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February 29, 2008


Wes Ellis

Great stuff!
I've been taking a class called "theologies of liberation" and it has been challenging me in many ways. An assertion that liberation theology usually makes is that change must happen fast, or else the oppressive systems we are trying to liberate from will adapt and continue to oppress. This change, some liberation theologians might suggest, must happen violently sometimes. This has caused me, someone who considers himself a pacifist of sorts, to question how correct this thinking is. Change does have to happen fast sometimes, but doesn't violence just breed more violence? I have been specifically questioning how I should think about Bonhoeffer's action against Hitler, especially sense he was formerly a pacifist. Shane's quote, "the cross lost when that bomb went off," is very helpful.

Derek Rishmawy

A few points:

The fact of the matter is that violence actually did stop Hitler. The U.S. especially, the Brits, and the Russians finally beat the German war machine and so Hitler killed himself. If it were not for the willingness of the Allied forces to fight and use "violence" or force, Hitler would have simply overrun Europe and continued his extermination of the Jews and everything else. Hitler simply could not be stopped any other way short of Jesus returning.

Another thing about Claiborne's analysis is that it's kind of wrong in that, in fact, if the bomb had killed Hitler, things would have changed. A monster's reign would have ended and the process and possibly even the war would have ended earlier. The fact that it didn't is kind of a posteriori, semi-utilitarian argument.

Also, there's an interesting quote of Bonhoeffer's that I found in an Article by Jurgen Moltmann (Total stud), called "Racism and the Right to Resist." He's talking about precisely the issue of being willing to take "responsible action" in love for men. He speaks of the "structure of responsible action" being a "readiness to incur guilt":
"Jesus took upon himself the guilt of all men, and for that reason every man who acts responsibly becomes guilty. If any man tries to escape guilt in responsibility...he cuts himself off from the redeeming mysetery of Christ's bearing guilt without sin and he has no share in the divine justification...He sets his own personal innocence above his responsibility for men, and he is blind to the more irredeemable guilt which he incurs precisely in this: he is blind also to the fact that real innocence shows itself precisely in a man's entering into the fellowship of guilt for the sake of other men."

Moltmann goes on to say that the principle of non-violence in some tyrannical situations and failure to take action can lead to those more "irredeemable" sins of omission by which we allow the evil of these tyrannies to continue unchecked and unchallenged.


Derek, thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights. As always, they challenge me to think more. I hear what you're saying, Derek. In my wrestling with this, I can't seem to escape a few things:

While an argument can be made for violence based upon the "German war machine," the question needs to be asked - what was left undone before the full escalation of the war on the part of the Germans and the Allied forces that could have circumvented the destruction that took place? With all the lives that were taken in the world, both civilian and military, does not the statement that violence only begets more violence" actually hold more true?

In addition, concluding that in some cases we have a moral responsibility to take on guilt, and by using the death of Jesus as an example, appears to me to be an indefensible position. I just have a hard time seeing the death of Jesus as an act condoning the use of violence. It seems to me that Jesus' death was a triumph over violence as it was over the darkness.

I also wonder if we too quickly embrace acts of violence as an inevitable option. I seems often that we believe that non-violence somehow equates to passivity and complicity. I think this is the question of Jesus. Is there a "third way" - the way of active rebellion or active confrontation that sees beyond passivity or acts of violence as the only two options? While tyrannical oppression cannot and should not be allowed to continue, is active violence the only option we are left with?

Again, just stuff I'm wrestling through...

Derek Rishmawy

Yeah, I think there were steps that could have been taken leading up to WW2 that could have avoided war. The Treaty of Versailles could have been an actual treaty and not the harsh piece of revenge exacted by the French and the UK after WW1, Neville Chamberlain and the Allies could have sacked up and forced Hitler to back out of the Rhineland when it first broke the treaty instead of appeasing him, and a number of other things. (Ironically, it was partially because of the efforts of the Pacifists and those who opposed the use of force, that war was actually entered because they encouraged the appeasing policies of those who were not willing to confront Hitler's aggression for the sake of "Peace in our Time.")But, after a certain point, (ie. Hitler's aggression) meeting destructive, conquering violence with defensive force was the necessary action.

As for the 3rd way: Yeah, I've been hearing and reading more and more about the non-violent and yet not passive political option and I have to say that I am thoroughly convinced that it is vastly under-rated. There are amazing things that can be done in non-violent protest and action. That being said, at this point, I am not convinced that this 3rd way is always an option. There are points where doing the right thing means being willing to meet violence with force. (I do not find all violence to be morally equivalent. Force used for the sake of freedom is not the same as force used for the sake of conquest.)

Yeah, the Bonhoeffer quote is interesting in that it exhibits certain odd, German Lutheran variables in interpreting the Cross. I too find his interpretation off. That being said, I do still take his point about being willing to "incur guilt" for the sake of men is an interesting one. Its kind of interesting to think of Paul's wish that he might "cursed and cut off" for the sake of his brothers. (Rom. 9) He wishes that he himself could take their damnation upon himself that they might be saved. In a similar way, those who are willing to incur guilt in "responsible political action" & even make themselves guilty before God for the sake of men, feel the same thing. There is an odd way in which one sacrifices one's own innocence for the lives of others.

I dunno man. Its hard stuff.


I have to disagree that this is a "money quote" and here is why. I'm not going to use all of those fancy $50 words as I'm just a simple probation officer who comes across situations where force is necessary on a daily basis. My first issue with Shane is that the cross has already won. Nothing you nor I, nor Bonhoeffer did or will ever do can change that. And forgive me... but I'm going to double dip a point I made on another blog discussing this very same issue. Here is goes. "But I think what is even more disturbing than this flawed argument is that we again see that the pacifists want to make those who would stand against evil the bad guys. In reading this am I to believe that it was in fact Bonhoeffer and his group who were responsible for Hitler’s actions? Are you serious right now? Sometimes I have to just shake my head and wonder about what goes on in the heads of people who think like this and all I can say is if the day comes (God forbid) that someone they care about is being victimized by a violent person… I hope (and deep down I bet they do to) that someone like me is around who won’t sit back and do nothing. You see, when you sit back and let evil take advantage of innocents it’s humanity that loses… not the Cross."

I say this because the belief that violence only begets more violence is not true. I see it in my job every day. I have a responsibility to my community, my partners and the other offenders in my unit to see that they are safe. When that safety is threatened I am obligated to meet that threat with that force which is necessary to stop it. So if we are using the "V" word... I am in fact stopping violence with violence. "Now, it would be a greater disservice to the name of Christ if I did nothing when force was deemed necessary, especially since my partners know I’m a follower of Christ. I don’t do it out of hate or anger… but out of responsibility for the safety of those around me. And that is the attitude I take outside of my job as well. If I can look at a situation using the brain God gave me and the values of a follower of Christ to determine if innocents is being threatened… you better believe I’m not going to sit by and watch. Love for our enemies does not mean that their actions go unpunished. Turning the other cheek does not constitute the absence of consequences."


Paul, I did not take what was said as implying that Bonhoeffer and his group were responsible for the actions of Hitler. That was most definitely not the point being made. Likewise, there also was no implication that the work of Jesus through the cross and resurrection were somehow nullified. The issue was questioning if the actions of Bonhoeffer were in fact in line with the way of the cross or not. Do the actions of Bonhoeffer display the message of the cross or not. This is not to say that we should do nothing in the face of evil. It is a question of what is the most appropriate action in the face of evil.


First let me introduce. You probably don't remember me but I was one of the proctors at Hume Lake a couple of the summers you came to speak and we loved having you come up to our staff "Overflow" on Wednesday nights. We always appreciated your words and spirit. I've also enjoyed reading many of your thoughts after being pointed in this direction by another blogger (Ryan Walton). But I am going to disagree...again. Reading Claiborne's words it's pretty hard to argue he's not implying that when he says "This (the failed assassination attempt) reinforced Hitler's sense of divine mission at a time when it was wavering and [the failed assassination attempt] encouraged him to carry out his genocidal programs more enthusiastically." Sorry, but knowing what I know about Mr. Claiborne I'm sure that is exactly what he meant. It's the "Violence breeds more violence" view that he holds. Don't get me wrong. Shane has a lot of great things to say...this is just not one of them. I'm not saying he believes Bonhoeffer was responsible for ALL of Hitler's actions, but this line makes it pretty clear Shane is laying SOME responsibility at the feet of Bonhoeffer.


Good stuff. Would love to see you write a post about your personal journey on these issues.

Here is an interesting book on the subject:


I checked out the book, very interesting. I'm thinking of throwing out an idea about reading it together here on the blog...

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