Update: As Nick Matzke pointed out in the comments, I misattributed that famous poem. It was, of course, Martin Niemoeller, not Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote it.
The Christian right seems to be uniting around a theme on all this “religious liberty” nonsense. In the last few days I’ve seen several articles declaring that this is the “Bonhoeffer moment” for Christians. You may recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer as the German Christian who resisted the Nazis and wrote that famous poem:
First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.
So now it’s “first they came for the baker” and “first they came for the florists.” But in fact, first they came for the slaveowners. Virtually identical rhetoric was used by the Confederacy and its advocates in the church. The heathen federal government, which hated Christianity and wanted to destroy it, was coming for the noble slaveowners of the South, who were only following the word of God in holding slaves. That was widely believed and preached in the 1850s and 60s, and in fact continues to be preached today by southern nationalists and neo-confederates. And the Christian apologists for the status quo lost the battle and were forced to assimilate.
And then they came for those good Christian men, trying to dilute their influence by giving women the right to vote. This would destroy families because the husband and wife might disagree politically, you see, and it was all a plot by — again — the anti-Christian federal government to destroy Christianity. The Bible, after all, made very clear that the wife was subordinate to the husband and that he made the decisions. Thus it was sinful and un-Christian to allow women the vote. And the Christian apologists for the status quo lost the battle and were forced to assimilate.
And then they came for those Christians in the South who were only doing their religious duty and protecting the white race, which God favored above all, by oppressing blacks. The heathen, anti-Christian federal government was sending its jackbooted thugs into the South to force the God-fearing Christians to allow black people to vote, to be served by their businesses, to be educated in the same schools. And the Christian apologists for the status quo lost the battle and were forced to assimilate.
And now they’re coming for those Christians who think gay people are less than human. Their Christian faith demands that they discriminate against gays and lesbians, that they refuse to serve them in their businesses, that they oppress them at every turn. After all, the Bible makes clear that they are an abomination to the Lord. And once again they are losing the battle. And once again they’re making exactly the same arguments that have been made for more than 150 years, that it’s the Christians who are being oppressed when we stop letting them oppress those that their religion teaches them to disapprove of and rule over.
When you start the Bonhoeffer quote where it ought to start, it kind of loses its power.