A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about Eric Metaxas's egregious misuse of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology in order to condemn liberal, pro-gay and lesbian Christians, arguing that these Christians, rather than the anti-gay conservative evangelicals that are Metaxas's gravy train, were akin to Nazis. At the time, I ended my post with these words: "So now, let us finally be done with Eric Metaxas. May I never have to hear his name or discuss his "work" ever again."
Alas, this was not to be. As Metaxas has spent the last few years capitalizing on his absolutely abysmal, morally bankrupt, and historically inaccurate biography of Bonhoeffer in order to cement his place as a conservative Christian public intellectual. It would be bad enough if he had simply written a poor biography and then moved on. But having positioned himself now as a go-to "Bonhoeffer scholar," he sees fit to invoke Bonhoeffer's legacy in the name of whatever ax he happens to be grinding at the particular moment (as in the above case of Christianity and homosexuality).
And now, it's come to this: Metaxas has now decided to thoroughly sully both his own, barely salvageable to begin with, reputation, and the legacy of a genuinely great Christian theologian and moral exemplar by arguing that Bonhoeffer's theology should lead Christians to support Donald Trump. No really. This was his argument.
In The Wall Street Journal he recently wrote the following:
The anti-Nazi martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer also did things most Christians of his day were disgusted by. He most infamously joined a plot to kill the head of his government. He was horrified by it, but he did it nonetheless because he knew that to stay "morally pure" would allow the murder of millions to continue. Doing nothing or merely "praying" was not an option. He understood that God was merciful, and that even if his actions were wrong, God saw his heart and could forgive him. But he knew he must act.
Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer knew it was an audience of One to whom they would ultimately answer. And He asks, "What did you do to the least of these?"
It's a fact that if Hillary Clinton is elected, the country's chance to have a Supreme Court that values the Constitution -- and the genuine liberty and self-government for which millions have died -- is gone. Not for four years, or eight, but forever. Many say Mr. Trump can't be trusted to deliver on this score, but Mrs. Clinton certainly can be trusted in the opposite direction. For our kids and grandkids, are we not obliged to take our best shot at this? Shall we sit on our hands and refuse to choose?
If imperiously flouting the rules by having a private server endangered American lives and secrets and may lead to more deaths, if she cynically deleted thousands of emails, and if her foreign-policy judgment led to the rise of Islamic State, won't refusing to vote make me responsible for those suffering as a result of these things? How do I squirm out of this horrific conundrum? It's unavoidable: We who can vote must answer to God for these people, whom He loves. We are indeed our brothers' and sisters' keepers.
We would be responsible for passively electing someone who champions the abomination of partial-birth abortion, someone who is celebrated by an organization that sells baby parts. We already live in a country where judges force bakers, florists and photographers to violate their consciences and faith -- and Mrs. Clinton has zealously ratified this. If we believe this ends with bakers and photographers, we are horribly mistaken. No matter your faith or lack of faith, this statist view of America will dramatically affect you and your children.
For many of us, this is very painful, pulling the lever for someone many think odious. But please consider this: A vote for Donald Trump is not necessarily a vote for Donald Trump himself. It is a vote for those who will be affected by the results of this election. Not to vote is to vote. God will not hold us guiltless.
It is hard to underestimate how genuinely horrific this argument is. Leaving aside the rehashing of numerous distortions of Hillary's record, the argument boils down to: Hillary is wrong on abortion and gays, so Bonhoeffer would have us vote for a crypto-fascist, racist, misogynist, islamophobic buffoon with no impulse control, no knowledge of anything regarding public policy, ominous ties to Russia, and a demonstrated penchant to lie constantly without any provocation whatsoever.
It's worth nothing that Metaxas mentions abortion only in passing (and, in the process, bears false witness against Planned Parenthood by accusing them of "selling baby parts" -- a widely debunked lie), and then proceeds to his real agenda: Fear of TEH GAY. This is all couched in the language of "genuine liberty and self-government" which he claims will be "gone forever" if Hillary Clinton has a chance to ... what? Appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court? Really? Or more judges like Ruth Bader Ginsburg? Really? The Notorious RBG is the greatest threat to our democracy? Somehow Metaxas has convinced himself that if Hillary Clinton gets to appoint one or more Supreme Court justices this will be, despite every rational indication otherwise, the complete and utter end of the American experiment. Having to give equal treatment in public accommodation to gay couples will lead to the gas chambers, apparently.
And, lest you think that Metaxas doesn't really make that kind of equivalency. Here is what he tweeted* mere hours ago:
The fascistic globalism of HRC/Obama is similar to the threat that German fascist nationalism was in Bonhoeffer's day. Both are anti-God.— Eric Metaxas (@ericmetaxas) October 19, 2016
As an alternative, he not only proposes Trump, but indeed argues that Bonhoeffer would support Trump. And Bonhoeffer, he argues, would support Trump because Bonhoeffer knew that we all ultimately are answerable to God. Never mind that Bonhoeffer spoke out against the Nazis early precisely because of the kind of racist rhetoric that Trump uses toward Mexicans and Muslims. Never mind that Trump's authoritarianism and disdain for democratic processes, even to the point of threatening to jail his political opponents, would have reminded Bonhoeffer chillingly of Germany in the 1930s. Never mind that Trump's desire to control and punish the press would look a lot, if he got away with it, like similar events with which Bonhoeffer was directly familiar. Never mind Trump's connections to the alt-right movement which explicitly connects itself to Nazism. Never mind that Donald Trump embodies quite literally the opposite of everything Dietrich Bonhoeffer stood for. Leave all of that aside. Metaxas is appropriating Bonhoeffer in order to further argue that God wants us to vote for Donald Trump!
Bad enough as it is to see Metaxas continue to stain the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it's even worse to see him do so in order to argue for a privileged Metaxas-only pipeline into the mind of God. Bonhoeffer was never, never so arrogant as to claim he knew what God demanded of him. On the contrary, much of his personal struggle was precisely about the moral ambiguity of determining what he should do as an individual of conscience in the absence of such knowledge. He participated in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler not because he thought that God was demanding it of him, but in spite of the fact that everything he knew about the Christian tradition impelled him in the opposite direction. He did so because he felt the burden of responsibility in the face of God's silence and his own knowledge of just how bad the Nazis were. He was determined to stand before God, not with clean hands, but with the knowledge that he could face God's judgement knowing he had acted responsibly on behalf of those who could not act for themselves, unwilling to hide his dirty hands.
Clearly Metaxas has elevated the perceived threat of a Hillary Clinton presidency to such a level in his own mind that he believes the struggle to elect Donald Trump is equivalent to the struggle of the Confessing Church against the Nazis. But that's a transparently ridiculous claim. And making it requires a complete distortion of Bonhoeffer's legacy. On the other hand, if Hillary isn't Hitler, neither really is Trump -- Despite his authoritarianism, despite his racism, despite his xenophobia, despite the violence of his followers. He is, at worst, a down market Silvio Berlusconi, more of a fool and a travesty than an actual threat. Nevertheless, to attempt to deploy Bonhoeffer in order to argue that God is commanding us to support such a clod, despite the fact that he stands in opposition to everything we know Bonhoeffer stood for, it's more than simply a shame. It's an insult, and it demands action.
Therefore, Eric Metaxas, in the name of all who value the theology and the legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I hereby revoke your Bonhoeffer privileges! And may God have mercy on your soul.
*Interestingly, it turns out that Eric Metaxas has blocked me on Twitter, which I find terribly amusing, since I don't think I ever tagged him in anything, and didn't even follow him on Twitter. I guess it was a preemptive blocking, just in case I ever decided to call him again on his total nonsense and horrible misuse of Bonhoeffer.