May 2003 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

Newsletter- May 2003- Vol. IX, no . 5

Dear Friends,

1) Gerhard Besier, The German Churches 1933-2003, Part II
2) Forthcoming Catholic conference, Munich, May 22-23.
3) Book note: Weindel, Leben und Lernen hinter Stacheldraht

1) The ecclesio-political development in the Federal Republic of Germany 

The growing affinity of eastern EKD member churches with Socialism cannot
be understood without considering the analogous development in western
churches and in the ecumenical movement of Geneva.
The post-war re-structuring of the Social Democratic Party (“SPD”) and the
emergence of a new elite -a process that was basically concluded by the
Godesberg Party Program of 1959 – resulted in a fundamental consensus
between the two main parties as to the social-political significance of the
two mainline churches. From the mid-1960s onward, the Christian-Democratic
Union (“CDU”) no longer enjoyed the support of the majority of the
Protestant Church. Due to the above-mentioned change of elite, the SPD became
a “Protestant Party” (Willy Brandt), and remained so until the mid-1980s..
By the early-1990s, the Catholic Church still showed a certain affinity
with the CDU/CSU (Union of Christian Democrats and Christian Socialists).
But following the peace and ecology debates in the 1980s, parts of the
Protestant Church and the Green Party moved closer together, thus splitting
sympathies in the center-left wing. When characterizing the closeness or
distance of a church to a political party, the attitudes of church
officials are significant. But the voting habits of citizens with
denominational ties show that they did not and do not generally follow the
mental gymnastics of their bishops, church presidents, and pastors. The
growing distinctions of church milieus and the mental distance between the
leaders and the people of the church has not been without consequences.
Principally, one must note that all these socio-political
transformations hardly affected the status of Free Churches, Christian
“Special Associations,” and so-called “sects.” They remained on the social
periphery and, due to latent reservations, they had to put up with many
professional disadvantages.

From 1969, one could no longer ignore the gradual emigration of Christians
from the two mainline churches. At the same time commissioners for sect
issues of the mainline churches increased their apologetic activity against
so-called “youth cults.” Since 1969, the Protestant Church has carried out
official polls every ten years in order to record the way of thinking, the
feelings, and actions of church members. However, these churches are
experiencing the loss of members, while new religious groups and secular
providers of life-counseling services are gaining ground. The inner
emaciation of mainline churches, particularly the Protestant Church, could
force politicians to reconsider the privileged position of the churches,
even though the legal status of the churches under public law, as written
into the 1949 Constitution, is not endangered. A minority church will no
longer be able to play, as hitherto, a unique and privileged role in
shaping society. Instead it will have to gain recognition for its
arguments in pluralistic discourse with other social groups. Thereby, much
will depend on the persuasiveness of their arguments. The two smaller coalition
parties-Free Democratic Party (“FDP”) and Bündnis 90/Die
Grünen-have considerable political potential, as they speak in favor of a
clear separation of State and Church. The more external power the churches
lose due to their declining number of members, the more influence
will be gained by members of these parties and by liberal skeptics of the
National Church. The Protestant Church now attempts to counteract this
development with personal political contacts. This explains why, for
example, in 1997 Schmidt-Jortzig (FDP), then Federal Minister of Justice,
and Antje Vollmer (Bündnisgrüne), Vice-President of the Federal Parliament,
were appointed to the new Synod of the Protestant Church in Germany. It
remains to be seen whether this actually archaic technique of
diplomacy – politics by personal contacts – will lead to success.

It can be quite clearly seen how the established religious institutions
during the 19th and 20th centuries lost their power to attract people. At the
same time, the emotional power of political surrogate religions in Germany
grew. Exaggerated nationalism, undiminished personality cult (Bismarck,
Hindenburg, Lenin, Hitler, Stalin), Socialism, and National Socialism were
political movements that took over the role of religious revival and
veneration of the saints. Likewise, the peace movement of the 1980s, the
human rights movement, and the environmental movement also showed
unmistakably religious traits. The fact that the larger religious
associations curried favor with these movements, indeed sometimes claiming
to be the original creators of these ideas, does not change their position
as tolerated free-riders who were pityingly smiled at and even despised.
The inner emaciation of the Protestant church has reached an enormous
amount. In 1950, it had 43 million members, whereas now there are 26.6
million left. Berlin-Brandenburg has fewer people going to a regular
Protestant service on Sundays than people working for deaconry and church.
According to some polls, up to a third of clerics themselves do not believe
in the fundamentals of Christian belief: Holy Scripture, Jesus Christ as God’s
son, salvation. The believers perceive this inner discrepancy, feel
mystified and turn away from the church. According to a finding of the
Allensbach Opinion Research Institute, only a minority of Germans, namely
39 % have the impression that the churches seek to “convince people of
belief” at all. For a number of years, at least a third of people
interviewed in relevant opinion polls declare that they do not confide in
the churches. This is understandable when considering the churches’ history
and their not irrelevant number of political and theological odysseys. The
churches are facing the danger of demographic over-aging well above that of
the general population. All of this does not encourage good forecasts for
the German state churches. On the other hand, there is evidence that
Christian belief will survive the state-like German religious institutions,
since for years opinion pollers have been noting a development which might
be summed up as “yes to belief, no to the Church.” This could be, even in
Germany, the great moment of small Free churches and religious communities.

History of Mentalities: Problems of the Church Reunification in 1989/91

In late summer of 1989, the already unstable dictatorship of the GDR
expected some positive assertions by the Protestant church on its
relationship with the regime during the 20 years of history of the Church
Federation. Few were forthcoming. Yet, even in West Germany there were
some churchmen, such as the editor of the magazine “Young Church” (“Junge
Kirche”), who expressed their support “in principle, solidarity towards the
GDR.” Bishops and general
superintendents of churches in the GDR admonished those people attempting to
leave East Germany, to stay in the country. Although they also pointed out
the regime’s lack of preparedness to introduce reforms, yet in spite of
their critiques, the clergymen praised certain achievements of GDR
socialism, saying they were worth keeping and for which it was worth
staying in the country. The “social securing of the basic needs of life,”
“the priority of the responsibility for peace in foreign policy [of the
GDR],” “the anti-fascist commitment of our country,” and “the basic
socialist matter of concern, of sharing the toll and the fruits of work
with each other”, were among the factors selected for praise.
But, during the latter half of 1989, due to the ensuing political
development, more and more obvious tensions grew amongst the leaders of the
Conference of Church Governing Bodies in the GDR. By the beginning of 1990, the issue of
national reunification was on everyone’s mind. On the one hand, Bishop
Christoph Demke of the Province of Saxony, but also General Superintendent
Günter Krusche of Berlin, strongly rejected the idea of German
re-unification. But otherpersons, such as Bishop Leich of Thuringia,
welcomed this development. From the sequence of events during that period
we can conclude that the discussion about German unification or re-unification preceded the
discussion about re-unifying the churches, and might even be considered its
pre-condition. Among some East German clergymen, there was a clear
“rejecting attitude towards that twaddle of re-unification.” Not only those
taking a positive position towards the GDR state as Demke, but also those who massively criticized the
regime, such as Bishop Gottfried Forck of Berlin-Brandenburg, wanted to
preserve the “option for socialism.”

After Egon Krenz took Erich Honecker’s place as general secretary of the
SED on October 18, 1989, he intensified contacts with the Conference
of Governing Church Bodies and tried to find a harmonious new beginning
with them on the basis of a changed Socialism. Again, the bishops were
divided in their reaction. Whereas some put great hopes in the new policy
of dialogue, others remained sceptical. The breach of the Berlin Wall on
November 9, 1989 created a new situation in so far as it became clear that,
despite all appeals, the people were flocking to the West. On November 28,
the then West German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl, presented a program on the
Federal German policy, consisting of ten points, to the West German
Parliament – the aim of which was the re-unification of both countries. In
Dresden, on December 19, Chancellor Kohl and GDR Prime Minister Hans Modrow
announced a union by treaty [Vertragsgemeinschaft] of both German states
for the spring of 1990.

At the end of November 1989 the church leaders in the GDR, Christoph
Demke, Günter Krusche and Pastor Friedrich Schorlemmer signed an appeal
“For our country,” in which they demanded “a socialist alternative to the
Federal Republic.” They warned the readers that a “selling off of our
material and moral values is starting, and sooner or later the German
Democratic Republic will be taken.” Finally, they appealed to the
population: “We can still go back to our anti-fascist and humanist ideals
we once started from.”

The BEK board on “Church and Society” criticized this one-sided view of
things, but pointed to the differences in mentality which had arisen
between East and West, and advised against “precocious plan[s] and aim[s]
of a governmental unification of the Germans.” The chief administrative
officer (Konsistorialpräsident) of the Protestant church of
Berlin-Brandenburg, Manfred Stolpe, like Demke, still belonged to those who
wanted to preserve a separate GDR state. The population in general, on the
contrary, voiced more and more determined demands for joining
(anschliessen) the Federal Republic in their “Monday demonstrations”.

The expression “joining” (“Anschluss”) – in German a word with the negative
connotation of a forced political union, like the annexation of Austria by
Nazi Germany in 1938 – was first used by church-journalist Reinhard Henkys
during his key speech to the leading committees of both the EKD and the
Kirchenbund, in mid-January 1990 at Loccum monastery (close to Hanover).
What precisely was discussed during this meeting, remains a mystery. In any
case, the declaration that “both German states are growing together” and
that “the special union of the entire Protestant Christianity in Germany
should also find a suitable expression by a [united] church,” can’t have
been motivated by Henkys’s speech. This Loccum text had already been
formulated earlier “after a controversial debate, and not unanimously.” Especially
economic obligations were probably negotiated by the EKD Council and the
Eastern member churches. As a direct reaction to the Loccum declaration, an
Ecumenical Action Circle (Ökumenischer Initiativkreis) published a “Berlin
Declaration of Christians from both states” on February 9, 1990, signed
among others by Provost Heino Falcke (of Erfurt), Pastor Ulrich Duchrow (of
Heidelberg), Joachim Garstecki (of East Berlin) and Konrad Raiser (of
Bochum). This declaration opposed the “wrong signals” of Loccum, by which
were meant both the efforts to re-establish German state unity, and
to re-establish the EKD as sole Protestant umbrella organization. The
“misleading alternative of capitalism and socialism” should be “avoided”,
since the process of conciliation had shown that “neither system was able
to offer a solution to the question of survival of humanity and of the
earth”. Especially, in this situation, “the experience of the ‘church
within a socialist society’ [should] not be denied in order to get back to a
pretended ‘normal everyday life'”.

These sentences are evidence of the uneasiness among many leftist
intellectuals in East and West Germany. Both the state and the
church re-unification were not brought about as new mergers among equals,
taking into account the different developments of both German partial
states, but as a mere joining (“Anschluss”) of the Eastern part to the
heavily criticized structures existing in West Germany. By this, all
positive ideas on the achievements of East Germany cultivated up to then in
the East as well as in the West, proved to be illusions: nothing
in the state system of the GDR, nor in the East German Church Federation,
was to be preserved in the new era. The “progress” made under socialist
premises had, on the contrary, to give way to a “conservative-bourgeois
restoration”. This procedure could be interpreted as a collective humiliation,
and gave rise to a sense of polarization between Western and Eastern élites,
resulting in vehement controversies among intellectuals in both states
and church federations. Some Western sub-cultures too, saw themselves
deprived of their hopes of building a “third way” between East and West. The
east-west-antagonisms were of course also stirred up by those individuals,
whose former conspirative activities for the GDR led them to feel
rightly threatened by the re-unification process, or who had profited under
that system as highly privileged agents of the regime. Among them were
several professors of theology and personalities of the governing bodies of
the churches.

As was revealed in 1990, about 5 % of the members of the church
assemblies, administrative officers, and bishops were serving as officers
of the State Security Department in special deployment (OibE), or as
Unofficial Collaborators (IM) in different categories. Finally, the
parallel procedure of state and church “Anschluss” was bound to create the
impression that there was also an analogy between the SED state and the
East German Church Federation (BEK). Bishop Martin Kruse of West-Berlin
tried to counter this impression in the council meeting in February 1990 by
stressing that it was the SED state which had gone bankrupt, not the East
German Church Federation.

From the justifications of the Conference of Church Governing Bodies
following the Loccum Declaration, we may deduce that this Declaration was
written and published at the “suggestion” of the Western EKD-representatives.
At any rate, it was not possible to convince the new BEK-synod at the
end of February 1990 to adopt this declaration officially, although this
council was prepared to give overall support to the process of unification
of the churches.

Demke’s election as Leich’s successor, despite having been arranged long
before, now seemed to be a positive signal for those criticizing the church
re-unification. In the meetings of the KKL of end-April 1990, the
resistance grew against a simple re-integration of the Eastern member
churches in the EKD. However, the broad approval for a simple reunification
by public opinion in both the political and ecclesiastical spheres was
irresistible. After the East German Parliamentary elections
(Volkskammerwahlen) in March 1990, Demke appealed to Hans Modrow, who was
still Prime Minister in charge, to have the files of the state security
(Stasi) sealed from public view. Demke went on: “A denunciation of
individuals because of an alleged collaboration with the state security
service should,in my opinion, not be permitted.”

The imminent currency unification aggravated the economic problems of the
Eastern Church Federation and its member churches. At the end of May 1990, the
EKD committed herself to “a certain silent support”, but these
circumstances of course increased the dependence on the Western churches.
Neverthless, the Common Commission of Federation and EKD
in Iserlohn decided on unification of the churches, but was still uncertain
whether the GDR state churches should simply join the EKD, or whether a new
Federation should be built. They reckoned with a period until the end of
January 1993. Among other things, some special arrangements had to be made
for the Eastern member churches regarding the introduction of church taxes
to be collected by the state, the introduction of a religious education
curriculum for all the schools, and especially of a contract for pastoral care in the
armed forces.

Events came thick and fast now, because of the impending currency reform
due to take place on July 1st. This led the leading church lawyers to
believe they could not wait any longer for the results of the negotiations
of the Common Commission of BEK and EKD. Contrary to the ideas of some Eastern
representatives, they wanted a “unification on the basis of the
Constitution of the EKD”. An integration of the Eastern Church Federation
into the EKD seemed legally impossible. At the end of August 1990, the KKL
voted for “a quick establishment of a membership of the Eastern Federation
churches in the EKD.” At the same time, Martin Heckel, a church lawyer of
Tübingen presented his expert opinion, which favoured the absorption of the
eastern churches into the west, and the abandonment of the BEK. In
mid-September 1990, the juridical committee of the EKD synod adopted
Heckel’s expert opinion. The unification law of the EKD based on it merely
reactivated the old EKD member rights of the Eastern churches, which had
never been cancelled, but only downplayed or sidestepped by the
Constitution of the Eastern Church Federation. This procedure left the
number of members of the EKD untouched and did not require a common consent
of all EKD member churches. This law “stayed] below the level of
agreement of the EKD Constitution.” This
legal solution avoided modifications of the EKD Constitution, but on the
other hand it completed the unavoidable impression of an Anschluss – from
an extra-legal point of view – for those members of the Eastern churches,
who had been expecting a totally new Federation or at least a merger of both
Federations. The law having established the East German Church Federation
in 1969 was inconsistent to this solution and therefore ignored. These
circumstances and especially the dissolution of the East German Federation,
were bound to reinforce painful impressions, and caused resentments among
the losers, especially since in the arguments put forward by the Western
speakers, great weight was given to the argument that the 1969 settlement had been
imposed on the eastern churches leading to a “forced Church Federation”.

The last BEK synod preceding the German re-unification in September 1990
dealt, among other subjects, with the question of how far the churches in
the GDR “helped factually, and sometimes also willingly, to stabilize the
state and thus the dominating system.” From February 22 to
24, 1991 the BEK synod met – parallel to the EKD synod – one last time. The
vain attempts of Western clergymen failed to make the legalistic facts
appear less brutal through acts of appeasement. Rosemarie Cynkiewicz,
chairperson of the Eastern BEK synod, criticized the EKD for not being willing
to “use the situation as a chance for creating something new
together”; as well eight synod members voted against the BEK unification law,
and one abstained. The first general EKD synod met in June 1991 in Coburg.
after the Conference of Church Governing Bodies
had met for the last time. Due to the reservations in the Eastern part, it is
understandable that the act of unification in Coburg took place “without
major festivities, without any special expressions of gratitude.”
The next task was to consider the unification of the divided Protestant
church of Berlin-Brandenburg, where one half of the church – in West Berlin
– had been entirely separated from the other half in East Berlin for thirty
years. So too the question arose of how to repeal the division of the
Evangelical Church of the Union (EKU, the former Prussian state church),
and whether to welcome the restoration of the United Lutheran Church in
Germany (VELKD). It must be said that the leitmotif of these changes was to seek a return to the
situation existing at the end of the 1960s. (The common elaboration of a
new Constitution for the Protestant Church in Berlin-Brandenburg, completed
in 1995, changed nothing.)

Thus it can be no surprise that, despite the legally correct merger, the
existing tensions did not decrease, but even grew in some areas. The
argument on the employment status of military chaplains continued until the
EKD synod in Amberg in November 2001. Although ten years have passed in the
meantime, it remains uncertain whether the synods of the Protestant Church
in Berlin-Brandenburg or the Church Province of Saxony will accept the
arrangement for employing the circa 30 military chaplains of the Eastern
member churches as non-permanent federal civil servants. If we consider the
atmosphere in society in general, of which the churches are only a small
part, we find that the differences of mentality in East and West have
hardly diminished over the last ten years. Inner re-unification has
made little progress.

It was not only the re-unification of the churches, but the demographic and
economic changes brought about by the large numbers of people leaving the
churches, as well as the increase of the percentage of aging church
members, and a dramatic decrease of church taxes, which forced German
Protestantism to consider several reforms of structures. Since the
mid-1990s, a merger of some state churches as well as a reduction of the
traditional church “umbrella organisations” has been considered. In 2001
there had been a church tax income of 4.250 Billion Euro and a membership
of 26,601,000. But assessments say in the next generation there will be 50
% drop of the tax paying church members.
The repercussions for the legally-established church structures are bound
to be severe.

The Problem of Contemporary Church Historiography

The undeniable affinity of vast parts of German Protestantism with the
National Socialist state remains a heavy burden. For decades, church
historians and publicists have struggled to come to terms with this legacy.
As well, the undeniable fact that many churchmen in the eastern churches
collaborated with the socialist dictatorship has had catastrophic
consequences for the image of the Protestant church in Germany. That is why
the Protestant churches – by largely avoiding the problem of the State Security Department (Stasi) – try to
offer evidence that, during the period of the GDR’s existence, they were
engaged in a considerable number of opposition activities, following the
pattern established in the immediate post-1945 period. By assigning a large
number of doctoral dissertations, which are partly subsidised with church
stipends, this version can be expected to maintain the dominant position in
the historiography. On the other hand, there is no doubt that, since the
1960s, there has been a strong affinity in some sections of German
Protestantism with several socialist utopian views and that since the 1980s
– in connection with the NATO’s two-track decision – some clear
convergences with the “real existing socialism” in the GDR could be
perceived. The efforts of some Protestant historians to describe the
collapsed GDR regime as
something other than a pure totalitarian regime, must be seen against this
background too. Furthermore, by stressing the differences between the Nazi
regime and the SED regime, these authors are trying to give at least a
partial correction of the view that the
GDR was a criminal dictatorship, lacking the rule of law. But,
given the continuing separation of mentalities between east and west, it is
clear that the task of coming to terms with the churches’ experiences in
the GDR is far from complete, and will likely occupy a prominent position
in the historiography of the next few years.

In contrast to the large number of books and articles dealing with the
churches of the GDR, the historiography of the western members of the EKD
has been relatively sparser. For the immediate post-war years, we have
seen a plethora of excellent document collections and monographs. But the
years of the Bonn Republic from 1949-1989 are still largely unexplored
ground. And this, despite the fact that both the major denominations
established in the 1950s their own separate Commissions for Contemporary
Church History. Their publications, however, have chiefly concentrated on
the earlier much disputed periods of the twentieth century. Furthermore,
these endeavours are highly denominational in tone, and none of them has
sought to bring a wider ecumenical or international dimension to these
Commissions’ labours. All the more notable therefore was the initiative
taken in the late 1980s to bring together a group of scholars of various
nationalities and denominations in order to try and search for a larger
dimension in the writing of contemporary church history. The conferences of
this group have deliberately sought to relate German experiences to those
of other countries, such as Scandinavia, Poland, France and Italy. The
findings are printed in the journal Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte which can be
regarded as the premier publication in this field. Nevertheless, the
historiography of the German churches for the foreseeable future is likely
to remain, as do the ecclesiastical structures of the churches themselves,
highly denominational in character. Coming to terms with the convoluted
legacy of the recent German past still presents scholars in this field with
numerous still-to-be-fulfilled challenges. Per opera ad astra!
The author, Gerhard Besier, can be contacted at the Hannah Arendt Institut
fur Totalitarismusforschung, Technische Universitat, Dresden, Germany

2) Forthcoming Catholic conference, Munich

The Catholic Commission for Contemporary Church History together with the
Catholic Academy in Bavaria announces a conference on “Tatsachen-Deutungen
-Fragen” on Thursday and Friday, May 22nd and 23rd , which will take up
many of the the themes outlined above, and at which leading practitioners
will speak. More details can be obtained from the Commission at

3) Book note: Ed. Matthias Weindel, Leben und Lernen hinter Stacheldraht.
Die evangelischen Lagergemeinden und Theologischen Schulen in England,
Italien und Agypten. (Arbeiten zur kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte: Reihe A:
Quellen, Band 7) Gottingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 2001. 462 pp.
As an example of the newly-published series of document collections
mentioned in the final paragraph of Gerhard Besier’s essay above, we can
cite Matthias Weindel’s excellent contribution on the steps taken to assist
the German POWs in Britain, Italy and Egypt during the period 1944-1948.
These contemporary reports, mainly by the organizers, outline the measures
taken to provide church services, pastoral care, and above all theological
training in the several hundred camps, where German Protestants were held
before being finally repatriated. The initiative came from the Swedish
pastor, Birger Forell, who inspired this excellent programme, which was
then supported by the British War Office as a part of the Re-Education
programme. These reports give a full picture of the successes and
failures of this unique experiment.
With best wishes
John Conway