June 2008 Newsletter

Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

June 2008— Vol. XIV, no. 6


Dear Colleagues,

John Conway is on vacation this month. He has asked me to edit the
Newsletter in his absence, which I am pleased to do. Below you will
find a brief note on the death of Bishop Krister Stendhal by John and
two reviews by me on Lutherans and the Church Struggle. Should you have
any comments please feel free to e-mail me at mhockeno@skidmore.edu.

Best Wishes,

Matthew Hockenos
History Department
Skidmore College


1) Bishop Krister Stendhal

2) Book reviews

a) Kyle Jantzen, Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s
 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).

b) Lowell C. Green, Lutherans Against Hitler: The Untold Story (Saint
Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007).

1) Death of Bishop Krister Stendhal (1921-2008)

John Conway writes: It is with sadness that we learn of the death of
Bishop Krister Stendhal, a renowned church leader in both his native
Sweden and the United States. I first met Krister in 1954 in Uppsala
when he was defending his doctoral thesis on “The School of St.
Matthew”, which demonstrated already his early interest in the Jewish
roots of the Christian gospels. Some years later he emigrated to the
United States, and taught at Harvard, where he rose to become a notable
Dean of the Divinity School. While at Harvard, Stendhal developed his
scholarly interests in Pauline theology, and wrote the landmark essay
“The Apostle Paul and the introspective conscience of the west” which
became a chapter in his book Paul among Jews and Gentiles. At
Harvard, it was natural that Stendhal gave a lead to numerous circles
concerned with Christian-Jewish relations, and also served as the
Director of the Centre for Religious Pluralism at the Shalom Hartman
Institute in Jerusalem. In 1984 he was called back to Sweden to become
the Bishop of Stockholm where he served for five years until retirement.
His distinguished leadership there followed in the footsteps of such
fine Swedish churchmen as Archbishops Soederblom and Brilioth, and gave
valuable help to many in calling for a new ecumenical approach and
commitment to Christian-Jewish dialogue.

2a) Kyle Jantzen, Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s
 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).

Kyle Jantzen’s Faith and Fatherland: Parish Politics in Hitler’s Germany
is a superb contribution to the historiography of the Church Struggle.
Through a detailed examination of three Lutheran church districts
Jantzen provides readers with fascinating glimpses of the Church
Struggle from the perspective of parish clergy, local church patrons,
and district superintendents. This “bottom up” approach allows Jantzen
to examine how familiar events in the Church Struggle at the national
level, such as the formation of the Pastors Emergency League and the
establishment of Hans Kerrl’s church committees, were experienced by
regional and local church authorities. Faith and Fatherland is a most
welcome addition to a field dominated by national studies that focus on
leading figures in the Confessing Church or the German Christian
Movement. “Entering into the daily world of German Protestants,” Jantzen
rightly contends, “illuminates many gradations within the
church-political spectrum, as well as the inconsistencies with which
pastors and parishioners thought and acted, shifting their positions and
living in ways that defy our subsequent attempts to pigeonhole them into
neat theological or church-political categories” (13).

While many of the same issues that dominated the Church Struggle on the
national level filtered down to the parish level, such as whether to
recognize German Christian authorities in the “destroyed” churches, the
responses to these issues were incredibly varied from district to
district and parish to parish. Moreover, the Church Struggle at the
parish level often took on characteristics quite unique from the
struggles on the national level – the struggle over pastoral
appointments being a case in point. For both these reasons, our
historical understanding of the Church Struggle is broadened and
diversified by a history “from below.”

Located in three different regional churches, the church districts
Jantzen investigates are Nauen on the outskirts of Berlin in the
Brandenburg Church Province of the Church of the Old Prussian Union,
Pirna southeast of Dresden in the Saxon Lutheran Church, and Ravensburg
just north of Lake Constance in the southeastern corner of the
Wuerttemberg Protestant Church. Whereas the districts of Nauen and Pirna
were located in regional churches that were taken over by German
Christians, Ravensburg remained under the control of the powerful
Lutheran bishop, Theophil Wurm. Despite the proximity of Nauen and Pirna
to large cities, all three districts were rural or semi-rural and church
life played a prominent role in many of the small towns and villages in
these regions. Nauen consisted of twenty-five parishes, Pirna
thirty-nine, and Ravensburg just eleven.

Jantzen’s first two chapters address what motivated Protestant ministers
in Nauen, Pirna, and Ravensburg to support Hitler’s ascent to power and
how Hitler’s goal of “national renewal” translated into a “Protestant
renewal” in many local parishes. He attributes clerical support for
National Socialism to the belief that Hitler would partner with the
churches in generating a national and moral renewal that would
revitalize church life and stem the tide of workers leaving the churches
for the Communist Party. In addition to their nationalism and
anti-communism, Lutheran clergymen, Jantzen believes, were predisposed
to the authoritarian character of the Nazis by their understanding of
Lutheran theology, especially the law/gospel dualism, the doctrine of
two kingdoms, and the theology of the orders of creation.

The belief that Hitler and a National Socialist government would be
beneficial to the churches was at first confirmed by a surge in new
church members in Nauen and Pirna after Hitler assumed power. Jantzen
argues that this wave of religious enthusiasm illustrates the way in
which the political-nationalist momentum of National Socialism propelled
a parallel religious-nationalist momentum in many of the Protestant
regional churches. The German Christians, who swept to power in Nauen
and Pirna, led the charge, spurring the churches on to support Hitler’s
national renewal. However, as the influence of the German Christians
waned in the mid-1930s so did the new found interest in the churches.
Frustrated new members abandoned them in droves. In the eleven parishes
in Ravensburg in southern Germany, however, there were no membership
surges in or out of the churches and markedly less excitement about the
National Socialist seizure of power. This can be explained in part
because Protestants were a small minority in the region of Upper Swabia,
where the district of Ravensburg lay. Catholics were the overwhelmingly
majority in Upper Swabia and they tended to support the Catholic Center
Party. In all likelihood the politicization and disruption of church
life in Nauen and Pirna was the rule for most parishes across Germany.

Jantzen’s analysis of pastoral appointments in chapter three is a novel
approach to understanding exactly how parish politics was conducted in
Nazi Germany. In small towns and villages pastors were often more
important than mayors. They baptized, confirmed, married, and buried
their parishioners, educated children, led Bible studies, preached
sermons at weekly services, counseled those in need, chaired parish
meetings, and wrote for and edited parish newsletters. Although the
appointment of a pastor to a particular parish was often a routine
affair, in the Third Reich the process could just as often erupt into a
battle between supporters of the Confessing Church and the German
Christians or between rival factions of the Confessing Church. When a
pastoral position opened–and they opened frequently during the chaotic
years of the Nazi era–parishioners, church patrons, clergy, and
district and regional church authorities all had interests at stake. One
of the many intriguing conclusions that Jantzen reaches is that the
Confessing Church in Nauen was far more adept at getting their clergy
appointed than the German Christians because parishioners and local
church officials, who were quite influential in the appointment process,
were angry about the overt politicization of church life by German
Christians. They believed that Confessing Church pastors were more
likely to be responsible servants of the church and to recognize the
authority of the Bible and the Reformation Confessions. Whereas the
appointment process in Nauen was usually a local affair, in Pirna and
Ravensburg Land Bishops Coch, a German Christian, and Wurm, a
conservative Lutheran in the Confessing Church, centralized control of
the appointment process and appointed pastors whose views were
compatible with those of the bishops.

Although local pastors aligned with the German Christians and Confessing
Church could be fierce opponents in the realm of parish politics, they
diverged very little in their views on Nazi racial policy. Jantzen
writes that, “there is no evidence from the correspondence,
publications, or actions of Protestant clergy in Nauen, Pirna, and
Ravensburg to suggest that they were significantly affected by or
preoccupied with the euthanasia crisis or the “Jewish question” (93).
Most clergymen in the Confessing Church were too preoccupied with
defending the autonomy of the churches from encroachments by the German
Christians and the Nazis to pay much attention to racial policies that
did not directly affect the churches. The anti-Judaic traditions in the
church, the antisemitism of many of the pastors, and the desire to forge
a strong bond between the church and the state all contributed to
pastoral complacency toward, and at times complicity in, the mass
extermination of Jews. There were, of course, churchmen and women who
struggled in vain to convince the church to defend the victims of the
Nazi killing machine, but they were indeed exceptions.

The last three chapters of Jantzen’s monograph examine the course of the
Church Struggle in Nauen, Pirna, and Ravensburg. These chapters are
filled with fascinating sketches of individual pastors, church patrons,
and district superintendents as they try to negotiate their way through
the many trials and tribulations of the Church Struggle. Occasionally
the knowledgeable reader may come across a familiar name but for the
most part the stories recounted by Jantzen depict pastors and
parishioners whose lowly status within the churches did not warrant
their appearance in the more nationally oriented literature of the
field. By reconstructing the subjective experiences of individuals
toiling away in the parishes Jantzen challenges the neat stereotypes of
anti-Nazi Confessing clergy and pro-Nazi German Christians. A much more
nuanced picture emerges, especially of the Confessing Church, that
reminds us of the rich diversity of opinions and experiences in the
Church Struggle and confirms the value of a parish-level approach to
church history.


2b) Lowell C. Green, Lutherans Against Hitler: The Untold Story (Saint
Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2007).

Lowell C. Green’s study, Lutherans Against Hitler: The Untold Story
(2007), is reminiscent of the hagiographic histories written about the
Confessing Church several decades ago. The difference is that Green
replaces the old heroes of the Church Struggle, Martin Niemoeller, Karl
Barth, and their colleagues from the “destroyed” churches, with a new
group of heroes, Confessional Lutherans and leaders of the “intact”
churches including Paul Althaus, Werner Elert, Hans Meiser, and Hermann
Sasse. Green argues that these churchmen, armed only with their
steadfast loyalty to the Lutheran Confessions, successfully countered
attacks on the confessional integrity of the Lutheran churches by the
German Christians and Nazis, on the one hand, and the Barthians and
supporters of the Prussian Union churches, on the other hand. Repeatedly
Green argues that the political theology of Barth and the “radicals” in
the Dahlem-wing of the Confessing Church provided an opening for
Nazi-backed German Christians to takeover most of the regional churches.
By failing to adhere firmly to the central tenets of the Lutheran
Confessions – the distinction between Law and Gospel, the doctrine of
two kingdoms, the natural theology of the orders of creation – the
Barthians and Dahlemites weakened Lutheran resolve, caused a schism in
the churches, and damaged Protestant resistance to the German Christians
and the Nazi Party. After 1945, says Green, these same radicals grabbed
power, established the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), and blamed
Lutheran Confessionalists for the churches’ complacency in the Third

Central to Green’s thesis is his assertion that the merging of Lutheran
and Reformed doctrine and practices, whether at the behest of the German
Christians or the Confessing Church, undermined the ability of the
churches to stand firmly on Lutheran doctrine in opposition to Nazi
church policy. “The Confessional Lutherans,” he writes, “found
themselves faced with a threefold threat to their independence during
the Third Reich: the German Evangelical Church or Reich Church, the
Confessing Church, and the Barmen declaration” (28). Green contends that
the forced merger of Lutherans and Calvinists into the Church of the Old
Prussian Union in 1817 destroyed the Lutheran churches in the Prussian
Union and set a precedent for Hitler’s goal of one united Reich church.
The Barmen declaration is, in Green’s estimation, an egregious example
of the confessional mishmash propagated by Barth and the Confessing
Church. Authored by Barth–a Calvinist and the arch enemy of
Confessional Lutheranism,–the declaration’s most serious offense was
that it sacrificed Lutheran doctrinal integrity for unionism. Green
maintains that the August 1933 Bethel Confession, drafted by the
Lutherans Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Hermann Sasse, was a much stronger
statement than the Barmen declaration and that had it been adopted the
churches’ resistance to Hitler would have been more resolute.

While a study of the Confessional Lutherans during the Nazi era is
certainly a welcome addition to the one-sided historiography of the
Church Struggle, Green’s monograph is problematic for three reasons: his
methodology and use of sources, his relentless polemics, and his narrow
focus on the churches’ struggle for autonomy.

As a theologian with expertise in the Reformation period and the
Lutheran Confessions, Green cannot be expected to be familiar with every
book and article in the field of the Church Struggle. However, his
failure to recognize in his bibliography, footnotes, or the pages of his
monograph the extensive and easily accessible scholarship that directly
relates to his topic is perplexing, to say the least. As one might
expect,, much of this unacknowledged scholarship contradicts Green’s
thesis, but to ignore it entirely gives the impression that he does not
believe it is even worthy of mention. A study of Lutheran theology and
Lutheran resistance during the Third Reich should certainly make some
mention of, even if only to refute their theses, the work of Doris
Bergen, Gerhard Besier, John Conway, Robert Ericksen, Richard
Gutteridge, Wolfgang Gerlach, Martin Greschat, Susannah Heschel,
Jochen-Christoph Kaiser, Bjoern Mensing, Kurt Nowak, Eberhard Roehm,
Leonore Siegele-Wenschkewitz, Joerg Thierfelder, and many others.
Green’s tendency to rely primarily on published collections of
documents, a limited selection of secondary sources, and the archive of
the theological faculty at the University of Erlangen contradicts his
claim that this book is an impartial study of “the untold story” of
Lutherans against Hitler.

Scholars of the Church Struggle, including many of those named above,
have been critical, even harsh, in their evaluation of the actions and
inaction of Confessional Lutherans during the Nazi era. These historians
charged the Confessional Lutherans with theological inflexibility,
ultra-nationalism, antisemitism, and even support for many of Hitler’s
goals. Green states that he felt compelled to answer these derogatory
charges and, in so doing, redeem the reputations of Confessional
Lutherans, some of whom he had studied under at the University of
Erlangen in the 1950s. Indeed, Green succeeds in providing an entirely
different picture–but at a cost. His monograph is so polemical and
one-sided that it undermines his own argument. A case in point is
Green’s treatment of Karl Barth and the Confessing Church. In the
chapter on Theocratic Enthusiasm Green makes the patently absurd and
offensive claim that, “There were uncomfortable similarities between
Hitler and Barth” and then goes on to compare Hitler’s worldview to
Barth’s (236). He also likens the Confessing Church to a totalitarian
movement. To be sure, Barth and the members of the Dahlem-wing of the
Confessing Church should not escape the scrutiny of scholars nor should
their efforts to protect the churches from Nazi and German Christian
encroachments be mocked.

By focusing disproportionately on the struggle for church autonomy in
the Third Reich, particularly the success that Lutheran Bishops
Marahrens, Meiser, and Wurm had in preserving the independence of their
regional churches, Green directs the reader’s attention away from issues
that shine a less favorable light on the Confessional Lutherans. The
unflattering record of Confessional Lutherans, especially Althaus,
Elert, Marahrens, and Meiser on the Jewish question is virtually ignored
by Green. They may have opposed militant antisemitism but their
statements and silences throughout the Nazi period indicate a latent
antisemitism and insensitivity to the Third Reich’s Jewish victims.
Green’s exculpatory analysis of the 1933 Erlangen response to the Aryan
paragraph, the 1934 Ansbach memorandum, and the 1939 Godesberg
declaration is indicative of his allegiance to the leading figures of
Confessional Lutheranism and his unwillingness to acknowledge the
damaging role they played in undermining Protestant resistance to the
German Christians and the Nazi Party.

A balanced study that neither excoriates Confessional Lutherans for
distancing themselves from the Niemoeller-wing of the Confessing Church
nor extols them for their rigid adherence to the principles of Lutheran
Confessionalism is needed now more than ever.