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By Brooke Conrad

Dietrich Bonhoeffer should be added to the Liberty Walk| Wikimedia Commons

Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 bewitched the German Evangelical Church. They covered their altars with swastika flags and sang Nazi songs in their services. Their new doctrine, in the words of Pastor Julius Leutheuser, was “Christ has come to us through Adolf Hitler.”

There were a few who resisted the development. Of the 18,000 Protestant pastors in Nazi Germany, about 3,000 joined the Confessing Church. This church opposed the compromised doctrine of the national “Reich Church” in 1934 by signing the Barmen Declaration, which asserted that they “repudiate the false teaching that the church can and must recognize yet other happenings and powers, personalities and truths as divine revelation alongside this one Word of God.” The Declaration signees included Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who would eventually give his life for the liberty of the Christian faith in Germany.

Hillsdale’s Liberty Walk has no obvious advocate for religious liberty. None of the statesmen on the walk contemplated and wrote about religious liberty to the extent that Bonhoeffer did, nor did they pay for that liberty with their lives. Bonhoeffer belongs on our Liberty Walk because liberty defined his thoughts and actions in both life and death, and because his addition to campus would appropriately reflect the college’s mission statement, in that the college considers itself a “trustee” of its theological inheritance.

Bonhoeffer died to preserve this theological inheritance in Germany. Yet, like the rest of the figures on the Liberty Walk, he was also a sort of statesman; the Barmen Declaration, which he signed, was akin to an Emancipation Proclamation for German Protestants. Through this document, Bonhoeffer helped establish the Confessing Church, and for two years afterward, he taught at a Confessing Church seminary, Finkenwalde, which the Nazis eventually shut down.

In June of 1939, Bonhoeffer left Germany after being informed that war was imminent. But he returned to Germany only a month later. “I have made a mistake in coming to America,” he said. “I must live through this difficult period in our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people.”

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May 2020


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