“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
“We have learned a bit too late in the day that action springs not from thought but from a readiness for responsibility.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Letters and Papers from Prison
Recently my brother has been going through some quotes that he has on his wall. It’s quite a cool wall of quotes and he is doing a good job at it. (You can find his blog here) I also had a wonderful conversation about justice yesterday with a dear brother in the faith! It was one of those conversations where you leave feeling like you’re ready to change the world! All this made me think of two quotes from the German Theologian who defied Hitler.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote letters and papers from prison to his students (he was a seminary professor) which they then collected and edited for publication. Inside these papers and letters Bonhoeffer has some amazing quotes and two particular ones stick out to me at this moment. (They are quite well known, I don’t have a brilliant memory, these are quotes that I have seen many times.)
What some may not know is the background… that is what really brings these quotes to impact our soul. Dietrich had been born a German citizen and had achieved his first PHD by the time he was 21 years old. As the great beast of that age was rising to power, Dietrich continued his studies at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He lived in Harlem. It was there where he was confronted by our nation’s dreadful sin of racism. There is an account in his biography (the old one, not the new one, I’d cite it but I don’t have it) where he and his friend (an African American Pastor) were kicked out of a restaurant. Bonhoeffer tried to insist upon entrance, but to no avail. They were forcefully removed. Bonhoeffer began to recognize that the same bigotry existed across the ocean in his own homeland. Convicted by the Holy Spirit, he traveled back to Germany and began to fight back with his intellect.
As the crack down on all who opposed the RiechChurch(NaziChurchwhere Hitler, not Christ, bore the title of Head) became greater, the powerful intellect of Bonhoeffer was convinced by friends to flee to England. While there, he helped to formulate the Barmen Declaration along with Karl Barth, Martin Niemoller, and a great many ConfessingChurchpastors. (you can find it here) Bonhoeffer began to wage a kind of academic war on the Riech Church that had taken over Germany. There are exciting stories of visits to his home from German guestapo spies and narrow evasions of capture. He stayed in England until his conscience could bare it no longer and he walked back into the fire of Germany. This is when he started the illegal seminary in Finkenwald. It is in this period that we find most of his writing. Bonhoeffer believed that the Gospel could change the world. So he dedicated his life to teaching the Gospel in its fullness. His war on the Riech Church began to take a tole as he was banned from Berlin and forbidden to speak in the early 40’s. He was arrested and locked in a military prison in 1943. While in prison he continued to write and even used his influence to aid attempts to overthrow the Fuer. Bonhoeffer was executed on April 9th, 1945 for helping to plot an assassination attempt on Hitler. Two weeks after he was martyred, the prison he was being held at was liberated by theUS forces.
The common denominator in all (good) theologians who lived through the holocaust is this: Christians waited too long to stand against injustice. We must be willing to accept the responsibility to deal with injustice on this earth as agents of the Gospel. I’ll simply end with Niemoller’s famous quote as recorded by Leo Stein:
“First they came for the communists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
We MUST Speak.