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The Gathering Storm: Religious Liberty in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution – AlbertMohler.com 


These are days that will require courage, conviction, and clarity of vision. We are in a fight for the most basic liberties God has given humanity, every single one of us, made in his image.

In the first volume of his history of World War II, Winston Churchill looked back at the storm clouds that gathered in the 1930s portending war and the loss of human freedom. Churchill wisely and presciently warned Britain of the tragedy that would ensue if Hitler were not stopped. His actions were courageous and the world was shaped by his convictional leadership. We are not facing the same gathering storm, but we are now facing a battle that will determine the destiny of priceless freedoms and the very foundation of human rights and human dignity.

Speaking thirty years ago, Attorney General Meese warned that “there are ideas which have gained influence in some parts of our society, particularly in some important and sophisticated areas that are opposed to religious freedom and freedom in general. In some areas there are some people that have espoused a hostility to religion that must be recognized for what it is, and expressly countered.”

Those were prophetic words, prescient in their clarity and foresight. The ideas of which Mr. Meese warned have only gained ground in the last thirty years, and now with astounding velocity. A revolution in morality now seeks not only to subvert marriage, but also to redefine it, and thus to undermine an essential foundation of human dignity, flourishing, and freedom.

Religious liberty is under direct threat. During oral arguments in the Obergefell case, the Solicitor General of the United States served notice before the Supreme Court that the liberties of religious institutions will be an open and unavoidable question. Already, religious liberty is threatened by a new moral regime that exalts erotic liberty and personal autonomy and openly argues that religious liberties must give way to the new morality, its redefinition of marriage, and its demand for coercive moral, cultural, and legal sovereignty.

These are days that will require courage, conviction, and clarity of vision. We are in a fight for the most basic liberties God has given humanity, every single one of us, made in his image. Religious liberty is being redefined as mere freedom of worship, but it will not long survive if it is reduced to a private sphere with no public voice. The very freedom to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, and thus so is the liberty of every American. Human rights and human dignity are temporary abstractions if they are severed from their reality as gifts of the Creator. The eclipse of Christian truth will lead inevitably to a tragic loss of human dignity. If we lose religious liberty, all other liberties will be lost, one by one.

Religious Liberty and the Challenge of Same-Sex Marriage

Even though same-sex marriage is new to the American scene, the religious liberty challenges became fully apparent even before it became a reality. Soon after the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state of Massachusetts, several seminars and symposia were held in order to consider the religious liberty dimensions of this legal revolution. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sponsored one of the most important of these events, which produced a major volume with essays by prominent legal experts on both sides of this revolution. The consensus of every single participant in the conference was that the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage would produce a head-on collision in the courts. As Marc D. Stern, of the American Jewish Congress stated, “Same-sex marriage would work a sea change in American law.”

For the rest of the post…

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Homophobia Has No Place in the Church

“Young man, I appreciate your message, but you need to realize that most gay people are dangerous predators.”

I had just finished sharing about my experience with same-sex attraction (SSA) at a church in the heart of Wisconsin, and an elderly man tracked me down after the service. These were the first words out of his mouth.

I was taken aback and asked him to clarify. It turns out that a gay man made a pass at him many years ago when he was in the military — and it had caused him to view all gay people as sexually aggressive and dangerous. His view of the homosexual community was defined almost exclusively by a single experience — and fear.

I have a fear as well, but my fear is that homophobia is all too common, not just in society, but even within the church. Some may object to my use of the word homophobia. It can sometimes be used as a politically loaded term wielded to silence any and all opposition to same-sex sexual activity. However, this is not the root definition of the term.

Simply put, homophobia means a fear of homosexuality and, more specifically, homosexual people. And while it is not the same as loving, biblical opposition to certain behaviors or beliefs, this fear-based attitude often leads to unhelpful stereotypes, prejudice, and even cruel mistreatment.

So let’s call a spade a spade. Homophobia exists, and it has no place in the church.

Search Your Heart

No doubt some who feel convicted will push back. “Well, I don’t think that all gay people are dangerous predators, so I’m not homophobic.” However, homophobia can often take subtler, equally sinister forms. For example, homophobia can subtly infiltrate not only our beliefs, but also our reasons for these beliefs. These principles might themselves be correct and godly, but they can be believed for all the wrong reasons.

Honestly consider your own heart in the following examples:

  • Is your belief that same-sex sexual activity is sin based finally on solid biblical exegesis? Or is it really based on the fact that you don’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same sex, and this unknown seems to you just plain creepy?
  • Is your opposition to same-sex marriage based on a principled biblical definition of marriage? Or is it more influenced by a fear that same-sex couples might signal the unraveling of comfortable cultural norms and usher in the end of a once-pristine “Judeo-Christian society”? Or maybe your fear is more that one such couple might move in next door, and you might actually be pressured to befriend them?
  • Does your opposition to homosexual practice include the ability to lovingly welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering with other Christians? Or does opposition for you mean that you wish they would just stay away so you aren’t made uncomfortable by their very presence?
  • In standing for Christian sexual ethics, do you encourage and support those SSA believers within the church who are striving to remain faithful to biblical teaching by welcoming them into full participation in church life? Or does standing for biblical sexuality mean that they can come to church, but they can’t grow in influence or serve the body through teaching, and they should probably stay away from the youth group?

Biblical exegesis is a wonderful underpinning for belief, and love is a worthy motive for action. Fear is a horrible reason for both.

It would do us well to humbly examine our hearts to reveal the motives and fears behind our attitudes toward people who identify as “gay.” Happily upholding Christian sexual ethics is not the same as harboring animosity toward an entire group of people simply because you find them yucky.

Love, Not Fear

Instead, Christians — of all people on the planet — must operate not out of fear, but love. We recognize that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and are therefore sacred and worthy of love.

For the rest of the post…

Christianity and Homosexuality: A Review of Books

A sign of this cultural moment is the wave of new books—from very divergent points of view—that have come out recently treating this topic. So over the next few months I will be reviewing several of these books. It’s my way as a pastor to point people to those volumes that both fit in with biblical teaching and are pastorally wise and sensitive, as well as those books that, for all their good intentions, are mistaken and unhelpful.

The first two books I’ll review are both written by authors who hold two things in common. In Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay? Questions Christians Ask and Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, both authors relate that they are sexually attracted to the same gender, but at the same time, in the words of Hill, they testify:

“to the truth of the position the Christian church has held with almost total unanimity throughout the centuries—namely, that homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity…and therefore that homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ.”

It says something about the clarity of the Bible’s teaching that neither of them can find any loopholes in the traditional Christian position, but affirm it completely. Hill, who is a New Testament scholar, sums up the biblical material nicely (and briefly) in his first chapter.

Allberry’s book does so as well and, though it is a shorter book overall, he gives the biblical teaching more sustained attention. There are two basic parts to it.

First, every place the Bible directly addresses sexual relations between people of the same gender, it is always unambiguously forbidden. This is not only true in the Old Testament (Leviticus 18:22) but also in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 6:9,10; 1 Timothy 1:8-11; Romans 1:18-32).

Allberry says the more he looks at the Bible the more he is convinced that what it says about homosexuality “makes most sense in light of what it says in general about sex and marriage.”

I would add that the Bible’s prohibitions are not motivated by animosity toward people with same sex attraction. Rather, they are there because homosexual practice doesn’t fit with God’s wonderful purposeful design for sexuality in our lives. Even the design of male and female bodies testifies to this design.

This purposeful design is made clear in at least three ways.

First, sex was given to men and women to enable whole life covenant bonding. God made sex to be a commitment-deepener—a way to say to someone else “I belong completely to you.”

Therefore it is only for use inside marriage, where it is designed to operate as a way to constantly renew, remake and re-energize your covenant with love and joy so it does not grow old or cold.

For the rest of the post…

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.   

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There’s a good piece by Andrew Walker in First Things on a popular international church network called Hillsong’s apparent equivocation on marriage. At a recent New York press conference, the ministry’s leader, Brian Houston, declined to answer whether the ministry affirms the biblical position. Instead, he stresses the church’s need to stay “relevant.”

Earlier this year the pastor of Hillsong’s New York’s congregation, the ultra hip Carl Lentz, shared similar views with CNN. His wife added: “It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That’s their journey.”

Hmmm. If it’s not the church’s place to tell anyone how to live, then what is the church’s purpose? Entertainment? Affirmation? Socialization? And if it’s not the church’s role to counsel how to live, then who or what should? Perhaps it’s the central message of our age that each autonomous individual chooses his/her own path without reference to others.

But of course, absent transcendent authority, individuals, no matter how independent, hearken to temporal influences in their life choices, often the passing fads of their culture and age. Typically transient fads are not helpful, reliable guideposts for life fulfillment. So most of humanity does and has looked to religion, at least at times, for more permanent guidance.

All religion, even its most permissive forms, aims on some level to tell its adherents how to live. Otherwise it has no purpose. Certainly Hillsong preachers must fill their sermons with admonitions. A sermon from Lentz in 2013 spoke of complete surrender to Christ: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” He added: “When you take a bite of me, when you really follow me, everything in me goes in you—you can’t pick and choose.”

Indeed, but the more recent Hillsong comments imply there can be some picking and choosing, at least on sexual ethics. Perhaps the Hillsong preachers still privately adhere to Christian teaching on marriage but don’t want to risk public controversy. At his New York press conference, Pastor Houston explained:

“And to me, the world we live in, whether we like it or not is changing around and about us. Homosexual marriage is legal in [New York City] and will be probably in most Western world countries within a short time. So the world’s changing and we want to stay relevant as a church. So that’s a vexing thing. You think, ‘How do we not become a pariah?’ So that’s the world we live in.”

The challenge is that the Cornerstone, Founder and Lord of the Church was crucified as the ultimate despised pariah, and He warned that His followers would often be pariahs. Yet somehow this collection of pariahs, across the centuries, in every culture, preaching the Gospel of an executed but risen pariah, has made His message the most “relevant” message of all time, everywhere.

For the rest of the post…

The Journey of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

BonhoefferTegelThere are a number of very important biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, none more complete or significant than the one by Bonhoeffer’s friend, Eberhard Bethge (Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography). Bethge’s biography is complete though not exhaustive (even if at times a bit exhausting) and takes serious commitment to finish. The prose is not captivating. Alongside Bethge is F. Schlingensiepen’s solid and recent biography (Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Those two describe a similar journey for Bonhoeffer (see below) while Eric Metaxas (Bonhoeffer) told a different story, a more evangelical one, which is why so many evangelicals have found Bonhoeffer in the last five years. Mark Thiessen Nation provides in his study (Bonhoeffer the Assassin?) a different journey for Bonhoeffer.

But the best written description of Bonhoeffer’s journey is now by Charles Marsh, Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Why use the word “journey”? Because people have made meaning out of Bonhoeffer’s life and theological development according to the scheme they find in his story. The fork in the road or the place of decision is right here: When Bonhoeffer returned to Germany after that aborted visit to Union Theological Seminary in the summer of 1939, did his theology shift from a pacifist Discipleship and Life Together direction toward a more Niebuhrian realism/responsibility vision? That is, did he enter into the Abwehr (double agent) in Hitler’s National Socialist party as one who was seeking the downfall, assassination and replacement of Hitler or was his life as a double agent a ruse for his continued life in the ministry of the ecumenical movement?

The standard journey is the journey from a rather naive and optimistic hope for church renewal through intense commitment to discipleship toward a more realistic, even compromising, assumption of responsibility (this term is big in this discussion and must be connected to Reinhold Niebuhr at Union) all reshaped in his decision that the best way to act as a responsible Christian under Hitler was to assume the guilt of the nation and seek his country’s collapse. Maybe the best way of all to frame this is to say Bonhoeffer took leave of Discipleship by the time he was writing Ethics. That, at any rate, is the most common journey told of Bonhoeffer’s theological development. I have already covered Mark Thiessen Nation’s proposal and this post is about Marsh’s study, but it appears to me Bonhoeffer’s pacifism can remain in tact in spite of his realism since he saw entrance into the resistance as guilt (personal and national).

Bonhoeffer did come by his ecclesial faith naturally: his father was not a believer, his mother was and led family devotions in the evening, the family did not attend church frequently though he went through confirmation and was both spiritually and theologically curious when young, most of his siblings were not Christians, and even having completed his theology degree at Berlin (where as a liberal he encountered Barth) Bonhoeffer still was not much a church goer. His position as assistant pastor in Barcelona engaged him for the first time in serious church work. After his return to Germany he was committed to the church — but as much to the ecumenical church, to conferences, as he was to local parish ministry.

Bonhoeffer embraced Barth’s theology deeply and this is one reason for Marsh’s general approach to Bonhoeffer’s journey: Barth is present in his dissertation on the communion of the saints, in his habilitation on German philosophical history (Marsh thinks this book was “one of the great theological achievements of the twentieth century”), but it is profoundly present in Ethics. The first “chapter” of that book could be taken from Barth’s theory of revelation in dialectical thinking (and unfortunately dialectical method in writing!) in its unifocal concentration on God in Christ as the true revelation by which all things are measured — including the world. Furthermore, Bonhoeffer here has embraced some of Barth’s universalism for the thematic center of that first chapter is about the reconciliation (ontologically) of the world in Christ already. Marsh keeps Barth before the readers of Bonhoeffer’s life.

Bonhoeffer’s twin sister, Sabine, married a Jewish man (who had been baptized).  That fact opens up a window that tosses light deep into Bonhoeffer’s theology: he was deeply committed to the brotherhood and sisterhood of the church and Judaism, of Christians and Jews, and therefore of Jews and Germans. When most were circling the wagons or wondering what was really going on, DB saw through to the heart of what Hitler and the National Socialists were setting up to accomplish in Germany and beyond. If he was anything, he was highly principled and so he refused to budge or surrender an inch to the National Socialists. Bonhoeffer’s balking at both The Bethel Confession and The Barmen Declaration, the former he had an early hand in, concerned their lack of commitment to solidarity with Jews — believers or not. Seemingly ahead of everyone else in theological circles, including Barth, Bonhoeffer saw the Jewish Question as the Christian Problem. He helped his sister and brother in law escape from Germany to England through Switzerland. They survived the war Dietrich didn’t. Marsh’s Bonhoeffer is probing pluralism in affirmative terms, and Marsh is accurate.

Marsh has exceptional sections on Bonhoeffer in the USA fascinated by African Americans, their theology and spirituality (and songs), and this experience (at Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem) shaped Bonhoeffer’s thinking about what it takes to be a gospel Christian and what racism does to a people and nation. He not only introduced his students in Zingst and Finkenwalde to Negro spirituals, but he saw racism in Germany more intensively than others because of his time in NYC. No one is more attuned to racism’s impact on theology and the need to combat it than Charles Marsh, so his sections here are more sensitive and insightful than other sketches of Bonhoeffer.

Marsh, in my view, downplays Discipleship and Life Together because, again in my view, he sees a different journey for Bonhoeffer: it is one that sees the highlight years in DB’s life not in the outside-the-system seminary (they weren’t underground until the end) writings and spirituality but in the more “responsible” political theology of the Ethics and his Letters and Papers from Prison. His sketches of DB’s theology after his return to Germany and while in prison were a highlight for me.

In fact, Marsh has all but convinced me of the Christian realism move of Bonhoeffer. But before I will go on board officially I want to re-read Ethics and Letters and Papers from Prison, which I’m doing now. One thing has become clear to me: the conspirators were profoundly naive in planning to be those who would run Germany when Hitler was removed. Profoundly naive, if not delusional. I need to read more on this plot but that’s how it strikes me.

Marsh has complete control of the sources of Bonhoeffer’s life: he has obviously read them in German as well as in English (in fact I saw one or two mistakes in footnotes because he was referring to the German editions and not the English translations). Detail after details is pressed from the original sources, in a historically chronological manner, and for this reason alone Marsh’s Strange Glory stands among the best of Bonhoeffer biographies.

I must mention one feature of this book because if I don’t it will emerge in the comments and this short explanation allows me a bit of more accurate expression. Marsh’s biography is undoubtedly the best biography to read (though nothing can replace Bethge’s fullness) but it will be remembered as the biography that suggested Bonhoeffer was gay or was romantically attracted to Eberhard Bethge. There is no explicit evidence; the relationship remained chaste; Bethge was engaged and then married and Bonhoeffer himself was engaged; there is Hitler’s extermination system that included homosexuals. There are suggestions according to Marsh: they shared a bank account, they shared Christmas presents, they spent constant time together, Bonhoeffer’s (not Bethge’s) endearing language in letters, Bonhoeffer’s getting engaged not long after Bethge got engaged, and Bonhoeffer’s obsessiveness with Bethge. OK, but it’s all suggestion, and this is complicated by Bonhoeffer’s obsession with clothing and appearance. [For a Marsh interview, see this.] Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t, but  it seems their relationship could at least be explored in another context: male friendships among German intellectuals of this era, which maybe needs the reminder that friendships have been between same sexes for most of Western history. I quote here from Wesley Hill’s exceptional post on this topic about DB:

But, second, it also seems to me there’s an opposite danger that, in our effort to articulate and defend the existence of something like “close, non-sexual friendships between men” in past eras, we may overlook the importance of homosexual feelings in shaping those friendships. Yes, of course, “homosexuality” as we know it didn’t exist as a social construct until relatively recently, but that doesn’t mean the reality of persistent, predominant same-sex sexual desire didn’t exist and that it didn’t have a friendship-deepening effect for those who experienced it. Sure, Bonhoeffer wasn’t “gay” in our post-Stonewall sense. But what Marsh’s biography tries to explore is whether Bonhoeffer may have experienced same-sex attractions and how those attractions may have led him to look for ways to love his friend Bethge. Bonhoeffer evidently didn’t—and maybe didn’t even wantto—have sex with Bethge (and presumably Bethge himself wouldn’t have consented anyway). But did Bonhoeffer’s romantic feelings for his friend, if indeed they existed (as Marsh believes they did), lead him into a pursuit of emotional and spiritual intimacy with Bethge that he wouldn’t otherwise have sought? I think there’s a danger in avoiding that question, too, even as there’s a danger in jumping to the conclusion “Bonhoeffer was gay.” [Wes has a very good review of Marsh’s biography in the most recent edition of Books & Culture.]

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/09/01/the-journey-of-dietrich-bonhoeffer/#ixzz3ESv8xgSJ

Read more: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2014/09/01/the-journey-of-dietrich-bonhoeffer/#ixzz3ESuMYfGR

Rediscovering a Lost Love

In January 1944, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat in a Gestapo prison. He passed the time by writing, and in one of many letters to his dear friend Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer tenderly reflected on what Bethge meant to him.

Back then his missives didn’t raise eyebrows. They sounded like those of so many before him who, in moments of triumph and trial, had taken their greatest joy in the love of a friend of the same sex.

Of course, times have changed. Years after Bonhoeffer’s death, while speaking publicly about their friendship, Bethge found himself facing an awkward question:

Surely, said one audience member, your friendship with Dietrich “must [have been] a homosexual partnership.” How else could Bethge explain the startling affection Bonhoeffer had for him?

Bonhoeffer and Bethge’s friendship was not an isolated victim of this kind of revisionism. Modern readers seem to be on a virtual crusade to open every closet in history.daily_commentary_09_22_14

Thus, we’re told, the bachelor Abraham Lincoln was obviously gay because he shared a bed with his best friend (a practice that was common with both sexes at that time). Ditto William Shakespeare, who wrote love sonnets for an unnamed male friend. The biblical David, who lamented Jonathan’s death, calling his friend’s love “finer than the love of women” was plainly gay, too, the reasoning goes. And the Apostle John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” has sparked speculation of his own.

You see, to the modern eye, all close love is sexual love. Deep friendship, especially between men, gives us an uneasy feeling. This leaves modern men with a tough choice: They can risk being pegged as gay for forming deep friendships with each other, or they can give up on making friends and just have “bros.”

That, argues Stephen Marche in “Esquire” of all places, is what the majority of men are now doing.

“The word bro,” he writes, shows an “underlying contempt for male friendship it implies.” “Bros,” he says, are “men who get together to be idiots with one another,” drink, watch sports and grunt, but never get involved in each other’s lives. So dominant is machismo over male friendship these days, that when two “bros” get a little too close, popular culture has a new, sexually-charged term for their relationship: “bromance.”

All of this leads Wesley Hill to ask in “Christianity Today,” “Why Can’t Men Be Friends?”

Citing sociologist Niobe Way’s recent book “Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection,” Hill writes that “[pre-adolescent boys talk] in shockingly intimate terms about their male friends.”

But as the boys grew older, Way reports that they “lost the intimacy they once enjoyed. Afraid of being perceived as gay or feminine, they withdrew,” despite longing for male friendship.

This isolation is not benign. Way correlates her findings with data showing that male suicide rates skyrocket at puberty—while among women, who tend to maintain strong friendships, the rate remains steady.

For the rest of the post…

Why Can't Men Be Friends?

In January 1944, several months after he had been imprisoned by the Nazis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge. In it, he reflected on what their relationship meant to each of them. Bonhoeffer wrote that, in contrast to marriage and kinship, friendship “has no generally recognized rights, and therefore depends entirely on its own inherent quality.”

As he penned those lines, Bonhoeffer must have had his fiancée, Maria von Wedemeyer, in mind. With Maria, Bonhoeffer knew where he stood. They were pledged to be married, and all their family and acquaintances recognized their love and were prepared to witness their wedding ceremony, provided Bonhoeffer was released. With Eberhard, on the other hand, Bonhoeffer admitted there wasn’t a similarly public recognition. That led to a question: What were Eberhard and Dietrich to one another, and how might their love be preserved and sustained?

Years later, Eberhard addressed an audience member who had come to hear him speak about his friendship with Bonhoeffer (one explored in depth by Charles Marsh in the acclaimed biography Strange Glory). Surely, the questioner said, theirs “must [have been] a homosexual partnership.” What else could Bonhoeffer’s impassioned letters to Eberhard have signaled?

We wonder how much we can expect from friendship, how solid and durable it is, when we compare it to other bonds. Is it a weaker tie than marriage or family?

Bonhoeffer was aware that his friendship with Eberhard was breakable—that no public ceremony or vow kept them tied. That awareness that friendship is fragile has grown more pronounced since Bonhoeffer wrote his letters from prison. Words like suspicion, unsettledness, and doubt best describe our instincts about friendship. We are uncertain about it—perhaps especially between people of the same sex. And, like Bonhoeffer, we wonder how much we can expect from it, how solid and durable it is, when we compare it to other bonds. Is friendship a weaker tie than marriage or family? Further, many of us doubt that we can attain intimacy without there being deep down some sexual element to the friendship.

An Eclipse of Friendship?

For the rest of the article…

dbonhoefferA new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Strange Gloryimplies that the German theologian experienced same-sex attraction toward Eberhard Bethge, his friend and confidante who later wrote a biography of Bonhoeffer and oversaw the collection of his works.

The response to the biography has been interesting. In his typically understated manner, Frank Schaeffer wrote an article, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Was Flamingly Gay — Deal With It,” in which he predicted evangelicals would be up in arms about such an explosive claim.

In contrast, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported on how different Bonhoeffer scholars and evangelical leaders have responded. Christianity Today gave a positive review of the biography, as did The Gospel Coalition, though the reviewers saw the biographer’s focus on Bonhoeffer’s sexuality as distracting.

The facts in the case of Bonhoeffer are clear: he was engaged at the time of his execution, and he wrote about the fact he would die as a virgin. No biographer or scholar claims that Bonhoeffer engaged in a sexual relationship with anyone, male or female, whatever his attractions may have been.

I believe the conversation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality tells us more about life in the sexualized culture of the 21st century than it does about Bonhoeffer. In fact, if we pay attention, we will see how Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy directly challenges several commonly held assumptions today.

Assumption #1: Life lived to the fullest must include sexual fulfillment.

Bonhoeffer lived faithfully – emphasis on fully – as a virgin. One should not miss the countercultural reality on display in his life.

Post Sexual Revolution, people often define themselves by their sexual identity. For this reason, many people see any restriction or moral restraint on how sexuality is expressed as oppressive, a dagger to the heart of a person’s life and dreams.

For the Christian, such an exaggerated view of sexuality is a pernicious lie. It feeds the falsehood that, without sexual fulfillment, it is impossible for someone to live a full and engaging life. In contrast, Christians believe celibacy is not a pitiable choice but a beautiful calling.

Bonhoeffer’s witness (along with evangelical heroes like John Stott, not to mention Jesus Himself) testifies against the assumption that self-actualization must include sexual relationships. His life challenges a culture that says you are your sexuality.

Sam Allberry, a pastor in the UK who experiences same-sex attraction yet believes homosexual behavior to be sinful, is familiar with the accusation often made against evangelicals, that adhering to Christianity’s sexual ethic contributes to teenage angst and suicide. His response is spot on:

“No, the problem is a culture that says your entire identity and sense of who you are is bound up with fulfilling your sexual desires. You are the ones who have raised the stakes that high. So that the moment you don’t fulfill your desires, you have nothing left to live for.”

Society’s view of a Forty-Year-Old Virgin is Steve Carrell. Christianity’s view of a forty-year-old virgin should be Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Assumption #2: Affectionate male friendships must be romantic in nature.

History is replete with examples of robust male friendships that are full of affection and expressions of love and yet are not sexual.

Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has made it more difficult to imagine passionate philos apart from eros. That’s why revisionist historians read romantic notions into Teddy Roosevelt’s affectionate letters to his closest friends. People wonder out loud about Abraham Lincoln’s sharing a bed with his friend, Joshua Speed. It’s hard for our society to understand how King David could weep so terribly over the lost love of Jonathan unless there was some sort of romance between them. And now, Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Bethge is put under the microscope of 21st century assumptions.

In fairness to the biographer, it is certainly possible that Bonhoeffer was attracted to Bethge, even though acting on such a notion was always out of the question. But it’s also possible, even likely, that Bonhoeffer’s friendship was, like many male friendships of the time, strong and affectionate, with a passion that did not include sexual desire.

The speculation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality distracts us from the greater loss of slowly disappearing same-sex friendships, the kind of love we see in literature between Sam and Frodo, relationships that many today can hardly conceive of, apart from some sort of sexual longing.

Assumption #3: Sexual attraction must define one’s identity.

Because our society has adopted the notion that sexual expression is wrapped up in our identity, some may think that getting to the root of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality is the only way to truly understand the man he was. But I suspect Bonhoeffer himself would dispute such a notion, and so would most people throughout history.

When we assume sexual orientation is fixed from birth and unchangeable, the question of identity naturally comes to the forefront: “Was he gay or not?” But Christianity rejects such a reductionist view of sex and identity. Everyone is warped in sexual attraction, at least to some degree. We are all sexual sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are marked by our need for grace, not our longing for sex.

Bonhoeffer’s identity was not defined by sexual attraction, but by his costly discipleship following in the footsteps of his King. Going beyond letters and writings and personal correspondence to speculate on the unspoken sexual longings of a figure from the past says more about us and our own preoccupations than about the person under scrutiny.

For the rest of the post…

Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer Gay?

MAY 25 2014 @ 8:07PM
by Matthew Sitman

Charles Marsh’s Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a new biography of the German theologian and pastor killed by the Nazis and a hero to many conservative evangelicals in America, has reviewers asking the question. I can’t say if he meant for this to be a wink and a nod or not, but Timothy Larsen begins by noting Bonhoeffer’s rather fastidious attention to what he wore:

You could illustrate almost every momentous turning point in his life with sartorial commentary. When he takes a pastoral internship in Spain, he bombards the senior minister with written inquiries regarding the proper formal wear for dinner parties. The poor, overworked man eventually remarked sarcastically that the new intern should bring his preaching robe.

Bonhoeffer was thrilled by the writings of Barth, but his confidence in the brilliant theologian was shaken when he first met him and observed that he lacked dress sense. When Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer’s student and close friend, arrived at his underground seminary, Bonhoeffer was identified as “the sporty dresser.” He even arranged to get his favorite brown suit delivered to him in prison.

About that “close friend”:

Marsh makes a convincing case that Bonhoeffer harbored feelings for Bethge that extended beyond friendship. Those feelings were unrequited, and Bonhoeffer probably did not consciously acknowledge them. Still, Marsh notes, he was possessive and smothering in his attention. He created a joint bank account and sent Christmas cards signed, “Dietrich and Eberhard.”
This turns into a major, recurring theme in Strange Glory. It fascinated me at first, but I grew tired of Marsh directing the camera angle of every scene so as to rather heavy-handedly keep it in view. Particularly regrettable is his decision to describe this relationship using words from Emily Dickinson—”The heart wants what the heart wants”—given the association between the quotation and Woody Allen’s use of it to justify unsavory behavior.Bonhoeffer, by contrast, was so sexually innocent that I would not assume Athanasius himself surpassed him in this regard. Any such possible desires for Bethge appear sublimated and regulated. Even Bonhoeffer’s physical relationship with his fiancée, Maria—whom Marsh says Bonhoeffer was “smitten” by—comprised only a solitary occasion when, as a prisoner, he kissed her on the cheek in the presence of the public prosecutor. In a late prison letter, Bonhoeffer observed that he had lived a full life even though he would die a virgin.

In a review of the book we flagged last month, John Stackhouse Jr. picked up on the theme as well, remarking, “Marsh defends the chastity of the two men, but one wonders if Marsh might usefully have hinted less and ruminated more.” Meanwhile, after reading Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison – which partly consists of the correspondence between Bonhoeffer and Bethge – Wesley Hill argued last month that the relationship between desire and friendship can be complicated:

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