January 2006 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia


January 2006— Vol. XII, no. 1

Dear Friends,

Let me send you all a warm greeting for the New Year from a wintry Vancouver. I can hardly believe that we are now opening Vol. XII of this Newsletter, but your words of encouragement over the past months have persuaded me that I should keep up this service as long as my health permits. And, once again, I should be glad to hear from any of you who would like to contribute a review, or a notice of interest, or an outline of your present research interests. Please remember NOT to press REPLY to these Newsletters but to send your comments to me direct at my personal e-mail = jconway@interchange.ubc.ca

Bonhoeffer Commemoration:

I am glad to announce that a Canadian symposium in commemoration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 100th anniversary will be held in Vancouver on Feb. 17-18th 2006, in Regent College Chapel, which is situated next to the University of British Columbia campus. This will be open to the public without charge, and we are particularly pleased to invite one of our list members, Craig Slane from Simpson University, Redding, California to be one of the presenters.
It is particularly encouraging that the writing of contemporary church history continues to flourish. Despite the decline in the number of dedicated professorships in universities, theological colleges, and seminaries, it is obvious that numerous scholarly works in our field are being published. This is still true in Germany, long the leader in this endeavour, where it can be said that the writing of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte thrives. Both the Catholic and Protestant official commissions responsible for the writing and publishing of such works have seen an increase in the number, and equally significantly in the quality, of the studies produced. So too other series, such as Konfession und Gesellschaft continue to make important contributions. And a scholarly journal with the title Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, which appears twice a year, has been produced now for eighteen years. To be sure, the German tradition of writing dissertations on a voluminous scale can be rather daunting, but evidently the generous subsidies given by granting bodies enable these works to see the light of day for the benefit of the wider public. No other country is presently competing on the same scale.

The result is that the pages of this Newsletter are more or less already bespoken for 2006.

My hope, however, is to maintain a certain ecumenical breadth of reviews, though the focus on Germany will certainly shine through in most of the issues. I trust this will prove to be of interest and value to you all.

John Conway


1) Book reviews

a) Good, The Steamer Parish
b) Hauschild, Konfliktgemeinschaft Kirche
c) Plokhy and Sysyn, Religion and Nation in the Ukraine

2) Journal articles

a) Brechenmacher, The Pope and the Persecution of the Jews in Germany
b) Salemink, Dutch bishops’ protests 1942
c) Chapman, Secularisation and the Ministry of John Stott

1a) Charles M.Good Jr, The Steamer Parish. (The rise and fall of missionary medicine on an African frontier), Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 2004. 487 pp. ISBN (cloth) 0-226-30281-4, (paper) 0-226-30282 -2

Missionary history has evolved rapidly in recent decades. The old-style laudatory accounts of heroic and self-sacrificing missionaries from Europe and North America serving in intemperate climes from Greenland’s icy mountains to India’s coral strands have largely been replaced by more objective sociological studies of the recipients’ reactions to the series of intrusive cultural penetrations by colonialist powers.

Charles M.Good Jr., however, in this excellently researched study of a small Anglican mission in the centre of Africa, adopts a new tack. He takes a highly critical, even hostile approach to the missionaries’ endeavours. Indeed he appears to believe that their spiritual ministry was mistaken, or at least misguided, although he pays tribute to the dedication of certain individuals who devoted their whole careers to what was often a frustrating and certainly costly vocation.

The Universities’ Mission to Central Africa was the direct result of a speech given by David Livingstone at the University of Cambridge in December 1857. Livingstone had called for men to come out to Africa to bring Christianity and (legitimate) commerce as the best way to put a stop to the atrocious evils of the slave trade. The Oxford and Cambridge recruits who responded to this appeal were, however, in a different category from those who had earlier joined the Church Missionary Society after William Wilberforce’s advocacy of the same cause. UMCA members were drawn from, and supported by, the “high” or Anglo-Catholic parishes of the Church of England. This gave their churchmanship a singular character, with its emphasis on the priesthood and on liturgy, service to the poorest and, for the missionaries themselves, a commitment to celibacy. The mission was much more Catholic in style than the prevalent evangelicalism of their sister missions, for example in Kenya or Uganda. UMCA’s sphere of operation was also much more limited, namely to the region of Lake Nyasa, later renamed Malawi, where the slave trade had been particularly vindictive. The first expedition in the 1860s seeking to reach this remote African hinterland proved utterly disastrous, and it was not until the middle 1870s that the mission was resurrected. It lasted for ninety years until Malawi achieved its political independence in 1964.

But Good’s focus is neither on the fortunes or misfortunes of the white missionaries; nor is he really interested in the populations to whom they ministered, who remain largely anonymous throughout. Instead he concentrates his study on the impact of the European technology brought to the region by UMCA. He not only has skillfully researched all the surviving records and publications – necessarily missionary-produced – but undertook his own on-the-spot visits to look for surviving mementos of this far-flung, and to some questionable, episode in Malawi’s history.

In particular, he sought to examine and evaluate two specific aspects, namely the arrival of mission steamships, imported from Britain, and the introduction of European medical practices. His account of the mission is woven around these two salient features. The book’s title reflects the significance of UMCA’s presence amidst the settlements up and down the nearly five hundred miles of Lake Nyasa, which formed the steamer parish. It became a unique and special ministry.

For the sake of protection, the mission established its headquarters on an island halfway up the lake. Here the missionaries were able to build schools, a hospital and eventually a massive and stately cathedral. But it was a choice they later regretted, since it made them entirely dependent on the steamers. As dramatic symbols of European technological and military superiority, the steamers were effective in projecting the British presence, checking the slave trade and establishing unprecedented law and order. The missionaries used them for their itinerant evangelization from village to village along both banks of the lake. Because the steamers were wood-fired, frequent refueling stops were required. So the impact was considerable.

On the other hand, the distances were so vast that even with the steamers the individual missionary could only visit any one settlement every other month. The steamers also carried people and goods, and were fitted out with a chapel and emergency beds, which were frequently in use to carry patients to and from the island hospital. Yet, this European intrusion was not welcomed by all. Several African chiefs, mostly adherents of Islam, found this to be a direct threat to their entrenched interests in the slave trade. The early years of the British presence therefore actually saw an increase in hostility and ecclesiastical rivalry.

After twenty-five years, UMCA brought a second and larger steamer to the lake. The advantages seemed obvious. More people could be reached for evangelism, more goods transported to remote communities, more travel undertaken. But at the same time, these increased expectations were often frustrated by technological failures. The steamers often needed repairs and maintenance. When boilers rusted or leaked, they had to be replaced from Britain. During the first world war, the colonial government commandeered the larger vessel for use against the German-held territory at the northern end of the lake, and didn’t release it until 1920.

Despite the steamers’ availability, and the undoubted drive of some of the missionaries to preach, teach and minister to the villagers along the lake, their ambitious hopes for mass conversions were never fulfilled. In part, the long-established Muslims resisted all such attempts; in part, the European character of the mission, and especially the requirement to live according to Christian principles, for example adopting monogamy, involved too great a challenge to the Africans’ ways of life. But equally, the missions’ success was crucially affected by the colonial government’s overall policies. Because each colony was required to pay for its own social services, the British authorities in Nyasaland imposed a head tax on the impoverished African population, which for ever increasing numbers could only be met by large-scale emigration to work in South Africa’s mines or Rhodesia’s farms. This left Malawi stripped of its most productive work force and only increased its economic backwardness. UMCA is not known to have made any coherent protest, let alone concerted opposition to this exploitative policy.

The colony was too poor to afford public education or publicly supported health facilities. As a result the missionaries were drawn into supplying these needs. To be sure, evangelism remained their top priority, but their knowledge of the local people and their compassion for their evident, and possibly curable, sufferings led them into provision of nursing stations, hospital facilities, maternity clinics and even operating rooms. They clearly hoped that these expressions of Christian mercy would lead their grateful patients to join the Christian communities in their home villages. Inevitably the introduction of western medicine came to be seen as a valuable weapon against the dark forces of superstition as provided by the witch doctor or indigenous medicine man.

Good’s examination of UMCA’s medical services occupies the second half of the book. His research into tropical diseases, their incidence in Malawi, and the various strategies developed to combat them, is exemplary. Basically his argument is that the mission’s resources were woefully inadequate, its strategy misplaced, and its effectiveness probably minimal. In the first place, the mission insisted on celibacy for its staff. When its principal and very talented doctor in the early 1900s wanted to marry the head nurse at one of the mission’s out-stations, they were both obliged to resign and leave the territory. Good is not surprisingly scathing about this requirement, all the more so since UMCA’s doggedly conservative insistence on celibacy created a barrier beyond most Africans’ comprehension. Repeatedly the London headquarters advertised for medical recruits but found none.

In the second place, the emphasis on healing the sick absorbed energies which would have been better deployed on preventive measures. To be sure, when finally the etiology of malaria was established by British scientists, the missionaries learnt to take precautionary steps against infection. And later on their policy of giving injections against virulent diseases or the ubiquitous ulcers, undoubtedly relieved much suffering. But equally obviously, the proportion of the population that could be reached was small. Many Africans remained terrified of western medical practices and preferred to rely on traditional remedies. Medical pluralism was thus a continuing feature, though the Europeans insisted on their superiority and were scornful of what they considered the pervasive evils of African medicine. This insensitivity, Good claims, was clearly part of their racist approach to the backward and benighted African people.

UMCA’s failure to attract medical help from their home base was only compounded by their reluctance to encourage training programmes for Africans. The result was that the available support was spread too thinly and unevenly, or not at all. In Good’s view, UMCA’s pattern was that of taking one step forward, and one or two underfunded steps backward. Particularly in the later years, as the colonial government began to recognize its responsibilities, the missionary hospitals were left behind. The facilities experienced a sad deterioration, and the lack of resources entailed a ever-growing over-extension of its capabilities. The lack of new recruits, or even of text books, meant that new knowledge never reached Malawi, and the training received by the staff so long before in Britain became sadly outdated. To be sure, their efforts were hampered by the generally inconsistent and ineffective fund-raising in Britain.
So Good’s verdict is hardly a positive one. UMCA remained too attached to its British base, too racist in its approach to the African society, and too limited in its outreach. With the coming of independence in 1964, the mission was unable to sustain itself, and was forced to amalgamate with the USPG. Despite genuine heroes, important accomplishments, and good intentions, UMCA never fulfilled its ambitious hope of bringing Christianity to central Africa. Its disappointing record closely parallels that of the whole British Empire. Good’s achievement is to describe soberly and dispassionately UMCA’s impact and legacy in this small and largely forgotten episode of mission history.


1b) Wolf-Dietrich Hauschild, Konfliktgemeinschaft Kirche. (Arbeiten zur kirchlichen Zeitgeschichte. Reihe B: Darstellungen Bd. 40) Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. 2004. 426 pp ISBN 3-525-55740 -X

W-D Hauschild is now one of the senior members of the German Protestant fraternity of church historians. Like most of us, he has given lectures and contributed articles in various places, which he now seeks to bring together and publish in a more durable form. They now appear in the reputable series, sponsored by the Evangelical Church’s Commission for Contemporary History, based in Munich.

Hauschild’s career has been largely engaged in dealing with the tempestuous and often traumatic history of his church throughout the twentieth century. Hence the title – a church in conflict – which reflects very well the failures of German Protestantism in their attempt to steer through the political shoals and social upheavals of the last hundred years.

To be sure, few other churches have been so riven by theological or better still theo-political dissension, assailed by anti-clerical and anti-Christian onslaughts, and forced to abandon much of their former status and support among the general population. Hauschild’s examination of how the institution’s history has been recorded and remembered by his colleagues is both proper and apposite. He thereby addresses the question lurking in the background which Bonhoeffer posed in 1943: “Are we of any use?”

In his opening essay, Hauschild describes the differing approaches currently adopted. Some practitioners argue that the topic of church history should be treated no differently from any other part of experience, using the same empirical, rationalist tools. But others point to the fact that church historians have a dual loyalty: they have to see events in a theologically-based context, conscious of seeking to explain God’s ways to man, and to introduce criteria of evaluation over and above any secular measurement. As guardians of the church’s collective memory, its historians are also much more directly involved in policy debates than their secular counterparts. Therein lie perils, or at any rate conflict.

How the church should relate to the state has been a continuing and often agonizing problem for Germans throughout the century, and indeed even before. Luther’s legacy has been both an ideal but also contentious. The church is called to a critical stance over against all political systems, and should not fall into the trap of overly identifying with any one party programme, or alternatively withdrawing into a private realm of spiritual abstention. Hauschild argues in favour of a “political diaconia” or watchful office for the church, though well aware how difficult this line can be. But its principal task must be to uphold the moral values of society, drawing on the rich vein of similar endeavours of the past. This will keep the church from again succumbing to the temptations or pressures to adapt itself to seductive modern tendencies or trying to keep up with the times.

Coming to terms with the particular events of Germany’s Nazi past is a prerequisite for all church historians of Hauschild’s generation. It imposes an inescapable duty, not only to explain why so many churchmen were led astray, or why others did so little to put a spoke in the wheels, or why only one theologian, Bonhoeffer, joined the anti-Hitler resistance, or why Bonhoeffer’s reputation for many years after 1945 was disputed among his fellow churchmen and colleagues. Should the church, collectively, feel guilt? If so, how should this be expressed?

Hauschild soberly considers these issues. He shows how readily many Germans, especially conservative churchmen, sought to balance out the Nazi crimes with those inflicted on the Germans expelled from the east by the Soviet armies, or the sufferings resulting from British and American air raids. In the aftermath, the post-war political situation and the desire to preserve their institutions outweighed any widespread acceptance of moral guilt for past complicity. These issues also raised serious questions about the future identity of both church and nation. Hauschild argues in favour of an exact reckoning, which avoids sweeping generalizations, such as Goldhagen’s, but which accepts the burden and responsibility for this ill-fated past.

One aspect of the Nazi years for which the German Evangelical Church can take some credit was the forthright statement issued in May 1934, known as the Barmen Declaration, which resolutely affirmed the theological principles of the newly-established Confessing Church in opposition to the pro-Nazi factions. The Declarations spelled out the limits of the church’s willingness to accede to the new regime’s demands, and in fact became the basis for all future non-compliance with Nazi ambitions to subordinate the church entirely. Hauschild devotes several chapters to a description of the Barmen Declaration and its effects, both during and after the Nazi years.

His subsequent chapters deal with the post-1945 history of this church. To be sure, in 1945 its surviving leaders had their freedom from state control and could determine their own future. But as Hauschild shows, there were still so many unresolved and disputed interpretations of where the church should go and how its polity should be formulated that his book’s title continued to be truly earned. Unfortunately, due in part to the political divisions imposed on Germany, these issues have still not been fully resolved. The German Evangelical Church’s identity, both before and after the political upheavals of 1989-1990, and the subsequent reunification of the country, are still a matter for debate, even at times of conflict. The legacy of the past therefore still requires to be looked through. But its institutional survival now seems assured. More problematic is the nature of its witness both in Germany and to the wider world. In this regard, Hauschild believes church historians have an important role to play. They are in fact the guardians of the church’s past and in some sense its conscience. Given the disasters of previous years, their duty to tell the truth without distortion is all the more significant. The essays collected in this volume will undoubtedly contribute towards this goal.


1c) Serhii Plokhy and Frank E.Sysyn, Religion and Nation in Modern Ukraine. Edmonton and Toronto: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press. 2003. 216 pp. ISBN 1-895571-45-6(bound); 1-895571-36-7 (pbk.) ed. Thomas Bremer, Religion und Nation. Die Situation der Kirchen in der Ukraine. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag. 2003. 147 pp. ISBN 3-447-04843-3.

The early history of Scotland was once described as murder tempered by theology. The more recent history of the Ukraine could also qualify. No other part of Europe during the past hundred years has been so convulsed by turbulent political events, with horrendous and massive losses of life and property. In fact, as a crossroads between East and West, the Ukraine has long been involved in a continuous struggle to obtain independence and identity. In its repeated attempts to achieve a national revival, the local churches have played a significant role, both as inheritors of past traditions, but also as active participants in fashioning new intellectual and ideological agendas, as they relate to the indigenous religious populations.

The complexity and conflictual character of much of the Ukrainian ecclesiastical scene has long deterred western scholars from any evaluative surveys. In fact, the most comprehensive account is by the German scholar, Friedrich Heyer, who recently updated his initial study written fifty years ago. So it is all the more welcome to have the short analysis by two former Ukrainian scholars now resident in Canada, which will help to sort out some of the entangled religious and political questions of the current period.

Because of its earlier history, the Ukraine was always multi-ethnic and hence pluralistic in its religious loyalties. At the same time, its rulers – then and now – have sought to mobilize religious forces to advance their particular cause. The Czarist monarchs promoted the Moscow Patriarchate of the Orthodox Church, while in the western parts of the country, the Uniate Church, which is familiarly but misleadingly known as the Greek Catholic Church, owing its allegiance to the Pope in Rome, predominated under the sponsorship of the Austro-Hungarian emperors. In the twentieth century, further religio-political alliances resulted during and after the first world war. The rise of Communism in the Soviet Union and the subsequent persecutions led to the growth of local groupings such as the breakaway Autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox church. During the Nazi occupation, both this splinter group and the Greek Catholics sought to regain ground. But after the Soviet victory, both were liquidated, and the remnants compulsorily amalgamated under the Moscow-dominated Patriarchate

After 1989, the Greek Catholics almost spontaneously resurrected themselves and reclaimed their former churches and constituents. At the same time, another section of the Orthodox community sought to re-establish its own patriarch in Kiev. But for political reasons they refused to acknowledge the autocephalous group, and both are spurned by those who still acknowledge Moscow’s ecclesiastical authority.

These internal struggles, as the authors make clear, are intimately related to the different concepts of national autonomy upheld by rival political groups. Some look back to the past as a model for the revival of Ukrainian cultural and political independence, seeking to promote the Orthodox Church as the upholder of a specific Ukrainian destiny. But the political record of the autocephalists during the second world war has still left a bitter legacy. On the other side, the long subordination to the Moscow Patriarchate, with its frequent execution of the Soviet leaders’ demands, has also caused deep resentments. For example, after 1989, a large number of Orthodox priests and congregations switched over, or back, to the Greek Catholic Uniates. But these Uniates, in turn, seek to establish their independence from their Polish neighbours, who maintain the Latin rite and equally see their Roman connection as a vital part of the Polish national revival. Since there is a great intermingling of these respective populations, and no clear acceptance of any one model for national resurgence, the result is still one of unresolved tensions and religious divisions.

Plokhy and Sysyn provide ample evidence of the close interaction between state building and religious movements. The politicians seek to enlist, or even to exploit, the churches in pursuit of their particular view of national identity. This however still remains illusory. These same problems are explored in the collection of essays, edited by Thomas Bremer, which resulted from a Berlin conference in 2001. These authors also stress the need for western scholars to be fully acquainted with the origins and development of each individual Ukrainian church in order to understand its particular contribution to the task of forging religious and political identity. They also provide a useful multi-lingual bibliography.


2a) Thomas Brechenmacher, “Pope Pius XI, Eugenio Pacelli, and the Persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany 1933-1939: New sources from the Vatican archives” in Bulletin of the German Historical Institute,London, Vol. XXVII, no. 2, November 2005, pp 17-45.

Brechenmacher, who is now preparing a definitive edition of the Nuncio’s reports from Berlin in the early period of Nazi rule, has undertaken a parallel study to that of Gerhard Besier (Reviewed in our December 2005 Newsletter). In this extended article he looks specifically at the Vatican’s stance towards the persecution of the German Jews, and comes to very similar conclusions: “It should be asked whether, given the situation in Germany, the official Vatican statements were not too late, and too hesitant. . . The Holy Office wasted two years in endless, learned discussions and scholastic nit-picking, while in Germany the persecution of the Jews was getting worse by the month. . . Concern about the survival of Church life in Germany dominated Rome’s actions: everything else was of secondary importance.” (p.43).

2b) Theo Salemink, “Bischöfe protestieren gegen die Deportation der niederländischen Juden 1942” in Zeitschrift für Kirchengeschichte, Vol. 116, no. 1, 2005, p.63-77

A useful evaluation of the protests made by the Dutch bishops against the Nazis’ deportation of the Jews, and how this topic has been treated over the past fifty years in the historiography, both Catholic and Protestant. Salemink warns against exaggerated myths, by pointing out that only 190 Catholic Jews were in fact deported as a result of the protests.

2c) Alister Chapman, “Secularisation and the ministry of John R.W.Stott at All Souls, Langham Place, 1950-1970 in Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 56, no 3, July 2005, pp. 496-513.

Alister Chapman has given us a valuable contribution to understanding the impact of evangelicalism in the Church of England in the post-1945 situation. He examines the work of one of the leading figures, John Stott, Rector of a popular up-scale church in London’s west end. Contrary to the widespread losses suffered by the church in these post-war years, Stott successfuly built up a thriving parish with vigorous lay participation. His teaching was traditionally evangelical. but he provided an intellectually robust apologetic, using such popular props as the works of C.S.Lewis to give a fresh emphasis for the intellectual viability of Christian belief

Chapman suggests that Stott’s success at All Souls was due to his presentation of a clear message along with a willingness to interact with the broader culture and some of its values. Unlike some parts of world Protestantism, this was no world-denying anti-modern stance. Of course, the hoped-for revival, sparked by Billy Graham’s crusades, did not take place. And Stott himself expressed disappointment and frustration. On the other hand, his growing reputation world-wide meant that he was less and less present in the parish, and finally he had to hand it over to a successor. Here too his church had to contend with the increasingly anti-authoritarian stance among the youth of the 1960s. Stott expressed alarm at the “steady progress of secularisation, even paganisation” But these gloomy predictions were only partly true. In Chapman’s views evangelicalism in England still flourishes.

With every best wish to you all for the New Year
John Conway

Books reviewed in 2004

Bergen, Doris ed The Sword of the Lord. Military Chaplains September
Besier, Gerhard Der Heilige Stuhl und Hitler-Deutschland December
Bottum, Joseph and Dalin, David, eds The Pius War September
Gerdes, Uta Okumenisches Solidarität mit christlichen und jüdischen
Verfolgten. Die CIMADE in Vichy-Frankreich 1940-44
Greenberg, Irving For the Sake of Heaven and Earth June
Gruber, Mark Journey back to Eden December
Hauerwas, Stanley Performing the Faith. Bonhoeffer and Nonviolence April
Haynes, Stephen The Bonhoeffer Phenomenon April
Hockenos, Matthew A Church Divided. German Protestants Confront the Nazi Past February
Leugers, Antonia ed Berlin, Rosenstrasse 2-4 November
Lewis, Don ed. Christianity reborn May
Merkle, John ed Faith Transformed: Christian Encounters with Judaism June
Palm, Dirk Wir sind doch Brüder. Der evangelische Kirchentag 1949-61 January
Ruff, Mark TheWayward Flock. Catholic Youth in Postwar West Germany March
Slane, Craig Bonhoeffer as Martyr April
Spicer. Kevin Resisting the Third Reich. Catholic Clergy in Berlin September
Staritz, Katharina Dokumentation Band 1 1903-1942. January
Steele, Michael Christianity, the Other and the Holocaust October
Tent, James In the Shadow of the Holocaust November
Tischner, Wolfgang Katholische Kirche in der SBZ/DDR 1945-51 March
Tittmann, Harold Inside the Vatican of Pius XII March
Ueberschaer, Ellen Junge Gemeinde im Konflikt October

Missions to Israel: The Rise and Fall of Protestant Mssions to the Jews 1800-2000