Friday, March 10, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer

For the writing I have been doing on the Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes for Lenten Sundays, I have been reading the biography of him by Eric Metaxas. I am learning stuff I never knew about the 1930s in Germany and re-learning things I had long ago forgotten. Three issues have struck me.

1. Size of Germany- and how quickly Hitler took over. Literally a few months and he already had his storm troopers (SA and SS) ready to take over for the regular army. He was elected on January 31. Less than a month later, February 27 the Reichstag (Parliament) was destroyed in a fire, most likely instigated by the Nazis, though blamed on the communists. Within months of his election Hitler had managed to intimidate, legislate, and coerce the end of democracy in Germany with little to no opposition. We forget that Germany is about the size of our states of Montana or New Mexico. Consolidation of power was easier than say it would be in a country as spread out and diverse as the United States. Fortunately!

2. Taking over the church was part of the plan. It was already a state church when Hitler came to power. He hated the church and religion and was determined to co-opt and destroy it. The Deutsche Kristens (German Christians) movement sought to make it a Reichskirche, a Nazi religion. The almost succeeded but the Nazis were too open about their "theology" and its Nazi ideology. Instead, the overall German Evangelical Church (Lutheran) continued as the state church and was marginalized.

3. The ineffectiveness of the church in being the church. As a Christian, former pastor, religious individual, this was one more bit of data to add to what I have often seen. In general, the church as we know it has very little effect against such powerful odds. One reason is that it is easy to co-opt the church. One does not have to live in Nazi Germany to see this. Church historian Martin Marty named it "Civil Religion" in the United States. We see it every time we say or believe that we as a nation have a special place in God's favor. It is a mixing of patriotism, nationalism, and Christianity. It easily divides Christians along political and ideological lines and shoehorns theology into whatever we want it to say.

People like Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller worked at resistance and changing the way things were going. They did not succeed. They were steamrollered out of the way, co-opted by the Nazis and their supporters in the church. They became the "heretics" while those who were twisting Christian theology into Nazi propaganda were the official guardians of "correct theology." They were marginalized by laws making it illegal to be anything but a member of the official state church.

I am glad we have never had a state church in the United States. The general term "Christian" has often been seen unofficially as that. Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have acted that way. I hope we can manage to keep from allowing religion and state to become mixed up.

But there will be more thoughts on that in some of the upcoming Lenten Sunday posts. Back to my reading. I'll keep you informed.

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