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For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Civic Duty Began at Home

How a tour through his private living quarters helps us better understand his public responsibilities—and ours.
For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Civic Duty Began at Home
Keys to Bonhoeffer's Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Laura Fabrycky and her husband and three children moved to Berlin in 2016. From there, she watched the American presidential election in dismay. “Something seemed to have snapped in our hyperpolarized and tribal politics that could not be easily put back together,” she writes in the introduction to Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And though her book is unlikely to repair our factious political scene, it may serve to unite and inspire Christians struggling to find a faithful stance within it.

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus is not primarily a biography, although it’s rich with biographical information. Fabrycky knows her stuff. For three years she served as a volunteer tour guide in the Bonhoeffer house, immersing herself in study, interviews, and explorations of the ethics and events surrounding the rise and fall of Nazi Germany.

As Fabrycky leads us through the rooms of Bonhoeffer’s large house, she presents stories from her family’s own attempts to make sense of a foreign land. In one chapter, she moves seamlessly from a survey of Germany’s history and the evolution of the concept of citizenship to her family’s visit to Colonial Williamsburg, where two actors hold a lively debate on religious freedom. She takes us to her daughter’s harsh, mandatory bike-safety training to examine her own instinct to yield to authoritarianism. We see her struggling to love a cranky neighbor who disapproves of her gardening skills.

In all of this, she reminds us of the fuller definition of politics: “civic housekeeping,” by which she means “the hard, often boring work of living a common life” and the practice of neighbor-love “expressed in pothole filling and road paving, trash collecting, and pollution solving, compromise and deliberation, justice and restoration.” Even in times of societal disorder, we cannot avoid our housekeeping responsibilities.

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Start the New Year with a box of Luden’s Cough Drops

by Ray Howell III

Dec 28, 2019

Whenever I see Luden’s Cough Drops in the store I have this great desire to purchase a box, even if I don’t have a cough. It takes me back to the fourth grade when the most popular kid in the class was the one with the box of Luden’s.

We were not allowed to bring candy to class, but this was medicine — right?

Watch a kid start coughing and bring out a box of Luden’s. Remember what happened? Every other kid sitting close to him also starting coughing and the next thing you knew, the newly anointed most popular kid was passing out Luden’s Cough Drops to all of his friends.

There is a reason that Luden’s Cough Drops taste a lot like candy. In its heyday, in addition to the much desired cough drops, the company produced more than 500 varieties of candy. Sure, they do help a little if you have a cough, but their greatest benefit is being able to share something good with your friends.

I think I will buy a box of Luden’s for the New Year. It’s always good to have something to share. There are some more important boxes that need sharing in the New Year, beginning with the box of kindness.

I can’t think of anything we need more in today’s world than kindness. There is something that is more important than being right and that is being kind. Kindness is contagious. Be kind to someone, and they will be kind to you. Kindness cannot only make a difference in our world, it can transform it.

Along with kindness, we need to have a box of compassion. Compassion is powerful because it enables us to defeat indifference, intolerance and injustice. Compassion is impossible unless we place ourselves in the situation that evokes our concern. When we do, we are able to treat everyone as equals, realizing that every human being is a person of worth, created in the image of God.

Acts of compassion can transform people, both the one who gives and the one who receives. Compassion is the bond that unites all of humanity.

The New Year is a great time for us to focus on the needs of others and make a positive difference. When we do, we realize that our problems are not as big as we imagine them to be. We also find a tremendous amount of fulfillment and well being, knowing that we can give hope to many who are suffering.

It felt good to be the most popular kid in the class, passing out those Luden’s Cough Drops. It feels good as an adult to know that you are passing out the gifts of kindness, compassion, love and mercy to those who have great needs.

There is one more thing I need to go buy. I believe I will buy some boxes of civility and cooperation and send them to our friends in government. We place our hand over our heart and pledge that we are “one nation, under God.” Is this still true?

The poisonous rancor of division and hatred has replaced reason and cooperation. The art of political compromise has been lost in a sea of vitriol and acrimony. I pray that we will see the day when our leaders will show respect and have a sense of dignity for those with differing views. Until then, it is impossible to have a government “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The great German pastor and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that we should “Live every day as if it were our last, yet live in faith and responsibility as though there were a great future.”

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I have been a fan of Dietrich Bonhoeffer since I was a student at Bethel College in St. Paul, MN back in 1970s. Over the years, the person and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer have been embraced by evangelicals, liberals, Jews and Catholics. He is also the champion of both the right and the left. He has been described as a “flamingly gay“.

No matter the issue, people from both sides of the issue look to Bonhoeffer for wisdom and guidance. The issue may be same-sex marriage, gun control, abortion, immigration, politics and politicians.

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived today, let’s say in America, what side would he take? Back in 2016, would he vote for Hillary or Trump? Voters for both candidates would build a case that Bonhoeffer would certainly see their point of view.

My thesis for my Doctor of Ministry degree focused on the impact of Dietrich Bonhoeffer on twenty-first century preachers, but I am far from being an expert on Bonhoeffer. But I did do enough research then and since then to say that Dietrich Bonhoeffer cannot be boxed in.

He was only 39 years old when he was hung. Imagine if he lived another thirty or forty years and was able to develop his ideas and theology further.

What side would he take? My take is this: Dietrich Bonhoeffer would teach us to pray, read the Bible and meditate on God’s Word. He would also not to place our trust in people (like Presidents) but in God alone. He would tell us to love others who are vastly different than us. I think he would say that even though, we live is an age of outrage, Christians, are to be at their very best and represent Jesus.


Living as Christians in a Deeply Divided Time

For many Americans, the most crucial factor in their Thanksgiving plans is who they’ll have to talk to across the table. More on being Christian in a divided nation. . . .

In the wake of last year’s election, many Americans decided to spend Thanksgiving with friends instead of family. This year, I suspect it will be even worse. After all, once Uncle Bill starts talking about President Trump, or Aunt Sally weighs in on transgenders in the military, or Cousin Phil announces why a Christian baker should or shouldn’t decorate a cake for a gay wedding . . . well, who knows what might happen.

I’m not that old—not nearly as old as Eric Metaxas, in fact—but I can’t remember a time when our country, our communities, and even our families have been so ideologically divided. Not only do we disagree but we tend to see others not only as wrong, but as our enemies. On news outlets, college campuses—certainly on Twitter—civility is out the window.

It’s one thing to say “I disagree with you.” It’s another thing to say “I can’t even share a meal or stand the sight of you.”

But it’s exactly here that Christians have something unique to offer.

For the rest of the post…

Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, red states and blue states—the political divides in our country tend to fall into binary structures. The ones we are most familiar with tend to be firmly established, and we often know, through intuition or experience, what side we align with.

But over the past few months there has been a new political divide, an intramural division within American social conservatism. And this discord has been felt most prominently within the evangelical wing of this movement.

Evangelicals are not a monolithic entity, and there have always been differences and disagreements on politics. Still, within the social conservative faction (which accounts for around 60 percent to 75 percent of evangelicalism) there has been a general sense of unity. At least there was before this election season. The candidacy of Donald Trump has caused a split within this group that has grown increasingly rancorous as we inch closer to the election.Even by the standard of partisan politics, Trump is a uniquely polarizing figure. Before this year few could have predicted he’d bisect socially conservative evangelicals into warring camps.

Witness vs. Justice

In an attempt to bridge this chasm I want to explain the reasoning of both sides (at least as I have observed the debates), examine their strengths and weaknesses, and propose a way forward. While the two sides may not agree on much before November 8, we can at least attempt to seek a modicum of understanding and reconciliation.

There are differences and disagreements within each group and just as many areas of overlap between the two sides. By painting their outlines with a broad brush we will miss many important aspects and nuances. Still, doing so will help us focus our eyes on a few of the most essential elements.

To give a label to each side, we can identify the division as between those focused on Witness and those foregrounding Justice. Let’s start with by explaining the Justice side.

Justice Side

The concern of this group can be summed up in two words: Supreme Court. Many of the issues they care about most are matters of justice that will likely be decided by the court—abortion, marriage, transgenderism, religious liberty, and so on. They’re legitimately worried that if the liberal party candidate, Hillary Clinton, is allowed to choose the replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia it will set us back decades, and even push us to a point from which our country may never recover.

Although Trump might not have been their first choice of candidates, they see him as the lesser of two evils. They don’t necessarily know what he would do in office, but they are quite certain how Hillary will govern. For this reason they are willing to take a chance on Trump. To reverse an old saying, “Better the devil you don’t know than the one you do.”

The strength of this position is its clarity and simplicity. This group reasons that even if Clinton and Trump were to govern in the exact same way on every issue and differ only on Supreme Court nominations, we would be no worse off and would, in many ways, be much better off since the Court would be returned to its former status quo.

This is form of minimax strategy, which is often used in two-player, zero-sum games (like presidential elections). Minimax is a strategy of always minimizing the maximum possible loss that can result from a choice a player makes. The Justice side believes by supporting and voting for Trump they are minimizing the maximum possible loss of justice that would result from a Clinton presidency.

For the Justice side, the timeline we should be thinking on is decades, rather than the next four to eight years. My TGC colleague Bethany Jenkins summed up this rationale when she said, “As a lawyer who has read hundreds of cases, I’ve found one thing certain: Presidents come and go, but a SCOTUS Justice lasts a lifetime.” (NB: Bethany is not a Trump supporter, though she is sympathetic to the concerns of the Justice side.)

That is the main strength of the Justice position. The drawback is the trade-offs they have to make to endorse Trump, specifically sacrificing the “character issue” not only from this current presidential election but also from every election in the future.

A prime example of a champion on the Justice side is Robert Jeffress, the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas and a member of Trump’s Evangelical Executive Advisory Board. After hearing Trump bragged about committing sexual assault, Jeffress said the comments were “lewd, offensive, and indefensible.” But he said he’d still support Trump for President. “I would not necessarily choose this man to be my child’s Sunday school teacher,” he said. “But that’s not what this election is about.”

The implication is that there is not even a minimal biblical standard of character for a man or woman seeking a leadership role in America’s government. While integrity and a reputable character might be preferred, it’s a luxury good, not a prerequisite to receive the political support of evangelicals.

The result of this decision to disregard character is likely to live longer than even the most robust Supreme Court Justice. No longer can we credibly claim a lack of character is a disqualifier from public office. If Hugh Hefner decides to run for president and chooses Larry Flynt as his running mate, they could credibly claim to be the candidates for evangelical “Values Voters,” so long as they promised to appoint conservative judges.

Witness Side

Now let’s examine the Witness side. This group is also concerned about the long-term threat that will result from allowing Clinton to choose Supreme Court justices. In fact, on this matter they share all of the same concerns as the Justice side. Where they differ is in fervently believing the damage done to our gospel witness in choosing Trump outweighs the potential devastation caused by a liberal Court.

This side rejects the concept of the “lesser of two evils” as being unbiblical since Scripture calls us to reject all evil. They believe the character of both candidates has made them unfit for the highest office in the land, and that voting for either to be President would violate their conscience. Additionally, they believe Trump has made comments that reveal him to be racist, sexist, and/or anti-life—all while claiming to be a Christian. For this group, turning a blind eye to Trump’s character for the sake of political expediency betrays our calling as Christians.

The strength of the Witness position is its integrity and faithfulness. They contend that by supporting Trump (or Clinton) evangelicals are sending the message that we’re willing to sacrifice our witness as ambassadors of Christ, and that we’re willing to choose evil on the chance it will lead to a good outcome.

For the rest of the post…

Here’s The Simple Biblical Explanation.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are tightening their grips on the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations.

In the question of who’s the worst sinner, between Donald and Hillary… the answer is simple and straightforward… it’s you and me.. or whoever judges Donald and Hillary.

Jesus said it even better than Dietrich, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.” – Matthew 7 (The Message)

I’m attracted to the invitation of Jesus to focus on our issues (however big or small they are) as oppose to glorifying someone else’s (as big or small as their sins are).

It’s the “plank in our eye” approach, which really helps with living a happy sonship.

Christ came to save us from our sin, but also to save us from the idea that we could be saviors of ourselves, or anyone else.

He made it clear to the Pharisees (who loved to compare levels of sin) that lust was just as bad as adultery, and hatred was just as bad as murder.

So yeah, we are all as bad as Donald/Hillary.

And we need Jesus as much as they do.

I know, that you know, that both Donald and Hillary have clear and distinctive things that they need to repent for.

But so do you.

For the rest of the post…

How often does a doctor visit a family reunion to be accosted by relatives with erroneous self-diagnoses and misapplied remedies? This doctor then futilely attempts to correct the improper use of various medical terms. Perhaps after a while he just gives up and stops pointing out the errors?

The announcement of Trump’s new “Evangelical Executive Advisory Board” is a similar situation. ‘Evangelical’ is not the right word. And if it is, is this the end of evangelicalism?

The interest surrounding Trump’s new advisory board should not be around why Trump is making one (of course he did, he needs money, more megaphones, and every Republican has always pandered to evangelicals). And the news is not really who is on this list (televangelists, mega-church pastors, and denominational leaders, who are mostly very conservative white men). Rather our interest centers on the fact that this collection of people is thought to be advisors regarding a group known as “evangelicals”.

Outside of academic halls, where people attempt to maintain the proper usage of words like “evangelical”, the fact is that words mean what they mean because of how people use them. And Trump’s campaign is using ‘evangelical’ exactly like the mainstream media: to indicate predominately white conservative Christians.

But the easy equation of ‘evangelical’ with religiously and politically conservative Christianity (near fundamentalism) is neither true to past or present circumstances. So, while this might seem like shouting in the wind or a struggle against inevitability, with Inigo Montoya, I would like to say, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

With Inigo Montoya, I say, I do not think that evangelicalism means what you think it means Click To Tweet

Classical Evangelicalism

The misunderstanding comes from thinking of contemporary evangelicals as the nicer children of 20th century American fundamentalism. These evangelicals, it is thought, reacted against the abrasiveness of their parents, became more friendly and culturally aware, but essentially hold all the same values and stances. In reality, however, evangelicalism predated fundamentalism by 200 years (beginning roughly with the First Great Awakening and persisting up to the Azusa Street Revivals).

This older or “classical” evangelicalism was, according to historian Douglas Sweeney, Protestantism with a revivalist twist. This revivalist twist included social reform. It could be said the evangelical consensus within the First Great Awakening was conservative theologically in seeking revival of the soul but compassionate politically in seeking reform in the city.

This unity of personal piety and social justice were hallmarks of John Wesley in the First Great Awakening and Charles Finney of the Second (and these were the norm, not the exception). Especially during the Second Great Awakening, predominantly Wesleyan-Holiness revivalists worked toward the abolition of slavery, the equality of women, workers right and prison reform.

George Marsden, distinguished historian of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, notes that while classical evangelicals “were dedicated first to saving souls…their record of Christian social service, in an era when social reform was not popular, was as impressive as that of almost any group in the country.” A classical evangelical, then, would not be scandalized by a seamless union of prophetic social reform and spiritual revival.

But the rise of American fundamentalism spelled the ruin of the broad evangelical consensus of revival and reform. As Marsden notes, the union of revival and reform would not survive the rise of fundamentalism and the ‘Great Reversal’ which “took place from about 1900 to 1930, when all progressive social concern, whether political or private, became suspect among revivalist evangelicals and was relegated to a very minor role.”

(For more of this history, see The Scandal of the Evangelical Memory, part, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Re-alignment of Theology and Politics

The loss of this evangelical consensus created an unfortunate realignment of theology and politics. After the Modernist Controversy where the fundamentalist and liberal parted ways, conservative theology was aligned with conservative politics, and liberal theology was aligned with progressive politics.

This re-alignment has been the lasting influence of fundamentalism on the broader strand of American evangelicalism. Because of it, we lost a more compassionate political orientation and the true sense of the word evangelical was exchanged for a derogatory word.

Now politicians, media outlets, and causal observers use “evangelical” to refer to those who are better understood as fundamentalists, obscuring the fact that there is no true evangelical vote.

So, is this the end of evangelicalism, brought to infamy through a 100-year detour in fundamentalism?

The End of Evangelicalism?

Perhaps we should abandon the term to history.

But we can’t make sense of the world outside of the language use. If we abandon the term then we would need to come up with another one. Otherwise we would miss the reality of a Moral Minority always attempting to counteract the Moral Majority. We would miss the re-emergence of those committed both to revival and reform (even if they do not exactly speak that way at Missio Alliance, InterVarsity, Evangelicals for Social Action, and Sojourners). We would miss those who embrace a conservative orthodoxy and compassionate politics. We would continue to see the landscape in the binary that religious conservatives are political conservatives and religious progressives are political progressive.

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2 Chronicles 7:14 Isn’t About American Politics

rsz_statue_of_libertySometime around the Fourth of July or Memorial Day, you might see a sign advertising a “God and country” rally or prayer breakfast. I can almost guarantee that, if you attend, you will hear, at least once, 2 Chronicles 7:14. For those of you who don’t know it, this passage reads: “If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will heal their land.”

Often, the way this verse will be preached in many evangelical pulpits is as a rallying cry. In so many sermons, the “people” referred to in the passage are the American people, and the “land” is the American land. The meaning of the text is understood as an invitation to 21st century America to “return to God” and then enjoy God’s blessing once again. It’s no wonder one scholar said that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is “the John 3:16 of the American civil religion.”

If nothing else, the question must be asked of this kind of sermon: Where should we “take America back” to? Do you mean back to the era of the Founders, or back to the 1950s, or 1980s? When, exactly, in America’s blip of an existence did everything fall apart?

But the fact is 2 Chronicles 7:14 isn’t talking about America or national identity or some generic sense of “revival.” To apply the verse this way is, whatever one’s political ideology, theological liberalism.

This verse is a word written to a specific people–the people of God–who were coming home from exile. They were coming home from a time in which they were dominated and enslaved by a foreign power. At a time when they needed to be reminded of who they were, who God was and what he had promised to do, this passage was given to them to point them back to Solomon’s reign, reminding them of what Solomon did when he built the temple, the house of the Lord, the place of the gathering of the worship of God.

After all, it seemed as though the house of David was gone.

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by Charles Donovan | Washington, DC | | 9/26/13 10:55 AM

On January 1, 2014 state health exchanges, or the federal or “partnership” versions that will operate in their stead in a narrow majority of states, are required by law to be up and running.

By October 1, 2013 consumers are supposed to be able to begin researching and comparing insurance options in these exchanges.  Delays in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act are evident in nearly all areas of the law, including a feature called “multi-state plans” (MSPs) that are designed to be phased in over a four-year period for every state in the Union.

Despite provisions of law including the Hyde Amendment governing appropriations for abortion; the Hyde-Weldon amendment barring discrimination against physicians, insurers, institutional providers and others with respect to their policies regarding providing, referring or paying for abortion; and the language governing the MSPs themselves, the Obama Administration and abortion funding advocates seem bent on pursuing numerous avenues for the ACA, and MSPs in particular, to make public abortion subsidies available to tens of thousands of girls and women of childbearing age.

Here is how.

Multi-state health plans were created under Section 1334 of the Affordable Care Act.[1]  The law provides for a minimum of two such plans in each state, one of which must be a nonprofit plan.  The MSPs were a late substitute for the idea of a public option, a fully government-run plan that would have competed with – and, many advocates hoped, eventually supplanted – privately sponsored plans.  Instead, the MSPs will be offered by heavily regulated private sector insurers operating under contracts these insurers directly sign with OPM.  “Multi-state” is another word for “national” and the degree of regulation of plan content, control of medical-loss ratios, and other factors ensure that these plans will operate more like regulated utilities than truly private insurance.

Beginning in 2014, the MSPs are to be phased in over a four-year period.  The ACA requires approved plans to be available in at least 60 percent of the states in the first year (30 states), 70 percent in the second year (35 states), 85 percent in the third year (presumably 43 states), and 100 percent in the fourth year (2017).  One core rationale for these plans is to increase “competition” in the state exchanges, a goal in dramatic tension with the concept of heavily regulated plans, which by their heft and complexity are likely to be offered by only a handful of the largest health insurance companies in the country.  In order to aid this regulated competition, the MSPs will have to offer price advantages that may well flow from the fact that their administrative (including promotional) costs will be borne by the taxpayer through the Office of Personnel Management.  Both the companies and the Obama Administration have incentives to maximize participation in these plans.

What these advantaged plans will do with respect to abortion coverage is not yet fully clear.  However, Section 1334(a)(6) of the ACA states that:

In entering into contracts under this subsection, the Director [of OPM] shall ensure that with respect to multi-State qualified health plans offered in an Exchange, there is at least one such plan that does not provide coverage of services described in section 1303(b)(1)(B)(i). (Emphasis added).

The cited section refers to the ACA’s description of the Hyde Amendment regarding abortions that may be covered:  those for reasons of rape and incest and a narrow set of conditions regarding physical threat to the life of the mother.

The ACA also included a provision, Section 1303(a)(1), making clear that state legislatures, some of which already had laws in place barring every health insurer in the state from offering abortion in any plans marketed and sold there, could adopt new opt-out legislation barring plans that cover elective abortions from participation in their state’s exchanges.  Five states adopted this exchange abortion limit in 2010, and since then the number of states doing so has grown to 23.  Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia currently have no such limitation.

On March 1 of this year, the Office of Personnel Management issued its final rule on the MSPs, acknowledging that a decision by a state to exclude abortion-covering plans from its exchange will apply to any and all MSPs offered in that particular state.  Section 800.602(b) of the rule, titled “State Opt-Out,” simply says, “An MSP may not offer abortion coverage in any State where such coverage of abortion services is prohibited by State law.”[2]  That states can block all qualified insurers, including MSPs, from their exchanges if they cover elective (non-Hyde) abortions is clear.  But a strong case can be made that Section 1303(b)(1)(B)(1)’s reference to excluding abortion coverage can be read, in conjunction with other provisions of federal health law, to forestall the Obama Administration from seeking to compel any private insurance company to include elective abortion in its MSP.

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A call to ask questions

By Ray McGovern
That America is in deep moral trouble is clear to everyone, save perhaps those emulating Rip Van Winkle downstream on the Hudson. This truly is a summer of discontent. The question is whether discontent will move us to action.

The gap between the very rich and the jobless (and often homeless) poor has become a Palisades-size chasm. Do we dare ask the key questions? Is it right to close libraries, leave students in permanent debt, gut safety-net programs? Is it moral to squander on the Pentagon the equivalent of what the rest of the world spends for defense?

We are guided by profits more than by prophets. Lucrative war-making serves up an inexhaustible supply of militants, insurgents, terrorists and simply “bad guys” to be hunted down by our killing machines. With muted murmur from progressive supporters, the Obama administration is playing fast and loose with the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, which many of us took a solemn oath to support and defend “against all enemies foreign and domestic?”

Rabbi Abraham Heschel said that wherever injustice takes place, “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”

No one has put it better than author and poet Alice Walker whom I met two years ago aboard the Audacity of Hope — the U.S. Boat to Gaza: “Activism is my rent for living on this planet.”

I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor who founded an authentic “Confessing Church” during the 1930s as a haven for Germans with the courage to resist their bishops’ unconscionable decision to give priority to keeping the churches open rather than to opposing the abuses visited on their Jewish and other neighbors.

Bonhoeffer was disconsolate watching his fellow churchgoing Germans acquiesce in the timidity (dare we say cowardice) of the church hierarchy, as it ignored Martin Luther’s call for Christians to put themselves “where the battle rages.” Before Bonhoeffer was hanged, he directed the following lament at his fellow Christians: “Are we still of any use?”

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July 2020


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