July/August 2002 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter- July-August 2002- Vol. VIII, no. 7-8

Dear Friends,
A happy and restful holiday to all in the northern hemisphere! But I
hope you find time to peruse this issue. I am most grateful to
Matthew Hockenos for corralling the second contribution, which
derived from a conference earlier this year, as also to the authors for
putting their stimulating thoughts on paper. Any comments you
may like to make will be most welcome. Let me repeat for your
guidance that Letters to the Editor should be sent to me personally at
jconway@interchange.ubc.ca. If you use the list address i.e.
kirzeit-l@interchange.ubc.ca, then your message will go out around
the world to all the more than 300 members.
1) 2002 KZG colloquium, Tacoma, Washington, USA
2) A Continuing Debate: Christian-Jewish Relations Today
Martin Rumscheidt and Victoria Barnett.
3) Book notes: In God’s Name
4) Journal articles
1) For the first time, the Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte group, mainly
based in Europe, will hold its annual meeting in North America, to
be co-sponsored with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum This
will take place at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Washington
State, USA, from September 26th – 29th. (Accommodation can be
arranged at own expense at the Sheraton Hotel, Tacoma). The
theme for the Colloquium will be: “Christian Teaching about Jews:
National Comparisons in the shadow of the Holocaustî, with
emphasis on the period 1920-45.” Papers, all of which will be in
English, will be presented on Germany (Gerhard Lindemann),
Poland (Anna Lysiak), Spain (Graciela Ben Dror), Denmark
(Thorsten Wagner), Estonia (Mikki Ketola), after an opening
statement on Christian-Jewish Relations in the late 19th century
(Susannah Heschel). There will be a session with Jewish scholars,
including remarks on the Vatican and antisemitism (David Kertzer).
There is no registration fee. More details can be obtained from
Robert Ericksen = ericksrp@plu.edu
2a) The Imperative of Rethinking Christian Theology
During the 2002 Annual Scholars Conference on the Holocaust and
the Churches, I participated, together with Victoria Barnett, my
esteemed colleague in the work on the new critical edition of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Works in English, in a panel discussion on the
crisis of Jewish-Christian relations. I had based my reflections on
the highly illuminating, frank and, in fact, devastating public
dialogue between Jews and Christians in Germany after the 1991
Gulf War. The participants in that dialogue had for years engaged in
far reaching and informative discussions about the relationship of
Jews and Israel, on one hand, and Christians in Germany after the
Holocaust, on the other. The focus of this particular discussion,
which took place during the 1991 Kirchentag, was the response by
churches and individual Christians to the Second Gulf War and the
scud-missile attack on Israel by Iraq.
I sought to establish the position, in which I was joined by one of the
Jewish participants, that the Holocaust had clearly not entered the
minds of Christians deeply enough to understand that since
Auschwitz things worse than war are possible. Christian theology
and church had manifested themselves once again as placing their
cardinal theological virtues and principles ahead of solidarity with
the threatened Jewish people. From that conclusion and how it was
supported, I developed my belief that a truly new relation between
Jews and Christians, one that takes Jews, the Holocaust and Israel
seriously without reserve, has yet to develop. I believe that Christian
theology, in order to survive at all, has radically to re-think itself if it
seeks to contribute to such a relationship and, apart from that, revive
as something properly to be undertaken at all today.
My sense of the imperative of rethinking theology is grounded in
several factors, each of them inescapable to me existentially. – One
of them comes from Karl Barth, whose student I was also and still
am. As a public witness to the living God and God’s presence in and
to the world, theology is ever in need of reformation in response to
the realities in which human beings find themselves, on the one
hand, and in need of reflecting on its own appropriateness to the
living God’s self manifestation, on the other. Rabbi Irving Greenberg
succinctly phrases the necessity of theology ever to be reforming
and self reflective in his unambiguous statement: “No statement,
theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible
in the presence of burning children.” His instruction is itself a call
into better citizenship and, consequently, for better theology.
Another such factor is the fact that my native country, Germany,
deftly built the long tradition of Christian teaching of contempt into
the destruction of Jews and all things Jewish in the Holocaust.
Something thoroughly unholy indeed was woven soon after the fall
of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. into the very heart of Christian theology.
Simply to walk away from theology, in the belief that
thereby one makes for better citizenship and, above all, for new
relationship with Jews and non-Jews, Jews and Christians, is to be
gullible to the facile Enlightenment credo that consciousness
unencumbered by “faith” and moved by “reason” will create right
relationships between humans, irrespective of personal
idiosyncrasies. No! Theology will have to go deeply into the
darkness of Western civilization and, in shame, seek its metanoia.
And it can do this only together with the very ones whom it held so
long to be its quintessential “other”: the Jew whom it defined,
proscribed, tolerated, maligned but never embraced with genuine
hospitality. – A third factor that forms my sense for the need to
rethink theology is that during my personal coming to terms with the
traditions of home, church and nation that gave me the values I grew
up with, Jews have urged me to tackle the theological dimension
energetically. Once a woman told me, while showing me the
tattooed number on her wrist, not to let go of this endeavour. She
gave me what she called “a commandment from one who survived
Auschwitz,” namely not to remain silent on this subject. Her utterly
clear admonition to me is a different form of what Emil Fackenheim
called the commanding voice of Auschwitz: not to give Hitler a
posthumous victory.
An uncontextual theology, seeking to satisfy itself with being
measurable by the standards of so-called “science” and desirous to
being assessed in ways divorced from the daily realities of life in the
world, rejecting them as unrelated to the theological task, is not able
to make for “better citizens.” The Holocaust demonstrated that
clearly. Upholding specific “principles” as being appropriate to both
the living God and to fellow humans in their actual realities is not
theology as I have come to understand it. Of course, theology as I
seek to pursue it is not immune to mistakes and seduction. But
Christian theology, if it is done in the absence of Jews today, cannot
save itself from its past and its falsehood. But if it is done together
with Jews, whether they are also about the theological task or not, it
has the chance of making for a new relationship between Christians
and Jews which, as I see it, is itself a way of being “better citizens.”
Victoria Barnett’s phrasing of her sense of how a new relationship
between Jews and Christians may emerge, appears to be not so
much a rejection of theology as such but an insightful way of calling
theology into reformation and critical reflection, into its
responsibility and accountability before the living God to the world
and humankind. For that I can only be grateful.
Martin Rumscheidt, Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax, Nova
Scotia, Canadab) Remarks on the “crisis” in Jewish-Christian relations

One of time’s advantages is the opportunity to clarify oneís thoughts,
and one of the services of this newsletter is the chance to put such
clarifications on record. I am grateful, not only for my friendship
and dialogue with Martin Rumscheidt and the chance to respond
here to his comments, but because I think the issues at stake are
relevant to the work of many who read this newsletter.
At our session at the Scholar’s Conference, each panelist approached
this “crisis” from a quite different perspective. John Morley
analyzed the Catholic-Jewish conversation of recent years,
particularly the work of the interfaith committee of
scholars (on which he served) that reviewed the question of access
to the Vatican archives. Henry Knight addressed issues of liturgical
and confessional authenticity for Christians in the post-Shoah world.
Martin Rumscheidt made a strong case for a continued critique and
rethinking of Christian theology, and I actually agree with his
analysis of the fracture in Jewish-Christian relations
in Germany during the Gulf War.
My own remarks reflected my frustration with what I would
describe more as an impasse than a “crisis.” The impasse comes, I
think, from some inherent limitations to what our theological work
in this context can achieve, and my sense that we tend to ignore
these limitations. I do not dispute the necessity and ethical
responsibility for Christians to address, critique and repudiate those
traditions and scriptural interpretations that have been used against
the Jews. Nor do I dispute the role these traditions played in
legitimizing the persecution and genocide of the Jews, and in
making Nazism “salonfaehig” for far too many Christians. In the
Holocaust’s wake, a critique of this part of Christian
tradition is a primary moral task facing Christians. The kind of
reformulation described by Martin Rumscheidt has led to important
new theological insights that can only serve the Christian faith and
its institutions. Some of the work in this area has led to
groundbreaking developments in interfaith relations
— particularly the years of dialogue at the Institute for Christian and
Jewish Studies in Baltimore that led to the “Dabru Emet” statement
and the book “Christianity in Jewish Terms.” (Westview Press,
Yet our relationship to our neighbors of other faiths, and the worldly
manifestations of that relationship, are more than the sum of our
theology. This is evident in the history of the churches during the
Nazi era. Their failures were not only the product of theological
anti-Judaism. They reflected the legacy of Christendom and its
effect upon the churches’ institutional structures, political alliances,
legitimation of political power, and embrace of ideologies such as
nationalism. These, too, must be critiqued; our Christian complicity
in them must be dismantled.
Historically, though, the dismantling of European Christendom was
not the outcome of progressive Christian theological trends, but the
result of intellectual and political developments that strengthened
the foundations for civil society and laid the groundwork for a
viable social pluralism. Such developments often lead to new
theological work, since good theology, as Martin notes, emerges
from our living fully within the world.
This, too, is evident from history. In the wake of the first world war,
certain political developments helped spark the social gospel
movement and the subsequent blossoming of interfaith dialogue.
This, in turn, led to the founding of the National Conference of
Christians and Jews, to local “tolerance” initiatives in most major
cities, and to some very solid statements by U.S. Christian
leaders that repudiated supercessionism and the proselytization of
Jews — all during the 1920s. After 1933, it led the Federal Council
of Churches and European ecumenical leaders in Europe to issue
several strong statements condemning Nazi measures against the
Jews. There were condemnations from church leaders of the
November 1938 pogrom. In 1943, explicit condemnations of the
genocide came from church leaders in the U.S. and Great Britain.
Gerhardt Riegner, head of the World Jewish Congress in
Geneva, later described the efforts of the ecumenical
leaders there as one of the few lights “in the darkness that
surrounded us.”
The history of Christian anti-Judaism has led many of us to define
the Christian failures between 1933 and 1945, and the lessons we
draw for today, in almost exclusively theological terms. I would
like to make a case for a much broader understanding of
this history that, while not dismissing our theological task,
acknowledges the complexity of this history. The Christian record
during the Nazi era is largely one of failure. But it would be a
mistake to ignore the above history, and to frame the Christian
failures (or the small successes) exclusively in theological
terms. As I’ve indicated, the attitudes at the time of
Christian leaders toward Jews were not monolithically anti-Judaic.
And if that’s the case, we need to reflect on the non-theological
components of their failure. The focus upon theological
anti-Judaism to the exclusion of other relevant factors skews our
understanding of the complexity of the churches’ behavior during the
Holocaust, and it also frames the subsequent interfaith dialogue in a
way that is unproductive.
As mentioned, many of the problems in the Christian response to
Nazism emerged from the legacy of “Christendom.” Assumptions
about “Christian culture” drew upon theological language for
legitimation, but “Christendom” was a political and cultural
phenomenon — which is why Jewish citizens suffered for centuries
in Christian Europe. During the Nazi era, this was best understood
(and critiqued) by those Christians who understood this
complexity. The writings and statements of Reinhold Niebuhr,
William Temple, George Bell, and Willem Visser ‘t Hooft — all
Christians who actually did speak and act in solidarity with the Jews
— are remarkable for their strong commitment to civil society and an
implicit (in some cases, explicit) affirmation of pluralistic political
democracy. This, I would argue, is also the direction in which
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was moving with his concept of
“religionless Christianity.”
Historically, then, good interfaith work and solidarity have been
accompanied by a common commitment to civil liberties and civil
society. Between 1933 and 1945, this commitment sometimes
surpassed the individual theological biases of Christian leaders
who only worked out its theological consequences in the aftermath.
But that’s all right: saving lives is more important than working out
the theological fine points. This is what I was trying to describe in
my brief remarks about the necessity for Christians to understand
themselves not only theologically, but as citizens of a much greater
and more complex world. The historical dominance of Christianity
in Europe, and the effect of this on much of western thought and
its institutions, has led to the tendency among Christians to see our
religious identity and theology as determinative in the larger context
of civil society. But civil society might be better off without that
kind of deterministic understanding. There’s something to
be said for secularism, and I actually believe that the Enlightenment
was a positive historical development in this respect. We can still
live as Christians and do good works and good theology in that
context — something that religious minorities have already
discovered, when their civil and religious freedoms are protected.
Thus — to reply directly to some of Rumscheidt’s remarks: my hope
is not that ëbetter citizens’ begin to ‘do’ theology, nor do I believe
that theology has “outlived its usefulness” for building interfaith
relations. Nor am I walking away from theology. I am
simply noting that, even in the world after Auschwitz, our
interactions with our non-Christian neighbors are not always, or
even primarily, theological. I am reminded of Albrecht Goes’ 1985
remark that a normal conversation between Christians and Jews,
“after all that has happened, is not possible.” It is impeded by what
Goes described as a “double-edged pain.” Over 50 years after the
Holocaust, this is still the case. Much interfaith dialogue —
including that described by Martin Rumscheidt — still defines itself
as a dialogue with “the other,” shaped by a heightened sensitivity to
theological differences and our problematic Christian history. I
certainly do not advocate the denial or forgetting of this history. Yet
not all differences of opinion between Christians and Jews can be
reduced to theology.
Finally, the context for our panel, and for the entire conference this
year, was the theme of genocide in general and the lessons we might
derive from the Holocaust for the dilemmas that confront us today.
One lesson, I think, is that despite a great deal of interfaith work and
theological rethinking, the best way to stop genocide, then and now,
is the use of military force. And if we as religious people want to
prevent genocide, or the complicity of our members and institutions
in it, we must indeed ensure that our theology is not a contributing
factor — but we confront other, more immediate, non-theological
tasks as well.
Victoria Barnett, Arlington, Virginia, USA

3) Book Notes: eds. Omer Bartov and Phyllis Mack, In Godís
Name. Genocide and Religion in the
Twentieth Century. New York/Oxford:
Berghahn Books, 2001, 401 pp.
This collection of papers originally given at a 1997
conference contains four contributions by list members:
R.P.Ericksen, Genocide, Religion and Gerhard Kittel: Protestant
Theologians face the Third Reich; Susannah Heschel, When Jesus
was an Aryan: The Protestant Church and Antisemitic propaganda;
Beth Griech-Polelle, A pure conscience is not enough: Bishop von
Galen and Resistance to Nazism; Doris L.Bergen, Between God
and Hitler: German Military Chaplains and the crimes of the Third
4) Journal articles of note in recent issues:
a) Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, 2001, no 1. Christliche Religion in der
Geschichtsschreibung des 20 Jahrhunderts. This whole issue is
devoted to the papers given as part of the 19th International
Congress of Historical Sciences in Oslo, Norway in August 2000.
The three themes covered as: On the Road to a History of 20th
Century Christianity; Writing the History of Religion under the
Conditions of Marxism and Stalinism, 1945-1989; and The
Catholic Church and the Nation States of Europe in the 19th and
20th Centuries. There are many provocative essays in this issue,
which merit examination.
b) Evangelische Arbeitsgemeinschaft fur kirchliche Zeitgeschichte:
Mitteilungen 20/2002. This issue contains essays on two main
subjects: the present state of research on the role of the Evangelical
Church in the divided Germany, and Protestant Martyrs of the 20th
Century. Also a list of recent publications in this field, and of the
various German provincial associations for contemporary church
history – useful for those wanting to find the right contacts for
archives etc.
c) Jennifer Wynot, Monasteries without walls: secret monasticism in
the Soviet Union 1928-39, in Church History, Vol. 71 no 1, March
2002, p.63ff.
d) Jonathan Luxmoore, Eastern Europe 1997-2000. A review of
Church life, in Religion, State and Society, Vol 29, no. 4, p.
e) Ina Merdjanova, Religious Liberty and New Religious
Movements in Eastern Europe, in Religion, State and Society, Vol
29, no 4, p. 265-304.

With every best wish to you all,
John S.Conway