I find a lot of irony in the upcoming US Presidential election, particularly because the two candidates take such extreme positions.
On one hand Sec. Clinton, who was a left-leaning liberal during her husband’s presidency, has moved further left in her determination to defeat socialist Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination.
On the other hand Mr. Trump advocates for a fascist type government in which he calls the shots—about trade and treaty-breaking and immigration policy and . . . well, just about any subject he addresses—ignoring what the Constitution says about the powers of the President.
The irony in all this is that Germany in the aftermath of World War I also faced the same kind of polarizing forces, which played a part in Adolf Hitler becoming the powerful dictator who initiated such inhumane policies and led Germany into the second world war. For the purpose of the discussion about what Christians should do in the upcoming election here in the US, I think it’s important to note that the church was especially divided and unsure what to do about Hitler.Not just in Germany:
In August [American evangelical leader Frank] Buchman made his tragic remark: “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of Communism” . . . it did not reflect his wider thinking on the subject. Still, it illustrates how easily even the most serious Christians were initially taken in by Hitler’s conservative pseudo-Christian propaganda. (Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas, p. 290)
Hindsight is always so clear. We know now that Hitler needed to be stopped, that his abject racism was deadly.
But what would have happened if Communism had won the day? What if the German industrial-military complex had joined forces with a Joseph Stalin-ruled Russia? In other words, were there any good choices?
Some people found their choice in leaving Germany. Others ignored the politics, and the rumors of war crimes and death camps in the hopes that they would be left alone to go about their business as unhindered as possible. Still others chose one side or the other to support.
When Hitler was firmly in charge, a small group of Christians protested the obvious and egregious policies being carried out by the Nazis. For instance Jewish Christians who had already been ordained were banned from serving as ministers and later from attending church with “Aryans.” Bonhoeffer and others of like mind took a stand against this policy. But others in the church did not. In fact, many felt Bonhoeffer was off base. They had embraced the Nazis, as demonstrated by their church gathering which came to be known as the Brown Synod because it was more like a Nazi rally than a church meeting.
The time for schism had arrived. A church synod had officially voted to exclude a group of persons from Christian ministry simply because of their ethnic background. The German Christians had clearly broken away from the true and historical faith. (Bonhoeffer, p. 187)
It’s easy to look back and say, Why did those people who professed faith miss their departure from God’s word? How could they not see that they were supporting a government policy over the clear instruction of God?
I have to wonder, though, if many didn’t see their choices as limited. They were backing what they believed to be the lesser of two evils—the Nazis instead of the Communists.
Bonhoeffer didn’t take that route. He had the opportunity to leave Germany and in fact did so for a short time before he felt convicted he needed to stand with his fellow true Christians, come what may. He openly protested as long as that action was allowed. He found ways to skirt the laws meant to reduce his influence, and finally, he joined with others seeking an opportunity to overthrow the wicked empire Hitler had erected.
All this history influences my thinking about the upcoming Presidential election. What are the choices Christians have? We can leave. We can ignore the election, keep our heads down, and hope whoever wins won’t do anything that will dramatically affect our daily life. We can support one or the other of the candidates because we think it is the lesser of the two evils and believe the greater evil is unbearable. Or we can protest.
Today the idea of protest prompts thoughts of marching in groups, waving placards and disrupting traffic. Bonhoeffer didn’t protest in that way. He didn’t take a knee during the national anthem or any of the kinds of protest gestures people are making to call attention to injustice today.
Bonhoeffer instead built a sound Scriptural argument that he circulated far and wide. He countered propaganda with the truth. He taught—first in the seminar, and when no longer allowed to do so, in a one on one discipleship setting that he created.
Today we American Christians do have other choices. There are third party candidates that we can vote for instead of Mr. Trump or Sec. Clinton. To do so would be a protest. It would be a way of making our voices heard: neither of the major party candidates is worthy to be our next President.
Then, when one wins, we can counter the propaganda that will inevitably swirl around the winner by holding them to a high standard. It’s not OK to lie to the American people, to treat people unjustly, to play to either greed or entitlement. We need to lead the way in opposing policies that oppose Scripture—not because we want to make things “the way they used to be” or to create a comfortable life for ourselves, but because as God’s people, we need to stand for right, no matter which party is in power.