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by Stanley Hauerwas

Bonhoeffer For Us?

“Yet one may wonder how Bonhoeffer should be read by those in the ministry in our time. The challenges he faced are so different from the everyday tasks incumbent on those in the ministry in our day. Bonhoeffer confronted the Nazis and Hitler – it is hard to imagine a more dramatic conflict. Dangerous though it may have been, those confronted by the Nazi’s knew what sides they needed to be on. We seldom enjoy such clarity. The result is often a stark divide between activities associated with pastoral care and the social witness of the church.

Those in the ministry today must negotiate a very different world than the world Bonhoeffer encountered. We are unsure who our enemy is, or even if we have an enemy. We lack the clarity Bonhoeffer enjoyed – which, of course, is not a bad thing. But it leaves us confused about how to discern in the world in which we live what the primary challenge facing the church may be. Bonhoeffer saw quite early who the enemy was, though he was surrounded by many who did not see what he saw in the Nazis. Indeed, one of the interesting questions for Bonhoeffer’s relevance for pastors in our time is what enabled him to see the threat Hitler represented.”

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The rich world of  his ancestors set the standards for Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s own life. It gave him a certainty of judgement and manner that cannot be acquired in a single generation. He grew up in a family that believed that the essence of learning lay not in a formal education but in the deeply rooted obligation to be guardians of a great historical obligation and intellectual tradition. To Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this meant learning to understand and respect the ideas and experiences of earlier generations It could also lead him to decisions and actions that conflicted with those of his ancestors–and, precisely  in this way, to honor them. Ultimately, it might even mean voluntarily accepting history’s inevitable judgement on the world of his ancestors–while not allowing this to distract from delight in its amicable representatives.   

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 13.

Bonhoeffer, who joined his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi in a resistance group led by Maj. Gen. Hans Oster, was hanged April 9, 1945, at the Flossenbürg concentration camp, weeks before World War II formally ended. He had been linked to the failed attack on Hitler that took place July 20, 1944, by documents the Gestapo found after the event. Ironically, Bonhoeffer was in prison at the time, following his arrest for “undermining the military” 14 months earlier.

According to the German state broadcasting organization Deutsche Welle, “Bonhoeffer’s Christian theology influenced the post-war period like no other of his generation,” adding the cleric “preached the presence of Christ in the world and laid the foundations for an interdenominational church image to which today both conservative and progressive theologian profess.”

A paradox of Bonhoeffer’s life is that he had an “out” from being involved in a Germany ruled by National Socialism. In 1939, as war broke out in Europe, Bonhoeffer was a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He could have remained in the United States, but told his American friends, “I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Yet, his New York experience left its mark, Deutsche Welle said. While in Manhattan, Bonhoeffer’s “faith shifted. He became profoundly fixated on, and influenced by, the famous Sermon on the Mount and the notion of living in Christ’s image. Bonhoeffer later wrote that ‘until New York I was a theologian but not yet a Christian.'”

Writing in Leadership Journal, Chris Nye, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, notes, “Bonhoeffer was a paradoxical figure. He was non-violent, but participated in a plot to kill Hitler. He was cosmopolitan (he loved music, the theater and literature of all kinds) and yet he was a monastic thinker who led students in solitude.”

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Friedrich Bonhoeffer’s wife Julie (Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Grandmother) was the direct link between a long history and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life. Born on 21 August 1842, she could talk about the days of Eduard Mörike and Justinus Kerner. But it was just as characteristic of her that, at the age of ninety-one, she marched past the S.A. (Nazi Storm Troppers) cordons promoting the boycott of Jewish businesses on 1 April 1933, to shop at the Jewish-owned “Kaufhaus des Westens” on Tauentzienstrasse in Berlin.  

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 10-11.

Politically, (grandfather) Friedrich Bonhoeffer was conservative, but he disdained the local Württemberg patriotism. In 1862 he already wagered that Germany would be united under Prussian leadership.  

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 10.

The Bonhoeffers had immigrated from Holland (van den Boenhoff from Nimwegen) in 1513 and settled as goldsmiths in Schwäbisch Hall. After the seventeenth century they became pastors, doctors, city council members and mayors. 

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 9.

BY D.G. SCHUMACHER

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was many things — poet, scholar, teacher, spy and more.

The German Lutheran pastor was hanged at Sachsenhausen concentration camp April 9, 1945. At just 39, he had published a considerable and diverse body of work.

Many have learned Bonhoeffer was a conspirator who plotted to kill Adolph Hitler in July 1944.

That’s untrue, according to “Bonhoeffer the Assassin? Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking,” by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist and Daniel P. Umbel.

“There is not a shred of evidence that Bonhoeffer was linked in any way to … attempts on Hitler’s life,” they write.

It’s a persistent fiction nonetheless.

Bonhoeffer could have been fodder for Nazi propaganda: He was attractive, smart, hardworking, personable and came from an influential, well-known family. Instead, he believed the Aryan nationalism that swept through post World War I Germany was offensive.

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BY · MARCH 27, 2017

Bonhoeffer, a film of a one-man play, was screened  Saturday in the sanctuary at Bolton Hill’s Memorial Episcopal Church, in Baltimore, MD.
The film starred the late actor Peter Krummeck, who also produced the play. He was born in London in 1947, and emigrated to Cape Town, South Africa, in 1969. He died there in 2013. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was one of the patrons of Krummeck’s Cape Town-based African Community Theatre Service.

Bonhoeffer, the play, originally debuted in Washington, D.C. in the early 2000s. It also was performed in Canada, South Africa and at Baltimore’s Theater Project. It was televised in Canada.

Backstory on Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-45). He was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and author, who opposed the Nazi regime. He was active in the resistance movement and in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler, the German dictator. Bonhoeffer was arrested in April, 1943, and jailed at Tegel prison. He was subsequently hanged by the Nazis — at Flossenburg — just weeks before WWII ended.

The  program was hosted by The Rev. Grey Maggiano of Memorial Episcopal. After the presentation of the film, John Kiess, professor of the Theology Department at Loyola College, The Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt of United Methodist Church, Senior Pastor, and Judith Krummeck of classical radio station WBJC, participated in a panel discussion.

They each shared their views on Bonhoeffer. A spirited Q&A from the audience followed.

In her remarks, Krummeck, a sister of Peter Krummeck, talked about the background of her brother’s work, especially in the area of the role of theater, and the church, too, in “promoting social justice and reconciliation.” She has been the popular “evening drive time host” for WBJC, since 1998. Krummeck is a native of South Africa. She is also an actress, educator and author. Her latest book, Beyond the Baobab, is a collection of essays about her immigrant experience.

I must add that I thought Peter Krummeck’s portrayal of Bonhoeffer in the 45-minute edited film version of the play was simply riveting. He captured the essence of the doomed, but courageous cleric.

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After his death (Grandfather Karl Alfred von Hase), Hans von Hase (1873-1958), the elder brother of Bonhoeffer’s mother, officiated as family pastor as occasions like weddings and baptisms. The parsonages where he lived, first in Silesia and then in the eastern countryside of Brandenburg, the so-called Mark-Brandenburg, now part of Poland, made the church and its ministry come alive for young Dietrich. Because of the numerous cousins and its farm, the rural parsonage was a paradise for holidays during and after the First World War.

~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Chapter 1: Childhood and Youth: 1906-1923, 8.

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