This past Friday marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Over one million people were murdered at Auschwitz during the five years it was open. My dad was among the first liberators of another infamous camp and provided a powerful and chilling eyewitness account to me as a child of how dark and abhorrent evil can be.
This morning, my “two years ago” Facebook memory post was a link to a blog I had written about the failures of the Church to act against evil when we subjugate the Kingdom of God worldview to the policies of the nation state. The message merits another look in today’s troubling climate.
As I wrote about in the Lenten book and study RENEGADE GOSPEL: Rebel Jesus, my wife Carolyn and I took our then 11-year-old daughter Kristen and 8-year-old son Jonathan to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp, which opened in 1933 shortly after Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. At Dachau, like Auschwitz, countless thousands of Jews and other prisoners were executed or died of malnutrition, disease and overwork. We made a point of showing Kristen and Jonathan the building where Christian prisoners were held after arrest for hiding Jews as part of a liberation movement. We wanted to impress upon our children a vivid picture of the risk and cost that may be required in following the rebel Jesus. Carolyn and I also recognized that if our next generations do not remember the tragic mistakes of the past, they are even more likely to repeat them.
Sadly, after the Holocaust, many 20th century governments and leaders proclaimed “Never again.” The words “Not on my watch” were still resonating in 1994 when 800,000 people were slaughtered within 100 days in Rwanda. Then, 2003 ushered in the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur, Sudan, a crisis that initiated Ginghamsburg’s decade-long investment into Darfur to save and serve Sudanese children, women and men
One of my spiritual heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), a powerful example of a Jesus follower who would not accommodate the values of the Kingdom to the laws and values of what I call in RENEGADE GOSPEL the “nation state.” Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who helped found the Confessing Church, a group organized to resist Nazi efforts to co-opt the German Protestant church. Bonhoeffer also was an anti-Nazi dissident, publicly criticizing Hitler’s regime in his writings and sermons and even in a radio message that was switched off the air before its conclusion. He boldly asserted, “Leaders of offices which set themselves up as gods mock God.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website describes Bonhoeffer as “one of the few church leaders who stood in courageous opposition to the Fuehrer and his policies.” Bonhoeffer’s outspoken opposition through both word and deed led to his martyrdom—death by hanging—in the Flossenbürg concentration camp in 1945, just days before Germany’s surrender to the Allied forces. The word martyr comes from the root word witness, and what a witness Bonhoeffer was. Jesus is Lord! Not the nation state. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave his life in demonstration of that priority.
As followers of the rebel Jesus, our choice is clear. Whenever conflict arises between the Kingdom of God and the nation state, we must choose the Kingdom. We always stand with the oppressed - never the oppressor - regardless of personal cost or risk.
Mike Slaughter is the almost four-decade chief dreamer and lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church and the spiritual entrepreneur of ministry marketplace innovations. Mike’s call to "afflict the comfortable" challenges Christians to wrestle with God and their God-destinies. His newest books are Down to Earth, The Passionate Church and The Christian Wallet.