“You were such a extraordinary man in your day, an example to us all. We all – all us Christians, anyway – admire your selfless devotion to God and people. Everyone who knows your story wants to be like you. Except for the hanging part! So much so that someone, none of us knows exactly who started it, coined the phrase: “Bonhoeffer Moment” to describe a pivotal period in history wherein we should stand up and make our voice heard. We hold your name with such honor that we utilize it and the reputation behind it to evoke an emotional reaction for whatever cause we’re promoting at the time.
“And who could blame us, Mr. Bonhoeffer? As a pastor, theologian, activist, and eventual martyr, your reputation precedes you and your name is a perfect one to drop when we have a cause that we consider worth supporting. You have to admit that the phrase, “Bonhoeffer Moment” has a ring to it. Leveraging the reputations of famous people is something we do all the time to propagandize. It’s an effective method of garnering support and motivating devotees. Your name, among other famous Christians such as Billy Graham, Martin Luther King Jr., or Mother Teresa – oops, I forgot, they all came after your time – tends to add credibility to whatever cause we’re currently pushing. Of course, our favorite name to drop when we’re trying to make a point or win an argument is Jesus’ name – often the most effective one in a so-called Christian audience.
“Anyway, it seems that a number of people claim to have created this particular catchy phrase, “Bonhoeffer Moment.” I’m not saying that I haven’t plagiarized a little over the years myself, and, as a preacher, I’m sure you’ve done it a time or two yourself. My rule of thumb on quoting others who are smarter than I am goes like this: The first time I use it I have to say, “As So and So said…” The second time it’s, “It’s been said.” And the third – and every instance after that – it’s, “As I’ve always said!” (Oh, and by the way, I didn’t come up with this rule of quoting. I heard it elsewhere. But since I’ve used it at least a hundred times now it’s as good as mine!)
“So maybe those who use the “Bonhoeffer Moment” reference are following this rule. I guess it’s possible that they’ve used it a sufficient number of times to warrant excluding the source. For all I know they’ve used it in speeches, sermons, and articles in reference to any number of causes for which they were politicking – to get a crowd, sell a book, or win an election – you name it.
“Anyhow, I just happened to run across a recent claim to your name by someone who seems to think we’re experiencing the actual “Bonhoeffer Moment” right now in 2015. I got sort of excited till I discovered a number of other well-known speechifiers who were using it thusly, but nobody seems to credit the originator of the phrase (whoever that may be). Nonetheless, it’s been employed recently by many who seem quite convinced that we’re living in the particular historical moment that requires Bonhoeffer-like nerve to speak up. The crisis to which these provocateurs have taken it upon themselves to unholster your name is the issue of gay marriage. They all seem to feel that if gay people are able to legalize their unions that the moral fabric of America will unravel. There’s quite a debate about this in our country these days.
“I have to admit, Mr. B, that I think many evangelicals spend far too much time worrying about gay marriage. As to whether or not it would further weaken the already frail and teetering the institution of marriage, I can’t predict. It seems to me that gay marriage isn’t nearly the indomitable nemesis of the health of the family as is divorce between heterosexuals (of which I am personally and regrettably guilty).
“I’m not ready to redefine God-created sexuality between opposite sexes, nor am I saying that same-sex marriage was ever his intention. But I wonder if politics and the government should get out of the marrying business altogether. Since marriage was instituted by God, should the government have anything to do with it, Mr. B.? In many European countries people who want to make a lifetime commitment to each other go down to City Hall and register as a legally recognized couple. Then if that couple is religious they go to a church and have their union blessed, thus distinguishing civil unions from the institution of marriage. That seems like a tidy arrangement to me.
”So, it’s not that I think to be gay is okay with God (that is, to act on one’s gay inclinations), but I’m just not convinced that making their commitment legal it’s the tipping point of American moral values, such as they are. (“Tipping Point” is an evocative phrase that you might not be familiar with, since a book by that title was published well after your passing to the Better Place. It’s not one that I’ve utilized with enough frequency to claim as mine, but when a phrase is used as a title for a well-known book, you’re off the hook in citing the origin. Everyone knows you didn’t make it up. That’s rule number two in the Handbook For Quoters.)
“Mr. B, it’s clear from your book, The Cost of Discipleship, that you understood that following Jesus would be costly and you were clearly prepared to give your life for a cause like the defeat of evil Nazism. We all admire you for abandoning your comfortable life in America to go back to your homeland to do what you felt you had to do to stand up to that insane fascist Hitler. I’m sure that when you were imprisoned for supporting the effort to assassinate him that you had the prayers of many. That you were hanged two weeks before the camp was liberated by American troops seems tragic to me, but I suppose you have no regrets about it now. But I want, on the behalf of millions of people since then, to thank you for your courage.
“But as far as the use of your name in this way, I have to say, Mr. B, it seems that while many of us Christians are fighting on just one narrow slice of the battlefront, so to speak, we’re leaving other strategic and defensible fronts vulnerable. I don’t know if you have an opinion on such things regarding our modern culture, but is gay unions the front we’re supposed to be defending right now? Or is the front the teaching of evolution in schools? Speaking of schools, they outlawed prayer in classrooms a while back. Some think that’s the root cause of all our moral, spiritual, and social problems in America. Or maybe it’s our lackluster support of Israel that’s preventing a national revival (I’ve actually heard more than one preacher claim this). So, which one of these would you say represents the most Bonhoeffer of these so-called “Bonhoeffer Moments”? After all, it is your name that often gets attached to these.
“Honestly, if you were to turn the question back onto me, I really can’t claim to know what is the most epic cause of our time. I’m not sure where the front of all fronts is, the one or two issues that would be worthy of your name. I guess I’d have more people reading my blog by now if I did. People like it when you can boil the problems in America down to one evil. It’s easier to get a crowd when you can identify and rally against one common enemy. Maybe I should be looking for one. If I find it you can be sure I’ll publish it and use your name to promote it – with your permission, of course.
“If by a “Bonhoeffer Moment” they mean that a particular issue or battlefront is not only something for which we must stand up in protest but something that is worth dying for (like you did), then I don’t think that gay unions is on anyone’s list. I don’t know anyone willing to die to prevent gay marriage in America! If someone like that does exist, not to knock their passion or anything, but I would hope that, if they’re going to martyr themselves, they’d find something a little more urgent in the grand scheme of things.
“’But that’s just me. Each person has the right to their own opinion about which of our boat load of social ills is the most seminal. We all have our personal convictions about what’s wrong with America, with the Church, with the youth of today, or with the Giants’ pitching staff (they’re a Major League Baseball team who moved after your time from New York to San Francisco). If pressed I could come up with my own list of toxic issues in order of priority. But if each generation only gets one “Bonhoeffer Moment,” I wouldn’t want to use it up on whether or not gays get to be married. If I were granted only three wishes, gay marriage – pro or con – wouldn’t be one of them. World revival, world peace, and the elimination of world hunger would come light years before that one. Those, to my mind, are more worthy of the good name of Bonhoeffer.
“Furthermore, I have to say, Mr. B, that I don’t appreciate it much when people with a pulpit claim to know what social or moral evil is the one that will make or break the world as we know it. And it makes me crazy when they foist shame on anyone who disagrees with their assessment. Worse yet is when the Christian public buys into their rhetoric and accepts their shame!
“I also resent it when people elect themselves to speak on behalf of the Christian community when I wasn’t even apprised of an opportunity to vote. It really bums me out when, during their acceptance speech, they make everyone who disagrees with them out to be less than first-rate Christians. I’m pretty secure in who I am in Jesus, so it doesn’t affect what I think Jesus thinks about me. But I still resent it, because of what their sound byte rhetoric does to those who swallow their definition of what ‘all good Christians believe.’ It troubles me also because those sound bytes find their way into media caricatures of the Christian community. Over half of my time in conversations with not-yet-christians is wasted on refuting any presupposed affiliation with such rhetoricians.
“If you ask me, Sir, the over-speak of these “Bonhoeffer Momenters” is a distraction from the things that I believe Jesus would have us give more attention to in our day. Maybe, in a generation or two, giving gays the right to marry will have affected the moral atmosphere of the country more than I think it will. Maybe it is a moral tipping point and maybe, Mr. Bonhoeffer, you’re wondering when Christians will stand up and prevent this particular tide toward godlessness in our generation. But I’m not so sure. I think, if you were here, there is any number of other things to which you would give your attention, lend your name, and be willing to martyr yourself all over again.”