February 2005 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


Newsletter — February 2005— Vol. XI, no. 2

Dear Friends,

We learn with regret of the death in Calgary on December 28th of our colleague and list-member, Frank Eyck (1921-2004).

Born in Berlin, he was forced by the Nazis to flee to England as a teenager, and subsequently went to St Paul’s School in London. Briefly interned as an “enemy alien” in 1940, he then joined the British army and served until 1946. After obtaining his B.A. in 1949 he worked for the BBC foreign service, but later on went to the University of Exeter to teach Modern European History. While there he wrote a political biography of the Prince Consort. In 1968 he moved to the University of Calgary, and took up his “inheritance” as a German historian from his famous father Erich. In the same year he published his pioneering work on “The Frankfurt Parliament, 1848-1849”. On the basis of meticulous research, and with a precise statistical breakdown of the 48ers, he disputed Disraeli’s derisive claim that it had been a “professors’ parliament”. In 1982 he wrote a sympathetic biography of his mentor and family benefactor “G.P.Gooch: A study in History and Politics”. After half a century of struggling with his heritage, both national and religious, Frank produced a monumental tome on “Religion and Politics in Germany: From the Beginnings to the French Revolution”. Therein he tried to come to grips with the troubled relationship that defined much of modern German history. In many ways it was his legacy to German historiography.

1) Book reviews a) M Hockenos, A Church Divided
2) Book chapters

a) Religion in China Today
b) Christianity in China
c) Contemporary Responses to the Holocaust

3) Journal articles

a) M.Greschat, Martin Niemöller’s activities after 1945.
b) M.Höhle, 13 August 1961 and the churches
c) A.Chandler, Bishop Bell and the German Resistance

1a) Matthew D. Hockenos, A Church Divided. German Protestants confront the Nazi Past. Bloomington: Indiana University Press 2004. 269 pp. ISBN 0-253-34448-4

Coping with the Nazi past has been a preoccupation for Germans for the past sixty years. For those institutions, particularly the major churches, which saw themselves as the moral guardians of the nation, this task has been both continuous and bafflingly difficult. Admitting guilt for supporting so enthusiastically a regime which turned out to be criminally and deliberately genocidal presented major psychological hurdles for the majority of the population. The resulting malaise presented the churches with enormous problems throughout the early years of reconstruction after 1945.

Matthew Hockenos, who teaches at Skidmore College in New York State, has written an excellently researched study of the German Evangelical Churches in the immediate postwar years between 1945 and 1950. He gives a masterly account of the often strident controversies which raged, particularly in the hierarchy of the Protestant churches, over how to understand the Nazi past and the churches’ role during that fateful era. For this reason, he can rightly entitle his book “A Church Divided”. He shows, on the one hand, why and how so many conservative Lutherans were unwilling to examine their own political and theological presuppositions. On the other hand, he also describes the steps taken by reformers to create a new and more ecumenically sensitive climate, which in later years was to prove successful in overcoming the church’s divisions.

Hockenos’ first-rate use of the archival records is supplemented by a notable command of the secondary literature.

His illustrations and appendices are particularly apposite. And his skillful presentation of these often very Germanic issues for his English-speaking audience brings up to date the 1973 account by Frederic Spotts, The Church and Politics in Germany.

In 1945 Germany lay physically ruined and morally humiliated. The sense of loss through the damage and destruction of virtually all the major cities was compounded by the disasters of national defeat. The overthrow of a regime which the majority of Germans had supported left the population bereft of any comfort.

Fears for the future only added to the guilt for the past. As the only surviving institutions, the churches became a place of refuge, providing relief to the people’s bodies and souls in their unprecedented plight. The burdens placed on the clergy were therefore demanding and complex. Hockenos’ approach is both sober and sceptical. He sees clearly enough the difficulties of the Protestant clergy when faced with the tactics of self-pity and evasion adopted by their parishioners, and carefully analyses the strength and weaknesses of the responses they formulated. Coming to terms with their own record was only part of their wider responsibilities in supplying answers, particularly to the painful questions: why did this happen? What are we to do now?

. In 1945 the disappearance or dismissal of those church officials who had been ardently pro-Nazi left the way open for the surviving leaders of the Confessing Church to take charge, who had all along resisted the Nazification of the church’s doctrines and practices. But they were well aware that more was needed than just a change of church bureaucrats. The catastrophe of the hour demanded a re-examination of the whole Lutheran theological and political tradition, especially of its long-held mentality of loyalty to the state.

In fact, as Hockenos ably shows, the divisions within the church arose between those who looked for a return to Lutheran religious orthodoxy and traditional political obedience to the national state, and those who campaigned for a complete reconstruction of the church’s structures and social attitudes, based on a much more radical theology. This division, in brief, can be said to have been fostered by the alternative priorities each group put forward. To the more conservative, the pastoral needs of their congregations seemed to require the church to play the role of comforter, advocate and defender against all outside dangers. To the more radical, the church was now called to a prophetic witness, especially political, and to chart a new course of Christian discipleship for the future.

The champion of this latter cause was Pastor Martin Niemöller, the former U-Boat captain and survivor of seven years in concentration camps. He drew his inspiration from the Swiss-German theologian, Karl Barth, whose stinging criticisms of his more conservative colleagues for their capitulation to Nazism and nationalism, had made him many enemies. The Barthians, as they were called, called their brethren to account, and relentlessly attacked the evasions and theological subterfuge which soon enough began to be adopted to deal with the what became known as Œdie Schuldfrage’. The resulting failure to agree on the legacy of the past was the principal cause of the church being divided. Hockenos is to be congratulated on showing not only how these churchmen addressed this legacy, but also why they addressed it as they did.

In so doing, he disputes the widely-held view that post-1945 Germans were too exhausted or demoralized to face the question of their recent past. Instead he gives us a thorough analysis of the often heated debates within the Evangelical Church, culminating in the notable declarations of 1950 on the most sensitive issue of all, the lamentable heritage of Christian antisemitism.

But the division equally arose over the future policies of the church. To the surprise of most conservative nationalists in the parishes, they found that, in the summer of 1945, their conquerors, with their military administrators, proved sympathetic to the churches. They offered the churches help in rebuilding, and encouraged their pastoral work for the needy, the sick and the refugees. They furthermore made it clear that the churches were free to decide their own future, provided that they resolutely cleansed their own ranks of Nazi sympathizers. At two major conferences in 1945, at Treysa and Stuttgart, the surviving leaders sought to achieve a consensus of unity and to lay out a practical course of starting again. But the future could not be planned without dealing with the unresolved past. Hockenos quite rightly points out how nearly the whole attempt failed for this reason.

Hockenos recognizes that these clergymen all shared a theological perspective on the world and its affairs. His description of events therefore rightly gives us the gist of the theological arguments deployed – in contrast to Frederic Spotts’ previous survey which avoided theology entirely. He shows very well how both the conservatives and the reformers could make use of the considerable theological resources of their Lutheran heritage to justify their respective positions. But, nevertheless, the issues to be faced were highly political in their consequences.

The reformers, led by Niemöller, and backed by Barth, wanted to rebuild a church totally independent of the state. Instead, such a church should be a prophetic scourge of all power structures, and the chastiser of any misuse of state power. They preferred a congregational church polity, the abolition of all hierarchical structures and a voluntary church membership. It was to be a “Living Church”, instead of the Erastian establishment of the past. Only thus could the church become a powerful voice for peace and justice, steadfastly repenting of its past nationalism and its too close association with state power. The lesson of the Nazi years demanded a suitably penitent stance for the future.

This programme, militantly proclaimed, was strongly opposed by the majority of church members. They much preferred to embrace self-exculpating versions of events, whereby the church had been victimized by the Nazis, and now again by the Allied military governments. They rallied around those leaders who saw themselves as upholding the true German national spirit. The Nazi excesses were excused as the work of a handful of brown-shirted fanatics, diabolically misled. The encroachments of the foreign conquerors should be repelled by the resurgence of loyalty to the nation. Examination of past errors, let alone sackcloth and ashes, was distinctly unpopular.

The clash between these contentious and seemingly irreconcilable views was only averted by the eirenic plea for unity expressed by the senior bishop, Wurm of Württemberg. He took the lead in 1945, chaired the early meetings, and sought a compromise position which would include as many church members as possible. Largely at his instigation, the existing church regional structures and polity were retained. Former Nazis, unless very prominent in their attacks on church doctrine, were allowed to return to their parishes. The church was called to act as the people’s advocate towards the occupying powers, to resist all ideas of German collective guilt, and to cherish a sense of national identity again.

Yes, at the same time, Wurm recognized that Niemöller and his followers had to be listened to. Repentance for the mistakes of the past was obligatory. A new beginning, and a new relationship with churches abroad, was now a paramount necessity. Self-congratulation for their own survival, or attempts to turn the clock back had to be resolutely opposed.

The result of this pressure could be seen in the notable Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt of October 1945, which tackled this highly contentious topic in very general terms, but also promised to take up the church’s God-given commission with renewed dedication.

Hockenos ably outlines the various arguments the church leaders put forward to defend these positions. Many of them were self-serving, some were vague and mystical, all were opportunistic, in the sense that they were designed to give theological justification to the respective plans for the church’s future. But, as Hockenos laudably points out, by the light of later judgment, all fell short by avoiding any precise admission of the church’s most glaring omission, its failure to stand by the Nazis’ chief victims, the Jews.

The Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt, for instance, made no specific mention of the Jews. It is clear that, in the immediate post-war years, the church’s preoccupation with its own plight took precedence over any thorough theological reflection. This was in fact a widespread phenomenon and not confined to the German Protestants alone. It was only in later years that the mood began to change.

By the end of 1945 the conservatives in the churches had begun to rally. They loudly voiced the general feeling that Germany was being maltreated by its conquerors, resisted the Allies’ compulsory de-Nazification programme, and lamented the imposition of alien ideologies, i.e. western democracy or eastern communism. Bishop Wurm even publicly accused the Allies of seeking to destroy the German “race” by starving them with inadequate rations. Self-pity became far more prevalent than any sense of repentance. Conservative churchmen became adept at balancing Germany’s own destruction and losses against the suffering inflicted on others. While the Nazi crimes were admitted, these could be blamed on the small number of gangsters who had seized power. The church was seen as non-involved and hence blameless.

Hockenos’ narrative of these developments is exemplary. His analysis of the theological issues is sophisticated. His sympathies clearly lie with the reformers, but here he follows every English-speaking writer on German church affairs. Most notably he breaks new ground in describing how the churches dealt with the Jewish question. His final two chapters outline the initial and tentative steps taken by the reformers to come to terms with the realization of how much Christian anti-judaic traditions had led to the endorsement of the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and had precluded any open resistance to the Nazis’ crimes.

This painful reassessment began when a group of former Confessing Church leaders, some of whom had been in concentration camps alongside Jews, recognized the need for a fundamental transformation of the church’s relationship to Jews and its understanding of Judaism. This process was slow and reluctant – in Hockenos’ view, much too slow. But it was no easy task to overcome the deep-seated legacy of popular anti-Judaism, combined with an antisemitism which continued even after the horrors of the Nazi-inflicted atrocities became known. Only when the prevalent myths of Christian triumphalism and supersessionism were abandoned was the way open for a new beginning.

This movement was at first the work of only a handful of Protestant clergymen, none of them well known. Their superiors argued that there were other more pressing priorities. Some of the advocates were drawn from the missionary movement. They were appalled by the sufferings the Jews had experienced, so now argued that the church must redouble its attempts to show love to the survivors. But, too often, this meant a redoubled effort to convert Jews to Christianity, since this was the greatest gift such missionaries could confer. Needless to say, none of these ardent souls ever asked the surviving Jews if such missionary proselytizing was their desired form of reparation. And even those Jews who had voluntarily or earlier joined the church often felt forsaken by the wider church community. Antisemitic stereotypes still remained prevalent in many church circles.

Only slowly did the realization sink in that the “Jewish question” could not be solved by Jewish missions. Much more crucial was the founding of the State of Israel in May 1948. Led by Karl Barth, Protestants were now adjured to see this as a sign that God had remained faithful to His chosen people. At the same time, Christians should acknowledge their indebtedness to their elders in faith, and join in thanks for the gift of the Jewish scriptures. The fateful “teaching of contempt” was to be replaced by feelings of respect.

No less striking was the emergence of a new mood, at least in West Germany, where Protestants took the lead in seeking opportunities to meet in dialogue with Jewish representatives, such Rabbi Leo Baeck. A new approach based on humility and reverence was to be encouraged. The result was the notable statement issued at the 1950 Synod, when the German Evangelical Church for the first time explicitly admitted its guilt towards the Jews. It was the initial opening of a new chapter, which in the intervening years has gained a wide theological consensus.

Hockenos concludes with the thought that the divisions caused by the rival doctrines and policies of conservatives and reformers are still with us. “Although the conservative legacy survived into the post-war period and dominated church affairs in the decades to follow, the alternative vision of the church as the conscience of the people and champion of a new political ethic challenged the majority view and continues to influence a minority within the Protestant Church today” (p. 177).

This is an authoritative account which combines both theological insight and political judgment. Hockenos’ shrewd and often critical analysis of the character of the main actors and their ecclesiastical and political choices carries weight. It is much to be hoped that his study will soon appear in a German translation.
2a) ed. Daniel Overmyer, Religion in China Today, Cambridge University Press 2003.
This excellent collection of articles by China specialists seeks to describe the present state of religious life in today’s China, and has been put together by scholars from the University of British Columbia. The editor’s introduction shows that, contrary to Communist theory, religious life in China has not withered away, but is very much flourishing in a variety of guises. The consequent struggle for authority in the Marxist-ruled state is here explored in depth by Pitman Potter, who demonstrates the ambiguity of the current regime towards religious groups, still seeking to control their activities, while claiming to encourage a “more tolerant management of religious organizations”. Daniel Bays, now of Calvin College, Michigan, contributes a notable essay on the current resurgence of Chinese Protestant Christianity. On any given Sunday, he holds, there are more Protestants in church in China than in all of Europe. Richard Madsen, of San Diego, provides a counterpart essay on the mixed results of the Catholic revival during the reform era. The bibliographical aids are particularly helpful. This valuable overview concentrates on the present situation, but often enough refers to the past. In one sense, this collection supersedes the following work:

2b) ed. Daniel Bays, Christianity in China, Stanford U.P. 1996
Included in this useful survey is a fine article by Tim Brook on “Toward Independence: Christianity in China under the Japanese Occupation, 1937-1945.” This outlines the impact particularly on the Western- based missions of the Japanese attempt to control the Chinese society and economy in pursuit of their imperial goals. Brook shows that the aim of many Chinese Christians to achieve independence and union were greatly assisted by the enforced retreat of the foreign missionaries. To be sure the Japanese occupation power promoted the Chinese Church’s independence for its own reasons, but the net result was to encourage the mood which resulted in the 3 self patriotic movement of later years. The dilemmas of the Christian Chinese leaders, caught between the need to accommodate themselves to the new ruling power, to ward off the suspicions of their fellow countrymen who had fled to the Chinese-controlled parts of the country, and to still maintain some contact with their former supporters in the mission boards, are here well demonstrated. But Brook suggests that the strategies worked out during this period were to be significant when the even greater onslaught of the Communist revolution took place a few years later.
2b) eds. Konrad Kwiet and Jürgen Matthäus, Contemporary Responses to the Holocaust, Westport, Conn: Praeger 2004
Perhaps I may be allowed to mention an essay of my own included in this book: J.S.Conway, “Changes in Christian-Jewish relations since the Holocaust”. This outlines the virtually revolutionary changes brought about in the major Christian communities of western Christendom by the advent of the state of Israel and by the reflections on the Holocaust. The theological changes prompted by the latter have been enormously complicated by the political impact of the former, as this essay seeks to show. But the sad history of the church’s long involvement with theological anti-Judaic prejudice has now been replaced by a much more eirenic stance in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant communities. The current teachings will now, it is to be hoped, become irreversible.
3a) M.Greschat, Der ist ein Feind dieses Staates!’ Martin Niemöllers Aktivitäten in der Anfangsjahren der Bundesrepublik Deutschland in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, Vol. 114 (2003), no.3,pp. 333-56.

At the end of 1951, in the midst of the Cold War, the German public was shocked to read the news that Pastor Martin Niemöller, the former U-Boat captain, former concentration camp inmate, and now Church President = Bishop of the Protestant Church in Hessen-Nassau was about to pay a fraternal visit to the Soviet Union. Ostensibly his purpose was to meet with representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church. But, in view of his erratic political stances, his activities were a cause of alarm among many of Germany’s conservative leaders, who suspected more sinister motives.

Niemöller had survived the war by a hair’s breadth, and saw his post-war mission at first to call for repentance and reconciliation. But the onset of the Cold War, the creation of the West German Bundesrepublik under the Catholic leader Konrad Adenauer, and the consequent division of the country between the rival alliances, made these goals highly debatable. Niemöller became the champion of having a disarmed, demilitarized but still united country, freed from the control of either Washington or Moscow. Not surprisingly this goal was regarded with grave suspicion by all those who distrusted such far-flung idealism.
Martin Greschat\s article is a masterly summary of the various responses Niemöller’s activities evoked, though he doesn’t quote Adenauer’s reported outburst, following the English king Henry II: “Who will rid us of this turbulent priest?”

In fact Niemöller’s politics were often naive and always moral. His motif: “What would Jesus say to this?” was hardly adequate to the complexity of the issues to be faced. So Greschat’s sympathy is limited with this attractive, often heroic, but always challenging, leader of German Protestantism. His accurate assessment of Niemöller’s inspiring but sometimes wrong-headed vision is a most welcome addition to the post-1945 history of the German churches.

3b) Michael Höhle, Der 13 August 1961 und die Kirchen in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, Vol 114 (2003), no 3, pp. 364-83.

The building of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 saw not only the physical division of the city, but also the enforced separation of the ecclesiastical authorities. Both Catholics and Protestants had attempted up to then to hold together both parts of Berlin in a wider national framework. Höhle describes how the GDR regime deliberately and skillfully pursued its plan of weakening the churches and of obliging their eastern members to play a subordinate role under the Communist leadership. He illustrates the subsequent dilemmas confronting particularly the Roman Catholic Church in Berlin.

3c) A.Chandler, Bishop Bell and the other Germany during the second world war in Humanitas, Vol. 6 no. 1, Oct. 2004, p.3 -30.

Bishop Bell’s heroic but often unpopular support of the anti-Nazi resistance movement in Germany is here analyzed by a leading scholar of the Anglican Church’s political role in the last century. Bell was essentially a liberal and ecumenical church leader, who sought to promote reconciliation and peace between the former enemies. But his eyes about the Nazi regime were opened by his contacts in the international Life and Work movement and by such representatives of the Confessing Church as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His support of Neville Chamberlain “appeasement policy”, however, led to his being shunned once war broke out. Churchill and his government never had any sympathy with the view that there were “good” Germans ready to make peace. Bell’s argument that these men should be given some indication of British support fell on completely deaf ears. And his subsequent criticism of the British demand for unconditional surrender, and the blanket condemnation of all Germans, was equally ineffective. The anti-German propaganda, associated with Lord Vansittart, was sweeping away what little sympathy remained for Bell’s point of view. He remained convinced, however, that the conspirators, who failed in July 1944 to overthrow Hitler and his regime, might have succeeded better if they had been encouraged from abroad. Chandler is doubtful, but praises Bell’s efforts to try and bring a Christian moral perspective to the conduct of politics in a world of hatred, conflict and destruction.
Best wishes
John Conway