The Holocaust is a singular event of 20th-century social evil that should not be watered down by flawed analogies to other moral wrongs. Defective analogies trivialize genocide and the suffering of survivors.
Goodwill Baptists make a grotesque moral error if we compare the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention to the Holocaust. No similarity exists between what the Nazis did to Jews and what fundamentalists did to moderate Baptists. No moderate Baptists were hauled in freight cars to concentration camps. No moderate Baptists were gassed. No moderate survivors of the takeover bear numbered tattoos and memories of loved ones lost forever to industrial-scale genocide.
Jewish leaders have responded critically to those who have used wrongfully this flawed analogy. Their response should be instructive for Baptists who think it is an appropriate analogy to use.
Only last week, the Anti-Defamation League’s Pacific Northwest Regional director criticized the Building Industry Association of Washington for a newsletter article that associated environmentalists to Nazis.
“Any attempt to compare the policies of Hitler and the Nazis, which led to World War II and ultimately the death of six million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust, to the actions of environmentalists is inappropriate and offensive and has no place in a debate over environmental regulation,” said Ellen Bovarnick.
“While the industry may have concerns about regulation, it is outrageous and false to compare environmentalists and government regulators to Nazis,” she said. “Such comparisons only serve to trivialize the history of the Holocaust.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s national director denounced a Holocaust comparison of radio host Glenn Beck.
“Glenn Beck’s linkage of Hitler’s plan to round up and exterminate Jews with Al Gore’s efforts to raise awareness of global warming is outrageous, insensitive and deeply offensive. Unfortunately, his remarks are just the latest example of a troubling epidemic on the airwaves, where comparisons to Hitler and the Holocaust are becoming all-too facile,” said Abraham Foxman.
“It has become almost commonplace for talk-show pundits to use comparisons to the Holocaust and Nazi imagery to attack people whose views they disagree with, whether the issue is global warming or immigration, as we witnessed when CNN’s Lou Dobbs recently suggested on his program that immigrant rights groups use tactics similar to those of Nazi propagandists.”
Foxman said victims deserve “a measure of respect” and that their deaths “should not be used for political points.”
Jewish leaders find offensive the analogies which they say trivialize the Holocaust.
Not only should goodwill Baptists listen to how Jewish leaders think about this analogy, but we should think carefully about our own moral framework.
When Baptists use Holocaust analogies to describe our experience of humiliation and defeat, we wrongfully elevate our modest trials to the rarified heights of genuine human suffering at the hands of corporate evil. In essence, we claim more nobility of suffering than is morally proper. That is a form of pride which assumes our moral superiority and equivalency as victims of an industrial-scale injustice.
Is that really how we see ourselves?
Hopefully, if we have used this analogy, we have done so because we have not thought about it from either a Jewish perspective or a reflective Christian perspective.
The Holocaust-analogy issue surfaced last Thursday during the opening session of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s annual meeting. Upon receiving a copy of his newly published autobiography, Cecil Sherman, CBF’s first executive coordinator, compared the Holocaust to the successful campaign by fundamentalists to capture and remake the Southern Baptist Convention.
Sherman said: “Every once in a while, I meet someone of the younger generation who says, ‘Don’t talk about that anymore.’ Why don’t you tell a Jew not to talk about the Holocaust anymore? You need to remember the events that called us into being and be guided by them as you wisely chart your future.”
Like many centrist Baptists, I appreciate Sherman’s refusal to buckle to fundamentalism which caused and continues to cause much harm.
Like Sherman, I encounter criticism from moderates who would rather have moral amnesia about our shared history than moral truth, who would rather pretend that the Christian Right is powerless than confront that malignant power. Some moderates lack the basic virtue of courage to oppose the wrongful theology, methodology and praxis of fundamentalism. They like being moderates at moderate meetings only to return to their churches which continue to bankroll the SBC with their gifts and to underwrite fundamentalist ideology with their purchases of educational supplies. Those moderates travel a different path from BCE.
BCE has a proven record of challenging the SBC. More directly, BCE has consistently disagreed with the SBC’s anti-Jewish sentiments, statements and actions. We have also sought to reframe the way Baptists engage the Jewish community, including critiquing the Mel Gibson movie about Christ, hosting a 2004 Baptist-Jewish goodwill luncheon at CBF and sponsoring a DVD screening in Memphis that encouraged Baptists to nurture relationships with the Jewish community.
Given our record of SBC critique and our initiatives to foster goodwill between two faith communities, we take exception to the Holocaust analogy for the takeover of the SBC. It is historically inapplicable and morally regrettable.
Can anything good come from this matter?
The answer is “yes,” if we begin a serious educational process in churches about how we love our neighbors without “loving” them only for the sake of conversion. Good can emerge if we seek the common good with our Jewish neighbors.
Additionally, this matter provides us with a wakeup call to be more careful with our moral analogies, with our public language. All of us need to be mindful of the temptation of rhetorical excess.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.