Paul Tillich, who was also vocal in his opposition to the Nazis, was one of the first non-Jews to be banned from teaching in Germany's universities in 1933 (as an aside, Tillich's mother died of cancer when he was 17 years old). After being fired, Tillich was invited by Reinhold Niebuhr to teach at the Union Theology Seminary in the New York City, the same institution where Bonhoeffer had spent a year in post-graduate studies.
Both Tillich and Bonhoeffer mightily impressed me when I first discovered their writings during my studies at EPBC in the early 70s. In retrospect, I guess it isn't too surprising that I was destined to abandon Pentecostalism as I continued my education in history and philosophy, first at Trent University and later at the University of Waterloo.
But after eventually leaving the confines of a strict fundamentalism, the attraction and interest in the theology and example of Tillich and Bonhoeffer continued ... in fact, it continues today, even though I no longer consider myself a Christian; that is, unless one can say alongside Bonhoeffer that "God is teaching us that we must live as men who can get along very well without Him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us." ... or... "God as a working hypothesis in morals, politics, and science ... should be dropped, or as far as possible eliminated" (Letters and Papers from Prison).
Despite his pacifism and ideological opposition to murder, Bonhoeffer eventually became convinced that Hitler had to be assassinated both to save the Jews and to preserve Germany from the madness of the Nazis. Even though he was arrested in April 1943, he was eventually connected with the July 20 Plot of 1944 to assassinate Hitler, and was hanged on 9-April-1945 in Flossenburg, just three weeks before that city was liberated. Bonhoeffer is commemorated on 9th of April each year by some churches like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Church of England, and the Church in Wales.
One of Paul Tillich's close friends was the theologian James Luther Adams, someone who worked in the German Confessing Church in 1935 and 1936 alongside Bonhoeffer, who was then arrested by the Gestapo, and then returned to the United States. In the early 1980s, as Pat Robertson and other televangelists began their campaign for a new political religion in the United States, he breathed a warning to his students about the threat of christo-fascism implicit in the ideology of Christian dominionists like Robertson (see Chris Hedges account in American Fascists, pp 194ff).
Adams believed that sometime before 2030, the United States would be faced with the dismantling of an open society and democratic institutions by right-wing Christian organizations. Effete liberals and mainline churches didn't stand a chance against the utopian, fantastic madness of those masterminding the new movement. He advised his students at Harvard Divinity School not to be blinded by intellectual snobbery, but to stand up like Bonhoeffer and fight against the creeping totalitarianism of christo-fascists.
Is the threat real? If so, what do we do? How do we conceptualize the threat? Here's a start:
The rise of christo-fascism in America is something like the cancer process. Cancer is characterized by three features:
- disorderly and uncontrolled growth
- invasion beyond borders into neighbouring tissues and organs
- spread to distant organs and tissues (metastasis)
This is similar to what we are witnessing in North America today with the organizations of the Christian right wing. Focus on the Family, Christian Zionists, Council for National Policy, Trinity Broadcasting Network, DeVos Foundation, Family Research Council, National Religious Broadcasters - these are only a few of the pillars of the movement.
They are like cancer and deserve early detection and surgical intervention from those who, like Bonhoeffer, are willing to see the true nature of the enemy and to stand against this perversion of both Christian tradition and true democracy. This is one way to conceive the fight. I'm sure there are many more.
But fight we must. We must expose the mythology, unmask the politics, invite debate, challenge the assumptions, protect separation of church and state ... in other words, don't pretend, don't be blind, don't be seduced.