This is the first in a series on the parallels between Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s and the path to market totalitarianism which I ‘m convinced the United States is following in this second decade of the 21st century. In fact, it is my view that the U.S. has been on this path since the end of the Second Inter-capitalist War (1939-1945), and especially over the last thirty-five years.
The series represents the back story for an appeal I’ve been making to my friends in our Ecumenical Table Fellowship (an inter-denominational worship group formed over the last year in Madison County, Kentucky). There I’ve been urging that we explore the possibilities and procedures for becoming a “Confessing Church” of resistance like the church formed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, and their allies in Hitlerian Germany. In 1934 that church published “The Barmen Declaration” whose intention was to rescue the Judeo-Christian tradition from nationalistic interpretations which supported the Third Reich.
A similarly nationalistic interpretation, I fear, has characterized “Christianity” over the last quarter century plus ten in the United States. There, under the influence of Christian fundamentalists, “Christianity” has become virtually synonymous with the extreme right-wing politics that Hitler championed. Like Hitler, that form of Christianity idealizes white Anglo-Saxon culture above all others. Like der fuhrer, it manipulates the Judeo-Christian tradition to support racism and white privilege.
Let me begin the series by reprinting the Barmen Declaration along with parenthetical “translations” and a brief commentary. Subsequent Monday blog entries will trace Hitler’s rise to power, his program of saving capitalism, and how the U.S. adopted Hitlerism without Hitler following der Fuhrer’s demise.
Please begin by considering the Barmen Declaration as translated (in bold) immediately below:
“We, the representatives of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches, of free synods, Church assemblies, and parish organizations united in the Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church, declare that we stand together on the ground of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of German Confessional Churches. We are bound together by the confession of the one Lord of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. (THE BARMEN COMMUNITY ASSERTS ITS FOUNDATION: JESUS ALONE IS ULTIMATE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH.)
8.07 We publicly declare before all evangelical Churches in Germany that what they hold in common in this Confession is grievously imperiled, and with it the unity of the German Evangelical Church. It is threatened by the teaching methods and actions of the ruling Church party of the “German Christians” and of the Church administration carried on by them. These have become more and more apparent during the first year of the existence of the German Evangelical Church. This threat consists in the fact that the theological basis, in which the German Evangelical Church is united, has been continually and systematically thwarted and rendered ineffective by alien principles, on the part of the leaders and spokesmen of the “German Christians” as well as on the part of the Church administration. When these principles are held to be valid, then, according to all the Confessions in force among us, the Church ceases to be the Church and th German Evangelical Church, as a federation of Confessional Churches, becomes intrinsically impossible. (NEVERTHELESS THE “GERMAN EVANGELICAL CHURCH” HAS ACCEPTED AUTHORITY OTHER THAN JESUS, NAMELY, THE AUTHORITY OF THE THIRD REICH.)
8.08 As members of Lutheran, Reformed, and United Churches we may and must speak with one voice in this matter today. Precisely because we want to be and to remain faithful to our various Confessions, we may not keep silent, since we believe that we have been given a common message to utter in a time of common need and temptation. We commend to God what this may mean for the interrelations of the Confessional Churches. (THOSE WHO RECOGNIZE THIS CONTRADICTION ARE CONVINCED THEY MUST SPEAK IN OPPOSITION TO THIS OBVIOUS CONTRADICTION.)
8.09 In view of the errors of the “German Christians” of the present Reich Church government which are devastating the Church and also therefore breaking up the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths: (THEY THEREFORE FEEL COMPELLED TO CONFESS THE FOLLOWING EVANGELICAL TRUTHS.)
8.10 – 1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)
8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death. (WE MUST OBEY JESUS AND NO OTHER.)
8.12 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.
8.13 – 2. “Christ Jesus, whom God has made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:30.)
8.14 As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, in the same way and with the same seriousness he is also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life. Through him befalls us a joyful deliverance from the godless fetters of this world for a free, grateful service to his creatures.
8.15 We reiect the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords–areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him. (IN ALL AREAS OF OUR LIVES WITHOUT EXCEPTION.)
8.16 – 3. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body [is] joined and knit together.” (Eph. 4:15,16.)
8.17 The Christian Church is the congregation of the brethren in which Jesus Christ acts presently as the Lord in Word and sacrament through the Holy Spirit. As the Church of pardoned sinners, it has to testify in the midst of a sinful world, with its faith as with its obedience, with its message as with its order, that it is solely his property, and that it lives and wants to live solely from his comfort and from his direction in the expectation of his appearance.
8.18 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church were permitted to abandon the form of its message and order to its own pleasure or to changes in prevailing ideological and political convictions. (DESPITE CLAIMS AND PRESSURES ISSUING FROM POLITICAL OR OTHER WOULD-BE AUTHORITIES)
8.19 – 4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matt. 20:25,26.)
8.20 The various offices in the Church do not establish a dominion of some over the others; on the contrary, they are for the exercise of the ministry entrusted to and enjoined upon the whole congregation.
8.21 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, apart from this ministry, could and were permitted to give itself, or allow to be given to it, special leaders vested with ruling powers. (THAT WOULD HAVE US BELIEVE THAT JESUS’ POWER IS ‘POWER OVER’ RATHER THAN HUMBLE SERVICE OF OTHERS.)
8.22 – 5. “Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17.)
Scripture tells us that, in the as yet unredeemed world in which the Church also exists, the State has by divine appointment the task of providing for justice and peace. [It fulfills this task] by means of the threat and exercise of force, according to the measure of human judgment and human ability. The Church acknowledges the benefit of this divine appointment in gratitude and reverence before him. It calls to mind the Kingdom of God, God’s commandment and righteousness, and thereby the responsibility both of rulers and of the ruled. It trusts and obeys the power of the Word by which God upholds all things.
8.23 We reject the false doctrine, as though the State, over and beyond its special commission, should and could become the single and totalitarian order of human life, thus fulfilling the Church’s vocation as well.
8.24 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church, over and beyond its special commission, should and could appropriate the characteristics, the tasks, and the dignity of the State, thus itself becoming an organ of the State. (OR THAT THE CHURCH SHOULD BECOME AN OPPRESSIVE INSTRUMENT OF THE STATE.)
8.25 – 6. “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Matt. 28:20.) “The word of God is not fettered.” (2 Tim. 2:9.)
8.26 The Church’s commission, upon which its freedom is founded, consists in delivering the message of the free grace of God to all people in Christ’s stead, and therefore in the ministry of his own Word and work through sermon and sacrament.
8.27 We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church in human arrogance could place the Word and work of the Lord in the service of any arbitrarily chosen desires, purposes, and plans.
8.28 The Confessional Synod of the German Evangelical Church declares that it sees in the acknowledgment of these truths and in the rejection of these errors the indispensable theological basis of the German Evangelical Church as a federation of Confessional Churches. It invites all who are able to accept its declaration to be mindful of these theological principles in their decisions in Church politics. It entreats all whom it concerns to return to the unity of faith, love, and hope.” (IN VIEW OF THESE CONVICTIONS THE “CONFESSION CHURCH” INVITES ALL CHRISTIANS TO RECOGNIZE THE PRIMACY OF GOD’S WORD OVER THE AUTHORITY FALSELY CLAIMED BY THE RIVAL POWERS OF THE STATE.)
Obviously, the Barmen Declaration is cautious, muted and politically astute in its opposition to the hijacking of the Christian message by the Third Reich and the mainline German churches. Nevertheless, the Hitlerian message is clear. Hitler’s ecclesial accomplices have indeed tried to co-opt the Christian message, and have largely been successful in doing so. Nevertheless the Barmen community recognizes that Jesus “WAY” is contradictory to the project of Hitler and his cohorts. The Hitlerian faction aspires to use Christianity as a weapon of power over their opponents. By way of contrast, the authentic Barmen Christianity exercises “power” through humble service and non-violence towards the very groups oppressed by the Hitlerians.
Once again, this blog series on Hitler will explore his parallels with the 21st century “New World Order” that appears to mimic his rise to power while attempting to avoid the errors which inevitably doomed his insidious project. Unlike their opponents, the Hitlerians have learned from the past and are determined not to re-commit the errors that frustrated the success of their totalitarian project.
Opponents of Hitlerianism are not nearly as wise.
(Next Monday: Cheney and Bush as Hitler’s disciples)