Happy Birthday, Martin Niemöller

Today is the 121st anniversary of the birth of Martin Niemöller. He was a Lutheran pastor and theologian, and lived richly ambiguous life during the reign of Hitler. Initially, Niemöller was a supporter of the Nazis, and made many anti-Semitic remarks in the early days of The Nazis. His comments were of the kind that were made of fear.

Niemöller came to his senses, and began to preach and speak out against Hitler. The consequences were swift: Niemöller was imprisoned in Sachsenhausen and Dachau from 1938-1945. He narrowly missed execution, and was liberated by the US Army after the Nazis abandoned the concentration camp.

After leaving Dachau, Niemöller admitted his guilt, and became a pacifist. The following quote is attributed to Niemöller, which has contributed to his renown and ill fame:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I’m mindful that Niemöller underwent the kind of conversion in prison that few of us will ever experience. If hindsight is indeed 20-20, he received an acuity coupled to his repentance that focused his being a recipient of grace and his share in humanity.

It’s an interesting season, in that you’re probably aware that Louie Giglio removed himself from the upcoming presidential inauguration, as the news made the rounds that he voiced his objections to the organizing efforts by various LGBQT groups to influence the government. It’s not his objections or the supposed objections of PIC to Giglio’s remarks I’m concerned with here.

It’s the responses of the evangelical leaders of various ministries and institutions that I’d draw your attention to. Google Andrew Marin, and you’ll find in his blog a list of names with links. The responses are the kind Niemöller made before he was imprisoned. Lots of fear expressed about what the world is coming to.

Parenthetically, I’m in favor people speaking up, and Giglio’s comments weren’t, as far I can discern, made out of fear: but commended practices of organization and policy to other Christians. Even if you disagree with him, the practice of making those comments needs to be endorsed by everyone.

The remarks of the evangelical leaders were from a different tone. It’s too bad, as these responses represent a bunker mentality, that somehow our evangelical identity has separated our humanity from the rest of the human race and that our experience with the human condition privileges us from the rest of the people on the planet.

It’s part of our evangelical heritage of late to presume we’re the stewards of culture and morality, and instead of perceiving circumstances as these as an opportunity for mission, fears get expressed as the prevailing motivation of at least one segment of the church.

It’s the later Niemöller that these leaders need to consider and emulate: as do all of us from the church.

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