Black History: Focusing in on Bonhoeffer???

It could be seen as a bit strange to be focusing in on a white person during black history month, right? After all, the whole purpose of black history month is to finally learn about the experiences, culture, and heritage of black people in a culture that only values white history, culture, and literature.

Nonetheless, today on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s birthday, we briefly stop and remember this man who literally gave his life because of his Christian convictions.  However, I will not spend most of your time on what he did to resist Nazi Germany (which you probably already know), but rather to remember his time in Harlem, NY.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and also attended Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Very few white Christians in America have been willing to place themselves under black spiritual leadership (the opposite is much more frequent), yet Bonhoeffer did just that and was shaped significantly by those experiences. He not only loved the Negro Spirituals and culture there (which he admitted he did), but he also had his faith impacted dramatically has he began to see life “from below”.  It was here that he  fully grasped the Church’s call to pursue justice and its unfortunate participation and perpetuation of racism and segregation.

So why Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Because he offers a model for what can be. People in the dominant culture can indeed emerge themselves into black culture and community, and more than that… they can actually learn and grow from that opportunity. So, I invite you to take the Bonhoeffer challenge, and immerse yourself in black culture, community, and history this month and see how it might impact you. Let me know if you are up for the challenge.


  1. Nanette · February 5, 2011

    hi, awesome post, and an amazing understand! at least one for my favorites.

  2. NeoSoulist · February 6, 2011

    I have a friend who is finishing up his disseration on the Black Church’s impact on Bonhoeffer. It is interesting stuff. Not only because he was willing to place himself under Black leadership, but that because of the impact from those churches, he went back to influence his community and ultimately came out with a fuller version of the Christian faith. Bonhoeffer was, perhaps, as impactful as he was because his work embodies a degree of “multicultural” understanding of faith. Thanks for this post.

    • caleb · February 10, 2011

      hey Im doing some work in bonhoeffer and the black church. You think your friend can send me some resources to be looked at? Im a grad student in theology also.. thanks.

  3. Drew Hart · February 6, 2011

    That’s really interesting. I have always liked Bonhoeffer and have had similar thoughts and interests around Bonhoeffer’s being influenced by the black community. I am looking at possibly getting into a PhD program in a year, and while I don’t plan to focus on him purely, i have thought that I would like to incorporate him in some way. Anyway, sounds like some interesting stuff your friend is working on, something I definitely would enjoy reading.

  4. Pingback: Black History Month From Below « | Real Talk on Faith, Life, & Culture

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