This weekend I read Diane Reynolds' The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Women, Sexuality and Nazi Germany (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade, 2016.
I think the only other biography of Bonhoeffer I have read is that by his close companion Eberhard Bethge. I am aware of recent biographies by Metaxas and Marsh. The latter, apparently, not only delves but lingers on Bonhoeffer's sexuality, with some interesting responses such as here and here.
In one way Reynolds' book belies its title. It is a book about the "doubled life" of Bonhoeffer (what we knew, what we didn't know about him; what people experienced of him, what he really felt like within himself; how he led a doubled life as a double agent for the Abwehr). It does tell his biography with special attention to the women in his life (more or less absent from Bethge's biography), with special interest in his relationship with Bethge and, of course, with engagement of the haunting, terrifying spectre of Nazi Germany as the context of Bonhoeffer's significant contribution to theology and to church history. But really, it is a book about Bonhoeffer and Bethge, their relationship and the impact it had on every facet of Bonhoeffer's life after they met and became life companions. It could be re-titled The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: the Unrequited Bromance of Dietrich and Eberhard and more or less be pretty much accurate as to what the focus of the book is.
I knew that Bonhoeffer had a fiance, Maria von Wedemeyer, and that they did not get to marry because he was executed within a few weeks' of the war ending. What I did not know before reading Reynolds' book was that
(a) Bonhoeffer's relationship with Bethge was a friendship of such closeness and unity that they shared a bank account, jointly gave presents to people and went on joint holidays;
(b) Bonhoeffer's engagement to a woman many years younger than himself copy-catted Bethge's engagement to a woman many years younger than himself (actually Bonhoeffer's niece, Renate);
(c) Bonhoeffer's relationship with Maria was foundering in the months before he was executed, not least because he was not emotionally engaged with her as she was with him; and
(d) notwithstanding Dietrich's engagement to Maria, Bethge remained the chief beneficiary of Bonhoeffer's will.
Yet it appears that, close as the two men were, Bethge may not have had an equal love in return for Bonhoeffer's love for him, so it may be a moot point to ask the following hypothetical question: in today's world, in today's Protestant church scene, if Dietrich had married Eberhard, would that be a problem for a Christian public besotted with Bonhoeffer's theology, discipleship and martyrdom?
To take up a point I have tried to note here, to consider this matter at a different level than "marriage," for a 21st century couple such as Bonhoeffer and Bethge, could we recognise such a partnership in life and in ministry in some formal way as a church?