by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
August 21, 2022 — Except for those who cannot see it and those causing it, the present moment in our country’s history is a time of crisis. The entirely legal and justified FBI search of Donald Trump’s palace in Florida has unleashed vicious reactions across the country. These have simmered for several years and now are in the open. They are not only the reactions of extreme right-wing anarchists. Millions of U.S. American citizens have gotten caught up in an untruthful narrative that essential systems of government are corrupt and must be destroyed. The national divide is deep and wide.
Without getting into partisan politics, it is true, as one commentator put it, that we are in uncharted territory much like the pre-Civil War history; democracy is on the line; there is a deepening rupture in the U.S. commonweal.
One should not (as yet) draw too fine a line between this current reality and the rise of Nazism in the 1930s Germany. However, some parallels exist: the desire to “make Germany great again” and more ominously, using legitimate political processes which initially gave rise to Nazism.
At the same time, Pax Christi USA (emphasis on USA) – and indeed the U.S. Catholic Church in general – should give serious reflection to the ways the Lutheran Church in Germany responded to those events. They are a snapshot of where Catholics are today.
One Protestant historian has described reactions of that Church, the largest denomination at the time there, as Nazism began to show its true nature. The Lutheran community had three distinct positions on what had moved from a possibility to a reality: right wing destruction of all democratic structures.
First, some were in full agreement, enthused, even complicit with what was happening in their country. This segment of the Lutheran Church applauded the “reforms” which the new regime was successfully initiating in Germany. One could even say that their reaction was understandable after the dreadful effects of the conditions imposed on them by the Treaty of Versailles 10 years before. Germany had become in common parlance a “basket case.” The Brown Shirts were setting matters right again.
Next, a majority of Lutherans congregants remained indifferent to what was happening. They were being permitted to conduct the usual business of their church. Now with the advantage of historical perspective, it is clear that what Hermann Goering advised Hitler had proven effective: “Give them religion and that will keep them quiet.”
Finally, there was the “Confessing Church,” extraordinarily brave people of faith who publicly opposed what was taking place. The most famous of these folks (many of whom sacrificed their lives for this righteous cause) was Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who left the security of a pastorship in the United States to return to Germany and oppose Nazism.
We claim with great reason that we are Pax Christi USA, the official Catholic peace movement in the United States. That gives us a national projection, an important word to say in public discourse, so needed at this time in our nation’s history. Our strength, as with so many similar organizations, lies in local and regional chapters, vigorous grassroots communities. And Pax Christi USA already plays a prophetic role at each of these levels.
However, a compelling demand insists that we take seriously — revitalize — our national character. We are called to be prophetic, speaking truth where falsehood seems to reign. As a non-hierarchical lay movement, we have the freedom and expertise to engage with our fellow citizens in this vital public debate.
We are spokespersons for integrity, for true patriotism, for respect of one another and our public institutions, for nonviolence – in a word, for the values we hold as followers of the One who spoke forcefully to his nation 21 centuries ago.
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.