On This Day in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was Executed

On April 9, 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged in a Nazi concentration camp at Flossenburg Germany. He had been involved in getting Jews out

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

of Germany and resistance to the Nazi regime.  Arrested by the Gestapo in 1943, Bonhoeffer was killed along with his brother and other conspirators. A brief but helpful summary of Bonhoeffer’s work against the Nazis can be found at the Holocaust Museum website.

The Church and the Jewish Question

Setting the stage for his resistance activities was a paper written in 1933 titled, “The Church and the Jewish Question.” I can’t find it online but you can see it in Google books preview of The Bonhoeffer Reader and Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.  In it, Bonhoeffer sets forth a relationship between church and state which might seem foreign to modern day evangelicals who support Christian nationalism. Even though Bonhoeffer, as a churchman, did intervene in his government, it was a last resort under the most extreme of circumstances. According to the Bonhoeffer, “There is no doubt that the church of the Reformation is not encouraged to get involved directly in specific political actions of the state. The church has neither to praise nor to censure the laws of the state.” He added that there is a “radical separation between the place of the gospel and the place of the law.” According to Bonhoeffer, the “true church of Christ, which lives by the Gospel alone and knows the nature of state actions, will never interfere in the functioning of state actions in this way. by criticizing its history-making actions from the standpoint of, say, any humanitarian ideal.”
Rather, according to Bonhoeffer, the church may critique the state as either creating too much or too little law to fulfill the governmental function. The church may rightly complain if the state uses “force to such a degree as to rob the Christian faith of its right to proclaim its message.” On the other hand, if the state doesn’t create enough law and as a result a group is deprived of rights, the church may also speak. “There is too little law and order wherever a group of people are deprived of its rights,” he wrote. In such cases, there are three actions which the church may take.

First, (as we have said) questioning the state as to the legitimate state character of its actions, that is, making the state responsible for what it does. Second is service to victims of the state’s action. The church has an unconditional obligation toward the victims of any societal order, even if they do not belong to the Christian community…The third possibility is not just to bind up the wounds of the victims beneath the wheel but to seize the wheel itself. Such an action would be direct political action by the church itself.

In his essay, Bonhoeffer cited a threat of too little law when a group of citizens is deprived of rights. On the other extreme of too much law, his example was the church being told that baptized Jews must be excluded from Christian congregations or banning missions to Jews. Bonhoeffer asserted that “the church cannot allow the state to prescribe for it the way it treats its members.”
Bonhoeffer did not say that the state cannot create laws which touches the religious beliefs of individuals. He distinguished between the church as an entity and individual Christians when he wrote the following:

At the other extreme from too little law and order, there can be too much law and order. This would mean the state developing its use of force to such a degree as to rob the Christian faith of its right to proclaim its message. (This does not apply to restriction of free conscience — that would be the humanitarian version, which is an illusion, since every state in its life impinges on the so-called free conscience).

As a possible case in point, I have a sense that Bonhoeffer would reject the state making pastors officiate at gay weddings, but he might not have a problem with anti-discrimination laws regarding Christians providing services in the marketplace.
Bonhoeffer’s essay provides a useful foundation for considering how Christians today could consider religious liberty and church and state relationships. In his day, he chose to intervene because there was too much law. My reaction is that many religious liberty issues which occupy Christians politically today don’t rise to the level of “too much law” as framed by Bonhoeffer. I would like to see the church spend more time and money on fulfilling Bonhoeffer’s second point. As for his third point, in America, in my opinion the essential Christian message is in no danger of government restriction.
Additional reading:
The Bonhoeffer Quote That Isn’t Bonhoeffer’s

Eric Metaxas to Bonhoeffer Scholars: Every Syllable of My Bonhoeffer Bio is True

Eric Metaxas lives in a curious space among those who admire and study German pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In one universe dominated by evangelicals outside of academia, Metaxas is viewed as a Bonhoeffer scholar. In another dominated by academics and Bonhoeffer scholars, he is considered to be a Bonhoeffer revisionist, someone who has hijacked Bonhoeffer perhaps for partisan religious purposes.
Yesterday on his radio show, Metaxas took aim at the latter group. His guest on the program was Hillsdale College president Larry Arnn. Arnn, a Winston Churchill scholar, told Metaxas about a recent talk at Hillsdale by the widow of Churchill biographer Sir Martin Gilbert. In the course of the discussion with Mrs. Gilbert, the subject of Bonhoeffer came up. Arnn said all of the information about Bonhoeffer in the room came from Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer bio. Listen (at about 3:15 in the podcast):

Transcript:
There are a number of liberal critics of my book. I keep seeing stuff on the Internet and they’re very vicious and they act as though I threw something together over a weekend to suit my view of the world, you know, wrapped in the life of Bonhoeffer and I just want to use this opportunity, since I am not typically talking about my book on Bonhoeffer. Anybody who is a historian on any level whether professionally, academically, or more as an amateur as I am, you know you want to take facts very seriously. And I do want to say that there’s not a syllable in my Bonhoeffer book that isn’t true and I think that people who don’t like how Bonhoeffer comes out in my book, that’s really something that reveals where they’re coming from more than where Bonhoeffer or I are coming from because his is such a well documented life.

Taking a page from David Barton, Metaxas reduces his critical reviewers to liberals when in fact at least some of the critical “stuff” is coming from conservative evangelicals. For instance, one of the more scathing reviews of Metaxas’ book was written by Richard Weikart, an evangelical professor who is also a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute. The Discovery Institute promotes intelligent design and is anything but a haven for liberals. Here is what Weikart says about accuracy in Metaxas’ book:

Let’s start with the historical problems. Metaxas read enough about Bonhoeffer’s life to get many facts right about the events of Bonhoeffer’s life. This is the strongest part of the biography. Even here, however, there are some major problems. For instance, Metaxas mistakenly claims, “From the beginning of his time until the end, Bonhoeffer maintained the daily discipline of scriptural meditation and prayer he had been practicing for more than a decade. . . . Once he got his Bible back he read it for hours each day.” (p. 438) This portrait will certainly make Bonhoeffer popular among serious evangelicals, but unfortunately this image is false. In 1944 Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge, “Once again I’m having weeks when I don’t read the Bible much.” Bonhoeffer had told Bethge the same thing twice before in 1941 and 1942. [4]
Metaxas also does not have a solid grasp on Bonhoeffer’s historical context. It is hard to give much credence to someone writing about German history who thinks that Bonn is in Switzerland or that Hitler was democratically elected into office or that Germany was not yet a police state in August 1934. Metaxas also claims that the Barmen Declaration, which was the doctrinal statement of the Confessing Church, rejected anti-Semitism. In reality, the Barmen Declaration does not mention anti-Semitism at all, and many scholars have criticized it for this.

Remember Weikart is not a liberal.
To fact check the claim about the Barmen Declaration, all one has to do is read the declaration (source) and compare it to what Metaxas wrote about it in the Bonhoeffer bio on page 222.

On the last three days of May 1934, the leaders of the Pastors’ Emergency League held a synod in Barmen. It was there, on the Wupper River, that they wrote the famous Barmen Declaration, from which emerged what came to be known as the Confessing Church.
The purpose of the Barmen Declaration was to state what the German church had always believed, to ground it in the Scriptures, and to differentiate it from the bastardized theology that had been coming from the German Christians. It made clear that the German church was not under the authority of the state; it repudiated the anti-Semitism and other heresies of the German Christians and their “official” church led by Müller. (emphasis added)

As Weikart said, the Barmen Declaration doesn’t address anti-Semitism. Metaxas said the document repudiated it.
Two other Bonhoeffer scholars have written critical reviews which point out some of the book’s errors. I don’t know the political views of Victoria Barnett or Clifford Green but I do know they know their Bonhoeffer. They point out many syllables which should be examined (See Barnett’s review here, and Green’s here).
For my part, I have documented that the quote Metaxas attributes to Bonhoeffer — Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold usmetaxas back flap guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act — did not come from Bonhoeffer’s works. In fact, I have repeatedly asked Metaxas for a citation for the quote or, in absence of a source, a retraction and he has never responded.*
Even though I am confident in my work, I cannot imagine claiming that it is flawless or infallible. In fact, people who claim such perfection should arouse our skepticism. Rather than bask in the glow of his guest’s flattery, I hold out hope that Metaxas might eventually take a more reasonable and scholarly approach.
Later in the broadcast, Dr. Arnn suggested that Metaxas consider college teaching. I do not second that motion. One must be prepared to accept peer review and critical reflection in order to do so. Apparently, Metaxas believes he has no need of such refinement.
 
*This is not the first time Metaxas has minimized his factual errors. See his response to significant problems with the historical accounts in his new book, If You Can Keep It (link, link). See also this new review at Christ and Pop Culture.

This Popular Quote — A Private Faith That Does Not Act — Is about William Wilberforce Not by Him

When I first read it, it occurred to me that there was something not quite right about the tweet below:


Eric Metaxas, who wrote a biography about Wilberforce, retweeted the quote without comment so surely it was said by Wilberforce, right?
I view most quotes now with suspicion (see this quote misattributed to Bonhoeffer) and this one looked fishy. Indeed, it isn’t by Wilberforce but about him.
I posted the quote on Twitter and asked for assistance tracking it down. It didn’t take long for Matthew Dickson to post a link to an Introduction written by Chuck Colson to a 1996 reprinting of Wilberforce’s A Practical View of Christianity. On Twitter at least the switch of attribution from Colson to Wilberforce took place sometime between 2011 and 2012.
Here is the quote from Colson’s Introduction:
Colson quote about WW
So Colson wrote it about Wilberforce. Even though it is frequently attributed to Wilberforce, it isn’t his quote.
As I have explored these fake or misattributed quotes, I have found that a major problem to accuracy is a site called “AZ Quotes.” This site is often referred to by misguided quoters. Along with Eric Metaxas, AZ quotes seems to show up frequently as a source for the misattributed quote about silence in the face of evil. Although I have reported both quotes as being wrongly attributed, the quotes remain. Perhaps, the site needs to hear from more readers.

Update on a Spurious Bonhoeffer Quote: Not to Speak is to Speak, Not to Act is to Act

Silence hands version
In late August, I published an examination of a popular quote commonly but incorrectly attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

The quote cannot be found in Bonhoeffer’s writings and no other primary source has been found.  The first appearance of the entire quote I can find is in a 1998 American Interfaith Institute newsletter. The quote has been popularized by Eric Metaxas who still attributes the quote to Bonhoeffer even though he has refused to provide a primary source for it.
Today, I want to present a source for part of the quote which is earlier than 1998. In Robert K. Hudnut’s 1971 book, A Sensitive Man and the Christ, he makes a case that even a sensitive man must act when the need arises.
Hudnut speak act 1971
There are two aspects of this passage which may link it to the eventual misattribution to Bonhoeffer. One is Hudnut’s challenge for the church not to be silent in the face of social evils. The second is the reference to Niemoller and resistance to the Nazis. Through the frailty of memory and lack of citation, someone could have reworked this into a quote about the church not being silent and attributed it to Niemoller’s colleague, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
For “Not to act is to act” by itself, one can go back to 1945 when Francis McPeek said church inaction was a form of political action in an essay titled, “Not to Act is to Act.”
For “God will not hold us guiltless,” one can find many references to that sentence by going to Google books and entering the sentence in quotes. The links returned go back to 1681.
The Hudnut quote was pointed out to me by a Twitter user. I would like to thank him but I can’t find the tweet. If my helper is reading, please identify yourself in the comments.
UPDATE: Found!

Eric Metaxas Complains about Clinton Misquotes, Refuses to Correct the Quote He Misattributed to Bonhoeffer

During the debate between Clinton and Trump last night, Eric Metaxas tweeted the following:


Hillary said in passing that “America is great because America is good.” Although the quote is commonly associated with Tocqueville, it can’t be found in his works.
During the debate, Clinton did not attribute the quote to Tocqueville. However, Metaxas himself attributed that quote to Tocqueville in an advance copy of his new book If You Can Keep It. The attribution of the quote was corrected before publication.
I understand the analogy he tweeted. However, it is noteworthy that Metaxas complained about Clinton’s use of the quotation because he has his own quote snafu to resolve. Metaxas has yet to provide a source (or acknowledge the quote isn’t Bonhoeffer’s) for the following quote:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

This quote is attributed to Bonhoeffer on the back flap of Metaxas’ biography of the German pastor. He also has referred to it in his speeches and tweets as well as his book on Miracles and a study edition of the Bonhoeffer bio. However, it cannot be found in Bonhoeffer’s works. I have contacted Metaxas and publisher Thomas Nelson but have yet to receive the courtesy of a reply.
Silence hands version
There is no disgrace in getting a quote wrong. Scholars do it frequently. The mark of a scholar is to correct the record quickly. To me, this seems especially important since Metaxas has lately taken to advancing Bonhoeffer in the cause of presidential politics. Despite our differences, I urge Metaxas to do the right thing and either provide his primary source for the quote or acknowledge the quote doesn’t come from Bonhoeffer.

Still No Correction from Eric Metaxas or Thomas Nelson on Popular Quote Misattributed to Bonhoeffer

Yesterday, Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer biographer Eric Metaxas closed his Wall Street Journal op-ed supporting Donald Trump with this paragraph:

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.

This paraphrase — “Not to vote is to vote. God will not hold us guiltless” — of a quote Metaxas has incorrectly attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminded me that Metaxas and publisher Thomas Nelson have not answered several requests going back to early August to provide a citation or correct their attribution for the quote.  The popular quote — Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act — was attributed to Bonhoeffer on the back flap of Metaxas’ biography of the German  pastor published in 2010 but cannot be found in any of Bonhoeffer’s works. Since then Metaxas has included the quote in some of his Bonhoeffer resources and attributed it to Bonhoeffer in various public appearances.
Early on in my research of this quote, I contacted Metaxas via Twitter and his website to ask for a citation. He did not respond. I also asked a couple of mutual friends to ask Metaxas about the source of the quote. There was no response given to these people. I wrote publisher Thomas Nelson three times with no response. Given ethical principles in publishing, I believed that Metaxas and Thomas Nelson would either provide a source or issue a correction. However, that has not happened.
About corrections, the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines state:

This means the editors should
1.2. strive to meet the needs of readers and authors;
1.3. strive to constantly improve their journal;
1.4. have processes in place to assure the quality of the material they publish;
1.5. champion freedom of expression;
1.6. maintain the integrity of the academic record;
1.7. preclude business needs from compromising intellectual and ethical standards;
1.8. always be willing to publish corrections, clarifications, retractions and apologies when needed.  (emphasis added)

I think the last three principles are relevant to this situation. Even though the quote is a good one, it can’t be found in Bonhoeffer’s works. The integrity of the academic record is involved. Even though it might be better for business if a perception of perfection is offered to the public, publishers and authors should “always be willing to publish corrections, clarifications, retractions and apologies when needed.” Unless they can produce a citation from Bonhoeffer, a correction is needed.
So after weeks of seeking a source (others have as well) or correction, I continue to look for an ethical response from Metaxas and his publisher.

Todd Starnes: You Did Not Paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer When You Said Not to Vote is to Vote

Fox News columnist and pundit Todd Starnes is the latest religious right figure to claim Bonhoeffer said

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

In his speech to the Values Voter Summit yesterday, Starnes misattributed this quote to German pastor and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Here are the relevant references in Starnes’ speech:

To paraphrase Dietrich Bonhoeffer – not to vote — is to vote.

and then down the page a bit:

Bonhoeffer once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
I believe this is a Bonhoeffer moment for ever Bible-believing Christian in America.
We can no longer be silent. We are to be civil but not silent. We must roar like lions.

The problem is these words cannot be found in Bonhoeffer’s works. The experts at the Bonhoeffer Society can’t find it in his writings, and no one who uses the quote (not even Bonhoeffer biographer Eric Metaxas) has been able to supply a source for it. I traced it back to a 1998 exhibit in Philadelphia’s Liberty Museum, but now the Museum staff cannot locate a source for the quote. There is no source for the quote in Bonhoeffer’s works and no evidence that he ever said it.
As I have pointed out before, “not to vote is to vote” is nonsense.  When someone doesn’t vote, nothing can be counted for either side. The only way not voting could be considered a vote is if the act of not voting is considered a statement of non-confidence in all candidates.
Whatever not voting is, the phrase “not to vote is to vote” is not a paraphrase of Bonhoeffer. Use the quote if you must, but pundits should stop attributing it to Bonhoeffer.

Freeing Bonhoeffer: Goodreads Corrects Attribution of Quote Formerly Attributed to Bonhoeffer

On August 25, I posted research into the attribution of the following quote:

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

Commonly attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I traced the quote back to a now deceased researcher at the Liberty Museum in Philadelphia who added the quote to Bonhoeffer’s exhibit in the museum. The current director of the museum did not know the source and the quote does not appear in any of Bonhoeffer’s writings according to the foremost expert on those writings, Victoria Barnett. It cannot be found before a 1998 newsletter reporting on the opening of the Liberty Museum Bonhoeffer exhibit. Eric Metaxas, author of a biography on Bonhoeffer, has used the quote frequently attributed to Bonhoeffer but has not provided a source for the quote.
Quotes like this are also spread by websites which archive quotes for use on social media. One such website is Goodreads. Today, Goodreads let me know that they have changed the attribution of the quote to “anonymous.
Before
silence goodreads before b
After
silence goodreads after
International Justice Mission and several others have also made similar changes in the use of the quote.
Good Timing
Thinking about this some more, I believe it is a good time to clear this up. So many people have enlisted Bonhoeffer through this quote for so many different and contradictory causes. Most recently, people for and against Donald Trump have tried to bring Bonhoeffer on their side. With Bonhoeffer’s aura and imprimatur, this quote is used frequently to make the justice of one’s cause seem self-evident.
Recently, Eric Metaxas used a part of it again to encourage a vote for Trump. He said “not to act is to act” and “not to vote is to vote.”


I really doubt Bonhoeffer would have agreed with the perversion of the quote. Not to vote is not to vote. One cannot vote and not vote at the same time. How is the not voting vote to be counted?
To illustrate the absurdity of just taking the form “not to ____ is to ____” and substituting one’s current cause or preoccupation, let’s take another recent blog topic: tithing. I really doubt Robert Morris would go along with “not to tithe is to tithe.” If one is hungry, it won’t fill your stomach to say, “not to eat is to eat.” Also, thinking about the silence from Metaxas on the attribution of this quote, I think it confuses things to say, “Not to take responsibility is to take responsibility,” right?
Freeing the quote from Bonhoeffer invites us to consider that it might not be as wise and universally applicable as it first seemed.

The Popular Bonhoeffer Quote That Isn’t in Bonhoeffer’s Works

Bonhoeffer picDietrich Bonhoeffer is a modern day hero among evangelical Christians. Killed by the Nazis in 1945 for resisting the regime, Bonhoeffer’s fame among evangelicals increased after the publication of Eric Metaxas’ acclaimed biography of the Lutheran pastor. For many Christians who feel compelled to take a stand on principle, Bonhoeffer has become an inspiration and guiding light. On that point, perhaps the most repeated and celebrated quote attributed to Bonhoeffer is

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

These are bold words and together they have helped strengthen the conclusion of many persuasive appeals. Though they are powerful, they are not from Bonhoeffer. According to my research and the Bonhoeffer scholars I consulted, these sentences can’t be found in any of his writings or speeches.

This may come as a shock to countless (really, I stopped counting) Twitter and Facebook users who have posted a picture of Bonhoeffer with that quote attributed to him. The quote is on many lists of essential Bonhoeffer quotes (e.g., see Relevant Magazine’s list). Many politicians and authors have used it to make their many points.

I became interested in the quote while researching this May 22, 2016 tweet from Eric Metaxas:

As Bonhoeffer said “Not to cast a vote for the two majors IS to cast a vote for one of them.” – Ethics, pp. 265-6

Although it wasn’t obvious to me at first, this was a joke based on “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” Metaxas posted this in response to a Twitter user who described people who plan not to vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.

At the time, his Twitter followers didn’t get the joke. Here are some of their tweets in response: “sounds like Bonhoeffer made a boo boo,” “Mr Bonhoeffer was right about many things but still a mere mortal!” and “Sorry, but I think the great Bonhoeffer whiffed on this one.” I couldn’t find anyone who questioned the authenticity of the modified quote.

My entrance into the thread was in late July when a Twitter user asked Metaxas for the quote’s source. One purchased Bonhoeffer’s book on ethics to look up the quote but couldn’t find it. After several days on July 31, Metaxas tweeted

This has gotten out of hand. The ORIGINAL Bonhoeffer fake quote was intended as an OBVIOUS joke. It obviously failed. (emphasis in the original)

Like his Twitter followers, I also looked for the source of the “original fake quote.” In doing so, I learned something more interesting; the popular quote on which Metaxas’ joke was based (“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”) had been incorrectly attributed to Bonhoeffer.

Questioning the Quote

As far as I can tell, the authenticity of the quote was first questioned in 2013 by Doris Bergen in a book edited by Clifford Green and Guy Carter titled Interpreting Bonhoeffer:

Many lists of “Bonhoeffer quotes” include a sharper indictment: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” See also Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010), back flap. However, this formulation has not been found in Bonhoeffer’s works.

In a 2015 issue of the Australasian Journal of Bonhoeffer studies, Erich von Dietze also cast doubt on the quote.

While commonly attributed to Bonhoeffer, the origin of this quote remains uncertain. The quote has been referenced to Metaxas, E. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – A Righteous Gentile vs the Third Reich. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010).  However, I have not been able to find it in this work.

The online resource Wikiquotes considers the quote to be “misattributed” to Bonhoeffer and names an obscure organization newsletter as the possible source.

First attributed to Bonhoeffer in Explorations 12:1 (1998), p. 3, as referenced by James Cone (2004) Theology’s Great Sin: Silence in the Face of White Supremacy, Black Theology, 2:2, 139-152, footnote 1.

Explorations was the newsletter of the now defunct American Interfaith Institute, founded by the late Irvin Borowsky. Borowsky also founded the Liberty Museum in Philadelphia. I located the newsletter via the online World Catalog and received a copy of the newsletter courtesy of the document delivery service at Grove City College.

On page three of the newsletter is an article by Borowsky which promoted the opening of the Heroes exhibit at the Liberty Museum in 1998. One of the featured heroes is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The description on the exhibit is as follows:

He was a Lutheran pastor who left Germany in 1933 at age 27 to protest the Nazi regime’s introduction of anti-Jewish legislation. He could have stayed permanently in England, or later the U.S., but repeatedly returned home to oppose Hitler from within. Helping Jews to escape to Switzerland during the war, he also organized church-based resistance. Arrested in 1943, he was hung for treason in 1945 just days before the end of the Third Reich. According to Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” (emphasis in the original)

I have been in contact with Borowsky’s daughter Gwen who now manages the museum. Now that she knows the quote isn’t accurate, the exhibit will be changed when that gallery is remodeled (photo of current exhibit). She has no knowledge of the source of the quote since the researcher responsible for it has died. I cannot find it anywhere before 1998.
After 1998, a few citations appear in various data bases but the most prominent is the one by Union Theological Seminary professor James Cone in his article “Theology’s Great Sin: Silence in the Face of White Supremacy” published in the journal Black Theology in 2004. Cone attributed the saying to Bonhoeffer and cited the Explorations newsletter as his source.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

metaxas st edition silence quoteBy far, the greatest number of references to the quote have come after the publication of Eric Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer in 2010. On the back flap of the book, the quote is attributed to Bonhoeffer. In his student guide and study guide for the Bonhoeffer book, Metaxas attributed the quote to Bonhoeffer. It also appears in his 2014 book Miracles. He has tweeted the quote attributed to Bonhoeffer in 2012 and 2013. Several other Christian books cite Metaxas as the source of the quote.

I contacted Metaxas via his website and Twitter in early August to ask for his source. He did not respond.

Since Metaxas’ book was published, the quote has shown up in the Congressional Record seven times, all attributed to Bonhoeffer. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) used it three times on international religious freedom, Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) included it twice on religious freedom, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) used it once on defunding planned parenthood, and one of the most interesting uses of the quote was by Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) in his apology for a future Iranian nuclear attack. Johnson told the House:

In 2015, I spoke in opposition to the deal that led to the 2030 Iranian nuclear attack because I well remember the words of the theologian Bonhoeffer who eventually died in a Nazi torture chamber. In confronting the murderous madmen of his time, he declared that “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

It has been used in hundreds of sermons and speeches opposing abortion and in support of religious liberty. A Google search returns over 38,000 instances of the quote. In April, Christian leaders opposed to Donald Trump used it to justify their opposition to his candidacy. Recently, Janet Porter used it to promote a vote for Trump.

However, the Bonhoeffer experts I consulted agree that the saying is not in his works. One of them, Barry Harvey, a professor of theology at Baylor University and member of the content team for the International Bonhoeffer Society told me via email: “Not only do I know of no place that Bonhoeffer says this, it doesn’t sound like him at all.”

Perhaps the foremost expert on Bonhoeffer’s writings is Victoria Barnett. Barnett is director of the Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. She is also the general editor of the English translation series of Bonhoeffer’s complete works. Because of her work bringing together Bonhoeffer’s writings, she is able to comprehensively search his known works. When I asked her if the quote came from Bonhoeffer, she told me:

I’ve gotten a few inquiries on the source of that one, but it doesn’t appear anywhere in Bonhoeffer’s writings.

Barnett said she looked for the quote in early translations of Bonhoeffer’s work but cautioned that someday new evidence might turn up. For now, she said,

I am virtually certain that the quote doesn’t exist.

There can be little doubt that the quote’s popularity has risen with the success of Eric Metaxas’s Bonhoeffer biography. If Metaxas continues to usemetaxas back flap it in his speeches and his current website promoting the book, it may continue to be used inaccurately for some time to come.

The appeal of this quote is understandable. The powerful arrangement of words elevates the importance of the cause and bringing Bonhoeffer to one’s side only strengthens the sense that the cause is just. However, since the quote isn’t his, using it is a false witness.

In checking out this quote, I have learned to appreciate Bonhoeffer so much more than when he was just a figurehead on social media. There is value in fact checking. I didn’t find Bonhoeffer behind the quote, but what I found by reading his actual words is much more valuable.

Note: I will add to this post if I find other information regarding the source of the quote pre-1998.

UPDATE: On 11/11/16, I published an update to this post.  In it, I provide an image of a 1971 book with “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” used together.

Did Hillary Clinton Plagiarize Alexis de Tocqueville?

Tonight in her speech, Hillary Clinton said:

But here’s the sad truth: There is no other Donald Trump…This is it. And in the end, it comes down to what Donald Trump doesn’t get: that America is great – because America is good.

Did she plagiarize de Tocqueville? No, because de Tocqueville didn’t say that. According John Pitney in the Weekly Standard:

These lines are uplifting and poetic. They are also spurious. Nowhere do they appear in Democracy in America, or anywhere else in Tocqueville.

Read Pitney’s explanation at the Weekly Standard. Quick, Twitter’s going crazy over it.
Now having established that, can we talk about Bonhoeffer author Eric Metaxas tweeting a spurious Bonhoeffer quote to promote Christians voting for Donald Trump?