The Baptist Center for Ethics is sponsoring a screening and discussion of “Theologians Under Hitler,”–a film that documents how three of the most prominent German theologians in the 1930s capitulated to and helped promote Nazi ideology–in a workshop at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly June 23 in Atlanta.
A screening of the 51-minute documentary, including response from a panel and discussion, is scheduled 2-4 p.m. Friday. The screening is scheduled in Room A302 at the Georgia World Congress Center.
Based on pioneering scholarship by Pacific Lutheran University professor Robert Ericksen, “Theologians Under Hitler” profiles three of the German church’s greatest teachers–Paul Althaus, Gerhard Kittel and Emmanuel Hirsch–who gave their full support to Hitler.
Kittel was founding editor of the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, a seminal work on biblical languages still used in seminaries today.
The film also describes the “German Christian” movement that rose to prominence in the 1920s, championing a radically nationalist agenda that merged church and state to the point of draping the swastika on the church altar.
While many modern Christians assume that theologians who opposed Hitler, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoller, were the norm in German’s Protestant church, the opposite was true. A majority of religious leaders viewed Hitler as a gift from God and the best hope for restoring national pride dashed in the aftermath of World War I.
While set in history, “Theologians Under Hitler” is a cautionary tale for Christians in every place and time.
Craig Sherouse, a scheduled panelist at the Atlanta screening, called it a “very important film that brings into sharp clarity” the need to separate church and state.
“When the church and state walk hand in hand, the state always has a stronger grip,” said Sherouse, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Griffin, Ga. “That certainly was the case then and always will be.”
Another scheduled panelist, Kathy Dobbins, called it “an important film for Christians to see, especially since not much has been documented on the role of the church during the Holocaust.”
“If the church is reluctant to address the Christian response during this period of time, how will we be able to speak with any integrity to people who are being persecuted today?” asked Dobbins, minister of adult education and outreach at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Ga. “All religions must be willing to learn from their history.”
A third panelist, Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, said: “This video makes clear how prejudice against other faiths and fear of secularization fueled the intolerance that led to the Holocaust. It’s important for modern Christians to learn the lesson before we repeat the mistakes.
Directed by Steven Martin, a Methodist minister from Oak Ridge, Tenn., the documentary is intended for use in churches and other small groups. An accompanying study guide helps adults explore issues of what it means to be both a good Christian and good citizen, without polarizing them over current political issues.
In addition to Friday’s workshop, BCE will celebrate its 15th anniversary at a luncheon on Thursday, June 22. Speakers will honor the legacies of pioneer Baptist ethicists Henlee Barnette and T.B. Maston. Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches is scheduled as the keynote speaker. Click here for details.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Click here to order “Theologians Under Hitler” on DVD.