Asking Questions, Taking Responsibility

by CMC Pastoral Intern Ben Rudeen Kreider

This past Sunday pastor Joel preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Joel wondered if its main message might not be for us to simply be Good Samaritans ourselves but to see the places we are in need, dependent on the unexpected compassion and neighborliness of others.

Part of the beauty of a good story is how it can be seen from multiple angles, open to nuance. Within the parable we heard this Sunday, my mind went to the perspective of the robbers, who stripped and beat and nearly killed the man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. This is because for the past couple weeks I was a part of the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE), traveling in Germany and Poland. This program studies the Holocaust not primarily from the perspective of those who were killed and suffered under Nazi Germany - Jews of Europe, people with disabilities, Roma/Sinti, political enemies and others. Rather, FASPE asks participants to examine the perspective of the perpetrators of crimes, seeking to understand the rationale of professionals who participated in the violence of Nazi Germany.

I was a part of a group of interfaith seminary students, learning alongside medical students and journalists. Our days filled with invigorating conversation were also heavy and exhausting as we navigated so many sites soaked with blood. We reckoned with the numerous ways Christian leaders were complicit in Nazi violence and confronted the trap of believing that we as religious leaders are naturally on the “right side” of history. Again and again, we were pushed to enter into the gray zones of difficult questions, discussing our own present ethical challenges against the backdrop of the complexities of Holocaust history. There is no simple moralistic takeaway from the learning I was a part of. Perpetrators saw themselves as good people; “normal people” can commit or be complicit in crimes of tremendous brutality while doing very little themselves.

We were challenged on the trip to consider what type of professionals we wanted to be, and what type of responsibility we wanted to take up. Assuming responsibility means entering into difficult choices and also being able to see multiple possibilities for creative ethical action amidst both dire and mundane circumstances.

Viewing history in its complexity - particularly difficult and violent history like the Holocaust - leaves in its wake piles of questions. And asking good questions can reveal the ways we can be locked into overly simplistic readings of our present lives and of the past.

What does taking up ethical responsibility as a leader mean within an Anabaptist community that values the priesthood of all believers? How do religious communities cultivate resistance to systems of violence while also working effectively within their wider society? How do we strive to do good, while recognizing we might be profoundly misguided or self-centered?

The story Jesus chooses to tell in response to the question — “And who is my neighbor?” — opens up a whole world of more questions. How might our hard questions move us into more honest and ethical ways of living and relating to our neighbors? What questions do we use to look at the past? What questions might others be asking of us? May we be brave enough to ask and see what questions will follow.