History: Why Christians Can’t Rely on News Editors


Are reporters biased? Sure. But reporter bias is not the most troubling problem when trying to get “the News.” Reporters are merely “field hands” or “harvesters.”  They aren’t the farmers who actually own the fields. The owners are the editors.  Just as farmers decide what crops will be planted on their lands, so, too, editors decide which reports will end up in their papers (or on their web pages, podcasts, and TV shows).  Editors are the ones really in control.

Auschwitz 70th Anniversary

Auschwitz (Creative Commons)

Editors are in charge of deciding what is and what is not news. A chilling—sad and sobering—reminder of the power of a news editor was on display this week as the world marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Jewish prisoners from Auschwitz.

About 300 Auschwitz survivors returned to the dreaded site of their incarceration to mark Tuesday’s official 70th anniversary of the death-camp’s liberation.  In conjunction with this emotional anniversary, the Daily Telegraph published a story about how their paper got the scoop on the rest of the world concerning the Nazi program of mass killing.

An exiled Polish Jew–Szmul Zygielbojm –worked feverishly to find out information about what was happening to Jews in Poland. His main motivation was to save his own family—a wife and son who remained captive to the Nazis in Poland. With more intrigue and drama than a Tom Clancy novel, Szmul Zygielbojm was finally able not only to get information about gas chambers and daily death tolls to the Daily Telegraph, but, even more impressively, he was able to get eyewitness accounts of mass killings smuggled out of Poland on microfilm hidden inside of a key.

At great personal risk, he carried out his plan and disclosed the entire, unimaginable affair to a newspaper reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Triumphantly, he waited for the world to revolt at the horrific news of the Nazi atrocities.

But the outcry of injustice never came. No one noticed the story when it was first published on June 25, 1942.  By the following April, Szmul Zygielbojm was both incredulous and in despair over what must have seemed like a sub-human lack of concern for suffering Jews (including his own family). By May of 1943, his family was dead. And in Szmul’s mind, his life was over, too. He wrote the following note before he killed himself:

“The responsibility for the crime of the murder of the whole Jewish nationality in Poland rests first of all on those who are carrying it out.

But indirectly it falls also upon the whole of humanity, on the peoples of the Allied nations and on their governments, who up to this day have not taken any real steps to halt this crime.

By looking on passively upon this murder of defenceless millions of tortured children, women and men they have become partners to the responsibility”[1]

No one can blame Szmul Zygielbojm for his cynicism and for pointing the finger of blame at all who were living happily while Jews were being slaughtered by the thousands. One of the main culprits, however, may well have been the editors at the Daily Telegraph. The truth of the matter is that Szmul had given them credible evidence of the worst mass murder in history, and they buried it in a small article on page 5. What if the mass killing of 1,000 Jews per day had been given front page, headline status in June of 1942? Might it not have awakened Europe sooner to the gravity of the Nazi problem?

I have documented below a fine article by Roy Greenslade concerning the Szmul Zygielbojm affair if you would like to read more about that sad set of circumstances coming out of WWII. For my purposes here, I ask this simple question: What are the editors of “the News” not telling us today? What page 5 stories ought to be on the front page?

The Cleansing of Iraq’s Christians Entering Its End Game 

War on Christians from Africa to Asia to the Middle East, Christians Are the World’s Most Persecuted Minority

15,000 Christians Lose Their Homes, One Thousand Dead in Attack by Muslim Terrorists

Christians are not targeted by a single nation for extinction, the way the Jews were targeted by the Nazis. But Christians are targets of violence around the world. I think I understand why American news outlets put the Christian story on “page 5.” But Christians need no longer to depend on daily news editors to know what is really important, right?

                [1] As quoted by Roy Greenslade of The Guardian, whose fine article (Tuesday, January 27, 2015) is available online http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2015/jan/27/daily-telegraphs-holocaust-article-in-1942-that-went-unheralded .  He tells the complete story very well.

Who Is Paul Schneider and Why Should We Care?


I have been reading recently about the upcoming challenges to Obamacare in the Supreme Court.  Liberty University has re-filed a case at the direction of the Supreme Court on the basis of Christian liberty. What exactly can the government compel a religious organization to do? That is the question before the court.

Church-state relations typically bring my mind back to Paul Schneider.  Paul Schneider today is all but forgotten, though his Paul Schneider Nazi Martyr Christian persecutionfaithfulness is certainly worthy of being remembered.  Schneider was married to Margaret Dieterich (whom he affectionately called Gretel). With her, he had six children, five sons and a daughter.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once called him “our first martyr.” Bonhoeffer was correct. Paul Schneider was a martyr in the truest sense of the word.

In fact, Schneider was the first Christian martyred by the Nazi regime in Germany.  His life and death speak volumes regarding faithfulness through persecution. Specifically, Schneider ran afoul of the Nazi government when he spoke out against a Hitler Youth leader during a funeral service.  The leader attempted to introduce non-Christian ideas into the otherwise Christian funeral ceremony, to which Schneider protested in order to maintain the reverence of the service.

Schneider was the presiding minister at the funeral and, thus, had every right to protest the introduction of non-Christian ideas such as a “Horst Wessel Troop” waiting to welcome the young man who had died into heaven. After the service, Schneider sought to reconcile with the officer, but it was too late. He was arrested. This would be the first of four arrests for Paul Schneider.

After his third arrest, Schneider was issued a warrant from the Nazi authorities which stated in unequivocal terms that he could not return to his flock at Dickenshied to pastor.  He was free to leave prison, but he could not any longer preach at Dickenshied. So, Schneider had a dilemma.

I can imagine in our day that pastors would simply say, “Okay, I’ll go preach somewhere else.”  If we were commanded not to preach any longer in Kentucky, we would say, “Fine, I’ll just preach in Indiana or Tennessee.”  Would this have been the right response for Schneider?  Should he have accepted the exile order and left for greener (less dangerous) preaching pastures?

Schneider agonized over the question, spending at least one sleepless night in prayer over this topic alone. There were two obstacles in his mind preventing him from accepting the government’s orders not to preach. First, he had never actually been found guilty of any crime. In fact, no charges were ever made formally against him.  His arrests were supposedly for “protective custody.”  How could he obey a sentence for a crime which he was never charged with committing?

The second obstacle for Schneider was the more formidable impasse to obeying his order not to preach in his home church.  In a manner quite akin to that of Peter and John in Acts 5, Schneider had to decide whom he would obey: God or men? Like the Apostles, he chose to obey God rather than men and, thus, set himself on a course of direct clash with the Nazi government.  Schneider believed it was Christ Himself who had called him and appointed him to the pastorate. Thus, it was an affront to Christ for anyone–including the Nazi government–to decide where Schneider could and could not preach.  Schneider did preach in his church at Dickenshied, and the Nazi government did follow through with their threats.

Schneider was again arrested and taken from his sweet Gretel and the children.  He was taken to the new “labor camp” at Buchenwald, where  

Finally, on 18 July 1939, the starved, beaten, bleeding Paul Schneider died when the camp doctor injected a massive overdose of strophanthin. Paul was forty-one years old. Gretel became a widow at the age of thirty-five.

The Nazi guards were cold and ruthless, offering his wife a 24 hour window to claim the body before turning it to ashes. Even after she arrived, the Nazis sealed the coffin shut and kept it under armed guard so Gretel and the rest of the outside world would never see (nor hear from) Paul Schneider again.  Fortunately for us, his faith still speaks.

Paul Schneider's cell in Buchenwald

Paul Schneider was called “Pigheaded” by his guards because he would not accept the government’s command not to preach in Rhineland churches. Was he pigheaded? Stubborn? Sinfully defiant against the government? Too bold or audacious?

For Schneider’s part, he did not think so. In his mind, the matter boiled down simply to, “Whom should I obey, God or man?”  We may all face this question some day, even in America. Will we answer as this great man did?

(To read more on Schneider the martyr, see here)

Bonhoeffer Is Not a Martyr


20th anniversary of the assassination against ...

20th anniversary of the assassination against Adolf Hitler on July 20th 1944 :*Graphics by Gerd und E. Aretz :*Ausgabepreis: 20 Pfennig :*First Day of Issue / Erstausgabetag: 20. Juli 1964 :*Michel-Katalog-Nr: 433 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On behalf of Project 13:3 and on behalf of the persecuted church around the world, I delivered an address this afternoon at the 64th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society. This year, the meeting is being held in Milwaukee, WI.

The paper I delivered was titled “Bonhoeffer, the Bible, and Christian Persecution: Unraveling the Mystery of Martyrdom.” You can read the entire paper here.

The gist of the paper is that Dietrich Bonhoeffer should not be called a martyr by Christians. The reason Bonhoeffer should not be called a martyr is that he was not persecuted for his faith. He did not die as the result of persecution. He died as the result of being guilty of a political plot to overthrow Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s part was not to assassinate Hitler, but the plot itself did include that ultimate aim. The attempt was made, but failed. Bonhoeffer was involved in the plot.

What I really want to summarize here in this blog post is why it is important to reserve the title martyr for others (like this guy, for example). Specifically, even though evangelicals are not known for the veneration of saints in a manner such as that prevalent in the Roman Catholic tradition, the truth remains that Christians seek role models and are even encouraged several times in Scripture to imitate others–especially others who have persevered and triumphed through trials and suffering.

Whether intentionally or not, those who call Bonhoeffer a martyr do the church a disservice because they are affirming for him a place of honor which is worthy to be emulated. Though it may be acceptable for a soldier to join in subterfuge in order to kill a leader and, thus, serve the greater good of humanity, the Christian call is to a higher order of righteousness. The Christian should not kill.  The Christian should not steal. The Christian should not forge documents and tell lies in order to preserve political secrets.

I do not discount the possibility that a Christian may in certain circumstances be guilty of some of these sins–or maybe even all of them–and still be a Christian. However, awarding such a person the title martyr is dangerous and unhelpful to the long-term witness of the Christian Church.

While one may in fact applaud Bonhoeffer’s willingness to die for what he thought was right, he should not applaud his willingness to kill–or even to employ deception so that others might kill–a political enemy. This is not something Christ ever did.  The title martyr must be reserved for those whose actions are in accordance with the righteousness of Christ.

You may have other thoughts. You are, of course, free to share. But for much more detail, you should read the Bonhoeffer paper.

Faithless Funerals


There is a controversy brewing in Houston, TX, between veterans and the Veterans Administration.  I am interested in the controversy for a couple of reasons.  First, I attended the funeral service of my wife’s grandfather not too long ago in Houston.  He was a veteran, and there was a veteran’s service for him at the Houston National Cemetery.  I preached at the service and called on God to bless the family with grace and peace.  I am not sure whether the veterans attending the service spoke the name of God to my mother-in-law.  But, if they wanted to wish her God’s grace and peace, they certainly should have had that right.

Second, and more fundamental to the cause of freedom, I am interested in this incident because of its shocking similarity to another incident in a society which once sought to eradicate references to God from funeral services. I am thinking, of course, of the National Socialism in Hitler’s Germany.

On June 12, 1934, Pastor Paul Schneider took a stand for freedom and was summarily arrested by the Nazi leaders in Dickenshied.  In the so-called cemetery incident, Pastor Schneider spoke against Heinrich Nadig, a Nazi official who sought to take over the funeral service and promote a fictional “Horst Wessel Troop” in heaven rather than allow Pastor Schneider to conduct a normal funeral service.  Pastor Schneider could not remain silent while a Nazi official replaced mention of the living God with a fictitious, heavenly “Horst Wessel Group,” invented by a Nazi sympathizer.  Thus, Pastor Schneider protested just as the people in this video are protesting now.  For his protests, he was arrested.

Pastor Schneider was released and arrested again repeatedly.  In October of 1937, Pastor Schneider was arrested for the fourth and final time.  He was sent to the concentration camp at Buchenwald, where he was eventually killed by his captors.  Upon his death, Pastor Paul Schneider became the first Christian martyr in Nazi Germany.  He was killed on account of his faith in Jesus Christ.  His persecution started with his stand for God and liberty at a funeral service.