WASHINGTON — Eric Metaxas compared the silence of Christians about persecution in the Middle East and religious freedom restrictions domestically to the silence of Christians in Nazi Germany.
"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil," Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, Metaxas reminded the audience at the In Defense of Christians Inaugural Summit on Sept. 11.
Metaxas is the author of a biography of Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who spoke up about the persecution of the Jews and was put to death by the Third Reich.
The evil acts of Nazi Germany were partly enabled by the conflation of national identity with the Church, Metaxas said. He compared it to his own experience of growing up in a Greek family where he was led to believe that being Greek meant that you belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, which meant that you are a Christian. Similarly, Germans believed that being German meant being Lutheran, which meant that you are a Christian.
"Well this is nonsense," he explained. "You can't be born Christian. You can only be born-again as a Christian. We're born in sin."
National identity, he said, is not the same as being a follower of Jesus, and believing they are the same can lead to some serious consequences, such as what happened in Germany. The Church must always be "the conscience of the state," but the Church cannot do this if its identity is aligned with the state.
"It's not appropriate to conflate nationalism, our national identity, with our faith in Jesus Christ," Metaxas said.
Since a Christian's allegiance is first to the Church of Jesus Christ, he continued, rather than to a national or ethnic identity, this means Christians must speak out about the persecution of their fellow believers in Christ, regardless of any national, racial or ethnic differences they may have.
"If your allegiance is not first and foremost to Jesus, you are not a Christian," he said. "If your allegiance is to a political entity or to a national entity or to a tribal entity before you have your allegiance to Jesus, you are not a Christian."
Metaxas also compared the silence of Christians on the issue of persecution to the silence of Christians on the issues of the Obama administration's birth control mandate and the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples in some states.
"If you do not speak out, when religious freedom is threatened," he said, "when there is persecution of Christians, if you do not speak out, you are being silent, you are participating in evil. And when American Christians keep their mouths shut, as typically we have done, with terrible persecutions around the world, God will not hold us guiltless."