Friday, July 11, 2008

What if Bonhoeffer had been Quaker?

I have long been an admirer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: because of his clear-sighted theology in prewar books such as The Cost of Discipleship, because he championed the "Confessing Church" and resisted the Nazification of Christian churches in Germany, and not least because of the courage with which he endured imprisonment and met his death by execution at the hands of the German state.

As he himself recognized, however, there is a contradiction between his early radical pacifism, which is very evident in "The Cost of Discipleship" and his later participation in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Unlike the Austrian Catholic peasant Franz Jaegerstatter, Bonhoeffer believed that the unique challenge presented by the Nazis forced him to abandon absolute pacifism, precisely in order to be faithful. (Jaegerstatter, who was also executed by the Nazis, was punished because he remained a pacifist and refused to serve in the army).

I'd like to propose an unlikely scenario for the consideration of my readers and invite them to consider some questions it would raise:

Imagine that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had been a Quaker instead of a Lutheran. Imagine that as he considered the possibility of trying to assassinate Hitler he had asked for a Clearness Committee from his Meeting. What do we think would have been the result? What do we think should have been the result? I ask this without having thought through my own answers. The ways we look at these questions might illumine more fundamental questions about discipleship, activism, faithfulness, testimony, and "effectiveness" as Quakers.

I invite people to respond either in comments on this blog or on their own blogs with links back to this one. I'm creating a "Bonhoeffer Question" label for this post.
- - Rich Accetta-Evans

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