It is the 22nd of February 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1943.
One of the themes on this show has been the relationship between the church and the state. We've seen whole states convert under the leadership of a monarch. And we've seen states collapse under the direction of would-be Christian monarchs, confusing temporal and heavenly authority. In the case of those state leaders who may have converted their lands, the question at hand was, "What good is Christianity for the state?"
Today, as we move towards our remembrance for this day in 1943, we will give that question a crack. What good is Christianity for a state? Many answers have been proposed, from:
- It will make better citizens.
- It will make more obedient citizens.
- Or perhaps the ethic of love and sacrifice will work its way into older cultural practices that relied on competition and rivalry.
Some answers are better than others and can be determined by the kind of missionary apologists sent. Some are based on temporal approaches to the faith, while others might highlight the faith's supernatural and eternal elements.
But what if we reverse that? When is Christianity bad for a state? When should a ruler ban the Christian faith because it would be detrimental to that state?
There are many answers, but the shortest and best answer is that the state might fear the church when it is a bad state. A state based on exploitation, hatred, rank materialism, or artificial hierarchies should, in theory, be the archenemy of the Christian, Christian accommodationist tendencies notwithstanding.
In the ultimate sense, there is no good state, no, not one. And we can find evil in just about any state but our year for today is 1943. And I suppose that we can all assume that the Nazi state was indeed bad.
Of course, Nazis and Nazi sympathizers twisted the Christian faith to suit their ideology of hate. Hitler envisioned a "Reich" Church, dissolving historic divisions in the name of supporting the Reich and the Aryan nation. We have told stories of faithful Christians from Bonhoeffer to the Barmen Declaration's authors, who rightly opposed the Nazification of the church.
One story of such heroism was purposely buried in Germany towards the end of the war. While it garnered global attention, it was not until the opening of East German archives in 1990 that the whole story could be told. It is the story of the White Rose, Hans and Sophie Scholl, and their friend Christoph Probst.
The Scholls grew up in a Lutheran home with parents that encouraged thoughtful dissent. Probst grew up with no faith but came to faith through his association with his fellow students, including the Scholls, at the University of Munich.
Their group, The White Rose, was dedicated to non-violent resistance to Hitler. Both Scholls had joined various Nazi youth programs but became disillusioned with the increasingly anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric before World War II. The Munich students, now amid World War 2, decided they would borrow a tact used by another German some 400 years prior.
The pamphlets used by Martin Luther are called "Flugschriften," literally "Flying papers" or "papers that fly everywhere." They were cheap to print and could be surreptitiously handed out, placed around a town or campus.
The "flugschriften" written by the White Rose organization were anti-Nazi tracts appealing to the Bible, to theologians, and philosophers. In a few weeks in late January and early February, the group disseminated over 15,000 pamphlets across at least five major German cities. In one attempt to make the papers "fly," Sophie dumped a case of brochures from a balcony for students below. She was seen by a janitor, and both she and her brother were arrested. They refused to give up the others, but a letter from Christoph Probst was found in Hans' pocket, and he too was brought in for questioning. The result was a Gestapo trial in which Sophie, Hans, and Christoph were convicted and sentenced to death. Christoph, aged 23, was baptized the morning of his execution. Hans (24) and Sophie (21) joined him at their judgment. After a prayer, each successively and bravely put their heads into a guillotine. Christoph Probst, Hans Scholl, and Sophie Scholl went to glory on this, the 22nd of February in 1943.
A movie was made in 2005, focusing on the trial and Sophie. "Sophie Scholl: The Final Days" was created with records from the trial that had been in East German archives since 1990.
The reading for today is a short inscription from Sophie Scholl's diary, she wrote:
"'I will cling to the rope God has thrown me in Jesus Christ, even when my numb hands can no longer feel it."
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 22nd of February 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by Christopher Gillespie, the White Rose of Wisconsin. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.