Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, on the Sordid History of German Church's Response to Hitler: We Forget at Our Peril

I've just finished reading Charles Marsh's Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (NY: Knopf, 2014), and would like to share some passages with you. These all have to do with the ease with which the Lutheran church in Germany capitulated to Hitler and his propagandists' claim that he was reviving a manly-man Christianity that would rehabilitate Germany's tarnished reputation. Marsh focuses on the Evangelical (i.e., Lutheran) (and Confessing) church and not the Catholic church because Bonhoeffer was situated within the Lutheran world. 

The picture he paints of the willingness of the vast majority of Lutheran church officials and intellectuals to collaborate with — and even idolize — Hitler is not a new one. It is, nonetheless, one that deserves serious attention right now, I'd argue, as right-wing U.S. white evangelicals, white Catholics, and Mormons participate in Trump-idolatry that evokes eerie, unnerving memories of what happened in Germany in the 1930s. We must not let ourselves forget — when the current president is served by epigones some of whom are children of white evangelical pastors, who went to white evangelical universities, and who regard it as their holy duty to lie for the president, since they imagine they are lying for the Lord.

Here's Marsh on how the intellectual elite of the Lutheran church in Germany, as well as Lutheran congregations, behaved as Hitler was rising to power in 1933 (p. 158):

Here's Marsh on how the theology faculties and students (more than 90 percent of whom joined the Nazi party) in Berlin behaved as Nazi stormtroopers attacked dissidents and Jews in 1933 (p. 174):

This passage speaks of how the Lutheran church in Germany was consolidated with the Nazi Reich by June 1933, becoming an arm of the Reich (p. 176):

By 1938, the church had been completely subjugated to Hitler, with the vast majority of intellectual and pastoral leaders of the church buying into the manly-man authoritarian image of Hitler and blessing him as a savior figure — and relying on a theological basis that included ugly anti-semitism to justify this capitulation to Hitler (pp. 268-9): 

As Marsh notes, though the Confessing Church, to which Bonhoeffer lent his theological weight, valiantly resisted, it unfortunately resisted largely to retain the independence of the church from state control, and not because of the Nazis' attacks on the Jews. Marsh speaks here about the response of the Confessing Church as Hitler's intent to eradicate the Jewish race in Europe — a plan he announced explicitly in January 1939 — began to be clear (p. 271):

And here's Bonhoeffer's own respose to Kristallnacht, as captured by Marsh (p. 272):

By 1939, with the church now a willing arm of Hitler's Reich, this was the situation in Lutheran churches in Germany (p. 283):

In 1940, in a passage included in his Ethics, Bonhoeffer records how the church had chosen to remain silent when it should have cried out, as the blood of the innocent cried for the church to hear — and fell on deaf ears (p. 289):

We forget this sordid history at our peril. The alacrity with which the churches in Germany capitulated to the Nazis and began to treat Hitler as a savior figure constitutes an exceptionally dark chapter of Christian history — one we'd do well to re-read today as white U.S. Christians, especially white evangelicals, speak of Trump in terms very close to those employed by a majority of German Christians to speak of Hitler.

Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress, have you read this history?

The photo of the cover of Marsh's book is from its Amazon page.

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