“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a Socialist….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 for me.” ~ German Pastor Martin Niemoller
This poem, as it has often been called, has been adapted to fit many circumstances. That is part of its long and broad appeal. Let’s continue that tradition a bit longer and broader:
First they came to burn women at the stake who had been accused of being “witches” in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1600’s, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a woman accused of being a witch.
Then they came for women who committed adultery and forced them to sew the scarlet letter “A” (for adultress) on their coats, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not an adulteress.
Then they came for Japanese Americans, including children, and forcibly relocated and incarcerated them during WW2, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a Japanese American.
Then they came for the Jews and forced them into concentration camps and tattooed numbers on their forearms and stole their dignity, their property, their names, their health, their freedom and their very lives and I felt terrible about it, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not a Jew.
Then they came to mass arrest gays at a bar in New York City and threw them into police vans and carted them to jail, and I did not speak out ~ because I was not gay.
Then, barely a few months ago, the President of the Philippines advocated the mass murder of thousands of drug addicts to rid society of its problem with addiction, and I did not speak out ~ because I am not a drug addict living in the Philippines.
But did you know that when the Nazis took over Denmark and ordered that all Jews wear the yellow Star of David on their clothes, the King, who was not Jewish, also wore the Star of David and encouraged all his people to do the same?
And did you know that the German Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller did more than simply write this famous “poem”? He spent the last seven years of the Nazi regime in concentration camps because of what he preached, wrote and did.
I hereby pledge that if the President-elect of the United States follows through on his intent to mandate the registry of Muslims solely on the basis of their religion and ethnicity ~ this ordained Christian minister of German ancestry who carries a United States passport will register as a Muslim, and I will encourage all other Christians to do the same.
I will do this as a Christian. I will do this as a child of God. I do this as an American patriot. I will do this because if we enact policy that tolerates and even mandates inhumanity, injustice and immorality ~ I am unsure of who they will come for next.
Maybe they will expand from issues related to ethnicity and immigration to include the elderly who are, after all, past their peak as workers and contributors too the tax base and a financial drain on the economy. Maybe they will come for people with “disabilities” that are so darn expensive to care for.
Does this sound farfetched? I took my son to the “concentration camp” in Dachau, Germany a couple of years ago when he was in high school in America. Before he went off to college, left the nest, and settled into middle class American life ~ I wanted him to see what can happen in a country that falls under the sway of a charismatic leader who offers the opiate of easy solutions to fear and the promise of the realization of omnipotence and power. I wanted my son to learn that many people imprisoned at Dachau were not Jews; including many who were “merely” homosexuals, avant garde artists, Gypsies, the elderly and infirm. Do you know what Hitler called these people? He called them “useless eaters.”
I want my son to remember that Jesus once healed ten lepers and only one of them came back to say thanks, and that one was a Samaritan, a “foreigner” ~ one of the “unclean.” I want my son to ponder whether Jesus is telling us to be careful about what “foreigners” we are being disdainful and condescending toward.
I want my son to remember that Thanksgiving Day harkens back to the Pilgrims breaking bread with native Indians who were the residents of the land, and that we Pilgrims and Puritans were the foreigners, the strangers in a strange land.
Pardon me while I thump my Bible and remind my son that Jesus said that blessed are the peacemakers for they shall know peace. And blessed are the poor for they shall inherit the earth. And blessed are those who love their neighbors as themselves.
Dwight Lee Wolter is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York, and the author of several books. He blogs at dwightleewolter.com