There is a converation about pacifism going on on the thread about the South African film about a black, revoluionary Jesus. I thought an excerpt from this piece, which will appear in the February issue of our diocesan newspaper might be food for thought.
Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran, is recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians. A German citizen, he was hanged by the Nazis after participating in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.
“The compelling story of his life and what he did, and also the writing he left – the themes – much of it could have been written yesterday,” said Wayne W. Floyd, director of the Cathedral College Center for Christian Formation. Floyd is general editor of the complete English edition of Bonhoeffer’s writings, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. (….)
The central paradox of Bonhoeffer’s life, Floyd said, is that “here you have someone who was a dedicated pacifist, participated in a plot to assassinate the legally elected leader of his country and preached some of the most profound sermons on loving your neighbor.”
This tension – between following Christ and conspiring to commit murder – is central to understanding Bonhoeffer, Floyd said.
“We would have liked him to be a nonviolent resister like Martin Luther King Jr. or give us a justification for killing our enemy,” Floyd said. Instead, Bonhoeffer always maintained that murder was wrong—yet he actively plotted, with the German military intelligence officers and others, to kill Hitler.
“This is a sinful proposition, and I become a sinner by taking this action, but I am called by God to take this action on behalf of other people,” said Lori Brandt Hale, assistant professor of religion at Augsburg College, Minn., in the first lecture of the series.
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Hale kicked off the five-part series by describing how Bonhoeffer defined the church as a community of those who are willing to give up their lives for their friends. She spoke of how he abandoned his call to “love your enemies” to take what he called “responsible action” against them. Bonhoeffer, she said, “willingly accepts guilt as part of his call to responsible action, on behalf of, and out of love for, others who are suffering.”
Bonhoeffer believed “what God wants me to do and the church to do is stand in the place of the guilty and suffer the guilt of the guilty,” Floyd said. “And this is what Jesus did.”
The series will examine Bonhoeffer’s theology—from his conviction that Christ is in community to his belief that the Beatitudes are a central Christian text – and also will look at his writings from prison. Later in the series Josiah Young, professor of systematic theology at Wesley Theological Seminary, will speak about how Bonhoeffer’s U.S. experience – he spent a year at New York’s Union Seminary in 1930 – gave him the perspective to recognize racism in his own country.
In addition to the lecture series, numerous other events are planned on the close to commemorate Bonhoeffer’s life.
A screening of “Bonhoeffer” an award-winning documentary, followed by a discussion with producer Martin Doblmeier is set for 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 1. At 4 p.m. Feb. 5, there will be a Choral Evensong with prayers and readings by Lutheran and Episcopal leaders at Washington National Cathedral. A lecture by holocaust scholar Victoria Barnett titled, “Confessing Christ: The Preaching Witness of Bonhoeffer,” is set for 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7; and “Bonhoeffer’s Spirituality and Sermons” a residential retreat at the Cathedral College will take place Feb. 7-10. For more information or to register, visit http://www.cathedral.org/cathedral/bonhoeffer/