The F Word that Scares Me Most
I consider myself an apolitical pastor. I stay out of political discussions, especially public ones, as much as possible. I refuse to back a candidate or party. I won’t even tell people who I’m voting for. I honestly believe that there are rarely political answers to seemingly political problems.
But then, two weeks ago, I broke my own rule and wrote a single political post. That post went viral. Of all the things I’ve ever said or written, this is the one thing that has been seen by more people than everything else put together.
From this one post, I’ve received more hate mail in two weeks than in twenty-years of ministry. I’ve also been supported by many people I don’t know, which has been very nice. The people who do know me are, thankfully, my greatest support.
All that said, the hate messages have been very troubling. Not because I agree with them, but because of the sheer weight of them. I’ve never had this experience before.
I’ve been asked by people close to me if I regret what I wrote, given the personal cost. Yes, in one sense I do. No matter what my detractors might believe, I’m not getting anything out of this. No one is paying me, I’m not selling more books, I’m not basking in some kind of glory.
But, in another sense, I’m glad I wrote it. And here’s why:
As an apolitical pastor, very little scares me as much as this picture. I see here a man, a Christian minister, who has gone along with the winds of his culture. I doubt he’s a Fascist at heart. Rather, my guess is that he’s like many of us: a conflict-adverse people-pleaser. His friends and family, the folks in his congregation, other conservative, patriotic people--they all seem to think the Party is leading in a good direction. The fascists just want to make Germany great again. And he certainly wouldn’t want to say anything bad about a fellow Christian like Adolph Hitler. And so, there he is, smile on his face, cross around his neck, Nazi salute from his hand.
At this point, it doesn’t matter if he’s a Nazi at heart, or if he’s just getting out of their way. It doesn't matter what he thinks. Whether through action or inaction, he’s become part of the problem. And he is responsible for what happens next.
Am I saying there is a Nazi currently running for President? Of course not. But there is certainly a strong surge of old-school populism in our country right now. And that populism, with its classic strong-man politics, its engine of anger, its militarism and jingoism, its racist and xenophobic tones, and its paper-thin veil of Christian religion reminds me of terrifying movements in the not-so-distant past. Maybe this modern movement isn’t fascism, but it sure looks like it. And, if it just looks like it or if it actually is it, what’s the difference?
If I had been a German pastor in 1929, would I have stood up for truth and beauty in the face of a populist fringe movement? I would like to think so, but I don’t know. I don’t know if I would have seen it coming, or if I would have felt I was over-reacting. Hindsight is so easy, while predicting the future is darn-near impossible.
So, I might well be over-reacting. I might have taken this whole thing WAY too seriously, and I just need to get back to my regular life. I may be completely mistaken, and I’ve misjudged this situation. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. I doubt myself, I really do. But, then I look at these pictures, my fellow clergy in the Third Reich. And I think to myself: no, I did the best I could do, the thing I think is right (even if I'm wrong). I said what needed to be said, and that’s preaching the Gospel, too.