The following post was written by Johnathan Hershey, a sophomore Politics major.
On November 1st, 2012 a Bonhoeffer screening was held, a documentary representing the life of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor during World War II and Adolph Hitler’s takeover of Germany, and was deeply involved in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. The Nazi regime was considered Christian, and Hitler himself was Christian (if in name only). Dietrich Bonhoeffer was himself a Christian, and was one of the first people of faith to oppose the Nazi regime when many other Christians were supporting it. He denounced Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, and did not believe that Christians should be treating people, even people of other faith traditions, in this manner. Bonhoeffer was put into a concentration camp for his views, and was eventually put to death because of his role in the assassination attempt. Bonhoeffer serves as a perfect illustration of how it sometimes becomes necessary for Christians to become involved in political life and oppose the government, even if the Bible instructs Christians to submit to governing authorities.
While the Bible speaks of it being inherently wrong to murder, Bonhoeffer realized that something must be done about the atrocities that Hitler was committing. It was a classic utilitarian action, in which Bonhoeffer committed an evil for the greater good of the Jewish people. When he was being put to death, he remarked that he was taking guilt upon himself, and he never attempted to justify his actions. As Christians, if we find it necessary to do something radical that we know is wrong to preserve our own faith, then we should follow Bonhoeffer’s example and never try to justify our wrong actions by arguing that they are right. He acted in a spirit of true humility, and we should try to do the same. Bonhoeffer attempted what, in his mind, was murder, but this was done in an attempt to save lives. Perhaps, most importantly, he never claimed that his action was done in the name of God. Likewise, when we are engaging in actions or thinking thoughts that violate God’s law, as well as the example of Christ, even if we believe in our own hearts and minds that these actions are necessary and right, we should never claim to be acting in the name of God.
In his Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer writes about “cheap” and “costly” grace. Cheap grace is the idea of taking the grace God has offered us, accepting it, and never completing any intentionally good actions because of it. On the other hand, costly grace is taking God’s grace and living intentionally by following Jesus’ example, even at great risk to ourselves. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was certainly putting himself at great risk by plotting to assassinate Hitler. While most of us will never face the moral dilemma that confronted Bonhoeffer, his experience reminds us of our obligation to follow the example of Jesus by reaching out to and helping the suffering and oppressed people in this world.
While feeling morally obligated to assassinate a sadistic tyrant hopefully never becomes an issue in the present day, crucial lessons involving Christian involvement in politics can be learned from Bonhoeffer and his words. We should always follow Jesus’ example in caring for the marginalized, suffering, and oppressed, even when it means putting ourselves at great risk. We should be willing to put our lives (or in a more realistic sense, our reputations) on the line when blatant injustices are occurring in our society. We should always act with grace and humility to those whose views (political and otherwise) differ from our own, just as Jesus and Dietrich Bonhoeffer did when confronting opponents. In acting with this grace and humility, we must never attempt to claim that our own words and viewpoints are identical to God’s, just as Bonhoeffer never attempted to justify his radical action by saying that God told him to do it. We should follow Bonhoeffer’s example and stand up graciously and humbly to all injustices.