Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) was a German Lutheran pastor who witnessed the horrors of the Nazi holocaust and, like many intellectuals and clergy in Germany, cowardly remained silent as the Nazis systematically targeted classes and groups of society. Following the war, Niemoller penned a prose confession about his guilty silence. Surely, you have heard it or read it before. It goes like this:
First they came for the Communists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.
In our day, we would need to revise and update this prose confession to make it fit with the particular circumstances we face. Perhaps it would go something like this:
First, FaceBook and Twitter cancelled President Trump and I did not speak out— Because I do not like President Trump.
Then they shut down churches in California, New Mexico, and many other states and I did not speak out—Because I do not live in those states.
Then they fined, arrested, and jailed Canadian pastors and I did not speak out— Because I am not Canadian.
If they ever come for me I hope everyone will speak out for me—Because I am just trying to serve Christ.
I fear that such a spirit of cowardice has come over American pastors and churches that we fail to recognize the times in which we live. We are like ancient Israel over which Jesus wept. We live in persecuting times when the great enemy of the soul is let loose on the Church for a little while. There are persecutions of Christians taking place throughout the world and even in the United States. This is a time for Christians to raise their voices and speak out against cancel culture, tyrannical governments, and the persecution of the Church.
These thoughts came to me as I have read in recent days about the plight of the Canadian pastors. James Coates has been released from jail, but the Health officials have barricaded his church building. Artur Pawlowski in Calgary has an arrest warrant against him which permits the police to do ‘anything necessary’ to arrest him. Steve Richardson in Tillsonburg, Ontario, faces a possible fine of $200,000 and two years in prison for holding services with more than 10 people present. Have we spoken out? Have you spoken out? Have leaders in his denomination, the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, spoken out in his behalf? I fear the answer to all those questions is ‘No.’ And the reason would be something like this—I am not Canadian, I am not a member of the ARP, I am not a reformed pastor, etc., etc.
A few weeks ago, I received copies of emails in which an ARP pastor in Canada accused me of making false statements in one of my emails to each of you. I wrote that pastor with a description of my evidence and I have heard nothing back. Crickets are chirping. But, I did hear from another ARP pastor that the Canadian Presbytery which has refused to support Richardson plans to “handle the situation” after the civil magistrate deals with the legal issues before the civil court. Perhaps I am reading something into that little piece of information, but it would appear to me that Presbytery intends to discipline him (perhaps even excommunicate him) if the civil magistrate metes out civil punishments of him. Pastor Niemoller confessed his guilty silence, but even he would be horrified at such a turn of events. Indifference to the plight of others is terrible. Persecution of pastors for holding worship services by a court of the church is beyond horrible. It is unthinkable.
Many centuries ago in a land far away a man named Mordecai spoke these words to his niece, Queen Esther, who was reluctant to intervene on behalf of the Jews: “Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13, 14).
As an English Literature minor in college, one of my favorite poets is John Donne. His words from “For Whom the Bell Tolls” speak to us even in this situation. Donne wrote:
No man is an island, Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent, A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were, As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.
My friends, we live in persecuting times. Do not ask for whom the doors of the jail cells clank. They clank for thee. Do not ask for whom the officials are coming. They are coming for thee. Do not ask who is being put to death all day long (Psalm 44:22). It is thee.
Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church of Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery
P.S. Vanguard Presbytery is starting and will be starting mission churches in several cities. Our goal is to build up this new denomination through new church plants. We do not have deep pockets, so we are trusting in the faithful gifts of many people and churches to support us. Please send any donations to: PO Box 1862, Destin, FL 32540. Thanks!