Film explores Hilter’s influence on religion

Abbey Stirgwolt

Numerous terra cotta tiles adorn the walls of an early 20th century German church. Some of the tiles depict images of Jesus Christ; others bear scratched-out swastika symbols. The mahogany pulpit features a carving of Christ teaching a Nazi and his son.

In the early 1930s, church-state fusion in Germany was at its peak. Confused about where to draw the line, even the most revered of theologians struggled with the issue of Hitler’s attempts to unify a struggling and war-torn country.

Steven Martin, a United Methodist pastor hailing from Tennessee, recently took temporary leave of his home congregation to investigate Hitler’s effects on the German church. Martin compiled his findings into a documentary entitled Theologians Under Hitler, which is being nationally pre-screened prior to its release in early November.

The hour-long film was shown yesterday at United Methodist Church to an audience of more than 60. Afterwards, Martin entertained the audience’s questions about the film and the issues it discussed.

Theologians Under Hitler profiles three prominent German theologians who ultimately bought into Hitler’s mass anti-Semitic movement: Emanuel Hirsch, a theologian and college dean; Paul Althaus, a popular scholar and pastor; and Gerhard Kittel, a scholar of Jewish history who was later imprisoned for his vehement anti-Semitism.

Martin said these theologians’ downfall was that “they ultimately saw that the Nazi program was salvific – that Hitler was Savior.”

In the months before his film’s release, Martin has visited several congregations across the country to show his self-directed and produced film and encourage his listeners to call their local PBS stations to ask for the film to be shown.

“People who are baptized followers of Christ have a different power to rely on,” Martin said when asked what Christians should do if confronted with the question of loyalty to church versus government.

Martin said Christians can’t claim government as ultimate authority because their faith requires Christ to be first priority.

“We do not know the end of our story. But we know the end of the Christian story, and that is God wins,” Martin said.

Contact religion reporter Abbey Stirgwolt at [email protected].