The Sin of Silence

a message to American pastors and their congregations
Dr. Laurence White 

(excerpts from an address delivered September 6, 2000)

Gazing intently into the eyes of the young people in front of him, he began.  “For you,” he said, “today is a day like any other day but it is an extremely important and painful day for me.” Silence fell over the room and the students noticed that as the old gentleman spoke, tears were streaming down his face. This uncharacteristic display of emotion stunned the student body and riveted their attention.

“Today is November the 9th” he continued “the 50th anniversary of “Kristal Nacht,” the Night of the Broken Glass. On this day in 1938, Nazi thugs moved through the cities of Germany smashing the windows of German homes and shops, burning the synagogues. Innocent people; men, women and children were beaten and killed simply because they were Jews.

“I was there as a young man,” he sobbed, “and I can still hear the sound of the shattering glass. There were many of us who were Christians then but we did nothing. We looked the other way and we did nothing. That was the beginning of the Holocaust because the Jew haters knew then that no one would stop them, no one would stand in their way.” The old man went on to quote the words inscribed at the Auschwitz memorial in Poland, a place where so many died. “Never again,” he pleaded, “Christian young people we must never let it happen again.”

My friends, it is happening again. It is happening again today in our beautiful America. So richly and abundantly blessed by a gracious God. It is happening today as the innocent are slaughtered in a twenty-seven year Holocaust that has seen nearly forty million little boys and girls brutally done to death. It is happening again as families are fractured and marriages are broken, while self-obsessed people pursue the immediate gratification of their every desire. It is happening again as militant homosexuals pursue absolute approval, complete acceptance, and preferential legal treatment for their perversion. It is happening again as our young people lost their way, and often their lives, in a maze of alcohol and drugs and the corridors, and classrooms of the high schools of our land are littered with the bodies of murdered teenagers. It is happening again as the nation’s leaders wallow in decadence and deceit, while the people look on in apathetic indifference. It is happening again.

For while the killing goes on and the nation is led down the path of destruction, the church and her pastors stand silent and afraid. This country that we love, our America, is fighting for her life. Not against the military power of foreign enemies, but against the principalities and powers of this dark age. You and I, as sons and daughters of the Lord Jesus Christ, but even more so, those of you here today who are pastors of the church of Jesus Christ, are being called upon to take a stand in this moment of crisis. And let there be no one among us who doubts the urgency of this hour. To compare what is happening in America today to Nazi Germany is no mere flight of rhetorical exaggeration.

This nation is heedlessly stumbling toward third millennium darkness. Look around you and read the signs of the times. Look beyond the walls of our beautiful sanctuaries, and the comfort of our padded pews to see the chaos, the corruption, and the confusion that reigns throughout our culture.

We live in a society where passions are riderless horses, uncontrolled and uncontrollable, in which there is a desolation of decency. In which love has become a jungle emotion, lust exalted to lordship, sin elevated to sovereignty, Satan adored as a saint, and man magnified above his maker.

Americans have come to dwell in an Alice in Wonderland world of fantasy and self-delusion. Everything has been turned upside down and inside out in our America. Right is wrong, and wrong is right, good is bad, and bad is good, normal is abnormal, and abnormal is normal, true is false, and false is true. We are fast degenerating into a decadent culture obsessed with selfishness and sin, death and destruction.

In the face of this relentless onslaught of evil, the church of Jesus Christ has grown timid and afraid. We have abandoned the truth of God’s Word, compromised the stern demands of His Law, tailored our message to meet the felt needs of sinful men, (as if sinful men ever knew what they actually needed) and prostituted ourselves and the Gospel that we profess to proclaim, for worldly popularity and success.

We, as Christian pastors, seem to have forgotten that God did not call us to be popular or successful, God called us to be faithful. Faithful preaching never comes in the form of safely vague, pious platitudes. Faithful preaching must identify and denounce the false gods of this world that call upon our people to bow down before them every day. God did not call us to be successful CEOs, protecting institutional peace and tranquility, bringing in the bodies and the bucks by avoiding controversy, and telling everybody what they wanted to hear.

God called us to proclaim His Word, to be vigilant watchmen standing high upon the walls of Zion, sounding forth the clear clarion call of the trumpet, calling out God’s people to war against the host of evil advancing all around us. We as the Christians of America, we as the pastors of America, have failed in this responsibility before God, and our country is paying a dire price for that failure. Make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters, we are responsible.

The great reformer Martin Luther once declared that the preacher who does not rebuke the sins of the rulers through God’s Word spoken publically, boldly and honestly, strengthens the sins of the tyrants, and becomes a partaker in them, and bears responsibility for them.

Now note carefully Luther’s words. They ought to sear the conscience of every pastor in America today.

The preacher who does not speak out becomes a participant in the wickedness of the tyrants and bears responsibility for it.

We cannot shift that responsibility to anyone else today. We cannot blame the liberal media, or the corrupt politicians, or the apathetic public for that which has overtaken America. This is our fault, for we are the ones whom God placed here at this moment in our nation’s history to be the stinging salt and the shining light. We are responsible for what has happened to America. In this year of our Lord, 2000, there is no Pontius Pilot’s basin that can cleanse the hands of America’s pastors from the guilty stain of innocent blood.

When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, he scornfully dismissed the church, and her pastors, as an irrelevant force which posed no threat to the Nazi agenda for that great nation. “I promise you,” he boasted to his inner circle, “that if I wish to I could destroy the church in just a few years. It is hollow, it is rotten, and false through and through. One push and the whole structure would collapse.”

“We should trap the preachers,” he said, “by their notorious greed and self-indulgence. We shall thus be able to settle everything with them in perfect peace and harmony. I shall give them a few years reprieve, why should we quarrel? They will swallow anything in order to keep their material advantage. The parsons will be made to dig their own graves, they will betray their God for us, they will betray anything for the sake of their miserable jobs and incomes.”

The dictator’s words proved to be tragically accurate. The great majority of Christians in Germany looked the other way and minded their own business. They kept their religion and their politics strictly separate from one another, and refused to vote on the basis of single issues which would have set them apart from the rest of the electorate. They blended in and they went along and they followed the path of least resistance. They did that which was expedient and practical and safe, while their country was dragged down into a swirling maelstrom of barbarism and death.

Only a few lonely voices were raised in protest. In 1940 Nazi Germany was near her zenith, the nation’s power, prestige, and prosperity unparalleled in history, her armies invincible on every front. The Jews had been systematically excluded from the life of the nation, deprived of the protection of the law and citizenship, gradually disappearing into the spreading network of concentration camps. In that year, 1940, at the height of Hitler’s power and popularity, a courageous, young pastor, named Dietrich Bonhoeffer, denounced the churches failure to speak out against the evil.

In 1940, that lonely voice of truth proclaimed, “We the church must confess that we have not proclaimed often or clearly enough the message of the One God who has revealed Himself for all time in Christ Jesus, and who will tolerate no other gods beside Himself. She must confess her timidity, her cowardice, her evasiveness and her dangerous concessions. She was silent when she should have cried out because the blood of the innocent was crying aloud to heaven. The church must confess that she has witnessed the lawless application of brutal force, the physical and spiritual suffering of countless innocent people, oppression, hatred, and murder. And that she has not raised her voice on behalf of the victims. And has not found way to hasten to their aid.

“The church is guilty of the deaths of the weakest and most defenseless brothers of Jesus Christ. The church must confess that she has desired security and peace, quiet, possession, and honor to which she has no right. She has not born witness to the truth of God and by her silence, she has rendered herself guilty, because of her unwillingness to suffer for what she knows to be right.”

Bonhoeffer’s warning went unheeded. He was dismissed by most of his colleagues as a single issue fanatic. In less that five years, he was dead, hung naked from a piano wire noose, in Flossenburg concentration camp.

Germany lay in ruins. Her great cities bombed out of existence. Cathedrals that had stood for a thousand years reduced to piles of broken brick, rubble. In the face of monstrous evil, he who keeps silent fails in his responsibility before God and shares in the guilt.

The moral meltdown that has overtaken America has been met with a deafening silence from the pulpits of America, and the people-pleasing preachers who presume to stand in them. This desolation of decency could not have occurred if the pulpits of this land were once again aflame with righteousness. To use Alexis De Toqueville’s famous words, “By our apathy, by our acquiescence, and by our ignorance, the church of Jesus Christ has consigned itself to irrelevance and impotence in the ongoing struggle for the soul of America.”

Our political leaders deal in trivialities and superficial nonsense, practicing the feel-good politics of deliberate ambiguity, while the destruction of our families, the perversion of our most basic moral principals, and the murder of innocent, unborn children goes on, and on, and on.

The issue before us as Christians and as Christian pastors is faithfulness to the Word of God, and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. To speak to the great moral issues of our day is an integral and essential part of that God-given responsibility. To fail to do so is nothing less than a denial of the Lordship of Jesus.

Pastor Martin Niemueller was yet another of that lonely band of Christian heroes who stood against the tide of evil in Nazi Germany. He was arrested by the Gestapo for faithfully preaching the Word of God. Now Niemueller was what we would today call a celebrity. He was a national hero. He had been a U-boat commander, highly decorated, in the first world war and only then, after the war, did he enter the ministry. His congregation, in the Berlin suburb of Dahlum, was one of the wealthiest and most influential evangelical churches in the land. Its membership made up of high government officials, generals, and so on. And the arrest of this pastor from that church was highly controversial.

The judge before whom he was arraigned on charges of sedition seemed genuinely puzzled why a patriot like Martin Niemueller would criticize Adolf Hitler, the man whom the German people hailed as their Fuhrer, an absolute leader, to whom unquestioning obedience was owed. The magistrate pleaded with the minister to end his attacks on the Nazi regime and upon the Fuhrer. He promised Niemueller immediate release, and the opportunity to return to his pulpit today, if only he would agree to do so. Niemueller’s reply was steadfast, “I cannot, and I will not be silent,” he said, “because God is my Fuhrer.”

The morning after Pastor Martin Niemueller was arrested, the Lutheran chaplain was making his rounds in the city jail. And as he entered Niemueller’s cell he was astounded and dismayed to find his fellow clergyman sitting there under arrest. “My brother!” he exclaimed, “what did you do? Why are you here?” Niemueller, never at a loss for words immediately reacted, “My brother, given what is happening in our country, why aren’t you here?”

Those days have not yet come in America, but they are coming soon. We have already seen the ominous beginnings of attempts to muzzle Christian witness on radio and television, to label rejections of abortion and homosexuality as “hate speech.” In Europe and Canada significant steps have already been taken in that direction. And if present trends continue, America will not be far behind.

Gentleman and ladies, it is only a short step from prohibiting that which is politically incorrect as hate speech in the media, to prohibiting in the pulpits of every church in America. My brothers, given what is happening in our country, why aren’t you here?

The saddest and most tragic feature of the Christian experience in Germany was the bitter expression of regret that came from so many afterwards, who realized their failure only too late. One such man was a University professor and a diplomat named, Albrecht Haushoffer.  He was a quiet, gentle man who wrote poetry in his spare time. As gradually he came to recognize the enormity of the evil of Nazism, he was drawn into the resistance and arrested in 1944 after the failure of the Stauffenburg plot to assassinate Hitler.

In the final days of the war, as the Russian tanks moved through the outskirts of the city of Berlin, and the dictator hid in the Fuhrer bunker like a rat trapped in his hole, the SS Guards at the Mobed City Prison were given a list of those who were not to be allowed to survive the downfall of Nazism because they knew too much. Albrecht Haushoffer’s name was included on that death list. A group of seven or eight prisoners was taken out of their cells that morning.  They were told they were about to be released. Each of the prisoners was assigned an SS Guard.  They were led out of the jail into the nearby Tiergarten, the great park in the center of the city of Berlin. And as they came to the middle of that park, out of sight from anyone else, each guard stepped up behind the prisoner assigned to him and shot them in the back of their heads. The bodies were abandoned there in the snow and the mud of the ruined city.

Sometime later Albrecht’s brother heard rumors of what had happened, and he hurried into the park to search for his brother’s body. And when he found it, there clutched in his hand was a blood stained sheet of paper. Written on that paper was a poem that Haushoffer had composed just a few hours before his execution. It was entitled in German, Schuldig Bin Ich, I am Guilty.

“The burden of my guilt,” the condemned man wrote, “before the law weighs light on my shoulders. To plot and conspire was my duty to the people. I would have been a criminal had I naught. I am guilty, although not in the way that you think. I should have done my duty sooner. I was wrong. I should have called the evil more clearly by its name. I hesitated to condemn for far too long. I now accuse myself within my own heart. I have betrayed my conscience for far too long. I have deceived myself and my fellow man. I knew the course of evil from its start. My warning was not loud enough or clear enough. Today, as I die, I know what I am guilty of.”

We, too, have known the evil from its start. In this great nation, where for twenty-seven long years the innocent unborn have been slaughtered, we have grown accustomed to the killing and have gone on with our business, with our lives, and our ministries, while the little ones have perished, every day, 4,500 a day. This is what we have come to in America. The Supreme Court of our land sanctions the horror of partial birth abortion, this most barbaric and grotesque killing of a child in the midst of its birth.

And yet even in the face of this abomination, the churches of America, the pastors of America, are silent. Where is the cry of outrage!? Where is the indignation of the people of God? We, too have known the evil from its start. Dumpsters full of ravaged infant bodies stand in mute testimony to our failure and to our guilt.

The Christians of Germany realized only too late how much had been at stake and how much they had lost. But we still may have a chance. It’s not too late, yet, for our America. The righteous judgment of God has not yet come upon us. The New Testament speaks of unique moments of divine destiny, when God confronts His people with a challenge, and offers them an opportunity. The Greek word for such a moment of divine destiny is Kairos. I believe that the Christian church in America has come to such a time, a Biblical Kairos. A moment of divine destiny.

If we fail to meet this challenge, and rise to this opportunity, our nation will not survive. It is as simple, and as stark as that. This is our moment, my friends. Our time of testing. I pray that we may be equal to the challenge of these days; that we may seize this precious opportunity from God; that we may be within this dying culture the stinging salt that stops the decay of death; the shining light that dispels the darkness of doubt and despair, that America may once again be the gleaming city set high upon a hill, that shines as a beacon light of life and hope for this nation, and to every nation.

I pray that we may serve the Lord Jesus Christ with courage, and with honor, for the glory of His name. That we may snatch our country back from the brink of destruction, and preserve this legacy of faith and freedom for those who will come after us. This is our moment of divine destiny, our Kairos.

Excerpts from an address delivered September 6, 2000 at
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO
by Dr. Laurence White
Senior pastor, Our Savior Lutheran Church
Houston, Texas