I’ve been watching each day as the Egyptian people protest their own government and demand the right of self-rule. At the same time I’m reading Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer. It’s a strange combination which has somehow been fruitful. The similarities are interesting. In 1933 when the Nazi party was passing sweeping reform in their country, including the systematic oppression of Jews, Bonhoeffer began to speak out against their policies. I am by no means meaning to compare Mubarak to Hitler – not at all. However, I think Bonhoeffer’s experience with the state can teach us transferable lessons. What follows are just a few Bonhoeffer quotes interspersed with some of my thoughts about them – these are from a sermon he gave, and a paper he wrote. Both were soundly rejected by the German Christians, and served as the beginning foundation for what would soon come to be called the Confessing Church.
In regard to the vital role the church must play for the state, Bohnoeffer said the church, “Must continually ask the state whether its action can be justified as legitimate action of the state, i.e., as action which leads to law and order, and not to lawlessness and disorder.” Should the state begin to overstep its bounds, go too far, or enact what Bonhoeffer called “excessive law and order,” then “the state develops is power to such an extent that it deprives Christian preaching and Christian faith… of their rights.” And thus the church, “must reject this encroachment of the order of the state precisely because of its better knowledge of the state and of the limitations of its action. The state which endangers the Christian proclamation negates itself.” In other words, the church – simply by being the church – will always be charged with helping keep the state accountable to be the state; no more no less. The state can neither negate the church, nor seize control of it as Hitler did soon after these words were written. The church must be allowed to critique its government – to keep it honest and just.
This is the part which most blows me away. Bonhoeffer discussed the role of the Christian church in regard to those who are being persecuted unfairly by the state. In what came to be seen as a radical leap, Bonhoeffer asserted that Christians were required by their faith to “aid the victims of state action.” It was his belief that the church “has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community.” His argument was in regard to the Jewish people in Germany in 1933. But I think it may well be made about the people of Egypt in 2011 and our relationship to them as Christians. Bonhoeffer’s argument was that Christians are required to help the victims of any unjust society on the basis of the faith of the Christian, not the faith of the people they endeavor to help.
This seems to me to be enough reason to justify supporting the revolutionary efforts of those in Egypt, who seem to have legitimate grievances.