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The Thirties: A seismic shift

I’d like to ponder what Nazi Germany might mean for how we preach and influence both church and society in our tumultuous times.

BIBLICAL PREACHING AUTOR 108/Peter_Mead 06 DE JUNIO DE 2024 10:38 h
Photo: [link]Lawrence H.[/link], Unsplash, CC0.

At the height of restrictions during the times of Covid, I made a comment to a friend. His response has stayed with me. My comment made a specific comparison of a contemporary trend with 1930s Germany. 

He immediately reacted and told me that we should never make such a comparison because it implied that the motives of certain influential people were as evil as Hitler himself. 

I find censorship to be a huge red flag, and I felt like my thought process was being shut down.  A few years later, whether the situation warranted my comment is still up for discussion. 

Perhaps, over time, we will know.  But my interest in 1930s Germany has continued.

What did they know?  And significantly, how did they respond during an era of multiplying warning flags?

Recently, I discovered Inside Germany, a book written by Albert C. Grzesinksi [herein ACG] – a member of the Social Democratic Party who helped to found the German Republic after World War I. 

Intriguingly, he published the book in 1939 without the benefit of hindsight.  After six years of the Third Reich, he wrote without knowing what would unfold in the next six years.

The horrors of Nazi Germany during the Second World War, especially the “Final Solution” to the “Jewish problem,” were eventually revealed to the world. 

But what about before the war?  How did the German Republic become the Third Reich?  How did so many accept such a rapid transition from liberal democracy to tyrannical evil? 

It is a fascinating read.  And maybe, a century later, there could be lessons for us as we pray for our world, influence Christians and lead churches in a time of potentially tectonic political shifts.

The German Republic was quite an achievement after the devastation of the Great War of 1914-18.  On the 31st of July, 1919, the National Assembly in Weimer “gave the German people a constitution that was one of the most liberal, progressive and inspiring documents in the history of the world. On the 23rd of March, 1933, the parliament of the same republic passed an empowering act which concentrated all powers in the hands of Hitler, and which wrote finis to German democracy and the liberal republic.” (p357) 

Strikingly, ACG wrote, “Those two dates . . . mark Germany’s road to Golgotha, the road to the crucifixion of the German people under the Nazi swastika.” (ibid.)

It would be easy to assume that Germany, after WWI, simply rebuilt itself, leading to WWII. Not so. 

The Germany of 1919 had to be radically changed to become the Third Reich of 1933 and following.

“Seemingly by a stroke of the pen, political liberties were achieved which not even the boldest optimists and democratic dreamers of Germany had dared to envision. Germany became a state of, by and for the people; a democratic fatherland dedicated to the needs and aspirations of the working masses.” (p358) 

And it is that seismic shift from liberal democracy to totalitarian tyranny that intrigues me.  How can that happen so quickly? 

If you will indulge a series of articles on this column about Nazi Germany, I’d like to ponder what it might mean for how we preach and influence both church and society in our tumultuous times?

Peter Mead is mentor at Cor Deo and author of several books. He blogs at Biblical Preaching




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