To See from Below: Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Mandates and Feminist Ethics


Scholars celebrate Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a “prophet of justice for the oppressed” who identified the need “to see the great events of world history from below.” But few address the thorniest aspect of Bonhoeffer’s ethics for the marginalized: the mandates or divine commissions in church, marriage, work, and government made concrete within certain orders of relationship and authority. Bonhoeffer’s marriage mandate poses particular problems as it reinforces unjust social structures. Fortunately, striking similarities between Bonhoeffer’s ethics and feminist thought—attention to concrete contexts, the role of emotion in moral reasoning, opposition to harmful dualisms, and emphasis on relationality—suggest that feminists are well-placed to critique and reconstruct Bonhoeffer’s account. Construing the mandates as contexts for “genuine communities of argument” repurposes them to combat rather than condone injustice.