Of all the people in American public discourse who are occasionally tempted to descend to the use of Nazi analogies, the most frequent violators are probably antichoicers who just can’t resist calling legalized abortion an “American Holocaust” (2016 Republican presidential frontrunner Mike Huckabee is a repeat offender). But there’s an especially exotic subset of Nazi-shouters on the Christian Right who more generally like to compare themselves to the persecuted members of Germany’s Confessing Church, bravely standing up for Jesus against secular demands. Here’s a classic example from Focus on the Family founder James Dobson during the famous “neocon versus theocon” “End of Democracy” colloquoy at First Things in 1996, wherein conservatives debated whether it was legitimate to resort to extralegal tactics to overthrow the “secular regime:”
The moral legitimacy of our current government and the responsibility of the Christian towards it are questions of tremendous moment. As I read each essay in the symposium, I could not escape the sense that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was watching over my shoulder. I wonder: do we have the courage to act upon the conclusions we may reach in these deliberations?
Bonhoeffer, of course, was the “Confessing Church” theologian ultimately executed for his involvement in a plot to assassinate Hitler. So you can only imagine what his shade might have been whispering in Dobson’s ear about the acceptability of violence when necessary to resist monstrous evils like letting women control their reproductive systems.
While Christian Right types are usually circumspect in asserting their right to shoot people who disagree with their understanding of God’s Law, they do tend to view themselves as persecuted victims of the Antichrist’s minions. But until today, I wasn’t quite aware that any of them were extending the German analogy to argue that non-conservative Christians were part of the plot, too, like the German Christians who cheered Hitler. It should have come as no surprise, though, that the advocate for this particular slander is Eric Metaxis, author of a popular conservative biography of—you guessed it—Bonhoeffer. Here’s Right Wing Watch’s Brian Tashman on what Metaxis is putting out there:
While promoting his book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas said that the emergence of Protestant churches that accept gays and lesbians is proof that the US is turning into Nazi Germany.
“I’m talking about the theological liberals in the mainstream church that is just getting off in a whole other direction where they are just failing to teach biblical orthodoxy, failing to teach the Bible as the word of God and yet they still think of themselves as the church,” he said. “We see that obviously happening in issues of sexuality, but how can you say that most mainline denominations in America today are profoundly Christian when they have given up the ghost on all of these fundamentals of the faith? You had the exact same thing happening in Germany. It’s just setting things up so that when evil comes, where do people turn?”
I don’t have the time and space to explain fully the obnoxious nature of this slur, but in fact the “orthodox Christians” of Germany, including both State Church Protestants and Hitler’s fellow Catholics, were for the most part pretty supportive of Hitler’s advent to power, which led the Nazis in gratitude to quickly sideline the openly racist “German Christian” movement that Metaxas is likely analogizing (in a sub-slur) to today’s liberal American Christians. Indeed, it was the Nazi capture of the deeply conservative Protestant State Church, and the co-optation of Germany’s Catholic bishops via a concordat with Rome, that made the Confessing Church necessary in the first place. And aside from discarding the German Christians, the Nazis rewarded conservatives with a variety of “pro-family” policies, including strict anti-abortion laws (for Aryans, at least).
I don’t know whether Metaxis shares Dobson’s willingness to flirt with revolutionary violence to stop the liberal “regime.” But don’t fool yourself that this sort of twisted thinking isn’t widespread in the supposedly respectable (and respected by Republican politicians) Christian Right.
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