What Martin Niemoller Can Teach Us, Part 2

You can catch up on Part 1 here.

In his biography of Martin Niemoller, Matthew Hockenos offers substantial evidence of WWI German Emperor Wilhelm II’s relentless commitment to the German monarchy’s faith in “providential glory.” He believed they were chosen by God to be the hope of the world. He tied his understanding of the Christian faith with German patriotism, forming a nationalistic brand of Christianity that possessed a hold that was strong and misleading. Niemoller was held by it (and realized it later). Bonhoeffer was held by it (and realized it later). This belief laid the foundation in creating the antisemitism Germans formed and that in turn, formed them.

For instance, while dedicating a new Lutheran Church in Jerusalem in 1898, Emperor Wilhelm II said this in his dedication speech:

“From Jerusalem came the light in splendor from which the German nation became great and glorious; and what the Germanic peoples have become, they became under the banner of the cross, the emblem of self-sacrificing charity.” (19)

Social and political institutions, national policies, and moral values were all formed with this ideology working in the background. Some sort of ideology is always working in the background. It’s how civic life works.

The Emperor’s speech was met with thunderous applause by the 200 or so German Christians and pastors accompanying the Emperor’s voyage to the Holy Land. Of course if asked if the German Protestant pastorate was tied to party politics they would have responded with a resounding, “Nein!” (no in German).

In attendance at the speech in Jerusalem was Martin’s father. He was enamored with Wilhelm II, so much so he named a son after him. He was a pastor faithful to God and King.

Again, take that in. It’s subtle. Quiet. Formative. Seems innocent. Seems Christian. But in the end, it’s destructive.

Martin’s father raised him to embrace the same nationalistic brand of Christianity. No wonder Martin supported Hitler’s rise in power and antisemitic policies. Until he didn’t.

About Fred

I am a follower of Jesus, husband and father. I am a son, brother, friend, multi-vocational pastor with Williamsburg Christian Church, TEDx alum, ethnographer, community organizer, published author, founder and president of 3e Restoration Inc, and adjunct professor at Rochester University and Regent University. I received my B.S. in Ministry/Bible at Amridge University and my Masters of Religious Education in Missional Leadership (MREML) from Rochester University. I am currently working toward my Doctorate of Ministry in Contextual Theology at Northern Seminary.
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