Virtual Voices
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Flaming the evangelicals

Sexuality

Somehow, Facebook decided that Frank Schaeffer and I should be friends, because posts from him keep showing up on my news feed. This is either a triumph of data mining or a happy coincidence. I’m hearing more from Frank lately, mostly because he’s promoting a new book: Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God. But the post that got my attention linked to this article: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Was Flamingly Gay—Deal With It.”

Schaeffer bases his argument—such as it is—on a new biography by Charles Marsh: Strange Glory, which “unequivocally confirms” the great 20th-century martyr’s sexual orientation. “Unequivocally confirms” is only one of Schaeffer’s misleading statements. Though I haven’t read the book, reviews indicate that the author “confirms” nothing, but rather strongly hints, drawing mostly from Bonhoeffer’s intense friendship with Eberhard Bethge, his one-time student and eventual biographer. In a review for Christianity Today, Timothy Larsen admits the book’s author makes a “convincing case that Bonhoeffer harbored feelings for Bethge that extended beyond friendship,” but concludes that Marsh tries too hard to slant the evidence. To Schaeffer, this only shows that the evangelical community has its head in the sand regarding homosexuality. (Want more confirmation about him being “flamingly gay”? Bonhoeffer was a fastidious dresser and appreciated art. So there.)

The firestorm Schaeffer is expecting from evangelicals has yet to ignite, either because few of us have heard of Strange Glory or because the general evangelical attitude toward homosexuals is not quite as hateful as he thinks. (Here is a more balanced view of Strange Glory.) For example, he may not be familiar with Christopher Yuan: a celibate man with same-sex attractions who is honest about his orientation yet teaches at Moody Bible Institute. But Schaeffer’s post, though spiked with gratuitous slanders and slapdash assumptions, raises a useful question: If Bonhoeffer (or any other Christian hero) were proved “unequivocally” gay and celibate, what would be the godly response? 

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Long before I heard of Christopher Yuan, I encountered a fictional character in The Manticore, middle volume of Robertson Davies’ Deptford Trilogy. Father Knopwood, an Anglican priest in Toronto, is spitefully called out on his sexual orientation:

“I suppose I am a homosexual, really. Indeed, I know it. I’m a priest, too. By efforts that have not been trivial I have worked for over twenty years to keep myself always in full realization of both facts and to put what I am and the direction in which my nature leads me at the service of my faith and its founder. … [I]t was my personal sacrifice of what I was to what I loved.”

Though a minor character in the novel, Father Knopwood made a deep impression on me. The sacrifice of “what I am to what [rather, Who] I love” is demanded of every follower of Christ, and some sacrifices are more wrenching than others. I have no doubt that those who fight this particular good fight, and finish their race, will take places of honor in the kingdom.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at RedeemedReader.com. Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.

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