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Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Active Political Resistance as an Obligation of Faith

The theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the highest name in Germany. As a leader of the underground Confessing Church, Bonhoeffer emphasized the nonreligious interpredtation of the Bible, religionless Christianity and the arcanum discipline.One act of obedience may be more important than a thousand sermons, he said. Bonhoeffer understood political resistance as an obligation of faith..The church could be commanded to "fall into the spokes of the wheel", not only "to bind up the victims under the wheel".
Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Active Political Resistance against Injustice as an Obligation of Faith By Gerhard Lindemann [This theological profile is translated from the Germanh in Evangelische Zeitung-online on the World Wide Web, http://www.evlka.de/extern/ez/archiv/profile_09.html.] The official church had a hard time with Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his lifetime. Even after his death, the official church hesitated for a long time in recognizing him as a Christian martyr. However Bonhoeffer was one of the crucial theologians for a new generation of Christians and theologians. His inheritance is hardly exhausted today. Born on February 6, 1906 as the sixth child of the professor of psychiatry Karl Bonhoeffer in Breslau, Dietrich Bonhoeffer grew up with his brothers and sisters in Berlin from 1912. He was grateful for his humanistic and Christianly world-open parents' home. From his own resolution, he studied evangelical theology in Tubingen and Berlin from 1923 to 1927. Adolf Schaltter, Adolf von Harnack, Reinhold Seeberg and Karl Barth were his teachers. The church was his theme and passion Bonhoeffer soon found his own way. His first two publications, the doctoral work "Sanctorum Communio" (Community of Saints) and the post-doctoral thesis "Act and Being" revealed the theme that marked his whole life: the church. A stopover in Rome in 1924 where he respectfully witnessed the concrete organization of catholic faith in the life of the church may have stimulated him to this theme. He focused on a deficit in Protestantism. For Bonhoeffer the church wasn't the hierarchical church, the bureaucratic church of Protestantism or an unassailable "invisible" community of faith. In the concrete visible church, God's revelation occurs in word and sacrament and one Christian stands up for the others. The form and praxis of the church were subjects of his theological and sociological reflections. As a student, Bonhoeffer was interested in church praxis, participated in children's services and developed his own designs for preaching and instruction. His experiences on a first US journey in 1930 gave an ethical and political dimension to the "church" theme: church pacifism, the problems of minorities and the social question. Bonhoeffer's ecumenical engagement began there leading him beyond the nationalism of German Protestantism. Early member of the Confessing Church At twenty-five, Bonhoeffer was a lecturer for systematic theology at the University of Berlin in 1931, student pastor at the technical university of Charlottenburg and pastor for a confirmation class in the Berlin district of Wedding as well as secretary for ecumenical youth work in northern and central Europe. He tackled these challenges with his own work intensity. He also found a personal relation to his church theme in church services, the Bible, above all the Sermon on the Mount, and prayer. The theologian was a Christian without losing his world-openness. The rise of the Third Reich found Bonhoeffer prepared as a Christian and theologian. He sacrificed his academic career for active service in the Confessing Church. During his temporary pastoral activity with a German-speaking community in London, he recruited ecumenical friends to support the Confessing Church against the official church in Germany. In 1935 the Confessing Church called him back to Germany to lead a preachers' seminary. In Finkenwalde, he taught vicars of the Confessing Church until the powers that be ended this work. The official churches of Protestantism in Germany were not equal to the onslaught of national socialism. Bonhoeffer developed a new perspective on the "church" theme. The Confessing Church was a church tat was serious with confession to Christ as Lord, not a church that insisted on a "confessional state." A strict boundary exists between church and "non-church." "Whoever knowingly separates himself from the Confessing Church in Germany separates himself from salvation." This sentence provoked great shock and resentment. However confession to Christ as the only Lord includes discipleship of this Lord and simple obedience toward his command in the Sermon on the Mount. Faith and obedience as the boundary to the world "Only the believer is obedient; only the obedient believes." This was a keyword of the book "Costs of Discipleship" written in those years... This obedience urged in the world and its occupations should not be mistaken with escapism. On account of this unconditional ethical obligation, resistance against the NS regime for Bonhoeffer could not remain in the inner-church area. The "Jewish question" in April 1933 was more than a problem of inner-church application of the "Arian paragraphs." Rather Bonhoeffer saw the church's task in addressing the state on its responsibility for justice when it "outlaws a certain human group like fellow Jewish citizens." The church has an obligation toward victims Bonhoeffer emphasized the unconditional obligation of the church toward "the victims of every social order" even when they were not members of the Christian church. At that time Bonhoeffer held that the church could be commanded "to fall into the spokes of the wheel", not only "to bind up the victims under the wheel." In the same sense he said later: "Only one who cries for the Jews may sing Gregorian." Christ's command from the Sermon on the Mount on war and peace was also unconditionally valid for him. "Peace on earth is not a problem but a command given with Christ's appearance," Bonhoeffer said in August 1934 at the ecumenical conference in Fano to the great displeasure of other German participants. More and more he recognized that a waiting "apolitical" attitude of the Confessing Church could not continue in view of the disastrous development. "The theologically substantiated reserve toward the actions of the state must be finally broken. Fear is the only obstacle." Bonhoeffer broke off a second US journey with enticing prospects in July 1939 and returned to Germany. He wanted to be in solidarity with his people and hgis church in hard times. The moment came when the way into political resistance with the goal of an upheaval seemed ethically commanded to Bonhoeffer. The consequences for his own person were clear. He took it on himself even when the Confessing Church didn't approve his way, much less go along with him. Bonhoeffer's effectiveness within the church was strongly hindered through prohibitions on speaking, preaching and residence. Through assimilation in military counter4-intelligence, his friends prevented the immediate access of the rulers. Official journeys abroad enabled him to inform ecumenical friends like the bishop of Chichester, George Bell, and allied foreign countries about the German opposition and receive information from them. Bonhoeffer acted more and more in the circle of conspirator4s around July 20, 1944. In April 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested. His participation in the conspiracy was known to the NS-rulers just before the end of the war. On April 9, 1945, a court martial executed the death sentence on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and other co-conspirators in the Flossenberg concentration camp. In political resistance, Bonhoeffer met people who like him championed justice and humanliness against injustice and inhumanity without being motivated in a very Christian or churchly way. The new direction: From the church to the world These experiences influenced his published "Letters and Papers from Prison". They show a new direction from the church to the world. In the "come-of-age world", people must manage without God as a "helper in need" or "stop gap". Come-of-age people no longer need to be "religious". God appears in "worldliness" in the man Jesus. The God of the Christian faith according to Bonhoeffer is not settled in a religious upper world, a special world or a pious introspection. "God was forced out of the world on the cross. God is powerless and weak in the world. Only as powerless and weak is God with us helping us." Jesus is "the man for others". Faith in Jesus is "sharing in Jesus' being for others". The church is and remains the place of the presence of Christ. People of the "com-of-age world" attest Christ in "non-religious" worldly ways, above all as a "church for others". "Our Christian life today consists in prayer and doing the works of the just among humanity." The memorial in Flossenberg proclaims "Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a witness of Jesus Christ among his brethren". His inheritance still awaits us.

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home page of Dietrich Bonhoeffer 04.Jun.2003 18:39

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pic for feature 04.Jun.2003 18:44

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DC Indymedia article 05.Jun.2003 09:32

marc mbatko@lycos.com

I'll try to upload the article on portland.indymedia.org and dc.indymedia.org. Sorry that all the space breaks and paragraph breaks were somehow deleted. After June 12, the article will also be on www.mbtranslations.com.