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Archive for February, 2017

For those not yet convinced of the danger Trump presents to American democracy, here are words written by Eberhard Bethge about the beginning of Hitler’s tyranny in 1933:

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The day before the Reichstag fire, it was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s turn to preach. Taking as its text ‘The people with you are too many for  me’ (Judges 7:2), his sermon on Gideon remained imprinted on the minds of his students:

    Do not desire to be strong, powerful, glorious and respected, but let God alone be your strength, your fame and your honor . . . . Gideon, who achieved faith in fear and doubt, kneels with us here before the altar of the one and only God, and Gideon prays with us: ‘Our Lord on the cross, be thou our one and only Lord.  Amen.’

    “Out of this controlled chaos, within a short time Hitler had changed the legislature into a tool of his will. In the wave of enthusiasm for the new national era, the German people submitted to one decree after another, one law after another, in the illusion that they were experiencing a new freedom. In fact, they were being deprived of numerous rights.
    On the night of 27 February [1933], behind an impenetrable police cordon, the Reichstag was burned to the ground. The following morning Hitler declared his most ominous emergency decree, the ‘Reich President’s Edict for the Protection of People and State.’ To remain in force ‘until further notice,’ the edict remained in effect until 8 May 1945. It abolished virtually all personal rights protected by the constitution. It made the concentration camps possible. In the 5 march election, the majority of Germans accepted de facto the terms of paragraph 1 of the edict of 28 February 1933:

    Therefore restriction of personal freedom, of the right of free speech, including the freedom of the press, of the right of association and of public assembly, intervention in the privacy of post, telegraph and telephone, authorization of house searches and the confiscation and restriction of property, beyond the hitherto legal limits, will henceforward be admissible.

    This gave Hitler the supreme powers he desired. All that remained to be seen was whether he would have the necessary basis to implement them or would fail to exploit them.

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In today’s America, with a new president who seems reckless and irresponsible, we worry about the end of what our founding fathers called “tranquility.” They created a constitution designed to insure domestic tranquility because that is a necessary condition for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

They also had a concern for peace and the defense of our nation. That, too, now seems uncertain as our president proceeds to offend our international friends and cozy up to Putin in Russia.

In 1934 Bonhoeffer already understood that war was inevitable so long as Hitler remained in power. He saw through the illusion that Hitler was fomenting that the Nazi aim was nothing more than the safety and security of the people. Here is one of Bonhoeffer’s most cogent points:

“How does peace come about? . . .There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture. It can never be made safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to mistrust, and this mistrust in turn brings forth war. To look for guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means to give oneself altogether to the law of God, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won where the way leads to the cross.”

Oh how I wish there were such wisdom in Washington today!

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The English Language Section of the International Bonhoeffer Society has taken the unusual step of issuing a letter in response to all the political and moral turmoil in the United States these days. Here is the opening paragraph of that letter:

The United States has undergone an unusually contentious, bitter, and ugly election that has brought  us to an equally contentious, bitter, and ugly beginning of the presidency of Donald J. Trump. While it is impossible to predict what lies ahead, we are gravely concerned by the rise in hateful rhetoric  and violence, the deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening in respectful public discourse. Some of the institutions that have traditionally protected our freedoms are under threat. In particular, this election has made the most vulnerable members of our society, including people  of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims, immigrants, refugees, the poor, and the  marginally employed and the unemployed, feel even more vulnerable and disempowered.

And the closing paragraphs make suggestions about relevant ideas gleaned from the writings of Bonhoeffer:

  • He warned that leaders become “misleaders” when they are interested only in their own  power and neglect their responsibilities to serve those whom they govern. (1933)
  • He warned that when a government persecutes its minorities, it has ceased to govern  legitimately. (1933)
  • He admonished Christians to “speak out for those who cannot speak” (1934) and reminded  that the church has an “unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order,  even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” (1933)
  • In his book Discipleship, he wrote: “From the human point of view there are countless possibilities of understanding and interpreting the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus knows only one possibility: simply go and obey. Do not interpret or apply, but do it and obey. That is the only way Jesus’ word is really heard. But again, doing something is not to be understood  as an ideal possibility; instead, we are simply to begin acting.”(1936)
  • He wrote: “I believe that in every moment of distress God will give us as much strength to  resist as we need…I believe that even our mistakes and shortcomings are not in vain and that is not more difficult for God to deal with them than with our supposedly good deeds. I believe that God is no timeless fate but waits for and responds to sincere prayer and  responsible actions.” (1942)
  • He wrote: “Is there a political responsibility of the individual Christian? Individual Christians can certainly not be held responsible for the government’s actions, nor dare they make  themselves responsible for them. But on the basis of their faith and love of neighbor, they are responsible for their own vocation and personal sphere of living, however large or small  it is. Wherever this responsibility is faithfully exercised, it has efficacy for the polis as a whole.”(1941)
  • He wrote: “…  one only learns to have faith by living in the full this-worldliness of
    life….then one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world. Then one stays awake with Christ in Gethsemane…. How should one become arrogant over successes or shaken by one’s failures when one shares in God’s suffering in the life of this world?” (1944)

In the coming time, we will seek to live such a life of witness, not only for the sake of our  country, but because our Christian faith calls us to do so.

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