An Asian Christian woman living in London blogging about the everyday issues of religion

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

An imaginary interview with Bonhoeffer

Yesterday I bought a wonderful book called 'God is in the Manger' which contains reflections on Advent and Christmas written by a German theologian called Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis. The story of Bonhoeffer's imprisonment and suffering is a deeply moving and inspiring one. Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 because he had been vocal in his resistance to Hitler and had supplied details of the German resistance to the Allies. While in prison he wrote: 'One waits, hopes, and does this, that, or the other-things that are really of no consequence-the door is shut, and can only be opened from the outside.' He kept his faith despite knowing that he would be executed. Ten days before the surrender of the German forces Bonhoeffer was hanged on Hitler's orders.
The desolation in his writing conveys the insight that he had about the cruelty and evilness that was to be Nazism. When Hitler declared in 1939 '...the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe' Bonhoeffer responded by writing that 'Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or wiling the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization..'
Imagine if Bonhoeffer had been asked the following question before he died, 'Do you view the ordination of women Bishops as a parallel, in terms of the defeat of the Christian church, to the extinction of human beings as Hitler has decreed?'
Would he have answered, 'I feel very much increasingly that we're in January of 1939. We need to be aware that there is real, serious warfare just around the corner. It's actually arrived in some places already and we are in a challenging and serious situation'.
Somehow I don't think Bonhoeffer would have said that but those words came from a speech given by Bishop Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and President of the Church of England Evangelical Council, at a Reform Conference of Conservative Anglicans. This has been widely reported in the media today.
A statement issued from the Bishop's office in his defence states that he never mentioned Hitler or the Nazis in his address and meant that the sittuation in the church feels like people probably felt as they viewed the year ahead in 1939. The Bishop says that he was being 'Churchillian'.
I looked up the meaning of Churchillian and it means being defiant in the face of overwhelming odds.
Is anyone else sensing a seriously disproportionate interpretation of the 1939 events? Bonhoeffer knew what 'serious warfare' and 'overhwelming odds' really meant. He was living it. The secular society must be laughing at us today and who can blame them?
I really object to the Conservative Anglicans, yet again, presenting the gospel message as being nothing more than a gender and sexuality question. Leaving aside the theological purity consideration about male lineage and women bishops, the Bishop's comments make a mockery of the Anglican consideration for true suffering and injustice. Instead, it invites wholesale ridicule of all Anglicans including people like me who really believe that my faith link with God will not be broken if women are made Bishops. Will God really bypass us on Sundays and head for Rome instead because we have taken on the equality practices of the world?
I conclude by setting forth what I think Bonhoeffer's conclusion to this sorry fiasco would be (in the context of his writings and thoughts):
'God should not be relegated to some last secret place, but that we should frankly recognise that the world and men have come of age, that we should not speak ill of man in his worldliness, but confront him with God at his strongest point, that we should give up all our clerical subterfgues...

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