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“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

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BY D.G. SCHUMACHER

December 27, 2015 in Column, Opinion

Michael Gerson: Bonhoeffer resisted Nazis, offered hope

Michael Gerson The Washington Post

The current ferment of American politics has brought comparisons to Europe in the 1930s, with echoes of leaders who stoke anger against outsiders and promise a return to greatness through the application of a strong man’s will.

The analogy is hardly exact. Lacking the economic chaos and fragile institutions …

The current ferment of American politics has brought comparisons to Europe in the 1930s, with echoes of leaders who stoke anger against outsiders and promise a return to greatness through the application of a strong man’s will.

The analogy is hardly exact. Lacking the economic chaos and fragile institutions of Weimar Germany, America has fewer footholds for fascism. But the reaction to fascist darkness in the 1930s produced a figure, a bright light, who should guide us.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who resisted the Nazis and the influence of Nazism in his own church. He spoke out on behalf of German Jews, was implicated in a plot against Adolf Hitler’s life, was imprisoned, wrote and ministered for years from confinement, then was led naked to the execution ground and hung with a noose of piano wire, just weeks before the end of World War II.

As a theologian, Bonhoeffer was farsighted. Modern Western societies, he argued, were becoming “radically religionless.” It is not possible to reimpose this consensus, and mere nostalgia is pointless. But religion – in Bonhoeffer’s view, a changeable form of “human self-expression” – is not the same as faith. “If religion is only the garment of Christianity – and even the garment has looked very different at different times – then what is religionless Christianity?”

It is a question that could occupy a theologian’s entire career. Bonhoeffer’s was cut short at age 39. But it is worth noting one thing he did not find outdated. He believed that Advent and the story of Christmas speak directly to the modern world.

The appeal of Christmas to a prisoner, from one perspective, is natural. Christmas upends the normal calculations of power and influence. “He takes what is little and lowly,” said Bonhoeffer, “and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly. … He loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”

This is not merely a sentimental insight. In Bonhoeffer’s view, this revelation about the character of God involves a kind of judgment. “No powerful person dares to approach the manger, and this even includes King Herod. For this is where thrones shake, the mighty fall, the prominent perish, because God is with the lowly. Here the rich come to nothing, because God is with the poor and hungry, but the rich and satisfied he sends away empty. Before Mary, the maid, before the manger of Christ, before God in lowliness, the powerful come to naught; they have no right, no hope; they are judged.”

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by Michael Hayes

In our day, when divisiveness is coming to be considered a virtue, we face a difficult challenge. Some people relate to others by emphasizing the differences between them while other people relate by emphasizing the commonalities.

I suppose there is a time for each but of this I am sure: Those who live exclusively by the rule that our differences matter more than our commonalities will never receive the blessing Jesus pronounced on the peacemakers. He certainly had his times of clashing with the religious leaders who had so much to lose if they agreed with Jesus, but with the vast majority of people Jesus was amazingly inclusive.

I am convinced — from watching Jesus and history and current events — that our first instincts must always be toward inclusiveness, toward cherishing our commonalities. We must at times be exclusive, of course, but let’s let the other person decide to be our enemy before we consider him to be an enemy.

One of the current areas of great tension is the relation between Jews, Christians and Muslims. There are some very real differences between the three but we dare not neglect the deep commonalities. We who are Christian will never relinquish our center in Jesus Christ. Ours is a lifetime, unconditional commitment to Christ as Lord and Savior. But we must be very careful to avoid defending our borders, our edges as fervently as we do our center.

We have a history, especially in America, of breaking fellowship with anyone who doesn’t share in the whole of our thinking. Conservatives, for instance, often seem convinced that those nasty Liberals aren’t even Christian at all. And those who baptize only adults sometimes look with scorn on those who practice infant baptism. Those who baptize by dunking tend to have little respect for those who drip a bit of water on the head. On and on we go, criticizing and separating from one another to form countless denominations and independent congregations. We seem to think the form of baptism, which distinguishes one group from another, is more important than our common commitment to Christ, which unites us.

No wonder we have trouble getting along with Jews and especially Muslims! If we cannot value our common center with one another, how can we find any commonalities with Jews and Muslims? The fault is ours, not theirs (except for those who want to focus on the differences.)

A Christian who traveled often to Egypt was asked once, “Is Allah the same as God or is Allah a false god?” The answer was emphatic: “Allah is not God.” What a profound misunderstanding! In the first place, the word “Allah” is simply the normal Arabic word for God. And the word “God” is simply the Saxon word for supernatural beings. In the second place, by “Allah” Islam means the Creator and the Lord of Abraham as portrayed in Genesis. Whether we agree with the Islamic interpretation of the story of God and his people, we cannot honestly deny that Christian and Muslim each intend to worship and serve the one Creator.

To see a perfect example of what it looks like when we emphasize commonalities rather than differences, take the time to become acquainted with a group called the Abrahamic Alliance International.    < abrahamicalliance.org  >

Or, to think about the matter from a different perspective, read the story told about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7. Jesus has a fascinating exchange with an unclean, Gentile woman, someone about as low as one could get in the eyes of some people. They have a lively exchange in which she shows she is in perfect tune with Jesus. He grants her prayer and sends her on her way. He never once suggested that she should convert to become a Jew or even become his follower. He simply blesses and commends her. If Jesus did not insist that she become like him, who are we to insist that everyone else become like us???

It was very difficult for the Confessing Church in Germany to come to grips with the anti-Semitism fomented by the Nazis. The prejudice was so deeply rooted in the German mentality that even for the Confessing Church, opposed as it was to Hitler, to realize what a clear stand was needed against anti-Semitism. Bonhoeffer, who certainly was one of the first to grasp the full reality of the situation, spoke out but cautiously at first…

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“One act of obedience is better than one hundred sermons”

~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quotes

Who was Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Pastor? Theologian? Activist? Professor? Martyr? Conspirator?

He was all of these things, and more.  The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides us with an amazingly clear glimpse into the mind of a Christian who was faced with an impossible decision: to whom is loyalty due, Fuhrer or Christ?

Bonhoeffer watched as fellow pastors and theologians bent their knees and proclaimed absolute loyalty to Adolph Hitler, and as the resistance of the church to the Reich in Germany gradually eroded, Bonhoeffer realized he could not stand by and do nothing.  Given the opportunity by a brother-in-law who was an officer of the German military intelligence, the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer agreed to participate in the conspiracy that attempted multiple assassination and coup plots against Hitler.

Ultimately, Bonhoeffer never attempted to justify his actions or the violence that the conspiracy planned.  Instead, he accepted that his actions were condemned and only the grace of God could ever undue their power.  He accepted the possibility of his own damnation in the hopes that millions could be spared the wrath of the mad dictator at the helm of his country.

In the end, the plots failed and Bonhoeffer was imprisoned. For two and a half years he stayed in a series of Gestapo prisons and concentration camps awaiting the final verdict until that fateful April morning when he was marched naked to the gallows and executed.

Bonhoeffer was many things, but his legacy continues to this day.  His life and theology unlocks a dimension of Christianity that many assumed had been forgotten to the ancient past: martyrdom.  Yet he was not simply a passive martyr that unquestioningly accepted his fate; he stood up for what he felt was right even though he could not justify his own actions.

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“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1987-074-16, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.jpg

I am currently readingHeinrich Himmler: The Sinister Life of the Head of the SS and Gestapo” by Roger Manvell and Heinrich Fraenkel. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is referred to in this work. The first reference says:

The Abwehr had been a failure, staffed by amateurs and used as a convenient cover by a number of members of the resistance, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and (Eberhard) Bethge, Hans Bernd Gisevius, Otto John and Josef Muller (173-174).

Congressman Trey Gowdy at 65,000-Member Megachurch: Don’t Expect Political, Social ‘Messiah’; Answers to All Political Questions in Bible

BY WALLACE HENLEY , SPECIAL TO CP
July 1, 2014|2:53 pm

HOUSTON – Don’t expect a political messiah to arise in the contemporary cultural situation, said the U.S. Congressman who is chairing the select committee to investigate the death of a U.S. envoy in Benghazi, Libya in September 2012.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, told campuses at Houston’s 65,000-member Second Baptist Church June 28-29 that people who are hoping for an Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan in the political sphere or a Martin Luther King in the social arena will be disappointed. Today’s media, political, and cultural atmosphere focuses on tearing down people who seek leadership.

While there may not be hope arising from the political and social streams, authentic hope is in Christ, and that’s what Christians should communicate, said Gowdy. “If you want to change culture, don’t wait on the Supreme Court or anyone else,” said the South Carolina congressman. The real hope in Christ is expressed through the lives of His followers.

“Changing the hearts and minds in this country is our job,” Gowdy said. But Christians should push for change with a different style than that characterizing the present political environment. “You don’t insult people into changing their minds,” said Gowdy, a former prosecuting attorney.
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Gowdy and Ben Young, son of Second Baptist pastor Ed Young, were close friends at Baylor University in the early 1980s. Ed Young, who has known Gowdy for decades, noted in a prayer that the South Carolina Congressman “is serving at a strategic time in history.”

“What is the role of the believer in the current environment?” Gowdy pointed to the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor-theologian martyred for his opposition to Hitler and the Nazis. “Bonhoeffer could not watch persons of another religion be exterminated,” he said. “And that’s why he was executed.”

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Sturm: The importance of bearing witnessomments (9

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