[Our guest essayist, Dr. Mark DeVine, is associate professor of history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus at All Costs.]
Wayne Grudem’s defense of a vote for Trump evoked an avalanche of repudiation, a veritable beat down by an array of theologically likeminded, #NeverTrump “friends.” A vote for Trump would be “wicked,” they said. It would violate Christian conscience and stain one’s reputation. We’ll come back to Grudem and his critics, but first let’s revisit a few chapters from the extraordinary life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pastor, theologian, and conspirator to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
A few days before his departure from New York City Bonhoeffer wrote to Reinhold Niebuhr:
“. . . I have had time to think and to pray about my situation and that of my nation and to have God’s will for me clarified. I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America. I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people. . . . Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose; but I cannot make that choice in security . . .”
Key features of Bonhoeffer’s thinking would survive all the way to the gallows of Flossenburg concentration camp: that the will of God is discerned for a Christian, particularly in what he called “boundary situations,” only through intense, sustained prayer and reflection upon the word of God; that obedience in such situations more often leads disciples into, not away from, suffering—“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” His realization that, however global one’s human and Christian identity, one’s national identity also counts and must impinge upon pursuit of the will of God and discernment of “true patriotism.”
But Bonhoeffer’s stated motive for the return to Germany weakened with time, namely the quest to salvage his moral standing in the eyes of others for the sake of future usefulness. The path from pacifist to conspirator to double agent to encourager and even volunteer to commit tyranticide forced Bonhoeffer to let go of such motives and hopes. Obedience to the will of God required decision after decision Bonhoeffer expected to so stain his reputation, so compromise his character in the eyes of others, as to disqualify him from the sort of future constructive role he once thought his return might make possible.
In a 1942 Christmas letter prepared for fellow conspirators Hans von Dohnanyi, Hans Oster, and Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer wrote:
“We have been the silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical. Are we still of any use?”
Should he survive, Bonhoeffer expected his ordination as a minister of the word of God would be stripped from him. He had, in a thousand ways, knowingly dirtied his hands in the conspiracy—even to the point of volunteering to carry a bomb to Hitler.
Not that Bonhoeffer came to despise his own moral “reputation” as worthless or indifferent (adiaphora). His immersion in the Psalms taught him the crucial importance of reputation, both to God and to his children. The same Psalms where “putting to shame,” and “being put to shame” figure repeatedly and prominently as central preoccupations, also teach that the one committed to doing God’s will cannot secure and must not attempt to secure his own reputation himself. The obedient servant looks to his master alone for vindication:
Then I shall not be put to shame, having fixed my eyes on all your commandments (Psalm 119:6)
Being put to shame is the opposite of being blessed. My life is put to shame when that which I relied upon breaks apart. For then I have nothing left that could give my life meaning and due, nothing to which I could appeal. My life becomes a mockery and shames me. I relied upon my own strength, and I became weak and sick. I counted on my property, and it was taken from me overnight. I trusted in reputation and power, and fell deep. I took pleasure in my honesty, and was overcome by sin. In the same way anyone’s life can be put to shame if they consider “mere flesh their strength” (Jer. 17:5). But if my gaze seeks not people, honors, and riches in the world but God’s commandments alone, then I will not be put to shame. For God’s commandments cannot break apart because God himself holds on to them and with them everyone who looks to them. I will never have to be ashamed of heeding God’s commandments. . . . Even if the world’s judgment is against me, God’s judgment speaks for me. I look at God’s commandments when I base my decisions neither on other people nor even my own thoughts or experiences, but rather when I ask ever anew, even if contrary to my pious thoughts and experiences, for what God commands me. I can be put to shame even by my most pious decisions and ways but never by God’s commandment. God alone, not my piety, will preserve me from shame and dishonor.
And how does the Christian discern this commandment of God?
“. . . only the entire richness of God’s commandments can guide me safely through life. Thus I can be certain that there is no situation in my life for which God’s word would not give me the necessary advice. But serious attention, tireless asking, and learning are necessary to recognize the right commandment and to recognize the inexhaustible kindness of God in all his commandments. The harder the world confronts and judges me, the more dire and miserable my way becomes, the firmer my gaze must stay directed toward God’s commandments . . . .”
We know what came to “trump!” other considerations as Bonhoeffer tirelessly asked of God’s word for the right commandment of God for him. Amid rising demands for an Aryan Clause in the church, this urgent and overriding concern emerges perhaps most vividly in an address delivered to a group of pastors in 1933. Here the 27-year-old Bonhoeffer identified “three possible ways in which the church can act toward the state.” The third way “is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to jam a spoke in the wheel itself.”
The overriding concern? Not one’s reputation, not making some sort of statement about one’s own integrity, but doing what one could to help others, to serve others, to reduce or prevent the suffering of others. In Jesus Christ, for the Lutheran Bonhoeffer, God shows himself as the God who is for us (pro nobis), making his Son “the man for others,” and his followers servants of those same “others” in his name.
Bonhoeffer bemoaned as scandalous the spectacle of church leaders who, though poised to pop the Champagne corks to celebrate Hitler’s arrest or assassination from a safe distance, were unwilling to soil their own consciences or their own hands to see the deeds done themselves. They wanted the spoke hurled, just not by them:
“The man with a conscience fights a lonely battle against the overwhelming forces of inescapable situations which demand decisions. . . . Some who seek to escape from taking a stand publicly find a place of refuge in private virtuousness. Such a man does not steal. He does not commit murder. He does not commit adultery. Within the limits of his powers he does good. He must be blind and deaf to the wrongs which surround him. It is only at the price of an act of self-deception that he can safeguard his private blamelessness against contamination through responsible action in the world. Whatever he may do, that which he omits to do will give him no peace. Either this disquiet will destroy him or he will become the most hypocritical of Pharisees.”
Between the 1933 address and one of the last letters penned at Tegel prison 11 years later, Bonhoeffer’s prizing of righteous action over clean conscience-fixated recoil into an ostensibly reputation-preserving and character-protecting safe space deepened.
I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it. I suppose I wrote The Cost of Discipleship as the end of that path. Today I can see the dangers of that book . . . . .
“I discovered later, and am still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman . . ., a righteous man or an unrighteous one, . . . By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In doing so we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world . . . .”
For Bonhoeffer, when the suffering of others is at stake, virtue acts to stop, prevent, or mitigate the suffering. It acts not for itself but in service to others, even if such service threatens to soil ones ostensibly “clean hands,” or jeopardizes one’s present or potential future reputation, or even one’s life. It does not understand sanctification as a cooperative effort between believers and God to make one clean. “Already you are clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). It understands sanctification as a divine setting apart of justified sinners for holy use—to serve others. Sanctifying of oneself means yielding to the prior and fundamental divine sanctification of oneself for such use.
For Bonhoeffer, Christian virtue does not turn opportunities for such service into occasions for self-display, self-expression, or self-protection. It does not shrink back from the moral cesspool that is this world and settle for some lesser and less urgent cause fixated on oneself rather than others.
Could such virtue in 2016 treat as less urgent the potential harm a sitting president of the United States might unleash upon hundreds of millions around the globe than some chance to display the purity of its conservative or liberal credentials or to teach a political party a lesson by staying home on election day or to cast a protest vote for a candidate who cannot win? No.
I see, and Grudem too seems to see, two wheels rolling towards hundreds of millions of actual people, each bound to discharge its own unique mix of help and harm. He has one spoke to jam into one wheel and perhaps prevent deliverance of one package of potential hurt to others. Retreat from that binary choice offers no platform of superior sanctity on which to preen, no pulpit from which to educate others, no paddle with which to spank a political party, and certainly no ostensibly “spiritual” refuge within which to pursue personal or private virtuousness. Others’ lives are in the path of two wheels, one of which shall roll over them. The names of these wheels are Trump and Hillary. No other names and no other options enter in. Surely Election Day 2016 beckons each voting age American follower of Jesus Christ to jam his or her one spoke into one of those two wheels.
Mark DeVine is associate professor of history and doctrine at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama. He is the author of Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus at All Costs.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Works, Volume 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), p. 210
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship.
 Ten Years After, employed as the Prologue to Letters & Papers From Prison: New Greatly Enlarged Edition, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (New York, Macmillan, 1971), p. 16
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 15 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012), pp. 507-508.
 Ibid, p. 508.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Geoffrey B. Kelly and F. Burton Nelson eds. (San Francisco: HarperSanfrancisco, 1995),p. 132
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Touchstone, 1995), pp. 68-69.
 Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers, pp. 369-370.
First, let me say that I don’t have a favorite among those left. I don’t like any of them much at all. However, I have noticed a tendency in voters to forgive some character flaws over others.
Newt Gingrich comes with a lot of baggage. Everybody knows it. It has been aired for a number of years. Yet, people can’t forgive him even when he asks for forgiveness. The thing they can’t seem to forgive is his multiple marraiges. That’s okay, but it’s not the only character flaw that determines if a person will stay true to his word in other matters.
Mitt Romney has a lot of baggage; more than people realize along with a ruthlessness about how he deals with competition that looks like it might win over him. Not mention his perpetual campaign that began in 2007 and has not ceased since. In addition to that ruthlessness, he can’t seem to stay on one side of an issue; any issue. Some call him the Flipper but it’s worse than that. He often reminds me of those blow bop dolls that kids like to punch. The doll reels backward, forward, and to the sides before it finally rights itself, ready for the next punch only to repeat the cycle. Once we can finally sort out where he actually stands on an issue, there is still his ruthlessness against his opponents to consider. Remember Fred Thompson? Here’s what the Romney camp for 08 did to Fred Thompson, in Thompson’s own words:
[…] Days after I got into the presidential race in 2007, I was greeted with a website, “PhoneyFred.org,” described in the media at the time as an “anti Fred Thompson smear site.” You couldn’t really tell who was behind it, but we learned of it from the Democratic National Committee, which made ample use of it. We assumed that they had created it. However, a reporter at the Washington Post (of all people) decided to find out who was behind the site. After a lot of effort, she traced it to an executive of TTS Strategies, a South Carolina consulting firm run by J. Warren Tompkins, one of the most notorious hardball political operatives in the country.
Politicians of opposing campaigns were known to get the “Warren Treatment.” He ran Bush’s 1980 campaign, in which anonymous flyers and telephone calls accused John McCain of fathering an illegitimate black child.
In 2007, he was running Mitt Romney’s campaign in South Carolina, where Mitt was behind the rest of us in the polls. Of course, when confronted, both Tompkins and Mitt were “shocked” to learn that a rogue employee (who ran Tompkins’s office) was running such a website (out of the office), and the site was taken down immediately. One of the more benign and amusing things the site accused me of was being a “flip flopper.” I kid you not. […]
Do read the rest of the article. The part quoted is near the end of the article which is mainly about Herman Cain. Like Fred, I don’t know if Romney’s campaign was behind the torpedoing of Cain(whom I did support) but it does remind one of what Romney is capable of. Now that Gingrich has somewhat burst Romney’s bubble of inevitablitiy, it will be interesting going forward.
By the way, Santorum has a lot of baggage, too. Google Santorum scandals and you’ll see. I won’t spend a lot of time on him because he doesn’t seem to be getting much traction after Iowa. So does Ron Paul. Google him, too.
It does remind one of the old cliche about living in glass houses and throwing stones.
But character flaws should be expected. These men are only human, after all. There is no perfect human being save one who died for our sins and sins we still commit. Depending on our worldview some sins are worse than others, though God nor Christ ever differentiated between one or another.
Fred’s article about Cain does make one wonder about things when Romney chose the very same firm that torpedoed Fred to manage his campaign again this time around (emphasis mine).
[…]”We knew coming here that Romney would have a bull’s-eye on his back but now it’s the size of the Target sign,” said J. Warren Tompkins, a South Carolina GOP strategist advising Romney’s campaign. “You’ve got to worry about that. We’ve got to survive here, but if you do the probability of getting the nomination is pretty good.” […]
I’m not exactly advocating for either Gingrich, Paul, or Santorum over Romney but neither am I discounting them just because the media wants Romney. Given that the ‘inevitability bubble’ has burst, this primary season could get real interesting if we stop this selective forgiveness some their transgressions while beating up others for theirs. Hopefully, if we can manage to do that, we can have the least of the leasser evils that have been foisted upon us.
This past week, Time magazine wrote an extremely dishonest column comparing Barack Obama to Ronald Reagan. In fact, Michael Sherer, one of the column’s co-authors, claimed on Hardball that Obama has always seen Reagan as a model, even though Sherer admitted in his column that “Reagan would come to epitomize all that Obama opposed”. That is the understatement of the millennium. Allow me to put it like this–Ronald Reagan strongly believed in American exceptionalism, and he would rather have shaved his head with a cheese grater than gone on an Apologolooza/America Sucks world tour or bow to the king of Saudi Arabia. (Maybe Time magazine is confusing President Ronald Reagan with Ron Reagan Jr.)
But enough talking. The video below, made by Citizens United, perfectly demonstrates the real contrasts between the two men better than a hundred more words of blogging ever could.
This Sunday, seven Pastors in Tennessee, 4 of which are in the Nashville area, will endorse a number of candidates for office in this district (TN-05). Among the candidates endorsed will be former Mayor Bill Haslam who is currently running for Governor of the state and David Hall, a businessman who is aiming to oust Rep. Jim Cooper from his Congressional seat.
The article linked above calls it IRS baiting. I call it reasserting our civil rights. The article author looks at this from a one sided view citing “a line between church and state.”
But many mainstream churches recoil from the idea of erasing the line between church and state.[…]
Other ministers and organizations have weighed in on the subject, including Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Land said the church endorses many of the ADF’s initiatives, but “we think the mixing of the sacred nature of the church with the exceedingly worldly nature of politics is … unseemly.”[…]
Lewis Lavine, president of the Center for Nonprofit Management in Nashville, is familiar with the balancing act churches and other nonprofit groups must maintain when they stray near the political arena.
“We have separation of church and state in this country for a reason,” Lavine said. “There should be parameters, and there should be common sense.”[…]
The ADF’s polar opposites, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, issued a statement this week calling pulpit-based lawbreaking “the worst idea ever.”
“Clergy serve as spiritual advisers, not political bosses. Pulpit politicking violates federal tax law and offends the vast majority of church-goers,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the group’s executive director.
“The nation is already bitterly divided over politics this year. … Now, Religious Right political hacks want to haul that divisiveness into America’s houses of worship.
Of course, calling political opposition, Religious Right political hacks isn’t the least bit divisive, is it? Oh no, not divisive at all.
Most people who don’t live in a cave are probably somewhat familiar with the left’s recent attacks on Christine O’Donnell. First, it was that she was against masturbation in 1995, now it’s that she dabbled in witchcraft when she was in high school. (No, seriously, I’m not making this stuff up–these people are just that pathetic.)
Now, granted, Bill Maher (the man who first engaged in this attack on O’Donnell) is obviously trying to paint Christine O’Donnell as crazy or out of the mainstream, by implying that she’s some sort of a secret witch. (Wait–I’m confused. First she was a radical Christian who was against masturbation, and now, she’s a witch? Which one is it?) However, Bill Maher is one to talk about others being out of the mainstream. First of all, this guy is perpetually surrounded by a coterie of skanks, and his look is free-clinic chic, to say the least. Second of all, Maher dressed up as the Crocodile Hunter for Halloween, after the guy had tragically died from a stingray piercing his heart. To say that was “in bad taste” is the understatement of the millennium. And finally, Maher referred to Bristol Palin as a “Hillbilly Heroine” on his TV show (see embed below).
So, my response to people who say that we should take Bill Maher’s accusations of witchcraft seriously: really? We should listen to this degenerate with regard to which candidates we support?! (No I’m not shouting–I’m growling.)
A quick set of links that create a very ugly picture. For Democrats, that is.
Democrats against tax hikes. One commenter said it right:
Either the tax cuts are wrong or they’re right. You spend half the year calling them “George Bush’s evil tax cuts”, then the other half of the year saying they need to be extended. All so you can keep your jobs. It isn’t the raising or not raising the taxes that are going to send you all packing (well, not only that). It’s the lying, two-faced, pandering that you all do.
They were against it before they were for it before they were against it. Who knew? Isn’t this kind of what happens when you vote on something you can’t be bothered to read? And they think we’re the dummies.
There’s not enough money to fix this problem, Ms. Speaker. Few seats are safe these days. If by some chance, the Democrats do retain a majority in the House, there are some who want to see Pelosi de-gavelled. It seems John Dennis isn’t the only one who thinks of Pelosi this way:
You can smell the desperation in the air.
In 2008, you voted for change with Barak Obama(click TN on the map). You didn’t get what was promised in the easy campaign slogan. Instead you’ve gotten the shaft: high unemployment and bigger government.
Somebody during the 2008 presidential campaigns asked: “Are you better off today than you were 4 years ago?” It wasn’t Obama who asked that question but I believe the answer is a fairly clear, “No.” We are not better off, quite a bit worse off, and it looks to be getting worse than worse. After doing everything it could to grow the deficit to grow government, putting more than double the Bush years unemployment rate out of work, the government is going to shrink the deficit by spending for Unions and Teachers by cutting back on food stamps. It was such a success, they want to repeat it to fund another initiative.
Is this the change you voted for? How about some real change in your own backyard, Nashville? If you’re tired of being handed the same old promises, election year after election year for decades, why do you keep punishing yourselves? Continue reading
Eh, not so much. This is Cooper.
Nevertheless, the Nashville Democrat planned to vote in favor of the $1.1 trillion package.
“My vote is not an endorsement of all the provisions of the bill because I find much of the bill to be deeply flawed,” Cooper said in a written statement issued during Saturday night’s debate. The bill passed in the House late Saturday night.
“There is little chance that (the House bill) will become law due to the long legislative process.”
His reasoning seems to be it won’t pass the Senate or a “passing of the buck.” He also stated he was voting for it “to advance the cause of health care reform by forcing the Senate to act.”
What if he is wrong?
What he voted for was this:
… who has not had health insurance coverage
or coverage under an employment-based health plan
for at least the 6-month period immediately preceding the date of the individual’s application for high-risk pool coverage under this section.(pg 18, HR 3962)
So, what is said in public is not backed up in the bill they support. How many people with cancer can wait 6 months for treatment? In spite of the rhetoric and sob stories, Congress isn’t going to do anymore for the people than the insurance companies will do.
“Without passage of this House bill, the Senate could delay reform indefinitely. That would be the worst possible outcome because our current health care system is not sustainable,” he said.
Did you know there’s a matching funds requirement?
(2) MATCHING FUND REQUIREMENT.—
(A) IN GENERAL.—Subject to subparagraph
(B), no grant may be awarded to a State unless the State demonstrates the seriousness of its effort by matching at least percent of the grant amount through non-Federal resources, which may be a combination of State, local, private dollars from insurers, providers, and other private organizations.(pg 75, HR 3962)
The federal government will raise taxes to pay for this and the states will be forced to play along. Why is it that every time the federal government decides to interfere with something, it means hardship for the respective states? How is your state placed in this economic downturn? Will you be able to afford all the new taxes?
And, yes, Cooper voted for this:
Never mind individual circumstances that might preclude buying a $15,000 dollar policy which is the cheapest one can buy. Never mind the waiting periods for pre-existing conditions. Never mind the cuts to Medicare into which retirees and future retires have poured billions of dollars over decades. Never mind that a 5 year jail sentence is a death sentence to some. Never mind that with that death sentence it means someone will die for someone else’s sense of entitlement. Please, just never mind all the negatives. Just look over here at the cherries. Cherries come with pits and we’re expected to swallow the pits with the fruit… and like it even if it kills us.
And the excuse, as always, is: “To move it forward.” How many times have we heard that from both sides of the aisle? Does anything get moved forward other than bigger government, more intrusion into our private lives, and more authority over our individual labors toward the American Dream?
Oh, and did I tell you he’s the lone Tennessee vote? I’m sure I must have.
I have no understanding of what it means to be a Blue Dog Democrat if Jim Cooper is supposed to be a prime example. I suppose what it used to mean is no longer what it means. Perhaps, we need a new term for them: BDINO (Blue Dog In Name Only).
Oh and speaking of Blue Dog Democrats, remember that Owens fellow in NY23 who was supposed to be more conservative than Scozzafava, whom she endorsed over a real conservative candidate? He broke four campaign promises within an hour of being sworn in.
Perhaps we should call them what they really are: Liars. There’s no such creature as a Blue Dog Democrat. They’re myths just like their campaign promises.
To say all politicians lie is to admit to apathy and helplessness. When are we going to expect more of the people we pay to represent us? We do not pay them to cater to the Nancy Pelosi’s of Congress. We do not pay them to serve their own self-interest over the interests of the people for whom they work.
Now that I’ve rambled in the NY23 territory let’s get back to Cooper. Did I tell you that Cooper was the lone vote from Tennessee? I was wrong. I suppose two out of seven isn’t bad.
It is small comfort to have only the hope that it is indeed D.O.A. in the Senate as is being claimed. Cooper’s own words imply that is the hope when he says it’s “to advance the cause of healthcare”, which is the equivalent of saying, “The dog ate my homework.”
Hope is cold comfort if you’re one of the ones who may end up sitting in a jail cell because Congress is full of cowards.