Sunday, December 01, 2019

Separation of Church and State?

Author John Hendrix has been awarded a 2018 Illustrators Gold Medal for his artistic work and "The Faithful Spy" would clearly have to be recognized. His artwork and design of this book, quickly draws the reader into the life of pastor, activist, and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The art makes the book read with the fast pace a novel.

Bonhoeffer has been a keen interest of mine for almost twenty-five years, having written a dissertation on his life and work. Hendrix’s most recent Young Adult book is an excellent retelling of Bonhoeffer’s involvement in the failed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Hendrix uses a blend of the graphic novel style with well researched history to create an interesting and approachable account of Bonhoeffer’s mixture of theology and activism. As a Christian passivist, Bonhoeffer’s decision to participate in the attempt to assassinate Hitler was an agonizing one and Hendrix’ account the pastor’s pain extraordinarily clear.

Bonhoeffer was a fascinating character on the European theater leading to and during World War II. He challenged the authority of his government and church; both which had become complicit in Hitler’s autocratic reign of terror. Bonhoeffer spoke out against anti-Semitism, racism, and the insidious intertwining of nationalism and religion early in Hitler’s rise to power. His part in the assassination attempt led to his execution by the Nazi’s. Hendrix’s telling of the story is straightforward and without bias.

Only in the “Author’s Note” at the end of the book does Hendrix mention any personal motivation for writing the book at this time in history. He writes that Bonhoeffer’s story “demonstrates how quickly a good and noble people can become infatuated with hatred. It is not a lesson for Germany alone…The line between national decency and a descent into fear and hatred is, and always will be, razor thin. Any nation that assumes it is too righteous to fall into these same sins will risk making the mistakes that Germany did in the 1930’s.” Such is fair warning for America.

One scene missing, however, from Hendrix beautiful book is the infamous picture of the Nazi flag draped across a Christian altar. The chilling snapshot more than reveals how far down into political darkness the church would travel to protect its existence. I wonder why Hendrix left this most telling picture out of book. Personally, I’m disturbed by the countless number of United States Christian churches that are willing to place the American flag on their altars. Who are they worshipping? On whose strength are they relying? What history might they be willing to repeat for the sake of their survival? I thought America was built on the separation of church and state and in God we Trust. Is that still so?

Hendrix’s book is well worth sharing with young adults and their parents alike. And anyone else who might need a reminder of what autocratic leadership looks like.

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