Chaplains view film about martyred pastor
May 10, 2012
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fifty Army, Navy and Air Force chaplains gathered at the Armed Forces Chaplaincy Center May 1 to watch a documentary about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian and Nazi resister who is widely considered a 20th century hero of faith to many in the American Christian and Jewish religious communities.
Bonhoeffer's life story is of a privileged German citizen who, because of his strong religious convictions, served in a resistance movement during the Nazi era. Despite several opportunities to live a more comfortable life safe from persecution, Bonhoeffer chose to help the Jews, whose plight he found unconscionable. He paid for his dedication to that cause with his life. He was executed with fellow conspirators in 1945.
The viewing event was organized by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) William Barbee, the director of the Center for Spiritual Leadership at the Army Chaplain School, who said he thought it was important that chaplains from all services see the documentary.
"It hits at a level where chaplains perform in their ministry," Barbee said. "While we're non-combatant, we support the combatant. (The movie) drove us to the point of 'here, now, today,' not yesterday, and it helps us think about how we face evil, what our response will be."
Before the documentary was shown, Chaplain (Maj.) Henry Soussan, a rabbi at the U. S. Army Chaplain Center and School, gave a presentation on how Bonhoeffer's life marked a fork in the road for Judeo-Christian relations in the Western hemisphere.
"Bonhoeffer's predicament was how to reconcile continued obedience to the state after official institutions had become utterly corrupted and immoral," Soussan said. "This tension led him to reevaluate traditional viewpoints which had been part of German and Christian culture for centuries. The significance of Bonhoeffer therefore lay in his ability to critically question and challenge unjust traditions, while remaining true to his understanding of God's will. Dietrich Bonhoeffer remains the living proof that a human being is able to rise above the confines of time and social values when he is truly and honestly clinging to the infinite wisdom and ultimate demand of the divine in all of us."
The 90-minute film showed some graphic images of Nazi atrocities, sometimes juxtaposed with pictures of Bonhoeffer and of his family. Childhood friends, now elderly, spoke of him and his character fondly. All who spoke of him mentioned his deep religious beliefs and dedication to fulfilling the word of God.
The audience was moved by the film, clapping as the closing credits started rolling. Air Force Chaplain (Maj.) David Kelley explained Bonhoeffer's relevance.
"The film's story, in the factual person and account of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was inspiring and moving because of his connections to faith and Christianity in modern times," Kelley said. "He lived what he preached and was willing to die for those beliefs. This is an inspiration to all who claim to live by faith. As well, the film presented the dilemma that Bonhoeffer faced being a pacifist while conspiring to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Faith is not always easy, and must be lived out under the direction of Divine guidance. Bonhoeffer's life and actions were a testament to his daily faith-walk with God."
"The movie was good because it gave a thumbnail sketch of a man who was dedicated to his faith," said Chaplain (Capt.) Jennifer Rogers-Cooper, a student in the Army's C4 course. "I wish I had studied him (Bonhoeffer) more in seminary because he would have colored my understanding of how Christians resist tyranny."
Present at this viewing was Martin Doblmeier, the film's award-winning director. He participated in a question and answer session after the film, during which he addressed his reasons for making it.
He also talked about his experiences in Germany doing research and meeting Bonhoeffer's friends and family. He said he thought it was especially important to show the film to military chaplains.
"I've been to hundreds of viewings of this film, but never before with Army chaplains," Doblmeier said. "Military chaplains are an extraordinary group of people because they experience almost every day the best and worst of what it means to be human. But chaplains are human, too, and they need confirmation and affirmation in the challenging work they do. I hope they saw in Bonhoeffer someone from a different time yet who struggled with many of the same issues and challenges. In that way I hope the story offered them something inspiring to carry with them on their own faith journey."