DIETRICH BONHOEFFER grew up after World War One as part of Germany’s wealth and elite. At fourteen, he declared his intent to become a Theologian. It offered an acceptable and respected career in the State Church and afforded a good education with a satisfactory income as a pastor and scholar.
Young, Bonhoeffer joined a Bible Study group. In one of these meetings he describes meeting Jesus. This personal confrontation became his Damascus Road experience. It challenged him so much that he spent the rest of his life, as he described it, “living Jesus” before his troubled countrymen.
Dietrich was a high achiever, and as sometimes happens, he came into conflict with another high achiever. One came from aristocratic Germany, the other from the lower economic levels. Being high achievers, they eventually conflicted with each other; their lives diametrically opposed each other politically and religiously.
Dietrich’s counterpart was Adolph Hitler, the socialist paperhanger. Hitler was busy building political power and conquering the world. He convinced the church he meant well--no harm. The Church compromised and submitted, but with time Hitler became the head of the brown-shirted Nazi storm troopers. As the political head of Germany, the Fuehrer was en route to conquering his world.
The young Scholar, now Dr. Bonhoeffer, came to America to lecture. Friends begged him to stay, the war made it difficult to go home. In what was probably the second most important decision of his life, he determined he must return to Germany; otherwise he would lack the integrity to lead the Church and save them from destruction. He did return, and established an underground educational network to insure the future life of the Lutheran Church.
Teaching and rallying the church, he modeled life “in Christ” for the people. Eventually, the Nazi’s found and imprisoned him at Buchenwald; later they took him to Flossenberg for extermination. On his last day, the guards came as he conducted a service for his fellow prisoners, meditating on “With his stripes we are healed.”
Guards took him from the service to prepare for hanging the following morning. With General Patton’s cannons within hearing distance, Dietrich Bonhoeffer died at the end of a hangman’s noose--thirty-nine years of age.
His last recorded word went to his English friend, Bishop Bell: “This is the end--for me, the beginning of life.” The doctor who watched him die, concluded, “I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” His word to the world was: “We are not Christ, but if we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s largehearted-ness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes. . .”
I see parallels between Hitler’s advance to power and the abuses foisted upon America today by the Political Right. Erwin Chemerinsky details a full chapter of evidence of expanding presidential powers beyond what our founding fathers specifically designed. Contrary to the practice of Cheney and Bush, I found agreement with James Madison (The Federalist Papers) interesting: “No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty than that …[t]he accumulation of all powers legislative, executive and judiciary in the same hands, whether of one, a few or many, and whether hereditary, self appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” (The Conservative Assault on the Constitution/81).
As Chemerinsky pointed out, “arrests and especially detentions are initiated by the executive and are required by the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to be approved by the judiciary. Searches … must be approved by the courts under the Fourth Amendment” etc. They had enough of King George and wrote the Constitution so that at least “two branches of government should be involved in all major government actions” (contrary to Bush imperialism). Senator Robert Byrd long criticized this practice by his president.
An endless list of examples illustrate the political right usurping powers, and limiting civilian powers. I give the following examples, not as examples of my moral code, but of the inconsistencies of the political right. Thus, telling students in recent years that condoms prevent STDs is sin, but the Administration lying about WMD is a political win. It became okay for Tom DeLay and Jack Abramoff to play with each other’s clubs but for two men to marry was a sin.
A gun bill shielded gun dealers and gun makers from lawsuits and background checks, and protected the abundance of assault weapons, while 1% of gun dealers supplied 57% of the criminal guns (leaving very unsafe communities for the rest of us.. It was okay for the Religious Right to snoop in women’s medical records (anti-abortion) but John Ashcraft refused to allow an FBI background check on suspected terrorists.
Again and again, the religious right has made a case for connecting our faith and displaying the TEN COMMANDMENTS (which they do not obey), but they reject the social justice of the Prophets, Jesus, and the Gospels (only abortion and same-sex become sin). Glen Beck calls social justice a code word for socialism … how unbiblical!!
While they make their case for the Bible, which teaches truth telling (John 8:32), President Bush claimed the “Born Again” experience yet lied blatantly about the Iraq War and other issues. He defends torture with a “Damn right!” Republicans telling voters a vote for a democrat was a vote for Osama bin ladin was also a lie!
Referring to the Huckabee phenomenon, Steve Benon wrote tongue in cheek on Talking Points Memo: “The Republican party’s religious base is supposed to be seen not heard. Candidates are supposed to pander to this crowd, not actually come from this crowd” (Huffington,Right Is Wrong/313). Huckabee was an excellent specimen of the political religious right, but they rejected him.
Huffington noted that it took less than two weeks to investigate the exposure of Janet Jackson’s “boob” at the Super Bowl, but it took fourteen months for President Bush to form the 9/11 Commission. As she suggests, Janet Jackson’s exposure was sin, but exposing Valarie Plume was a White House win (315). What kind of thinking is this?
I do not favor abortion but I do not want a religious Pharisee legislating the issue for me. When I support a President whose political platform takes a different political approach, I do not expect to be called a “baby killer.” I have been and I am not!
Simply stated, the Right is wrong about civil liberties because in the name of keeping us safe it has abused executive power, by passed laws and treaties, quashed dissent, and withheld information from both the public and the Congress. They are wrong about American values, which they fundamentally reduce to guns, gays, and abortion (another story).
While doing this, they ignore both the moral imperative of fighting poverty and the biblical injunction that “we shall be judged by what we do for the least among us.”
Many Germans thought Bonhoeffer was politically incorrect for opposing Hitler and rallying the church back to the orthodox faith. With issues as the political right continues to promote inconsistently, I can see American Christians fighting the same uphill battle against the political powers that be, that Dietrich Bonhoeffer resisted with his life.
From Warner’s World,
this is an issue more people need to think through more seriously, walkingwithwarner.blogspot.com