Bonheoffer, Abortion, and Utilitarian Ethics

Had everything gone according to plan, this post would probably be radically different. But, an oak table leg deflected the blast of a suitcase bomb intended to kill Hitler in the July 20 Plot. The subsequent manhunt for Hitler’s would-be assassins led to the execution of 200 German soldiers and civilians. Dietrich Bonheoffer, pacifistic pastor in the Confessing Church, was one of the civilians in league with the conspirators. He died at the hands of a Nazi execution squad on April 9, 1945.

Was Dietrich Bonheoffer right to involve himself in an assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler? Hitler, the same man who began World War Two. Hitler, the same man who ordered buzz bombs to be targeted at London civilians. Hitler, the same man who solidified power by instituting state-sponsored concentration camps. Hitler, the same man who had killed so many of Bonheoffer’s friends and flock.

If Hitler dies, Hitler goes to hell. And burns there. For all eternity. If Hitler lives, thousands of Jews and others die. They go to hell. And burn there. For all eternity. The stakes are high: eternal destiny.

Romans 13 commands you and me to be “subject to the governing authority.” Verse 3 says “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” Paul seems to say “Be subject to governing authorities because they uphold what is right and punish what is wrong.”  What happens when their moral compass is inverted? What happens when they begin performing exploratory brain surgeries without anesthetics for the sake of research? What happens when governing authorities abandon the moral laws of God and plunges headlong into wickedness which makes humanity cringe?

Paul doesn’t say. There’s no explicit Scriptural mandate. But I think the life of Paul and the other apostles gives us insight into how we, as Christian citizens, should react to horrible governments. Paul and his fellow apostles travelled and preached the gospel until their arrest, then preached the gospel while in prison and on the way to the execution yard, and finally willingly died for their Lord. The Roman government was brutal. Pilate capriciously killed thousands of unbelieving Jews throughout his reign.  Yet never is there a movement toward the elimination of a civil government in an effort to save the lives of both believers and unbelievers alike.

While hiking through the mountains of Big Bear last year, my fellow OMC RAs and Gunner discussed this very topic. I argued that what Bonheoffer did was right. He certainly believed that it was, even being a pacifist (which I certainly am not!). And so, being incredibly hesitant to ever condemn someone from the comfort of my own non-persecuted, comfortable spot on my sofa, I do not think what Bonheoffer did was wisest. I wish we had his perspective. But he died by the sword…maybe as Jesus promised Peter.

Ultimately what changed my mind from that day at Big Bear to the present was a simple, yet horrifying question. If Bonheoffer was right, why don’t we bomb abortion clinics? Since 1970, 40 million infants have been murdered in small, sanitized concentration camps scattered throughout our country. That number sickens me. I hope it sickens you. We’ve systematically killed 31 million more people than Hitler did in the Holocaust. Those who murder children are just as much my enemy as those who murdered the Jews. And Scripture calls me to pray for them. That’s why I have to say Bonheoffer was wrong. What do you think?

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2 responses to “Bonheoffer, Abortion, and Utilitarian Ethics”

  1. Andrew C says :

    I agree with you 100%. Providentially, my pastor back in Bakersfield was preaching through this very passage in Romans 13 when I was last there. He brought up what Bonhoeffer had done and came to the same conclusion. The end simply does not justify the means.

    Not to hijack your thread, but here’s a follow up question: Say Bonhoeffer somehow fled Germany and joined the United States military during WWII. Would he then, as an allied solider, have been justified in an attempt to assassinate Hitler?

  2. Andrew C says :

    I just remembered, there’s a excellent biblical example of this (that my pastor referenced) in 1 Samuel 24. David had every “right” by normal standards to kill Saul. God had even promised that he would be king, but David submitted to the authority that God had placed over him.

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