Pastor Richard's Blog

Who Will Speak Out for Those who are Threatened?

One of the most noticeable aspects of the protests that have been taking place down south since the election of Donald Trump as president has been the signs.  It seems like everyone protesting Trump’s policies has a sign.  Some of the signs are serious: “No ban!  No wall!” while others are humorous: “We Shall Overcomb” and “Tweet Women with Respect.”  Some are thoughtful: “Jesus was a Refugee” while others bring in literary allusions: “Dumbledore Wouldn’t Let This Happen.”  One of the most eye-catching and memorable signs I’ve seen was one that read: “First They Came for the Muslims . . . and We Said Not This Time.”  

This sign is an allusion to a poem written by a German Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemöller.  Niemöller pastored in Germany during the Nazi era.   In the poem, Niemöller confronts the cowardice of German intellectuals during the purges which took place following Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.  Here are the words to the poem:

“When the Nazis came for the communists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I did not speak out;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
As I was not a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.”
This poem has been adapted many times.  Here is the most recent American version:
“First, they came for the Muslims,
 and I did not speak out
because I was not a Muslim.  

Then they came for the Mexicans,
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Mexican.  

Then they came for the feminists and the gays,
and I did not speak out;
I was not a feminist or gay.

Then they came for the Blacks,
and I did not speak out
because I was not Black.  

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak out.”

Both in its original and adapted versions, this poem is a reminder of the mission of the Church.  In all places and in all generations, the Church is called to be the voice of the voiceless.  We are called to speak for those who have been silenced, to advocate for those who are marginalized, to protect those who are being threatened.  The Church is called to go forth under the banner of the prophet Micah who proclaimed the words of God: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  May we, the Church, continue to walk with all those whom Scripture calls, “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40).