Pastor Chris Edmonds lacks all the pretentiousness you’ve come to expect from Christian preachers with dramatic southern accents who seem to litter the news media in the most inappropriate of ways. The senior pastor of Piney Grove Baptist Church in Maryville, Tenn., his biography tells you more about his love for his wife, children and “awesome” grandchildren than it does about his own professional accomplishments that include pastoral work with the Department of Defense and a project especially close to his heart, Roddie’s Code.
Pastor Chris is the son of Roddie Edmonds, the American master sergeant who stood up to his Nazi prison guards with the now-infamous words, “We are all Jews here.” It was a statement that saved the lives of 200 Jewish American servicemen and earned him the posthumous recognition of Righteous Among the Nations from Yad Vashem.
While he’s proud of his father’s recognition, Pastor Chris wants his father’s story to inspire others into everyday acts of righteousness. Recently we spoke about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in America and what it means to manifest Roddie’s Code in everyday life.
SG: “Never again” is a key theme within the Jewish world. To that end, many Jews devote time and resources to strengthening Holocaust education programs at the local, regional and national levels. What responsibility do Christians have to Holocaust education?
CE: We have a great responsibility to teach current and future generations. The lessons we learn about the evil and goodness of humanity during the horrors of the Holocaust are transforming.
As a Christian, I am very grateful to the many non-profits like Yad Vashem, The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, Facing History and Ourselves and many others who share powerful resources with schools and individuals across the world. And I am especially grateful for the thousands of public and private school teachers who faithfully lead students in Holocaust education. I recently spoke at my grandson’s middle school and I was very moved by the interest of the students and the excellent instruction they received from their teachers. The students knew the truth and the truth was making a difference in their thinking and choices.
As a pastor, I hope our churches will do a better job of teaching the Holocaust. Great resources are readily available so it is simply a matter of training our teachers and making the time in our schedule.
SG: How can Christians effectively respond to the rising tide of antisemitism (bomb threats, increase in graffiti) here in America?
CE: We must speak up, stand up, and stand against it. There is a rising tide of prejudice, violence, and hatred toward our Jewish friends and it is horrible. We must stand strong with our Jewish brothers and sisters and Israel through our speech, influence, and actions. We must leave our comfort zones and go meet with our Jewish friends. We must get to know them and their families. We must ask them how we can help. We can learn where their cemeteries are located and visit them from time to time while keeping an eye out for vandalism. We can ask our law enforcement friends to do the same on their patrols. And we must tell the authorities if we hear about who may be involved.
Most of all we need to reach out to one another to get to know one another. I recently spoke at an Interfaith Sabbath in Chattanooga and it was powerful. There were people of many faith backgrounds including Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others. And we liked each other. We had fun with each other. And most of all we understood and cared about each other.
SG: What message do you hope those who hear your father’s story will walk away with and apply in their own lives?
CE: Dad was an ordinary person just like you and me. But an ordinary life lived well is extraordinary…even heroic. So live heroic!
- Life is precious, enjoy it. All of us are fearfully and wonderfully made so enjoy the gift we call life. Live grateful, like the POWs I’ve met. Since leaving the POW camp, they’ve never had a bad day. All of these 90-year-old heroes love today and can’t wait for tomorrow.
- Love is powerful, express it. Though all of us are ordinary, we have extraordinary powers! You have the power to intercede, influence, and inspire our world when you invest in others. So love others well because life is about all of us, not one of us.
SG: How has this chapter of his life impacted your ministry?
CE: Our reach and influence is greatly expanded. I hear from people all over the world, from every age and background, who are inspired by Dad’s righteous actions. And I’ve been given the blessed opportunity to impact thousands of people young and old with the power of doing what’s right and best for others.
In late 2015, I stepped down as a non-profit leader to give full-time focus to Roddie’s Code, an organization committed to extend the love, leadership, and legacy of my father by inspiring heroes everywhere. Our world yearns for heroes. Ordinary people who choose love not hate, right instead of wrong, good over evil, selflessness not selfishness. My passion is to raise up heroes on every continent, in every country, at every street corner, through selfless choices.
Currently we are working with Congress to award Dad the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Congressional Gold Medal. We are working on a book about Dad and his men. We dream of a movie as well.
Near the end of our conversation Pastor Chris remarked lovingly:
Dad truly lived out the command to love God and love others found in Deuteronomy 6 and the Gospels. Dad was a sincere Christian who had an infectious love for everyone. To him everybody was somebody. That’s why he treated everyone with respect and love. His love for others flowed from his faith in God. Dad was absolutely convinced of one eternal truth…that God is good and God loves everyone. Because of God’s love, Dad was also convinced that he (and all of us) have one essential responsibility…to love one another.
I know I’m not the only one who would enjoy watching a movie about a guy – and a faith – like that.