Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Speaking Truth to Power

Wednesday, April 9, 2008 -- Week of 3 Easter
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Pastor and Theologian, 1945)

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, page 961)
Psalms 38 (morning) 119:25-48 (evening)
Exodus 19:16-25
Colossians 1:15-23
Matthew 3:13-17

Today we have Moses approaching the Holy God on Mt. Sinai, ready to enter a new covenant and to create a new community in the wilderness. Moses who was raised in the privilege of the Pharaoh's household, when moved by the injustice of his people's suffering, responded violently and was forced to leave. He returned to Egypt upon God's calling, to confront Pharaoh and the evil of systematic oppression. After a dangerous period of challenge, Moses led the people as refugees to escape from Egypt into the desert wilderness. Now he helps them create a new community based on loyalty to God and observance of a rule of law.

Today we have John the Baptist, a voice from the wilderness, accusing the religious and secular authorities of great offense. He speaks as a prophet to an entire culture, telling them that they have lost their way and their identity. They no longer live as Jews. He puts them through the ritual of baptism, the initiation rite for non-Jews who wish to join the tribe. Jesus endorses John's mission and challenge and is himself baptized. To those in authority, this is a revolutionary act of sedition. Both of these men will be executed.

Today is the church's day of observance for Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From the beginning of the Nazi power grab in 1933 Bonhoeffer helped lead the protest against Hitler and his regime. He was the leading spokesman for the Confessing Church. Most congregations and pastoral leaders ignored the political drama, taking care of their pastoral duties, preferring not to stain their spiritual activities with secular or political concerns. Others embraced the nationalism and pride of the Nazi movement, giving it church blessing.

Bonhoeffer refused invitations to teach from the safety of Union Seminary in New York City, and returned to Germany to continue to work with the resistance. With compelling passion, this pacifist theologian became convinced that it was a lesser evil to participate in a plot to assassinate Hitler than not to do so. Documents linked him to a failed attempt on Hitler's life, and Bonhoeffer was taken to Buchenwald. On this day in 1945, he was hanged.

Bonhoeffer stands in a noble line of those who have spoken truth to power in the name of God. We need more people like him in our nation right now. The church and its leaders, including me, have been too silent during the past seven years, as we have witnessed an unprecedented assault on on our Constitution, on the separation of powers, and on the rule of domestic and international law by this President and administration. If you haven't seen the PBS Frontline documentary "Bush's War," I encourage you to do so. It is available for viewing on-line at

After watching the chronicle of the manipulation of power that has surrounded the White House in its pursuit of war, I found myself deeply thankful for George Bush. I was grateful that he is not a person of charismatic power and deep malignant intent. He is not like Hitler. Thank God. The fearful realization came to me as I watched the documentary, that George Bush had the kind of people around him who showed themselves willing to manipulate truth and the rule of law to such an extent that they might have successfully stripped our nation of its constitutional protections in a way not unlike Germany of the 1930's. How awful things might have become had they been led by someone with more evil and competency. We still must be vigilant to prevent this flawed and troubling administration from provoking another war, with Iran, but thankfully the air is coming out of their balloon and light is being cast on darkness.

Bonhoeffer, Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus have shown us the cost of discipleship and the example of speaking truth to power. May we be faithful to confront the powers and principalities in our day and to embrace the Reign of God with courage and clarity.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:52 AM, Anonymous Ted Gammill said...

Lowell, you know I love you but you have been watching too much of this ultra liberal muck-a-de-muck and not exposing yourself to a more balanced view.

I have no trouble reconciling my Republican tendencies with our Christian theology. It is when people have to get highly partisan on both sides that presents distortions and danger.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger scott said...

I agree with Ted and I agree with Lowell... to me, the extreme far right and the extreme far left seem to have many of the same personality traits.

As an amateur political scientist and a strict constitutionalist, I have huge problems with the current administration. I've been a conservative person my entire life, there is nothing conservative about Bush breaking the laws that he himself swore to protect. If the current administration didn't like the laws, they could have changed more of them than those impacted with the Patriot Act. But ignoring the Constitution and the rights set forth therein is inexcusable. Say what you want about Gitmo, but holding a United States citizens without a charge is against the law.

the quote from Martin Niemoller comes to mind "In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."


At 7:23 PM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks Ted and Scott,

Did you see the column that Steve Barnes wrote last week? Noting that the Frontline documentary was going to air, he asked 10 people watch it and give him their reactions. He asked people from very different political directions.

They had different reactions, but none of them charged the piece with inaccuracy or even bias, as I remember. Frontline worked very hard to stick with facts and follow the historical trail. Even Republican party activists didn't characterize it as "ultra liberal muck-a-de-muck." Ted, give it a watch yourself. I don't think it was a highly partisan piece.

Now I probably watched it from a highly partisan perspective. I was among the tiny percentage of Americans (was it 7%) who opposed initiating the war at all. I feel that my perspective of reality was closer to being accurate than the picture that the Bush administration painted. I think the distortion and danger came much more from the other side. It seems that hindsight is bearing that out. Many conservative Americans are very troubled by the way this war was sold and executed. But I know that this is something that good people can disagree about. We all agreed that Saddam Hussain was a bad guy. We just disagreed about what to do about it.



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