a white supremacist is a pitifully low bar. If we care about dismantling racism, we have to do better.

We have to earn the right to call white supremacy “unAmerican.” We haven’t. Not yet.

It is your responsibility to bring anti-racism into your church, into your home, into your community. It is my responsibility, too, and I haven’t done nearly well enough. I’m not going to waste any more of my breath just denouncing white supremacists without denouncing the deeper systems at play. That’s easy.

My breath is for praying for healing, peace, justice, and empowerment. My breath is for calling out hatred in all its forms, including its most insidious, silent, and structural ones. My breath is for calling legislators and chanting in the streets. My breath is for naming the ways I have failed and must do better.

podiumEmmett Eldred is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! He also co-hosts the Dunker Punks Podcast. Follow Emmett on Twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Not Just Numbers

It’s no secret that church membership is on the decline in the United States. This trend seems especially pressing in the Church of the Brethren, where numbers keep dropping and the average age in our congregations keeps rising. And this is certainly a serious concern, especially since thriving church membership often means having the financial and human resources necessary to fully carry out many of our most sacred callings, especially impactful service ministries.

So it’s only natural that declining church membership becomes shorthand for a church in crisis, an urgent problem that not only needs fixing, but that should singularly absorb the totality of a church’s time, attention, passion, and resources. Decisions should be made, our fears tell us, on the sole basis of what will increase church membership. And we can even point to examples from scripture to back up our claims: the numerous passages from the Gospel documenting the large crowds that come to see Jesus. The way the Pentecost story concludes by documenting how many new people joined the church that day. Both seem to imply that the size of the crowd is a measure of a successful ministry.

But evaluating the health of a congregation solely on its size isn’t just wrong, it’s dangerous, it runs counter to the example set out in scripture and throughout the history of the Church, and, ultimately, it’s counter-productive.

I’m guilty. In the past, I’ve used declining church membership as evidence to support my claims about the dire need for a new way forward for the Church. Here, and elsewhere, I’ve written that the Church need only look at its waning attendance registers to understand that it’s doing something wrong, especially since much of the deterioration is happening among young adults who leave the Church and never come back. And I’ve argued that the church ought to become more inclusive and welcoming if it wants to see young people come back. I’m sure I’ll make those arguments again in the future because I do believe that they are true.

But I was wrong to make arguments that rest solely upon the metric of church membership as if that is a suitable facsimile of a vital ministry or a healthy relationship between a church and Christ. These arguments reflect the deeply flawed and tortured logic of a materialistic and consumer-driven culture. They substitute size and sheen for substance. They dehumanize people by turning them into numbers, rather than recognizing the precious truth of how God is refracted through every person. And they fetishize the money placed into collection plates while denying the infinitely greater worth of the hands passing those plates along.

There are huge churches that are totally dead. Megachurches with 5,000 members worshipping in one building, in which the fabric of Christian community is in tatters because nobody bothers to get to know anyone else. There are churches with hundreds of members who view worship as a rote and lifeless social obligation, not a joyous communion with Christ and community. There are plenty of large churches with hulking sanctuaries and conspicuous steeples that might as well be totally invisible because they make no effort to serve the people in the surrounding community.

And there are tiny churches that are deeply invested in discipleship–creating communities that are bound together and finely woven, worshipping God with genuine enthusiasm and devotion, and practicing service as a core component of what it means to be the Church. In fact, sometimes small faith communities are uniquely well-equipped to cultivate discipleship.

Here’s the truth: the Church should be welcoming, affirming, and inclusive because that’s the type of church Jesus modeled for us, not because that’s the way to draw a crowd.

I am confident that young adults will be attracted to such a church, as will people of all ages who have left the church because they were personally hurt by it or because they couldn’t remain part of a hypocritical, judgemental, and unchristlike institution. But even if the opposite turned out to be true–if we could bolster church membership by being less welcoming, less inclusive, more judgemental–that would be the wrong decision. That would be Peter-denying-Christ-three-times-level wrong. That would be selling our soul to gain the world wrong. That would be betraying Jesus for forty silver coins wrong.

Throughout the history of the Church, this decision has emerged time and again: should we follow Christ, or should we follow the numbers? Often, the Church chose wrongly, intertwining the Church and empire because a hulking, imposing oppressive state sure was a convenient and effective vehicle for bolstering church membership through force. But sometimes, acolytes of Christ have chosen the right path, and they set an enduring example that we should emulate as we sort out what it means to be the Church today.

When the eight original Brethren baptized one another in the Eder River in 1708, they chose to believe that obedience to Christ was a better way to measure the health of a church than the number of people in the pews. They lived in an oppressive theocracy. Church participation was pretty much 100% because everyone who didn’t participate risked persecution and execution. So the numbers were great, but the church was dead.

The original Brethren knew that eight committed disciples of Christ worshiping freely because they loved God was a lot better than an entire principality of people coerced into empty worship under the threat of death. The latter knew the ways of religion and submitted in fear. The former knew the ways of God and embraced God and one another joyfully.

Of course, it is nice to have healthy membership, both in spirit and in numbers. The Church of the Brethren should be concerned that its American membership is declining, especially since we’re seeing attrition not just when older members pass away, but because younger members are consciously choosing to leave the church. That trend is simply unsustainable in the long term, and it will preclude our ability to be the vital body we’ve been in the world in terms of service and in terms of illuminating Jesus’ peculiar ministry of peace, justice, and compassion.

But my assertion is that when the Church chooses to live by faith, rather than by fear, the rest will come as well. As long as we endeavor to bear God’s fruit of peace and justice, God will provide new opportunities for the church to thrive, just as a farmer cultivates his crop to produce year after year. But perhaps we have to expand our definition of what it means to “thrive” beyond sheer numbers.

After all, it isn’t really the number of people in the crowds in front of Jesus that matter in the gospel. What matters is what those crowds heard and the way that they walked away: amazed and transformed. Nor is the point of Pentecost the number of people who joined the church that day. The point is that the fire of the holy spirit danced on their heads, and for a moment they existed in perfect community with one another, and it changed them.

podiumEmmett Eldred is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of and he wants lots more people to contribute!  Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! He also co-hosts the Dunker Punks Podcast. Follow Emmett on Twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Transforming Repentance

Sheesh. If you’re like me, just the words “repent” or “repentance” make you shudder. If there was one word that we could use to sum up all of our misgivings about the modern-day church–the stuffiness, the severity, the toxicity, the judgment–it might just be the word “repent.”

For those of us who are weary or worn out from the Church, empty and melodramatic calls for “repentance” are as grating as they are a cliche. These calls can be really great at conjuring up guilt and building up isolation between people and faith communities, but they don’t do much good in changing people’s behavior or promoting real reconciliation between ourselves, the Church, and God.

Enter Dana Cassell. Dana is the pastor at Peace Covenant Church of the Brethren in Durham, NC, and she’s a great writer and theologian. You should check out her blog. Do it.

In the latest episode of the Dunker Punks Podcast, Dana takes on the weighty subject of repentance, and she breathes some serious new light into it by putting it in its proper biblical context. She looks at repentance through the lens of empire, which has been the subject of her other work with the Dunker Punks Podcast. She also talks about repentance by considering her experience growing up in the South and learning to confront problematic notions about race, segregation, poverty, and more that had embedded themselves in her own worldview.

It’s a refreshing, honest, and compelling look at repentance, and Dana did a lot to reclaim and reform that word in my mind. I don’t want to give too much more away because I could never do as well as Dana at explaining repentance and drawing upon biblical examples to elucidate it! (And because I want you to listen to the podcast!)

But, I will say that Dana demonstrates that repentance is a deeply Dunker Punk act. After all, the Dunker Punks are all about being transformed personally by Jesus and his teaching so that we look, think, and act a little bit more like him. And then we push for similar transformation in our communities, in our society, and in our world so that we see God’s justice and peace reflected there.

Here it is in Dana’s words: “It’s not about pretending to feel bad, it’s not about empty regret, it’s something much much more radical: to turn ourselves entirely around, to return to the purpose God created us for, to be completely transformed, to start living in an entirely new way.”

Inspiring, isn’t it? Almost makes you want to… repent! To listen, click here! For more great episodes, check out the Dunker Punks Podcast by visiting You can also find us on iTunes and Stitcher. And be sure to follow the podcast on Facebook and Twitter. And stay tuned every two weeks for new episodes!

podiumEmmett Eldred is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of and he wants lots more people to contribute!  Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! He also co-hosts the Dunker Punks Podcast. Follow Emmett on Twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Everyone Has a Story to Tell

One of the things that really excites me about the Dunker Punks movement is the way that we bridge tradition and innovation in our life within the Church of the Brethren. It’s no secret that our “Tradition” (with a capital “T”), as well as our traditions as a denomination, occupy a central place in our mind and in our worship.

Unlike many other Christian denominations, we have no creed (other than the New Testament), and our faith practice is comparatively light on rigid ritual and liturgy to shape and standardize worship. What we do have are our common faith heritage and our beloved traditions. Most of us know and treasure stories about the founding of the Church of the Brethren as well as the vital ministries of venerated “saints” along the way like John Kline, Sarah Major, Dan West, Anna Mow, and many others. And many of us are moved by traditions like foot washing, love feast, and, of course, ice cream socials.

That is a precious part of what it means to live in the Church of the Brethren. But what excites me about Dunker Punks is the way we merge tradition and innovation. Our ideas are “radical” in the sense that they bring us back to the very root of what it means to be a Chrisitan and a Brethren, but they are also “radical” in the sense that they are fresh, bold, and new, even edgy. Part of the Dunker Punks practice is about using tools and technologies sometimes overlooked by the denomination, such as social media and other digital platforms, to communicate in new ways, across new channels, and with new people.

Ultimately, part of what it means to be a Dunker Punk is to take the core (and ancient) ideas of Christianity, especially those that Jesus articulates in the Sermon on the Mount, and breathe new life into them as we seek to bring them forward for our generation and for a new century. We also look at how we can participate in established parts of Brethren identity, practice, and belief, but do so in new and innovative ways. We use old tools to break new ground, and we use new tools to stir up ground that hasn’t been touched in a long time.

That’s what excites me so much about innovative ministries that pop up in the Dunker Punks movement, such as the Dunker Punks Podcast. Twice each month, the Dunker Punks podcast airs audio episodes online, which are also available for download on iTunes and podcast apps like Stitcher. What a great idea! This is an innovative way to highlight the thoughts and ministries of Church of the Brethren folks from around the country, while also helping form a completely digital community that transcends geographic boundaries.

At the same time, of course, the Dunker Punks are far from the first in the Church of the Brethren to innovate or express their faith in creative ways. In the latest episode of the podcast, we hear from Ed Groff and Brent Carlson, the guys behind Brethren Voices, in a wonderful interview conducted by Kevin Schatz. Brethren Voices is a monthly video series that documents stories from around the Church of the Brethren. Based in Portland, OR, Brethren Voices plays on public access stations in communities around the United States, and it is also available on Youtube.

Like the Dunker Punks podcast today, Brethren Voices represents an innovative and creative way that people in the Church of the Brethren are rethinking church and ministry to connect our denomination and share our ideas with other folks in the Church of the Brethren and others around the United States and around the world. I know that I really enjoyed learning more about Brethren Voices, and I hope you take the time to listen to the podcast so you can learn about them too!

One thing that moved me in particular about what I heard about Brethren Voices is their underlying philosophy, which is that everyone has a story worth telling. I love that, and I couldn’t agree more! Speaking of Church of the Brethren traditions, one of the traditions that is most meaningful to me is our concept of the “priesthood of all believers,” this idea that ministry and witness are not the exclusive domain of the ordained and the seminary-educated, but that each and every one of us in this church has both a right and a responsibility to minister to one another and proclaim the name of Jesus, in our faith, in our speech, and especially in our actions.

That’s one tradition that I know energizes the Dunker Punks and both motivates and empowers what we do. We do things like blog and podcast because we know that each of us is invited and obligated to share our stories of transformation, struggle, faith, and discipleship.

I hope you’ll take time this week to listen to the latest episode of the Dunker Punks podcast. I also hope you’ll take the time to think about what stories you have to tell and commit yourself to tell them in some way to someone. One way that you can do so is by volunteering to write a blog post for or joining the team of contributors at the Dunker Punks Podcast. Contact me to get started!

podiumEmmett Eldred is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University with degrees in Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on Twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

All War Is Sin

This week, President Donald Trump escalated the United States’ violent presence in the Middle East by launching approximately fifty airstrikes against targets in Syria. The move was in response to an apparent attack by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who used chemical weapons against his own people. Trump cited horrific images of children suffering from the effects of sarin never gas to justify the attack.

This moment is a real test of our convictions, which assert that all war is sinful and that violence is never justified or acceptable, especially acts of war. The Brethren have always held this position, but the greatest challenges to our peace stance always come when it seems like the cost of nonviolence is human rights abuses and violent atrocities. Can you really even claim to be a card-carrying pacifist unless someone has glibly cited the Holocaust to undermine your commitment to nonviolence?

But this challenge is faulty in that it assumes a false dichotomy: either intervene violently or do nothing at all. But who can look at the history of the Brethren objecting to war and claim that those Brethren chose to do nothing, simply because they wouldn’t fight? John Kline didn’t fight in the Civil War, but he did ride thousands of miles in the North and South throughout the war, acting as a physician. When Dan West saw the devastation of the Spanish Civil War, he didn’t advocate for a military intervention; instead, he started the Heifer Project. And Ted Studebaker refused to carry a gun in Vietnam, but he went to Vietnam nonetheless to help rebuild destroyed communities. So too must Brethren respond to the violence they see today in Syria and elsewhere throughout the world. We believe that only nonviolent action will create peace that is sustainable.

Peace requires creative, active, and bold thinking. Most of all, it requires us to think like Jesus, to break out of false dichotomies and find a “third way.” The suffering we see in Syria must motivate us to act. But it is anti-Christ to falsely equate the word “action” with the word “violence.” Instead, it is our task to do what we can in Syria and here in the United States to promote peace without resorting to war. We should support policies that promote peace and diplomatic action on the part of our government and the international community.

Most of all, we must be the church–the hands and feet and heart of Jesus acting in the world today. That means supporting, partnering, and volunteering with relief and human rights organizations. That means welcoming refugees. That means working with Syrians to rebuild their communities and pursue political reform. That means praying and being empowered by the holy spirit to commit ourselves to humble, faithful service.

And while we’re on the subject of false dichotomies, it is not enough to oppose acts of war just because they happen to be committed by Donald Trump. Barack Obama ordered more drone strikes and airstrikes than any other president. For the first time in the entire Trump administration, Democratic lawmakers and the media have praised Trump as “presidential.” What a sick standard, that the mark of a president is how willfully they employ military force. Hours before Trump attacked, Hillary Clinton publicly called for exactly the action he took. And Trump’s critics have mostly knocked him for not seeking congressional approval of the attack, rather than for the attack itself.

War is deeply ingrained in the mainstream ideologies of both political parties. In fact, we might even admit that when it comes to waging war, both parties share one ideology: the supremacy and omnipotence of the American empire. When we subjugate our faith to partisan politics, it is always, always our faith that becomes sullied and compromised. When we try to shoehorn our faith into secular categories like “progressive” vs “conservative,” our faith becomes just that: secular. And when we employ our faith to pursue a partisan agenda, we end up cutting our preferred party a whole lot of slack when they do something contrary to Christ. Ultimately, I am convinced that to politicize faith inevitably leads us to condone war, or at least to be complicit in its commission.

Don’t oppose war because you want to resist Trump. Oppose war because you want to follow Jesus. This is our time to be the church. To speak out against violent policy. To fervently denounce military action. To oppose the militarization of our culture and the weaponization of the mantle of “human rights.” To commit ourselves to the hard, sacrificial, and personal work of building peace. To advocate the “third way” of Jesus, which defies both violence and inaction.





Welcome the Refugee: The Witness of Aphrodisius

I’ve spent a lot of time over the st-denispast month trying to decided who I was going to write about next for Dunker Punks in History. I’ve been intending to write about John Kline for some time, but with recent events was considering one of the strong Mothers of the Church, such as Thecla, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, Sarah Major or Anna Mow. I am still unsure of who I will cover for my next full-length post, but given the recent actions of President Trump, I felt compelled to share the legends of a Dunker Punk who welcomed foreign refugees of a different nationality, culture, and religion into his country and home. According to legend, it is Aphrodisius who sheltered the Joseph, Mary, and Jesus when they fled to Egypt to avoid King Herod.

According to legend, Aphrodisius was an Egyptian high priest from the city of Heliopolis. (Some version of the story instead name him as a roman prefect from the same city.) When Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod, he sheltered them despite the fact they were foreigners and practitioners of very different religion. Years later he heard of the miracles Jesus was performing in Judea and traveled to Palestine to witness them for himself, eventually becoming a disciple of the boy he had once provided refuge for.  After the resurrection, he traveled to France as a missionary, becoming the first Bishop of Beziers. He was martyred by a mob of angry pagans in Place Saint-Cyr. Beheaded, his head was thrown into a well, but was thrown out by a gush of water. Aprodisius’s body then picked up his head and carried it through the city. He finally settled into his final rest in a hermit cave where he had lived, which eventually became the location of a basilica named in his honor.

I first heard the story of Aprodisius while watching the musical adaption of Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the beginning of the second act a statue or stained glass window of Aphrodisius in Notre Dame de Paris comes to life to tell his story to Quasimodo and encourage him to rescue the gypsy Esmerelda from the villainous priest Frollo.

Like many medieval saints,  the accounts we have of Aphrodisius’s life are mostly legendary and are probably not historically accurate. Personally, I am extremely doubtful of the historicity of most if not all of his legend, but in this case I would argue historical accuracy is not the point. Think of this legend like one of Jesus’s parables. You wouldn’t ask whether or not there actually was a good Samaritan that helped a man along a roadside, but what point Jesus was making through the story. Each of us is called to take the role of Aphridisius and welcome Christ in the form of a refugee into our homes and land. In this way, regardless of if it actually happened in history, the story of how Aphrodisius sheltered the Holy Family is indisputably true.

12112414_614679188671785_6960613993930677693_nNolan McBride is a Religious Studies and History major at Manchester University. He loves music, theater, and learning about Christian traditions around the world. He enjoys singing, reading, and has a bit of an obsession with icons. You can follow him on twitter at @nmcbride35, and find him on Facebook.

Salt That Has Lost Its Saltiness

Throughout the pages of scripture, Old Testament and New, you will find dozens of verses admonishing people of faith to welcome and care for strangers, especially immigrants and refugees. Take Leviticus 19:34:

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”

And, of course, we can’t forget that Jesus himself was a refugee for the first few years of his life. So when he says in Matthew 25:40 “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me,” we should take that verse quite literally on the topic of immigration.

This week, President Trump signed an executive order suspending America’s refugee program and barring travel from several nations. Among myriad other unjust consequences, this executive order erected a legal barrier to thousands of desperate people around the world seeking safe harbor in the United States. Even people who have already waited through years of vetting. Even people who were on planes to the United States when the order was signed.

Each year, tens of thousands of people from around the world come to the United States as refugees. These are people fleeing their homes because of terrorism, war, genocide, and natural disaster. When the United States closes its doors to these people, thousands will have no option but to return to their unsafe homes, were many of them will suffer and die.

Thankfully, many people are speaking out against the president’s executive action. This includes thousands of faith leaders, including the leaders of our denomination. Sadly, however, many Christians approve of our nation’s decision to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people. In fact, it’s safe to say that nearly every one of our nation’s leaders who supports the president’s executive order identify as Christians.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matt. 5:13). Nothing says “salt that’s lost its saltiness” quite like church folks that don’t stand up for immigrants and refugees. There are few topics about which scripture speaks with such frequency, consistency, force, and clarity.

But it’s not enough just to talk about this issue. Yes, we should voice our outrage and reach out to our civic leaders to demand action. But we all also have to make the decision right now, including me, to make the drastic changes required in our personal lives to truly articulate a posture of welcome to immigrants and refugees. We have to open our congregations, our communities, and our own front doors to the immigrants and refugees in our community who need help.

I’m calling on every Dunker Punk to commit to being a personal sanctuary for immigrants and refugees in your community. When people ask us to justify why we stand with immigrants and refugees, we must be able to offer our own lives and experiences as evidence of our conviction. We’re all willing to say we stand for justice, now, it is time to prove it. Now, it is time to live it.

podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.

Franz Jägerstätter: A Little Known Witness

franz2   When remembering great peacemakers throughout history many extoll the lives and witness of Gandhi and Martin Luther King JR., but few even know of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter. If his life his life had taken another route there would be little to tell and he would only be remembered by his friends and family as a devoted father and husband and devout Catholic, but instead he found himself caught between the might of Nazi Germany and his commitment to the teachings of Jesus. Following his savior when even the Church told him to submit to Hitler, he died a martyr for peace. In 2007 that same Church venerated him, beatifying him and setting him on the path to Sainthood.

Born on May 20, 1907 out of wedlock to Rosalina Huber and Franz Bachmeier, the younger Franz’s biological father served and died in World War I. In 1917 Rosalina married Heinrich Jägerstätter, who adopted his new wife’s son and gave him his surname. He received a basic education in the one-room schoolhouse of his hometown of St. Radegund, Austria, aided by his step-grandfather who encouraged the boy to become an avid reader.[1] From 1927 to 1930 Franz left his hometown to work in iron ore industry in Eisenerz, Austria. During this period he struggled with intense doubts about his faith and temporarily stopped attending church, but returned to his hometown with a renewed and strengthened faith.[2] Despite this, Franz developed a reputation as a wild man, he was the first person in his hometown to own a motorcycle, and even fathered his oldest child, Hildegard Auer, out of wedlock. Franz took responsibility for his daughter, visiting her often and sending gifts of food and especially meat, a rare commodity at the time. Hildegard’s mother Theresia later recalled that “he had begged her forgiveness, and that they had parted in peace.” Before his marriage he and his future wife visited the Auer family offering to adopt Hildegard, but neither her mother nor grandmother wished to part from her. Ten year old Hildegard amazed her family with how deeply she mourned the death of her father.[3]

On Holy Thursday 1936 Franz married Franziska Schwaninger, which proved to be a turning point in his life, making “a different man” out of him. Franziska was a very religious woman, who even considered becoming a nun before her marriage. While her husband was devout before their marriage, even contemplating becoming a monk, but with Franziska’s influence became notably more pious, taking communion more frequently and reading the Bible together with his wife each night. For their honeymoon the couple traveled to Rome on a pilgrimage, something very unusual and very expensive for the time. Franz hoped to make this a tradition, intending to make a pilgrimage with his wife ever ten years. The two were deeply in love, with Franz remarking in a letter, “I could never have imagined that being married could be so wonderful.”[4] The couple had three daughters: Rosalia, born in 1937, Maria, born in 1938, and Aloisia, born in 1940.[5] Attending mass daily, Franz became sacristan of his home parish in the summer of 1941.[6]

Franz viewed the rise of Nazism in nearby Germany with suspicion and distrust. In January 1938 he experienced what he believed to be a vison from God that firmly convinced him Nazi ideology was incompatible with Christianity. He recalled:

At first, I lay in bed without sleeping until it was nearly midnight, though I wasn’t ill, and then I must have slept a little after all; suddenly, I was shown a fine railway train, which was driving round a mountain; not only the adults, but even the children were flocking towards this train and the crowd could hardly be held back; how few adults there were who did not get into the train in that place, I would rather not say or write. Then suddenly a voice said to me: ‘This train is going to hell.’ At that moment, it seemed to me that someone took me by the hand. ‘Now we are going into purgatory,’ the same voice said to me, and the suffering I saw and felt there was so terrible that, if the voice had not told me that we were going into purgatory, I would certainly have believed that I was in hell. Probably only a few seconds passed while I looked at all this. Then I heard a swishing sound, saw a light, and everything was gone. I then immediately woke my wife and told her all that had happened. Of course, until that night, I could not really believe that the suffering in purgatory could be so great… At first, that moving train was quite a riddle to me, but the more that time passes, the more the moving train is unveiled to me. And today, it seems to me that this image represented none other than Nazism, as it was closing in or creeping up on us at that time, with all its different organizations attached – for example, the N.S.D.A.P., the N.S.W., the N.S.F. and the H. J. etc. In other words, the whole Nazi movement and every organization which sacrifices and fights for it.[7]

He was the only person in St. Radegund to vote against the annexation of Austria by the Nazis.[8]

While firmly against Nazi ideology, Franz’s opposition to serving in the German armed forces developed slowly. Conscripted twice in 1940, each time he was able to return home without seeing battle due to his “reserved civilian occupation” as a farmer and responsibilities as a father.[9] During basic training he was vested as a novice of the Third Order of Saint Francis, a lay religious order dedicated to living according to the example of Saint Francis of Assisi. He made his vows a year later at his home parish.[10] After this experience, Franz returned home, resolved that he would not serve in the military again.[11] In his own words:

When our Catholic missionaries went to live in a heathen land in order to make Christians of them, did they too go with machine guns and bombs in order to convert and improve them by those means?… Other peoples do, at the very least, have a right to ask God to bring peace and to strike the weapons from the hands of us Germans. Isn’t it a real mockery if we ask God for peace when we do not want Him at all, for otherwise we would have to finally lay down our weapons – unless perhaps the guilt we’ve already heaped on ourselves is still too small? At most, we can ask God to allow us to come to reason, so that we can at last realize that other human beings and peoples also have a right to live in this world. Otherwise, God must certainly thwart our plans by His might, or else we Catholics of Germany will force all the peoples of the earth to bow under the yoke of Nazism. Almost everyone wants to gloat over the stolen booty, yet we want to lay the blame for everything that has happened at the door of only one individual![12]

Franz discussed his decision with his family, friends, clergy, and even the local Bishop. Many tried to talk him out of it, one priest even accusing him of being suicidal and refusing to grant him absolution after the issue was brought up in confession. Bishop Joseph Calasanz Fliesser urged him to remember his responsibilities to his family and argued he could not be held moral culpable for his actions as a soldier as he would be simply following orders, the very argument later used by the defense in the Nuremberg Trials. Franz could not accept this, stating “We may just as well strike out the gifts of wisdom and understanding from the Seven Gifts for which we pray to the Holy Spirit. For if we’re supposed to obey the Führer blindly anyway, why should we need wisdom and understanding?”[13]

In February 1943 Franz Jägerstätter received his third conscription. His mother mobilized relatives and neighbors to try and change her son’s mind about his refusal serve, but he would not be moved.[14] He presented himself to his company at Enns but immediately stated “that, due to his religious views, he refused to perform military service with a weapon, that he would be acting against his religious conscience were he to fight for the Nazi State…that he could not be both a Nazi and a Catholic… that there were some things in which one must obey God more than men; due to the commandment ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’, he said he could not fight with a weapon. However, he was willing to serve as a military paramedic.” Franz was imprisoned for several months, finally being condemned to death on July 6, 1943 for “undermining military morale.”[15] At 4pm August ninth he was beheaded.[16] Offered a Bible to read in the days before his martyrdom, Franz replied “I am completely bound in inner union with the Lord, and any reading would only interrupt my communication with my God.”[17] On May 7, 1997 the District Court of Berlin annulled Franz’s sentence. On June 1, 2007 Pope Benedict XVI declared Franz Jägerstätter a martyr. In a ceremony at Linz Cathedral on October 26, 2007 the Catholic Church officially declared Franz Jägerstätter to be Blessed, one step away from Canonization and being declared a Saint.[18]

Franz Jägerstätter’s life and martyrdom serves as an inspiration to not just to Catholics, or even only Christians, but to all people. He would not betray his Lord by being swept up in the tide of Nazism, nor would he fight as a soldier and attack another’s home. Even when his family, friends, and church told him he should submit to the government’s demands he refused to betray the teachings of Jesus. When most of his peers compromised and stayed silent, Franz Jägerstätter spoke out. In the face of increasing nationalism and xenophobia both in our own nation and around the world, his legacy is vital now more than ever. While most of us Dunker Punks will probably never be asked to make the same sacrifice he did, the witness Blessed Franz Jägerstätter challenges us to reexamine our own relationship with God and just how committed we truly are to his teachings. What sacrifices are we willing to make in following Jesus? Are we willing to confront the comfort and privilege American society has given to many of us, to challenge the complacent and nonthreatening role American Christianity has played in the larger culture for so long? How are we to react when people we love and trust tell us we’re wrong, if we suddenly find ourselves arguing with those we see as stalwarts of the faith?  How are we called to take up our Cross and follow Christ?


[1] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[2] Putz 12

[3] Putz 15-17

[4] Putz 19-23

[5] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[6] Putz 57-58

[7] Putz 41-42

[8] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[9] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[10] Putz 55

[11] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[12] Putz 70-71

[13] Putz 72-74

[14] Putz 81

[15] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

[16] Putz 117

[17] “Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.”

[18] “Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.”

Work Cited

“Bl. Franz Jägerstätter (1907-1943) – Biography.” The Holy See. The Vatican, n.d. Web. 25

Jan. 2016.

“Franz Jägerstätter 1907 – 1943 – Martyr.” Diözese Linz. Katholische Kirche in

Oberösterreich, n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Putz, Erna. Franz Jägerstätter Martyr – A Shining Example in Dark Times. Grünbach:

Steinmassl, 2007. Print.

12112414_614679188671785_6960613993930677693_nNolan McBride is a Religious Studies and History major at Manchester University. He loves music, theater, and learning about Christian traditions around the world. He enjoys singing, reading, and has a bit of an obsession with icons. You can follow him on twitter at @nmcbride35, and find him on Facebook.

A Dunker Punks Agenda for 2017

With the end of one divisive and tumultuous year comes the specter of another. 2016 may be over, but its partisan divides and humanitarian crises linger. In our own denomination, divisions surrounding same-sex marriage, climate change, and other topics rage on.

Dunker Punks have an important role to play, whether in response to national and international events, struggles in our own communities, or policy debates in the Church of the Brethren. We are committed to carrying the light of Jesus, meaning we will study his life and instruction, dedicate ourselves to him, and reflect his love and wisdom to the world.

With a New Year comes time for reflection, rededication, and inspiration. Though it is not intended to be exhaustive, here is a list of five priorities that I suggest for Dunker Punks for the next year.

1. Read the Sermon on the Mount

This is a bread and butter issue for the Dunker Punks. We can’t meet 2017 as disciples of Christ without continuing to study his wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed with three straight chapters of Jesus giving precise instruction of how we ought to live our lives. And if we truly want to call ourselves Christ’s disciples, we have no choice but to take his words seriously.

This is a bread and butter issue for the Dunker Punks. We can’t meet 2017 as disciples of Christ without continuing to study his wisdom. In the Sermon on the Mount, we are blessed with three straight chapters of Jesus giving precise instruction of how we ought to live our lives. And if we truly want to call ourselves Christ’s disciples, we have no choice but to take his words seriously.

Maybe 2016 was such fraught year because so many people failed to live up to the Sermon on the Mount. How would foreign affairs have been different if we accepted Christ’s teachings about turning the other cheek (Matt. 5:39) or loving our enemies (Matt. 5:44)? How would our politics have differed if we had chosen to be salt of the earth (Matt. 5:13) or a light to the world (Matt. 5:14).

This year, crack open the Sermon on the Mount and even try to commit it to memory. Most importantly, internalize it, and implement it in the way you live.

2. Get to Know Someone Different

There’s no way to deny it: we’re divided. Internationally, we view those from different nations with distrust and fear. Nationally, we vilify those of a different race, national origin, citizenship status, religion, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. Within our denomination, we draw battle lines based on who’s progressive and who’s conservative. In our congregations, we stake our territory in the pews, and we divide ourselves based on age and preferred worship style.

The Gospel scriptures overflow with examples of Jesus breaking down such boundaries. He healed lepers (Matt. 8, Luke 17) despite Jewish taboos that ostracized them. In John 4, he speaks intimately with the Samaritan woman at the well, even though cultural attitudes vilified Samaritans and forbade men and women to interact like this. He also reached out to those in power, healing a Roman soldier’s servant (Luke 7) and interacting with tax collectors like Zacchaeus (Luke 19) and his disciple Mattew.

We should follow Jesus’ example, striving especially to personally know the oppressed: the poor, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. There is no better way to break down our own prejudices than by getting to know those different from us. And there is no better way to become an advocate for justice than by understanding and witnessing injustice.

And we strive also to get to know those who think differently to overcome ideological divisions. Social media has made it easier than ever to curate our friends, associates, and information to suit our ideological beliefs. But we can’t see the humanity and goodness in our ideological opposites unless we strive to get to know them as people, not just vessels of ideas we oppose.

3. Hold Our Leaders Accountable (And Pray For Them)

After a fraught politics season that lasted nearly two years, it’s tempting to disengage. And it’s important to give ourselves a little time to heal and breathe and breath of fresh air. But as people of faith, the decisions made by our national, statewide, and community leaders are too consequential to ignore. As disciples of Christ, we are sworn to stand with “the least of these” (Matt. 25), who are so often the subject of important political decisions. Therefore, it’s time to dust off our shoulders, stand in solidarity with the oppressed people around us, and get ready to engage.

This is equally true whether we have a Republican or a Democrat in the White House or which party holds the majority of seats in Congress. It’s true whether we voted for or against our state legislature, governor, or mayor. Justice should be a nonpartisan issue, and, for our purposes, it’s a non-political issue as well. It’s simply what we are called to do as Christians.

We’ve heard adages about power and how it corrupts. Like them or not, our leaders are in positions of power, and often their agendas come on the heads and shoulders of the powerless. It’s our duty to soberly, skeptically, and diligently observe them. We are citizens of God’s kingdom and our sole allegiance is to Jesus. When earthly leaders strive to oppress others to meet their own ends, or to wage war, we have to be there to stand in their way.

However, we should also remember to pray for our leaders and wish for them success. We should hope that leaders call an agenda that advances justice, equity, and human rights. And we should work with them to advance those goals, not out of loyalty to them, but to Christ.

2017 will be a momentous political year, as we transition to a new president and a new congress, as we participate in local elections, and as we experience international events. Dunker Punks must be there, must be present, and must be ready to act.

4. Break Out of Politics

On the other hand, we can’t allow politics to define us or constrain our vision. It’s easy to be consumed by politics, to let it drain our time, energy, and emotional fortitude. But in an age of harsh partisan divides and extreme gridlock, politics can also obscure from our vision the humanity of others, and it can be fruitless, wasting our time and dampening our spirits.

To be sure, we must engage in politics because we have to challenge and change systems that create injustice. However, we also have to bring the light of Christ to every other corner of the social landscape. Our role is to be engaged disciples of Christ in culture, education, social movements, our faith institutions, family, and community, just as much as politics. This means reflecting Christ’s love and wisdom in each of these settings. Our role is to serve others in addition to challenging political leaders, just as Jesus performed intimate acts of service like healing, in addition to advocating broader social and political reforms.

In 2017, let’s not allow ourselves to be consumed by politics. After an explosive election season, it’s vital to remember that there is more going on in the world than just Donald Trump. The world is bigger than that, and smaller. We have to fix our eyes on Jesus, allowing him to transform our hearts, so we can go out and transform the world around us, both through small acts of love, and grand gestures of solidarity.

5. Get Involved!

I’ll conclude this by urging you to get involved with Dunker Punks, and also to lean into opportunities to lead and serve in your communities and congregations. As far as Dunker Punks goes, you can click here to join our movement. I also encourage you to contact us about getting involved in new and creative ways, such as writing for our blog or leading a service project. You should also check out our wonderful podcast, which is sponsored and produced by the Arlington Church of the Brethren.

2017 is here, and with it come new challenges as well as new opportunities to transform ourselves to look, think, and act a little bit more like Jesus, so we can transform the world around us to look a little more like the God’s Kingdom. Here’s to a happy, productive, and worshipful new year!

podiumEmmett Eldred is a senior Creative Writing; Professional Writing; and Ethics, History, and Public Policy Major at Carnegie Mellon University. His passions include reading about, writing about, and snuggling with pugs. Emmett is the founder of, and he wants lots more people to contribute! Fill out a Dunker Punks profile, and join the conversation! Follow Emmett on twitter @emmetteldred and follow Dunker Punks on Twitter @DunkerPunks and on Facebook.