More than 1,100 professors at Christian colleges across the country have signed a “Confessing Faculty” document acknowledging sins of omission that echoes an 83-year-old statement denouncing the corruption of Protestant churches in Nazi Germany.
The statement, drafted by faculty and staff of North Park Theological Seminary and Westmont College, cites a “contentious election and post-election season marked by fear, polarization and violence” and a current political climate revealing “longstanding national sins of racism, misogyny, nativism and great economic disparity.”
Representing “varying degrees of privilege and power,” the professors say the gospel demands both “that we recognize vulnerable populations among us” and “ways we benefit from and participate in structural injustices.”
“When we have power, we are called to use it justly and for the good of all,” the statement says.
“We confess that we have, too often, failed in calling out injustice, in loving and knowing our neighbors and in properly stewarding God’s creation,” it continues. “We pray for genuine conviction to undo the harm we have caused.”
One of the statement’s authors, Sameer Yadav, assistant professor of religious studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., said the name “Confessing Faculty” was borrowed from the 1934 Barmen declaration of the so-called Confessing Church resisting theological claims of the Third Reich.
“The allusion is not intended to equate the deep disorders of American social and political life with Nazism, but to emphasize the importance of not allowing the cultural or political aims of the state to co-opt the aims of the church,” Yadav told the Christian Post.
David Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics and director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, said he was approached by one of the drafters of the document and found it easy to sign.
“It doesn’t try to do too much, and it offers winsome Christian witness in our current cultural and political context,” said Gushee, author of books including Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation originally published in 1994.
“For me, it simply says there are unhealthy realities in our politics and culture that need to be named without attacking persons or descending into partisanship, and that evangelical Christians need to be called to be true to Jesus and not succumb to the day’s pathologies,” Gushee said.
Faculty members at nearly 150 schools have signed the document, many of them with Baptist ties. Baptist schools represented include Baptist Seminary of Kentucky, Baylor University, California Baptist University, Campbell University, East Texas Baptist University, Hardin-Simmons University, Houston Baptist University and Samford.
Notwithstanding Godwin’s law — an Internet adage that asserts if an online discussion goes on long enough someone will compare someone or something to Hitler — Nazi references also come along from time to time in academia.
In 2012 the late Charles Colson and Baptist historian Timothy George described President Obama’s requirement that religious organizations include contraception in their employees’ health-care coverage as a “Niemöller moment” justifying, if necessary, civil disobedience.
“We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime,” the duo wrote in an open letter published by Christianity Today. “We cannot help but think of the words attributed to German pastor Martin Niemöller, reflecting on the Nazi terror: ‘First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.’”
Lisa DeBoer, an art professor at Westmont College, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that she hopes American Christians today are not in as dire a situation as the German church in the 1930s, but she has talked with colleagues of color at other institutions who think that they are.
“I’m white,” she said. “It doesn’t occur to me that I might be rounded up and harassed. Our Christian call to be on guard to the vulnerable means I have to listen to my colleagues who say, ‘You can say that, because you’re white.’”