Martin Niemöller was arrested in 1937 by the Gestapo for speaking against the Nazi government. He was not released until World War II was ending in 1945. It is true that he initially supported the Nazi party, a decision he regretted this for the rest of his life. In this haunting quote he reflects on his neglect in standing up for what he knew was Godly. This regret extended to the pivotal role he played in creating the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt in which the German church confessed its lack of opposition to the Nazis.
This quote reminds me of one of the main themes of the Old Testament prophets. One of their repeated concerns was how God’s people were treating widows and orphans. Within the Law there was provision for care would be given to the disadvantaged. This was often not the reality. The disadvantaged were being exploited and there was injustice in the marketplace. The call of the prophets was to speak for the disadvantaged and remind the people that was not enough to simply offer lip service to God through their offerings, but that true followers of God also lived according to his ways. In this case it meant crying out on behalf of the downtrodden and providing a voice for those who had none.
Speaking up is risky. Niemöller knew this and was ultimately imprisoned. The Old Testament prophets were largely ignored. When people have tried to act justly they have often been ridiculed, but speaking up was still the call of God. I believe that this is still the case. Look around our world. Are there any injustices that need to be spoken out against? Christians need to find their voice. The lesson that we learn from Niemöller is don’t be silent.