Martin Niemöller was a war hero. He had served on U-Boats during the First World War and commanded a U-Boat in 1918 sinking a number of ships. After the war he resigned his commission in the Navy in opposition to the Weimar Republic and briefly was a commander in a local Freikorps unit. His book Vom U-Boot zur Kanzel (From U-boat to Pulpit) traced his journey from the Navy to the pastorate. He became a Pastor and as a Christian opposed what he believed to be the evils of Godless Communism and Socialism. This placed him in the very conservative camp in the years of the Weimar Republic and he rose in the ranks of the United Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union. Active in conservative politics, Niemöller initially support the appointment of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor. However, he quickly soured on Hitler due to his insistence on the state taking precedence over the Church. Niemöller was typical of many Germans of his era and harbored ant-Semitic sentiments that he only completely abandoned his anti-Semitic views until after he was imprisoned. He would spend 8 years as a prisoner of the Nazis a period hat he said changed him including his views about Jews, Communists and Socialists. Niemöller was one of the founding members of the Pfarrernotbund (Pastor’s Emergency Federation) and later the Confessing Church. He was tried and imprisoned in concentration camps due to his now outspoken criticism of the Hitler regime.
Herman Maas was another Evangelical Pastor. Unlike Niemöller, Maas was a active participant in the ecumenical movement, built bridges to the Jewish community and defended the rights of Jews as German citizens. He received a fair amount of criticism for his attendance of Reichspräsident Friedrich Ebert’s funeral. Ebert was both a Socialist and avowed atheist. Maas too was active in the Pfarrernotbund and the Confessing church, and unlike Niemöller maintained his opposition to anti-Semitism and the Nazi policies against the Jews. He would help draft the Barmen declaration. He too would be imprisoned and survive the war. Maas was the first non-Jewish German to be officially invited to the newly formed state of Israel in 1950. In July 1964 Yad Vashem recognized the Maas as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer a young Pastor and theologian would also step up to oppose the Nazis and offer support for the Jews. He helped draft the Bethel Confession which among other things rejected “every attempt to establish a visible theocracy on earth by the church as a infraction in the order of secular authority. This makes the gospel into a law. The church cannot protect or sustain life on earth. This remains the office of secular authority.” He also helped draft the Barmen declaration which opposed and condemned Nazi Christianity. Bonhoeffer would eventually along with members of his family take an active role in the anti-Nazi resistance as a double agent for Admiral Canaris’ Abwehr. For this he would be executed after his final sermon in the concentration camp at Flossenburg just a month prior to the end of the war. Another opponent of the Nazis in the Confessing Church was Swiss-German theologian Karl Barth. Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen but remained active in the criticism of the Nazi regime.
Bishop Galen of Münster and Father and others including Father Rupert Meyer in Munich who opposed Hitler in the early 1920s would also oppose the Nazi policies toward the Church and the Jews. They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis.
All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany. They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches. The Jews were not simply discriminated against as a racial or religious group but also identified with the political left, especially the Social Democrats, Independent Socialists, Communists and the Spartacists. Since the Independent Socialists, Communists and Spartacists were all involved in attempts to create a Soviet state during the early tumultuous years of Weimar and been involved in many acts of violence against traditional German institutions and the state, they were viewed by Hitler and others as part of the Bolshevik-Jewish threat to Germany. Karl Liebnicht and Rosa Luxembourg were among the high profile leaders of this movement in Germany and both were Jewish. The fact that many in the leadership of the Bolshevik movement in the Soviet Union were Jewish added fuel to the fire that the Nazis stoked in Germany. Hitler and the Nazis played on the historic, but muted prejudice against German Jews who in many cases were more secular and German than religious and had assimilated well in Germany. Hitler’s rhetoric as well as that of other Nazis and Nazi publications helped identify the Jews as part of the “Stab in the back” myth that was commonly used by the German right to explain the defeat in the First World War. Thus they were painted as a political and social threat to Germany.
When Hitler took power persecution of the Jews began in earnest. Jews were along with Communists, Trade Unions and Socialists enemies of the state. They were banned from the military, civil service and other government employment, professional associations and forced to wear a gold Star of David on their clothing. Their property was seized, many were abused by SA men acting as deputized auxiliary police and many times their businesses, Synagogues and homes were vandalized, burned or seized by the state. Many would be forced to flee in order not to be sent to ghettos and concentration camps. Even those leaving only escaped with the minimum of their possessions as the Nazi regime extorted anything of value from them as they left Germany. This was all done because Hitler and those like him portrayed the Jews as not only an inferior race, but enemies of the state and the German people.
Today we face a similar movement in conservative circles in the United States. This time it is not the Jews, but Moslems who are the targets of xenophobic rage by many influential members of the “conservative” media, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous others. Their popularity in voicing support for “Christian morale values” such as being against abortion has ingratiated them with conservative Christians. It is so bad that that many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between their vitriolic and un-Christian rage against Moslems, Democrats or anyone else portrayed by the big media talkers as the enemy that they have forgotten the Gospel and become simply an appendage to Republican or “conservative” politicians. It is not uncommon to see Christians on the web or on the call in talk radio programs identify lock stock and barrel with Limbaugh and others identifying the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war. That may seem harsh, but many of these people in the “Conservative Bible project” seek to re-translate the Bible into their own political, social and economic policies even seeking to change or minimize any Scripture that might be equated with the “Social Gospel.” Unfortunately many Christians and others have jumped in on the anti-Moslem and anti-immigrant crusades launched by those on the far right.
These men and women have found new grist in the wake of the traitorous terrorism of the disaffected and possibly psychotic Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood where he killed 13 and wound 30 Soldiers and military civilians. Why Hasan was allowed to continue to serve after numerous reports of his Anti-American and pro-Jihadist is the question that needs to be investigated. However the reaction of some is to treat all Muslims as suspect in a collective manner. This is troubling. I have posted just a few of the comments by various “conservatives” some who are Christians to demonstrate the point.
Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association is demanding that Moslems be removed from the military or other security related positions in government. His position is that until we can prove which Moslems are not going to commit acts of terrorism that we should ban them from the military. His comments are here:
“It it is time, I suggest, to stop the practice of allowing Muslims to serve in the U.S. military. The reason is simple: the more devout a Muslim is, the more of a threat he is to national security. Devout Muslims, who accept the teachings of the Prophet as divinely inspired, believe it is their duty to kill infidels. Yesterday’s massacre is living proof. And yesterday’s incident is not the first fragging incident involving a Muslim taking out his fellow U.S. soldiers. Of course, most U.S. Muslims don’t shoot up their fellow soldiers. Fine. As soon as Muslims give us a foolproof way to identify their jihadis from their moderates, we’ll go back to allowing them to serve. You tell us who the ones are that we have to worry about, prove you’re right, and Muslims can once again serve. Until that day comes, we simply cannot afford the risk. You invent a jihadi-detector that works every time it’s used, and we’ll welcome you back with open arms. This is not Islamophobia, it is Islamo-realism.”
Pat Robertson of the 700 Club and Regent University said:
“Islam is a violent–I was going to say religion–but it’s not a religion. It’s a political system. It’s a violent political system bent on the overthrow of governments of the world and world domination.”
“They talk about infidels and all this. But the truth is, that’s what the game is. You’re dealing with not a religion. You’re dealing with a political system. And I think you should treat it as such and treat it’s adherents as such. As we would members of the Communist party and members of some Fascist group.”
Dave Gaubatz, author of Muslim Mafia said:
“Politicians, Muslims, and law enforcement are concerned about a ‘backlash’ against Muslims. Now is the time for a professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders.” The post was redacted later by the website that it was on to change “backlash against the Muslim community” to “backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood.” I guess the website realized that the use of the term community went a bit far.
Brigitte Gabriel of the American Congress for Truth told students at the Joint Forces Staff College in response to the question “Should we resist Muslims who want to seek political office in this nation?”
“Absolutely. If a Muslim who has — who is — a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”
Tell that to the Moslem Soldiers and Marines who have given their lives for this country and their fellow warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of those include: U. S. Army Corporal Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, U.S. Army Specialist Rasheed Sahib who was accidently shot to death by a fellow soldier in Iraq, U.S. Army Major James Ahearn, killed by a bomb in Iraq, Army Captain Humayun Khan, who lured a suicide car bomb away from the men in his charge, saving their lives but giving up his own, Army Spc. Rasheed Sahib, an American Muslim from Guyana, Army Spc. Omead Razani, a son of Iranian immigrants or Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, who was killed in a helicopter crash, and sadly many more.
Popular Talk Radio host and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck made this comment back in December 2006:
“I’m telling you, with God as my witness… human beings are not strong enough, unfortunately, to restrain themselves from putting up razor wire and putting you on one side of it. When things—when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up. Is that wrong? Oh my gosh, it is Nazi, World War II wrong, but society has proved it time and time again: It will happen.”
Timothy Rollins of the American Partisan suggests in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings:
“While the dust is still settling and everything starts getting sorted out with the usual deflections away from the truth that this administration is notorious for doing, there is no better time than now to improve the safety of our military, and this can best be done by enacting the Great Muslim Purge from our military and other national security apparatuses. These people need to be removed from every security post, even to be completely removed from all levels of government employment, be it federal, state, county, city or other municipality. This applies especially to universities. To keep them employed in these positions places our food, water, and other essential services at unacceptable risk.”
Of course there is Doug Giles an unabashed “Christian” columnist for Townhall.com using scripture to justify torture making this delightfully Christian comment in one of his columns about the practice of water boarding: “Please note: If Christ wasn’t cool with irrigating irate Islamicists for facts, I must admit, I would still have to green light our boys getting data from enemy combatants 007 style. Stick a fire hose up their tailpipe and turn it on full blast. I don’t care. I’m not as holy as most of you super saints or as evolved as some of you progressive atheists purport to be. Security beats spirituality in this scenario, as far as I’m concerned.”
This is so similar to the Nurnberg Laws and the Aryan Paragraph issued by the Nazis that it is scary. Likewise the threats to American Moslems of placing them “behind razor wire” as we did to American Japanese citizens in World War II are chilling. I wonder how Christians would react if an atheist or someone on the political left suggested all conservative Christians or members of pro-Life groups be imprisoned for the actions of Christians or pro-Life movement members like Scott Roeder or Eric Rudolph who killed to stop abortion or Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church?
This new found militancy has swept up the “Christian right” and others since 9-11 and has reached proportions that I could never have imagined. After my tour in Iraq I realized that much of what these people were saying was not Christian at all and when taken to their logical conclusion would be a police state in which anyone who opposed them would be persecuted. In Iraq I met many good Moslems fighting on our side against jihadists and terrorists many of whom have great respect and appreciation of the Christian faith and are more tolerant to Christians than many Christians are to Moslems. These men put their families at risk to side with us to try to free Iraq from Al Qaida terror. Almost all had lost family and friends to extremists.
As for the suggestions or demands that all Moslems be investigated and removed from the military these people insist that such action is necessary in the name of “security” and “protecting the Constitution.” All Moslems, even those who are loyal American citizens as well as those from Iraq and other nations who fight and die alongside Americans are placed on the same level as the fanatics and terrorists. I question the motivations of the leaders of the movement but believe that most of the Christian conservatives have been caught up in the anger and the emotion of the times versus being true believers in what these men say. That being said, you don’t have to be a true believer to be a willing accomplice in actions that first are not Christian and second trample on the Constitutional rights of American citizens.
I could keep citing examples but if someone can show me where this is condoned in the Gospels I would like to know. The fact is that Christians are to place God first and defend the rights of others, even non-believers. This is found not only in Scripture but runs through the Christian tradition across the denominational spectrum unfortunately there are Americans such as Marine Reservist Jasen Bruce have gone “terrorist hunting” and misidentifying a Greek Orthodox Priest as a Jihadist attacking him because of he didn’t speak English. http://www.tampabay.com/news/publicsafety/crime/article1050707.ece Admittedly people like Bruce are idiots, but it doesn’t take much to push some people over the edge.
The fact that so many people are suggesting such actions against American Moslems is troubling on a number of levels especially when those doing so claim to be Christians. First is that it is the Church, or member’s thereof adopting a non-Christian worldview and attempting to use the state to enact legislation and laws against minority groups that they oppose, in this case the Moslems. The fact that we live in a secular state, something that many of our Nation’s founding Fathers intended it to be, especially in regard to religion being mandated by the state is a point lost on many of these people. Many Christians have completely embraced the mythology of the United States being a “Christian Nation.” With some even regarding the Constitution as a God inspired document. For a more detailed critique of the Christian Nation mythology see Jared Holloway’s article on his Saepe Nihil Cogitamus website: http://jzholloway.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/did-the-founding-fathers-usa-found-the-nation-as-a-christian-nation/
Thankfully there are some, including the daughters of one of the men killed by Major Hasan who said on CBS The Early Show Kerry Cahill said:
“You can’t blanket a whole group of people. There’s extremists in every religion, and there’s extremists all over the world…when this man was obviously ill, I think.” Her sister Keely Vanacker said, “The death of our father or any of these victims shouldn’t be an excuse or a reason to begin to hate an entire group of people.”
There are also leaders of the Religious Right who have taken a stand against such action, Reverend Rob Schenck, President of the National Clergy Council, comments in regard to the Moslem prayer vigil in Washington D.C. earlier this year: ”With over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, it is important that Christians have an open dialogue with the Islamic community. The church must never be timid in reaching out to peoples and groups with differing beliefs and traditions. Too much is at stake for future generations not to begin this historic conversation. This is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.”
And the Reverend Patrick J. Mahoney, Director of the Christian Defense Coalition states:
“The heart of Christ is to reach out and build bridges to all peoples regardless of what their faith traditions or beliefs might be. Several years ago the Christian Defense Coalition began reaching out to the Muslim world which resulted in a prayer delegation going to Baghdad to pray for the nation of Iraq and Prime Minister Maliki. Since then we have had many conversations and discussions with Islamic leaders in Washington, D.C. and around the world. This news conference gives us another chance to dialogue and share with our Islamic neighbors. It also gives us the platform to celebrate the greatness of America where everyone is allowed to practice their faith tradition in the public square free from government interference of harassment. The prayer vigil on the lawn of the Capitol this Friday highlights that timeless truth. Since 9/11, the church should not run from Muslims in America but begin reaching out with God’s love.”
What the good people who suggesting these punitive actions against American Moslems do is dangerous, not just for Moslems and other minorities but for them. American and English law is based on legal precedence. Once something has been determined to be legal, or constitutional it is considered by the law to be settled law. This is a point made by Chief Justice Roberts regarding Roe v. Wade at his confirmation hearings. If Christians want to use the law against Moslems or for that matter any other minority be it religious or political they tread on very dangerous ground. Not only do they make a mockery of the Gospel command to love our neighbors, care for the foreigners among us and to be a witness to non-Christians support policies or laws that if enacted could and very well would be used against them by their opponents. Law is all about precedent and if such laws were enacted and upheld by the courts they would be settled law that could be used against anyone. What these dear brothers and sisters fail to realize is that such laws can be turned against them if the state should ever decided based on the statements of actions of some that the Christian community is a threat to state security of the public welfare. With the actions of some radical Christians who have committed murder and violence against political, social and religious opponents it would not be hard for the government to label whole churches as enemies of the state. The law is a two edged sword and those who want to use it to have the state enforce their religious, social, ideological or political beliefs on others need to remember what comes around goes around.
The Confessing church understood this and many were imprisoned, exiled or killed for this belief. The founding fathers of this country understood this too, that is why there is the Constitution protection of Religion in the First Amendment. This was put in because Virginia Baptists who had been persecuted by Anglicans lobbied James Madison for the amendment in the Bill of Rights threatening to withdraw their support for his candidacy if he did not. Niemöller would discover the depths of his earlier folly in prison telling one interviewer after the war:
“I find myself wondering about that too. I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true that Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became Chancellor, in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: ‘There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany. I really believed given the widespread anti-Semitism in Germany, at that time—that Jews should avoid aspiring to Government positions or seats in the Reichstag. There were many Jews, especially among the Zionists, who took a similar stand. Hitler’s assurance satisfied me at the time. On the other hand, I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and the Communists. Their hostility toward the Church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not me alone, but thousands of other persons like me.”
It is easy for well meaning people Niemöller to be bought with promises of support by politicians and media types who speak the words they want to hear in difficult times. So today I suggest the formation of an ecumenical Pastor’s Emergency League which will not be bought by the empty and godless promises of hate mongers on the right or the left. Such a group of men and women spanning the breadth of the Christian tradition and others that see the danger of extremism of all types is becoming necessary. Such a step is becoming necessary due to the militancy of the Christian right as well as the militancy of atheist groups who lobby against all public religious expression by any religion. Such a League would respect the various creeds and statements of faith of each member’s denomination. The movement o the right has set a dangerous course fraught with perils that they do not comprehend. Just allow those that they believe are oppressing or persecuting them now to be empowered with the precedent of laws discriminating against specific religious groups against the Christians that supported them in the first place. It will be a bitter poison indeed when that happens to them later if American Moslems were to be targets by such laws.
We have entered a dangerous phase of American history. These movements have the potential not only to oppress law-abiding and patriotic American Moslems and to crush the religious freedoms of all in this county. Suggesting that American citizens, including those who serve the county in the military or government of entire religious or ethnic groups be targeted for punitive action on the basis of extremists and fanatics like Major Hasan sets a precedent that is chilling.
Niemöller would say it well in this poem:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.