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August 29, 2017 3:36 pm

‘The Christian Century’ Discovers Nazis in America

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

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Demonstrators carrying Nazi and Confederate flags in Charlottesville, Va., on Aug. 12. Photo: Anthony Crider via Wikimedia Commons.

Nazis can be found in the United States.

That’s the shocking and terrible news that The Christian Century has to offer its readership, which is largely made up of mainline Protestants in the United States.

In a piece published on the magazine’s website on August 28 (which is also scheduled to appear in the print edition on September 13) Jim Friedrich, an Episcopal priest, declares: “Nazis on the march in America. We recoil at this news with a sense of shock, like getting a bad diagnosis. Our first instinct is denial. Could the social body really be this sick?”

Friedrich may be shocked by the events of the past few weeks — but as someone who has been roundly denounced on antisemitic websites over the past few years, I’m not surprised one bit by what has happened in the increasingly Weimarish streets of America. If Friedrich really wants to know how sick our civil society has become, he should take a look at the masthead of recent copies The Christian Century — the magazine that printed his alarum.

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Up until July 5, 2017, the magazine’s masthead included the name of James M. Wall, a former editor and columnist there, who for about three years was listed on the masthead of Veterans News Now (VNN). VNN is part of a network of antisemitic websites that are motivated by the same animating passions that appear to have driven a white supremacist to ram his car into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, killing a woman.

The folks who contribute to this network of websites (which calls itself the “Veterans Today Network”) probably wouldn’t call themselves Nazis; they’d also likely deny any connection between what they’ve written and the violence in Charlottesville.

The truth, however, is that they promote an ugly sense of grievance, hostility and Jew-hatred that is very similar to what propelled the Nazis into power in pre-World War II Germany — and what is motivating the neo-Nazis in the US today. (Just plug words like “Jew,” “Zionist” or “Protocols” into the search window for the websites in question, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.)

It was appalling that James M. Wall, a former editor of a mainstream Christian publication, would associate with websites that promoted such hatred. I wrote articles, lots of articles, about Wall’s affiliation with Veterans News Now.

To make matters worse, Wall was a pastor in the United Methodist Church. What this means is that we had a liberal Protestant pastor playing a role similar to that of Father Coughlin in the 1930s — and responsible Christian institutions refused to take action against him.

I previously contacted The Christian Century and the UMC bishop in Chicago, and told them that Wall was serving as assistant editor of Veterans News Now, an antisemitic website. Both the magazine and the UMC refused to act on this information. Until just a few weeks ago, the magazine did not remove Wall’s name from its masthead, and the UMC did not proceed with a formal grievance against Wall, whose name disappeared from the Veterans News Now website after I started to raise a ruckus.

Finally, in the July 19, 2017 issue, Wall’s name was, quietly and without fanfare, dropped from the masthead of The Christian Century. Finally, the magazine did the right thing.

As a Christian myself, it was a deeply dispiriting to see how long it took.

A prominent Christian intellectual was openly affiliating with people who promoted Jew-hatred, and two institutions that had a chance to take a stand in opposition to his actions punted.

They issued no statements of condemnation, which in this case were clearly warranted — because he was one of their own.

To be fair to The Christian Century, the magazine has taken a more reasonable approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the years since Wall’s departure as editor in 1999. Over the years, it has published articles that assailed the anti-Israel BDS movement and Rev. Naim Ateek’s use of anti-Judaism to demonize the modern state of Israel. More recently, it published an even-handed article about Christian Zionism by Peter Pettit, a Lutheran scholar from Muhlenburg University, who has helped Christians make more reasonable assessments about the actions of the Jewish state.

This is all well and good.

And it’s a good thing that the magazine has come out against Nazism in America. But it still needs to do the right thing and come clean about its former editor’s dalliance with the David Duke crowd.

It is good that Wall is no longer on the masthead of The Christian Century, but more needs to be done.

An apology and an explanation is in order.

 

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