April 2008 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

April 2008— Vol. XIV, no. 4


Dear Friends,


1) Book reviews:

a) R.Boyd, The Witness of the Student Christian Movement
b) Austin, China’s Millions: The China Inland Mission and Late Qing Society, 1832­1905
c) Zumholz, Volksfrömmigkeit und katholische Milieu

2) Journal article: J. Steele, Germany’s search for home truths

1a) Robin Boyd, The Witness of the Student Christian Movement. Church ahead of the Church, London: SPCK 2007 ISBN 13-978-0-281-05877-8

When I was a student at Cambridge University nearly sixty years ago, two Christian organizations were active in the colleges, the Student Christian Movement and the Christian Union or InterVarsity Fellowship. Both sought to present the claims of Christ to the student body in most of the universities in the country in a friendly but often zealous rivalry. Both organized very active programmes of weekly meetings, prayer and discussion groups, reading parties in the vacations and summer work camps. The SCM laid its stress on the search for Christian unity, brought together students from different church traditions, and was concerned to bring a Christian witness to the wider political and social problems of the day. The Christian Unions concentrated more on the personal life of each individual student, seeking to enhance his or her knowledge of and commitment to Jesus Christ as their Saviour. Together they attempted to reach as many students as possible and to a large part succeeded.

Robin Boyd, who himself served as an SCM staff member in the 1950s and later was a long-term minister in Australia and Ireland, has written a highly informative and well researched survey of the last hundred years of SCM life. He begins by showing that the SCM and the Christian Union were both products of the evangelical impetus of the late 19th century, often led by charismatic American preachers, who particularly turned to the universities for recruits for the mission field. The Student Volunteer Movement sent hundreds of young men and women out to the mission field, especially China. An outstanding figure of the time was John R. Mott, a gifted YMCA organizer, who made use of the popular slogan “The evangelization of the world in this generation”. Thanks to his efforts, branches were set up to promote this endeavour in many European universities,.and in 1895 they came together to form the World Student Christian Federation. Mott and his followers recognized that mission work would succeed much better if the churches co-operated with each other, as was acknowledged at the famous 1910 Edinburgh Missionary Conference. From then on such ecumenical growing together became a high priority for the SCMs in many countries, building bridges across the various Protestant denominations, and later on with Orthodox communities. At the same time, a similar commitment emerged to overcome the barriers of race and gender. The same openness was found in the SCM’s tackling of theological exploration, especially biblical criticism. On this latter point, the split occurred with the IVF.

By mid-century, Boyd shows, the SCM had a commendable record of involving students in prayer, study, evangelism, ecumenical engagement and a search for social justice. Its members had a distinctively liberal mind-set, despite the horrors perpetrated in Europe by the Nazis or even the shock of the atomic bomb. Boyd describes the twenty years after 1945 as the SCM’s “golden age” Large student conferences were organized with prominent church leaders on hand. Theological debate flourished, assisted by the publications of the SCM Press in London. The students’ horizons were expanded world-wide by visits from representatives of the SCMs in newly-independent countries, such as D. T. Niles of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Philip Potter from the West Indies, or Bishop Ting of China. These men and women were to add much to the European-based membership of the World Student Christian Federation, and indeed were soon to assume leadership positions in the WSCF and after its inauguration in 1948 in the World Council of Churches. SCM graduates came to be the core group in such endeavours, and Boyd skillfully weaves in their linking stories in the development of these organizations.

As might be expected, the idealism of youth sought improvements in church affairs, were impatient of inherited bureaucracies, and actively sought for new opportunities for Christian witness. They sought to be the “Church ahead of the Church”. They united their faith and their university studies in a compelling and productive mixture. Many went on to hold leading positions in their own denominations, or as university teachers, and brought the optimistic if critical SCM ethos to their later careers.

But at the end of the 1960s, the whole system fell apart. The story of the storm which swept over the SCM’s student ministry makes for sad reading. Boyd clearly laments it. Basically he says there was a sociological or demographic change. Students no longer wanted to accept the authority of their predecessors, or of the churches as institutions. Instead a single-focused attention to political causes led to the abandonment of most of the SCM’s traditional fare. It became a protest not a productive movement. In Britain, the number of branches declined rapidly. The London headquarters were sold, and its surviving staff set up an agricultural community far from the cities or the universities. The emphasis on the prophetic witness to a new world of social justice and peace was no doubt well-meaning, but the move away from the SCM’s carefully-built traditions and structures meant that its effectiveness as a national organization was crippled. For many in the vanguard, the churches were no longer seen as welcome sponsors and friends, but as discredited conservatives to be held at bay. If there was bible study, it was only from the perspective of the poor. Much of the discussion took place in a Marxist framework.

These developments coincided with a sharp decline in support for all main-line Protestant churches in Britain. The reasons for this are still being explored. (Callum Brown’s theories have not met with universal acceptance). The increasing secularization of society was notable. Christian witness at the universities was markedly diminished, and increasingly met with a hostile, or at least a sceptical response. On many campuses the SCM disappeared. All of this Boyd regrets. In his view the situation can best be described in terms of deprivation. “Whole generations of students were deprived of the kind of lively, inquiring, concerned, worshipping Christian community which had been so influential in the lives of their parents and grandparents, and which had contributed so much to the life of the church. At a crucial point in their lives, students were deprived of the excitement and challenge of belonging to a student movement which was also a movement consciously dedicated to wrestling with the Christian faith and to changing the world to the glory of God” (p.129)

If such a view sounds idealized, it nevertheless accurately represented the feelings of many SCMers in the “golden age”. Boyd takes some comfort that this kind of SCM spirit has carried on in the lives of its alumni, many of whom have contributed so much to the work of world-wide organizations such as the World Council of Churches. In more recent years, he sees some signs of hope that the dangers of unilateral and extreme politicized positions on single issues have been learnt. And he quotes with approval the description by a senior British friend of the movement of what the SCM tradition has always sought to do:

to have, as its central thrust, the purpose of testing out the truth of Jesus Christ and of his calling;
therefore to give much attention to careful Bible study;

therefore too to know the community of Christians called to mission-in-unity, patiently being open to all religious heritages and all cultural backgrounds in order to discover and communicate the catholic and ecumenical identity of Christ;

to insist upon the lay leadership of students and teachers, with chaplains and other ecclesiastics at best serving and provoking others to play a larger part;

to assist on the appropriate intellectual calibre for Christian discipleship in higher education;

to be concerned for adventurous thinking and acting, never content with the status quo but always experimenting beyond;
yet to cultivate not least by student leadership a self-criticism, indeed a sense of humour, that stops anyone taking himself too seriously.

Such a goal may seem far off at the present time. Yet, a hundred years ago, so was John R. Mott’s aim to evangelize the world in one generation. It is clearly Boyd’s wish that Christians should all be one in a common desire to make the saving grace of Jesus Christ relevant again to the students of the twenty-first century.

1b) Alvyn Austin, China’s Millions: The China Inland Mission and Late Qing Society, 1832­1905. Studies in the History of Christian Missions series. Grand Rapids, Michigan / Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007. xxxi + 506 pages.

This review appeared first in Church History, December 2007, and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

The history of Christian missions in China remains one of the most intriguing and fertile areas of investigation in the study of modern Sino-Western cultural and political relations. Western missionaries in China played a crucially important role in setting the tone and influencing the course of China’s contacts with America and Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition, the experience of missionaries in China contributed significantly to movements and ideas, disputes and controversies, within the worldwide Christian community itself. In China’s Millions, Alvyn Austin employs his considerable experience as a historian to present a comprehensive overview of the origins and evolution of the China Inland Mission, describing the impact of its devout representatives on some of the most important historical developments and religious debates of the era. Drawing extensively upon the broad range of materials in the CIM archives, contemporary newspapers and missionary journals, and the biographies and historical accounts of both early missionary writers and modern scholars, Austin traces the growth of the CIM from the time of its precarious origins in the mid-nineteenth century to its emergence as one of the largest and most influential missionary organizations in China.

Embellishing his narrative with the allegorical themes of John Bunyan’s Christian classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, Austin focuses his study on the personalities that contributed to shaping the CIM in the challenging context of one of the world’s most difficult fields of missionary endeavor. The most important, and perhaps most enigmatic, of these personalities was Hudson Taylor (1832­1905), the founder and undisputed leader of the CIM throughout the first half-century of its existence. Inspired by the heroic, and at times controversial, example of the renowned Prussian missionary Karl Gützlaff (1803­1851), Taylor first ventured to China in 1854, where he struggled to acquire familiarity with the Chinese language and wandered about in Chinese dress in an effort to meld with the population and win the hearts and minds of the Chinese to his fundamentalist version of Christianity. Returning to England in 1860, he acquired a network of supporters who shared his enthusiasm for converting China’s millions, and in 1865, following a “Heavenly Vision” that lent greater spiritual urgency to his cause, he established the China Inland Mission. The CIM was established as a non-sectarian missionary organization specifically dedicated to extending the reach of missionary enterprise in China to regions far beyond the safe and familiar confines of the newly opened treaty ports. Impelled by the pre-millenialist conviction and evangelical fervor that enlivened much of the Christian world in the mid-nineteenth century, representatives of the CIM withstood considerable personal deprivation following Taylor’s directive to live and dress like the Chinese and use their closeness to the people to establish self-propagating communities of Chinese converts.

Naturally, much of Austin’s narrative focuses on the life of Hudson Taylor and the various challenges and setbacks that he encountered in his effort to transform the CIM into one of the most prominent international missionary organizations. Particular attention is directed towards understanding Taylor’s fundamentalist theological predispositions, aspects of which were reflected in his authoritarian style of leadership. The author is not, however, unsympathetic to Taylor’s exceptional insights into the missionary enterprise and presents a relatively balanced appraisal of both his strengths and weaknesses in confronting the various obstacles he encountered in promoting his unique missionary strategy. But Taylor is by no means the only individual associated with the CIM that Austin examines in some detail. Indeed, the chief characteristic of his narrative is the elaborate attention he pays to the many groups and individuals that either contributed to, challenged, or undermined the religious philosophy and objectives of the CIM. There is an abundance of fascinating anecdotal material gleaned from a broad range of archival and published sources that tell of the self-sacrificing devotion, exceptional fortitude, and at times freakish and disruptive behavior of the organization’s missionary workers, leaders, and financiers. This includes several important Chinese converts, such as the indefatigable Pastor Hsi, who assumed a key role in the activities of the CIM as it expanded its work into Shanxi Province in northern China. The missionaries of this region suffered disproportionately during the Boxer Rebellion, and Austin’s description of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy sheds considerable new light on this important incident in the history of modern China.

While others have undertaken to describe the history of the China Inland Mission and its eccentric founder, for the most part they have been either loyal family members or enthusiastic supporters of Christian missions that have accentuated the organization’s positive achievements and overlooked the more embarrassing or unsavory aspects of its work. China’s Millions strives to be more circumspect, and in this sense presents a more revealing and objective picture of its past. But Austin’s study still cannot be regarded completely as the work of an outsider, for he addresses his subject within the context of a Christian worldview and its attendant concerns. He does not cite any non-Christian Chinese sources in his work, and although his title suggests differently, there is very little of the perspective of Qing society in his presentation. In fact, he chooses not to challenge the fundamental religious premises of Christian missionary activity, thereby narrowing the range of insights that might be revealed on the basis of a more world-historical perspective. Nevertheless, this study represents the most expertly researched and pleasingly narrated investigation of this extremely important missionary organization and its workers published to date. It therefore deserves a prominent place on the shelf of all who wish to further their knowledge of the intriguing historical role of Christian missionaries in China.

Michael C. Lazich, Buffalo State College

1c) Maria Anna Zumholz, Volksfrömmigkeit und Katholisches Milieu: Marienerscheinungen in Heede, 1937-1940, im Spannungsfeld von Volksfrömmigkeit, nationalsozialistischem Regime und kirchlicher Hierarchie. [Schriften des Instituts für Geschichte und Historische Landesforschung, Vol. 12.] Cloppenburg: Verlag und Druckerei Runge. 2004. Pp. 745.

This review appeared first in the Catholic Historiccal Review, October 2007, and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

In this interesting study, a slightly revised dissertation, Maria Anna Zumholz analyzes a series of Marian apparitions which occurred in Heede, a small village in the remote northwestern German Emsland region. She uses her analysis to offer a nuanced picture of the interplay between popular piety, Catholic milieu, ecclesiastical authority, and national socialist repression.

In a two-hundred page introduction, Zumholz provides a detailed history of the Emsland and its predominantly Catholic population. The Emsland changed hands repeatedly in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, always between states with Protestant rulers. Repression of their faith, combined with government neglect of this poor rural region, led the Emsländer to form a high level of suspicion of any state authority.

Zumholz argues that this population was particularly prone to beliefs in supernatural occurrences and in special gifts of certain individuals. The author also provides a thorough review of Marian apparitions in Germany and elsewhere in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. She points out that, in contrast to circumstances in other countries, no Marian apparition in Germany received ecclesiastical approbation. Zumholz believes German bishops were not only “Germanically thorough” and strict in their review of these events, but they also feared the condescension of the protestant majority, which considered Marian devotion in general and apparitions in particular to be proof of Catholic backwardness. In this context, Zumholz points to David Blackbourn’s study of the supposed apparitions at Marpingen, events which German bishops remembered only all too well.

The Marian apparition in Heede occurred over the course of three years in a village cemetery. Four teen-aged girls claimed to have seen the Mother of God appearing between two trees. They continued seeing the image, although not on a regular basis. The girls claimed to have spoken with the image, whose presence nobody else, even those present, could perceive. While the local priest soon supported the young women in their claims, the Bishop of Osnabrück as well as state authorities of the Third Reich were alarmed by the claims and even collaborated in banning pilgrimages to the cemetery. The bishop’s decrees and the draconian measures taken by the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst (the intelligence branch of the SS), however, failed to stop people, even those traveling considerable distances, from coming to Heede.

Zumholz uses these events to engage current debates about the formation and strength of both popular piety and the Catholic milieu. She argues convincingly that, at least in the Emsland, the milieu was deeply rooted in the community and that it had originated among the laity. She thus rejects the arguments of Olaf Blaschke and others who argue that the Church hierarchy created the milieu as an instrument of social control or even a way of resisting modernity. Similarly, Zumholz shows that while the Church encouraged Marian devotions specifically and expressions of popular piety generally, this particular expression grew in defiance of the bishop’s explicit instructions. Thus, popular piety, too, was not something engineered from above. Zumholz shows how the laity were and are quite powerful in insisting on forms of devotion acceptable to them and how this challenged and challenges bishops to find compromises between their own authority and the demands of the laity.

Zumholz also shows that the laity’s adherence to the milieu strengthened during times of crisis, such as during the repression of the national socialist regime and the trauma of the Second World War. She has marshaled a large body of evidence to demonstrate the failure of the national socialist regime to penetrate the Catholic milieu. Quite the contrary, the milieu appears to have strengthened under pressure from the outside. Zumholz believes resistance to external pressures to be one of the most important contributors to milieu formation, more important than socioeconomic change – largely absent in the Emsland –, modernization, or hierarchical instrumentalization.

There are only few substantive criticisms to raise against this work. Zumholz is too generous in her treatment of Wilhelm Berning, Bishop of Osnabrück during the Third Reich. While she attributes his accommodation of the regime to his desire to maintain adequate levels of pastoral care in his diocese, other bishops cared for their flocks without instructing their clergy to use the Hitler greeting and without instructing one of their aides to maintain regular informal meetings with the local Gestapo representative to resolve issues of common concern. Also, this volume would have benefited from additional editing before publication. For example, most readers who engage this work will not require a sixty-page description of the anti-Catholic views of national socialists such as Hitler, Himmler, and Heydrich or of the organizational structure of the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst. Finally, two hundred pages of introductory material, even if it sets the scene carefully, are more than enough.

These criticisms, however, should not detract from the value of this work. More than the study of a particular Marian apparition, this is an excellent, detailed and well-differentiated analysis of the way in which laity, an inimical regime, and church hierarchy interacted in mid-twentieth century Germany. Too often, the history of Catholicism during the Third Reich is the story of extremes of resistance and collaboration. This study shows Catholics who were used to being a neglected if not oppressed minority doing what they had always done: rejecting the outsiders and maintaining their faith.

Martin Menke, Rivier College

2) Journal article: Jonathan Steele, Germany’s search for home truths.

(This article appeared in the Guardian Weekly, Feb 10th 2008)

Painstaking, persistent and anything but remorseless, Germany’s focus on the Nazi past never seems to slacken. As it marked the 75th anniversary of Hitler’s coming to power last week, the emphasis was on the fact that he became chancellor with the full backing of the constitution. This was no putsch but the legal transfer of authority to the leader of the party that did best in a general election. Hitler later won the support of the country’s millions of unemployed but as the news magazine Der Spiegel pointed out, most jobless Germans voted communist in the November 1932 poll. The middle class put the Nazis in power, and many of its voters were Protestant Christians.

This point also struck me forcibly when I visited a recent exhibition in the towering brick aisles of the north German cathedral of Schwerin. Blown up pictures and short life histories of a couple of dozen local vicars and parishioners were displayed on screens, with recordings of their voices and brief reminiscences by their friends.

It was a modest testament to modest people, yet one of considerable importance. The men and women in this exhibition all played a special role in the Nazi period, a few as opponents, but most as Christian collaborators with Hitler’s antisemitic discrimination and atrocities.

Germany’s record in coming to terms with its Nazi past has been remarkably good. Since Hitler’s defeat, the process of uncovering who did what has had impressive results, and by now is pretty much complkete – or so, like most people, I used to believe.
In the immediate post-war period, de-Nazification was driven by the victors. Senior Nazis were convicted at Nuremebrg. Revanchist propaganda was banned and textbooks changed. But most lower-level officials who had loyally served the Nazis kept their jobs. The western allies were careful not to impose on Germans the same kind of humiliation that had followed the first world war.

A new attempt to uncover the past came with the worldwide revolts of 1968. In Germany a key element of the youth rebellion was anger with their paents’ silence over what they had done under Hitler. The taboo of family secrecy was broken and parents had to come clean. But even this was confined to families where activist kids demanded the facts. Institutionally and publicly, Germany had rejected Nazism and recognized the nation’s guilt. Privatel;y most familkies avoided looking back.

More monuments to the victims of the Holocaust have been built in recent years. The German culture ministry has announced that the main one in central Berlin would soon be joined by one for murdered Roma and another for the thousands of gay and lesbian dead.. Other cities are putting bronze plaques on pavements to commemorate where a Jewish jeweller or dressmaker once had a shop. Some critics say it allows pedestrians to tread on them. Others say that for the one person in fifty who sees what is underfoot the shock is all the more powerful.

Remebering victims is only part of the story. What about remembering the guilty? Why did the backbone of the country’s middle class accept dictatorship so readily Why haven’t the professions yet opened their archives and done detailed research on how their leaders and members went along with Hitler’s repression? Above all, what happened to the conscience of the Lutherans, Germany’s largest church?

Now that the individuals have all died, it ought to be easier to research the truth. That is why I found the exhibition in Schleswig so fascinating.It was the first official attempt by the Lutherans – as yet confined to Hamburg and Mecklenburg – to name names. “In 1998 the evangelical church in the north Elbe region made a general declaration of guilt. We had to start research what we and the Lutherans of Mecklenburg were guilty of,” as Johann Peter Wurm, Schwerin’s church archivist told me.

German Protestants have tended to hide behind their one big resistance martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged by the Nazis a month before the war ended. Lionised in books auch as Gordon Brown’s Courage: Eight Profiles, Bonhoeffer was the exception. His “confessing church” was a minority strand within German Lutheranism. The Schwerin exhibition recorded how, within weeks of Hitler becoming chancellor, a “Union of Nazi Pastors in Mecklenburg” was forrmed and the local synod brought in “Aryan paragraphs”, which barred converted Jews (of whom there were many) from church jobs. A Nazi member, Walther Schulz, who wore a large cross on his party uniform, was elected bishop in 1934.

Only a few stood out, such as August Wiegand, an elderly pastor who preached against antisemitism and was forced into early retirement by the church authorities, but went on to work with Berlin’s “Büro Grüber” to help Jews escape from Germany.
Much of the new research depends on reading the “chronicles” that every Lutheran pastor was required to keep, a mixture of private diary and official parish note-taking. In the small town of Plau they let me leaf through Wiegand’s ledger. Its later pages included a shocking sermon by a visiting pastor. Furious that some traditional churchgoers were not Nazi enough, he said Germany’s true Christians were outside the church, unlike the “pig-Christians” (Schweinchristen) who came to services.

I have to declare an interest. Wiegand was my grandfather. As with so many families, my German-born mother and her sisters never fully explained what he had done, and he died when I was four. We were told he started his career by trying to convert Galician Jews to Christianity, which sounded more negative than positive. That his later life was a matter of pride remained hidden. Perhaps we were too shy to put questions, fearing shame.

The search for home truths is always hard, but Germany’s new generations need to keep on pushing. Don’t congratulate them too fast. The job is not yet done.

With very best wishes
John Conway