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Welcome to the DBCL website, the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Centre London (DBCL). In 2013 an independent centre was founded at the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Church in London to study and promote Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and writings. The life and work of Bonhoeffer have received global attention in both the Christian churches and in universities. The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Church in London stimulates participation of those interested in Bonhoeffer in a variety of fields. It serves academic research as well as Church related activities both in the United Kingdom and on an international level.
I believe that all of Christendom should be praying with us for the coming of resistance “to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:4).
In England Bonhoeffer sought out Gandhi sympathizers and has his fitness for life in the topics tested. A letter of introduction from George Bell informed Gandhi that his young German friend would be in India during early 1935 to “study community life as methods of training.”
Gandhi responded by inviting Bonhoeffer and a friend to “share my daily life…if I am out of prison.”
But Dietrich remained torn between remaining in England, returning to the university, traveling to India, and starting a Protestant monastic community.
I the end he would be drawn to the latter option under the aegis of the Confessing Church (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 41).
Shortly after arriving in London, Bonhoeffer began to seriously consider a study trip to India…
…He wrote to his grandmother (Julie Tafel Bonhoeffer) that India had “more Christianity…than the whole Reich Church,”
by which he meant that Gandhi exemplified Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount better than Western Christians. Bonhoeffer was particularly intrigued by the possibility of applying nonviolent methods in resisting Nazi tyranny (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 40).
Yet, not everyone was in agreement with such an approach…
But Bonhoeffer’s call for separation from was regarded as an apostate church was out of step with his colleagues in Germany. Even a close collaborator like Martin Niemoller seemed from Bonhoeffer’s vantage point overly cautious…
But Bonhoeffer perceived the situation as: “We are immediately faced with the decision: National Socialist or Christians!” (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 37-38).
What if we were faced with a similar situation? Would we stand up for what was right in the eyes of God?
Those are the words written in a helpful book written by Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale in Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians…
(Dietrich) Bonhoeffer played a unique role in the German church struggle, for he was both leader and maverick. In London he guided his pastoral colleagues in defying the church hierarchy, declaring that they belonged “inwardly” to the Confessing Church, proclaiming that the Aryan paragraph “contradicts the clear meaning of the scriptures,” and initiating a mass secession of the of the English congregations from the Reich church. He also influenced a 1934 pastoral letter by Bishop Bell that decried a abuses of state and church in Germany (37).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while he was in London in 1933-1934, he…
…became particularly close to George K.A. Bell, bishop of Chichester…Bonhoeffer sought to convince Bell and other ecumenical leaders that the movement needed to decide whether the Nazi-dominated Reich church or its opposition represented the genuine Evangelical Church in Germany (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 36)
Theodor Heckel of the German Church Foreign Office, went to London, England in February of 1934 to “pacify foreign clergymen and curtail their contact with the press and ecumenical groups…”
“….Heckel attempted unsuccessfully to extract a declaration of loyalty from the pastors, whom, he charged, had begun to submit to foreign influence…”
“…He also called Bonhoeffer to Berlin, where he instructed him to refrain from all ecumenical activity and made ominous remarks concerning his personal safety. But Bonhoeffer subtly resisted Heckel’s demands and remained vague regarding ecumenical commitments…”
“…Ironically, by summoning Bonhoeffer to Germany, Heckel allowed him to participate in the church opposition’s first ‘free synod,’ where the national ‘Confessing synod’ at Barmen was planned” (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 36).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s most important contribution during his time in London was…
…as de facto leader of the German pastors in England, a group he soon convinced to join the Pastor’s Emergency League (an organization supporting Jewish-Christian pastors that grew out out of a document of protest written by Bonhoeffer and Niemoller in September).
Under Bonhoeffer’s guidance, the pastors sent out a series of telegrams to authorities in Berlin protesting steps taken by the church government under Reichsbischopf (Reich bishop) Ludwig Muller. These steps included the merging of the Evangelical Youth with the Hitler Youth and the “muzzling decree” of January 1934, which made it illegal to discuss or write about the church struggle. Urging resistance against the Berlin Leadership, the emigre pastors leveraged the threat of withdraw from the German Evangelical Church (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 35).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer accepted a position to pastor two German congregations in London, England. However, it wasn’t without some resistance and controversy…
…given Bonhoeffer’s prominent role in the church opposition, Theodor Heckel of the Church Foreign Office sought a guarantee of loyalty before approving this English assignment.
But Bonhoeffer was adamant that he would not represent abroad a church dominated by German Christians. He was convinced, in fact, that adoption of the “Aryan paragraph” had effectively separated the Evangelical Church in Prussia from the Christian Church, and his loyalties would always be to the latter.
Against Heckel’s better judgment, Bonhoeffer was allowed to assume pastoral duties in London in the German congregations at Forest Hill and Sydenham. In addition to preaching and caring for souls in these parishes (which he encouraged to develop programs that would engage their children and youth), Bonhoeffer sought to aid “countless German visitors, most of them Jews” (Stephen R. Haynes and Lori Brandt Hale, Bonhoeffer for Armchair Theologians, 34-35).