I just finished reading a book called “Man Without A Face”. It is the autobiography of Markus Wolf, the head of East Germany’s Foreign Intelligence Service for over 35 years, from the end of WW2 to three years before the wall fell.

Besides weaving the history of the division of East and West Germany with his spy exploits, the book is also a confession of sorts. Wolf takes blame for some bad things, but also sidesteps the worst atrocities of the GDR. The killing of would-be defectors trying to cross the wall and the supporting of terrorist were not under his authority, so he makes a distinction between “guilt” and “responsibility”

The debate over the different definitions of “guilt” and “responsibility” has become more and more intense in recent years. To put these terms in their historical context, only a small minority of Germans were actually guilty of the terrible crimes that were committed under the Nazis, but all Germans who lived willingly under the Nazis bear a responsibility for them. This is not an academic distinction. Crimes are a matter of law, responsibility a matter of conscience.

Man Without A Face, page 279

Wolf goes on to say they he is not guilty of those atrocities, but he is morally responsible for them by willingly supporting the East German Government. He feels responsible for not speaking out more forcefully. After reunification, he was investigated for violent acts against the German people, but nothing was ever found. He went so far as to file libel suits against newspapers that reported he knew that the GDR was sheltering terrorist. He maintains his innocence, but still says he is morally responsible.

Is this a legitimate argument he makes? If so, can it be applied to religious and secular leaders of our time? Take Trump for example. He is not guilty of white supremacy violence in Charlottesville or anyplace else, but is he morally responsible for the carnage by not condemning them? (he said there were “very fine people on both sides”)

What about church leaders? In Rick B’s post a few weeks ago, he talked about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Lets assume Brigham Young did not cover it up, and he was certainty not guilty of the actual killings, but was he responsible for the events of that day by supporting the rhetoric and social environment that caused the massacre?

Could we as members of the LDS church be morally responsible if we do not speak up against racisms and sexism we see in the church? We did not implement the Policy of Exclusion in 2015, that was our leaders. But are we responsible for not speaking out? Are there Apostles that might not be guilty of that policy, but are responsible for it?

What do you think? Is there a difference or did Markus Wolf just make up this distinction to placate his guilty conscience? Or maybe there is little we can do, as Wolf writes in the epilogue of his book:

I’ve wondered whether I waited too long before saying loudly what I really thought and felt. It was not lack of courage but the futility of the protest throughout the history of the GDR that made me hold my peace. Too often I had seen how vehement protest only served to heighten oppression and further freedom of thought. I believed that patient, quiet negotiation would, in the end, be more productive in a country where any open debate was doomed to be denounced by a leadership that was too hysterical and insecure to act sensibly. Was I wrong?

Man Without a Face, Page 387