The Confessing–and Faithful–Church

Every day I receive an e-mail from the Christian History Institute with a feature story about some aspect of church history, highlighting the faithfulness of Christians in ages past. Today’s was especially poignant to me as it revealed the stark difference between those who link their Christianity too closely to the State and those who stand for righteousness when the State does not.

This account centers on Nazi Germany, but the principles remain the same for any nation:

After Hitler came to power, he confronted Christians in Germany with uncomfortable choices. At first, few pastors seemed to recognize where Hitler was taking the church. He sought to co-opt both Lutheran and Reformed churches to support his National Socialist Party.

Many church people supported him. Sick of the decadence that had characterized the previous government, the “Weimar Republic,” many hoped that the Führer, with his emphasis on history and tradition, might usher in spiritual renewal. Others feared the Communists more than the Nazis.

Playing on the fears and longings of churchgoers, Hitler nationalized the church under a single bishop with a Nazi-inspired constitution. German churches were ordered to eject Jewish Christians, to accept Hitler as a prophet, and to accept German racial consciousness—which exalted the Aryan race above all others—as a second revelation. The so-called “German Christians” elected Ludwig Müller, an ardent Nazi, as their “Reichs-bishop.”

To keep their jobs, hundreds of clergymen accepted Müller’s racist and political restrictions. But a minority of church leaders did not. Martin Niemoller brought them together, inviting all German pastors to join what he called the Pastors’ Emergency League.

Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others joined him. These men insisted that the church belonged under the headship of Christ, not the state, and must obey God rather than national leaders. They urged German pastors to bind themselves by Scripture and centuries-old, reliable confessions of faith.

To their credit, once the stakes were made clear, many pastors resigned from the state church. A number of Protestants who stood against the Nazis gathered at the city of Barmen to discuss the situation and prepare a response. They called themselves the Confessing Church because they clung to the old confessions of faith. Niemoller and Bonhoeffer went to prison; Bonhoeffer died there. Barth fled to Switzerland. A number of Roman Catholic priests also resisted the Nazis. Some, like Bernhard Lichtenberg, died in concentration camps.

On this day, 4 January 1934, Reichs-bishop Müller tried to silence critics of the Nazi church, issuing a “muzzling order” forbidding them from speaking about the church-state issue from their pulpits. However, the Confessing Church refused to be silenced.

In May, they issued the Barmen Declaration, whose primary authors were famous Reformed theologian Karl Barth and Lutheran theologian Hans Asmussen. One of its key statements read, “We reject the false doctrine that beyond its special commission the church should and could take on the nature, tasks, and dignity which belong to the state, and thus become itself an organ of the state.”

The leaders of the confessing church’s deepest concern was to call the entire German church to a much-needed renewal. This renewal did not take place until after the fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Two things struck me in this account: first was the fear that seemed to be the motivation for many to accept Hitler’s regime; second was the courage it took for the Confessing Church to stand up to the pressure of conforming.

The fear was ostensibly valid due to the moral decadence that dominated the culture. When we allow fear to drive our actions, principle is often abandoned.

The courage was remarkable, as each member of the Confessing Church knew the probability of facing severe persecution and death. Many, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, were martyred for their faithfulness to Christ.

What of American Christians? How many of us would succumb to the fear that compromises the faith if the government tried to dictate in the same way Hitler did? How many of us would choose instead to stand for Christ and be the salt and light we are called to be?

What Jesus told His disciples 2000 years ago still resonates today:

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. (Mark 8:34-38)

Historical Ignorance & Hiroshima

At HiroshimaPresident Obama was in Japan a few days ago, where he laid a wreath at Hiroshima, the site of the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Many were concerned he would turn this event into another apology for America. That was a valid fear since he seems to consider his own country to be responsible for most of the evils of the modern era.

I’ve read through his speech at Hiroshima. There is no apology per se, but the language does suggest an unwillingness to differentiate between aggressor and victim in how American involvement in WWII began. He mentioned how wars are caused by a “base instinct for domination or conquest,” yet pointedly never identified who was seeking domination and conquest at the time. His words leave it open to the possibility that America was just as guilty.

Let’s be clear: there is no moral equivalence historically with respect to the combatants in WWII. Too many Americans in our current generation suffer from severe historical ignorance.

Japan, in the years leading up to the war, was ruled by a military with a fascist worldview, which included a sense of ethnic superiority—all other peoples were inferior to the Japanese. Lacking certain natural resources, that ideology led them to invade and conquer the peoples around them and take over the resources they wanted.

Pearl Harbor AttackIt also led to 7 December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor that sought to take America out of the equation, thereby clearing Japan’s path of domination and conquest.

That attack killed nearly 3,000 Americans and is what drew our nation into this world war. What followed was an unbroken series of atrocities at the hands of the Japanese military: Bataan Death March and prison camps that rivaled anything Hitler concocted.

That’s another key point: Japan was in alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. As soon as America declared war on Japan (although Pearl Harbor made it clear who declared war first), Hitler declared war on America in solidarity with his Asian ally.

Once America and her allies began to push the Japanese out of their occupied areas, the Japanese government pledged to fight to the last man against any invasion force. Allied military analysts predicted extremely high casualties not only for their own troops, but for the Japanese as well.

The Manhattan Project was the secret development of the atomic bomb. It was begun only because Hitler was working on getting the weapon also. A world in which Hitler had an atomic bomb and no one else did, would have been a world living in constant fear of what a madman would do with it.

Truman & Atomic BombPresident Truman, after the surrender of Germany, received word at the Postdam Conference in July 1945 that the bomb had been tested successfully. Was he now going to use it?

Here’s where our historical ignorance enters in again. It has become fashionable to blame America for using this terrible weapon. Yet if you had been the president at that time, here is what you would have considered, and it’s what Truman considered: dropping one bomb might end the entire war without any further casualties for American troops.

Given the choice between an invasion that would have resulted in more American deaths and an even higher number of Japanese deaths, or the dropping of one bomb that would be devastating enough to bring the Japanese to stop fighting, Truman made the choice that was actually more humane.

In an attempt to minimize the deaths of Japanese civilians, leaflets were dropped over Hiroshima telling the people that devastation was coming; they were urged to leave.

After the bomb decimated Hiroshima, did the Japanese military realize they needed to end the war? Hardly. They pressed their scientists to come up with the same weapon. That led to the dropping of a second bomb, this time on Nagasaki.

The saddest part of this episode to me is that Nagasaki wasn’t the first choice of a target and became the target only because of the weather. Nagasaki was the most Christian city in Japan and was most resistant to the government’s policies. Such are the cruel ironies of war.

Even after the Nagasaki bombing, the military refused to surrender. The only authority in Japan that could overrule the military, the emperor, finally decided to do so. He addressed the Japanese people on the radio, informing them that the war was over. The military tried to stop the broadcast, but was unsuccessful. Many of the top military leaders then committed suicide.

These facts are either ignored or glossed over today. There is this great desire to paint America as the heartless combatant. Yet that is far from the truth.

Here is an excellent video—only 5 minutes and with interesting graphics, so you ought to invest those 5 minutes in watching it—that provides a fine overview of the Hiroshima decision. The speaker is Father Wilson Miscamble, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. After viewing it, in conjunction with what I’ve written here, I hope you will have a clearer understanding of what took place and why.

Ignorance of history can be corrected. What’s harder to correct is an ideology that seeks to remain ignorant.

Huckabee, the Iran Deal, & Reality

Mike Huckabee 2Mike Huckabee is being very vocal about the terrible consequences that will flow from this proposed deal with Iran. Both liberals/Democrats and some in his own party have taken him to task for his comments. For the record, here is what he said, in context:

This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven. This is the most idiotic thing, this Iran deal. It should be rejected by both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and by the American people. I read the whole deal. We gave away the whole store. It’s got to be stopped.

It was the phrase “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven” that has caused the consternation. The implication was clear; this deal is something Hitler would have approved.

Candidates should be careful not to use the Hitler comparison too often. One must be sure it really applies. In this case, though, I believe it does. The Iranians have made their position perfectly clear: all Jews must die. That’s not merely a sentiment expressed in private; they have boldly declared that goal to the world.

What could be more Hitler-like than that?

Some have accused Huckabee of being desperate, as he lags behind in the polls, and that he only said this to move up his numbers. On the other hand, I am convinced he really means what he says. He has been to Israel countless times—and not only when running for president—and is a genuine friend of that nation, concerned about its future survival. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I applaud him for being bold enough to say what needs to be said.

One wishes our administration had the same view. Instead, with this “deal,” Obama and Kerry have pretty much shown their true colors:

Surrender

Personally, I’m convinced both Obama and Kerry are deluded into thinking Iran is a potential ally. This delusion has led to the current deal:

Right Where We Want Him

Their willingness to give up the store, so to speak, is leading us toward nuclear disaster:

Loopholes

Iran’s rhetoric has not changed since this agreement was signed. Its government continues to declare its outright hostility to America and Israel, and even Kerry had to admit some of the billions of dollars to be released to the Iranians could lead to more American deaths. Tell me again: why would we ever want to ratify such a failed piece of diplomacy?

Kerry has said he is “disturbed” by some of the Iranians’ comments, but apparently he’s not disturbed enough to be snapped back to reality. What will it take?

That's Disturbing

Congress needs to take its responsibility seriously. It must defeat this deal with two regimes that cannot be trusted:

History of Deception

Indeed, there is nothing trustworthy about this president or any of his minions.

Introducing Barack Chamberlain Obama

Rudy Giuliani got himself in hot water with the Obama media a few days ago when he declared that he doesn’t think Obama loves America. It’s fascinating how a media that doesn’t seem to have much love for America itself jumped all over that statement. And of course they then tried to tie that to Scott Walker, asking him if he thought Obama loved America. He made a smart move politically, not directly affirming what Giuliani said, but not forthrightly renouncing him either.

It probably wasn’t the best move on Giuliani’s part to say it the way he did. As one commentator noted, quoting Scripture, “by their fruits you will know them.” Far better to point to the One’s actions and/or inactions as evidence of where his heart is.

For instance, he can’t bring himself to say that what we’re battling is really connected to Islam. He won’t blame Islamists for anything. Yet when three Muslims are killed in North Carolina, over what local officials say was a parking dispute, he immediately inserts himself into the situation, warning against a climate of Islamophobia:

It's About Religion

We’re supposed to ignore, of course, that the murderer is an atheist, a supporter of gay marriage, and in every way possible, a man who probably would have voted for Obama. No, this has to be about people who hate Islam—in the president’s mind.

He really goes out of his way to absolve Islam from any blame for atrocities. His wording at times is downright ludicrous:

Pen Is Mightier

Since he blames the West for the “grievances” of those who become terrorists, he rather simple-mindedly believes that if we give them more money and make them feel secure with jobs, all this nastiness will magically go away. One cartoonist recently gave his suggestion on the kinds of jobs we could offer the terrorists:

ISIS Employment

There are historical precedents/similarities that I see here. In the 1930s, most of the Western world fooled itself into believing that Hitler was a problem that could be controlled. He had “legitimate grievances” that could be addressed, and once they were, he would cease being aggressive. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain infamously sold out the Czechs in the Munich agreement in 1938. All that did was spur Hitler on to greater expansion of his power. We have a new Neville Chamberlain today.

Man in Mirror

I fear that if we have another modern-day Pearl Harbor, our president’s response will be something like this:

Edited

By the way, I’m predicting another Pearl Harbor/9/11 event. If it occurs on Obama’s watch, we will be in dire straits.

No Place at the Table

In a speech last night, Hosni Mubarak said he would not run again for president of Egypt in the next election, slated for September. That’s hardly going to satisfy the protesters. In the words of almost every commentator I’ve read, it’s “too little, too late.” The protesters will settle for nothing but a total capitulation and a new government run by those who didn’t work with Mubarak.

But who will those people be?

As I noted two days ago, a radical organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, wants to take advantage of this crisis to propel itself to the top. If that happens, it will not be an improvement. The Brotherhood is the umbrella group for all the terrorist movements in the Middle East, from Hezbollah in Lebanon to Hamas in the Palestinian territories. The Brotherhood has called for all-out war against Israel and seeks to kill every last Jew, if possible.

Is this really who we want in charge of Egypt?

Mubarak is no prize, but change for change’s sake is not true reform. A couple of political cartoonists have captured the point perfectly:

Careful—we might get snakebit.

In the midst of this chaos and possible takeover by Muslim extremists, what should America’s stance be? I realize we don’t have control over the situation; no president can dictate what will happen. Yet shouldn’t we be doing everything we can to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from taking power? One would hope so, but President Obama seems to be “making nice” with the terrorists. As reported on the Hot Air blog:

Welcome to the new reality of cold, hard choices in Egypt, and the consequences of democracy in regions where radicalism thrives.  In order to stay ahead of the crisis in Egypt, the Obama administration yesterday signaled that it supports the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egyptian politics as long as they renounce violence and commit to democracy.

Oh, well then, that shouldn’t be too hard. Surely we can expect them to do us that tiny little favor, right? For some reason, the Obama adminstration believes that allowing them a place at the table in the Egyptian government will make them into peaceful, loving, small-d democrats.

As a historian, I remember another instance when a nation thought that would happen. It was Germany in 1933. The majority party concluded that by allowing Hitler into the inner circles of power that they could keep a better watch on him and possibly tame his wilder notions. That certainly worked out wonderfully, didn’t it?

The Muslim Brotherhood is a bloodthirsty, racist, Islamist-indoctrinated abomination. It deserves no place at any table. Will the U.S. administration wake up to that reality or not? If not—if we play a role in establishing them as “respectable”—we will suffer the consequences.

The Civility Ploy

Tonight is the State of the Union Address.  I predict that the two words we’ll hear repeatedly are “civility” and “investment.” The latter has to do with more government spending disguised as “investing in our future.” The former is now the new catchword for politics.

I believe in civility. While I do have a sense of humor and like to poke fun at absurdities in our public life, there’s a line that should not be crossed. The problem is this—that line is subjective. For instance, is this cartoon uncivil?

Or is it simply illustrating the rather rabid rhetoric that has emanated from the Left, not just in the past few weeks, but ever since I can remember? Surely you recall all the Bush hatred, publicly stated. How about the pictures of Bush as Hitler? Go back to Ronald Reagan and we learn that he was a warmonger who loved to starve schoolchildren and throw old people out on the streets.

In the House last week, one Democrat representative made the Nazi connection again. Republicans, he said, are like Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. In what way, you ask? Well, they are lying about healthcare, and that’s the same tactic that Goebbels used. Oh.

One of the positive things about being a historian is that I have studied the political rhetoric found in all periods of American history. What becomes painfully obvious is that the eras of the type of civility urged upon us now have been few. Read the newspapers of the 1790s, for instance, where you see George Washington being called a traitor to his country and accused of trying to set himself as a king. The vituperative language used against Abraham Lincoln is startling, particularly when you consider that a lot of it came from the North, not the South.

The issues I have with the current calls for civility are these: first, the astounding hypocrisy of those who are demanding it; second, the attempt to use that nice-sounding word to undermine genuine debate on the issues. Often, just disagreeing with President Obama makes one a racist or a “hater.” Yet we have to be able to say when we think policies are wrong. How would Patrick Henry fare today?

Kind of weak, isn’t it? I prefer the original.

So, as you watch the State of the Union Address [if you have the stomach for it], watch for those key words, but understand what’s really going on.

For Memorial Day

Yes, war is bad. Sometimes, though, not going to war is even worse. Would we really want a Hitler controlling all of Europe? If not for the Cold War, and Reagan putting the pressure on the Soviet Union, more of the world might have come into the Soviet orbit. The lesson is clear:

It would be better if we could all agree on this. That agreement has been somewhat sporadic, however:

We talk a lot about the national debt, but there’s one type of national debt we don’t speak about often enough:

May we always remember.