The response to national socialism by denominations with teachings against bearing arms / by James Irvin Lichti.
The guiding question of this study is whether liberal denominational characteristics deflected or facilitated the penetration of Nazi ideology into German free churches (understanding the free church as a variant of the modern denomination). These liberal characteristics included a higher regard for the spiritual autonomy of each believer, democratic decision-making, greater openness to denominational pluralism, and an affirmation of separation of church and state. One further “liberal” characteristic of German free churches was the universalistic regard for humanity that generally characterizes Christianity. I base my analysis on German Mennonite, Seventh-day Adventist (SDA), and Quaker periodicals during the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich, and chose these three free churches because they possess parallel teachings against bearing arms that should have further insulated them from Nazi ideology. I conclude that the impact of “liberal” forms on the response of German Mennonites and SDAs was contradictory, but did facilitate their accommodation to the circumstances of the Third Reich to a significant degree. While liberalism vests each individual with greater autonomy as an act of empowerment, the manner in which German Mennonites and SDAs vested their members with greater spiritual autonomy contributed to an atomization of faith and a decline in the authority of distinctive teachings (such as those against bearing arms). Their interpretation of separation of church and state colluded with the Nazi goal of consigning churchly influence to an inconsequential private sphere. Their denominational pluralism tended to be based more squarely on a shared hostility to the secularizing dynamics of modernity than a liberal quest for mutual understanding. They insisted on democratic forms in the believers' community yet remained more comfortable with authoritarian forms for the state. Their Christian universalism (1) gave way to the prevailing German Protestant framework that legitimated state, nation, and race, and (2) cast “Jewish particularism” as its polar opposite, thus inviting anti-Jewish commentary. Quaker theology, on the other hand, possesses greater structural affinity with liberal ideology. This endowed the liberal institutional characteristics of the German Yearly Meeting with greater coherence, and facilitated its ideological distance from Nazism.
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