The story on about Richard Land, who heads Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, comparing President Obama’s proposed health-care reform to the Nazi program offended me more than practically anything else I have seen or heard in recent days on the issue.

His action goes beyond the unprincipled behavior of such foul mouthpieces of the right as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. We know that they are ideologues who make big money by spewing their poison over the airwaves and in books consumed by their disciples. Land calls himself a Christian, a Baptist and a historian. I too accept all of these labels and feel he has disgraced them.

First and foremost, he has brought reproach upon the good name of Baptists. If his handlers in Nashville have any sense of decency, they will move at once to silence him – permanently. If they do not, then our Jewish friends have every right to charge the Southern Baptist leadership with anti-Semitism.

To evoke images of Hitler or the Holocaust to thwart health-care reform is a brutal insult both to the victims and survivors of that Holocaust. The current effort to rebuild a badly broken health-care system has absolutely nothing to do with Nazism or the Holocaust that consumed a third of the world’s Jews. As a Baptist, I apologize to our Jewish readers for Land’s outrageous comments.

Correct-thinking Baptists, and there are a lot of us, have no truck with such noxious views. But it is not enough to repent and ask for forgiveness. We must challenge them and expose them for the lies that they are.

We must proclaim as widely as possible that the term “Nazism” and images of the swastika have nothing to do with the issues at hand. Any such comparisons are false and are intended only to frighten and confuse people.

Unlike Land, whose scholarly work focused on some distant corner of Baptist history, my primary area of specialty is the history of modern Germany. I have lived and taught in Germany; I have studied the impact National Socialism had on the churches during that terrible period of 1933-45.

I can speak authoritatively about Nazism and will confidently assure people that the effort to reform health care in the United States has absolutely nothing in common with the events of 70 years ago. There is nothing in the legislation under consideration that remotely involves “death panels” or the arbitrary elimination of certain “undesirable” elements of the population.

There is, however, one lesson to be learned from the Nazi experience. Propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels said that when you tell lies, tell big lies because they are more believable. That is precisely what is going on today.

Jews have every right to ask Christians, “Why are you accepting and supporting the lies being told by unscrupulous political activists?” Of all people, Christians should be demanding health care as a right, as a way to save lives in America.

That so many of them have chosen to go along with the purveyors of misinformation and hatred in our society is a mystery to me. It reveals just how “unconverted” they are. Let us demand honesty and integrity from our political leaders and keep asking the hard questions about what Jesus would be doing if he were here today.

Richard V. Pierard is professor of history emeritus at Indiana State University. He lives in Hendersonville, N.C.

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