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Franklin H. Littell: A Courageous Christian Voice for Our Times

Few Christian leaders have had the moral courage of Rev. Franklin Littell to confront Christian Antisemitism. I hope that other Christians will follow in his footsteps. When I read Franklin’s book, The Crucifixion of the Jews: the failure of Christians to understand the Jewish experience, nearly twenty years ago, I thankfully never recovered. Ever since, I have attempted – insufficiently at best – to emulate the man and his work. Littell’s book is a passionate protest – a revolt, actually – against Christianity’s continued contempt for Jews. Here is a quote from Franklin Littell in The Crucifixion of the Jews that angers many Christian leaders who read it:

“The Holocaust is the unfinished business of the Christian churches, the running sore unattended by its leaders and weakening to its constituents. The most important event in recent generations of church history is still virtually ignored in church school lessons and carefully avoided by preachers in their pulpits. More than anything else that has happened since the fourth century, it has called into question the integrity of Christian people and confronted them with an acute identity crisis. They have not yet reestablished their right to a blessing and a name…The identity crisis will not be finally mastered, if at all, until the prayers, hymns, and antiphonies of Christian congregational worship memorialize those who perished for the sake of the Holy Name at the hands of the rebellious apostate gentiles of Christendom. Above all, before we Christians “define” the Jewish people again, we have a long way to go in atonement for our sins and guilt, many credible actions to produce before we verbalize freely again, and a great deal to learn about Biblical faith precisely from contemporary Jewry.”

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. 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 torture and murder of six million Jewish innocents. A contempt and jealousy that continues its prominence in Christianity today.

Franklin knew – prophetically, I think – if the jealousy of Christians toward Jews and Judaism was not confronted, then Christianity was destined to be weakened. At heart, Franklin was a churchman who knew the light of Christianity would be reduced to a flicker if its indifference toward Jews was not addressed – an admission that would necessarily lead to repentance and an admission that has not happened for the most part. Because of this, Christianity is in rapid decline. You just can’t continue to arrogantly boast against the Jewish natural branches without being pruned and cut off.

In my work as an Evangelical Christian attempting to confront the issue of Christian Antisemitism on Christian college campuses, I can tell you little has changed since Franklin passed away in 2009. The contempt, jealousy, and arrogance toward Jews and Judaism live on in most Christian circles, and the voices of dissent are few. Franklin’s deep insights into the thought process that led Christians to annihilate Jews in Nazi Germany help us to understand that history is being repeated today.

In an interview for Yad Vashem on July 23, 1998, Professor Yehuda Bauer asks Franklin about the influence of Christian Antisemitism on Nazi ideology. In the discussion, Littell describes three streams of Christianity that dominated Germany from the early 1930s through the end of the war and beyond. First, there was the German Christian or Deutsche Christian movement the majority of protestant Christian churches, denominations, and seminaries embraced. This church was territorial, nationalistic, and vehemently Antisemitic – willingly submitting to Hitler as its leader. Many pastors in this movement appealed to the Nazi regime to allow them to hang swastikas from their pulpits.

Secondly, a much smaller stream of Christian churches was part of the Confessing Church – those Christians who held that the nationalistic German Christians had crossed the line into heresy. According to Littell in the Yad Vashem interview, the confessing church saw its purpose as maintaining and “defending the integrity of doctrine and the church as an institution.” In Littell’s view, the Confessing church placed the institution of the church above any concern for the mass murder of Jews. On the issue of Jewish persecution, the Confessing church was silent.
The third stream was a much smaller remnant of Christians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who, according to Franklin, believed that “the attack on the Jews was a dividing line, and they tried to give the (Confessing church synod) the impulse or the courage to tackle the issue. They did not, and Bonhoeffer therefore refused to sign the protocol proposed by the leaders of the Confessing Church that sought to prioritize its own preservation over the lives of German Jews.

We see the same three streams of Christianity in America today. There is the nationalistic church – Christians and church leaders demanding the U.S. government declare America a Christian nation. Think of the crosses carried during the insurrection on January 6th last year at our nation’s capital. One banner portrayed Jesus in a MAGA hat. Christian nationalism is exponentially growing in America, and like the Deutsche Christian movement, this kind of nationalistic fervor will not end well for American Jews.

Secondly, the Confessing church in America has prioritized the preservation of its institutions over the concern for the rising hatred against Jews. Like the Confessing church in Germany, these Christians are indifferent to the issue of Antisemitism. Many within the American Confessing church have become vocally antagonistic against Israel. Several American mainline denominations are driving the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement against the Jewish State. One Evangelical denominational seminary based in the Midwest refused my organization’s request to provide a presentation for students on the agelong history of Christian Antisemitism that led to the Holocaust, saying they were neutral on the issue of Antisemitism because it was too controversial.

The truth is that as Antisemitism brutally explodes in America, the church is silent. This silence proves beyond any doubt that Christian arrogance toward Jews has yet to be addressed. Someone once said that silence is evil’s greatest alley. Someone else said that by remaining silently indifferent in the face of evil, we command evil to exist. And yet, there still remains a voice like Franklin Littell to inspire the remnant of Christians who still have a heart for the Jewish people. A voice I can only hope will never be silenced or forgotten.

About the Author
Aaron David Fruh is the President of Israel Team Advocates, whose mission it is to change the growing anti-Israel narrative on college campuses. Aaron is the author of five books including The Casualty of Contempt: the alarming rise of Antisemitism and what can be done to stop it (editor), and Two Minute Warning: why it’s time to honor the Jewish people before the clock runs out. Aaron has written for The Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner.
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