Post Author: Bill Pratt
In part 1 we saw the plans that the National Socialists had for the German Lutheran Church during the 1930’s and 1940’s. In parts 2 and 3 we will review how the church reacted to the attempted Nazification of their doctrines and beliefs. Again, we draw heavily from Eric Metaxas’s excellent biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The most serious Christians in Germany recognized the incompatibility of Christianity and Nazi philosophy. Karl Barth said Christianity was separated “as by an abyss from the inherent godlessness of National Socialism.” But someplace in the deep and wide abyss betwixt these two existed a strange group who did not think there was an abyss, and who wished to create a seamless connection between National Socialism and Christianity. They saw no theological problem with this project, and during much of the 1930s, they constituted a powerful force in Germany.
This group called themselves the Deutsche Christens, “German Christians.” But were they Christian in any meaningful sense of that word? History answers with a thunderous “no.” The German Christians were far more interested in molding their beliefs to fit German nationalism than upholding the historic teachings of the Christian church.
Metaxas chronicles the bizarre direction the German Christians headed:
In her book, Twisted Cross: The German Christian Movement in the Third Reich, Doris Bergen wrote that “the ‘German Christians’ preached Christianity as the polar opposite of Judaism, Jesus as the arch anti-semite, and the cross as the symbol of war against Jews.” Fusing the German Volk (people) with the German Kirche (church) meant stretching and twisting the definitions of both. Step one was to define Germanness as inherently in opposition to Jewishness. To make Christianity one with Germanness meant purging it of everything Jewish. It was an absurd project.
Just how absurd was this project? Here was their attitude toward the Old Testament:
For starters, they decided the Old Testament must go. It was obviously too Jewish. At one German Christians’ gathering in Bavaria, the speaker ridiculed the Old Testament as a saga of racial defilement. His remark that “Moses in his old age had married a Negro woman” drew boisterous laughter and enthusiastic applause. As late as 1939, they founded “the Institute for Research into and Elimination of Jewish Influence in German Church Life.”
Like the famous Jefferson Bible that omitted anything not to Jefferson’s liking, this institute took a cut-and-paste attitude toward the Bible, excising anything that seemed Jewish or un-German. One of the leaders, Georg Schneider, called the whole Old Testament “a cunning Jewish conspiracy.” He went on: “Into the oven, with the part of the Bible that glorifies the Jews, so eternal flames will consume that which threatens our people.”
How did they handle the New Testament? Metaxas explains:
As for the New Testament, the German Christians quoted scriptures out of context and twisted the meaning to suit their anti-Semitic agenda. They used John 8:44 to great effect . . . . Of course Jesus and all of his disciples were Jewish, and the Jews whom Jesus addresses here are religious leaders. It was only with them that he took such a harsh tone.
The passage in which Jesus throws the money changers out of the temple was also popular with the German Christians. But to hone its barbed point, the phrase “den of thieves” was replaced with the German Kaufhaus (department store), most of which were then owned by Jews. The German Christians always painted Jesus as a non-Jew and often as a cruel anti-Semite. As Hitler had called him “our greatest Aryan hero,” this was not much of a leap. Before the German Christians were through with him, the Nazarene rabbi would be a goose-stepping, strudel-loving son of the Reich.
The insanity does not stop here. In part 3 of the series, we will hear more about the “German Christian” project.