The Time of German Martyrs

Time’s website has reprinted an article from Christmas time, 1940 about the Church in Germany under Hitler. Oh my goodness, if magazines wrote like this today! Even more important, if the Church had a reputation like this today!I recommend you read it carefully and reflect on it. I’d also recommend meditating on Matthew 5:13-16 in conjunction with reading the Time piece.

The Time piece mentions Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor who stood up to the Nazi’s co-opting of the church in Germany. Deitrich Bonhoffer is the better known German Christian because of his excellent writings and the fact that he died in a concentration camp, but Niemoller was an important force also. He too went to a concentration camp but was liberated before his execution. He helped form the Confessing Church in Germany, a group of Protestant pastors who refused to recognize the Church as an organ of the state. This is what the article is referring to when it mentions “Confessional pastors.” You can find out more about Niemoller and the church under Hitler in Erwin Lutzer’s very good book Hitler’s Cross.

There are, however, a few things to keep in mind when reading the Time article. Early in the piece they report “More than 80% of the prisoners in the concentration camps are not Jews but Christian.” That may or may not be accurate. First, it was reported in 1940, early in the war before America’s involvement. Jews at that time may have been being rounded up in ghettos before the reich began large scale extermination in the camps. Also, information about the concentration camps was tightly guarded by the Nazi’s till the Allies liberated them at the end of the war. This number may be inaccurate because of the nature of the intelligence at that time.

In light of the recent presidential election here and some of the talk about how evangelicals would vote, I found this paragraph most instructive:

As exiled Nobel Prizeman Thomas Mann said last week: “There can be no real peace between the cross and the swastika. National socialism is essentially unchristian and antichristian. . . .” Though the conflict between Christianity and Naziism seems inevitable now, it did not seem so when Hitler came into power. Catholics and Protestants alike helped his coup d’├ętat. Martin Niemoller himself supported him. And one of Hitler’s first acts as Chancellor was to declare: “In the two Christian creeds lie the most important factors for the preservation of the German people.” Only in secret did he tell his confidant Hermann Rauschning: “The parsons will be made to dig their own graves. They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable little jobs and incomes. … I can guarantee that they will replace the cross with our swastika.”

What I hope we learn from this is the danger of hitching Christianity to any political power or agenda. Evangelicalism is not a political party or platform. There are times when we should be critical of any political party. In the face of the horror that Naziism was, it is easy to see the danger and folly. When facing the Republican or Democratic (or Libertarian for that matter) party, the danger might be harder to see.


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