I have long held Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a personal hero, a human conduit of conviction motivating action in my own life.
If the reader is unaware, this German pastor and theologian is famous for a few things, most notably standing up for a biblical response to the tyranny of Hitler and the Nazis during World War II.
He struggled with the Christian church’s reluctance to face up to it’s calling to love yet stand firm with regard to Christ’s teachings in what was perhaps the modern world’s most horrid moment. Alas, racism and Antisemitism are still very much issues within as outside of the churches of our day.
He also struggled with his own pacifist inclinations, finally working undercover and joining the German resistance to the extent of becoming part of one of the (failed) plots to assassinate Hitler. For this he was arrested, placed in a concentration camp and ultimately hanged just two weeks before the allies liberated that very camp.
Testimony after testimony from those who were interred with him -believers, agnostics and atheists alike- had nothing but good to say of his Christian character and life.
We live in a time here in the U.S. when so many Christ followers (or at least, those professing to be) lean rather hard to the right politically. I must say the sin of the bulk of German Protestants in those dark days was that they also took such a position -Bonhoeffer did not. Reading the historical record it’s obvious that fear, fear and fear was a key issue he personally had to face and yet did so quite differently than most all the believers in Germany during the Holocaust.
Here is, in my view, the most telling paragraph of Victoria Barnett’s wonderful essay on Bonhoeffer which I have linked below:
“Bonhoeffer’s focus remained more theological and political. The church debates about the Aryan paragraph had convinced him that the old traditions were bankrupt. Instead, Bonhoeffer called for the practice of “religionless Christianity” in “a world come of age” — a world in which the old certainties and values had been replaced by cynicism and ideology. He tried to determine what kind of Christian faith was viable in this new world — not in order to “extricate himself heroically from the affair,” but to arrive at a new understanding of faith, to pass on to future generations.”
For those concerned about future generations I would encourage consideration of this good man’s life and response in a time of historic and real, neither imagined nor magnified conflict: