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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dr. Tiller's Murderer Is Not Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Speaking of rigorous German theologians, an eager reader sends me this article about abortion violence, moral reasoning, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The writer, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, confronts questions he's been getting about a possible analogy between the murder of Dr. George Tiller and the violent resistance Bonhoeffer ultimately advocated and conspired in against the Nazi regime.

I find any analogy between Bonhoeffer and a whining, perhaps mentally unbalanced domestic Christian terrorist repugnant. Bonhoeffer is one of my favorite Lutherans. For one thing, he bears a striking resemblance to my Brookings college pal Erik Johnson, not just in looks but, more importantly, in brains. Bonhoeffer took his theology seriously. He had to: he entered his career as a theologian and pastor in the gravest economic and political conditions. He denounced Hitler in a radio address two days after Hitler took the chancellorship. (The radio broadcast was cut off mid-sentence.) His resistance to the Nazi regime never flagged, until the Nazis executed him in April 1945. Even in prison, against seemingly overwhelming power, he fought to keep hope alive with words and big ideas. He is a fascinating historical character, at least as worthy of study (and celebration) as King and Gandhi.

Dr. Mohler agrees with me that Scott Roeder is no Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

So many readers are familiar with Dietrich Bonhoeffer's decision to take action against Hitler. Fewer are familiar with the moral and theological reasoning that led Bonhoeffer, quite reluctantly, to this conclusion. Even then, Bonhoeffer was not certain he was acting rightly. He felt that this decision, made under extreme moral conditions, was the best he could understand.

Other readers have seen the film "Valkyrie," and jump to some of the same conclusions. We must realize that Bonhoeffer did not come to his decision to resort to violence against the regime out of a moral vacuum. He and his brothers and sisters in the Confessing Church had long before come to the conclusion that they must oppose the Nazi regime in totality, risking imprisonment and far worse. It is nothing less than embarrassing to see American Christians make arguments citing Bonhoeffer while they fail to engage his moral and theological reasoning -- and when arguments are based in sloppy analogies from a position of cultural comfort [R. Albert Mohler, Jr., "Moral Reasoning in Light of Wichita," originally published in the Chicago Tribune, 2009.06.07].

Cultural comfort: opponents of legal abortion have numerous avenues to pursue their agenda well short of violence. The ballot box, the press, and the blogosphere are open to their efforts (and mine). We still have free and fair elections, not to mention an active (if blubbering) opposition party.

Mohler notes that Bonhoeffer himself opposed abortion. But Mohler also makes crystal clear that the murder of Dr. George Tiller (and any of the future violence Tiller's suspected murderer says is planned) is wrong:

America is not Nazi Germany. George Tiller, though bearing the blood of thousands of unborn children on his hands, was not Adolf Hitler. The murderer of Dr. George Tiller is no Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Dr. Tiller’s murderer did not serve the cause of life; he assaulted that cause at its moral core.

Ohio blogger and Operation Rescue veteran Julie Bogart further fleshes out that America–Nazi Germany distinction:

First of all, Bonhoeffer's mission to overthrow the Fuhrer was philosophically supported by the similar objectives of a concert of nations in the war effort. Bonhoeffer didn't act as a lone agent of justice, but rather cooperated with a consensus of justice-seeking governments, individuals and organizations bent on ending the evil plot of the Third Reich (a mission created by one individual leading a nation and abusing his power to coerce the extermination of entire races, as well as taking over sovereign nations through acts of war).

Though erroneously called "the culture wars," the debate about abortion is not a war! It isn't even war-like. The right to an abortion is rooted in respect for the individual's ability to exercise choice at the deepest level of personal conviction. The choice to have an abortion is not coerced by a tyrant, but is made within the privacy of an individual woman's heart, in concert with her beliefs, her physician's recommendations and her spiritual/ethical values. To prevent this "choice" is to coerce. Certainly the baby (or fetus - you choose) has no choice and is coerced into birth or death based on that choice (the crux of the debate is really - does the fetus/baby have rights? Not, is it a baby or is it alive?). Still, the question isn't about the abortionist. It's about what individuals believe about conception and pregnancy (which is nothing like the death camps of Nazi Germany!) [Julie Bogart, "Tiller, 'Operation Rescue,' and Bonhoeffer," Julie Unplugged, 2009.06.02].

We should all take heed of Bogart's distinction between our petty cultural bickering and the real war Bonhoeffer had to fight. Dietrich Bonhoeffer engaged in a moral and theological struggle that took enormous courage and ultimately took his life. Scott Roeder took a break from whining about having to buy license plates to walk into an unguarded church and shoot an unarmed man.

Scott Roeder is not Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

1 comment:

  1. An anonymous correspondent agrees that there's a big difference between a fascist autocracy (that would be Nazi Germany) and a free state (that would be us). Almost makes me wish I still took anonymous comments. Almost. :-)


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