Bonhoeffer on Trump: A Postmortem Interview (Part 2 of 4)

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Barney: Welcome back everyone to our postmortem conversation with evangelical icon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And welcome to you, Mr. Bonhoeffer. We very much appreciate you, your legacy, and your devotion to the truth and your sacrifice for the Church of Jesus Christ.

Bonhoeffer: It’s entirely my pleasure.

Barney: Last time we were discussing the four categories of people in Germany in the 1930s and 40s in relation to Adolf Hitler’s reign of terror. You said there were perpetrators, collaborators, bystanders, and resisters. We looked at the perpetrators last week. Who were the “collaborators” of your time, and I’m especially concerned about those who professed faith in Christ?

Bonhoeffer: Our pews were filled with collaborators. Most Protestants pledged their loyalty to the Führer and his extreme nationalism. They took communion with Nazi officers, SS guards, and concentration camp doctors, and were to my mind, ultimately complicit in their atrocities. They were drunk with the power that proximity with Hitler afforded and saw no conflict between their milquetoast Christianity and his poisonous demagoguery.

“German Christianity,” a state-sponsored religion was grounded in four heretical precepts:

  • Adolf Hitler is the completion of the Protestant Reformation;
  • Baptized Jews must be immediately dismissed from the Church;
  • The Old Testament should be dropped from the Christian Bible; and
  • Neither Jesus of Nazareth nor the first generation of Christians were Jews.

Barney: No way!

Bonhoeffer: Yes, and one of our very own German pastors, Hermann Gruner, actually preached: “The time is fulfilled for the German people of Hitler. It is because of Hitler that Christ, God the helper and redeemer, has become effective among us. … Hitler is the way of the Spirit and the will of God for the German people to enter the Church of Christ.”

Barney: That sounds horrifically familiar to those who prophesy today about Mr. Trump’s anointing by the Spirit as a David-like king that will root out evil and bring revival to America! I guess there’s nothing new under the sun!

Do you think people who take photo ops in the Oval Office are just ambitious “Evangelical Courtiers”? They flatter the president for their own prestige and go back to their pulpits and preach their nation-first sermons. They take their “seat at the table” and with their mouths full of the president’s food have nothing to say, but “Thank you, Mr. President! Thank you!” Are these the collaborators of our time?

Bonhoeffer: I wrote, “Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power.” I also said, “We must finally stop appealing to theology to justify our reserved silence about what the state is doing—for that is nothing but fear. ‘Open your mouth for the one who is voiceless’—for who in the church today still remembers that that is the least of the Bible’s demands in times such as these?”

In biblical terms, they’ve been shown “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” but, unlike Jesus in his encounter with the Tempter, they have gladly embraced them.

Barney: Right-Wing Evangelical leaders like Gary Bauer compared Mr. Trump to George Washington. Paula White expressed gratitude for his practice of “calling our nation to God” and for “always putting God first.” Robert Jeffress described him as a “gift to the country” raised up by God to bring “healing” to a divided America! And when Jeffress defended the president’s remarks after Charlottesville he did some nifty verbal jujitsu and changed the subject from the defensive to the offensive. He warned viewers that this was nothing but a plot of the “axis of evil” (Democrats, the media, and the “GOP establishment”) to take Trump down. I call that collaboration!

Bonhoeffer: So do I.

Barney: I agree with Cal Thomas who wrote, “Religious leaders who seek favor with the king, run the risk of refusing to speak truth to power out of fear that they won’t be invited back.” Rather than merely eating the meal and taking photos, those at the table have an opportunity to point out to the president when his policies are un-Christian.

Bonhoeffer: Remember that Nathan took advantage of his seat at the table to rebuke his king. “You are the man!” he cried, and David repented. When they’re given the opportunity to speak truth to power and don’t use it, they’re complicit with the sins of their leader.

Barney: After witnessing Hitler garnering mindless followers you wrote in one of your books that under the influence of imposing demagogic personalities people are “deprived of their independent judgment, and – more or less unconsciously – give up trying to assess the new state of affairs for themselves.” You said that when we’re talking to such folks it’s like “dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him.” I can’t imagine a more poignant description of Mr. Trump’s fan base and his sloganized ideology!

Bonhoeffer: Yes, and don’t get me started on “Make America Great Again!”

Barney: I won’t. In fact, we’re out of time, so regrettably we’ll have to wait till next time to continue our conversation when we’ll tackle the other two reactions that you related to fascism. Until then, Mr. B., thank you so very much for your time.

Bonhoeffer: You’re quite welcome.

Barney: Thanks also to our audience. Ya’ll come back next week for the third of four sessions with author, pastor, activist, and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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