On the day before the election, a few of us from my liberal arts college had a Facebook discussion about political candidates and Bonhoeffer. My spouse called for a new Bonhoeffer to rise up. I suggested that one of us (my spouse specifically) be that Bonhoeffer. I was surprised to see how many of my college classmates had been thinking of Bonhoeffer in the waning days of the ugliest political campaign in recent U.S. history.
I posted that I had been thinking about Archbishop Romero. I then pondered why martyrs were coming to our collective minds.
Now as I look back, I wonder if we were sensing something in the electorate. If we were characters in an apocalyptic novel, a discussion of some of the most famous 20th century Christian martyrs on the night before an election--of course that would be foreshadowing, foreshadowing so obvious that literary critics might reject the story.
In the days after the election, I've watched people post the stories of grandparents and great grandparents who didn't leave Eastern Europe in time to avoid Hitler's genocide. It's a question that has always haunted me: how do you know when it's time to go?
The 20th century Christian martyrs remind us that perhaps we are called to stay, to speak truth to power, to fight for justice in our homelands. They are also a sobering reminder of the price that might be paid, and of the slow pace of justice. The blood of a Christian martyr does not immediately change the trajectory of those in power.
These next months and years may demand much of us--but I would argue that our Christian faith has always called us to those demands, regardless of who is in power. Some years, it's easier to sit in our comfortable homes and hope that the political leaders are doing the work of transformative justice for us. Some years it's clear that the system isn't working for those at the bottom. Some years, the terror comes home and we realize that the situation is far more perilous for more of us than we ever realized.
I don't pretend to know what's coming next. I pray for the courage to speak for the ones who may find themselves targeted in ways that they haven't been for decades. The last time that the divide seemed this stark was many decades ago, in the 80's, when I was in college, when I had less to lose.
Let us all find the courage in these times. Let us remember the power of banding together. I'm thinking of a different set of Christian resisters in the 20th century. Let us remember so many in Eastern Europe, like Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, who stood up to the Soviet machine and not only survived to tell the tale, but transformed their societies at the same time.
I am always struck by the ways that some of the societies in eastern Europe didn't give in to the totalitarian regimes: artists kept creating, citizens kept the creative output circulating, and eventually totalitarian regimes toppled. It is one of the stories of 20th century nonviolent resistance that I love most, not the least of which is because so many of those artists and citizens were not slaughtered for their efforts--and poet and playwright Havel went on to lead a country, and to do it well.
Let us follow those models.
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