As the new pastor watched Weimar Germany suffer from economic and political instability, he began to long for a strong political leader who would promote national unity and restore German honor. In 1924 and 1933, Niemöller cast his vote for the Nazis, believing that Hitler might fulfill exactly those aims. As Hitler campaigned for office, he emphasized the importance of Christianity in Germany’s renewal, a commitment which greatly appealed to Niemöller.
Christianity Today is an evangelical Christian magazine founded in 1956 by Billy Graham. It is widely respected among evangelicals. Contrary to what one might be led to believe by the reported actions of certain people calling themselves evangelical, there are many more Christians concerned about living the gospel faithfully than cheer the efforts of alt-right bigots. The audience of Christianity Today consists of this less vocal element. One often finds in the pages of this magazine criticism of the idolatrous mixing of politics and the gospel.
It is not surprising then to find this piece about Martin Niemöller. Most of us are familiar with his famous poem, “First they came for the Communists…” and his association along with Bonhoeffer with the Confessing Church in its opposition to Hitler. But most of us probably are unaware that in spite of being Hitler’s prisoner Niemöller remained until after the war an ardent German nationalist and supporter of Hitler’s ambitions to make Germany great again.
The linked article describes Niemöller’s repentance and conversion after coming to grips with the evil that resulted from the mindless fanatical nationalism Hitler inspired. It is a timely piece aimed at an audience who needs to hear Niemöller‘s story as we all do. And, in spite of our troubled relationship with history, perhaps we can learn its lesson.
In 1930s Nazi Germany, Martin Niemöller played a crucial role in organizing the Confessing Church, an ecclesial movement that resisted Adolf Hitler’s interference in German Protestant affairs. As punishment for his protest, Niemöller was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps from 1938 to 1945.