The Tension Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Prison Theology Regarding Social Reflections Concerning Race And Poverty: Provoking Action Toward Social Freedom And Justice Beyond Secular And Religious Jargon -- By: Craig Kyle Hemphill

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 06:1 (Spring 2009)
Article: The Tension Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Prison Theology Regarding Social Reflections Concerning Race And Poverty: Provoking Action Toward Social Freedom And Justice Beyond Secular And Religious Jargon
Author: Craig Kyle Hemphill


The Tension Of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Prison Theology Regarding Social Reflections Concerning Race And Poverty: Provoking Action Toward Social Freedom And Justice Beyond Secular And Religious Jargon

Craig Kyle Hemphill1

Introduction

Freedom is a loosely defined word that conjures many notions about social justice and provokes a spectrum of emotion when placed in the context of addressing racism and poverty. Freedom demands self-discipline, responsibility, and action.2 The boiling of emotion and passion often follows in tandem where discussions address racism and poverty. For the Church, freedom should involve concerns for spiritual welfare and communal existence as a body identified with Jesus Christ. In terms of responsibility and freedom, the Church both historically and in the contemporary situation ought to commit to addressing racism and poverty beyond mere discussion. As a matter of Christian witness, the Church’s responsibility regarding social freedom in relation to racism and poverty ought to offer a legitimate model of action consistent with the gospel of Christ versus merely a verbose paradox. The true gospel involves the confession of salvation, truth, and inclusion for all classes and races. However, while often well-intended, the Church provides mostly discussion and lament concerning issues of racism and poverty. The Church, then, has arguably united with secular institutions in a partnership of verbal pity and relational ineptness, but little action toward redressing racism and poverty.

A grave issue continues to confront the Church regarding social freedom and its attempts to redress racism and poverty -- how does the Church move beyond discussion and apathy toward action to confront racism and poverty? Particularly, how does the Church provoke action toward social justice to combat racism and poverty beyond notions of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes as the “insufficient tools of reasoning, principle, conscience, duty, absolute freedom and private duty?”3

In an exact and numbing revelation, Dietrich Bonhoeffer presents through his works, prison experiences, and death a model for how the Church might confess and act to bring awareness and relief to the social ills caused by racism and poverty. This essay, then, presents an analysis of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology concerning social freedom -- i.e., Bonhoeffer’s four principles: (1) discipline, (2) action, (3) suffering, and (4) death -- through examining Bonhoeffer’s prison writings and, to a limited extent, his pre-prison comments rega...

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