(Originally published in 2014, updated here to honor the victims of Communism, and those brave souls that fought and died for freedom)
The Institute on Religion and Democracy rejoices in the 28th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, November 9, 1989. President Reagan had urged, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Likewise, we implore the God of the universe to give us the grace and courage to tear down the remaining walls of tyranny, despotism, and injustice in every corner of the globe, including our own.
After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, bits of that oppressive construction were transformed into thousands and thousands of icons of freedom (and, one could say, icons of free market capitalism since they were sold widely as souvenirs). One of my favorite pieces of the Wall is in Portland, Maine on the pier at Old Port. I think of it as a Triptych of Freedom, since it is three hinged sections. Some freedom fighter wrote powerful words on one segment:
Forget not the tyranny of this wall,
Nor the love of freedom
that made it fall,
It is no coincidence that Portland’s piece of the Wall stands proudly next to another shrine to freedom, The Heroes Wall – a memorial to all of Maine’s own warriors, past and present, that fought for freedom. Freedom always comes with a price to pay.
Another one of my favorite remembrances of the tyranny of Communism laid waste is the piece of the Wall that belongs to my parish, Church of the Apostles, Anglican. It was given to us by our friends from Leipzig’s Nikolaikirche (St. Nicholas’ Church) where years of weekly prayer services helped to usher in East Germany’s Peaceful Revolution.
In 1990, these friends from Leipzig and other friends of a now free European continent, from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Romania, visited our church for a week-long “Eastern European Festival.” They shared amazing stories of how the hand of God gave strength and encourage to those that helped to bring about liberation behind the Iron Curtain.
Christophe and Ronald were lay leaders from Nikolaikirche, the church that became famous for Monday night prayer services followed by candlelight protests. Thousands of East Germans asked God for His help, and then demanded such rights as the ability to travel to foreign countries and to elect a democratic government. Peacefully, every Monday, the people confronted the armed security forces of the East German Government, proclaiming, Wir sind das Volk! (We are the people!)
Two Catholic Dominican priests from Czechoslovakia told us about the Velvet Revolution. In their own fight for freedom, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in Prague’s Wenceslas Square. Father Vojtech, who was ordained in the Catholic underground, came to us in jeans and a leather jacket. He served at the monastery of the 14th century Church of St. Giles (Kostel svatého Jiljí), just scant of two miles from Wenceslas Square. Father Filip, newly ordained from the seminary in Olomouc, preferred the traditional full-length, woolen habit that priests were now free to wear once again. But both had stood against the Soviet Socialist forces that controlled their country.
Vojtech and Filip told us of the jingling of keys that filled the square during the protests, symbolizing the unlocking of doors. It was an appropriately poetic gesture for a revolution led by Vaclav Havel and members of the Czech art, literary, and theater communities, as well as the factory workers, priests, scientists, and others.
Our Hungarian friends, the Nemeths, were from the Community of Reconciliation. They told of how they were ministering to marginalized
Roma people in a newly free Hungary. The brave people of Hungary had fought against Communist occupation in 1956 and their revolution was crushed. But in 1989, the Communist government of Hungary actually helped to usher in the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Berlin Wall. In June of that year the foreign ministers of Hungary and Austria symbolically cut through the barbed wire on their borders. A few months later Hungary allowed tens of thousands of East Germans to cross its border to flee to the West.
Romania’s revolution was not peaceful like the others, but our friends Valentine and Mikhail explained how it started with a protest by church members in the western city of Timisoara. The Romanian government was attempting to evict Pastor Laszlo Tokes, the assistant pastor of the Romanian Reformed Church. He was targeted because routinely he gave sermons condemning the government’s oppression of religious freedom and other human rights. A human chain of church members was joined by university students and others, both Romanian and Hungarian. Soon the protest became a more general anti-government demonstration that spread across Romania to bring down Communist dictator Nicolai Ceausescu in Bucharest.
These Eastern European friends were witnesses to the Church’s stand against evil and Communist oppression. Listening to their stories, we appreciated the blessing of our own freedom in the United States as never before. We thanked God for the role that America played in bringing freedom to other nations. We understood that with great blessing came great responsibility. And we honored those who would rather die than live under Communist tyranny.
Germany also remembers and honors those who lost the fight for freedom. Peter Fechter was only 18 years old when he became one of the first victims of the Berlin Wall border guards and was shot trying to climb over the wall on August 17, 1962. He fell back onto the east side of the wall and bled to death. The boy’s agonizing, hour-long death was witnessed by people on both sides of the wall, but his screams for help went unaided, with both sides afraid to intervene.
The memorial to young Peter Fechter constructed on the Zimmerstrasse at the spot where he died reads, “he just wanted Freedom.” Today many Americans, as well as others, seem to have forgotten the value of freedom. Not our beautiful active military forces and the veterans that we honor this weekend. But many Millennials are shockingly ambivalent towards, or even favorable to Communism. Recently a reporter for the left-learning BuzzFeed declared on Twitter that “victims of Communism” is a “white nationist talking point.” The reporter, Blake Montgomery, made his breathtakingly offensive remark after President Donald Trump signed an executive order making November 7 the “National Day for Victims of Communism.” After a backlash, Montgomery deleted his tweet and apologized. But Montgomery is just the tip of the iceberg. Antifa/Students for a Democratic Society (what are they in — a time warp? Or just a mind warp?) use social media to mock and disrespect victims of Communism.
In my most merciful moments, I would like to send them to North Korea.
Alarmingly, the changing perspective on Communism is accompanied by new threats of tyranny as well. One threat is the violent, intolerant ideology of Islamic supremacism and the other is the growth and increasing violence of the anti-Western secularist Left.
Islamists are attempting to force an Islamic state in Europe, under Shari’a law, just as they are attempting to now establish in the Middle East and North Africa. Jihad has left hundreds dead this year alone. Accommodation of and über-tolerance for these extremists, as well as indiscriminate immigration, have led to no-go zones, Islamist enclaves euphemistically named “sensitive urban areas” (SUAs) in France, Germany, and elsewhere. Police and non-Muslims do not enter these areas which operate by their own law. Eastern Europe has resisted this tyranny, being so recently familiar with the Communist form. But they must act with vigilance to maintain the freedom for which they fought.
In America we face the same threat, usually still in the form of a “stealth jihad,” the creeping insurgence of Islamist ideology in America. But increasingly, in the form of jihad, in attacks at Ft. Hood, the Boston Marathon bombing, the honor killings of Muslim women and girls in Dallas, Phoenix, Buffalo, and elsewhere, and the beheading of Americans both by IS abroad and by Islamists right here in America. This despotism of dhimmitude and acquiescence is aided by passivity, political correctness, and pathological denial on the part of both secular and religious, liberal and conservative elements of society. Now it is exacerbated by anarchists and resisters like Antifa that claim to be “against fascism” while deserving to wear brown shirts and jackboots.
We should follow in the footsteps of the freedom-hungry Eastern Europeans and lay waste this tyranny. Otherwise, someday we may have to construct a memorial of our loss in America that reads, “We just didn’t want Freedom enough.”