Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where Is Bonhoeffer's Witness Today?

In his book about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas writes that Bonhoeffer concluded it was "unequivocally the responsibility of the Christian church to help all Jews." Not only was this dramatic. It was revolutionary, because the Lutheran church in Nazi Germany had sold out to the philosophy that the Jews should be excluded from their fellowship because they were not of the Aryan race. At best, those Jews who were baptized Christians might have their own Jewish Christian church.
"Ignoring the protests of Bonhoeffer and other dissenting pastors, in 1933 the Lutheran Church had adopted a set of Aryan clauses. Non-Aryans and those married to non-Aryans were no longer to be ordained or offered positions in the church. 
Bonhoeffer immediately called for all dissenting pastors to resign and refused the parish that had been offered to him. He sent a statement to church leaders declaring that the Aryan clauses were in direct conflict with basic Christian doctrines. When he received no response, Bonhoeffer helped Martin Niemoller form the Pastors’ Emergency League, which eventually grew to 6,000 dissenting pastors and the Confessing church.

Bonhoeffer believed that at some point the church must act against the state to stop it from perpetrating evil like the state's antisemitism and the murder of the mentally and physically handicapped. "This action is permitted only when the church sees its very existence threatened by the state as defined by God. Bonhoeffer added that this condition exists if the state forces the exclusion of baptized Jews from our Christian congregations or in the prohibition of our mission to the Jews."

Such thinking ultimately led Bonhoeffer to participate in a modification of Hitler's Operation Valkyrie. This was the unsuccessful plot to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1943.
"At the end of 1943 the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the Gestapo managed to arrest several Germans involved in plotting to overthrow Adolf Hitler. This included Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Klaus Bonhoeffer, Josef Mueller and Hans Dohnanyi. Others under suspicion like Wilhelm Canaris and Hans Oster were dismissed from office in January, 1944.
Ultimately some 6,000 Germans were executed after the July plot. Bonhoeffer, then 39 years old, was among them. Because Bonhoeffer was considered a possible source of information, he was kept alive for some time after the attempt. Hitler only ordered his execution after defeat for Germany became inevitable. Bonhoeffer was hanged at the Flossenb├╝rg Concentration Camp on April 9, 1945.

All this raises many questions for the modern church in a world still dominated by racial discrimination, violence, hatred, deception and killing. Thank God there are still those willing to join Bonhoeffer in publicly witnessing against such evils.

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