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DISPATCHED FROM THE CROSSROADS

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Outspoken Theologian... and Martyr

Dietrich BonhoefferLast week we watched BONHOEFFER: PASTOR, PACIFIST, NAZI RESISTER.* While the Vatican and the German Lutheran Church were making their deals with Hitler, Bonhoeffer reflected on his Christian, humanist values and concluded, "Hey, this isn't right!" He help found a church willing to speak out and joined the resistance. It is always great to hear the story of one person standing up against the evil machine, but the real lesson for me is in the corruptibility of institutions whose mission is all about morality and virtue: churches.

Institutional churches are complicated beasts. As much as they profess doctrines of moral absolutism, they inevitably are forced to decide between the "lesser of two evils." Institutions become afraid of "making waves." They tend to justify this by saying, "What good would it do for our congregation/parishioners if our doors were closed [or if we lost our funding]?"

I know I'm wading into a complex area without a detailed command of the historical facts. But I was once part of a not-for-profit agency whose mission was protection of children, but who was always turning a blind eye toward backward and unjust governmental policies toward children and families for fear of annoying funders and not getting the next contract renewed. "Then what good would we do?"

This is the nature of institutions. Wisdom and courage get sacrificed to self-preservation, just as corporations screw communities because they don't want to ruffle their stockholders.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man of means, from a prominent family, with many political connections. He had everything to lose... and did ultimately get hanged for his beliefs. But what a great example of the "educated conscience" -- a man who did not rely on institutions to tell him the difference between right and wrong.

10.4.2011

*Available on Netflix Streaming, along with a couple other movies about him.