Idolatry on a Billboard?
For some time now I have been warning anyone who will listen that many American Christians are in grave danger of committing the same extreme error that “German Christians” made in the 1930s when they put Hitler and the National Socialist Party on a pedestal and treated him as a new messiah and it as a new revelation of God to save the German people. That is, they included Hitler and the Nazi Party within what theologians call Heilsgeschichte—salvation history.
In order to understand what I am saying you have to know about the situation in Germany in the 1930s. Many Germans, including many Christians, believed that what had happened in Russia with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1918-1919 was likely to happen in Germany. Communism was very strong and gaining strength in Germany and throughout Europe. Most Germans in the 1930s were not especially anti-Semitic. They chose to overlook Hitler’s anti-Semitism, refusing to believe that it would come to the “final solution.” Even when Hitler stripped German Jews of their rights of citizenship and banned them from civil service, etc., many Germans simply refused to “see” what was happening and where this was going. That’s because their minds were blinded by fear.
During the 1930s in Germany there developed a relatively cohesive movement that called itself “German Christians” and openly endorsed near-worship of Hitler and the Nazi Party. They published statements virtually equating Hitler with Jesus Christ by labeling him a savior from God for the German people. They treated him as a new messiah, giving to him the loyalty Christians should reserve only for Jesus Christ.
This led, of course, to a reaction of other Christians who formed the “Confessing Church” movement which was eventually suppressed by the Nazis. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was deeply involved in the Confessing Church movement which strongly opposed the German Christian movement as idolatrous. The motto of the Confessing Christians became “only Jesus is Lord!”
*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*
For some time now, in the United States, some conservative Christians have been making noise reminiscent of the German Christians of the 1930s—about Trump and the Republican Party. Whether Trump and/or any Republican leaders encourage this is not the concern here. My concern here is with Christians who dare to put Trump on a pedestal should must be reserved (by Christians) for Jesus Christ alone.
Recently billboards have appeared along major U.S. freeways depicting Trump’s face and the quote from John 1 “And the Word became flesh.” Another saying on the billboards is “Make the gospel great again.” Predictably these billboards have raised concerns and questions. The Christians who sponsor the billboards have defended them, claiming that they do not equate Trump with Jesus Christ. But the billboards are what they are. Whatever the sponsor’s thoughts and intentions may be, the billboards scream out that Trump is “up there with Jesus” in terms of messiahship, saviorhood, worthiness of ultimate loyalty.Again, whatever the billboards’ sponsors say, the billboards communicate a dangerous message and even the most die-hard Trump supporters must speak out against that message. I am not charging the billboards’ creators and sponsors with heresy, apostasy, blasphemy, or idolatry, but I will say the billboards’ message constitutes those. No amount of denial or defense can undo the message; the message is what it is.
(Just to be clear: I am not calling into question the billboards’ sponsors’ characters; I am writing here about the billboards only.)
The billboards come too close to the German Christians’ idolatrous near-worship of Hitler for comfort. (No, I am not comparing Trump with Hitler; I am comparing Christians’ attitudes towards political leaders with each other. I would be just as shocked and outraged if the billboards displayed Obama’s face with those words.)
A basic Christian critical principle is that no human besides Jesus Christ is “Lord;” no human being should ever be elevated to status equal with or even comparable with Jesus Christ in terms of being savior.
If violating that basic Christian principle was not the intention of the billboard’s sponsors, all I can say is they made a terrible error of miscommunication. That because the billboards do communicate the identification of Trump with Jesus Christ—not literally as if Trump is the Second Coming of Jesus but as if Trump is a new incarnation and his ideology is a new gospel.
I am calling on the sponsors of these billboards to take them down and repent. Again, I do not know them and cannot see into their hearts or minds; all I can do is judge the billboards theologically and my best theological judgment is that they constitute idolatry.
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