Two realities seem as evident and disastrous today as in the time of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Idolatrous Religion & Racism.
The former is an experience of religion built upon arrogant orthodoxy that centers performance and piety as the means by which God’s attention and affection can be seduced.
The latter is a set of behaviors that actively seeks to diminish the worth of another. Yet racism is not based on hatred. Rather, as Ibram X. Kendi argues, it is an unnatural hierarchy of humanity designed and weaponized by the powerful to accumulate and protect their interests at high cost to others.
These two factors, when braided together, become a lethal contagion that has been far more devasting than global wars and pandemics combined. While not isolated to Christianity, the continuous fusion of idolatrous religion with racism has caused Christianity to be among the deadliest religions on the planet.
Every time that I’ve walked the hallowed halls of Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, I am undone by the scale and scope of the Third Reich’s innovative violence. As is true of every museum, this sacred space of remembrance has a very clear message:
“The world tried to exterminate us, yet we survived.”
One of the features that make Yad Vashem stand out among global museums is the way in which the curators have made the genocide deeply personal. Each exhibition invites the guest into unthinkable devastation by offering stories of the individuals who both perished and survived.
In my initial journey through the museum, the personal stories of the women, men, and children broke me open to a severe awakening.
Many of the Nazis were Lutherans. They were Christians.
Among other factors, the fusion of idolatrous religion and racism had caused German Christians to move beyond polite indifference and forcible exclusion to the willful endorsement of and participation within Jewish extermination.
In the years just before the devastation of the Holocaust there already existed a sense of German Christian elitism. Lutheranism was the predominant expression of Christianity and Bonhoeffer had emerged as a prodigy theologian within the tradition. Unique to his approach was the conviction that Christianity found its credibility not in orthodoxy alone, but in its fusion with orthopraxy.
Within a tradition that sought to center rigid adherence to intellectual assent, Bonhoeffer centered Christ. He “differentiated between Christianity as a religion…and following Christ.” He emphasized the message of grace and the distinction of the Christian religion being that it “preaches the infinite worth of that which is worthless and the infinite worthlessness of that which is seemingly so valued.”
As one could imagine, in a milieu where idolatrous religion and racism were already being fused, Bonhoeffer’s lectures received both positive and negative responses. Yet his theological journey alongside his boldness in articulating this message of embodiment and embrace was still theoretical.
He was smart, articulate, and in process.
In short time, informed by another immersion, this time in New York City, Bonhoeffer’s theological musings would sink into his life and leadership. What happened in New York City would eventually cost Bonhoeffer his life.
 Kendi, How to be an Antiracist, 42.
 Metaxas, Bonhoeffer, 84.
 Ibid., 85.