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Isaiah Colton ThompsonIsaiah Colton Thompson, religious studies and history major

Isaiah Colton Thompson, a senior with a double major in religious studies and history at Cal State Fullerton, discovered his primary subject, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a most unusual way … courtesy of a trashcan and an engaging professor. (Bonhoeffer was a German evangelical pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident. His influential writings focused on Christianity’s role in a secular society.)

“I was meeting with one of my professors, Bradley Starr, to discuss my broad research interests,” he recalled. “When I mentioned Bonhoeffer, his eyes lit up. He literally reached into his trashcan and handed me a magazine that was advertising a recently published work on Bonhoeffer. I ordered the book, found an area of interest and the rest, as they say, is history.”

Thompson was looking forward to visiting Washington, D.C., this spring as his senior thesis on Bonhoeffer and the lessons from Finkenwalde Seminary had been selected for display at the Council on Undergraduate Research’s annual “Posters on the Hill” event, which takes place in the nation’s capital. It was abruptly canceled in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

A virtual poster session is scheduled for Tuesday, April 21 at 9 a.m. on Twitter. For more information , visit the Council on Undergraduate Research.

“I was surprised and incredibly pleased that my poster was selected,” Thompson said. “Sixty projects were selected, from across the nation, out of 400 applications. The point of the event is to demonstrate the research being performed in universities across the country and encourage further funding for these programs.”

Thompson’s project was the only one selected from the state of California for this honor.

At CSUF, there are many programs that benefit from federal funding, including the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, Sally Casanova Pre-Doctoral Scholar and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, all programs that Thompson is involved in.

“Programs of these kinds are incredibly important as they support low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students who want to complete their degrees in higher education,” he said. “Participating in this event not only would have allowed me to promote my research … but would have enabled me to endorse the very programs that encouraged my research.”

The Problem of Discrimination in Nazi Germany

Thompson was particularly interested in “the lessons from Finkenwalde Seminary.” The focus of the seminary was the problem of racism in Nazi Germany.

“During the 1930s, Hitler called on Nazi-supporting Christians to bring Germany’s churches under the ideals of the Nazi state,” Thompson explained. “This included race. The seminary at Finkenwalde resisted those ideas and taught a counter-narrative to combat targeted discrimination. Bonhoeffer directed the seminary and taught many of the classes.”

Many, including Nazi-supporting Christians, held the people, the land and the leader of Germany in high esteem. They believed Germany was called to a special path of victory and triumph. In pursuit of this path, certain groups of people were targeted because they did not fit “the ideal” that Germans had in mind. Bonhoeffer, however, saw the flaw and addressed it directly in lectures from Finkenwalde.

The Power of Resistance

“Ultimately, the research reveals the power of resistance,” Thompson said. “And it looks at the influence of nationalism on race. Because the Nazis held the ideals of the state in such high regard, they justified sacrificing human beings for those ideals. It also focuses on a deeper issue — the power of ideas.

“Because of my research, I often wonder about the everyday influences that impact my thinking. Where do these ideas come from? Who produces them? Bonhoeffer and the students at Finkenwalde remained cognizant of the ideology of their leaders … and strongly resisted this world view.”

Lessons for Today

Thompson believes that some of the lessons of Bonhoeffer resonate today.

For the rest of the post…

On the Sunday after Easter in 1945, a hastily assembled tribunal sentenced him to death. Hours later, in the predawn twilight, soldiers waited at his cell while he finished his prayers and removed his prison clothes. Then they led him to the gallows where he gave his life to the risen Lord.

Allied forces were rapidly approaching Berlin, and the Nazi’s were all but defeated. Only three weeks later, Hitler would kill himself and thus end the war. Regardless, the Fuehrer would have his revenge for Bonhoeffer’s part in the failed Valkyrie assassination attempt.

Some say that this fact disqualifies Bonhoeffer from the title of martyr. Pastors should not intrude into the political realm, they say. Most especially, they should not take up the sword. But those who say this misjudge both the nature of politics and the details of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Other notable German theologians, like Karl Barth and Paul Tillich, abandoned Germany for the safety of Switzerland and America, respectively. Bonhoeffer’s friends advised this, too, and arranged his passage to America. But when Germany made the first moves of war, he knew he could not abandon the German people to the Nazi regime.

“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act,” said Bonhoeffer. Those who left their posts in Germany to criticize the Nazi regime from afar, gave up their birthright as German citizens. Bonhoeffer did not know what awaited him in Germany, only that he must be within its borders to live out his God-given vocation.

The speech and action that he had in mind was to train Lutheran pastors. However, that door was closed to him when he was conscripted into the Nazi army as an intelligence officer. Unable to escape this calling, his choice was narrowed by God. He could discharge his office faithful to God, or faithful to the Fuehrer.

Thousands of German officers were grappling with the same choice. Day in and day out, ordinary Germans who had been conscripted into the service of a madman were given hideous orders and forced to choose between God and man. Some disobeyed them and died. Others committed the atrocities under the cover of “duty” and “obedience to authority.” These, latter, bore the consequences of their actions as life-long scars on the conscience.

Bonhoeffer reasoned, “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.” This led to the choice of his life.

Generals and government ministers who understood their responsibility to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of a madman approached Bonhoeffer. They asked him to use his position to query the Allied forces secretly. The German officials wanted him to ask the Allies if they would spare the German people if the officials could remove Hitler from power to end his illegal war.

Simply by asking Bonhoeffer this question, they had placed him on the horns of a dilemma, and they had trusted their lives into his hands. His duty as a Nazi officer was to report this traitorous question to his superior officer. But what was his duty as a human being under God?

What would you do?

For the rest of the post…

by Brian Rosner

I started 2020 with five New Year’s resolutions and seven anticipations, things I was eagerly looking forward to, such as special social occasions and travel. I won’t comment on my progress on the resolutions — my brother-in-law reckons New Year’s resolutions are a to-do list for the first week in January, and I don’t want to confirm his cynicism. But I will report that five of my seven anticipations have been canceled, with the two in November and December looking less likely every day.

For some of us, the personal cost of the coronavirus will be huge; for others less profound, but still troubling. But one form of suffering will afflict us all — namely, the experience of disappointment. With everything from meals out and sport to weddings and funerals being canceled, “cancel culture” is taking on a new meaning. No one will be immune from disappointments, the displeasure of having our anticipations unfulfilled.

For a case study in coping with disappointment in the context of isolation and social distancing, we find a surprising source of help in Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the pastor, author and church leader who was active in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

Bonhoeffer’s life story is a mixed genre. It started out like a fairy tale. Born in 1906 to a prominent German family, Bonhoeffer was a tall man, possessing an athletic physique and a round boyish face. With his mother’s blue eyes and blond hair, he perfectly fit Hitler’s Aryan stereotype. But any affinity between Bonhoeffer and the Third Reich stopped there.

With the rise to power of Hitler in 1933, Bonhoeffer’s fairy tale took a dangerous turn, transforming into a spy thriller. His opposition to National Socialism began early, when Bonhoeffer gave a radio broadcast on the dangers of charismatic leadership. It was abruptly ended by government censure. For the next ten years, Bonhoeffer worked for the good of his nation, eventually operating as a double agent. Employed by the Abwehr, a division of German Intelligence, Bonhoeffer used his contacts outside of Germany to support the insurgency. A man of impeccable integrity, Bonhoeffer also functioned as the conscience of the conspirators, commending their moral courage and bolstering their resolve.

Along with the spy thriller, Bonhoeffer’s life was a tragic love story. In June 1942 Dietrich met Maria von Wedemeyer. Maria was beautiful, poised, cultured and filled with vitality, but only eighteen years of age — fully seventeen years younger than Dietrich. Bonhoeffer and Maria fell in love. Maria’s father had been killed on the Russian Front and her mother insisted on a year’s separation to test the couple’s feelings. But Maria convinced her mother otherwise and in January 1943, with some restrictions in place, they were engaged to be married. Unfortunately, “happily ever after” is not the way their story ended.

Two key aspirations of Bonhoeffer’s life — the renewal of the German church and people and his plans to marry his fiancée Maria von Wedemeyer — were both cruelly thwarted. In 1943 he was arrested by the Gestapo, incarcerated for two years, and finally executed at the order of Adolf Hitler.

If some disappointments are mild, Bonhoeffer’s were crushing. How did Bonhoeffer handle his disappointments? Although he wrote a number of books, the answer to this question is found in the remarkable letters to and from his parents, relatives, fiancée and above all his best friend Eberhard Bethge, collected and published in the now classic volumes Letters and Papers from Prison and Love Letters from Cell 92. With social isolation ahead for all of us, at least in a physical sense, Bonhoeffer’s prison musings offer sage advice and salient lessons.

First, focus on what really matters. According to Bonhoeffer not all disappointments are equal. He urged an ordering of priorities:

There is hardly anything that can make you happier than to feel that you count for something with other people. What matters here is not numbers, but intensity. In the long run, human relationships are the most important thing in life. God uses us in his dealings with others. Everything else is very close to hubris.

In the strange world of physical distancing, we do well to remember that we don’t have to be relationally distant. There are still ways to cultivate community that don’t involve getting up close and personal physically.

Second, stay cheerful. Bonhoeffer wrote to his fiancée Maria: “Go on being cheerful, patient and brave.” And he told Bethge to “spread hilaritas.” Even amid hardship, a joyful optimism can prevail. Cheerfulness was in fact one of Bonhoeffer’s abiding qualities despite the horrors of prison. In his famous prison poem, “Who am I?” the opening stanza reads: “They often tell me I would step from my cell’s confinement calmly, cheerfully, firmly, like a squire from his country-house.”

Indeed, Bonhoeffer’s letters from prison are surprisingly dotted with glimpses of humour. He quips: “Prison life brings home to one how nature carries on uninterruptedly its quiet, open life, and it gives one quite a special, perhaps a sentimental, attitude towards animal and plant life, except that my attitude towards the flies in my cell remains very unsentimental.” Bonhoeffer and Bethge wrote back and forth over the naming of Bethge’s first child. When the name “Dietrich” was floated, Dietrich wrote back to the couple amusingly: “You still seem to be thinking of ‘Dietrich’. The name is good, the model less so.”

Perhaps those corny coronavirus memes scattered across social media serve a purpose. In Bonhoeffer’s case cheerfulness was no accident of temperament; it was born of his unshakeable confidence in God: “I’m travelling with gratitude and cheerfulness along the road where I’m being led. My past life is brim-full of God’s goodness, and my sins are covered by the forgiving love of Christ crucified.”

Third, embrace optimism. Bonhoeffer’s approach to prison life was not to allow the confinement to restrict his activity. Quite literally, he did not sit still while waiting for his hope for freedom to materialize:

I read, meditate, write, pace up and down my cell — without rubbing myself sore against the walls like a polar bear. The great thing is to stick to what one still has and can do — there is still plenty left — and not to be dominated by the thought of what one cannot do, and the feelings of resentment and discontent.

This is good advice for anyone facing the frustrations of an ongoing disappointment and restrictive circumstances.

For the rest of the post…

Today in History: German Foreign Office Warns about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

February 29, 1936: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would later be executed by the Nazis for his involvement in the resistance, had already made a name for himself, stirring up trouble with his actions alongside the Confessing Church. He had broken with the (much) larger German Christians and already declared that they represented a false Christ to the world, in part due to their allegiance to the Nazi state.

Bonhoeffer was heavily involved in ecumenical movements, and had informed the Foreign Office that he would be traveling as the director of the Preacher’s Seminary at Finkenwalde to support ecumenical work in Sweden. Today in history, the Foreign Office sent a letter to the German Legation in Stockholm warning them about Pastor Bonhoeffer’s actions:

The Reich and Prussian Ministry for Church Affairs as well as the Church Foreign Office would like to warn you about Pastor Bonhoeffer because his activities are not conducive to German interests. State and church officials have serious objections to his trip abroad, which has only now become known.
I respectfully ask that you report back concerning his public activities and concerning possible reactions in the Swedish press.

(From Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14: Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937[DBWE 14:146])

This message’s import should not be understated. It shows that Bonhoeffer was already being monitored both at home and abroad.

For the rest of the post…

I know many evangelicals support Donald Trump. I personally don’t know any who sees him as the chosen one of God. No doubt, they are out there. Trump is far from Hitler! ~Bryan

Authoritarian Oppression Is Rampant

To The Editor:

I want to write about many expressions of authoritarian oppression which are rampant in our county, our state, and our nation. I don’t have space to address them all, so I’ll start at the top.

I am shocked by the support that many so-called evangelical church leaders espouse for Donald Trump. They need to study church history in Nazi Germany. An excellent resource is “A Church Undone: Documents from the German Christian Faith Movement 1932-1940” by Mary M. Solberg.

In this book, one can read translations from original documents, testimonials such as, “…Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God…” and “in the person of the Führer we see the one God has sent…”

From our historical perspective, we can clearly see that the pro-Nazi Protestants in Germany were wrong about Adolf Hitler. Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke truth and said “No” to Hitler and his followers, and Bonhoeffer was hung for his resistance.

Today, human beings who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear need to recognize the similarities between those Protestants who supported the Führer Hitler and the Protestants who proclaim that President Trump is God’s chosen one to do God’s will.

For the rest of the letter…

LETTER: Tutu’s anti-Semitic outbursts would have anti-Nazi hero ‘turning in his grave’

29 JANUARY 2020, 07:30AM / CHAIM MYERSON

FILE PHOTO: Archbishop Desmond Tutu attends the unveiling ceremony for a statue of Nelson Mandela at City Hall in Cape Town, South Africa

With reference to “Tutu foundation honours anti-Nazi hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer” (Cape Argus, January 23):The article is about the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation honouring the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a German theologian.

Bonhoeffer was opposed to Hitler and the anti-Semitism of the Nazis. For his beliefs, he died in a concentration camp. Bonhoeffer must be turning in his grave.

How dare Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his Legacy Foundation have the audacity to have anything to do with an Honourable Christian who stood up for the Jews against Hitler?

In an article which appeared on 08/11/11 in Ynet News, an Israeli on-line news forum they stated, “Archbishop Tutu leads vile, racist campaign against Israel and the Jewish people”.

The article went on to state that Tutu convinced the University of Johannesburg to end its relationship with the Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel, as part of a boycott against Israeli Academic Institutions resembling the dark times when German Universities banned Jewish intellectuals.

Tutu has also demonized the “Jewish lobby” as “too powerful and scary”.

The list of Tutu’s anti-Semitic outbursts could fill this page.

I have no doubt Dietrich Bonhoeffer…

For the rest of the article…

C.S. Lewis lecturer Brown to focus on martyred pastor

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This year’s C.S. Lewis Legacy Lecture will focus on the legacy of martyred German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Storyteller the Rev. Larry Brown, of Columbia, will deliver Westminster College’s eighth annual lecture at 11 a.m. Feb. 6. in the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury. Brown is famous for infiltrating and writing about racist, white nationalist groups throughout the United States. He frequently appears on PBS.

Bonhoeffer famously opposed Adolf Hitler and vehemently protested Nazi treatment of the Jews during World War II.

Brown’s lecture will commemorate the 75th anniversary of Bonhoeffer’s death: He was executed April 9, 1945, at Flossenburg, a Nazi concentration camp in Flossenburg, Germany.

For the rest of the post…

President Donald Trump is often compared to Hitler. And American Evangelical Christians are compared to the German Christians who supported Hitler and saw him as a savior for the nation. Sad to say, it seems that many Christians in America are placing more faith in Trump than Jesus. Leaders come and go, but the worship of Jesus will last forever. As far as Trump’s faith, I don’t know! I am a Trump supporter. Is he a brother in the Lord? I don’t know.

~ Bryan

Eric-Metaxas-Graphic-TBN

Stephen Haynes is the Albert Bruce Curry Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.  He is a Dietrich Bonhoeffer scholar and author of The Battle for Bonhoeffer: Debating Discipleship  in the Age of Trump (Eeerdmans, 2018). In this book, Haynes examines “populist” readings of Bonhoeffer, including court evangelical Eric Metaxas’s book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.

Today Eerdmans has published the postscript to The Battle for Bonhoeffer.  It is titled “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump.  Some of you may recall that Eric Metaxas recently published an op-ed at The Wall Street Journal under the title “The Christian Case for Trump.”

Here is a taste of Haynes’s piece:

Your embrace of Trump is eerily reminiscent of German Christians’ attachment to Hitler in the early 1930s. I make this point not to convince you that Trump is Hitler but to remind you of the troubling ways Christians have compromised themselves in endorsing political movements in which they perceived the hand of God. I developed a scholarly interest in the churches’ role during the Nazi era in part so I could help ensure that Christians would never repeat the mistakes they made under Hitler. Similarly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes in part because he was able to resist the wave of Hitler worship that swept up many German Protestants.

Being familiar with this history, I have been struck by how reminiscent many of your responses to Trump are of the way Christians in Germany embraced a strong leader they were convinced would restore the country’s moral order. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, many Christians in Germany let themselves be persuaded that Hitler was a deeply pious man, placed in power by God through a graceful act of intervention in German history. Hitler encouraged these ideas not by claiming any allegiance to Christ but by employing vague religious language, promising a return to the “good old days,” and posing for photographs as he left church, prayed, and entertained ecclesiastical leaders.

Here are a few examples of how Protestant Christian leaders in Germany spoke about God’s role in Hitler’s accession to power:

• “With National Socialism an epoch in German history has begun that is at least as decisive for the German people, as for example the epoch of Martin Luther.”
• “No one could welcome January 30, 1933 more profoundly or more joyfully than the German Christian leadership.”
• “Adolf Hitler, with his faith in Germany, as the instrument of our God became the framer of German destiny and the liberator of our people from their spiritual misery and division.”
• “[Hitler is] the best man imaginable, a man shaped in a mold made of unity, piety, energy and strength of character.”

For the rest of the post…

Charlotte Pence

People of religious faith carry a burden of belief around with them. In recent years, Americans have witnessed a rise in the maligning of Christians and dismissals of their faith and practices. I have come to believe this burden isn’t constrained to time or shifts of culture.

Some argue that the past few decades have resulted in a more secular society where citizens substitute a pursuit of moral truths for selfish endeavors. However, I don’t think the 21st century is the culprit for people of faith being put on the defense for their beliefs.

Religious groups felt isolated long before Twitter was an idea in anyone’s mind, and they will continue to. The call to a life of religious belief is a lonely one; it will set you apart, but it promises to give back much more. Separation is an anticipated sacrifice. It is a companion to the decision to live for a purpose higher than the mere physical world.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor active during Hitler’s regime, repeatedly put his life at risk to decry injustices happening within Nazi Germany; he even lost his life doing so. But just like Christians today, he grappled with questions of how best to engage.

Examine Bonhoeffer’s concept of “religionless Christianity.” While he was imprisoned in Germany, he wrote letters to his friend, Eberhard Bethge, asking, “What do a church, a community, a sermon, a liturgy, a Christian life mean in a religionless world?” He wanted to understand how people of faith should interact in the world without getting bogged down in inaccessible theology or swayed by non-religious values.

To be “religionless” while still religious means to engage with the secular world while maintaining one’s cherished belief system. This shouldn’t lead to religious doctrines being replaced with more world-friendly ideas. Instead, Bonhoeffer told Christians they ought to meet non-religious people where they were—all while sharing the love of Christ.

It isn’t only Christians who are at risk of being sequestered by the louder voices of the culture. Religionlessness is a complicated concept and best broached alongside people who share the desire to live a life of faith, even when their specific beliefs differ from one another.

For the rest of the article…

 

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