Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. Sojourner Truth

Our Lenten journey is rapidly drawing to a close, friends. Yesterday in a hotly contested matchup between Constance and Julian of Norwich, Julian prevailed 55% to 45%. She will meet the winner of today's Faithful Four battle between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Sojourner Truth for the Golden Halo.

To make it to the Faithful Four, Bonhoeffer defeated Athanasius, Barnabas, and Columba while Truth made it past Soren Kierkegaard, Frances Joseph-Guudet, and Absalom Jones.

In the last in-season episode of Monday Madness, Tim and Scott discuss the millions of blank mugs sitting in a warehouse just waiting to be graced with the image of the 2016 Golden Halo Winner. Among other things.

After today, the scene will be set for the Championship Round on the Wednesday of Holy Week, aka "Spy Wednesday." In the meantime, go vote!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

unnamed-2As we begin Holy Week reflecting on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man whose lifetime could have overlapped mine if only he had been less courageous and committed to living a fully Christian life, I find myself queasy. Queasy over his gruesome death at Flossenbürg only days before that death camp would be freed by the allied soldiers. Queasy over my knowledge that much as I wish it weren’t true, I wouldn’t have his courage.

Bonhoeffer came from a privileged family where a life of music, scholarship and travel was the norm. Yet when the German Evangelical Church welcomed the Nazi regime into power, Bonhoeffer joined the “Confessing Church” in protest. He began teaching at Finkenwalde, a Confessing Church seminary. But in 1937 the Nazis declared the teaching of these students illegal. After two years of being banned from teaching and even from public speaking, Bonhoeffer left Germany to teach at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

Within a few weeks he felt that he had made a mistake and made plans to return to his homeland. His New York friends, fearing for his safety, encouraged him to continue doing God’s work of teaching and preaching far from the threatening Nazi regime. But, he opted to go back to Germany knowing of the dangers.

At about this time, Bonhoeffer’s brother-in-law, Hans von Dohnanyi was employed in the Nazi’s military intelligence office. In 1940, D
dsc_3299ohnanyi arranged for Bonhoeffer’s employment in his office. But while in this role he was assisting with the resistance movement. As part of this work, he and his brother-in-law amassed large financial donations ear-marked to help Jewish people escape Germany and other Nazi-occupied countries. It was by tracking these funds that the Nazis found out about their resistance work and had both men arrested, ultimately leading to their deaths.

After the war, ordinary German people, many of whom considered themselves to be Christians, said that they were unaware of the extermination of millions of people. They didn’t speak out against the atrocities because for years they had been stirred into a frenzy of hatred and fear of the “other.” Did they not really know what was happening to those families who were disappearing? Did they not really know what was happening in those camps?

Of course, they didn’t have 24/7 news cycles and social media as we do today. We don’t have an excuse to ignore those who stir up hatred and fear. As Christians, we must speak out against those who create dissent because of fear of people of another faith tradition or those speaking another language. As we worship in this Holy Week, we are called to follow Jesus. And we have the added benefit of having Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s example to follow. His witness and courage spans the decades, challenging us in this 21st century culture of “us” versus “them.” I pray that we will heed his message.

-- Beth Lewis

Sojourner Truth

unnamed-3When I started researching Sojourner Truth, I knew about what a 5th grader knows while doing a basic report for Black History Month: she was an ex-slave in early America, and gave a famous speech about women’s rights. She had that catch phrase, “Ain’t I a woman?” which made her sound folksy, like someone you’d want to drink a beer with.

What I did not expect was how stone cold brilliant she was. She spoke Dutch and English fluently. She spoke extemporaneously about political and social issues with more persuasion than men like Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. She carved out a place and a name for herself with little more than her wits. Her words remain as wise, as relevant, and as slyly funny as they were in the 19th century. (“Oh no, honey,” she said once. “I can’t read little things like letters. I read big things like men.”)

Sojourner was so prescient as to be eerie. Her advocacy of prison reform, for the abolition of capital punishment, for the rights of women, and for Black women specifically, reflect concerns that few others were talking about at the time, but would occupy American politics years in the future (and continue to occupy us today). Before the end of the Civil War, she asserted that newly-freed slaves would need reparations, and access to the property that had been confiscated from former Confederates, because otherwise they would be restricted to sharecropping, and other forms of economic slavery. (She was right).

But it would be a grave mistake to relegate Sojourner to being only a social activist. She did everything she did because of her unshakeable faith in unnamed-4Jesus Christ, and in her identity as a beloved and chosen child of God. She walked away from her life in bondage because Jesus told her to go. She changed her name because Jesus told her she had a job to seek the truth. She traveled the country, preaching the Good News of the equality that was the reality in God’s kingdom, and how to make that a reality in the kingdoms of the world. And she fought, tooth and nail, to live her life to make that true. Her every action was grounded in her faith in Christ.

I cannot imagine being in Sojourner’s shoes. Her life was filled with tragedy from a young age; not to mention what she faced from society at large. Yet, in the face of all that was arrayed against her, Sojourner held on to her faith, and her vision of Jesus called this world to, and with her heart fixed on these, she left us an incredible example, leading the way to a new world. After all, in her own words, “The truth is powerful, and will prevail.”

Vote Sojourner.

-- Megan Castellan

[poll id="170"]

Bonhoeffer: Statue outside of St. Peter's Church, Hamburg; Bonhoeffer Flossenburg Memorial  
Truth: Statue in Battle Creek, MI


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218 comments on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer vs. Sojourner Truth”

  1. In 1940 Walter Benjamin wrote that the Angel of History was trapped in the wind of “progress”: “a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them.” In 2009 Leonard Pitts wrote about an encounter between a white man and a black man. One was flaunting a Confederate flag and mouthing yahoo stuff. The other carried a gun. Words were exchanged; a shot was fired. Pitts commented that neither black nor white had a vision in which the other could exist with dignity. A week ago Rebecca Solnit wrote about Alex Nieto, gunned down in San Francisco by police for looking like a “gang” member in his ‘49ers outfit. This very day the Holocaust continues each time the Israeli army pushes a Palestinian Arab family out of their house in the encroachments of the Israeli Occupation and the settlement movement. We live in a corrupt world economic order. Who can help us treat the Other as human and thereby do our small part to usher in the kingdom of God? Bonhoeffer points to the centrality in the gospel of the action of “forebearing.” The ministry of “bearing” is accepting—and rejoicing in—the other person’s freedom to be fully human, with all his tics and flaws. “It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother.” Today our burden—both contemplative and activist—is to turn the angel’s face forward so that we all, together, see a future with justice.

      1. Sojourner wins the vote from me. She faced insurmountable odds and kept on keeping on. Bonhoeffer is great, too. It was a hard choice, but in the end, Sojourner won out.

      2. May I respectfully suggest that some people -- fortunately not St.C, it seems -- would take "misguided" as a fighting word. Plain "I think you're wrong about the Israelis" would actually be less inflammatory. Though I'm sure you meant nothing by it.

  2. I voted for Sojourner Truth because she was a slave and knew Abram Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas

    1. Oliver, I am voting with you. I am impressed that a person as young as you is taking interest in this activity. (Guessing you are the top student in your class.)

    2. I am voting with you too, Oliver! It was hard to choose between Dietrich & Sojourner because each of them are Heroes in my heart but Ms. Truth received my vote.

    3. Going with you today Oliver. Standing up for The Truth. This was particularly difficult because both of them speak so clearly to the troubles of the world today and both of them were tireless in their devotion to living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whichever of them wins today, we are all winners to have both of these saints as witnesses for our lives and our journey.

      1. I so agree that this was tough and we are truly blessed to have learned about both of them.

    1. I have been cheering for Bonhoeffer, suspecting that it would be a close race. I looked at the results and even at the vote of Oliver, Aged 8, and still voted for Bonhoeffer. It was the closest race so far, but I voted for Bonhoeffer because he returned to Germany voluntarily, following the call of his Lord, who said, "Greater love has no one than to lay down his life for his friends." Bonhoeffer did so, knowing that it might require him to flesh out the title of his most famous book.

      1. Both Deitrich Bonhoeffer and Sojourner Truth faithfully followed the One who is the Truth and the Life. And both stood for the truth, in the face of evil. But I am voting for Bonhoeffer because he stood for truth in the face of the apostasy of the majority of the Church in Germany, because he heeded God's call to return to Germany even though he knew exactly what he would face when he returned, and because he was faithful to the true gospel and to the Lord even unto death. As inspiring as the faith, life, and ministry of Sojourner Truth is (and I am still amazed that she won a court case against her former owner!), I have to vote for a 20th century martyr. May we all have the courage to stand for the truth of the gospel and to be willing to pay "the cost of discipleship," as he did!

    2. Exactly. I don't know one can choose between these two, but I am choosing Bonhoffer, because he knew exactly what he was returning to when he came back to Germany. He faced down the worst kind of evil human beings have produced -- as did Sojourner, whose faith was such that I am sure she too would have given her life for all if faced with that necessity.

  3. Both of these saints are amazing and I'm so happy I've learned more about them, but I'm going with the sisterhood today. Very very tough choice.

  4. What a difficult choice! The similarity in their proactive ministries to save and serve the marginalized from abuse and death strikes me as never before. And what's more, both were trying to save people from ethnic discimination - save the victims and convert the perpetrators from their evil. And so it is that I vote for Sojourner who was for her entire life up against terrible odds and yet always kept the faith - she did not just survive, she prevailed. And as a Black woman. Today she is my heroine.

    1. I voted for Bonhoeffer, but I agree with your comment about the similarity in their ministries, in that both sought "to save the marginalized from abuse and death." Against almost anyone else, I would have voted for Sojourner Truth, but I had to vote for Bonhoeffer, one of the most courageous martyrs for the Lord to the evil that was Nazi Germany. May we all have the courage to stand against evil, as both Bonhoeffer and Truth did!

  5. I keep thinking about how we "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being." Sojourner Truth really did that. I pray we do too.

  6. This was a truly very difficult choice. Both were such incredibly gifted and passionate witnesses to Truth. I think because if where our culture finds itself at this time, Bonhoeffer spoke most deeply to me...thus I voted for him.

    1. My thoughts as well. We also must have their courage, in each of their arenas. My fears surrounding current politics tipped my vote to Bonhoeffer.

  7. I voted for Sojourner Truth also. I am sorry I couldn't vote for both her and Bonhoeffer, but in this particular election, thanks be to God, the choices are not glaringly stark. Although in Christ there is no East or West, no North or South, I want at least one Sainted Someone from this hemisphere.

  8. Their words and their actions speak to us this very day on every side, in every newspaper, on every e-page. There are no losers this day unless we each fail to heed the example of one of these great heroes of the faith. Then we are the losers as is our world.

    1. 6 previous Golden Halos -- 4 men, 2 women. And 1 woman won the only Silver Halo.

    2. As I prepare for Good Friday both of these saints speak to me as people following Christ to the cross by facing down the forces of evil. We need their examples more than ever today!
      Too bad they both can't get our golden halo to add to the ones they already have.

  9. This year has been particularly agonizing, and I think today is the the most agonizing (for me) yet. Both of these tremendous people stood up, at the very real risk of their own lives, for the common humanity of us all, and for Jesus's call that we act upon that knowledge, no matter the personal cost.

  10. Just a side note for posterity. I voted for Dietrich (love his writing!!)...and the tally became 180 votes for DB and 178 votes for SJ. If I'd voted the other way, it would have been an exact tie. This is gonna be a good race to watch today!

    1. Yes, it is going to be an exciting race to watch. And, unlike the presidential race, no matter who wins, he or she will be worthy of the honor.

  11. A difficult decision for sure. I came into this round planning to vote for Sojourner as I have all along. Ms. Lewis made that decision a little tougher with her excellent blog on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But I remain a Sojourner fan.

  12. As we sat in front of the TV this morning watching the news from Brussels, we questioned if there was ever a time where the world was truly at peace. Both Bonhoeffer and Truth exemplify the best of what we can be, but even in this day, we struggle with how to get there. Ultimately, the vote was cast for Bonhoeffer, but both provide inspiration in a world today that needs their wise counsel more than ever.

  13. Again a tough choice! I voted for Sojourner Truth for her work toward dignity for all people, especially the oppressed. However, I also feel that the witness of Bonhoeffer is very important in this time of casting groups of people as "less" and the temptation to ignore actions against immigrant groups or religious groups.

  14. The Truth must prevail. Sojourner Truth lived every day in a society that was not friendly to her sex or race. And she mustered the strength to stand up for what was right. Go SOJO!

  15. As Holy Week 2016 continues, we, here in America have much to be grateful for. However, we are remiss as children of God if we turn our eyes from those who are in harm's way or don't have access to clean water, housing and safety from the dangers of the world. Both of these would be saints (in my eyes it is too hard to make a choice-- are saints to me), they give us hope that in today's crazy world, we will evolve as people of strength, who will REALLY hear the words of Jesus.. To love each other, and to hep each other on the journey.

  16. Oh there is much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth in my house this morning. I'm totally paralyzed in my decision-making. Husband has cheerfully voted for Dietrich and gone on about his day, but I am a mess!

    And there is a about to be a huge Lent Madness-shaped hole in my heart. Lordy, Lordy, Lordy!

    1. I love this idea Peg S. picturing each of them just as inspirationally living the life of the other one. Somehow that is comforting while having to make this impossible choice.

  17. Ever since I read the wonderful bio of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas a few years ago he has been my personal hero. Because of his very personal impact on me there is no contest, no matter whom he faces. What a witness for Jesus!

  18. I voted for St. Clare...oops....knocked out pretty early. So, I have so enjoyed the bios for this season of LM. Today's were very compelling for both worthy candidates. Sometimes, when the choice is difficult, I let Oliver 8 years old lead me. I voted for DB today but would also be delighted with ST for the win. I suspect that the winner of today's vote will also take the Golden Halo. I am a Lent Madness fan and have only missed one vote all season. May all have a wonderful Holy Week and Easter.

  19. The most difficult choice of this voting madness to date. I could not imagine either one as "the other" relegated to a lesser position, both deeply committed to Jesus and to living out the gospel, no matter the cost..

    In the end I voted for Sojourner Truth because I think she'd look better on a Lent Madness Golden Halo Mug. It had to be superficial, as no other contrast showed one rising over the other. No wonder the early voting is tied 50/50.

  20. It was an agonizing decision, but ironically, the tipping factor in favor of Sojourner Truth was in Bonhoffer's essay: "Bonhoeffer came from a privileged family where a life of music, scholarship and travel was the norm." When I considered where Sojourner Truth came from, and how she labored under the dual disadvantage of being an African-American woman, my choice was clear.

    1. I voted for DB because he passed through the eye of the needle, and gave up all to walk the talk.

    2. Melanie,
      I was thinking the exact same thought.

      And in this age in our culture when racism continues to wreak havoc with our democracy, I had to go with Sojourner. I can't help but think that Bonhoeffer would have, too.

      Both are amazing examples of the faith, but the added weight of race makes Sojourner all the more impressive. I preached a sermon about race recently (long story as I'm a lay person) and borrowed a beautiful line from Walter Brueggemann about obedience.

      Brueggeman says obedience is “engaging in a life that embraces the large intentions of YHWH, which are marked by compassion, mercy and forgiveness.” I love that definition and so admire how both of these saints lived their lives embracing "the large intentions of YHWH."

  21. What happens in case of a tie? This is indeed a difficult decision. I am led to vote for Bonhoeffer. Having had family who lived in Europe during the Holocaust, he is a powerful example for me and for all of us. If we forget the past, history WILL repeat itself. I would hope that we can learn from the past, and learn to accept ALL people as members of God's Family.

  22. SusanLee, I wish I were more like your husband and could just make this impossible choice and get on with my day, but I will come back a later this evening to cast my vote.

  23. A tough, tough choice, but as with yesterday I just go with the one who has shaped my journey for many years, Bonhoeffer. If he wins today, I have no idea how I will choose between him and Julian. But Sojourner is very worthy, too.

    1. I struggled with this one. Considering the state of the nation and the world right now, I came down on the side of Bonhoeffer whose example is so very needed.