During our years in school we are presented with many men and women to admire. Some examples include George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Gandhi.
We are taught of the heroics accomplished on their individual battles, whether it be gaining independence from the British Empire, fighting for women’s suffrage, or otherwise increasing civil rights for huge groups of people.
However, during the first 15 years of my formal education, I never heard of the man whom I have come to regard as a personal hero of faith and justice.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was an outspoken anti-Nazi dissident, church leader in a time when organized religion was being abducted by the state, a voice for the poor and persecuted in his time, and a student of Gandhi’s methods of non-violent resistance. April 9th marked the 68th anniversary of his execution in a Nazi concentration camp.
Bonhoeffer spent time developing his faith in poor neighborhoods in Europe and spending time studying the African-American community during a postgraduate teaching fellowship in Harlem. There he learned a true appreciation for the importance of community. In his book Life Together, he writes about how the Christian community must not live in a fantasy world, ignoring the injustices around them, but must be proactive in addressing and counteracting those wrongs.
Bonhoeffer was hanged for his resistance to a group he knew was abjectly evil, and he stood up to the Nazi government even though, as a white German man, he could have just stayed quiet and made it through the war unscathed.
But he didn’t stay quiet. He didn’t balk in the face of violence, death, and destruction. He cared for his community, and did what he knew to be right.
As I’ve written before, classical liberals often get a bad rep for not caring about the poor. Many think that the libertarian philosophy is, “As long as you let me keep my money, I don’t care what happens to everyone else.” But for many of us, this is simply not true, especially for those of us who subscribe to the reality that government intervention actually hurts people. There is very little getting around the fact that we do live in a community where actions matter, where people matter.
So, while his religious writings are profound, and his sermons awe-inspiring, the reason I view Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a man worth admiring is for his resolute dedication to the people who needed protection from their government, even though he didn’t belong to the same group. It is a resolution that I share.