Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who was executed for his opposition to the Nazis. This month, on the 70th anniversary of his death, Germany looked back at his important legacy.
His teachings and writings greatly influenced Christian dissidents in the U.S. civil rights movement, anti-Apartheid activists in South Africa and church-led opposition to communism in eastern Europe during the Cold War. He also contributed to the development of Christian ecumenism.
Mr. Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, a town which today is located in Poland and known as Wrocław. His parents were religious, but not actively practicing and didn’t attend church very often. Their relationship to Christianity was friendly but distant.
Mr. Bonhoeffer’s father was a professor for neurology and psychiatry. When his son told him he wanted to study theology, his response was simply “a shame for you,” son. Later he said that he expected his son to live a quiet pastoral life, but had been “greatly mislead” by that perception.
Throughout his teachings and letters Dietrich Bonhoeffer insisted that Christianity and politics are inseparable from one another. And so he helped in a plot against Hitler, a move for which he was later convicted and hanged on April 9, 1945, just three weeks before Hitler committed suicide.
Mr. Bonhoeffer strongly believed that the church and Christians have a responsibility to interfere with secular events and politics when they lose touch with Christian values. The church needs to intervene to underline the government’s responsibility towards the people. The church is also responsible for helping people in the community that become victims of their government, such as refugees today. It also needs to object when things get out of hand.