May 2006 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

May 2006— Vol. XII, no. 5


Dear Friends,

The June issue will be sent to you a day or two late since I will be out of town. I am glad to tell you that Matthew Hockenos of Skidmore College has once again kindly agreed to guest edit the summer issue for July/August, which will come out at the end of July.


1) Book reviews:

a) Genocide in Rwanda
b) God and Caesar in China
c) O. Schutz. Begegnung von Kirche und Welt
d) Ward, Nationalprotestantische Mentalitaten

2) Journal articles:

a) Diplomats and Missionaries
b) The Rosenstrasse debate reconsidered

3) Book notes: Gray Notes. Ambiguities in the Holocaust.

1a) eds Carol Rittner, John K.Roth and Wendy Whitworth, Genocide in Rwanda.
Complicity of the Churches?
 St.Paul, Minnesota: Paragon House 2004, 319 pp.
ISBN 1-55778-837-5

In 1994 a horrendous genocide took place in the small land-locked country of Rwanda in central Africa, when hundreds of thousands of one ethnic group, the Tutsis, were slaughtered by another group, the Hutus. Most disastrously, the majority of those involved, both victims and perpetrators, belonged to one or other Christian community. Nine years later, an international seminar was organized in London to see if sufficient time had elapsed for some assessment to be made of the extent to which the Christian churches were complicit in these massacres. The papers presented here, and other related contributions, have now been sensitively compiled and edited in a manner designed, not to apportion blame, but to come to terms with the appalling events. Even so, the topic was so “hot”, religiously and politically, that several contributions were withdrawn, and attempts were made to derail publication.

These reflections combine both anguish and analysis, and seek to cogitate on the conditions which made such devastation possible. Most pertinently, these essays seek to ask what role the churches played in the Rwandan self-destruction. Can there be a post-genocide resurrection and redemption of that nation’s Christian identity?

Several contributors describe the deep-seated and long-standing ethnic conflicts which had led to repeated and horrific violence. Christian evangelization, whether by low-church Protestants or French-led Catholics, had been ineffective in mediating such tensions. Indeed, in many cases, Christian sympathies for the down-trodden Hutus had led to one-sided demonization of their Tutsi rivals. As a result, the Christian churches‚ higher authorities witnessed the massacres in a kind of total paralysis. Despite protests by the Pope, no bishop, priest or ordinary layman was condemned for their part in the genocide. It was a situation in which some church leaders confronted abusers of power, others consorted with them, and still others did both. The moral imperative of safeguarding human rights became confused and contradictory.

It is clear that the sudden explosion of violence caused by the shooting down of a plane carrying the Presidents of both Rwanda and Burundi could not have been predicted. But the underlying tensions only needed this spark. The next 100 days saw an escalating and irreversible outburst of killings which the churches were impotent to prevent. So too was the United Nations‚ tiny force. The early and agonized appeals by the Pope fell on deaf ears. A graphic description by an American Mother Superior visiting her order’s convents during these events brings out the traumatic atmosphere of fear endured by these sisters and those they sought to protect. The Vatican’s Cardinal Etchegaray, who went to Rwanda twice at the Pope’s bidding, spoke of the “abyss of horror” he discovered there. He found the complicity of the churches only too obvious when church sanctuaries, places of worship and prayer, had become the actual sites of mass murder committed by church members against their fellow Christians. Inevitably the churches have had to carry the blame for the fanaticism of some of their members. But significant numbers of prominent Christians were involved, as recorded here in detail by several contributors. The silence of the bishops during the genocide has left a particularly painful memory. It was evidence, to some observers, that in Africa tribalism was, and is, more powerful than the waters of baptism.

Other contributors, particularly David Gushee in a perceptive chapter, see parallels with other genocides and draw on the immense literature generated by the European Holocaust to identify the genocidal mentality which afflicted Rwandan Hutus. The issue is also raised as to how far such mentalities were a legacy either of the European colonial rulers or of the churches they fostered. But in post-colonial Rwanda, the long-privileged Tutsi were displaced by the down-trodden but revengeful Hutus. And the radicalization and racialization of ethnicity in the twenty-five years before the massacres took place can only be seen as an indigenous growth. The influence of the churches was not used to counter these dangerous tendencies, and hence their complicity with the perpetrators can be deduced, even when they called, in vain, for a cessation of the mass murders.

Outsiders, especially church leaders abroad, from the Pope down, usually deplored all violence but refrained from too narrowly apportioning responsibility. As Margaret Brearley shows, this was largely due to ignorance of the background. Rwanda was a far-off country about which we knew little or nothing – to borrow Neville Chamberlain’s famous words. Too often, it seemed, the world church press assumed that tribal murders were somehow normative and less culpable in Africa than in Europe. Only a few papers tackled the vital question of why such a genocide could occur in what had been the most Christian country on the African continent.

The volume also includes a photo essay, showing the bullet-scarred, bloodied walls and desecrated sanctuaries of several churches and convents, where skeletal body parts and rotting clothing still remain as evidence of the genocide. The ruins at Kigali and Kibuye now join those of Auschwitz and Majdanek.

As one of the editors, John Roth, rightly remarks: “The enormity of this tragedy makes it important to pose questions thoughtfully, to consider responsibility carefully, to assess evidence critically and to draw conclusions judiciously.” The contributions in this book can only be a beginning, but they set a sober and somber, even heart-breaking, tone with which these dire events should be evaluated. If the conclusions drawn are, in the main, critical of the national churches in Rwanda, nevertheless the editors hope that the work will assist in the post-genocide process of healing and eventual reconciliation. JSC

1b) eds Jason Kindopp and Carol Lee Hamrin, God and Caesar in China. Policy Implications of Church-State Tensions. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute 2004, 200 pp ISBN 0-8157-4937-6

Western commentators on the history of the Christian Churches in China during the past hundred years often draw a striking contrast between the early decades up to 1949 when missionary evangelism, expansion and institution building seemed to offer optimistic prospects, and the subsequent five decades of Communist anti-Christian persecution and hostility. But with a longer perspective, historians are putting these developments into the wider picture of how China’s rulers have historically dealt with the impact of religions, both native and foreign-imported, as they have sought to impose stability and social control. God and Caesar in China have not often been found to be in harmony. This is the lesson drawn in this collection of essays, edited by two American scholars Jason Kindopp and Carol Hamrin. Their contributors include both American and Chinese scholars whose well-researched observations on the complexity of religion-state relations are written with commendable objectivity and deserve careful attention.
In Jason Kindopp’s view, the present tensions between the undemocratic regime of the Communist Party and the local religious bodies are only repeating a lengthy tradition whereby the guardians of China’s social and political order have zealously repressed autonomous religious groups. In the days of the former Emperors and their totalistic claims, any alternative to their monopolistic hierarchy was an affront to be ruthlessly quashed. But, at the same time, popular uprisings connected with some form of religious organization are well attested, as for example the prominent Taiping Rebellion in the mid-nineteenth century. But the very continuity of such antagonisms shows that the present confrontations are not solely due to the Marxist ideology.

The most recent decades show that the Communist rulers now recognize that religion cannot be eradicated. Instead it must be controlled. Just how this reassertion of state dominance is being carried out is considered in the first group of these essays, while the second describes the reactions of the major Catholic and Protestant communities. The book closes with a short consideration of how religious freedom and human rights in China may be more fully encouraged from abroad.

As Professor Bays points out, regulations of religious groups by requiring some form of registration or licensing has been in place for a thousand years. An appropriate bureaucratic apparatus was developed long ago. Fears of political rebellion provoked by any kind of messianic eschatology were apparently well-founded. Civic loyalty was the top priority. Only in the nineteenth century, due to the intrusions of western traders, were foreign religions given a special status. The resulting weakening of the Chinese state, leading to the collapse of the imperial system in 1911, provided the only period when the bureaucracy’s suspicions of political subversion could not be enforced. The reassertion of state control under the Communists therefore can be seen as more “normal” by the canons of Chinese history.

Mao’s radical programme to eradicate religion – the so-called Cultural Revolution of the 1970s – was clearly a failure. After 1978 his successors have instead opted for a strategy of sticks and carrots, very similar to authoritarian regimes elsewhere. In this setting religious freedom is limited to personal religious belief and “normal”, i.e. government-sanctioned religious activities. The state Religious Affairs Bureau is a nation-wide apparatus, staffed by individuals of varying quality, but available for any policy changes dictated by the Politburo. Under the Bureau’s auspices, the affairs of the Protestants are controlled through the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and those of the Catholics by the Catholic Patriotic association. More severe regulation, even repression is meted out to unauthorized associations, whose meetings are broken up, members arrested, and finances confiscated. The continuing persecution of the Falungong is a good example. A close watch is kept on church buildings, religious ceremonies, publications and contacts with foreigners. The threat of closure is sufficient to keep the majority of “approved” churches in line. But Communist hostility to Christianity was supplemented by a widely-held antipathy to this foreign import. Even after the expulsion of all foreign missionaries, suspicions still remained that the churches might become “Trojan horses” for western imperialist ambitions. It is still too soon to believe that these resentments have been overcome.

No reliable statistics are available as to the actual numbers of Christians in China. The evidence suggests a remarkable growth in recent years. To some scholars this is proof of the successful evangelization of former years; to others, it is the result of emerging from the dependency on western missions and embracing a Chinese-led polity. The Catholic Church, as Richard Madsen shows, has had a particularly difficult time attempting to steer between government regulation and demands for complete Sinification and their traditional loyalty to the Pope in Rome. At present it seems that a gradual progress of amalgamation is taking place with the Vatican giving its approval of government-sponsored bishops. Convergence may succeed in healing the breach. In any case, the mainly rural enclaves of Catholics do not constitute any threat to the Communist leadership. But the legacy of the past still prevents any better solution.

In the case of the Protestants, as Yihua Xu explains, the establishment of an “official” church was much assisted by the lead already taken in the early decades of the twentieth century by prominent Chinese church members associated with the YMCA or St. John’s University in Shanghai. These Protestants sought to implement the classic strategy of the British Church Missionary Society to encourage the self-government, self-financing and self-propagation of mission churches, and thus to rid themselves of foreign domination. They took advantage of the Communist seizure of power in 1949 to secure their own control of their church institutions. Their interpretations of the Christian message had already led them to embrace a strongly “social-gospel” policy, so that a basis of co-operation with China’s new rulers could be established. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement accepted the regime’s demand to unite all Protestant streams into one denomination, thus overcoming the legacy of the imperialist divisions. Its leadership was largely drawn from the core of urban-trained social reformers in cities such as Shanghai. Under their direction, most mission- or foreign-led institutions, including seminaries and publishing houses, were systematically dismantled or taken over. However, these moves sympathetic to the ruling Communists did not prevent the subsequent large-scale persecution of Protestants during the Cultural Revolution. The TSPM more or less closed down, and was only revived – again under strict government supervision – in the 1980s.

Such moves, however, only prompted the illegal development of groups of Protestant dissidents in the so-called underground churches. The rapid spread of such communities was undoubtedly helped by their refusal to accept the kind of theologically “liberal” teachings, as well as the authoritarian tactics, of the TSPM. Instead they embraced and embrace the more conservative traditions of Protestant evangelicalism and fundamentalism, which appeal more readily to the unorganized congregations especially in the rural areas. Jason Kindopp’s chapter on the Protestant resistance to Communist rule, and to the compulsory assimilationist strategy of the TSPM, is highly critical of the latter for its subservience to China’s political masters, and for the absence of solidarity with their fellow Christians. The TSPM’s programme of forced consolidations, frequent denunciations and compulsory standardization of all ritual forms, were not surprisingly resented and resisted. House churches met secretly and proliferated.
Since 1978 many of these local congregations have reemerged with renewed vigour. Innumerable house churches still continue, and some more exotic sects like the Little Flock also reappeared despite being banned again in 1984. This revival has led to an enormous expansion of Protestant groups and brought pressure on the officially-sanctioned structures. In Kindopp’s opinion, the rise of younger progressive (or less rigidly autocratic) church leaders may produce a wider range of theological options. At the same time, the house churches, especially of the charismatic tradition, have enjoyed their opportunities to expand, based on itineracy and fellowship, seemingly offering real spiritual nourishment. One source claimed that the house church movement has 80 million supporters.

Contacts have also resumed with overseas churches and mission boards. Several of the latter have again sent delegations to China, but usually only to be (allegedly) engaged in secular tasks, such as agricultural development or attached to schools as English language teachers. All these contacts, Kindopp claims, help to make Chinese Christianity a viable force in Chinese society. But whether it will play any significant role in mitigating or modifying the Communist one-party dictatorship remains to be seen.
The final two chapters discuss the role of religion in China-Untied States relations. In so far as both countries clothe their secular objectives in semi-religious language and claim their moral superiority over all others, the resulting clash is basically a dialogue of the deaf. China’s breaches of human rights, as in Tibet, are contrasted with American imperialist ambitions in Iraq or Afghanistan. Given such obstacles to understanding, it is unlikely that any common ground will be found in the near future. But, according to Carol Hamrin, both the United States‚ and the Chinese governments are agreed on their opposition to terrorism, which they attribute to religious extremism. The logical am therefore should be to encourage religious freedom, through active participation by non-governmental agencies with similar aims. But whether the legacy of earlier misunderstandings and hostility will be so easily overcome is still a matter for future debate.

c) Olivier Schutz, Begegnung von Kirche und Welt: Die Grundung Katholischer
Akademien in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1945-1975
 (Paderborn: Schoningh
Verlag, 2004), 670 pp. ISBN: 3-506-70251-3

In recent years, many books have appeared examining the social texture of
German Catholicism in the post-1945 era. Olivier Schutz’s work, Begegnung
von Kirche und Welt,
 focuses on the founding of Catholic Academies in the
Federal Republic from 1945 to 1975. In this massive tome of over 650 pages,
he tells the creation story of every Catholic academy and social institute
in West Germany in the first two decades after the war.

Following the Second World War, Catholic laity, clergy and the hierarchy
sought to play a significant role in rebuilding a nation devastated by war
and imbuing culture and society with Christian values. To this end, they
sought to emphasize Catholic social teachings and extend them to all domains
of society. Traditionally, it was the Catholic Verbande, or ancillary
organizations, that had carried out much of this work. Since many of these
associations had been dissolved during the Nazi years, however, many of the
bishops after the war placed the responsibility for communicating Catholic
social teachings in their own hands. They thus opted to create diocesan
academies that would be entrusted with spreading Catholic values and social
teachings instead of leaving these tasks to Verbande that crossed diocesan
lines. Such an organizational structure dovetailed almost perfectly with the
prevailing conceptions of Catholic Action, which urged laity to go into the
world to spread the Catholic message, but to do so under the aegis and
authority of the local bishop.

Eventually, the academies served as an incubator for ideas in preparation
for the Second Vatican Council and as a vehicle to disseminate the ideas
that took shape there. In turn, the Council inspired others to form still
more Catholic academies, the so-called “children of the council.”
Quite naturally, this book will be of interest primarily to specialists. The
research is prodigious, the focus narrow and the organization somewhat
unwieldy. Schutz perused documents in virtually every available diocesan
archive in addition to materials in the Catholic academies themselves, an
exceptionally impressive achievement by any standard. The list of his
primary sources alone extends over ten pages! He also chose to focus
exclusively on the founding narratives of these academies, and not on their
subsequent histories – course offering, successes (or lack thereof). Schutz
adheres extremely closely to the stories told in his documents, an approach
which occasionally led to overlapping coverage. Frequently missing are the
larger ideological battles and the bigger picture of German Catholicism
since 1945. But as Schutz himself admits in his introduction, this is a work
designed to encourage others to pursue future research on other aspects of
the Catholic academies, a suggestion that subsequent theologians and
historians will no doubt take up.

Mark Edward Ruff, Saint Louis University

d) ed. M.Gailus and H.Lehmann, Nationalprotestanische Mentalitäten in Deutschland (1870-1970). Konturen, Entwicklunglinien and Umbrüche eines Weltbildes. (Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte, 214) Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2005. 472 pp. Euro 66. This review appeared first in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, April 2006, and is reprinted with kind permission of the author.

This is a vast scholarly and thoroughly interesting book which nevertheless makes for depressing reading. It is concerned with the genesis, persistence and (not more than hopefully) the break-up of a frame of mind in German Protestantism which began with an inability to distinguish properly between Church and State, and speedily developed into an inability to distinguish between the will of God for the German (Protestant) people, the designs of successive German governments and any putative will of God for anyone else.

What is very remarkable about the origins of this mentality is the speed with which it developed after 1870. Before that date German Protestantism had mirrored very precisely the past history of German Kleinstaaterei,and at the time of German unification there were plenty of church governments which would not touch the religion of the Old Prussian Union, still less that of Bismarck personally, with a barge-pole. But with extraordinary speed the identification of German and Protestant destiny was brought about so completely that even in 1949 Niemöller could denounce the West German state as conceived in the Vatican and born in Washington, and that his frame of mind had also infected the Catholic friends of the Vatican and Washington. The question of whether this mentality has actually gone right through two world wars and the apparently traumatic aftermath of the second gives occasion to a sprightly bout of fisticuffs at the end of the volume between Clemens Vollnhals and Detlef Pollack. Vollnhals, in a characteristically vinegary contribution, maintains that post-1945 nothing changed, that the churches were as loathe to confess any war-guilt and as antisemitic as ever. Pollack insists that a reasonable amount of honest breast-beating did take place. On the curious evidence of opinion polls taken by the American occupying authorities, he shows that what the churches were doing was to voice protests against the hamfistedness of the Americans themselves. One has the feeling that this bout went to Vollnhals on points especially as Detlef’s own statistics show a remarkable recovery of sympathy in principle for the Nazi system in the years after the war.

Much of the German war-theology from 1870s onwards has a familiar ring, but there is a fascinating comparison of the Harnacks, father and son, with the Seebergs, father and son, by Thomas Kaufmann. Both sprang from the privileged Baltic Germans, and the two sons were the last of the great German Protestant mandarins; but while Harnack’s nationalism was of a reasonable cast, Reinhold Seeberg converted Baltic privilege into racism, fought to destabilize the Weimar system and to the delight of his son Erich ( a fine scholar in his own right) evoked a letter of appreciation from Hitler on his death. Elsewhere John Conway defends Pius XII against the more incautious of his detractors and perhaps overestimates the importance of the eleven volumes of documents in the defence edited by Jesuits; Bob Ericksen tries to clear waters muddied by the historiography of Wilhelm Niemöller; and Dagmar Herbrecht relates horrendous stories of the sufferings of bold women who opposed the Aryan Paragraph in the church, and the limited sympathy they obtained from a male-dominated Bekennende Kirche. All required reading, but naught for comfort.

W.R.Ward, Petersfield, U.K.

2a) “Diplomats and Missionaries. The Role played by the German Embassies in Moscow and Rome in the relations between Russia and the Vatican between 1921 and 1929” in Catholic Historical Review, Vol,. 92, no. 1, 2006, pp 25-45.

Winfried Becker, Professor of Modern History at Passau University, has used the extensive files of the German Foreign Ministry for the 1920s to reconstruct the part played by various German diplomats stationed in the newly-established Soviet Union to help the Vatican in its quest to find some basis for a modus vivendi with the new Soviet rulers. The Vatican hoped thereby to be able to rescue what little Catholicism was left after the Revolution, and even considered signing a Concordat. It found the services of German diplomatic middle men to be of value. These latter were anxious both to enhance Germany’s status with a valuable partner such as the Vatican, but also to seek to build on the rather shaky foundation of the 1922 Rapallo Treaty. Interestingly, Becker also shows that there were wide divergences within the Soviet hierarchy, when the Soviet Commissar Chicherin showed himself amenable to discussions (usually held on German soil). But in the end Soviet totalitarian repression and persecution of priests and laity proved too great an obstacle. Pius XI’s illusions were shattered, and instead the wave of Catholic anti-communism was encouraged. In Becker’s view, the friendly help extended to the Vatican by the German Reich made it all the easier to sign the desired Concordat with Hitler in 1933.

2b) The Rosenstrasse protest reconsidered. Following the discussion of this controversy in our November and December issues of last year, there is now a further extensive analysis provided by Antonia Leugers, who is one of the chief protagonists in a long article in Zeitschrift fur Theologie und Kulturgeschichte =
In this article Dr Leugers takes issue with a new publication by Prof Wolf Gruner, “Widerstand in der Rosenstrasse. Die Fabrik-Aktion und die Verfolgung der ŒMischehen‚1943”. Gruner has put forward his views before, including an article in Central European History, but Leugers now takes issue with this new version.

In Gruner’s view, the successful release of the Jews locked up in the former Jewish community centre after a week was due not to the pressure and protest exerted by their wives in the street outside, so much as to the Gestapo’s having no more use for these men, after they had sorted them out and checked that they were in fact married to non-Jews. In his view, the “heroic” picture of these women’s defiance of the Nazi regime, and their success, is a myth made up largely years after the event to try and paint a more sympathetic picture of the German population, as part of the post-1990 propaganda campaign to make Germans look good. He also takes issue with the basic contention, put forward for example by Nathan Stoltzfuss, that “if only more people had behaved like the wives of the Rosenstrasse, the mass murder of the Jews would never have taken place”. Gruner contends that there never was any intention of deporting these particular victims of Nazi repression, and cites numerous Gestapo documents in support of his argument.

In reply Dr Leugers makes her case plain, though I suspect the battle is by no means over.

3) Book notes: ed.Petropoulos and John K.Roth, Gray Zones. Ambiguity and Compromise in the Holocaust and its Aftermath. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books 2005.

Two articles in this collection may be of special interest to our readers:

a) Eva Fleischner, “Who am I?” The struggle for religious identity of Jewish children hidden by Christians during the Shoah, which gives some case studies of the conflictual identities these children were obliged to live through

b) Victoria J.Barnett, The Creation of ethical “Gray Zones” in the German Protestant Church. Reflections on the Historical Quest for Ethical Clarity, which describes the dilemmas of many ordinary Germans as they sought to create a past they could live with. Even if they were not themselves perpetrators of crimes against their Jewish neighbours, they were all caught up in the net of their previous loyalty to Führer and Fatherland. Many had lost the ability to behave ethically, and hence buried their suspect past for several decades. Even though the surviving leaders of German Protestantism claimed that their witness, as members of the Confessing Church, symbolized their anti-Nazi stance, too many others had compromised their ethics in serving the Nazi state. It took years before the resulting falsification of history was acknowledged, let alone repaired. It was truly a gray zone of self-deception or prevarication, both ethically destructive.

My best wishes for you all
John Conway