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Dietrich Bonhoeffer-Resisting Evil
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Pastor Steve McCandless, standing in front of a wall mural of the Last Supper made by a church member, says that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was not just a theologian interested in the intellectual side of Christianity but a man who sought to carry out the biblical teachings of Christ as he understood it.
 
 
Sunday, April 16, 2017
 

BY KAREN BOSSICK

In 1939 on the eve of World War II a postgraduate theology student named Dietrich Bonhoeffer boarded a passenger liner headed home to Germany from New York.

Bonhoeffer, a teaching fellow, could have stayed in the safety of New York where he had just seen a newfangled invention called a TV at the New York World’s Fair and where “Gone With the Wind” was about to be released, said Dr. Gary Blount.

“But his conscience told him: This is too safe for you. You need to go back and train pastors to stand up to the Germans, and you need to go back to help your family,” said Blount.

Blount has just produced the docudrama “Come Before Winter,” which describes the final chapter in the life of Bonhoeffer, who was executed at age 39 for his resistance to the Nazi regime. He will show its Northwest premiere at 7 p.m. Monday, April 17, at the Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater at the Community Campus.

The free showing will be accompanied by a panel fielding questions from the audience, made up of Blount, Rabbi James Mirel of the Wood River Jewish Community; the Rev. Gerald Reinke of Valley of Peace Lutheran Church and the Rev. Steve McCandless of the Wood River Valley Seventy-Day Adventist Church.

Hailey resident Juli Miller was introduced to Bonhoeffer and his teachings by a college professor.

“I could not dislodge the impact of someone who was not much older than I giving his life to the German resistance, nor could I forget that he said such profound things about discipleship,” she said. “When I saw the film, I thought, ‘Wow! I want to show this in Sun Valley!’ ”

Blount described Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s short but powerful life Saturday at Hailey’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

One of eight children—and a twin at that—Bonhoeffer was so skilled at playing the piano that his parents thought he might become a professional musician, said Blount, a Twin Cities psychiatrist and history teacher specializing in the World War II.

But at 14 Bonhoeffer announced that he was going to become a theologian. He earned his doctorate in theology by the time he was 21—too young to be ordained.

Few were more jubilant than Protestant church leaders when Adolph Hitler was appointed German chancellor in 1933. They believed a new dawn was beginning for their country following the humiliation of losing World War I and the economic depression that followed.

Bonhoeffer didn’t share their enthusiasm. He was someone who had lectured publicly on peace, yet he found himself being pulled into the German resistance because of his belief that Hitler was evil.

“Only because God became human is it possible to know and not despise real human beings,” he wrote.

Two days after Hitler was installed as chancellor, Bonhoeffer delivered a radio address in which he attacked Hitler as a man who could turn out to be “a mis-leader or seducer.” He warned his fellow Germans not to slip in to what he called “the cult of Fuhrer worship.”

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act,” he said.

His brother-in-law convinced him to join military intelligence as a double agent.

He decried Hitler’s persecution of Jews and of the efforts of many fellow Christians to remove the Old Testament from the Bible. He snuck Jews out of Germany. And, after a brief sojourn in England trying to rally ecumenical support against the Nazi regime, he returned, following the exhortation of 2 Timothy: “Be diligent to come before winter.” That’s the phrase that inspired the name of the movie.

Bonhoeffer’s own very wealthy family, which included his psychiatrist-neurologist father, a chemist brother and a Nobel Prize winner, shared his disdain of Hitler.

When the government instigated a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses, Bonhoeffer’s grandmother defied SS officers to buy strawberries from a Jewish merchant.

An older brother was involved in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler and both of his older sisters’ husbands  were executed by the Nazis for their resistance.

In 1942 Bonhoeffer penned a Christmas Eve letter titled “After Ten Years’ to his family and friends who had been involved in the resistance.

Bonhoeffer, who had learned to see things from the perspective of the poor and oppressed while teaching Sunday School at a church in black Harlem, wrote: “We have…learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast…the reviled—in short form, the perspective of those who suffer.”

He also wrote of the example of Christ who had willingly risked his life defending the outcasts of society at the risk of his own death.

“Am I of any use?!” he asked, lamenting that Hitler was still going strong.

Three months later, he was arrested by the Gestapo. He spent three years in prison before being stripped of his clothing and hung at Flossenburg concentration camp. His death came just two weeks before U.S. soldiers liberated the camp in the waning days of the Nazi regime.

But not before he had penned such immortal lines as this one, in which he argued that the grace of salvation is a call to discipleship: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ.”

Today Bonhoeffer is memorialized with a statue at Westminster Abbey in London as one of 10 martyrs of the Christian faith in the 20th century. And his writings, including “The Cost of Discipleship,” recently retitled “Discipleship,” have become Christian tomes.

“He certainly goes down in history as one of the great martyrs,” said Hailey resident Richard Stahl. “Thankfully, he had a typewriter while in prison so he was able to write. And he wrote full books, not short stories.”

“What stands out to me about him is all the questions he asked as a theologian,” said Lee Blount, a financial advisor and wife of film producer Gary Blount. “If a theologian can ask so many questions, I figure there’s hope for me!”

Steven McCandless, the pastor of Hailey’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church, said the film is timely given what’s going on in the world today.

“Agape—to love others without terms—is the most common word for love used in the New Testament, yet it’s the most uncommon form of love,” he said. “What stands out about Bonhoeffer is his  understanding of social responsibility from a spiritual perspective. If spirituality is all about me, it’s selfish. His understanding was that spirituality was about supporting others and that was more important than himself.”

IF YOU GO:

What: “Come Before Winter”—a docudrama about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When: 7 p.m. Monday, April 17

Where: Wood River High School Performing Arts Theater at the Community Campus in Hailey

Admission: Free

 

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