In the Summer 2014 Edition of the publication, International Bonhoeffer Society Newsletter, there is a review of Charles Marsh’s book, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The reviewer is Javier Alejandro Garcia (Doctoral Student at the University of Cambridge, England). Garcia wrote that “a distinctive feature of this biography is its closer examination of Bonhoeffer’s close friendship with Eberhard Bethge…Marsh inquires further, however, into the exact nature of Bonhoeffer’s feelings for Bethge. Although tactfully never putting a name to such feelings, he nevertheless insists on the question.”
Since the publication of Strange Glory, there has much speculation of the sexuality of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Garcia’s words are helpful in this regard…
Despite Marsh’s implicating interpretation of the facts and correspondence, the matter remains complex. For one, it must be recognized that our modern conception of homosexuality cannot be superimposed onto Bonhoeffer’s time, where the norms of male relationships, would have been entirely different. Certain behaviors, such as sharing a bedroom or bank account (only two of the many examples provided), would not have raised the questions then that they may now. Our intensified cultural sensitivity to this topic should not provoke assumptions about a culture and time significantly distinct from our own.
Moreover, several factors in Bonhoeffer’s life complicate this claim. Whether actively, as in the case of his eventual fiancé Maria von Wedemeyer, or passively, as in his epistolary exchange with Elizabeth Zinn, Bonhoeffer pursued romantic relationships with women. His love letters to Maria contain such moving affection that renders the authenticity of his emotion undeniable. In the same vein, Bethge maintained a clear platonic stance towards his friend. Although ever a faithful and obliging companion, Bethge resisted Bonhoeffer’s possessiveness and prioritized his marriage over friendship. Ultimately, such retrospective speculation proves futile, as we will never know what exactly Bonhoeffer felt for Bethge, except for the obvious fact of close friendship. Indeed, it would behoove us to heed Bonhoeffer’s warning against such prying psychological curiosity.
What then are the readers to make of this possibility? Nothing much, in this author’s opinion. The conjecture changes nothing of the enduring impact of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology.
As we live missionally we will be drawn to live in community. We were designed to be in community. We were created in the Image of God as He is community, three in one, we were created for community. Jesus, when He sent the disciples out sent them out two by two in community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.” This is found centrally in Acts 2:42, ” And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” There is also a centrality on Jesus and His Word. As we find in scripture the Apostles teaching was centered on the Gospel of Jesus. Bonhoeffer goes on to say, “the goal of all Christian community: they…
This is an edited transcript of The Briefing podcast from early Tuesday morning, November 25, 2014, hours after the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury announcement.
The grand jury decision Americans were waiting for came Monday night in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. As the Washington Post reports,
“A grand jury on Monday declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, resolving a secretive, months-long legal saga and reigniting powerful frustrations about America’s policing of African Americans.”
The lead article on the issue in the New York Times offered a similar view of the facts:
“A St. Louis County grand jury has brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, more than three months ago in nearby Ferguson.”
The reporters, Monica Davey and Julie Bosman, go on to say,
“The decision by the grand jury of nine whites and three blacks was announced Monday night by the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, at a news conference packed with reporters from around the world. The killing, on a residential street in Ferguson, set off weeks of civil unrest — and a national debate — fueled by protesters’ outrage over what they called a pattern of police brutality against young black men. Mr. McCulloch said Officer Wilson had faced charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.”
But as the news reports uniformly indicate, the grand jury found no probable cause to bring an indictment on any one of these crimes against Officer Wilson.
For the most part, the announcement is exactly what legal analysts expected. It is very difficult to bring a charge against a police officer who was involved in this kind of shooting in the line of duty. In almost any jurisdiction, this kind of police shooting would have led to an internal affairs investigation—not to a grand jury consideration. But the political stakes in Ferguson, Missouri were always high—especially after the images of the body of Michael Brown on the ground on a residential street in that city spread throughout St. Louis and the world.
As big a story as the announcement from the grand jury was in itself, the aftermath has become an even larger story, and exactly the kind of larger story that was feared. For what happened in the aftermath of the announcement from the grand jury was an outbreak of violent protests that set at least some parts of the neighborhood of Ferguson, Missouri on fire.
Furthermore, the protests in the St. Louis area turned violent with police reporting widespread automatic gunfire in the city. Americans saw a constant video stream of arsonist protesters and looters rampaging through some St. Louis neighborhoods. As the night wore on, the Federal Aviation Administration stopped all incoming flights into St. Louis’ major airports, citing automatic gunfire in the immediate area of the airport as the cause. As the evening wore on, protest spread to other major American cities as well. In the aftermath of the grand jury’s announcement, the family of Michael Brown, including his parents, called for protests to be peaceful, but their own admonition was not heeded.
Furthermore, as the evening continued, President Obama spoke to the nation from the White House about the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. Christians trying to understand what is at stake in this very sad spectacle should pay particular attention to President Obama’s comments. The president stated,
“As you know, a few moments ago, the grand jury deliberating the death of Michael Brown issued its decision. It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America. So I want to just say a few words suggesting how we might move forward.”
In one of his most important public statements to date, President Obama continued saying,
“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully. Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: ‘Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.’ Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes.”
As the president continued his remarks, he turned to address law enforcement officials saying,
“I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence—distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.”
Finally, the president said,
“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.”
The president’s comments were restrained and responsible. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to imagine a more suitable and responsible set of comments for a president to make—much less the nation’s first elected African-American president.
I condemn looting and burning. But many people not looting and burning are in anguish today. And I want to say something to those who don’t understand that anguish.
Some years ago I went through the experience of being falsely accused in a significant way. In that setting there arose around me an aura of suspicion, a guilty-until-proven-innocent bias, an environment in which even my reasonable self-defense was construed as self-righteous denial and therefore further evidence against me, a Kafka-esque hell of fingers pointed in a frenzy of merciless judgments, and facts didn’t matter, truth didn’t matter, the Bible didn’t matter. The only thing that would suffice and satisfy was my execution.
One of the many benefits of that experience was the moment when this thought occurred to me: “Oh, so this is what it’s like to get lynched.”
But what would it be like to live my whole lifetime in that environment?
Holocaust Museum Houston has additional special guided tours of its permanent exhibition with an emphasis on the life and work of German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer this winter due to popular demand.
Four tours were scheduled in October, but quickly sold out. New tours have been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Dec. 6 and Dec. 13 at the Museum’s Morgan Family Center, 5401 Caroline St., in Houston’s Museum District.
Admission is free for HMH members and students, $12 for nonmember adults, $8 for seniors and members of the active-duty military.
Tour sizes are limited, and advance reservation is requested. To register for any tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 713-527-1602. To schedule a separate private group tour for 10 or more in advance, visit the Museum’s Web site at www.hmh.org and check the Plan Your Visit tab.
Bonhoeffer was a brave exception to the silent bystanders who watched during World War II as their neighbors and friends were taken to the concentration camps. He spoke out from the pulpit and called for the church to take a stand against the Nazis. He was a part of the Abwehr resistance circle which helped Jews escape to Switzerland. In 1939, Bonhoeffer left Germany for a teaching position in New York, but he returned after one month, despite knowing that his life would be in danger. On April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer was hung at Flossenburg on the direct orders of Adolf Hitler.
Bonhoeffer’s actions against the Nazi Party and his message to the church in the context of the events of the Holocaust will be the focus of tours of the Museum’s permanent exhibit, German railcar and Danish fishing boat. Tours include a look at the early influences on Bonhoeffer before the Holocaust, his organization of the Confessing Church to stand with the Jews in reaction to the Aryan clause, his involvement in assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler and his imprisonment and execution at the Flossenburg concentration camp by direct order from Hitler. The tours include the stories of the bishop of Munster and Pastor Trocme, church leaders who strived to protect victims from Nazi tyranny.
‘Coffee with Dead People’ is a recurring series on figures, historical and otherwise, I find to be fascinating, reflections on their lives and works mashed up with mine. And they’re dead.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the most brilliant theological and philosophical minds of the 20th century, a textbook example of what might have been…
…had he not been executed by the Germans with Allied artillery virtually within earshot?
…had he decided to stay in the United States under asylum, as his friend Reinhold Niebuhr pleaded with him to do?
…had he not maintained his moral compass and theological integrity in the face of a tyrannical cultural movement?
My first encounter with Bonhoeffer was in college, where fervent and zealous fundamentalists gravitated to The Cost of Discpleship merely on the name of the work alone. In all likelihood, none of them probably read and understood the…
What do we tell our children to prepare them for the way?
Jewish parents living in a hostile land will prepare their children from a very young age for the unfriendly treatment they are likely to endure. Our Christian brothers and sisters in places like Mosul and Egypt will do the same; but here in America, we have never known nor often have we taught the cost of discipleship.
Our children simply aren’t prepared for the treatment that the world will afford the true disciple of Christ. Youth group is busy about pizza, scavenger hunts, and running around a circle and diving for a bean bag. Hardly a Spartan’s training for a future soldier of Christ. Upstairs, “adult” church is hardly better – pastors blowing sunshine in the thirsty ears of self-absorbed illiterate Christians, anxious to learn the latest incantation that will bring God out of his genie bottle.
“I gave as an offering my all to Him who had won me and saved me. My property, my fame, my health, my very words… In considering all these things,” wrote Gregory of Nazianzus, “I preferred Christ. And the words of God were made sweet as honeycombs to me, and I cried after knowledge and lifted up my voice for wisdom. There was moreover the moderation of anger, the curbing of the tongue, the restraint of the eyes, the discipline of the belly, and the trampling under foot of the glory which clings to the earth.”
What a marked difference between the sentiment of Gregory and the “Eat the cookie, buy the shoes,” “Every day is a Friday,” and “Your best life now” freeology of the modern church. One is occupied with a Savior and magnificent grace, the other with what Schaeffer called “Personal Peace and Affluency.”
Soothsayers con sheeple into believing a new gospel: that Christ died to set you free from obesity, complacency, mediocrity, and insolvency. That indeed “Jesus Saves,” – saves you from loneliness, alienation, beer bellies, and remaining “broke, broke.” That which the Apostle called dung and less than loss in order to win Christ is now proffered by tele-charlatans who with feigned words make merchandise of us.
Modern Churchianity proclaims, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and dine,” reducing Bonhoeffer’s maxim on discipleship into nothing more than a Pampered Chef invitation. Is this the major contributing factor in the Barna research that has found 7 out of 10 evangelical children forsaking the faith after their first semester of college?
We are fast approaching the Thanksgiving Holidays, which is a time to focus on family and hopefully the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a time to reflect on our many blessings and thank the Lord for His goodness.
I have searched the Bible to find a verse on thanksgiving. I wanted this verse to contain something new to be thankful for. When I pray to the Lord and thank Him, I usually am thankful for my family, friends, provision and health, but I had to ask myself if I was thankful for what Paul was thankful for.
When I read Paul’s prayers in the New Testament, I am challenged to pray selfless prayers. In Romans 1:8-9 Paul is thankful for the church and their faith. He also prays continuously for them.
I hope you will try to memorize this verse this week. As you memorize it, thank of the many things…
Citizens who know any of the following men should count themselves fortunate: Scotty Davis, Ernest Easley, Perry Fowler, Gerald Harris, Johnny Hunt, Terry Nelson, Nelson Price and Mike Stephens.
These men are Christian ministers from either Cobb or Cherokee County. They are by no means the only good and Godly preachers or pastors around, but they are the ones I know best. Whenever I read what Christianity’s critics have to say, my first thought is they don’t know these men.
I often find myself testing Christianity’s critics by placing their criticisms beside these men, some of whom have been my pastor. I do so because I know these preachers’ lives have consistently borne good fruit. Without a doubt, each of them will finish well. Dare I say that all of them are also quite … hip? OK, I’ll change that to fun-loving and well aware of what’s going on in the world.
Although these men have probably made decisions or statements with which some citizens or even their own church members have disagreed, their lives and work refute the harsh misrepresentation that Christians generally, and Christian ministers particularly, must so often bear.
These ministers could be labeled orthodox, traditionalist or conservative because they believe in certain established, unchanging truths. But they are absolutely liberal and selfless in the expenditure of their time, talents, energy and resources. They don’t hate women. They do hate racism. They love America deeply, but they preach that the Christian gospel is for all tongues and nations. They are the best friends Jews could have, possibly because it’s rumored that their Savior was a Jew.
Incidentally, I don’t speak for these ministers. I’m merely describing what I’ve seen in them and in the good people who have sat under their preaching.
If they are God-fearing, people-loving men of faith, why are they, like Christians generally, increasingly cast as throwbacks and intellectual pygmies?
One reason is they are stereotyped. To those who are not Christians and who have little or no knowledge of the Bible, even local respected ministers are often clumped with the infamous Westboro Baptist Church and the KKK. Christianity and Christians are often judged by the misrepresentation placed on them.
In a way, some of those who so judge know not what they do. Given the media attention that’s granted to groups like Westboro and the cross-carrying Klan, the mis-judgers in their Biblical ignorance and religious disinclination, know only of the ugly people, not people like the men I have named. It also doesn’t help when America’s fourth largest city mayor subpoenas ministers and characterizes them as haters.
Here is one incontrovertible fact about the Christianity these men espouse: wherever it has gone, schools and hospitals have followed. This can’t be said of atheism. Enlightenment and healing have never been atheism’s goal. Its goal is America’s religious lobotomy.
Despite the denial of atheists who are becoming more evangelistic each year with best-selling books and well attended symposia, Christianity has made an incredibly positive mark on America and the world. Examples abound. It was New England preachers who broke the back of slavery. (Yes, Southern preachers erred and erred bad here, but they are not erring today.)
Methodist greats John and Charles Wesley, though Englishmen, influenced America and Georgia immeasurably. Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, motivated entirely by his Christian faith, was imprisoned and hanged by the Nazis for opposing Hitler.