Nation lectures on Bonhoeffer maintaining ethics during World War II

Emily Harvey February 4, 2015 0

On Thursday, Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Bucher Meetinghouse, Mark Nation visited Elizabethtown College to give a lecture on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The lecture was titled “Eberhard Bethge and the Myth of Bonhoeffer the Assassin: Recovering a Consistent Christ-Centered Ethic in a World Full of Nazis,” and 70 people attended. Bonhoeffer is known for being a German pastor, theologian and author who was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo in April 1943. Later, Bonhoeffer was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being accused of being a part of a conspiracy to kill Hitler, he was executed in April of 1945.

Nation is the author of over 35 articles, co-editor of seven books and has written three books, one of which was published in 2013. He has worked with Child Protective Services as a social worker, is the Founder of Christian Peace Institute, and the Peace and Justice Organization. He is a pastor, a member of the Church of the Brethren’s congregation, and has taught theology since 2002. Dr. Brian Newsome, an associate professor of history, specializes in the modern history of France and North Africa and provided a response to Nation’s lecture. Nation made it clear that the purpose of his lecture was to clarify rather than to inform the audience on Bonhoeffer. He stated, “It is a myth that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was personally involved in attempts to kill Hitler, and changed from being a pacifist to a realist.” The lecture also served to indirectly address the criticisms of his book, “Bonhoeffer the Assassin: Challenging the Myth, Recovering His Call to Peacemaking.”

When Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1939, he was faced with a significantly different way of existing. Eberhard Bethge, author of “Dietrich Bonhoeffer,”
argues Bonhoeffer quickly left behind his commitments in discipleship, a privilege he could no longer afford. In October 1940, Bonhoeffer became an unpaid staff member of the German Military Intelligence Agency. Another reason against the theory of Bonhoeffer’s role in the conspiracy is that he had recently applied to be a chaplain in the military. As Nation put it, “If you are a chaplain in the military, you don’t become involved in a conspiracy. You just don’t.” Once his application was denied, then and only then did he join the military intelligence organization Abwehr. Bonhoeffer’s superiors repeatedly made arguments that his work for the Abwehr was essential for the welfare of Germany, ensuring that he would receive exemption from killing on the front lines.

Nation posed several different paraphrased quotes from Bethge’s book. “Bonhoeffer ripped pages from his diaries in 1938 and 1939 because he thought they would be incriminating, which raises questions of his involvement in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.” He continued, “Bonhoeffer was involved but only has a small role in planning coos in 1940.” In March 1943, there was an attempt to assassinate Hitler, and Bonhoeffer was arrested only days later. When looking at the timeline, it can be seen why Bethge believed he was involved. Nation argues that Bonhoeffer was arrested because of his involvement in a successful effort to save the lives of 14 Jews, making him an enemy of the state.

Bethge’s book is centered on the idea that Bonhoeffer’s ethic underwent a shift in his theological ideas, and his discipleship to Jesus Christ was abandoned, in which he saw pacifism as “self-evident.” Nation argues that Bonhoeffer’s Christ-centered ethic is irrevocable based on his writings.

Nation argued, “Bonhoeffer constantly called to other Christians not to kill at war and to consider conscientious objection.” At this time, conscientious objection was a capital offense. Bonhoeffer returned to Germany in 1939 for the sole purpose of feeling obligated to suffer with his fellow Christians. Bonhoeffer repeatedly advocated that peace is not the way of safety. Newsome provided the audience with a few comments following the lecture. Newsome noted that many people over time have used Bonhoeffer as a reason to justify killing. Newsome mentioned that Nation and his co-authors relied exclusively on the translations of Bonhoeffer’s writings, and suggested they take a look at the writings in their original language. Nation countered that the writings had been translated by a team of professionals, and the translations are as close to the original meaning as possible. Nation concluded, “I am tired of Bonhoeffer being stolen away from us.”


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