JACKSON, Tenn. – April 9, 2014 – While the struggles endured by Christians in Nazi Germany took place in a different time and country, Timothy George said Christians in the United States today face similar challenges in the battle for life and religious freedoms.
“Our situation is not the same as it was in 1930’s Germany, but there is continuity,” said George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. “We have to be aware of what happened in Germany and ask ourselves what we would do if we lived back then.”
The speaker at the 16th annual Scholar-in-Residence Lecture Series March 20-27 at Union University, George said Hitler failed to eradicate the Christian influence from Germany due to Christianity being so deeply ingrained in the culture. Hitler was more successful, however, at blending Nazi ideology with Christian theology, which included the exclusion of Jewish words and influences from the Bible in the state-run churches.
To combat the Nazi’s misuse of Scripture, a group of Christians in Germany formed the Barmen Declaration, a theological declaration consisting of six articles stating the believers’ allegiance to God alone.
“Christians were drawing a line in the sand, saying they were going to be faithful to Scripture, to Jesus Christ and to the gospel,” George said. “They were determined to not be seduced by the Nazi ideology.”
The cost of Christian discipleship was high, George noted, as anyone who opposed the Nazi regime – whether by putting God before Hitler or helping those whom the Nazis opposed – risked suffering and death. As a result, George encouraged modern-day Christians to examine the courage that believers in Germany exemplified during World War II in order to better understand how to stand firm in their faith.
George, who is writing a book about the Christian witness in Nazi Germany, said that famous martyrs during the war included Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who helped form an underground Christian seminary and served with the Nazi resistance. Many others who were killed are not as well known, such as college student Sophie Scholl who was caught distributing Nazi resistance fliers at the University of Munich.
Christians in the United States may not face death for their faith, but George said events such as the loss of religious freedoms and the murder of children through abortion should remind Christians to stand firm in their faith – as well as stand up for those who are persecuted.
“A lot of people who stood strong in 1934 wilted at the end of the day when the test really came,” George said. “What would you have done? And what will we do today, tomorrow or five years from now when these questions are knocking at our front door?”
The Scholar-in-Residence Lecture Series is sponsored by Union’s Honors Community.
By Beth Knoll