The suffering of the Jews was not an abstraction for Schmitz, says Carder. “Walter Brueggeman’s concept of the prophetic imagination grows out of our ability to grieve or lament. We enter into the suffering of another in a personal way. Seeing the other perspective deepens witness and lament and one’s response.”
In Exodus 3:7, God hears the suffering of his nation and identifies with the oppressed, says Carder. “The disestablishment of the church is an opportunity. We belong in the margins.”
How are leaders of churches great and small to apply the lessons of Elisabeth Schmitz’s life in their work and practice today? Some say even small efforts made in this direction will be of great consequence.
The Rev. Neal Christie, the assistant general secretary for education and leadership formation at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, described the board’s support of the film in this context.
“Elisabeth … ought to remind the church of the importance and ethical demand to advocate for others before the powers,” Christie says. “For the General Board of Church and Society, this is a core value and purpose.
“There is nonviolent power in a single letter written and circulated, much like there is power in petitions and campaigns that we circulate to our constituencies to demand justice for God’s people.”
Steven Martin, the director of Elisabeth of Berlin, is a United Methodist extension minister in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and is one of Bishop Carder’s former parishioners. He describes the practical lessons of Elisabeth Schmitz’s life in terms of theology, and friendship.
“Goebbels said, ‘Everyone knows one good Jew, but we have to steel ourselves for the Jewish question.’ A lot of people chose his words over their friends’ lives.
“After 12 years of relentless propaganda, it took a huge amount of clarity for Elisabeth Schmitz to see that a friend was a friend and that all the talk about the Jews was wrong. That is what is remarkable about her.
“Her friendship together with her theological training made the difference. The lesson of her piety is that you have to be steeped in the life of the church, and reach out to those that Jesus called ‘the least of these.’”
Bishop Carder finds in her story a call for regret and repentance, but also for hope. “One lone voice can make a difference,” he says. “The contribution multiplies, like the loaves and the fishes. Never underestimate what God can do with a little.”
For more information on the documentary film, Elisabeth of Berlin, directed by Steven D. Martin, visit Vital Visuals.