About two months after Hitler was appointed Chancellor, the German government passed the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. It contained the Aryan Paragraph which excluded from civil service those who could not document their “Aryan” descent – a measure aimed especially at Jews – and who could not guarantee that they would “act at all times and without reservation in the interests of the national state” – aimed at political opponents.
Later in 1933, a number of church synods under the influence of the “German Christian” faction passed their own Aryan Paragraphs excluding from the clergy those who could not meet the same conditions of being Aryan and of wholeheartedly supporting the Nazi State. In addition, those who married “those of non-Aryan descent” were also excluded. A number of Synods also applied these exclusions to the laity. Jewish Christians were expected to set up their own churches.
Yet when the national Synod of the German Protestant Church (GPC) met in September 1933, no passage of an Aryan Paragraph was attempted. Oddly, the inaction was requested by the Reich Foreign Office. The Nazi regime did care about international opinion at least at that early point. And the Archbishop of Sweden had made it clear and public that he would break communion with the GPC if such a measure were passed.
Among those opposing the Aryan Paragraph was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. That summer he wrote the succinct theses on “The Aryan Paragraph in the Church.” Three statements from it stand out as relevant today.
Taking up Bible passages used by both sides of church disputes on Critical Theory, racial issues, and social justice today, Bonhoeffer states that the Aryan Paragraph directly contradicted the teaching of St. Paul that in the church there should be no division between Jew and Gentile, but that instead all should be one. Of course, in the German case, it was Gentiles excluding Jews instead of Jews excluding Gentiles. The principle remains the same and today is also applied with varying accuracy concerning broader ethic divisions.
Later, Bonhoeffer describes a justification used for excluding Jews from the German church as follows.
The German Christians say:
The German church people can no longer endure communion with Jews, who have done them so much harm politically.
Again, to be clear, that is Bonhoeffer’s interpretation of a view he adamantly and rightly opposed.
This statement jumped out at me when I read it. Are we not going through such bigotry in the church all over again? Is that not very much like the argument of several Woke Church people? They say white evangelicals did a horrible thing that (supposedly) harmed people of color – most of them voted for Trump. How can people of color endure being in the same church with them any more? As Jemar Tisby said after the 2016 election, “I really, this Sunday, don’t feel safe worshiping with white people.”
Bonhoeffer did not put up with this sort of bigoted thinking, and neither should we.
Speaking of not putting up with bigoted divisions, Bonhoeffer made clear that the issue was of such import, he was ready to leave over it:
Therefore, there is only one way to serve the truth in a church that implements the Aryan paragraph in this radical form, and that is to withdraw. This is the ultimate act of solidarity with my church. I can never serve my church in any other way than by adhering to the whole truth and all its consequences.
And leave he later did.
In today’s context this begs the question of whether Critical Theory or perceived racism is grounds to leave a church. On the one hand, if a church becomes anything like Westboro Baptist, the decision is simple – leave, run even! Whether one should leave over the more subtle racism of Critical Theory and related ideologies is a more difficult question. I was going to write that CT supporters have not pushed people out of the church like the German Christians did. But then I remembered the professors dumped by Southeastern Seminary and First Baptist Naples expelling members who did not vote for a proposed pastor with woke tendencies. Still CT supporters are not expelling Christians to the extent the German Christians did.
But is racist Critical Theory – and it is racist among other numerous problems, including rampant totalitarian tendencies (Those fun struggle sessions required to keep corporate jobs are only part of that.) – grounds to leave a church? I would say yes, but I would not say any CT in a church is necessarily sufficient reason to leave any more than a few real racists here or there in a church is reason to leave. The church will always have people with mistaken and sinful thinking until Jesus returns.
The problem would come if the leaders of a church teach under the influence of Critical Theory, especially in official statements or acts, or if clergy so teach and those over them refuse to discipline. Granted, the influence of CT is close to impossible to escape totally today, and I do not presume to know the exact point this problem should compel a faithful Christian to leave. I do think that, like Bonhoeffer, if a church is getting to be influenced by Critical Theory, we should make clear that if said influence goes too far, we are gone. It is an act of love towards an errant church to let them know they are at risk of going too far and driving off faithful Christians.
In the case of Bonhoeffer, Barth, the Archbishop of Sweden and others who pushed back against implementing the Aryan Paragraph in the church, their efforts resulted in mainline German Protestant churches at least slowing their evil direction. Sadly, that delay turned out to be temporary for most. But we still remember the faithfulness of those who gave warning and opportunity to the church to pull away from a racist and totalitarian direction. And we should be willing to follow their good example even if it prove costly as it did for Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer’s theses and a number of documents related to church collaboration with the Nazis may be found in A Church Undone by Mary M. Solberg.