Genuine spiritual authority is to be found only where the ministry of hearing, helping, bearing, and proclaiming is carried out. Every cult of personality that emphasized the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community.
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
This past week I have watched in horror as we sink deeper into totalitarianism. The balance of powers that is the bulwark of our democratic republic is nonexistent. There is no system by and for the people. The Executive issues orders without proper planning, oversight, communication, or legal standing; Congress, bought and paid for by insidious corporate interests, assaults fragile civil rights and protections while cynically crying, ala Braveheart, “freedom!!”; the SCOTUS issued brutal rulings against labor unions, the reproductive rights of women, and the rights of Muslims to travel to and from the United States. Chaos reigns as families frantically try to reconnect after the inept and cruel execution of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.
African-Americans continue to be humiliated, threatened, abused, and killed by mechanisms of the State. White people’s tears and fragility have a body count. Trans people keep dying at the hands of bigots carrying crosses. Sexual assault, even in this era of #metoo, remains rampant and victim-shaming is still the go-to defense. And I watch as millions of so-called Christians support what is happening, even having the audacity to proclaim it God’s will.
If that’s God, I want no part of it.
On April 7, 1933, the Nazi government announced the inclusion of the “Aryan Paragraph,” which began the systematic removal of Jewish persons from German cultural, economic, political, and social life. It also meant that any pastors of Jewish descent would lose their jobs. Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the leading theologians in the world, immediately began to speak out.
His concern as both a pastor and a follower of Christ is that his ministerial work could not be limited to just “members” of the church; the threat posed by Nazism was toward the body of all occupied Europe. Bonhoeffer deemed this not just a military threat, but an existential one as well. Nazism is, at its core, an attempt to divide people, to alienate individuals from all except State machinations. Bonhoeffer understood this and believed he knew the answer: “Where a people prays, there is the church, and where the church is, there is never loneliness.”
The second challenge Nazism presented was that Bonhoeffer regarded the physical Church as being analogous to the physical presence of Christ in the world; Hitler was setting himself up as not only the head of state but also the head of the Church, through what was known as the “Führer Principle.” This established Hitler’s word as the ultimate authority, no matter how capricious, illegal, or unchristian; when coupled with the racial conformity laws, the foundations of Nazism seemed incompatible with a faith in Christ, at least according to Bonhoeffer.
Not all agreed. The Roman Catholic Church signed the Reichskonkordat, which protected the rights of Catholics but required bishops to take an oath of loyalty to the Reich and for all Church officials to refrain from work within any political party other than the NSDAP. From Bonhoeffer’s own Lutheran tradition, Ludwig Müeller was appointed Reichsbishof of the German Evangelical Church; Bonhoeffer knew that unless there was resistance to the Nazification of the Church, Christ’s presence in the world would be killed without a chance for resurrection.
So he acted, even to the end of his life.
I struggle mightily with the fact that I am part of a religious tradition that has visited unspeakable horrors upon other people. I feel anger arise when I see others of my supposed race, my gender identity, my faith confession, engage in racist, misogynistic, Islamaphobic, transphobic, homophobic acts and on the daily act like they have no GD sense. The country I live in is and has always been racist. There is no gender or racial equity; there appears to be no arc toward justice, not an arc that doesn’t include the continued deaths and unfathomable suffering of so many others who do not look like me or claim the same faith tradition as do I.
I am fighting inside myself not to give way to hatred and despair. I refuse to rest upon my privilege and simply to turn a blind eye. But I confess that I am tired. It seems like a nonstop torrent of terrible, don’t it? Each day comes with it a new nightmare to be situated in the dreamscape from which none of us can awake.
But then I think about people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and I know that though we may be weary, we must always speak and act as the gospel commands.
I remain a devout believer in Jesus Christ. I follow in the Jesus way and I have religious privilege as a pastor. Tomorrow, at First Presbyterian Church of Yellow Springs, the congregation and I will be welcoming three very special guests: Alicia Lowrance Pagan and Ray Two Crows Wallen, who perform as GA-LI, and Sommer McGuire. They will share songs and stories about migrants and justice-seeking; we will go to Creator together to hear, to help, to bear, and to proclaim. We will garner our spiritual energy to feel the power that comes when we more fully understand how we are connected to one another.
I will deliver no sermon. The liturgy, the work of the people, will be our offering.
All people of good will are welcome. Service begins at 10:30. Come as you are: wonderfully made and radically loved.
 Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 69.