How many heroes does it take? In times of major crisis it usually takes a lot due to the sad fact that many of them will be taken down, electorally or even physically.

I’m complaining about lack of leadership in the churches and in government and politics. When the time comes that the last strongholds of decency and democracy are being destroyed one has to take a stand on behalf of those strongholds. It seems that the worst fate imagined by some of our representatives today, clerical and political, is to be forced into retirement by those who don’t want to hear what needs saying. But fear about losing a high position (or the next election) can look very craven and shortsighted in times like these.

Here’s an example of a church leader under the Nazi’s immoral regime:

“Bernhard Lichtenberg, priest at St Hedwig’s cathedral in Berlin, was a confidant of … [powerful and protected churchmen] … but that was not enough to save him in the end.”

But look what he did with his position as a prominent “representative” of the German people, and of the values that Christianity properly stands for.

“Lichtenberg came to St Hedwig’s in 1932, and was well-enough known to the Gestapo to have his flat searched as early as 1933.

  • He ran the aid unit of the diocesan authority … an organization which clandestinely gave help and advice to those persecuted by the regime
  • and from 1938 conducted public prayers of intercession for the Jews, ‘the poor inmates of the concentration camps, and my fellow priests there’.
  • He preached consistently against official Party propaganda, and
  • wrote a courageous letter to the State Medical Director, Dr Conti, on 18 August 1941 … pointing out the precise laws under the constitution in which euthanasia was unequivocally defined as an act of murder.”

In crazy times it’s not easy to discern what actions would be wisest or most effective. But this man engaged in explicit talk and direct action, at great risk. Where are prominent American church leaders taking stands like this? There are some, but they are not often found in those churches that think of themselves as “conservative” or “evangelical”. We need heroes in those churches too, and need to honor and encourage any who take heroic steps. Some of what Lichtenberg did was “clandestine”, and we can hope church leaders are doing some such things today. But we have more freedom and security than he had in the late 30’s and thus our actions and words can more safely be public and explicit.

“By that action he finally pushed the authorities too far. He was arrested and tried by a special court which sentenced him to two years’ penal servitude. When these were completed he was rearrested by the Gestapo (a not uncommon occurrence) and sent to Dachau. Already ill, he died on the way there, at Hof, in November 1943, aged sixty-eight.”

There are worse things than being put out to pasture in Pumpkin Center or Exclusive Heights. Refusal to stand for truth and for Christian and American values will only make those “worse things” more likely. When we are dealing with a party of lock-step ideological self-discipline, destructive intention, and willingness to do “whatever it takes”, we are dealing with the type who can be expected not always to stop with sending their “enemies” into comfortable retirement. And top level Republicans do think of the rest of us as “enemies.”

Under Nazi oppression there were many heroic persons and deeds, including some even among Christian leaders. Bernhard Lichtenberg illustrates this. May his tribe increase.

Note: The quotes are from An Honorable Defeat: A History of German Resistance To Hitler, 1933-1945, Anton Gill, Henry Holt and Co., 1994, p60-61.