Was Dietrich Bonhoeffer gay? A new biography raises questions

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived from 1906 to 1945.

RNS photo courtesy Joshua Zajdman, Random House

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived from 1906 to 1945.

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NEW YORK (RNS) “I think theologians are often terrified of what we’ll discover when we go more deeply into human character if we say that a person had very complicated relationships with character, psychology, formation and sexuality,” says Dietrich Bonhoeffer biographer Charles Marsh.

  • Frank

    And this matters how? Homosexual behavior is still sinful whether he struggled with it or not.

  • Lles Nats

    All things gay is the best clickbait.

  • Bill

    When a man who belongs to a group of people who, at a rate of 50%, legally tear apart their families so that they can go and start a completely new one with a completely new heterosexual, makes public statements about sin and morality, he should know that to others, he will appear to be a bigoted, hypocritical doofus.

    You’re welcome, Frank. Bless your heart.

  • Frank

    A group of people? You mean humanity?

    I guess a cogent response was too much to ask for.

  • Tyler Charles

    While exploring the connections between Bonhoeffer and Bethge might be sensational enough to grab headlines, to try to affix a “gay” label on him posthumously seems unfair and irresponsible. And frankly, unnecessary. The LGBT community is very outspoken about not letting others apply labels to anyone. So was Dietrich Bonhoeffer gay? Based on the fact that he didn’t openly embrace that label, don’t we have to say “No”? Further, the term “gay” is ambiguous. Does it mean “attracted to those of the same sex whether one pursues it or not” or does it mean “desiring/pursuing a relationship with someone of the same sex”? They are two very different positions that both, somehow, elicit the “gay” label. This whole topic, in regards to Bonhoeffer, seems to unfairly shift the focus away from Bonhoeffer’s much-deserved legacy. Whether he was or wasn’t in love with Bethge, a woman, or both.

  • Lles Nats

    Haha. Good point bill.

    By a secular standard though, heterosexual divorce and remarriage is no sin. A person who sees gay marriage as ok and a moral right as no internal dogma filtering to see the hypocracy in bills comment should he be divorced.

    You’re likely projecting. Based on assumptions.

  • Lles Nats

    Brilliant comments. Thank you.

  • I thought Frank Schaeffer answered this already. According to him he was “flamingly gay,” whatever that means.

  • Frank

    Only Frank Schaeffer takes Frank Shaeffer seriously.

  • Raied

    Notice the wording


    It other words, there is no proof, they are just trying to claim that everyone in the world is gay. It just hasn’t come out yet

    I hereby raise questions that Obama is secretly Santa Clause. Book to follow

  • Larry M

    Disclaimer. ..I haven’t read this book and so I could be way off base. But I have to give it to the author, the best time to write a biography is 69 years after the person is dead and 15 years after the only other person that could verify the book is also dead. needless to say I’m a skeptic.

    It makes no difference to me if Bonhoffer was gay or not. It also makes no difference to me if he was sexually active or not. But really? is it ethically responsible to speculate about this when there really seems to be no evidence? It raises a few questions however.

    1. Doesn’t being gay mean having a physical and sexual desire for the same sex? is there any evidence of that at all?

    2. Am I the only one who believes that heterosexuals can have an extremely deep and loving friendship with the same sex to the point where it doesn’t compare to any other, but yet never seeks to find any expression physically or sexually because that desire is simply not there.

    Anyway… I love Bonhoffer so I may get the book… And maybe I will be pleasantly surprised.

  • Mimi

    Thank you.

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  • Kudos to Tyler. I especially appreciate his closing line: “Whether he was or wasn’t in love with Bethge, a woman, or both.”

    Is it possible to be attracted (sexually and/or otherwise) to more than one person? Absolutely. Almost everyone is. Heterosexual men are attracted to many a woman superficially and sometimes more deeply. The same men can demonstrate behaviors of attraction in relation to a close male friend with or without conscious sexual and/or romantic thoughts. Are such men “gay” or bisexual? In most cases, no.

    Attraction isn’t the end all. How we choose to focus our thoughts and feelings and actions is what counts. 32 years ago I got engaged and a few months later got married to then Miss Renee Shawn Hord. I’ve been 100% faithful to her, and she to me. Then again, Renee and I would be lying through our teeth if we said we’ve never been attracted to another woman or man.

    Again, attraction isn’t the end all. For the record, I’m attracted to beautiful women. I’m very happily married to one. I’m not attracted to handsome men. Those last three lines don’t make me any better or worse than the next guy. It’s simply (1) how I’m wired and (2) how I have chosen to be wired.

  • snooter

    its comical watching the gaystapo…lemme put it this way..any time the gaystapo attacks a business, an individual, or anything else its probably a good bet that’s the righteous path you should take…i personally only buy at places like chick-fil-a that the gaystapo has boycotted and attacked..makes it easier on me knowing where to shop and the like..

    ps: Bonhoeffer gay is like saying Hitler provided the Jews free housing and medical care..the author of this book also must have a secret love affair with Goebbels..Goebbels would have approved of this misinformation attempt…

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  • alice B

    Wow. Gaystopo? “Proof” for someone being gay? Sexuality stained with absolutism.
    Thanks, Tyler for a bit of sanity. However, if someone has not come out, the answer would not be “no,” but “we don’t know and it’s not relevant.” He loved his friend. Good for him. Don’t drag him into our sex-obsessed culture.

  • It is not plausible at all that Dietrich Bonhoeffer should have been gay. This would not go together with the very (extremely) holy character he had got. The good reputation of Bonhoeffer is confirmed by many witnesses. It is almost a crime to claim that he had been gay.That is evil defamation.

    History is the sum of all real events ever have taken place. Any stories which don’t refer to real events which really happened, are fairytales. It is a crime to try to rewrite history against one’s better judgement.

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the greatest saints together with St. Paul, Luther, Augustine, etc. Bonhoeffer overcame his sinful nature through the releasing power of Jesus death and resurrection. Bonhoeffer knew that he was connected with this releasing power through faith and sacramental baptism. Bonhoeffer was member of the Protestant church “Altpreussische Union”. Bonhoeffer was convinced that baptism and Lord’s Supper were sacraments. Bonhoeffer did not regard these rituals as mere symbolic acts, but believed that God would act during that rituals.

  • Steve R.

    Anyone who has ever served in combat, or under enormous physical or psychological stress over a long period of time, will bond with those with whom the experience(s) is directly shared. So, Larry, you make a good point in #2 above. My oldest and best friend and I flew together in the service and would, without ever stating it, have risked, or even given our lives for each other, and we both share love on that level. Yet I am saying nothing more about that relationship than the words that appear here in their simplest and most direct meaning. Period, end of story.

    Whether Bonhoeffer was gay or not, it’s pretty clear he never acted directly upon those feelings beyond what his culture at that time considered correct. But, I ask, who cares??? His value to us as Christians is to reiterate the committment even unto death at the hands of the unjust that may be required of Christ’s desciples. He shows us the truth of the old adage that ‘we owe God a life.’ Anything else is muddying the waters.

  • Kurt Iver

    In Ferdinand Schlingensiepen’s (International co-founder of the DB Society) whose own biography on Bonhoeffer,(and update to Bethge) released the same month, by T&T Clarl/Continuum, as the EM work by Thomas Nelson, includes a statement by DB’s close friend, Eberhard – on page 393 – where EB categorically denies this claim. Ferdinand’s father was a student at Bonhoeffer’s “illegal seminary” and wrote nothing about this in his work on Bonhoeffer – released in 1953. Hmmmm????

  • William

    You comment is gibberish.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    Say what you like about it–call it “sinful” if you’re one of those so-called christians who reject science – including the behavioral sciences – but as a gay guy who’s been out and about in the world–gay and non-gay–for over 40 years, the passage I’ve quoted below sounds to me like they were in love. And i know no place in the bible that says being in love with a person of the same sex is “sinful.”

    “Bonhoeffer and Bethge shared a bank account, gave gifts under both of their names and slept by warm fires, read books, traveled and played the piano together, Marsh writes. “Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Bethge had always strained toward the achievement of a romantic love,” Marsh writes, “one ever chaste but complete in its complex aspirations.”

    “Marsh suggests Bonhoeffer’s engagement to Maria von Wedemeyer as an imitation of Bethge’s engagement to Bonhoeffer’s niece in an effort to remain close to his “soul mate.” Bonhoeffer left his fiancee a memento of her choosing from his belongings, while Bethge received most everything else, including his car, clothes, books, music and money.”

  • Frank

    True. Loving someone is not a sin. Being physically intimate, romantic and trying to make something a marriage is the sinful part.

  • Lanie

    Ever since the homosexual lobby succeeded in convincing the majority that sodomy is normal, healthy, and greater than mom’s apple pie, every historical figure is now under scrutiny or claims make they were homosexual or lesbian. Just as the history of the world has been rewritten to reflect the views of the atheist, pro-Communism/Socialism/terrorist.

  • Mary

    The media is inflamed with all things gay. Raising a question about the orientation of a Christian leader who lived in the early portion of the last century is very low-taste on the part of a media outlet that, I would think, places a high amount of value on itself and takes itself seriously.

  • Art

    Let’s just ask D.B. if he is or isn’t… oh we can’t because he’s dead! Here is a quote that may help those of us alive. 1Th 4:11 And that you may take pride in being quiet and doing your business, working with your hands as we gave you orders;
    Notice; that conjecture and speculation are missing. But that doesn’t sell books does it?

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    your comments hold water only if you believe being gay is something negative tending to detract from his character and his reputation generally. Otherwise, no. The overall tone of this thread demonstrates how deeply and subtly entrenched homophobia is among many religious people. Even the postings of some of the less antagonistic people here reveal it.

    The matter of his being gay is interesting because so many people in public life and elsewhere who trumpet their “christianity” are so nasty to gay people–to the point of violence or approving violence. That Bonhoeffer, whose witness to the Cross was one of the most Christ-like testimonies imaginable, may turn out to have been gay kicks homophobia in its teeth. And ought to. In no way should – or would – his being gay be as problematic as it is in this discussion if so many so-called christians weren’t consumed with hatred of gay people. That’s why raising the issue is important – especially in a venue like this.

    The flip-side of it is all that so many very public, very visible so-called evangelists and other conservative so-called Christians in public life are so often caught with their pants down with a person of the same sex – that person often turning out to be a rental.

    Whatever can be done to expose this flaming hypocrisy is fair game. I’m sick unto death of so-called christians who have so much to say about this issue while ignoring the science that totally debunks their attitudes toward homosexuality.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    “Whether Bonhoeffer was gay or not, it’s pretty clear he never acted directly upon those feelings beyond what his culture at that time considered correct.”

    There is simply no way to verify that. But other evidence cited in this article most definitely suggest the type of intimacy shared by people in love with one another. The ambiguity of the picture – their engagements, etc – may easily be attributed to the perceived necessities of the world in which they lived.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    sounds like you suffer from the delusion that being gay makes it impossible to live a holy life. you’ve got a lot to learn, bro.

  • Frank

    Engaging in homosexual behavior and a holy life are mutually exclusive.

  • Atheist Max

    How dare you?
    Fascism. That is all you are about.

  • Atheist Max


    Why don’t you just go out and kill the gay people like your God commanded?

    “If a man lies with a male as with a women, both of them shall be put to death for their abominable deed; they have forfeited their lives.” (Leviticus 20:13 NAB)

    At this point you appear frustrated that civilization won’t let you behave the perfect, BARBARIC way your God wants you to.

    Only when religion vanishes will there be peace in this world.
    It is inhuman nonsense.

  • Deacon Brian

    What is the point of this new biography?

    Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a shining example of a Christian. A man who loved Christ and was willing to give His life for the Lord. I find him inspiring. I believe the point of this biography is to SELL. Everything “gay” sells. I believe there is an agenda here. The Metaxas book is very good. I would recommend it.

  • Larry

    By “secular standard” you mean by rational, sane and objective standards. “Lacking internal dogma” meaning an acceptance of arbitrary, ridiculous and irrational outside authority.

    We can’t all find such ready made excuses for immoral and harmful behavior like religious people. So convenient when you want to be a raging jerk towards others. So uncluttered with consideration.

  • Larry

    So unless a book advances your belief, it has no value?

    As many point out, being a Christian and being gay are only mutually exclusive to a certain subset of the faith. One which is pretty vocal in their bigotry and short sighted arguments as of late.

    Of course the agenda here may be shedding light on something which although may be true, makes people like yourself uncomfortable. Fundamentalist Christians are not know for being receptive to views or facts which go against their predigested dogma.

  • Larry

    Oh no, a person who is often name checked and wildly misquoted by religious conservatives might be gay!

    Quick, get my clutching pearls and fainting couch!!!

  • David

    Very well said. Your logic perfectly sums up the matter.

  • David

    Frank Schaeffer only gets attention because he abandoned the faith of his influential father. I view him as anything BUT an authority on matters involving evangelical.

  • David

    This falls into the same category of those who claimed Sam and Frodo in LOTR were gay because of their close friendship and loyalty. It appears the author is just trying go gain attention when no one involved can speak out.

  • Atheist Max


    You said, “It is almost a crime to claim that he had been gay. That is evil defamation.”

    What a despicable thing to say.

    Most people are good.
    Most Good people will do good.
    But if you want otherwise good people to say and do absolutely sickening things, you will need god.

    The relentless evil of jesus is an ongoing disgrace to this world.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    I’d say you don’t know much about marriage except what you can regurgitate from a catechism or extrapolate from the bible – which is, by no means, a consistent, reliable source to use to buttress your narrow conceptions of what a marriage is.

    But in my experience, I’ve consistently found that the less learned someone is the more sure he is in his opinions.

    Well, have at it. As Napoleon said, never interrupt your adversary when he’s making a fool of himself.

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    well, Deacon, I’d certainly agree that “there is an agenda here.” Yours seems to be one of intolerance that can’t abide the idea of a gay person living a life of holiness. You also seem unable to abide tellingthe truth about a brilliant star in the life of the church if it includes that this star may also have been gay.

    Can’t have it both ways, bro. Christians have bludgeoned gay people, time out of mind. Maybe the agenda and message is, “you have been wrong; now it’s time to stop.”

  • Frank

    I have studied the issue quite extensively and homosexual behavior is still sinful and marriage is till man plus woman.

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  • Erica H.

    It’s all about getting publicity and selling books.

  • Erica H.

    Great points.

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  • The first person who commented on this write-up asked the question,’and this matters how?’. I would like to answer here that though engaging in homosexuality is wrong, and having same sex attractions,though a disorder, is not, it does matter if Boeheffer did have same sex attractions,because that is the extent all the writings about him have suggested, it does matter because it shows us, it shows the world, that those who have same sex attractions can live Holy Lives, can be Holy and Chaste, and can even be Saints. Our world today needs such saints. Saints that would show us what True Love is, amidst the crisis of it, amidst the weaknesses that has plagued it,. It matters to those who have same sex attractions and are engaging in homosexuality that they do not have to because it is contrary to the order of love which they should have amongst them, the divine love that they should share. Bonhoeffer did other things with berthge that strebgthened that love..not contradicting the love they both had for God,bringng God into it, and living in the Love of God.

  • Linda Isaacs

    Thank you for your well thought out and well presented position here. I agree with your statements and am just repulsed by those who insist on throwing sex into every topic, at every turn. Who cares what people do under the covers! This man is now and will always be a hero of mine. Nobody can truly ruin the truth of what this man did, how he lived his life and the bravery he showed the world as he fought one of the greatest evils this world has ever known. What have THEY done to make the world a better place? Consider this: The gestapo knew everything about everyone. They hated homosexuality…… along with other things. If they knew Bonhoeffer was gay, don’t you think they would have killed him on the spot?

  • SeeingDouble

    While divorce shows a moral failing, there is no 50% divorce rate amongst heterosexuals, and never has been in the United States. It is a myth repeated ad infinitum — by those against marriage and by those against divorce — until everyone, out of shear ignorance of the facts, has accepted it. It is not unlike the growing acceptance that gays are “born that way.” Repeat a lie out of ignorance and soon the whole of society accepts it as a fact.

    Point being, per the 2010 US Census, the national divorce rate is 3.5%. (The highest divorce rate in America is in a county in Indiana: 19%.)

    Nonetheless, the mere fact that one person sins isn’t an excuse for another to sin, and is most certainly an illogical basis upon which to redefine sin. So if Bonhoeffer was tempted, he nonetheless resisted, and therefore did not commit that which he considered sinful, apparently. Temptation is not a sin.

  • A. Nonnie Mouse

    LOL…Thank you for that comment. It helped! I admire Mr. Bonhoeffer very much, as a Christian man who gave his life for what he believed in.

  • Doug

    Marsh has a limited understanding of relationship between same sexes in other cultures. Cultures of Asia, Africa, Middle East and Europe would not look at all at the relationship between Bonhoeffer and eberhard as being homosexual in nature. This is the kind of friendship/relationship that most Americans are not capable of understanding. And if you do not have understanding, don’t write a book to prove that you do not have understanding. What a moron.

  • Ralph Lawrence

    This assumption about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality is pure speculation. I suspect the author is capitalizing on the high profile that homosesxual issues have in current society. One could write something suspecting gay interests about nearly any famous person, and with the right ghost writer and agent turn it into a popular, if not “best” seller. On the other hand, the excellent novel based on Bonhoeffer’s life, Saints and Villains by Denise Giardina, boldly suggests that Bonhoeffer had a female friend with whom he was intimate in the 1930’s. Try that for another view of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality and see which one you are satisfied with.

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