Bonhoeffer’s Hundredth

The weekend religion page of the Kansas City Star notes that Saturday was the 100th anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birth. PBS airs a documentary on Bonhoeffer tonight at 9:00 (CST).

My mother-in-law gave me Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Meditations on Psalms for Christmas. One of the messages recorded in that book clearly displays Bonhoeffer’s pacifist beliefs in the early 1930’s. That’s understandable, given Germany’s experience in the Great War and the belligerency behind Germany’s rearming under Hitler. The Kansas City Star recalls, however, that Bonhoeffer eventually became involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. The article asks, “How Far Would You Go to Save Lives.” Bonhoeffer’s support of the allied war against Nazism and his involvement in the assassination plot put him squarely in the ethical realm of Christian realism, not Christian pacifism.

Many have objected – properly – to Pat Robertson’s recent call for the assassination of the Venezuelan president, but they’ve done so on the wrong grounds. The problem is that Robertson’s judgment is wrong, not that violence is never necessary or that Christian clergy should never countenance such a thing. Bonhoeffer reminds us that circumstances sometimes require killing. The question for Christian realists is, “Is violence required now? And if so, in what manner?” These are the jus ad bellum and jus in bello questions.

I see too many Christians mixing pacifist rhetoric with just war theory. Pick one. I find it hard to take seriously an argument that says, “All war is wrong and you’re fighting this one poorly.”