October 2005 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


October 2005— Vol. XI, no. 10

Dear Friends,

“Der Anfang, das Ende, oh Herr, sie sind dein,
die Spanne dazwischen, das Leben war mein.
Und irrt ich im Dunkeln, und kannt’ mich nicht aus,
bei dir Herr ist Klarheit und Licht ist dein Haus”.

Fritz Reuter, 19th century German poet, often quoted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer


1) Obituary: Brother Roger of Taizé
2) Book reviews:

a) Ueberschaer, Junge Gemeinde im Konflikt
b) Steele, Christianity, the Other and the Holocaust

3) Work in progress:

a) C Probst, Protestant reception of Luther’s anti-Jewish treatises in Nazi Germany
b) B. Pearson, Democracy and West German Protestantism.

4) Book note: ed. A.Cross, Ecumenism and History

5) Journal articles:

a) Berggren, President Carter
b) Balzer, Religion in Siberia

1) Brother Roger of Taizé

Brother Roger Schutz, the 90-year-old founder of the Taizé Community in France, died on 16 August after being attacked by a visitor to the community. He was widely respected because of the lead he had given for many decades in the field of ecumenical and spiritual witness.

Roger Schutz was born in the village of Provence, near Neuchatel in Switzerland, the son of a Swiss Protestant pastor and a French mother from a family with a long Protestant tradition, on 12 May 1915. He originally wanted a literary career but bowed to the wishes of his father and took up theology instead. It was as a theology student that he arrived in 1940 on his bicycle in the tiny Burgundian village of Taizé, near to the border between Vichy France and the German-occupied part of the country with the idea of founding a house for prayer and contemplation. Here he would make his home for the next two years, welcoming refugees, members of the resistance, and Jews. After his return to Geneva in 1942, he was warned not to go back to France because he had been denounced to the Gestapo.

In Geneva he resumed his theology studies, forming a community of prayer and contemplation with Max Thurian, who would become Taizé’s liturgist and theologian, and two other friends. He was ordained a pastor in 1943 in the Swiss Reformed Church but preferred to be seen as a brother and nothing more. In 1944, he returned to Taizé, and five years later, on Easter Day 1949, the first brothers of the community made a commitment to a life in celibacy, to community of possessions, and to simplicity of life. Already in the early 1950s, Brother Roger (as he was now known) had a brief meeting with Pope Pius XII, and representatives from Taizé were invited to attend meetings in Rome. However, it was Pope John XXIII who cemented the relationship with Taizé, inviting Roger Schutz and Max Thurian as observers to the Second Vatican Council.

By the beginning of the 1960s the reputation of Taizé had spread and hundreds, if not thousands, of young people would visit the community each year. The Romanesque church which the Catholic Church allowed the Taizé brothers to use had become too small. In 1962, the Church of Reconciliation, was inaugurated having been built with the help of young volunteers sent by the German church agency ‘Aktion Sühnezeichen’ – which promoted reconciliation between wartime enemies – creating. an enduring link with Germany. In 1970, Brother Roger launched the idea of holding a ‘Council of Youth’, and when it opened in 1974 after four years of preparation, the inauguration brought about 40 000 young people to Taizé, as well as representatives of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope and the Ecumenical Patriarch, and leaders of various Protestant denominations.

Schutz had been a close friend of Pope John Paul II since Karol Woytila’s days in Krakow, and Pope John Paul himself visited Taizé in 1986. At John Paul’s funeral, Brother Roger took communion from the hands of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Pope Benedict XVI. Answering enquiries, the Taizé Community simply referred to a quotation from Brother Roger in which he said he found his ‘own Christian identity by reconciling within myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without rupture of communion with anyone’.

The influence of Taizé was felt well beyond the Burgundy countryside. The vigils, candles and chants which characterized the community not only became an established part of the worship of many denominations but also accompanied East Germany’s peaceful revolution of 1989 in which Christians played a significant role. The annual new year meetings launched in 1978 and attended by thousands of young adults, usually taking place in a large European city, can also be seen as an inspiration for the World Youth Days launched by Pope John Paul II. Indeed, the news of Brother Roger’s death came as thousands were gathering in Cologne for the 2005 World Youth Days.

Brother Roger received many honours, including the Templeton Prize (1974); the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1974); the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education (1988); the Charlemagne Prize (1989); and the Robert Schuman Prize (1992).

Roger Schutz, theologian, born 12 May 1915, died 16 August 2005

Contributed by Stephen Brown, World Council of Churches, Geneva.

2a) Ellen Ueberschaer. Junge Gemeinde im Konflikt. Evangelische Jugendarbeit in SBZ und DDR 1945-1961Konfession und Gesellschaft, Volume 27. Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer, 2003. 360 pp. Notes, bibliography, index of names. EUR 35.00 (paper), ISBN 3-1701-7898-9.
(This review first appeared on H-German in May 2005, and is reprinted by permission of the author)

Protestant Youth Work, GDR Politics, and Secularization

At the end of World War II, the society and culture of the future German Democratic Republic were marked by vibrant Protestant church life, anchored in a strong and influential tradition and revitalized by ideological conflict with Nazism, and by the pressing needs of postwar society. After forty-five years of Soviet and Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands (SED) rule the situation was very different, with the bulk of the East German population alienated from the church and with many ignorant of the most basic points of doctrine. In this study of Protestant youth work in the early years of the GDR, Ellen Ueberschaer seeks to explain this radical transformation, arguing for the centrality of the youth work and youth politics of both the East German Landeskirchen and the SED regime to this process of secularization. At the same time, she seeks to contextualize the forced, state-driven secularization that took place within the GDR as part of longer-term developments that were also at work in the Federal Republic of Germany.

Ueberschaer’s explanation of these developments, which is only clearly laid out in the conclusion of her study, ties together the findings of the two otherwise separate lines of inquiry that make up the bulk this book. The first traces the development and implementation of the “Junge Gemeinde” conception of church youth work. In contrast to the ideas embodied in the youth missions and associations of the nineteenth century, this model emphasized the integration of youth work into the formal institutional structure of the Landeskirche on the one hand, and the integration of youth into the life of the local congregation on the other. The second line of inquiry follows the development of Soviet and SED church and youth politics until the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 and the ensuing relative stabilization of the SED state. Here, Ueberschaer argues that the alienation of youth from traditional religion was always central to the church-political and youth-political goals of the SED, although the party attempted to realize these goals in different ways at different times and in different places. She argues that these opposite but mutually-reinforcing programs of _Verkirchlichung_ and Entkirchlichung combined to drive the secularization process of GDR society.

The Verkirchlichung of Protestant youth work began in the late nineteenth century, but especially developed in the first two decades of the twentieth, as a response to the threat of secularization posed by changing social conditions and by the growth of nationalist and socialist youth movements. Although this process was temporarily stalled during the Third Reich as members of the confessing church resisted German Christian attempts to impose their authority through centralization, it was also strengthened in many ways by the legacy of the Kirchenkampf. To Protestants in postwar Germany–both in the East and in the West–the lessons of the past indicated the need for a strong and socially influential church, which could stand against the dictates of a total state. At the same time, they showed the need for all church work to be rooted in the fundamentals of Christian life–in Bible study, prayer, and congregational worship.

In the Soviet Occupied Zone, where similar threats to the church seemed imminent, such lessons were taken to heart by both the church hierarchy and by individual youth workers. As the Soviet authorities began to restrict church activities–as early as 1946 in Saxony, where local communists were particularly anti-clerical–the institutionalization of youth work and its integration into congregational life was also promoted as a defensive measure, which would put the full authority of the church behind youth activities. Although this process was gradual and contested–and more pronounced in theory than in practice–it did result, in most EasternLandeskirchen, in the eventual coordination of youth work under the authority of Landesjugendpfarrer and Jugendkammern, and, on a higher level, in the creation and coordination of policy in the Jugendkammer-Ost of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland.

Soviet and SED policies of Entkirchlichung were driven, according to Ueberschaer, by both church-political and youth-political considerations. On an ideological level, the teachings of the Protestant churches were viewed as a potential threat to the spread of a materialist and Marxist worldview. On an institutional level, the youth groups of the churches could rival the communist Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ), or, if integrated into the local FDJ, could hinder its effectiveness in developing a new generation of communist leaders. Despite these relatively constant goals, the practical policies adopted by the Soviets and by the SED varied with the immediate domestic and geo-political circumstances.

In the first years of the Soviet occupation, severe limitations were placed on church youth gatherings, although these limitations did not follow any coherent centralized policy. Especially targeted were transregional youth gatherings and activities that were not essential to the functioning of congregational life. These pressures peaked from 1950 to 1953 in a period of open repression, marked by the more systematic hindrance of church youth gatherings, by denunciation and defamation of “imperialist” Protestant youth groups, by more concerted observation of Protestant groups and leaders, and by the removal of “Junge Gemeinde” members from the FDJ. These heavy-handed tactics were replaced in the following years by a more subtle and effective strategy of hidden repression. This later strategy, which was less institutional and more individual in focus, aimed especially at the heavily Protestant ranks of Oberschueler, combined repression and anti-Christian propaganda with incentives and rewards for accepting the SED system and the
communist worldview. It culminated in the implementation of the Jugendweihe–a secular confirmation ceremony incompatible with Christian confirmation–as a necessary prerequisite for access to higher education.

In conjunction with more general social modernization trends, these measures were extremely effective, resulting in a 25-to-50 percent decline in the number of church youth groups, and to similar declines in individual group membership (p. 274). They also resulted in a thorough transformation of the East German Protestant milieu, from the status of educated middle-class elites to the position of educational, economic, and social outsiders. At the same time, Ueberschaer argues, this transformation of the Protestant milieu created new opportunities. East German Protestants became the carriers of an alternative culture, capable of supporting limited criticism of the SED regime and, thus, laying groundwork for the collapse of the communist system in 1989.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of this book is its failure to integrate the various lines of its inquiry into a strong central narrative or argument, at least until the conclusion. While Ueberschaer ultimately argues that theVerkirchlichung strategy of the churches and the Entkirchlichung program of the state served to confirm the worst suspicions of each toward the other and to escalate their confrontation, this dynamic is only hinted at in the body of her work.
The choppy and sometimes idiosyncratic narrative, which contains several tangents of marginal relevance to the book’s main arguments, creates the impression of an author who is still a little too close to her sources to step back and focus on the bigger picture. Yet Ueberschaer has done a valuable service in drawing attention to the importance of youth work as a field of ideological and institutional conflict. Her findings will be of interest to both church historians and scholars of the GDR.

Benjamin Pearson, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

b) Michael R.Steele, Christianity, the Other and the Holocaust. Contribution to the Study of Religion, number 70
Westport, Connecticut/London: Greenwood Press, 2003. xiv + 185 pp. $64.95 cloth (This review appeared first in Church History, Vol .72 no.4, December 2003)

Sixty years after the mass murder of the European Jews, commonly known as the Holocaust, debate still continues concerning the responsibility of the Christian churches both for the genesis and the implementation of these atrocities. As with the parallel debate over the uniqueness of the Holocaust, scholars have been unable to reach an agreed consensus. For several decades now, the issue has been contended as to whether the tragedy of the Jews was the latest round in a tradition of anti-Jewish bigotry by Christians of all denominations, as a result of the legacy of hatred and intolerance built up over the centuries. Or was the religious factor merely a background one, to be overtaken by the far more virulent and violent antisemitism of German racialism, whose exponents in the Nazi ranks were in fact putting into action a modern secularized ideology of the twentieth century.

Michael Steele is clearly committed to the first of these propositions. Western culture, he says, as shaped by Europe’s Christian civilization and especially by the Roman Catholic Church, propagated an exclusionary vision of mankind, which relegated all non-believers outside its orbit to be marginalized, dehumanized and often destroyed. Marked down as “Other”, such outcasts were treated as worthy of discrimination or destruction, and indeed suffered such a fate whenever Christianity was dominant. The persecution of the Jews in the Holocaust is thus the culmination of characteristic Christian features of triumphalism and supersessionism, an intricate cultural process developed over seventeen centuries. It can be seen as part of a long lamentable pattern.
Steele seeks to examine how the development of a certain kind of prejudgment about The Other could lead to the growth of a theology of sacred violence, which in turn was the basis for the physical subjugation or even destruction of whole populations, in a series of alarming preludes to the Holocaust. Steele claims to find a continuing and cumulative process of Christian violence against outsiders and non-believers, especially Jews, ever since the reign of the Emperor Constantine. Subsequently, the same features were taken over by the expansionist, aggressively missionizing Christianity of later centuries, leading eventually to a claim to world-wide dominance. Possession of the one, true religion justified the consequent enslavement, and even extermination, of enormous numbers of innocent victims in the pursuit of the eradication of all alternatives.

Given Steele’s predetermined stance, the examples chosen to illustrate this thesis are predictable. Christians took over the militant imperialist mindset of the Roman Empire, launched the Crusades, invaded and subdued with barbarous ferocity the indigenous populations of Asia, Africa and America, imposed the horrors of the slave trade, and all along sought to eliminate their nearest religious rivals, the Jews, by legitimated acts of homicidal violence. Given the shortness of the book, there is an inevitable compression, which, as a result, leads to unilateral distortion. Steele’s teleological point of view flattens out the complexities and divagations of historical circumstances. He ignores the evidence of whole periods and territories where historical conditions do not confirm his thesis. Nor does he critically examine alternative views, but repetitiously invokes the parallels between Christian violence against Jews in the past and Nazi atrocities in the Holocaust. His arguments are based on numerous secondary sources by authors who agree with him. In short, this is not how history should be written.

Like Daniel Goldhagen, who recently wrote a book with similar theme, it would appear that Michael Steele is not a historian, but a moralist. As such, he does not fail to denounce Christianity as a repressive belief system, which over the centuries has motivated perpetrators to murder innocent victims, especially Jews, with impunity, and has led bystanders to ignore, or pass by, the inhumanity of such actions. Logically, his adoption of the culmination theory as an explanation for the Holocaust should lead him to a highly pessimistic view of the future, since Christianity has not abandoned its dogmas or structures, and since its adherents, he believes, are incapable of overthrowing the grip of such a powerful ideology. Perhaps it is only wishful thinking which leads him by the book’s conclusion to advocate the growth of a pluralistic society, which has been brutally thwarted during so many centuries of Western Christian history by the sacred, violent denial of its vision. But this is certainly not a historical judgment.


3) Work in progress:

a) Chris Probst, Royal Holloway College, London

Protestant reception of Martin Luther’s anti-Jewish treatises in Nazi Germany

Martin Luther wrote at least five treatises on the subject of “the Jews”. One treats Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen, which – though heavily weighted with cogent theological argumentation – nonetheless contains typical late mediaeval antisemitic accusations, along with seven severe recommendations for dealing with the Jews. This treatise has fueled the greatest discussion of the reformer’s attitude towards Jews and Judaism

How did German Protestants during the Nazi era receive these writings, which were now being widely disseminated throughout their homeland? Did Protestants confront the “Jewish question” by the light of these treatises, either explicitly or implicitly? How were the surrounding events interpreted by Protestants in the light of Von den Juden, if at all? These are the central questions to be answered in my dissertation.

Though not central to my thesis’ argument, I have suggested that Von den Juden contains both anti-Judaic and antisemitic rhetoric. With Gavin Langmuir, I contend that the now-traditional distinction between “theological” anti-Judaism and “racial” antisemitism (e.g.Maurer, Oberman) is not empirically verifiable, and thus should be discarded. Instead we should consider the rational, irrational and non-rational aspects of theological thought. Irrational rhetoric (the Blood Libel, for example) may be considered antisemitic, while some (though not all) non-rational argumentation (such as Luther’s application of biblical passages to contemporary Jews) can be considered anti-Judaic.

Using an intellectual history approach, I will show that the reception of Luther’s ideas about the Jews helped some German Protestants in the Third Reich to look favourably upon Nazi antisemitism and thus to support – or at least not to oppose – the antisemitic policies and practices of the regime.

b) Benjamin Pearson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

I am currently in the early writing stage of a dissertation which examines democracy and West German Protestant political identity at the German Protestant Kirchentag from 1949 until the early 1970s. Basically I examine the different ways in which West German Protestants understood their new role in a democratic society in the post-war years. I then trace the ways this understanding changed during the period of my study. What I have found so far is that the early 1950s were dominated by an optimistic belief in the politically and socially transforming power of Christian faith. This gave way to a more academic and classically liberal phase in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Finally in the mid-1960s a new more activist and liberationist conception of democracy began to prevail.

4) Book Notes: ed. Anthony Cross, Ecumenism and History: Studies in honour of John H.Y.Briggs, Carlisle, Cumbria: Paternoster Press 2002 ISBN 1-84227-135-0 362 pp.

This Festschrift for John Briggs, a leading British Baptist, long-time academic, and champion of ecumenical causes, brings together essays from his many friends. Although too diverse for a coherent review, one contribution deserves special notice. Keith Clements, the retiring General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches, writes a splendid, if too short, piece on biography and history. He uses as his text the pithy remark by the American novelist Bernard Malamud: “The past exudes legend: one can’t make pure clay out of time’s mud. There is no life that can be recaptured wholly: as it was. Which is to say that all biography is ultimately fiction”. But Clements disagrees. The historical record is a necessary corrective to fictional biography. A biographer has therefore to be “at one and the same time, fact-gatherer, chronicler, detective, psychologist, portrait-painter and (yes) historian”. He quotes his own experience as the author of the magnificent life of J.H.Oldham, and his subsequent writings about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Reconstructing the consciousness and the motivations of the person involved is a truly demanding task. To fill in the details not recorded in documents requires an imaginative empathy, even artistic licence. But it must not violate either the factual record or known character for the sake of dramatic effect or propaganda interests. Clements rightly therefore takes issue with the recent film about Bonhoeffer, Agent of Grace, which distorts the known facts and produces a seriously diminished, even embarrassing picture. Bonhoeffer’s biography necessitates treading a fine line between a mere chronicle and an innovative fiction. Clements’ plea is to search for “the inner links of a multifaceted life with all its ambiguity and paradox, its hiddenness as well as overt character”. By such means, the radical challenges of Bonhoeffer’s theology can be linked to the tragic drama of his career, making for “a fascinating life of daring integrity lived among evil and compromises with evil.”

5) Journal articles:

a) D.J.Berggren, “The living faith of President Carter” in Journal of Church and State, Vol 47, no. 1, Winter 2005, 43ff.
Berggren outlines how the Christian principles of honesty, thrift, goodness and peacemaking guided Carter’s Presidency (1977-81), set his policy priorities, and were reflected in his post-presidency initiatives. His 2002 Nobel Peace Prize was an overdue recognition of his strong Christian principles, illustrating his firm commitment to the absolute ethic of the Gospel.

b) M.M.Balzer, “Whose steeple is higher? Religious competition in Siberia” in Religion, State and Society, Vol 31, no. 1, March 2005, 57ff
Dr Balzer reports on the varieties of recent religious experiences in Siberia. Religion, she claims, has become an idiom through which competing definitions of homeland and national pride are being shaped. Christian missionaries from outside Siberia are in competition with local nativist shamans and with Moslem and Buddhist immigrants. These activities all indicate that a large-scale abandonment of Soviet atheism is taking place and a multi-faith community is arising.

With all best wishes,
John S.Conway