Why are Pastors Afraid to Speak about Politics?

An untapped resource to turn America around is found in the tens of thousands of churches in America. Many Christians don’t vote and their pastors encourage them to avoid politics. Then there are other churches where pastors are fearful of government reprisals, mostly from the IRS at the prompting of groups like the ACLU.

Keeping Christians from being involved beyond the church building and Sunday worship hour is becoming more common. But ever since Christians become politically active in the mid 1970s, secularists have gotten more vocal and strident. “That [Christians] may rant and rave against humanism and feminism and any other ‘ism’ on Sunday, but come Monday the children belong in school.”1

Tyrannical regimes are most fearful of organizations that don’t easily acquiesce to authority. We’re seeing this take place in China. “On the first Sunday of 2012, nearly 50 members of Shouwang Church in Beijing were detained following the church’s decision to continue its outdoor worship services that began in April, ChinaAid has learned.”

The latest attempt in the United States at intimidation is Pastor Charles Patrick of the Sunago Christian Fellowship Church who applied for the right to open a charter school. The application was denied because the applicant was a pastor.

It wasn’t that long ago in a nation not that far away that Christianity was seen as a threat to the governing authorities. Over time, churches in Nazi German were “confined as far as possible to the performance of narrowly religious functions, and even within this narrow sphere were subjected to as many hindrances as the Nazis dared to impose.” This is the evaluation of a 1945 report published by the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. It was called The Nazi Master Plan: The Persecution of the Christian Churches and was prepared for the War Crimes Staff. It offered the following summary: “This study describes, with illustrative factual evidence, Nazi purposes, policies and methods of persecuting the Christian Churches in Germany and occupied Europe.”

Where did the strategic plan begin? “Implementation of this objective started with the curtailment of religious instruction in the primary and secondary schools with the squeezing of the religious periods into inconvenient hours, with Nazi propaganda among the teachers in order to induce them to refuse the teaching of religion, with vetoing of . . . religious text books, and finally with substituting [a] Nazi Weltanschauung [worldview] and ‘German faith’ for Christian religious denominational instruction. . . . At the time of the outbreak of the war . . . religious instruction had practically disappeared from Germany’s primary schools.” Does any of this sound familiar? This is a perfect description of our nation’s education system with the only difference being that a materialistic worldview and “secular” faith have replaced the once Christian worldview that served as the foundation of education in America.

The next step was to neutralize the impact that churches would have on politics. “Under the pretext that the Churches themselves were interfering in political and state matters, [the Nazis] would deprive the Churches, step by step, of all opportunity to affect German public life.” How often do we hear that the “separation between church and state” means that churches must remain silent on social and political issues, that pastors cannot use their pulpits (unless they’re liberal) to influence legislation?

When Martin Niemoeller used his pulpit to expose Adolf Hitler’s radical politics, “He knew every word spoken was reported by Nazi spies and secret agents.”2 Leo Stein describes in his book I Was in Hell with Niemoeller how the Gestapo gathered evidence against Niemoeller:

Now, the charge against Niemoeller was based entirely on his sermons, which the Gestapo agents had taken down stenographically. But in none of his sermons did Pastor Niemoeller exhort his congregation to overthrow the Nazi regime. He merely raised his voice against some of the Nazi policies, particularly the policy directed against the Church. He had even refrained from criticizing the Nazi government itself or any of its personnel. Under the former government his sermons would have been construed only as an exercise of the right of free speech. Now, however, written laws, no matter how explicitly they were worded, were subjected to the interpretation of the judges.3

In a June 27, 1937 sermon, Niemoeller made it clear to those in attendance had a sacred duty to speak out on the evils of the Nazi regime no matter what the consequences: “We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.”4 A few days later, he was arrested. His crime? “Abuse of the pulpit.”

The “Special Courts” set up by the Nazis made claims against pastors who spoke out against Hitler’s policies. Niemoeller was not the only one singled out by the Gestapo. “Some 807 other pastors and leading laymen of the ‘Confessional Church’ were arrested in 1937, and hundreds more in the next couple of years.”5

A group of Confessional Churches in Germany, founded by Pastor Niemoeller and other Protestant ministers, drew up a proclamation to confront the political changes taking place in Germany that threatened the people “with a deadly danger. The danger lies in a new religion,” the proclamation declared. “The church has by order of its Master to see to it that in our people Christ is given the honor that is proper to the Judge of the world. . . . The First Commandment says ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ The new religion is a rejection of the First Commandment.”6 Five hundred pastors who read the proclamation from their pulpits were arrested.

It’s not this bad in America – at least not yet.

  1. Rheta Grimsley Johnson, “‘People’ vs. fundamentalists,” The Marietta Daily Journal (September 2, 1986), 4A. []
  2. Basil Miller, Martin Niemoeller: Hero of the Concentration Camp, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1942), 112. []
  3. Leo Stein, I Was in Hell with Niemoeller (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942), 175. []
  4. Quoted in William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 239 []
  5. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 239. []
  6. Quoted in Eugene Davidson, The Trials of the Germans: An Account of the Twenty-Two Defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, [1966] 1997), 275. []
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