Agent of Grace
In June 1939, Dietrich Bonhoeffer traveled to the United States and received a warm welcome. By July he'd decided that, despite the danger, he had to go back to his Nazi-dominated homeland: "I have made a mistake in coming to America," he wrote to his former teacher, Reinhold Niebuhr. "I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany." But he didn't live through it. He was hanged for "political high treason" on April 9, 1945, just a month before Germany surrendered.
This span of years is the subject for a fine new film, "Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace," which will debut on PBS next Wednesday, June 14, at 9:30 p.m. ET (or check your local listings). The PR promises "a vital portrait of the man, the teacher, the resistance fighter, the moralist, the prisoner and, eventually, the martyr"—but the film delivers even more. It shows us a theologian in action, rethinking what it means to serve God, love others, and, especially, to tell the truth.
Early in the film, Bonhoeffer is convinced by his friend Hans (who was also his brother-in-law, though the film doesn't make this clear) to join military intelligence, the Abwehr, as a double agent. He was to use the international contacts forged in his ministry career ostensibly to gather information, but really to act as a courier for the resistance and attempt to seek terms of surrender from the Allies, should the Abwehr's plot to assassinate Hitler succeed. He was also involved in Operation 7, which snuck Jews out of the country by giving them sham posts in the Abwehr. The film shows a pastor reluctant to participate in this duplicity but quickly persuaded that "it ...