On April 9, 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged for his part in resisting the Nazi regime. Dietrich, along with his brother and brother-in-laws, were all executed for their efforts to stand against the unspeakable injustices happening around them. While participating in assassination attempts might seem a bit bold, Bonhoeffer’s (and other’s) actions force us to ask: how do I stand against injustice?
I’ve known Bonhoeffer’s name for a while. His name was listed with Jim Elliot, Oscar Romero, and others as people who took bold measures because of their faith. But the details of what led Bonhoeffer to his choices were vague. I have the Eric Metaxas book on him, but have not gotten the chance to read it.
Given the chance to read John Hendrix’s graphic novel, The Faithful Spy, I was immediately taken in by the mix of photos and words. Hendrix has a unique style of drawing and integrates the story of Bonhoeffer’s life in a way that keeps the eyes moving and the reader engaged.
Overlapping Bonhoeffer’s life is the story of how Germany fell under Hitler’s vision. I do not believe many people understand the actions that allowed Hitler to unify an entire country under a banner of hatred and blame. We do not properly study or understand WWI, which set the stage for a defeated, proud Germany left with a vacuum of leadership. Hitler did not come to power overnight. The path of a people to go from being neighbors to hatred and genocide comes in slow ticks. Hendrix does a masterful job of weaving in these ticks, showing how a people without a vision were able to be led into, and participate in, the murdering of over 12 million people.
The book brought to mind two things:
1 – In the U.S. we are living in interesting times. For decades (over a century?) tensions have been mounting. We did a very poor job after the Civil War to address root causes and bring about reconciliation or justice. We swept things under the rug and moved on. Laws and legislation do not create equality. In the void of defeat, and in a moment being told your way of life is wrong and evil, a significant portion of our nation was left to simmer in hatred. There were flare-ups. Look at the hatred of the early 1900s and the fight we had to bring about “equality” in the South. The Civil Rights Amendment did an incredible job at providing guardrails for day to day life, providing legal recourse, and helping to create legislation rooted in equality. But legislation does not change hearts or get at root causes, and until those are dealt with issues remain.
A flare up came when Obama was elected. It should have been a warning, it should have been a call to action. What many saw as a pinnacle (and I agree, it was!), others saw as a slap in the face. And while we deem some reactions as wrong, we cannot determine how others feel and when we disregard emotions because they are “wrong” or “we won” or “they just need to get over it” – well, nothing good comes from that.
I do not believe for one moment that we are living in a new-Germany. I believe strongly in the power of words and do not appreciate nor endorse outlandish rhetoric for the sake of a reaction. I will say, however, that Hendrix’s book provides a pretty good timeline for how Hitler managed to take a humiliated, powerless feeling group of people and turn their wounds into hate. And if we do not take a lesson and start talking to each other, getting at root causes and bringing about some healing, the rhetoric that is fueling the division will only get worse and the actions of those who now feel “empowered” will only get more destructive.
Throughout the book, Hendrix takes an honest look at the failing of the German Church to a) see what Hitler really was, and b) stand up to him. Hitler convinced the Church he was sent by God as a redeemer to the German people. While this might seem laughable to us on this side of history, I cannot help but ask if our church today is not a shining example of what happens when “people of faith” worship power vs. the Word of God. What would have happened if the German Church had taken a bold stance against Hitler’s words of hate and division and not allowed him to twist The Word to fit his agenda?
2. Bonhoeffer’s belief in equality and the power of racism was molded by his time in the U.S. and his friendship with Frank Fisher, an African American man at the same seminary Bonhoeffer attended. Fisher took Bonhoeffer into the 1930s South where Bonhoeffer saw the effects of unchecked racism first hand.
“THE SEPARATION OF WHITES FROM BLACKS IN THE SOUTHERN STATES REALLY DOES MAKE A RATHER SHAMEFUL IMPRESSION,” SAID DIETRICH. “THE CONDITIONS ARE REALLY RATHER UNBELIEVABLE. NOT JUST SEPARATE RAILWAY CARS, TRAMWAYS, AND BUSES SOUTH OF WASHINGTON, BUT ALSO, FOR EXAMPLE WHEN I WANTED TO EAT IN A RESTAURANT WITH (FRANK), I WAS REFUSED SERVICE.*The Faithful Spy
Bonhoeffer became a pacifist. He was one of the few who could see (and was willing to speak out about) who Hitler really was. He watched the country he loved fall into chaos and hatred. He knew he could not fight on behalf of his country, but what was alternative?
While Bonhoeffer struggled with the answer, he went through a season of “silence” with God. After being drafted, Bonhoeffer was able to to secure a teaching job in America and was given a one year reprieve. But Bonhoeffer never had peace being so far from his homeland, where his family, friends and innocent people were being terrorized and risking their lives.
Throughout the book Bonhoeffer struggled under what it meant to be a Christian and to lie, align oneself with evil, and to help in a murder. What is the right thing in the face of the unspeakable?
IS THIS WHAT LUTHER MEANT WHEN HE SAID THAT CHRISTIANS SHOULD “SIN BOLDLY”? ARE THERE MOMENTS IN HISTORY WHEN ETHICAL PEOPLE MUST TAKE EXTREME ACTIONS, EVEN IF THOSE ARE AGAINST THEIR MORAL CODE?The Faithful Spy
Not any easy answer. But for Bonhoeffer inaction, waiting for things to pass, retreating to America, keeping his head down, was worse than trying to stop things. We are faced daily with choices to uphold or deny our faith. When we are faced with injustice, what do we do? Do we retreat? Do we speak up? Do we turn the channel? Do we deny? Any how far are we willing to go outside of our comfort zone for the sake of “the other’?
I highly recommend Hendrix’s book. I received it as a PDF and bought a hardbound copy because to me it is important to own it as a physical book. It is a good conversation starter, and an important book for this moment in our country.
What will we do in the face of injustice, with leadership that cares more for some citizens over others? What will we do when our feeds are full of innocent people dying due to their color? How will we stand in the face of a Church more concerned with its rights than loving its neighbor?
Bonhoeffer via Hendrix challenged me. In a time when it’s easy to pass hashtags off as action and being in something for the long haul is unappealing, Bonhoeffer’s life shows what to means to live differently and how you can be an instrument for God regardless of where you are.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255
Links are not affiliate, I get nothing if you shop at them but the joy of knowing the little guy got some love. Header image from John Hendrix’s twitter.