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.