History does not repeat itself, but historical patterns do. The rise and fall of Christian nationalism is a pattern worth examining. What is unnerving about this repetitive cycle is that few Christians have bothered to notice. You would think we would have enough perception to connect the dots which clearly show Christian nationalism is not remotely Christian. In an interview with Christianity Today, Paul D. Miller, professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Services defined Christian nationalism this way:
“Christian nationalism is a political ideology about American identity. It is a set of policy prescriptions for what the nationalists believe the American government should do. It’s not drawn from the Bible. Christian nationalism believes the American nation is defined by Christianity and the government should take steps to keep it that way to sustain and maintain the Christian heritage. I think that any kind of nationalism in its purest form is religion. It is idolatry. That’s true of Christian nationalism. It takes Christian symbols, rhetoric, and concepts and weaves them into a political ideology that in its ideal form is idolatrous.”
Whenever Christians have mixed religious piety with secular political philosophy it never ends well for Jews. If Christians, particularly in Germany and Austria had not embraced the idolatrous cult of Christian nationalism the murder of six million Jews would not have occurred.
The following is the tale of three Christian nationalists – one inspiring and mentoring the next. Their connection to each other would lead to the mass genocide of Jews in the name of Christ.
German Lutheran pastor Adolf Stoecker served as court chaplain to Kaiser Wilhelm I from 1874-1890 and according to one historian was the most influential Lutheran clergyman for pastors in the 19th century. Pastor Stoecker is also known as the Christian leader who inspired Antisemitism in Germany. He founded the Christian Social Party in Berlin in 1878 to rally Christians against Jews whom he proclaimed were not worthy of the love of any Christian and for one to truly follow Christ they must hate Jews. In a speech in 1879 Stoecker said:
“If modern Jewry continues to use the power of capital and the power of the press to bring misfortune to the nation, a final catastrophe is unavoidable.” In another speech Stoecker said that for Christianity to defeat Judaism it must become a political force:
“I found Berlin in the hands of the Progressives – who were hostile to the Church – and the Social Democrats – who were hostile to God; Judaism ruled in both parties. The Reich’s capital city was in danger of being de-Christianized and de-Germanized. Christianity was dead as a public force.” Stoecker encouraged the hope in the Christian masses that a future German liberator would arise who would eradicate Jews from German society.
When Stoecker died in 1909, Lutheran pastor Johannes Haussleiter wrote, “Nobody has so lastingly influenced the rising generation of pastors and has put his mark on them for decades to come as he did.” Unfortunately, Haussleiter was right because pastor Stoecker’s lasting influence had already spread to neighboring Austria where conservative intellectuals and clergy inspired by Stoecker’s cultish mix of piety and politics formed a Christian nationalist political movement in 1891 patterned after Stoecker’s Christian Social Party – giving it the same name. The leader and co-founder of Vienna’s Christian Social Party was devout Catholic, Karl Lueger, a man deeply influenced by pastor Stoecker.
Karl Lueger mixed long standing religious anti-Judaism with economic Antisemitism and easily ignited Christian tribalism in a war against Jewish elites. After Lueger was elected as Vienna’s mayor in 1897, Emperor Franz Joseph – repulsed by Lueger’s brand of Christian nationalism and radical Antisemitism – refused to confirm him. However, Pope Leo XIII interceded and forced the emperor’s hand to allow Lueger to ascend to power. In an 1899 speech Lueger declared Jews were launching a “terrorism, worse than which cannot be imagined over the masses” and that he had the calling of “liberating the Christian people from the domination of Jewry.”
In 1907 Lueger’s popular speeches caught the attention of an 18-year-old art student who had moved to Vienna to study landscape painting. The artist embraced the ideology of the Christian Social Party and would later say that Lueger was “the greatest German mayor of all time” who birthed in him a hatred of Jews which he had never known:
“When I arrived in Vienna, I was hostile to both. The man and the movement seemed reactionary in my eyes. My common sense of justice, however, forced me to change this judgment in proportion as I had occasion to become acquainted with the man and his work; and slowly my fair judgment turned to unconcealed admiration…For a few hellers, I bought the first antisemitic pamphlets of my life…Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity…in addition to their physical uncleanliness, you discovered the moral stains of this ‘chosen people.’”
After being radicalized by the Christian nationalism of Karl Lueger and embracing his strategy of blending Christian piety with nationalistic cultish fervor, the artist from Vienna would in 1925 record his political strategy to lead Germany in a book entitled, “Mein Kompf (My Struggle) in which he proclaimed, “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” Who was this artist influenced by the radical Christian nationalism of pastor Stoecker and Karl Lueger? Adolf Hitler.
In his book, The Holy Reich, Richard Steigmann-Gall describes Hitler’s proficiency at mixing his Catholic piety with Nazi nationalism:
“Hitler maintained that the movement’s goal was to ‘translate the ideals of Christ into deeds.’ The movement would complete ‘the work which Christ had begun but could not finish.’ Hitler proclaimed the centrality of Christ’s teachings for this movement: ‘We are the first to exhume these teachings! Through us alone, and not until now, do these teachings celebrate their resurrection! Mary and Magdalene stood at the empty tomb. For they were seeking the dead man. But we intend to raise the treasures of the living Christ.’ Hitler not only read the New Testament but professes – in private – to be inspired by it” (page 27-28).
Had there not been the influence of Christian nationalist and Antisemitic Pastor Adolf Stoecker there may have never been the meteoric rise to popularity of Karl Lueger and if there was no Karl Lueger it is reasonable to say young Adolph Hitler may have never embraced either Antisemitism or Christian nationalism.
Today Christian nationalism is raising its idolatrous head once again. The January 6th, 2021 riot at the U.S. capital in Washington, D.C. is indicative of where Christian nationalism is headed. David French, writing in the Dispatch called the riot a “violent Christian insurrection.” In the crowd people carried crosses, Jesus saves banners, and Christian flags. As they stormed the capital some in the crowd blew shofars proclaiming they were like the Israelites who blew rams horns to bring down the wall around Jericho. Like Stoecker, Lueger, and Hitler, American Christian nationalists are – in the words of Paul D. Miller quoted above – taking “Christian symbols, rhetoric, and concepts and weaving them into a political ideology that in its ideal form is idolatrous.” Now is the moment for Christians to connect the patterns of history that make it clear Christian nationalism is not Christian at all – before they themselves become part of the idolatrous legacy of the three Christian nationalists who destroyed the world entire.
“Whoever saves one life it is as if he saves the world entire. And whoever destroys one life it is as if he destroys the world entire.” The Talmud – Sanhedrin 37a