Wrapping the Cross with Ole’ Glory
Dr. Jay Worth Allen
As a student of both the Bible and history, I am of the opinion we in America are living in times that are reminiscent of the days leading up to the rise of the Third Reich. If you, after reading my analysis, want to dismiss my conclusions as insipid and irrelevant, you are certainly free to do so. But before you shrug off my thesis, may I suggest you take into consideration the words of George Santayana who said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If America is truly flirting with any semblance of a fallacious and fallen Reich, it is incumbent upon each and every true American Christian to renounce, reject, and repudiate such flirtations as early and vehemently as possible.
Many facets of the Third Reich could be analyzed, but my focus will be on the attitude and actions of the ministers and churches in Germany at the time of Hitler's rise. This is predicated upon the historical fact that any nation will rise or fall according to the attitudes and actions of its Christian leaders and churches. “. . . the time has come that Judgment must begin at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Our nation can, and will out last corrupt, self-indulgent politicians, intemperate, nefarious citizens and avaricious trade conglomerates, but it will not survive a cowardly, compromising Church. As the Church goes, so goes the nation.
The German churches were the primary institutions that reduced their country to penury. The German churches equipped Hitler with their moral and spiritual covering. The German churches and ministers allowed Hitler to seduce the nation. Some were no doubt deceived. Others ate the forbidden fruit with their eyes wide open. Either way, without their help the Nazi Party could never have become such a vile autocratic beast.
What were the attitudes and actions of Germany’s churches? How do they compare to America’s churches today? Is there any similarity?
When Adolph Hitler began his ascent to power most of Germany’s Christians believed he was an answer to their prayers. In Erwin Lutzer’s book “Hitler’s Cross: The Revealing Story of How the Cross of Christ was Used as a Symbol of the Nazi Agenda. Chicago, IL: Moody Press.” (I recommend you read this book) he states, “many Christians replaced pictures of Christ in their homes with pictures of Hitler. They truly believed Hitler was ‘God's man’ for Germany. They believed that to resist Hitler was to resist God. . . they yearned for a leader who would do for them what democracy could not.” (pg. 17)
Hitler had revived Germany’s collapsed economy, eradicated the shame of Germany’s defeat in WWI by reclaiming the Rhineland, created numerous trade schools that trained and equipped Germany’s workers - He gave a vacation, so to speak, to the German people. Almost overnight Germany’s vast unskilled labor force was replaced with highly skilled workers. As strange as it may seem to us now, under Hitler, Germany had virtually no unemployment (at first). Hitler brought crime under control. He built freeways and highways that were the envy of Europe. He literally brought the German people out of poverty and despair and made them a great and proud people once again. As a result, the German people, including German Christians, loved him!
Under the cover of prosperity and military might, Hitler began taking away the rights and liberties of the German people. Germany was a republic before Hitler came to power. The principles of individual freedom and constitutional government were precious to the German people. Over time, a short time at that, the German people (and church) gladly traded their liberty and freedoms for Hitler’s promise of security and the good life.
Many churchmen wanted to believe that Hitler was on their side, and a few were actually convinced by Hitler’s lies that he was on their side: “Even for those within Germany known to be critical of the regime, Hitler could in a face-to-face meeting create a positive impression. He was good at attuning to the sensitivities of his conversation-partner, could be charming, and often appeared reasonable and accommodating. As always, he was a skilled dissembler. On a one-to-one basis, he could pull the wool over the eyes of hardened critics. After a three-hour meeting with him at the Berghof in early November 1936, the influential Catholic Archbishop of Munich-Freising, Cardinal Faulhaber - a man of sharp acumen, who had often courageously criticized the Nazi attacks on the Catholic Church - went away convinced that Hitler was deeply religious” (Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936-45: Nemesis; pg. 29).
The fact that many Christians in Germany at that time were nominal cultural Christians who were indoctrinated into the Nazi world view helps to “explain how the SS troops could perform monstrous acts of cruelty and yet return home for Christmas and attend church and still think of themselves as good Christians. They were not murderers, they were men who were building a race of supermen and helping the inferior people get on with their evolutionary journey” (Lutzer, Ibid. pg. 95).
At the time of Hitler’s rise, there were approximately 14,000 evangelical churches in Germany. To win the support of those churches Hitler literally wrapped himself, the Nazi Flag and the Nazi Party around the Cross of Jesus Christ. This salient religious display convinced Germany’s pastors and churches that the Nazi Party was God’s party and Hitler was God’s man. By the time Hitler consolidated his power and became Germany’s Führer, the Nazi Swastika was proudly displayed on the walls of Germany’s churches, both Catholic and Protestant. In an attempt to impose administrative and cultural uniformity, many American churches now incorporate a similar presentation using Stars and Strips and Cross. Because of Nationalistic pride, which had replaced Christian purity, with few exceptions the German church looked the other way while Adolph Hitler implemented his “Final Solution” to his Jewish problem. (See photos at the bottom of this article.)
Sermons were preached supporting Hitler and the Nazi Party. Supporters of any other party or any other potential leader, were told, they were “fighting against God.” Congregants who refused to swear loyalty to Hitler were denied last rites and Holy Communion by Catholic priests. Protestant pastors simply excommunicated church members and pastors who did not toe the Party/church line - quoting Romans 13 from the pulpit as scriptural justification for loyalty to Hitler.
“Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resists the power, resists the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves judgment” (Romans 13:1-2).
“Christ has come to us through Hitler . . . through his honesty, his faith and his idealism, the Redeemer found us.” German pastor, Julius Leutherser (Lutzer, Ibid. pg. 101)
“ . . . in Hitler’s day being a good Christian involved being a good German nationalist. God and country were practically one and the same.” (Lutzer, Ibid. pg. 102)
Hitler knew exactly what he was doing. He needed the support of Germany’s churches so he played the role of Germany’s Christian leader. Privately, however, he despised Germany’s clergymen. He said, “The parsons will dig their own graves. They will betray their God to us. They will betray anything for the sake of their miserable jobs and incomes.” (Lutzer, Ibid. pg. 104)
A major reason Hitler opposed Christianity was because Hitler saw Christianity and Science as diametrically opposed to each other (Larry Azar, Twentieth Century in Crisis, pg. 154). He concluded science would win, and the Christian church would eventually, in due time, be destroyed. Hitler even believed the German race created Science. Hitler was trying to use science - especially Darwinism - to create a utopia on Earth, and he made it absolutely clear that there would be “no place in this utopia for the Christian Churches” in his plans for the future of Germany. He realized that this was a long term goal and “was prepared to put off long-term ideological goals in favor of short-term advantage” (Kershaw, Ibid. pg. 238). Hitler had to fight one battle at a time - and elected to take on the fight with the churches in due time. The Christian church would be destroyed later, and for now it was needed. Only after the war would Germany be able to fully implement the “final solution” to the “Christian problem” (Kershaw, pg. 516). In the meantime, “calm should be restored . . . in relations with the Churches” (Kershaw, p. 39). But it was “‘clear,’ noted Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, himself numbering among the most aggressive anti-Church radicals, ‘that after the war we have to find a general solution . . .There is, namely, an insoluble opposition between the Christian and a Germanic-heroic world-view’” (Kershaw, Ibid. pg. 449).
The churches’ sin was not in inspiring Hitler to commit his many crimes, but in not stopping him - a similar sin the churches are guilty of in the modern west today. The German churches’ sin was less in commission than in omission. “Nonetheless, most other institutions usually did far less to oppose Hitler than the Churches. Nor did Hitler wait until the war ended to begin destroying Christianity.” (Eugen Gerstenmaier, “The Church Conspiratorial,” pgs. 172-189, in Eric H. Boehm’s We Survived: Fourteen Histories of the Hidden and Hunted in Nazi Germany). Although the “resistance efforts of the clergy have been exaggerated, it is nonetheless no myth that after the first few years of Hitler’s rule the Gestapo and the Nazi Party singled out the clergy for heavy doses of repression to guarantee their silence and their parishioners’ obedience. Thousands of clergymen, both Catholic and Protestant, endured house searches, surveillance, Gestapo interrogations, jail and prison terms, fines, and worse” (Eric A. Johnson, Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans, pg. 224).
Altogether Hitler’s killing machine murdered 5 million Jews, and 7 million Christians - a little published fact that caused Jewish historian Max Dimont to declare that “the world blinded itself to the murder of Christians” by Nazi Germany (Max I. Dimont, Jews, God and History., pg. 391-392). In Poland alone, 881 Catholic priests were annihilated (Azar, Ibid., pg. 154). In time, many more priests would end up in concentration camps.
Out of 14,000 German churches, all but 800 gave Hitler their unflinching loyalty. Among the clergy of the 800 uncompromising churches was the Christian patriot Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was later assassinated by Hitler’s henchmen. Virtually all of the 800 courageous pastors who refused to support Hitler were sent to concentration camps.
“Hitler was largely exempted from blame. Despite four years of fierce ‘Church struggle,’ the head of the Protestant Church in Bavaria, Bishop Meiser, publicly offered prayers for Hitler, thanking God ‘for every success which, through your grace, you have so far granted him for the good of our people.’ The negative features of daily life, most [people] imagined, were not of the Führer’s making. They were the fault of his underlings, who frequently kept him in the dark about what was happening” (Kershaw, Ibid. pg. 28).
Were Christians imprisoned? Yes!
The concentration camp at Dachau held the largest number of Catholic priests - over 2,400 - in the Nazi camp system. They came from about 24 nations, and included parish priests and prelates, monks and friars, teachers and missionaries. Over one third of the priests in Dachau alone were killed (Johannes Lenz, Untersuchungen über die künstliche Zündung von Lichtšgen unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Lichtobogen-Stromrichter nach Erwin Marx). One Dachau survivor, Fr. Johannes Lenz, wrote an account of the Catholic holocaust. He claimed that the Catholic Church was the only steadfast fighter against the Nazis. Lenz tells the agony and martyrdom of the physical and mental tortures Dachau inmates experienced. Men and women, Catholic and Protestant alike, were murdered by the thousands in Dachau, and those who survived were considered “missionaries in Hell.” The fact is, official Nazi workers taught both anti-Semitic and anti-Christian doctrines: “If one believes the anti-Semitic, one should also believe the anti-Christian, for both had a single purpose. Hitler’s aim was to eradicate all religious organizations within the state and to foster a return to paganism” (Dimont, Ibid., pg. 397).
Are the actions of Nazi Germany’s ministers and churches being repeated in the United States today? Have American Evangelicals wrapped the Cross of Christ in Ole’ Glory? Does some of the American churches quote Romans 13 to justify their resolute support for unholy, unjust, prejudicial laws and taxes? Are some of the American people of God willing to surrender their freedoms and liberties so that the American government might protect them. Do some Christian pastors and congregations malign anyone who dares to challenge or question the President or the American Congress? The answers of those questions are up to you my dear Christian reader. But three facts I know: conservatives gave us an Adolf Hitler, liberals gave us a Vladimir Ilich Lenin and God the Father gave us His Son, Christ Jesus the Lord.
Wrapping the Cross with Ole’ Glory
Published: 3 July 2010 on Freed In Christ! blogsite.
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