UC San Diego
Preaching to Nazi Germany: The Confessing Church on National Socialism, the Jews, and the Question of Opposition
- Author(s): Skiles, William Stewart
- Advisor(s): Biess, Frank
- Hertz, Deborah
- et al.
This dissertation examines sermons delivered by Confessing Church pastors in the Nazi dictatorship. The approach of most historians has focused on the history of the Christian institutions, its leaders, and its persecution by the Nazi regime, leaving the most elemental task of the pastor – that is, preaching – largely unexamined. The question left unaddressed is how well did Confessing pastors fare in articulating their views of the Nazi regime and the persecution of the Jews through their sermons? To answer this question, I analyzed 910 sermons by Confessing Church pastors, all delivered or disseminated between 1933 and the end of World War II in Europe.
I argue that new trends in preaching popular among Confessing Church pastors discouraged deviation from the biblical text in sermons, and thus one result was few criticisms concerning German politics and society. Nevertheless, a minority of pastors criticized the Nazi regime and its leaders for their racial ideology and claims of “Aryan” superiority, and also for unjust persecutions against Christians. They condemned Nazism as a morally corrupt ideology in contradiction to Christianity. Further, I argue that these sermons provide mixed messages about Jews and Judaism. While on the one hand, the sermons express admiration for Judaism as a foundation for Christianity and Jews as spiritual cousins; on the other hand, the sermons express religious prejudice in the form of anti-Judaic tropes that corroborated the Nazi ideology that portrayed Jews and Judaism as inferior. In the final section of the dissertation I explore the ministries of German pastors of Jewish descent and argue that they not only experienced persecution from the Nazi state, but also from their own congregations. Nevertheless, the themes of their sermons are consistent with those found in those of their colleagues.
My research demonstrates that the German churches were in fact places to offer criticism of the Nazi regime, which was often veiled through biblical imagery and metaphor. Yet the messages reveal criticism from a position of obedience and subservience to the state, and at the same time the expose a confused ambiguity about the Jews and Judaism and their relation to Christians in Nazi Germany.