Gerard Kittel was a renowned German theologian who edited the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. His works continue to be standard reading for seminary students around the world. However, Kittel was also a genocidal antisemite and a mentor behind the birth of The Institute for the Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church Life—an organization supported by most Protestant German denominations during the Holocaust.
In his book Hitler’s Willing Executioners, Daniel Jonah Goldhagen notes that Kittel’s public lecture given in Tunbingen on June 1, 1993 was later published as “Die Judenfrage,” or “The Jewish Problem.” In the lecture, Kittel states that Jews, “as a well-known matter of common sense, are a racially constituted, alien body within Germany. Emancipation and assimilation, rather than rendering the Jew more fit for German society, allowed the Jews to infect the German people with their blood and spirit, with calamitous consequences” (qtd. in Goldhagen 126). Kittel then proposes four “solutions” to the so-called Jewish problem, one of which is auszurotten, or “extermination” (126).
Goldhagen points out that for Kittel, who was esteemed as an “eminent theologian,” to consider openly the annihilation of Jews as early as June of 1933 “almost in passing, without any great elaboration or justification, and as a normal easily discussed option when trying to fashion a ‘solution’ to the ‘Jewish problem’—reveals the lethality of the . . . eliminationist Antisemitism and how ordinary its discussion must have seemed to ordinary Germans in . . . the early 1930s” (126). Goldhagen rightly observes that the casual banality of so deadly an idea underscores how far the German Christian church had fallen not only from Christ’s injunctions, but also from the moral obligation Christians have to love their neighbor.
When Kittel wrote “The Jewish Problem,” 70 to 80% of Protestant pastors embraced the Christian Nationalist ideology of the German National People’s Party. Christian Nationalist Father Wilhelm Schmidt was a churchman who was a German first and a Christian second. Here is what he said about eliminating Jews from Germany: “No honest man can any longer deny that Judaism wants to destroy us. To help ensure that this does not happen is the task and duty of every German, Christian, and Aryan today.”
In contrast, Franklin H. Littell (1917-2009) was a leader in Holocaust studies, a theologian, and a minister in the United Methodist Church. After the Holocaust, Franklin was the Chief Protestant Religious Adviser to the High Command. He spent ten years in post-war Germany, where he was tasked with de-Nazifying German Christians whom Antisemitic Christian Nationalists like Kittel and Schmidt had influenced. Littell would spend the rest of his life passionately challenging baptized Christians toward repentance for the contempt and jealousy that led to their complicity in the brutal genocide of six million Jewish innocents.
In a paper for the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem, “Early Warning: Identifying Potentially Genocidal Political Movements—Fifteen Criteria for Identification,” Littell writes,
It is not enough for us to record and review history. We also need to cultivate the capacity to predict that certain patterns of overt political behavior indicate the existence of potentially genocidal movements. It is crucial to identify and act against them early on….in a world as explosive as ours; we must begin to make some distinctions. To do this, I would suggest testing the overt behavior of political movements according to 15 criteria. If out of 15, 10, or 11 clearly apply to some current movement, it is time for the alarm bells to start ringing.
The question is whether or not the current Christian Nationalist Movement exploding in America fulfills any number of Littell’s fifteen criteria for a potentially genocidal political movement. If, in fact, today’s Christian Nationalists (according to Littell) meet at least ten of the fifteen criteria, “it is time for the alarm bells to start ringing.” To dismiss casually —scoff at, actually—the fact that Christian leaders today are using the same kind of Antisemitic rhetoric as did Kittel, Schmidt, and the majority of German Christian pastors and theologians of their day would be tragically naive because purported men and women of God have committed numerous acts of genocide—The Crusades, Inquisition, Pogroms, and Apartheid just for starters.
In his book The Holy Third Reich, Richard Steigmann-Gall asserts, “By detaching Christianity from the crimes of its adherents, we create a Christianity above history. . . . The discovery that so many Nazis considered themselves or their movement to be Christian makes us . . . uncomfortable. But the very unpleasantness of this fact makes it all the more important to look it squarely in the face.”
Today’s Christian Nationalists have shockingly already begun to sound what Littell calls “the genocidal note” and to meet ten of his fifteen criteria for a potentially genocidal movement:
1. The group or movement prints, distributes, and uses Antisemitic material for membership recruitment.
2. The group or movement makes Antisemitic appeals through the media or in evangelistic meetings.
3. The same actions as (1) are directed against any other ethnic, religious, or cultural community, using targeting and intimidation as a weapon in the quest for political power.
4. The same actions as (2) are directed against any other ethnic, religious, or cultural community, using targeting and intimidation as a weapon in the quest for political power.
5. Members cultivate violence toward opponents—publishing slanderous charges.
6. The movement pursues the politics of polarization, destroying the middle ground of conciliation and compromise.
7. The movement publicly demonstrates in uniforms, parading, and marching to intimidate loyal citizens.
8. Leaders of the movement elaborate a quasi-religious structure of authority and sanction with political hymns, shrines, martyrs, and liturgies.
9. Archaic, tribal, clannish, or religious symbols are worn by members as public insignias.
10. The movement practices deception and confusion of public opinion by launching one-issue “fronts.”
Because Christian Nationalist movements have historically led to the genocide of Jews and because today’s Christian Nationalists have already sounded the “genocidal note,” it is time for concerned Christian leaders to sound the alarm courageously before this potentially genocidal movement grows any stronger.