Southern Baptists Are Like Jews During WWII? Ronnie Floyd Makes a Ridiculous Analogy

“This is a Bonhoeffer moment for every pastor in the United States,” explained Ronnie Floyd, President of America’s largest—and most rapidly declining—evangelical denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

With SCOTUS’ upcoming decision regarding same-sex unions looming large in the minds of religious conservatives, Floyd took to the podium to remind the faithful that, whatever SCOTUS decides, the SBC will continue to affirm “biblical and traditional marriage.” As Bible-believing Christians, they will not—nay, cannot—yield in the face of LGBTQ advocates’ cultural offensive.

Floyd referred repeatedly to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian whose resistance to the Nazis led to his execution. He reminded American evangelicals that, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Apparently, in this analogy, the LGBTQ community and its advocates are Hitler and the SS, while Floyd, and Southern Baptists everywhere, are the Jews. White, evangelical Christians are, in this analogy, victimized to a level on par with what is arguably humanity’s greatest atrocity.

This language is nothing new, and religious conservatives have long held the belief that they constitute a righteous minority (or a suppressed majority, as historian Jonathan J. Edwards has noted).  They exist as aliens in a country increasingly filled with liberals and/or secularists bent on destroying an amorphous set of “family values.”

Critical engagement with a figure like Floyd can seem futile, as his self-conception is so disconnected from reality. After all, 70% of Americans identify as Christians, and while this is down from 78% just a few years prior, that decline has not characterized the evangelical community. As Joseph Callahan describes:

In America today, you can proudly say, “I’m a Christian” and carry a Bible with you everywhere you go. You can go to any church you want to without being arrested. You can say anything you want! You can even proclaim that you worship the Giant Spaghetti Monster, and all the persecution you will receive is strange looks from some people.

So, why bother responding this time?

Because this time, Floyd is not just making usual rhetorical play of treating our nation’s dominant religious tradition as a persecuted minority. He is pressing Dietrich Bonhoeffer—one of the history’s most stalwart defenders of the victimized and oppressed—into service. In doing so, he demonstrates a profound disregard for Bonhoeffer’s core ethical and theological commitments.

Here’s why this matters: because Southern Baptists are not the Jews to LGBTQ advocates’ Nazi Party. And the analogy doesn’t work much better if you reverse it.

What we can agree on is that gays, lesbians and transgender people have been, and still are, subject to violence because of who they are. The United States is witnessing a record number of LGBTQ homicides in 2015. And violence against transgender individuals has undergone a particular rise.

The question then becomes: in a country where Christianity is dominant, whose side would Bonhoeffer be on?

Here, the insights of Reggie L. Williams are helpful. In Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus, Williams details the theological and ethical changes Bonhoeffer underwent during his stint at Union Theological Seminary from 1930-1931. While at Union, Bonhoeffer spent a great deal of time in Harlem, where he immersed himself in a literary tradition that cultivated an image of a “black Jesus” who, rather than siding with the nation’s white oppressors, championed the cause of a marginal, black community.

In Harlem, Bonhoeffer adopted a new image of Christ. In this new christology, heavily rooted in the Sermon on the Mount, we Christians are to identify with the world’s oppressed populations, working to deliver them from their suffering. Ultimately, it was this conviction—formulated on the streets of Harlem—that animated Bonhoeffer’s later fight against the Nazis.

It is worth noting that, in addition to his work fighting the Nazis with the Confessing Church, post-Harlem Bonhoeffer developed a profound love for working with impoverished, urban youth, a population in which LGBTQ youth are now vastly overrepresented. Four in ten homeless youths identify as LGBTQ, and most of those claim that family rejection was a major factor in their becoming homeless.

These are the kinds of people Bonhoeffer committed to serving. These were his people.

This is the Bonhoeffer that has so thoroughly convicted me—a white, upper-middle class, college-educated male—of my own tendency towards callous self-segregation. This is the Bonhoeffer that I now know and love. He is a thinker with deep reverence for the Bible, a reverence that led him not to moralistic condemnation, but to compassion for victims of oppression.

Between Southern Baptists and the LGBTQ community, it is quite clear who can more rightly be labeled “oppressed,”—and with whom Bonhoeffer would side.

In invoking Bonhoeffer in service of oppression Ronnie Floyd got his history—and his theology—deeply, unmistakably wrong.

12 Comments

  • kim_fabs@hotmail.com' Kim Fabricius says:

    Totally agree. In fact, on a visit to the US, Bonhoeffer’s closest friend and first biographer Eberhard Bethge, horrified at members of Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell’s church proudly sporting their little lapel flags, actually compared the identification of faith with “American Christianity” to (you guessed it!) the ideology of the Deutsche Evangelische Kirche itself.

    Indeed as Victoria Barnett (who is the General Editor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, English Edition) pointed out in a critical review of Eric Metaxas’ tendentious 2011 biography Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, Bonhoeffer explicitly rejected the call for a return to a “Christian world view” and “Christian values” that characterises American conservative evangelicalism (and, btw — and how interesting — “also warned his students at Fikenwalde against the dangers of an individualistic ‘personal relationship’ to Christ”).

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    I too am vitally interested in Bonhöffer’s life and work and what happened in Germany and the church’s moral failure. I don’t quite understand your reference to the Deutsche Evangelische Kiche. Is that present tense or past statement? In a theological seminar I attended, we all spoke of the missed Gospel in the conservative American church. A German Luthern pastor who was present was very surprised at the discussion as the use of “evangelical” was not the same in Germany. He was a bit shocked to say the least.Can you clarify your statement?

    The other response I have, and will check it again is that while Bonhöffer was part of the Confessing Church, I believe he separated from the practice of them be willing to save only converted Jews; they did not assist Jews per se, (at least in the begining). He changed his thinking as the worst unfolded and Nazi intentions of total annihilation became utterly clear. Bonhöffer is considered a theological giant today who at a young age was executed just before the end of the war. How he would have developed his thinking is sad for us today. His questions for the future of Christainity and all of humanity were prophetic and still critical fo us today, (contained in his letter from prison available in a book of same title).BTW: Metaxas’s book was made into a DVD documentary of same title and is wonderful for anyone wanting more about Diedrich Bonhöffer. I watch it in times of despair over our American stye of weak and false Christianity. He stil is a source of hope.

  • kim_fabs@hotmail.com' Kim Fabricius says:

    Hi Judith,

    The Deutsche Evangelische Kirche — referring here to the Church of the so-called “German Christians” during the Third Reich, the antithesis of the Confessing Church (Bekennende Kirche).

    “Evangelical” in a German context would refer simply to Lutheran or Reformed; i.e., nothing to do with the label “evangelical” in a US context.

    And, yes, Bonhoeffer became very disappointed with the Confessing Church’s response to the Jews as Jews

    If you want a worthy recent Bonhoeffer biography, I’d recommend Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance, the original published in German in 2006, the English translation in 2010.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    Thank you.

  • thurmaneric@gmail.com' Eric says:

    So, once again, the leadership of the SBC demonstrates why they have absolutely zero credibility and it is long past time that we stopped giving them any.

  • wf3h@comcast.net' bpuharic says:

    The SBC started as a pro slavery church, legitimizing genocide against blacks. They supported Jim Crow and only apologized for it in 1995. Being gay was ILLEGAL in many places in the US until 1987. And THEY are the new Jews?

    There are no words to describe how reprehensible they are.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Sometimes when words fail, humor works better.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

    “I would warn Orlando that you’re right in the way of some serious hurricanes, and I don’t think I’d be waving those flags [gay pride flags] in God’s face if I were you, This is not a message of hate , this is a message of redemption. But a condition like this will bring about the destruction of your nation. It’ll bring about terrorist bombs; it’ll bring earthquakes, tornadoes, and possibly a meteor.” Pat Robertson

  • dakotahgeo@hotmail.com' George M Melby says:

    Had Hitler’s Nazis known how rancid the Southern Baptists are, they wouldn’t have given the Jewish people a second thought!

  • Eric,

    The parallel between the Southern Baptists and the National Rifle Association is striking.

    The NRA was once a membership organization interested in hunting, and hence conservation, and gun safety, hence education. They have morphed into a small, centrally-staffed lobby for the gun industry, functioning mainly for the enrichment of their Washington staff.

    The Southern Baptists used to be a decent association of independent white churches. They had the weakness of those churches, racism, but also the strengths of adult-baptism theology, local community representativeness, and variety.

    They too have morphed, into a small central and dictatorial staff and board, existing mainly for the enrichment of that Dallas Establishment.

    Sic transit.

    -dlj.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    Southern Baptists are far more like the Nazis. Both have/had convinced themselves that the majority are/was being victimized by a tiny minority.

  • jimbentn@verizon.net' Jim 'Prup' Benton says:

    Either this is one of the inadvertently ugly comments I’ve seen here, or one of the most badly expressed. Reread it and please explain whether, as you seem to be saying, you think that the Nazis were after the Jews for their ‘rancidness’ and were justified in their actions — just not in their target.
    It was meant as a joke, but I think your shoelaces and tongue got entangled.

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