I have just finished reading Dietrich Bonheoffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas. This biography is a significant volume that is both insightful and troubling. I highly recommend it. It is informative in that it gives the reader an insight into history and the things that led to World War II. Metaxas does a masterful job of helping the reader understand how the German church became so affected by the rise of the Third Reich. For me as an American, I found myself having to look at a completely different social and political understanding of the church and its leadership in the German setting. I learned how the church and state in pre-World War II Germany was intricately intertwined with the political structure and how that would affect theological and church issues. For me it was a good education of another part of the witness to Christ by His church (or lack thereof).
The book was troubling to me in two different ways. I will only write about the first this week: how the ‘confessing church’ time after time declined to call heresy what it was. In hindsight it is easy for me to see the need for that church to have drawn a line in the sand and say, “No further!” Yet they did not—mostly hoping that their accommodation and love would convince others of their error. The strong statement of heresy, in their minds, worked against being able to work with those who remained in the state church even though it was condemning Jews to death and changing the Bible. Soon it was too late to declare anything! Martin Niemoller, a German pastor who was very reluctant to come out against the Nazis wrote after the war;
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.
I found myself wondering how often I join that Confessing Church in not speaking out or speaking up for what I know is right for fear offending or standing alone. How many have known that passionate speaking behind closed doors do not result in public stances. There have been many leaders who thought they had the support of people who could make a difference only to stand up take a stand, turn around and find they are suddenly alone. It was interesting that it seem that such an experience never embittered Bonheoffer. Even when in prison he had the confidence he had done right and the peace that allowed his faith to affect even those who imprisoned him.
Right is right whether we stand in a crowd that protects us or stand alone and are ‘picked off.’