A small, fascinating book by Erwin Lutzer, pastor of the famed Moody Church in Chicago, will surprise many readers before they reach the first page.
When a Nation Forgets God: 7 Lessons We Must Learn From Nazi Germany (Moody Publishers, 2009) is paperbound in a stark, black cover, with the monochrome photo of a hand upraised in the “Hitler salute” adopted in the 1930s, and is an immediate challenge: what could we possibly learn from a regime that was perhaps the zenith of modern-day evil? A criminal enterprise that engineered the murder of 6 million Jews, the murder of millions of other “unfit” people, and a war whose global death toll was in the tens of millions couldn’t have anything to teach us, right?
Lutzer—a gracious man who, when we met a few years ago, had very nice things to say about Adventists and his guest-speaking experience at Andrews University—is no advocate of Hitler’s methods or policies. Instead, he outlines that when a nation forgets its God-centered roots—for example, that citizens “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” as Thomas Jefferson wrote 234 years ago—we risk allowing our freedoms to be subsumed by the state and its control.
It’s worth remembering, in these days of high unemployment and the aftereffects of a real estate market crash, that the wave that swept Hitler’s National Socialists into power was fueled by severe economic discord. Weimar Germany’s legendary hyperinflation is the stuff of old newsreels, photos, and currency collections, but its pain was very real: workers were paid sometimes twice daily, with wives scurrying to shops to buy bread before the morning’s banknotes became worthless. When a dynamic, young orator stepped forth with a plan to restore national pride, millions followed.
Such dangers remain in this present age: our economy and our nation are hurting; and while we hope, pray, and work for recovery, nothing is guaranteed. A further shock to the system could lead to the rise of a “benevolent” leader who promises “economic justice” at the expense of liberty, entrepreneurial freedom, even religious rights. (Could such a leader “suggest” that we all take Sundays off as a national day of rest, under the guise of helping working families? It wouldn’t be that far of a stretch!)
Of the many topics addressed in Lutzer’s book, which is a brisk, quick, and bracing read, one other comes to mind: that parents, not the state, “are responsible for a child’s training.” Before, during, and after the Hitler era, home schooling was outlawed, a prohibition that traces its roots to a nineteenth-century desire for “standardized” education and societal advancement. (In January 2010 a Tennessee immigration judge granted political asylum to a German Christian family that wanted to homeschool their children but were harassed and fined thousands of Euros by German authorities.*)
We Adventists have a great refuge in our educational network. But our believers who do not have such access must have their right to instruct their children preserved.
Those who naively believe a federally guided “village” will raise their children with sympathy for Adventist values or Christian principles may well shed copious tears later when they discover their error. This world is not our home; its values are not the values of the Christian; and our great challenge—and high calling—is to stand athwart modern secularism and say, “No.”
The cost of ignoring this challenge, of assuming that any politician, or party, or platform, will guard our liberties better than we ourselves, could be grave indeed. Read Lutzer’s book—which I believe is as prophetic a warning as you’ll find coming from a contemporary pen—and you’ll see.
*Daniel Nasaw, “U.S. Grants Home Schooling German Family Political Asylum,” The Guardian, Jan. 27, 2010, http://bit.ly/dxjBXm, accessed online Oct. 7, 2010.
Mark A. Kellner is the news editor for the Adventist Review. This article was published November 11, 2010.