When I first learned about the horror of the Holocaust as a student, I had one question: “Why didn’t more Germans speak out?”
The Final Solution
The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, located in Washington, D.C., paints a sobering picture.
On January 20, 1942, an extraordinary 90-minute meeting took place in a lakeside villa in the wealthy Wannsee district of Berlin. Fifteen high-ranking Nazi Party and German government leaders gathered to coordinate logistics for carrying out “the final solution of the Jewish question.”
The Nazis believed that the Germans were “racially superior” and that there was a struggle for survival between them and “inferior races.” They saw Jews, Gypsies, and the handicapped as a serious biological threat to the purity of the “German (Aryan) Race,” what they called the “master race.”
The “Final Solution” was the Nazi regime’s code name for the deliberate, planned mass murder of all European Jews. During the Wannsee meeting, German government officials discussed “extermination” without hesitation or qualm. SS Lieutenant General Reinhard Heydrich calculated that 11 million European Jews from more than 20 countries would be killed under this heinous plan, authorized by Adolf Hitler six months earlier.
During 1942, trainload after trainload of Jewish men, women, and children were transported from countries all over Europe to Auschwitz, Treblinka, and four other major killing centers in German-occupied Poland. By year’s end, about 4 million Jews were dead. During World War II (1939–1945), the Germans and their collaborators killed or caused the deaths of up to 6 million Jews. Hundreds of Jewish communities in Europe, some centuries old, disappeared forever. To convey the unimaginable, devastating scale of destruction, postwar writers referred to the murder of the European Jews as the “Holocaust.”
The wickedness of Hitler, and the warning to citizens worldwide to select rulers wisely, are both explained well in Proverbs 29:2. It says, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; But when a wicked man rules, the people groan.”
Since I became a Christian, my question has become more specific. “Why didn’t more German Christians speak out?”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s inspiring objection
That’s the same question that plagued Christian author and talk show host Eric Metaxas. As he researched the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the bold German pastor who was one of the few who spoke out against the evil of Hitler’s plan, he was awed by his Biblical clarity. Bonhoeffer rightly declared, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act. God will not hold us guiltless.”
German church then and U.S. church today
And Metaxas was disturbed by the similarities between the German church at that time and the American church today.
When Adam McManus and I interviewed him, Metaxas said, “The parallels are astonishing! First of all, you have a Christian nation that cannot even begin to imagine the evil that lies ahead. Many of the people in the church could see bad things, but they thought, ‘It’s not our role to speak up. We’re not supposed to be political.’ They had exactly the same excuses that American Christian leaders have today in being quiet, in saying, ‘That’s not our lane.’ And what followed, because of their silence, is one of the most unimaginable horrors in history.”
(Listen to the Time for Courage radio show entitled “Eric Metaxas: German church in Nazi era like U.S. church today.”)
That’s why he felt compelled to write the book Letter to the American Church.
The church’s sin of complacency
The author observed that the German church was guilty of complacency. He said, “Bonhoeffer tried to wake them up and tried to get them to understand you have a duty to speak up. If you say, ‘We’re going to be silent in the face of evil, we’re just going to ‘preach the gospel’ — no, no, no. You must speak up! We are called by God to speak truth. When we see injustice we’re supposed to be the loudest, boldest voice. That’s what’s the role of the church is — to be the conscience of the nation.”
Catastrophic result of German church’s silence
The result of the silence of the German church was catastrophic!
According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,
- The six killing sites, chosen because of their closeness to rail lines and their location in semi-rural areas, were at Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek, and Auschwitz-Birkenau.
- Chelmno was the first camp in which mass executions were carried out by gas piped into mobile gas vans; at least 152,000 persons were killed there between December 1941 and March 1943 and between June and July 1944.
- 600,000 persons were killed between May 1942 and August 1943 at Belzec where Nazis operated gas chambers.
Ultimately, 6 million Jews were murdered because the Nazis had been able to effectively dehumanize them while the church remained silent.
In whole fell swoop, the church turned a blind eye to evil. Proverbs 24:11 pronounced their guilt. “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.”
The German Holocaust and the American Holocaust
Today, in America, we have witnessed the systematic dehumanizing of the pre-born baby boys and baby girls in the womb since the egregious 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision. The result? 62 million babies have been surgically murdered in their own mother’s wombs!
Not to mention the embrace of the misguided theory of evolution which, taken to its logical extension, leads people to falsely conclude that there are indeed inferior races and superior races if we actually evolved from the apes.
That secular, God-hating worldview rejects the truth found in Genesis 1:27. The Scripture says, “God created mankind in His image; in the image of God, He created them; male and female He created them.” And because of that truth, each person, no matter how small, no matter the race, has infinite value and is worthy of both protection and respect.
William Wilberforce, a Christian British politician,
fought to end the slave trade
The talk show host explained that it was Wilberforce’s faith in Christ that led him to conclude “that the slave trade was an abomination.” That’s why he sought “to defeat the wickedness of the slave trade.” But there were people in Wilberforce’s time who whined, “You’re mixing faith and politics. Keep them separate.” Wilberforce said, “I’m sorry. I cannot keep them separate! God does not keep them separate. When I see evil that is harming human beings, I am going to speak up.” Metaxas concluded, “When you see evil happening, if you do not speak against it, God will judge you.”
How Lyndon Johnson shut the church up
Sadly, when the American church saw the evil implemented by Democratic Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas, it remained silent.
Metaxas said, “Johnson was as corrupt a politician and a power broker as we ever had in the United States Senate. And that’s saying a lot. He put forward something called the Johnson Amendment [in 1954] because he didn’t like what pastors were saying about him. He said, ‘Okay, we are going to take away your tax-exempt status if you say anything political from the pulpit.’”
Did the churches object? Sadly, “the churches meekly allowed this to happen. They should have been up in arms and said, ‘You can drop dead! We are in America. We are free. We have free speech. We will say whatever we want to say. We are Christians. We will never be silenced by the government! You can threaten us however you like. But we are not going to submit to that nonsense. You can’t tell us whether we’re being political or not. That’s none of your business. We’re going to speak the truth as we see it. We’re going to fear God and we’re going to worry about what God thinks about what we say.
In Acts 5:29, when the leaders of the day chastised the apostles for preaching in the name of Jesus, Peter boldly said, “We must obey God rather than men!”
Instead of following in Peter’s footsteps, the American churches allowed Senator Johnson, the foul-mouthed playground bully, to intimidate them into silence. Metaxas explained that the church’s intimidation “became part of American Christian culture.”
“If Stalin was running for President…”
I love how he framed the cowardice of the U.S. church.
He asked a pointed question. “If [Joseph] Stalin was running for President or Senate, would it be unbiblical to say from the pulpit, ‘Don’t vote for Joseph Stalin”? It becomes preposterous! This idea that we could avoid politics is just crazy. I mean, when you’re talking about the unborn, sexuality, marriage, somebody is going to disagree with you. [The Johnson Amendment] was simply used to silence the voice of God’s prophets and preachers. We’ve censored ourselves over the decades. It’s nonsense!
“We are now dealing with cultural Marxism, with an atheistic worldview, with transgender madness. If the Christian leaders do not speak against this, it is silence in the face of evil, no different than when they refused to speak against the Nazis in the early 1930s. And we saw exactly what happened as a result of their silence!”
Today, God pleads for believers in Him to become engaged. How dare we remain on the sidelines! The Psalmist asked two profound questions that could very well have come from the lips of God Himself. “Who will rise up for Me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for Me against evildoers?” (Psalm 94:16)
Andy Stanley, Jim Daly, Tim Keller:
The 3 misguided Christian leaders
Worse yet, some Christian leaders are actively dissuading believers from speaking out in the political arena. That’s why I applaud Metaxas for objecting to:
- Pastor Andy Stanley’s outrageous book entitled Not in It to Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines the Church.
- Focus on the Family President Jim Daly’s unwise endorsement of Stanley’s book. He foolishly said, on Stanley’s Amazon book page, “Our drive to ‘win’ political and cultural debates often ends up harming our Christian witness rather than pointing people to the person of Jesus Christ.”
- Tim Keller‘s “third way” — this idea that we can avoid politics. We’re not going to be Left. We’re not going to be Right. We’re going to be the Gospel.
In our Time for Courage radio interview, Metaxas warned, “This is an existential crisis in the United States of America. We can cease to exist as a free people if the church does not speak up. The Lord will hold the church accountable. Those who do not speak up will be held accountable. Judgment has come and it is coming.”
Faith without works is dead
He said, “God has given us this glorious opportunity to represent Him in the public square. If we don’t understand that, we’re missing the very reason we’re here, to live out our faith.”
James 2:17 is clear. “Faith without works is dead.” Metaxas concluded, “If you’re not living out your faith, you probably don’t have faith. And that should scare people.”
Indeed, it should.