When Adolph Hitler rose to power in the 1920’s and 30’s, Germany was thought to have one of the most Christianized cultures on earth. So where was the Church as the Nazis began their genocidal purges of “undesirable” people groups? Church leaders had to make a choice: They could speak up, or they could risk losing their ministries, their freedom and even their lives.
A majority of pastors, priests, and seminary professors quietly made peace with Hitler. They looked the other way so they could keep their livelihoods. The cowardice of so many German spiritual leaders and intellectuals remains a source of deep shame to this day.
Dr. Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984) was a German Lutheran Pastor. As a military hero of World War I, he was at first sympathetic to the Fuhrer. But when Hitler declared that the Third Reich had ultimate authority in all matters-even over the voice of God- Niemoeller protested. In 1937 he was sent to Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp. Hitler hoped to win back Niemoeller’s loyalty, so he dispatched one of the pastor’s friends to visit him. “Martin, Martin, why are you here?” his friend asked. Niemoeller replied, “My friend, why are you not here?”
He survived more than seven years in the camps, and was liberated when the Allies swept into Germany in the spring of 1945. After the war Niemoeller frequently described the excruciating pressures of deciding whether to speak out or be silent. He is best known for these four lines:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionist, 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 for me.”
We may think that a wavering economy, or some new pandemic, or Chinese trade practices, or those crazy people on the Left or those nut cases on the Right, or terror attacks will finally do us in.
But our real enemy is apathy-sitting on the couch eating popcorn because we’re pretty sure somebody else will step up and take care of things. And no one would take us seriously anyways. Don’t believe it!
“Call on Me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you will honor Me.” (Psalm 50:15)
Even if it feels you’re the only one willing to raise your voice. Speak up.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain