A “Bonhoeffer Moment”?

“Mr. Bonhoeffer! Mr. Bonhoeffer! Excuse me, aren’t you Dietrich Bonhoeffer? I can’t tell you what an honor it is to meet you, Sir. I’m a huge fan!Bonhoeffer

“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.”

10 Replies to “A “Bonhoeffer Moment”?”

  1. I hear what you are saying but this subject has become a pivotal moment for some business owners.. any thoughts on this? The florist here WA had been providing the customer flowers for many years, knowing he chose a gay lifestyle. However, when he asked her to provide the flowers for his wedding to another man. She politely said she could not in good conscience do that. He promptly sued her for discrimination. For her it turned out to be a ” Bonhoeffer Moment”. I do not know, could she have responded any other way? If she was asked for flowers to celebrate a man’s affair with another woman could she in good conscience do so?


  2. Well, it’s a tough one. I watched an interview of hers and she says she has a good friendship with the guy and that they seemed to have parted ways agreeing to disagree. How he came from that to suing her I can’t say. And apparently she is filing a countersuit against him.

    One thing I think is happening here is that the ACLU on the left and the other group from the right, The Alliance Defending Freedom, are taking advantage of this situation to leverage the emotion for their causes. I wouldn’t be surprised if they got their clients fired up beyond what they were already. It’s interesting that both groups allege to be fighting for freedom (ACLibertiesU and ADFreedom). I guess they just have different ideas of what freedom looks like and who gets to be free.

    It was certainly her prerogative to refuse service to anyone she wanted. Unless you have to post that sign that you see in a lot of businesses: “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.” I don’t know the rule on that. And from her account she was conciliatory and kind in her refusal.

    This is where she decided to draw a line in the sand. I don’t think if I had been in her shoes I would’ve drawn it there. Doing the flowers for a wedding is not exactly lending carte blanche approval of gay marriage. I was asked once if I would officiate a wedding between a lesbian couple and I respectfully declined based on my convictions about what marriage before God entailed. To me my role was quite different than bringing flowers and dropping them off at the altar. Mine was a spiritual/religious service whereby I would be saying prayers and giving blessings. Not to denigrate her chosen profession, but her role would’ve been something other than that.

    I think there are times to take a stand and other times to weigh the consequence of taking it or not to. This was a hill she decided was one on which to die if necessary. Ideologies that live on the extreme ends of the spectrum tend to not have a sense of the concept of times when it’s best to stay in the game rather than take your ball and go home. To those on both ends of that spectrum, it would be the height of evil to agree to disagree agreeably. And we wonder why just about every country but Holland are always at war with someone.

    They say that when you may win a fight with a skunk but you’ll go away with a stink. That’s not to equate either side of this argument with a smelly animal you understand. Another famous person used a different smelly creature in a parable not intending to cast unfair or offensive aspersions either: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Whatever else this means, it certainly implies: Don’t pick a fight when you don’t have to.

    Honestly, in my opinion, whatever the outcome of this lawsuit is, it won’t advance the kingdom, bring glory to God, or make anyone more free. To me, it’s just another red herring to mislead everyone’s attention onto the wrong things.

    And for those reasons, I wouldn’t call this a “Bonhoeffer Moment.”


  3. I like what Jesus said, ““But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41“Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42“Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” we won’t go to Hell for baking a cake or arranging flowers, but we might win someone to Jesus by loving him where He is.


      1. I like your response Barney and I think that it is important that we in the body of Christ have these conversations. I brought this up in my men’s study on Saturday. The conversation went really well. I made the statement that it is because we do not talk about this “thorny” subjects we tend to just accept the status quo as our response. When we started we all agreed that if we were faced with the same situation we would probably have done the same thing as the lady did. However, as we discussed your comments we saw that the situation did not be as black and white as it first seemed. My next comment to the men was ” this lady come to the conclusion she came to thinking she was honoring God and we all initially thought that this was the correct response when we first heard about it. Now we see it differently just by talking about it in light of His word. Let’s not be lazy and avoid discussing these circumstances in our society. Let’s engage among us and with others with respect.”


      2. Right on, bro! I like the benefits of “collective revelation” when we’re willing to talk without becoming defensive. I’ll be honest, I’m often much more defensive than I’d like. But it’s so helpful when I can look past any insecurities of my own am willing to listen to another person’s heart.

        And when it comes to this topic, we should be listening and talking a lot. We may not come down on the same side, but we’ll be better off for the discussion and our witness will improve to not-yet-christians.


  4. I don’t understand why anyone would purposely go to someone they know disagrees and ask them to do a service. I would never meet a fellow missionary at the local pub for a dinner out. It seems there are so many emotions and everyone is always on edge. And it is not going to end until Jesus returns.
    The homosexuals are winning a battle and it is being continued and made worse by a bunch of angry people or the state’s tolerance programs.
    Gay support and acceptance is more prevalent in America now than it has ever been and is creating an outrage of …cater my wedding or else.. So, where does the hate really come from?
    What’s more hateful and intolerant?
    “I’ll would be happy to serve you in my restaurant but because of my Christian convictions I can not cater your wedding.” Or “Let’s burn down their business for being intolerant and smear them on social media.”


  5. I’m not sure I follow you exactly, but I will say that there’s already way too much hate in the world for Christians to join in. I’m trying to remember that winning people is more important than winning an argument. Anger and hate are contagious and catalytic. So is love. While anger is sometimes appropriate (“Be angry…” hate never is (“…but don’t sin”). Somehow we have to learn to accept the people whose lifestyles we don’t approve of and treat them humanely.


  6. That’s hilarious that you don’t follow me! I am so over the top ADD!! Do you know how many times I am told that? Finally being an old lady and at the urging of my adult children, I may take some medication…..who cares now I seriously need it! Oh how I love your blog!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: