Chaplain (Colonel) Timothy Mallard, command chaplain of US Army Europe, spoke about Dietrich Bonhoeffer during Providence’s Christianity and National Security Conference in November 2019. His remarks are his views and are not representative of the US Army or government. The following is a transcript of the lecture.

Well as Mark said good morning. I’m Chaplain Timothy Mallard, here in an unofficial capacity so I’m wearing my suit today as opposed to my classes last night. But I still, since I’m an active serving officer in the United States Army, have to predicate my remarks this morning with the standard disclaimer that I don’t… that my words today don’t represent the policy, programs, or position of the United States Government, the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the US Army Chaplain Corp, or anybody associated with any of the DoD. They’re simply mine and mine alone for purpose of academic discussion here for the education of the group. That’s all. 

And I… I really want to… I’m really glad that I’m speaking after Emily’s fine talk and also Dan’s this morning as well, because I’m continuing on this theme of ontology. Um, Mark, would it… would it be possible to get a glass of water? Um, because this is… this is also a question of critical importance within the profession of arms today. So what I’m going to do today, or this morning is I’m going to try to tackle Dietrich Bonhoeffer in 20 minutes, um, good luck with that, and, uh, leave some time for Q&A after. But I want to ask a question, I want to provide the context, I want to draw the five points of Bonhoeffer’s theology specifically his ecclesiology. Um, I’ve done all of my work on his ecclesiology as opposed to his Christology. And then I want to apply that in the context of the American profession of arms.  

So the question is this: What will be the intrinsic value of a warrior as a person in the 21st Century in the American profession of arms? Alright? What will be the intrinsic value of a warrior as a person in the 21st Century in the American profession of arms? I can’t claim to speak for our partner nations of Britain or France or Germany or any of those… those other traditions. Because they have to ask that question in their own context, but I think that we can ask that question in this context. I think that’s a question that deepens for each and every one of us, and I’ll try to demonstrate that at the end.  

What will be the intrinsic value of a warrior as a person in the 21st Century in the American profession of arms? Now that’s… that may seem like a fairly straightforward question, and it is. But the context in which that question must be answered is increasingly complex. As I talked about last night over at an IRD book launch, and again I want to thank Mark and the team at IRD for hosting that event, and I’ll talk more about the book in a minute…  

As I said last night, the reality is right now the profession of arms exists in several different contextual changes. The return of great power competition is a strategic reality for at least the United States. The demonstrated threat potential of Russia and China and the rise of risk and major-theater war. The increase of technical technological reliance in future war – again our current profession of arms, for example, the rise of artificial intelligence or autonomous weapons systems. The growing divide between the American public and its military services. The growing divide between the American public and its military services, and again I can elucidate that more at the end of the forum. But also the advance of America joint-operational doctrine known as multi-domain operations. I really don’t think the American public understands that operational doctrine in… for the… for the, um, United States military is… has turned toward, in the context of the rise in great power competition, multi-domain operations which will be simultaneous and continual or continuous warfare in land, sea, aerospace, and cyberspace.  

As I said last night, for the first time in human history, that now includes the first synthetic domain of war. Cyberspace. Right? And so previously those other four domains were all natural. Now in this context I will say, I must note that last month, the United States Army introduced it’s Army-People Strategy. I guess… I’m not really trying to be euphemistic. That is actually the title. I love the Army. Only we could come up with a title like Army-People Strategy. Riveting.  

Well, it’s actually a very, very important document. And in that document it says for the preface… the total army… now when we… when we say that, we’re talking about active duty, army national guard, US army reserve… “The total Army must remain ready as the world’s premier combat force. That readiness relies upon people, after all equipment does not learn, understand, innovate, build cohesive teams, or exercise judgement. People do. Human capabilities such as resiliency, critical thinking, comfort with ambiguity, and the ability to accept prudent risk and the ability to adjust rapidly all define our profession.” 

And again, the Army just published that last month. That’s an aspirational statement, I think. It’s also… it is also a statement of strategy and policy for the United States Army. Army is going to remain a set of people-centric, and you can understand why. That total Army force – active, guard, reserve – is 1.4 million people. I don’t know if you know that. The army takes in 11,000 people a month. 11,000 people a month. I can’t think of another organization in the world that takes in that many people. Now we exit that many people a month as well because we… people retire or move on.  

That’s an… that’s an amazing context for the profession of arms. So in response to that context, what does theological ethic… ethics have to say about this issue? Well I just want to give one voice and that is from the man I’ve studied for many years, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And I want to give five concepts this morning from his, again, his ecclesiology. Understand, Bonhoeffer… Bonhoffer never just… well first of all, he’s a German. So he never jumped straight to mission like we do as Americans. But he… he predicates his argument on founding… on foundational ideas. And so his ability to talk about an ethical issue like, um, the nature of the human person within the military force, the profession of arms, his predicated in his ecclesiology on five things. 

First, drawing heavily although not exclusively on Martin Luther’s two kingdoms construct, Bonhoeffer called for an understanding by the culture and the state of the Church’s role in society. So that’s the first concept, the Church’s role in society. Bonhoeffer was very much interested in the form of the Church within the world, mainly because he press… presciently saw the problem arising from the post-World War I German social crisis. In essence, he knew that the Christian community in Germany was struggling for a renewed identity. When it had led its theological enterprises to support the nationalism that underlay the imperial ambitions of Kaiser and Germany, both prior to and during World War I. 

Second, related to Bonhoeffer’s distinction between Church and state was this idea of the Church as the “bearer of office.” That’s his term. The “bearer of office,” for all factors relative to the administration of eccle—ecclesial life. And Bonhoeffer’s thinking is complete and prescriptive, particularly encompassing rites, sacraments, and ordinances of the Christian faith, the administration of theological education, the ordination and assignment of ministers, and the regulation of collective Protestant Church left cluster – remember that is his context.  

Moreover for Bonhoeffer, it was impossible for the Church to function in society without a clear understanding of its continuing ecclesial responsibilities to lead parishioners in the traditional craft and practice of the preaching of the Word and the right administration of the Sacraments. However, it was precisely this role which would come into conflict during the Church struggle, the Kirkenkampf, where the state’s usurpation of Church authority and practices resulting from the passage of the Aryan paragraphs, principally both in 1933 and 1935.  

Third. This is… the third idea is the fall of nature… um, the idea of the fallen nature of the Church within humanity. That’s not something you hear preached as much on Sunday morning anymore. Whereas Bonhoeffer termed it in the Latin, the Church has imperfect or corrupted status. Status Corruptus is his term. This is a major idea of Bonhoeffer’s early ecclesiology and is one that he ties directly to the Fall and the Creation account of Genesis 1. Bonhoeffer considered that the Church must always consider its sinful nature, but again in a marked departure from Luther and traditional Lutheranism, this was for Bonhoeffer not only an individual but also a corporate reality and a natural outgrowth of the rupture of sin in the Fall

Such a collective nature must remain in the forefront of the Church’s self-understanding and drag it to humility and greater fidelity to its communal calling of vicarious, representative action to the culture, the state, and witness to Jesus Christ. And that term vicarious representative action is a critical term of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology that comes from his doctoral dissertation Sancto Communio, and the German word for vicarious representative action ultimately is… the ultimate expression of that is Jesus Christ on the cross for us. Bonhoeffer then goes on to link that to the Church’s role in the world. Such a corporate self-understanding is grounded in a posture of not only fidelity to the character of Christ but also the humility of the continuing need of the Church for redemption and engagement with the world.  

Fourth, ally to the system, to this fallen nature, is another theological concept. And that is the ongoing temptation to the Church in sin to want to be like God. That Bonhoeffer’s term in the Latin is sicut et Deus. Sicut et Deus. Again, from his exposition of the first three chapters of Genesis, Bonhoeffer sees that the Church must face the pressure and it’s continuing temptation to want to assume the status of God in the world. This is particularly true when the state has assumed the ideal… idolatrous nature of a God in God’s place, and calls the Church to shift its allegiance to the state in false worship and discipleship.  

Thus for Bonhoeffer there are two critical theological realities related to the Fall. That is the sinful nature of the Church and the temptation to supplant God as God. Yet for him, these are not only historical antecedents to the present… present situation. Rather, as is so often the case with Bonhoeffer, these are continual theological descriptors of reality. But in this particular instance, with immense political and sociological implications of the Church, state, and culture.  

Fifth. A fifth idea of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology is his early signaled distinction between the concept of orders of Creation versus orders of preservation. And as Dan talked about, one of the early moves by the Nazis was to co-opt theological… theology and theological terms, in particular, well Bonhoeffer did as well. One of the, uh, one of the major moves of the Third Reich or the National Socialist Party really was to try to co-opt the Lutheran ideal of orders of Creation, that is establishing that the Church and state must be valid as one, because that was part of the orders of Creation going back to the Creation of mankind and Genesis. Bonhoeffer categorically rejected that and distinguished orders of creation versus orders of preservation. For him, the task of the Church was to remain in the latter. We are to preserve our role… our nature and role in the world, because that is what the world needs. 

As is well known in the history of the Church struggle, the Nazi Party government apparatus sought to co-opt the Church and ecclesiastical, theological ideas for its own purposes, often inverting this. Again, Bonhoeffer saw this and he… he altered Luke—He altered Luther’s early ideal to that importance of preservation. He relates this to the distinction between Church and state and the state’s proper role to set the conditions for the Church’s office role as the presence of witness to and embodiment of the suffering in Jesus Christ in the world. That is, Bonhoeffer’s saying that the state does have a clear role, and that is to set the conditions for the Church to be preserved in the world. Though he would later in his Ethics alter the term “orders of preservation” to the term “mandates,” for Bonhoeffer this aspect demarcated the power and authority of the State, and maintained the theological integrity of the Church’s identity, task, and culture.  

Now, why is all this important? In Bonhoeffer’s mind, why are just these five, and these are only five of many of the theological concepts including broad ecclesiology… But why is this important to the question of the ontology of persons in the world? Because ecclesiology has incredibly important ethical implications. For Bonhoeffer, you cannot divorce ecclesiology from the ethical task of the Church in the world. Cannot be done. Remember his context, working and serving in Nazi Germany at the time. This you will see play out in two critical ways involving Bonhoeffer’s writing. Some now, early in his… in his career as a theologian, much more so later. 

The first will be the question of the Jews, the Judenfrad in Germany. Now again with the Aryan paragraphs, the initial… the initial challenge to the Church was that the Nazi State, the National Socialists, were dictating to… to the Protestant Church – they had co-opted the Protestant Church Bishop Ludwig Mulder – with the idea that they could use state-imposed quasi-scientific standards of blood and heritage to determine who could accept the sacraments in the Church. And they particularly were interested in using those kinds of ideals to deny the sacraments to even Christians who were of Jewish heritage, some Jews who had converted to Christianity, but even Jews who had nominally a level of nominal bloodline connections to Judaism. The… the National Socialists wanted to do… not only deny them the sacraments, but use that to begin to separate them from the Church. 

Bonhoeffer of course will then come later into the full conflict of liberation… er, confrontation of the Church in his own role as treason against the Nazi state when he saw the full expanse of the National Socialist program of the final solution. But early on, he still saw the incredible importance too of this idea, the ethical implications of this idea for Jewish Christian and Jewish citizens in Weimar German life. 

Second, what also starts to occur in Bonhoeffer’s later writings from this period is a subtle invective against his term now quotation, “the elimination of the weak.” In Bonhoeffer’s change, this challenged the uncritical support of the culture and often the Church of the Nazi goal of purifying the German people of the tainted racial effects of state-labeled undesirables; marginalized citizens such as not only Jews. The gypsies, the aged, the mentally… mentally or physically handicapped, and so on. 

In Bonhoeffer’s theology, any attempt to call the populus of such people denies their status as persons created in the imago Dei because they are God-bearers just as the Church is an office bearer. And it aggravates the state’s responsibility to preserve their social care and human rights, which I’ve been talking to you about, and lessens the culture’s understanding of the breadth of human creation and most importantly challenges the authority of God alone as the Author and Preserver of all the world and of all life. That was the full import of Bonhoeffer’s attempt to protect against or… or stand against the elimination of the weak.  

So I talked about five ideas about Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology. To review, Bonhoeffer called for an understanding by the culture and the state of the Church’s role in society. Second, related to Bonhoeffer’s distinction between Church and state, was his idea of the Church as the bearer of office of all factors relevant to the administration of ecclesial life and culture. Third idea is the fallen nature of the Church within humanity whose work, as Bonhoeffer termed it in the Latin, the Church is imperfect or corrupted status corruptus. I liken this to the fallen nature of another theological reality. That is the ongoing temptation in sin of the Church to be like God and again the Latin is Sigut et Deus. And then fifth idea of Bonhoeffer’s ecclesiology is this early signal distinction between the concept of order of Creation versus order of preservation.  

In his own day, in his own day, this played itself out in two critical ethical trajectories. Again the Church and the Jewish question, and the Nazi attempt to make the state do a task in the elimination of the weak. 

Now how do we apply this to the 21st Century American professional arms? And this will be my conclusion, and then we’ll go to Q&A. First, I think the Church must reclaim its role of speaking to the culture and the state of the nature of human personnel. That is, as I think Emily’s talk elucidated for us, it’s a question of incredible import in our society today and around the world, but often is reduced to ornament. It’s only sexuality or sexual orientation or gender identity. Bonhoeffer would say that that is… that is a very reductionist view of what it means to be a person created in the image of God. I think the Church reclaiming its role in speaking to the culture and saying the nature of the human person. 

The Church however must, again following Bonhoeffer, do this avoiding the temptation to assume God’s status or succumb to the power of, or supplant the role of, the state. Again, Bonhoeffer wanted very, very much to… to draw the stark lines between the nature and functions of Church and state. 

Third, the Church must remain the primary… must retain its privacy on its critical ability to do what only it can do, right? We preach the word, administer the sacraments. Again that’s following Bonhoeffer here. But additional… additionally, in America I think the Church must play three further functions, and I talk about these, by the way, in the book that’s out on the table that was launched last night. A Persistent Fire. The chapter that I wrote there… frankly, I have some pretty unsparing comments for most of American Christian denominations in terms of their role in the… in the body politic of the Republic and the relationship to the profession of arms. The three… three things that I think the Church, broadly, the Church… Christianity must do. 

First, to form morally our confessing and adherence for their individual roles as citizens of the republic. To form, morally, our confessing adherence for their individual roles as citizens of the republic. I cannot state this… overstate this. Um, in one of my previous positions at the Pentagon, I worked with all 192 enforcing agencies or sending Churches that send clergy to the United States Army Chaplains. 192 denominations, Churches, endorsements, and I cannot think of one, one, that has a denomination-wide program to morally form its people for their role as citizens in this republic. That is denominationally wide. There may be individual Churches, there may be even individual Presbyteries, but I can’t think of a denomination that does that.  

And yet, again as I described the context of the 21st Century profession of arms, what I found so often in the army is once our people are launched in their career in public theology, they are outside, you know, often or distantized to their original body of faith in which they grew up. I think that is critically important goal. If we want leaders not just in the military but in public theology, if we want leaders to act ethically in accordance with their Christian morality, that morality must be well-formed when they are initially in that denomination.  

Second, I think that Churches have to intentionally care for veterans and their families before, during, and after war. Now, again, I am going to be frankly un-spirited. This has got to go beyond a simple thank you for your service. I mean we… we have got to reassume a role for our Churches as bodies of faith in the care for veterans and their families before, during, after war. As I… As I refer to in this chapter, many… I have found many of our veterans, or even people who are actively serving in our congregation are congregational ghosts. I mean, they’re… their day to day existence… they’re here amongst our bodies, our local congregation for a while, but then they often… they deploy and they might go through horrendous experiences in war and the congregations and the Churches will never acknowledge it. 

Ed Tick, my colleague Ed Tick, from Massachusetts, a psychiatrist, has written extensively about the Church’s abdication of its role of sending and receiving warriors back, right? With any kind of rites, sacraments, or ordinances. That kind of ideal is… is simply foreign to many of our denominations.  

And then third, I think Churches have to do this because we are a part of this republic. And as I alluded to earlier… earlier, we have a growing divide between the American military and the American civil society. I actually had one four star general who told me… he didn’t just tell me, he said in a speech in 2004, he said we are at risk of greeting a command – and he was talking to a group of United States Army majors, about a thousand majors – he said we were at risk of becoming a mercenary organization on behalf of the people. That this… the separation between the American military and the people we serve is… is… is… is for me it’s… it’s a huge chasm. Um, and frankly Churches and the embodying, bodies of faith, have abetted that separation because we have not wanted to pay attention to it.  

Now, in my own reading of American, recent American, history, I think that goes back to the rise of the all-volunteer force, when we did away with mandatory conscription. I’m not arguing we should have mandatory conscription, but what happened is as an unintended consequence, and a second order effect, was that we created a category of people who were technically and tactically proficient and they were so technically and tactically proficient that we decided we couldn’t let them go. And so when this war came along, which we didn’t expect, this eighteen-year war or conflict, now we were deploying and redeploying and redeploying and redeploying the same people, and putting their families through the same types, the same cycle. 

And again, I think in some sense it’s our denominations, and I’m thinking strategically here. Not individually, not locally. Not local congregations. I’m thinking that are denominations have largely been silent as that sort of gulf has widened. And I think we need to step into leading the culture to reclaim it and care for our veterans and families and healing, uh, drawing together that divide. 

So I’ve said enough. I’m going to stop there. And thank you for your time and attention, and I’ll take questions and answers. Well, nothing provocative.  

Q&A 

Question: Um, in your mind, what would those rites look like for Churches to both send and receive, if you have a sort of thumbnail sketch?  

Answer: In the just war tradition, um, and obviously that was something that developed over the course of Catholicism, a warrior was sent off, could not come back and reenter a congregational life until they had gone through a sacrament of confession and penance, right? So there was a type of cleansing on returning to the body of faith. I think at a minimum, and by the way I’m pushing our Chaplains in our forces… I’m pushing our Chaplains in Europe, at least where I’ve been… as we consider if we’re preparing to deploy forces and we’re going to war and then receive them back into the same communities, whether they’re Catholic, Protestant, whatever, to have sending rites of blessing and consecration for those warriors and for their families, and then when they return some sort of theological appropriate rite or sacrament or ordinance to receive them back into the life of faith but to help them then face what they’ve experienced in the war. 

Over and over again one of the things that we are beginning to see as we study issues of moral and spiritual injury is that to… Number one, as Marc LiVecche has written brilliantly, moral formation acts as… acts as a hedgerow against future moral injury in war, right? So the more well-formed our moral… our warriors are morally, the less likely they are to have lasting damage from moral or spiritual injury. 

But secondly, when they do return and we provide them with those rites, they have a vehicle then to face what they’ve done and perhaps then share that injury within the family system and for the… for the type of healing to become a type of healing for the family as well. And then for the community to re-embrace them. That… that would be at a minimum. At a minimum. But I can’t overstate the importance prior to that of well thought-out intentional programs of moral formation, principally through institutions.  

Question: Hi. Clare Brenden, Virginia University. I was just curious because we were talking about the Church’s need to step in to lessen the gap between the American public and the American forces. What methods do you imagine as being most effective for accomplishing that? 

Answer: Well again, so, my charge here would be to denominations as a whole to make that a national priority as a denomination. And Frankly, I know many denominations who are in pressure just to keep the lights on and to try to look at things like evangelization and things like that. I know that there are a lot of priorities. But, to make that sort of a national priority at the denominational level with considered, well-formed programs of religious education morally for warriors and their families, and their adherence to become the life of citizens of the republic.  

But then locally. Locally I do think it’s absolutely critical for local congregations to ally themselves first of all to assess what warriors, active duty, those that happen to be in their formation, right? In their formation. In their congregation. Sorry. Uh, Active Guard Reserve and their families, and to have a microprogram of care and sustain for them, but also for the… for the veterans who have gone beyond returning from military service. Many of you know veterans who’ve cycled…  

I worked at the VA last summer. The new statistics were released. Uh, so that it’s just over 22 veterans a day commit suicide. Now if you think about that, over the course of ten years that’s 80,000 veterans take their lives. That is far more… That is four times more than we’ve lost in Iraq and Afghanistan in 18 years. So caring for those veterans in… in the pews I think is a test many congregations… And if they can do that in concert and with intentionality, if there happens to be a local unit, like a National Guard Unit or reserve unit or even an active-duty base close by, and the Chaplains, they’re… they’re on, I think that that would simply be ideal. 

So I think it is both a local issue, yes, but a national issue as well.  

Question: Thank you so much, Chaplain. I’d… I’d like you to quote that, uh, that quote again so I can get it right about the risk of us becoming a mercenary military because I think part of the problem is we don’t see our army in action. I know, you know, in Israel all the people just seem to admire the IDF a lot more and… and… and have that closer relationship than we do as Americans with our military. So I’d like to shock some people with that statement, yeah. So I need to get that right. 

Answer: So I don’t… I don’t have that written in my notes, but the… the quote is from a general, and I won’t attribute it publicly here and say who it was. He said “we are at risk of becoming a mercenary force one behalf of the American republic we serve.” Now he meant that to… to arrest the attention of those majors that were there in that audience that day. He did. He got all of our attention.  

But I think what he was trying… he was doing… using that as a teaching point to say, and again this is 2004, so this is just three years after the war on terror has begun and we couldn’t proceed that point in 15 more years of that conflicts. But I think he was trying to get their attention and help them understand that they also have, as uniformed officers, they also have a responsibility to try and interact with and engage the public we serve.  

And I will say that one of the… that’s frankly, and if I can be completely selfish, that’s exactly one of the reasons I come to events like this. And I love all… all of my friends here, Joe, and Mark and Dan, I have a great time and I appreciate the interaction with students, but I want you to be able to interact with at least one officer from your United States Army. Right? So that is an incumbent responsibility on us who do serve in uniform now. But I also think it’s… it’s a response on the part of the incumbent, um, responsibility on the part of our people to seek to engage our military as well. 

By the way, if I could just tell one funny story, I was on a team at the War College. I was selected as an Eisenhower fellow and went around the nation. And our task was to engage university audiences, so we spoke at multiple universities, about what we do in the military. And so I literally… I had a nuclear physicist, I had a sub driver, we had a special operator, we had all that, and then they put me on there as a chaplain. So we talked about… I talked about religion and the… and the geopolitical issues of religion in the contemporary world. In the contemporary orbit. 

And we war gamed, um, as a team, we war gamed all of these really complex questions, how would we answer these questions, and we were all ready for them. And the first night, we spoke to an audience, this was… was indicative of what was to come. First people, you know, started to get in to ask questions to say, you know, what’s it like to carry a gun, and have you ever… do you like MREs? Do they taste that bad? Now some people began to get into these really complex questions, but… but often there was just this lack of understanding of what it’s like to be a warrior in the 21st Century American profession of arms.  

And we never castigated anybody for that. We tried to answer, you know, professionally and courteously, but it was… it was illustrative to me of just, again, how wide that gap is because at that point, and we had been serving for, all of us, 20, 21 years, 22 years, we were the first people they had ever seen in uniform who was from their military forces. I really don’t think that that should be so. Thanks very much.