Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Succinct Question on American Nationalism

Living in the United States today, one may wonder about what seems to be a rising surge of national pushback against anything that seems to be “Unpatriotic.” The most obvious example is the outrage against Colin Kaepernick’s taking a knee during the national anthem at games played by the National Football League.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in New York City at Union Theological Seminary in 1930-1931. He saw his own version of nationalism rising in the United States. As he took notes during his class “Ethical Interpretation of Current Events,” he jotted down “Nationalism militant + economic.” Those words certainly ring true for the United States now. But what are we to do about it? Right after that brief line, Bonhoeffer wrote a question that still somehow answers what we ought to do. And with six words he undermined all attempts to unite nationalism and Christianity together:

What is the flag to God?

DBWE 10:429

And we must ask ourselves the same question. If we are enraged by those kneeling to the flag, we must reset. “What is the flag to God?” It is nothing. And we ought not to elevate it–or our nation–more than we ought.

Moreover, if we turn our hopes and trust towards the flag–towards the nation–we replace God with the flag and the nation. It becomes idolatrous. Our hope is not in the nation, which rises and falls. God stands forever. God is our hope. In God we trust, but we cannot say that while truly meaning “our country.”

What is the flag to God?


Dietrich Bonhoeffer– Come read all of my posts about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


2 thoughts on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Succinct Question on American Nationalism

  1. Well said, J.W. The presence of American flags in so many sanctuaries across the country is so troubling for exactly this reason (especially when paired with the “Christian flag,” as though the two are somehow equivalent). Thanks for this timely line from Bonhoeffer.

    Posted by Michael Poteet | November 9, 2020, 8:27 AM

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