As I have been looking back through history recently, I am struck by what seem to be parallels between the US today and Germany in the 1930s. They’re not complete parallels, but there are enough similarities that I find myself wondering…
Many Germans in the 1930s were struggling financially. They wanted a strong leader who would make things right again, and so many voted for Adolf Hitler, a man who promised that he would restore Germany to its pre-WWI greatness. It didn’t matter to his supporters that there were followers who were willing to resort to violence to help Hitler enforce his policies.
As is often the case when things are not going well, humans need to find a scapegoat. The situation must be the fault of someone else…that takes any responsibility away decisions from we might have made. And the easiest scapegoats to find are those who are somehow “other.” In Germany it became the Jews. They were described as criminals, parasites, vermin who needed to be exterminated.
Today I see similar language being used towards those who are “other” in the US. Immigrants are being described as invaders, animals, criminals—who need to be exterminated lest they somehow infect the “white race.” How can we not see the similarities?
I find myself wondering as well about the role of the church in all of this. There are some differences between Christianity in the 1930s Germany and Christianity in the US today, but there are also striking similarities.
Germany had a strong Christian background, although it was also laced with a strain of anti-Semitism that has unfortunately been a part of Christian history for centuries. It was easy for Hitler and his party to tap into that strain while at the same time claiming to be in support of Christian values. And also unfortunately, many Christian pastors fell in line, giving Hitler a cover of legitimacy by their support.
There were some—both members and pastors—who saw this relationship between government and the church to be problematic. They felt that rather than following Jesus, too many were following Hitler. Eventually some joined together to try to draw the church back to its foundation where the worship of Jesus was paramount, creating what became known as “the Confessing church.”
I realize this is a simplified portrayal, but the parallels continue to haunt me. Is Christianity in America at the same crossroads Christianity was in Germany in the 1930s? Are those of us who understand Jesus’ call to be ministers to the vulnerable facing the challenges of (1) standing in opposition to the language that negates the humanity of the “other” and (2) needing to band together across denominational lines to try to draw Christianity back to its foundation of worshiping Christ instead of binding the ties tightly between church and government?
I struggle with these questions because I have people whom I like who would say that I am wrong in these feelings. And yet I also cannot ignore the call I feel to stand and speak in support of the vulnerable. I realize that may mean losing friends, and I regret that. But again, the Jesus I worship worked with and ministered to the vulnerable and marginalized—can I do less?