Has the Bonhoeffer Moment Finally Arrived?
11/28/2016 01:19 pm ET
Stephen R. Haynes Professor, Rhodes College
Not too long ago, political events in our country led a sector of the American population to conclude that a cultural apocalypse was looming. The nation these men and women knew and loved was endangered by cultural shifts they neither approved of nor understood. As faithful Christians, they scrambled to discern the times. Naturally they summoned to memory Christian heroes who had courageously kept the faith when facing similar crises. I’m referring, of course, to the summer of 2015.
As it became likely that the U. S. Supreme Court would overturn legal barriers to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, these Christians were convinced the time had come for bold resistance. If the apocalyptic character of this historical moment tended not to register with moderates and liberals, it’s because this was not our apocalypse.
I took note, if only because a handful of Christian leaders, including the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, rallied their followers to action by declaring a “Bonhoeffer moment in America” — a reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), the German theologian murdered by the Nazis for his role in the anti-Hitler resistance. As a Bonhoeffer scholar with an interest in the uses to which the theologian’s legacy are put, I was fascinated by the phrase “Bonhoeffer moment” — particularly since it emanated from a segment of American Christianity not known for its affinities with twentieth-century Continental theology.
Fast forward eighteen months. Many Christians disturbed by Donald Trump’s election after a campaign steeped in racism, misogyny and xenophobia are searching for guides to faithful action. As in 2015, those familiar with Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy are wondering how the German theologian might help us negotiate these perplexing times. No one is more attentive to this question than professional Bonhoeffer scholars.
At a meeting of the International Bonhoeffer Society that convened ten days after the election, many expressed concern mingled with caution. On one hand, those of us who study Bonhoeffer are acutely aware of how poorly the Christian churches responded to Hitler in the immediate aftermath of the Nazi revolution, when effective resistance might have been possible. On the other hand, we are suspicious of glib comparisons between Nazi Germany and whatever political uncertainty Americans happen to be facing (including the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples), particularly when Bonhoeffer’s name is invoked to make the parallels appear credible.
This caution notwithstanding, I am one Bonhoeffer scholar who thinks the German theologian has much to say to us . . .
Read more at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-r-haynes/has-the-bonhoeffer-moment_b_13275278.html