It pains me to say this, but it seems the more I study, speak out and press into biblical issues of social justice, the less I feel I have in common with my fellow American Christians. I have to say I feel deeply disenchanted with the church in America. Disgusted would be a better word. Nauseated a still better one.
Sure, there are many Christians who are deeply involved in the fight for social justice, but it seems a pathetically small percentage. There is a growing number who express concern over such issues, but far fewer whose concern turns to action. No, the loudest voices always seem to belong to the selfish, the greedy and ignorant, those pernicious purveyors of bigotry and putrescence, those enemies of human progress and liberty who burned Hus to a crisp, persecuted Galileo, and loosed dogs on little black girls. Sadly, history too often demonstrates that if the status quo had a human shape, it would look very much like the church.
If the tragic moral and political deterioration of the past 8 years weren’t enough, I fear that once again, the American church has lost an historic moment. Instead of seizing an opportunity to find at last our prophetic voice, to be in the vanguard to help 46 million of our countrymen to quality health care and a better life, we use our pulpits either to say nothing at all or to incite lynch mobs carrying torches and pitchforks. Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty in this health care bill for both sides not to like; perhaps it should be scrapped and begun again. That is not the issue. The issue is how a national debate became a slugfest and how the church, which should have been the conscience of the nation and an advocate for the poor, either stood idly by and watched, or goaded the pugilists and passed out the brass knuckles.
What is it about progress that so offends us? Why does lifting the downtrodden or sharing our bread with the hungry always smell of Bolshevism? If Jesus Christ himself were to appear to the church in this country, I dare say we would not care much for him. We would probably not even like him at all but would brand him a pinko and kick him to the curb (along with the Pro-choicers, gay rights advocates, and moderate Republicans).
The church in America does not need the Bible. We have our prophets. They are Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. They tell us exactly what we want to hear; they feed our hunger for hatred and intolerance –and without any of that frou-frou poetry that’s in the Bible, but in good old Anglo-Saxon prose. They remind us it’s not we who have to change, as those America-hating liberals claim; it’s Those People out there who are the problem.
As a student of history, I have always wondered how the church in Germany could have stood by and allowed Adolph Hitler to rise to power—and not only to stand by but to give him a leg up and call him Master and Savior. After the past 8 years I no longer have to wonder. I see how it was done. Many parts of German society had to be bullied into supporting such a man, but the church slavered over him like a dog its master’s hand because he told them exactly what they wanted to hear. He appealed not to the better angels of their nature, but to bigotry and plain old-fashioned fear. As Robert P. Ericksen and Susannah Heschel explain in their book Betrayal: German Churches and the Holocaust:
“…There were many enthusiastic supporters of National Socialism in both the Catholic and Protestant churches. Conversely, there were few church figures who exhibited a stance, by word or deed, in opposition to the regime. Carl Amery, a Catholic reflecting back upon what he labels the “capitulation” of the Catholic church to the Nazi regime, describes a “milieu Catholicism” that made this capitulation possible. Milieu Catholics believed in discipline, punctuality, cleanliness, and respect for authority; and the Nazi Party advocated all of these traditional virtues. The Catholic and Protestant churches both fervently opposed godless communism, and Hitler professed himself the most powerful anticommunist in Germany. Christians tended to be stridently antimodern, rejecting the modern tendencies toward urban, secular culture that had begun to permeate Germany in the 1920s. They did not like the fast lifestyle of the roaring twenties or the open, democratic practices of Weimar Germany, which advocated freedom of speech and belief and practiced tolerance toward the culturally diverse.
“…Hitler attracted Christians by criticizing the liberalism of democratic government and by advocating a tougher, law-and-order approach to German criminals. He opposed pornography, prostitution, abortion, homosexuality, and the “obscenity” of modern art, and he awarded bronze, silver, and gold medals to women who produced four, six, and eight children, thus encouraging them to remain in their traditional role in the home. This appeal to traditional values, coupled with the militaristic nationalism that Hitler offered in response to the national humiliation of the Versailles Treaty, made National Socialism an attractive option to many, even most Christians in Germany.”
It’s ironic that opponents to health care reform call the President a Fascist, because in actuality Hitler would clean up in today’s America. You’d probably see him on all the Christian talk-shows, and as long as he did not let slip any anti-Israeli rhetoric, and submitted to an extreme make-over (Americans like their candidates clean-shaven), he’d certainly be on the ballot for 2012 (that is, if Rush Limbaugh hasn’t managed to keep all that weight off).