“Ethical Foundation for Resistance” – an Excerpt from Bonhoeffer the Assassin?

The following is an excerpt from Bonhoeffer the Assassin?, by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel.

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Cover ArtBonhoeffer gives us an “ethical foundation for resistance.” Almost immediately after Hitler assumed power, Bonhoeffer gave his radio address “The Führer and the Individual in the Younger Generation.” A few months later he wrote a prophetic essay, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” which was published in June. But even before these more obvious examples, Bonhoeffer was articulating an ethic for resistance. It was manifest in his life, his commitments, and his writings.

Thus, if we are to understand his ethical thought on resistance, we don’t simply look to writings from 1940 to 1945—not even to writings after Hitler assumed power. We begin with 1932: “A community of peace can exist only when it does not rest on a lie or on injustice. Wherever a community of peace endangers or suffocates truth and justice, the community of peace must be broken and the battle must be declared.” These early words, as much as later ones, are words intended for constructively guiding daily faithful living but also, clearly, for provoking resistance when it is needed—but resistance in line with the commandments of the God known in Jesus Christ.

Many ethicists seem to imagine that Bonhoeffer became more “reasonable” in the 1940s than he had been in his youthful days of flirting with pacifism, proposing a kind of new monasticism, and writing Discipleship. However, is it possible that Bonhoeffer continued in the 1940s to believe what he said to his brother in 1935, that if he were to become more “reasonable,” he would have to “chuck [his] entire theology”? And since there is no evidence that he did that, might we then see that it is possible that, as Bonhoeffer said in April of 1944, “my life—as strange as it may sound—has gone in a straight line, uninterrupted, at least with regard to how I’ve led it”?

©2013 by Mark Thiessen Nation, Anthony G. Siegrist, and Daniel P. Umbel. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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