Ecumenism and Pacifism

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Bonhoeffer took an early interest in international understanding among Christian denominations. Starting in 1931, he worked for the “World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches” in key honorary posts. He was a respected colleague in the ecumenical movement.

Made the “World Alliance’s” youth secretary, he presided over the Youth Conference’s meeting on the Danish island of Fanø in the North Sea in August of 1934. Believing that the Confessing Church was the sole lawful delegation of German Protestantism, he endeavored to prevent any cooperation with representatives of the Reich Church Government during the conference.

That proved to be problematic, however. The “World Alliance” was only able to invite its member churches; the ecumenical movement did not intend to recognize the Confessing Church as a legal entity. Nevertheless, invitations to Fanø were extended to several representatives of the Confessing Church. Encounters with the Reich Church’s delegates, first and foremost with the Bishop for Foreign Affairs, Theodor Heckel, occurred time and again during the nine days.

Bonhoeffer’s “Peace Speech”, which he gave before all of the conference attendees as part of morning devotions on August 28, 1934, caused particular offense: There is no path to peace on the path of security, he said. For peace must be ventured, is the one great venture, and can never ever be secured. Peace is the opposite of security. Demanding securities means having mistrust, and this mistrust in turn breeds war.

In the ensuing years, Bonhoeffer repeatedly attempted to move the ecumenical movement to fully recognize the Confessing Church. George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, whom he had gotten to know while at his London parish, and Willem Visser’t Hooft, the future designated General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, were his most important confidants. The ecumenical movement did not establish diplomatic relations with the nascent Evangelical Church in Germany until after the war’s end (“Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt”).

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  • © bpk/Staatsbibliothek Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin, Handschriftenabt., Nachlass 299/Bonhoeffer, A 40, 5 (1)

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