Here’s the way politics works: Liberals overreach and conservatives compromise. In the end Liberals win. Liberals will propose a ten percent tax increase, and Republicans will settle for five, the very number Democrats hoped to get. It might take Liberals longer to get to their goal, but they know that eventually they’ll reach it. They can always count on Republicans to compromise.
What’s true on taxes is also applies to religion. There’s a provision in the health care law which requires religious employers to provide insurance coverage for contraceptives. John Boehner called the rule “an unambiguous attack on religious freedom in our country. If the president does not reverse the department’s attack on religious freedom, then the Congress, acting on behalf of the American people and the Constitution we are sworn to uphold and defend, must,” Boehner said.
Then there’s the accusation that military chaplains were forbidden to read a letter to military personnel about the mandate. Now we’re hearing that the controversy may have been “overblown.”
Did the Obama Administration purposely overreach figuring that the Republicans will broker a compromise? The Administration will get some of what it wants, set a precedent, and the Republicans will leave the negotiating table declaring victory that they were able to get some concessions. In the end, new regulations will force the church to comply with some of the regulations or face sanctions. Republicans will say that the church needs to compromise. Liberals will come back for more at a later time. They won’t stop until they silence the church. We’ve seen this before.
When German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) used his pulpit to expose Adolf Hitler’s radical politics, “He knew every word spoken was reported by Nazi spies and secret agents.”1 Leo Stein describes in his book I Was in Hell with Niemoeller how the Gestapo gathered evidence against Niemoeller:
Now, the charge against Niemoeller was based entirely on his sermons, which the Gestapo agents had taken down stenographically. But in none of his sermons did Pastor Niemoeller exhort his congregation to overthrow the Nazi regime. He merely raised his voice against some of the Nazi policies, particularly the policy directed against the Church. He had even refrained from criticizing the Nazi government itself or any of its personnel. Under the former government his sermons would have been construed only as an exercise of the right of free speech. Now, however, written laws, no matter how explicitly they were worded, were subjected to the interpretation of the judges.2
In a June 27, 1937 sermon, Niemoeller made it clear to those in attendance had a sacred duty to speak out on the evils of the Nazi regime no matter what the consequences: “We have no more thought of using our own powers to escape the arm of the authorities than had the Apostles of old. No more are we ready to keep silent at man’s behest when God commands us to speak. For it is, and must remain, the case that we must obey God rather than man.”3 A few days later, he was arrested. His crime? “Abuse of the pulpit.”
The “Special Courts” set up by the Nazis made claims against pastors who spoke out against Hitler’s policies. Niemoeller was not the only one singled out by the Gestapo. “Some 807 other pastors and leading laymen of the ‘Confessional Church’ were arrested in 1937, and hundreds more in the next couple of years.”4
A group of Confessional Churches in Germany, founded by Pastor Niemoeller and other Protestant ministers, drew up a proclamation to confront the political changes taking place in Germany that threatened the people “with a deadly danger. The danger lies in a new religion,” the proclamation declared. “The church has by order of its Master to see to it that in our people Christ is given the honor that is proper to the Judge of the world . . . The First Commandment says ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ The new religion is a rejection of the First Commandment.”5 Five hundred pastors who read the proclamation from their pulpits were arrested.
- Basil Miller, Martin Niemoeller: Hero of the Concentration Camp, 5th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1942), 112. [↩]
- Leo Stein, I Was in Hell with Niemoeller (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942), 175. [↩]
- Quoted in William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 239. [↩]
- Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 239. [↩]
- Quoted in Eugene Davidson, The Trials of the Germans: An Account of the Twenty-Two Defendants before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press,  1997), 275. [↩]