Raising up Modern Bonhoeffers


John Wesley Reid is the editor-in-chief at the Falkirk Center. Follow him on Twitter at @johnwesleyreid.


Fascism doesn’t happen overnight, and we’d be foolish to ignore the indicators that history has so graciously given us.


Indeed, fascism has never happened overnight — not with the Holocaust, Stalinism, nor the Mussolini-era dictatorship. Indicators leading up to these eras were either ignored or unrecognized, which resulted in periods we describe today as catastrophic.


History is such a tender mercy in that it provides us with indicators of the inevitable. Again, how foolish we would be to ignore today’s indicators of yesterday’s catastrophes.


It would be naïve to suggest that America has shown discernment as we literally watch the blueprints of fascism develop before our eyes. In addition to the indicators we see in America, there are tangible displays of fascism currently erupting in other countries. It is as if history’s successor is pleading with us in real-time to recognize America’s fascist trajectory so we can slam on the brakes now!


But recognition in and of itself is not enough. To truly recognize a problem, one must also take on a certain moral responsibility to take action.


Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who resisted Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime, is a prime example of courage when others cower, action when passivity won’t do, and sacrifice despite its imminency. Bonhoeffer, known by many as a pacificist, saw the necessity of resistance even when it called for rebellion and violence as is seen in his participation in the 20 July Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.


The epitome of a selfless activist, Bonhoeffer did not simply push a rhetorical narrative until his comfort was expended. Comfort had no real estate in his pursuit of justice. He saw evil, he recognized it as such, and he developed a plan to extinguish it. He knew doing so could cost him his life — and it did.


How do we raise young Bonhoeffers? How do we raise young men and women to stand up and say no when it’s unpopular, or perhaps when it is popular, but frightening? How do we prepare young men and women to advance past adversity for the sake of truth and justice?


We should begin by teaching them that it is not about them. Life, as far as Christianity goes, is not about comfort. Comfort isn’t wrong, but it is not our calling. Christianity, as Bonhoeffer displayed, is about coming to die. Bonhoeffer saw that life as a gift from God was showing obedience to God in holy living and in advocating for justice despite the risk and danger.


To Bonhoeffer, God came far before anything else, and as a servant of God, Bonhoeffer’s service was a binding precedent over himself. When we teach our youth watered-down biblical narratives, cave to low standards, or elevate emotional experiences over objectivity, we set them up to prioritize themselves over much, including their Creator.


Bonhoeffer’s character and courage wasn’t developed through emotional slogans or cheap preaching. Bonhoeffer’s character, a much-needed one, was instilled through commitment to God’s Word and obedience to His commands.


As displayed by Bonhoeffer, to “come and die” can never be done unless we first die to self.