Preface: This post comes in the midst of my Lenten journey in which I have become reacquainted with the works of those who confronted Nazi policies that placed their ideology over the Christian faith. During this time I was not expecting to begin to see certain commentators actually attempt to blatantly attack a key part of the witness of the Christian Church in telling Christians to place political ideology over faith and recommend that church members leave their church if it does not conform to those commentators’ political ideology. As a historian as well as a Priest I can only draw parallels to the Nazis who placed their ideology above the Church and persecuted those who stood against them, even before they took power. Glenn Beck did just that this week, though not in power he has thrown down a gauntlet to the Church which does not agree with his ideology and strikingly urged church members to leave their churches if those churches had “social justice” as one of their belief’s equating it with Communism and Fascism. This is an attack on the church and as a Priest I cannot be silent. There would be some that will disagree saying that the Left is more of a threat and I do not disagree that ideologues on any part of the spectrum can threaten religious liberty, however I have never seen anyone as popular as Beck is with the Right, who on the Left propose what Beck has this past week. That is why I must oppose Beck on this issue now. I do hope that my readers understand that this is not an attack on conservatives or conservative principles but rather against a man whose ideas if carried to their logical conclusion would be dangerous. Beck talks a lot about faith and religion on his show which attracts many listeners but he seems to believe that religious expression is one in the same with political ideology.
“It is not God who divides us but human beings. The Almighty has blessed our work; therefore it cannot be destroyed. No power within or without the Reich will keep us from going our way into the future.” Adolf Hitler speaking in an address at Regensburg July 7th 1937 referring to the arrests of 11 Catholic Priests who condemned Nazi policies.
“We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” Martin Niemöller
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16)
The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions.” The Barmen Declaration Article Three.
I do not think that people learn anything from history. This week Glenn Beck called his own church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints “Communist or Fascist” its official statements of beliefs regarding social justice. Now I may disagree with LDS theology but I hardly think them to be Communist or Fascist in fact I think for the most part they are to be commended for their love of this country as well as their ethic of doing good and taking care of needy LDS members. Not only did Beck call his own church these rather pejorative names but he recommended that people not only leave the church but urged the same for any member of any church that espouses social justice in their official beliefs. To quote Beck:
“I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”
Beck went on the attack this week against churches who teach social justice. The reason according to Beck is that “Social justice was the rallying cry—economic justice and social justice—the rallying cry on both the communist front and the fascist front….” He went on and attacked his own church saying “Where I go to church, there are members that preach social justice as members–my faith doesn’t–but the members preach social justice all the time. It is a perversion of the gospel….” When called out had to try to reframe his very clear attack on his own church’s official doctrine as well as so many other churches and religions groups. Speaking as a Christian I cannot answer for other religions but Beck has attacked the clear commands of Scripture and the Christian tradition of caring for the least and the lost in elevating his ideology above both his own church as well as the vast majority of Christian faith and belief that goes back 2000 years. He has sought to divide people from their churches and from the faithful of their traditions for political expediency. However Beck is not the first to do so. Let us take a trip back to the end of the Weimar Republic and Nazi era….
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 angrily denounced Naziism when it attempted to create new “German Christian” churches in which National Socialist political theories were given the same sanctity as theological dogma. Barth went into exile as a Swiss citizen after being removed from his professorship at the University of Bonn for refusing to take the mandatory oath to Adolf Hitler, alter his teaching to meet Nazi standards or begin class with the customary “Heil Hitler!” He would say that it would be in bad taste “to begin a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount with Heil Hitler.” For his efforts he was found guilty by a Nazi court of “seducing the minds” of German students. For an excellent short article on Barth see “Witness to an Ancient Truth” Time Magazine April 20th 1962 online at http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,873557-1,00.html
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, the Jews and Nazi policies on euthanasia. They would also end up in concentrations camps with some dying at the hands of the Nazis, in fact over 2000 priests and Protestant ministers from Germany and occupied countries were housed at Dachau.
All these men took risks to defend the Jews who were religious minority group that had been traditionally discriminated against in Germany as well as other groups, political and religious. They opposed the Nazi policies which were widely supported by much of the German populace making them unpopular in their own churches as well as among the traditionally conservative supporters of the Evangelical and Catholic Churches. Since I have dealt with the Nazi persecution and atrocities against the Jews and others in other posts I will not elaborate further here.
Not only were Jews the enemy but so were any parties that disagreed with the Nazi policies including the church or rather the church that refused to surrender to them. Likewise military officers who stood by the Republic against Nazi and other right-wing putsches during the 1920s, men who risked all to defend the rights of people on both sides of the political chasm that divided the country.
Deposed after the Nazi seizure of power General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord was deposed as head of the German Army and in retirement worked against the Nazis including the Valkyrie plot until his death from Cancer in 1944
Leftist accused them of being reactionaries and Monarchists while the right did whatever they could to discredit men like General Wilhelm Groener, General Major Walther Reinhardt, General der Infantrie Georg Maerker, General der Infrantie Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord and General Kurt von Schleicher were either driven from office and ostracized, forced out of the military or in the case of von Schleicher killed by the SS during the “night of the long knives.”
Confidant of President Hindenburg, opponent of the Nazis and briefly Chancellor of the Weimar Republic General Kurt von Schleicher would be assassinated by the Nazis during the Night of the Long Knives
Additionally other men who kept the German Republic from becoming a Communist state notably Gustave Noske of the Social Democratic Party who was the first Reichswehr Minister and who with his successor Otto Geßler of the German Democratic Party worked with the military leadership to keep both the extreme left in the form of the Spartacist League, the Independent Socialists and from the extreme Right who attempted to overthrow the government in the Kapp Putsch. All were treated shamefully by the Nazis and even their successors did not fare well, to consolidate power Hitler had the General Leutnant Werner Freiherr von Fritsch falsely accused of homosexual acts and disgraced and evidence points to his murder on the Polish front in 1939 as the “honorary colonel” of his old Regiment. Those who opposed Hitler and the Nazis later in the war, even those who were genuine heroes were put to death before Nazi “People’s Courts.” They did the same with politicians who they viewed to be threats to their rule, even conservatives not just Socialists or Communists. Religious leaders who resisted both Protestant and Catholic were sent to concentration camps where many did not return from.
Too frequently we here Beck and others call Americans with views different from their ideology “traitors” or “un American.” Before Iraq I listened to talk radio almost every day and when I came back I could no longer stomach the invective and malice that is so widespread among these commentators. If they continue to dominate “conservative” politics then I fear that they will use the power of the government and media to silence those that oppose them and it will not matter if the opponent has served in the military as they routinely condemn former high ranking military officers who disagree with them such. These propagandists are not patriots and neither Beck nor any of the major conservative talk show hosts have served a day in the military yet they influence “conservative” opinion more than anyone else and dare to slander those in the military or those who have served honorably including Senator John McCain who dare to disagree with them. The Nazis did the same thing.
Today we face a similar movement by some “conservative” voices in the United States. Many influential members of the “conservative” media, including Rush Limbaugh and most recently Glenn Beck who I have previously referred to own the airwaves, their words listened to often more than those of the Gospel. They derive some of their popularity from voicing support for “Christian moral values” such as being against abortion. This has endeared them to many conservative Christians who listen to them more than their faith or religious institutions. Unfortunately many “conservative” Christians cannot differentiate between the vitriolic and un-Christian rage of these talkers against anyone identified 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 agree lock stock and barrel Beck and others on the crass materialism and social Darwinism of “pure” Capitalism and the anti-Christian policy of pre-emptive war, even when they attacked Pope John Paul II when he refused to countenance the invasion of Iraq. Beck uses Scripture only to give his ideology, whatever it may be some semblance of decency. What Karl Barth said of Nazi ideology can be said of Beck’s ideology: “This was a nationalist heresy…. confusion between God and the spirit of the German nation.” Pundits and politicians on the Left may also place ideology over religion however they seldom espouse the heresy of linking the Christian faith with the spirit and destiny of the United States.
That may seem harsh, but there is a group led by Andrew Schlafly the “Conservative Bible project” that 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 to the “Social Gospel.” I guess if Beck wants he can get a copy when it comes out. If you don’t like what Scripture says change it…right?
I cannot sit by while Beck and others smear people including churches who disagree with their ideology which does not rest on Scripture or but merely uses it to inflame people into actions that turn them against the members of their own churches. This unfortunately is evil masquerading as good. Too many turned their eyes away from the Nazi menace thinking that Hitler could be reasoned with and that he really stood for their values. Too few stood up early to sound a warning. My issue with Beck and others like him be they pundits, talk show hosts, media personalities or politicians of any stripe regardless of whether they come from the right or the left do what Beck did this week I will call them on it. People can play political games and fight all they want but when they attack the Church for political and ideological gain, seek to divide it against itself or co-opt churches to do their bidding then I have a problem. I do not care if that threat comes from the Left as it sometimes does or the Right where a few years ago I would not think it was possible to come from. Unfortunately Beck’s message is main stream to many of his followers regardless of their faith and this is a threat to religious freedom for if those like Beck gained power then religious freedom would only be for those who agree not with Scripture or 2000 years of the Christian tradition but for those who agree with the ideology espoused by Beck and those like him. It would be the “freedom” of the German Christians who gave themselves to the Nazi ideology to be “free.” Ideas have consequences and when one advocates revolution and for people to leave their churches for any political ideology it is a grave threat to religious freedom.
Beck and those like him are enemies of freedom of religion. For Beck that cannot be blamed on being a Mormon. In fact he has attacked, perverted and misconstrued the doctrine of that church as well as the Roman Catholic Church and numerous Protestant denominations spanning the theological spectrum simply because he paints them “progressives” which is simply another word for Communist or Fascist. Beck is an enemy of religious liberty because he places his political ideology over that of the Gospel, not just that of his own church, but others. That is why he should be opposed and confronted every time that he makes such statements. They reveal his true heart, ideology and intentions and no amount of backtracking, excuses or attempts to change the subject can alter that hard cold and brutal fact. His sleight of hand to go on the attack and criticize offenders on the left, notably Jeremiah Wright only clouds the issue and does not change the fundamental truth of Beck’s worldview. Likewise his attempt to separate the Church from the poor is destructive and if Christians want to follow Beck’s teaching then they chose evil over truth. As Father James Martin SJ said in America “Glenn Beck’s desire to detach social justice from the Gospel is a subtle move to detach care for the poor from the Gospel. But a church without the poor, and a church without a desire for a just social world for all, is not the church. At least not the church of Jesus Christ.” http://www.americamagazine.org/blog/entry.cfm?blog_id=2&id=21159420-3048-741E-7761300524585116
To again quote the Barmen Declaration”
“Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)
The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of th free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.” The Barmen Declaration Article 6
I am afraid of the Glenn Beck’s of the world. We appear to be at a precipice that we may or may not be able to pull back from. The Nazis used the same kind of language to attack the Christian faith and co-opt the vast majority of them. Men like Niemöeller, Bonhoeffer and many others were sent to the concentration camps, tried by kangaroo courts and some killed. I was on another blog where the discussion of this has been heated. I don’t like getting called a communist by allegedly “Christian” people who have bought Beck’s vision hook, line and sinker. If this is Beck’s version of the faith he can keep it. Unfortunately the rhetoric is so high, the division so deep and the anger so real that I am afraid that the fuse of violence may have been laid and that nothing will stop it especially with Beck and others stoking the fire on a daily basis on television and radio. Beck seems to be predicting and almost hoping for some kind of violent revolution seizing upon the now boiling anger on the Right and to some extent on the Left, anger that has consumed and co-opted so many conservative Christians is so great that at sometimes I wonder if this can end well though I do not predict civil war or revolution like Beck.
While I criticize Beck I cannot exclude from criticism those on the Left who have used angry, inflamed and hateful language and actions which also raises ante in ideological clash because it does take more than one faction to stir the witches’ cauldron of hatred which threatens not just religious liberty, but all liberty in this nation. I will pray for peace, respect and mutual understanding and I will not give up hope or resign myself to despair as my faith is in Christ crucified and resurrected. I will maintain the faith and remember the words of Bonhoeffer which help to undergird me in times like these:
“The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer