Stop Singing: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abortion and the Church Today

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian who lived and worked in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer lived a courageous life, and is considered one of the most influential Christians of the 20th century, even though there are sadly many Christians who know nothing or very little about him.

Bonhoeffer was one of the Christians brave enough to speak out against the holocaust, when the general German Christian response at the time was apathy or even complicity. Bonhoeffer had a rare boldness, a fiery courage that only God can give. He spoke sternly against the church’s apathy concerning the holocaust. Perhaps one Bonhoeffer’s most controversial statements was something he said to a group of seminary students he was teaching. He remarked that “Only those who cry out for the Jews may also sing Gregorian chant.” Only those who cried out on behalf of the oppressed could sing in church. This concept is reminiscent to the daring words of Amos the prophet, speaking on God’s behalf:

Amos 5:23-24
“Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing

To not speak out on behalf of the oppressed was hypocrisy, and God made it clear that all our worship means nothing to Him if we do not speak His truth and share His love. We are as those who honor Him with our lips, but worship other gods with the rest of our bodies. We may praise Him with our song, but deny Him by our silence.

Bonhoeffer also had strong words about abortion. In one of his most important works, Ethics, he writes:

“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”

Far be it from me to presume to know what Bonhoeffer would say to us in our day, but looking at these two aspects of Bonhoeffer’s beliefs sure makes one wonder if he would tell us something similar about our approach to the issue of abortion, as he told the German Christians about the plight of the Jews. Maybe he would tell us to listen to the plight of the unborn more than the sound of our own praise.

Would Bonhoeffer be so bold as to say that only those who speak out on behalf of the unborn may sing hymns and praise songs? It makes us uncomfortable to consider that he might say something so bold. But, we must realize, his words to the German Christians were just as bold and controversial in his own time. Maybe he would say such a thing to us. Maybe he is.

When the prophet Isaiah was speaking out against the sin and rebellion of the Lord’s precious, but wayward, Israel, many Israelites were taking part in idol worship. These idols did not merely require emotional and spiritual allegiance, but a whole new way of living. The way we live is a form of worship. Following God’s law is a form of worshiping Him. These false gods required, among other things, the sacrifice of unborn babies. They required ways of living contrary to God’s law.

Isaiah 1:3-17

Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.

Your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;

remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;

cease to do evil,

learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

God’s anger against Israel was not just concerning their spiritual allegiance, but the way they lived and acted. Even for the Israelites who did not engage in the unjust activities, the weight of the sin fell upon all who failed to speak out against what was wrong. Bonhoeffer tried to bring attention to the same concept. When we fail to speak out on behalf of the oppressed, we are complicit in their demise, and the blood is on our hands. We would do well to listen to what Bonhoeffer has to tell us today.

Proverbs 24:11-12

Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?

To say that we did not know what happened, as many German Christians tried to say about the holocaust, is no excuse. God knows how much we know, and He will hold us responsible. He will repay us according to our work. May we be renewed by the blood of Christ, and seek justice on behalf of his glorious, unending, kingdom.

In the next several months, decisions will be made that will alter our country’s abortion policy. The new healthcare bill will have some very frightening consequences. It will allow for the government healthcare plan to pay for abortions. Since the healthcare program will of course be funded by our tax dollars, this program will then be setting up a system for tax-funded abortions across the country. In other words, YOU will be paying for abortions with your tax dollars. A coalition of pro-life advocates have joined together to combat this provision. You can learn more about them, and get involved, at

This bill takes our national abortion policies to a whole new level, not just so that abortion is a private choice, but where it is a sanctioned aspect of our policy and everyone is required to take part in it. It is no longer just an issue of a woman’s private, individual, choice, it will be supported (whether you like it or not) and provided for by the whole country. The blood will be on our hands not just for failing to stop abortion, but now because our own pocketbooks will provide for it. For those of us who believe abortion is wrong, and an injustice in the sight of God and man, how can we stand for a bill that will force us to pay for it to happen?

Will we speak out on behalf of the voiceless? Or will we shrink and hide behind praise and worship melodies?

May the Lord give us all the strength to do the former.

“But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child – a direct killing of the innocent child – murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love, and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even his life to love us. So the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love – that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child.” -Mother Theresa

May His unending and boundless love heal our people and our land. He offers grace and forgiveness, no matter what we have done. May we, with haste, return to Him. He longs for us, us broken, murderous, and wayward, people.


~ by thelastinkling on August 11, 2009.

2 Responses to “Stop Singing: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Abortion and the Church Today”

  1. Totally Agree with you. Add your blog to our site.

  2. Thank you for your reflection on Pastor Bonhoeffer. I am in awe of this man – hils love for Our Lord – his martyrdom.

    Although I am Romas Catholic, I am proud of my Lutheran roots. and I would love to see Pastor Bonhoeffer made a saint by Holy Mother Church.

    God bless!

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