I’ve been reading a lot of books related to Nazi Germany lately and I think the thing that surprises me the most is the lack of action on the part of the Christian community. I’m currently reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy and I’m getting the inside scoop on the relationship between the German Church and the Third Reich. Complicated is an understatement. It’s really easy to read the accounts of what happened and think that I would have behaved differently, but I’m not sure I would have done.
We’ve all heard this quote, or a version of it:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
It was written by Martin Niemoller, a German pastor who was first on board with the Nazi regime until it became clear to him that Hitler wanted the Nazi part to be supreme over the church. Niemoller then became part of the resistance movement of Christian pastors until he was imprisoned for “lack of enthusiasm for the Nazi party”. Lack of enthusiasm. That’s a hell of a rap sheet.
In my reading of scripture we are called to speak for the powerless and for those who have no advocate. History is full of Christians who chose power over action. Those who chose action are fewer but also remembered. Right now there is an assault going on in parts of the US on people who just want to vote, on children who were brought to this country by their parents and just want to have a fair shot at a life here, and on people who are unable to earn a living wage while CEOs get raise after raise and corporate profits are at a record high. It’s easy to be too overwhelmed to act. But we aren’t called to fix everything. We just need to listen to the call and act in small ways. Each of us doing one small thing can change the world.