May the pulpits of America, house and traditional, resound with such brave and faithful prophetic voices.
In the summer of 1942, two buses arrived at the French village of Le Chambon. The Vichy government, in service to the German occupation, had sent them to pick up the Jews who’d been sheltered in this largely Protestant town. When the police captain first demanded that the local pastor supply him a list of the resident Jews and then insisted that he sign a poster calling on the Jews to surrender themselves, he refused.
The police gave this pastor twenty-four hours to reconsider, and it proved to be time enough for the Jews to escape to the forest. The next day, the police found only one suspected Jew, and when they loaded him on the bus, villagers crowded about, handing gifts of food through the window. When the authorities soon discovered that his documentation was in order, they released him, and he returned to the village, pulling a wagon laden with the food he’d received from his poverty-stricken neighbors.
When philosopher Phil Hallie, himself a decorated artilleryman from World War II, came across this story of heroism, he found release from a profound depression he’d suffered while studying the Holocaust. Stepping back from the brink of suicide, Hallie wrote a book to be called, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed: The Story of the Village of Le Chambon and How Goodness Happened There.1
How might these people have found the fortitude to resist, for years, the Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jews? How might they have operated an “underground railroad,” forwarding Jews to safety in Switzerland? Certainly, there was an historical base for these sympathies, since French Protestants had themselves endured centuries of persecution.2 Thousands had been massacred on a single St. Bartholomew’s Day, August 24, 1572, and it was not until the French Revolution in the late eighteenth century that oppression subsided.
Hallie, instead, chose to focus on the preaching of their Huguenot pastor. When searching out the “nerve” of the rescue operation, he concluded, “The most obvious answer was Pastor Trocmé himself. His powerful sermons in the boxy granite temple inspired the people of the village to follow in the footprints of Jesus, loving all humankind and willing to suffer, even to die, for others.”3
Trocmé spoke often of “the power of the spirit” and urged his parishioners to obey God rather than man, “to help the weak, though it meant disobedience to the strong.”4 His delivery was compelling. As his brother Francis put it, “. . . he is a pulpit orator who is absolutely original, who surpasses in authority anyone I have ever heard speak from the chair . . . One sits there afterwards . . . eyes clouded with tears, as if one has been listening to music that has seized you by your entrails.”5
When the nation of Israel gave Trocmé the Medal of Righteousness after the war, they quoted from an August, 1942, sermon the pastor delivered during the roundup of Jews in Paris: “It is humiliating to Europe that such things can happen, and that we the French cannot act against such barbaric deeds that come from a time we once believed was past. The Christian Church should drop to its knees and beg pardon of God for its present incapacity and cowardice.”6
One might suppose that the people of Le Chambon went grimly about their hazardous duty, but the accounts reveal more joy than solemnity and dread. When an early, trembling Jewish refugee approached a farmhouse near the town, the farm woman excitedly called upstairs, “Come down! Come down! We have in our home today a representative of the Chosen People!”7
Her joy flowed from her grounding in God’s Word and her filling with the Holy Spirit. Hallie observed, “For many of the people of Protestant Le Chambon the Bible was a book of truths and commandments to be taken literally (au pied de la lettre). The word of God had to be taken that way or not at all. The felt allegiance of the Chambonnais to God’s words convinced them in their heart of hearts that they were doing God’s work by protecting the apple of God’s eye, the Jews.”8
Pastor Trocmé’s preaching stirred his people to sacrificial service. His pulpit ministry and their Christian walk also moved the heart of a war-weary, philosophical Jew, Phil Hallie. Good preaching does that; the ripples go on and on, far beyond the walls of the church.9
1 Philip P. Hallie, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1979). 2 Ibid., 25. 3 Philip P. Hallie, “Surprised by Goodness,” excerpts from Hallie’s 1997 HaperCollins book, Tales of Good and Evil, Help and Harm, (McClean, Virginia: The Trinity Forum, 2002), 21. 4 Innocent Blood, 170. 5 Ibid.., 171. 6 Ibid. 7 “Surprised by Goodness,” 23. 8 Ibid. 9 See Kairos Journal article, “On the Offensive—Pastor Pierre-Charles Toureille, 1941-1945.”
Oh that preachers in our time would so pray, and study, and preach that the people of our day would rise up and be as righteous and courageous in their thoughts and deeds as the people of La Chambon.