Conference Report: “Ecumenical Cooperation and World Politics”. The 2016 Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History Conference

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 22, Number 4 (December 2016)

Conference Report: “Ecumenical Cooperation and World Politics”. The 2016 Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History Conference, Helsinki, October 26-28, 2016

By Robert P. Ericksen

On Oct. 26-28, 2016, Professors Aila Lauha and Mikko Ketola of the Theological Faculty at the University of Helsinki hosted an international conference on the topic, “Ecumenical Cooperation and World Politics.” This conference also served as the annual meeting of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, with the papers to be published in that journal in 2017.

Sessions at this conference focused primarily on the twentieth century, a time when conflicts ranged from World War I and World War II to the Cold War and its occasional outbreaks of considerable violence. This also was the period in which Christian churches struggled to overcome centuries of bickering among themselves with a push toward international ecumenism. Could Christians working together reduce the scourge of war? Could ecumenical Christians help resolve the problems of racism, colonialism, or the social and cultural changes embodied in Western modernity?

These would have been very large questions to resolve in a two-day conference. Within those constraints, however, sessions probed a few specific examples within the ecumenical experience. Also, given the setting in Helsinki, there emerged a slight Nordic tilt to the proceedings, with four of the fourteen presenters describing Nordic actors within the broader ecumenical movement. One further distinction within the program bears mention. The two main days of the conference were divided between a first day focused on “Ecumenical responsibilities—dreams, utopias and realities,” and a second day on the more sobering subtheme, “Ecumenism facing the challenges of nationalism, chauvinism and extremism.”

Andrea Strübind delivered the first paper of this conference, “The International Fellowship of Reconciliation as an ecumenical and interfaith forerunner for human rights.” Two founders of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), the German pacifist Friedrich Siegmund-Schultze and the English pacifist Henry Hodgkin, met on 3 August 1914, the day before Great Britain entered World War I. These two men committed themselves to the principle that Christian nations should not turn to war against each other. Although they had little or no chance of stopping the carnage to come, they created an organization that still exists and now can be seen as a precursor of and participant in the broader ecumenical movement. Strübind focused her paper on a little-researched aspect of the FoR—its influence on the American Civil Rights Movement. As early as the1930s, the FoR began bringing Gandhi’s tactic of non-violent civil disobedience to questions of civil rights and economic rights in the United States. Bayard Ruskin, for example, a later ally of Martin Luther King, Jr, began working fulltime for the FoR in 1942 and pursued this theme. In the mid-1950s, Glenn Smiley, a Methodist pastor and a representative of the FoR, moved to Montgomery, Alabama. He and the FoR helped develop and train activists in the non-violent tactics that proved successful in the Montgomery bus boycott and then spread across the South.

Gerhard Besier followed with a paper on “80 Years WCC—Theological, Political and Societal Ambiguities.” The “ambiguities” involve the ways in which ecumenism gets caught up in issues that seem unavoidably political and/or cultural, rather than simply religious. For example, when the interwar ecumenical movement tried to deal with German Protestantism after 1933, it first tried to work with the official church leadership. Gradually, however, Barth, Bonhoeffer, and others convinced ecumenists to accept the point of view of the Confessing Church, with its rejection of radically Nazi elements within the official Protestant Church. That led to the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt in 1945, followed by early postwar efforts to rebuild and strengthen ecumenism. Quickly, however, the Cold War impinged and once again ecumenical Christians faced political questions. John Foster Dulles, an active lay person and son of a Presbyterian minister, imagined the Federal Council of Churches (FCC, later the NCC) working within the WCC toward “a just and durable peace” in the American mold. The Czech theologian, Josef Hromadka, argued that socialism should be understood as the truly Christian stance. Some theologians in Eastern Europe both collaborated with their own regimes and critiqued the WCC as a voice for NATO. Participation by the Russian Orthodox Church established in the 1960s added further questions about the mix of politics and religion. On the one hand, one might hope that ecumenical Christendom could find a prophetic voice based upon Christian values. In the worst case, however, some might see Christian ecumenism as a theology of convenience, bent to the need for getting along.

Gerhard Ringshausen’s presentation gave a partial answer to Besier’s question. On the topic, “George Bell’s political engagement in ecumenical context,” he describes the Bishop of Chichester’s response to the “German question” before and during World War II as both theological and political. Totalitarian restraint on freedom to preach must be opposed, he said. An “ethic of peace” should include equal dignity for all. Bombing policy should make a distinction between military and civilian targets. While consistent with Christian values, these choices can also be built upon natural law. Bell gave the November Pogrom of 1938 a theological response, however, with the suggestion that non-Aryan pastors and their wives should be welcomed in England as members of the Christian community in need.

The next session grew out of a research program for PhD students directed by Aila Lauha at the University of Helsinki, “The Ecumenical Movement and Cold War Politics.” The title of this session expressed the essence of an underlying theme for ecumenism: “Can the World Council of Churches Change the World?” The conditional answer presented by products of Lauha’s program seems to be, at least in limited ways, yes. Juha Meriläinen presented on “The Reconstruction of European Churches as a WCC Programme.” War had left Europe with massive destruction. Early American attitudes exacerbated this, with, for example, a sign at a U.S. military canteen in 1945 in Berlin: “Do not feed the civilians. Put what you do not eat into the garbage can.” The Americans soon changed their minds, however, as President Truman worried about saving Europe from the USSR. One result was the Marshall Plan, which poured American aid into postwar Europe. W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft and the WCC also saw human need in postwar Europe. The WCC did its part, with a program that invested $6.2 million, a sort of counterpart to the Marshall Plan. Matti Peiponen spoke on “The Commission of the Churches on International Affairs,” judging it a success, especially in the early postwar years. It had a voice in the WCC and also in the UN. In the latter case, this commission made sure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights included the right to freedom of thought, expression, and confession, rather than merely the “freedom to worship,” as preferred by the USSR. Antti Laine spoke on “The Programme to Combat Racism.” Here he brought the story forward by two decades, reflecting on the WCC Assembly at Uppsala in 1968, a meeting where Martin Luther King’s place on the list of speakers fell to his assassination that spring. The turbulence implicit in King’s assassination spoke to a new world, with widespread activism among young people and with questions about racism in the United States as well as other parts of the world. The WCC focus on race advocated action, not just discussion, and the action included controversial grants made to sometimes radical organizations opposed to racial injustice. These sessions on WCC programs provoked a lively discussion in the Q and A, especially involving the question of theology, which was de-emphasized (if not actually banned) at Uppsala in 1968. According to Laine, however, leaders of the WCC considered their program against racism a success, proving the Christian ecumenical movement to be a credible player amidst the widely accepted idea that racism represented an evil to be opposed.

Katharina Kunter stayed in the decade of the Uppsala Assembly for her final presentations on this first day, “Revolutionary Hopes and Global Transformations: The World Council of Churches in the 1960s.” She actually called her timeframe the “long decade” of the 1960s, beginning as early as the mid-1950s and continuing well into the 1970s. Uppsala in 1968 represented a turning point. A Theology of Liberation developed in the 1970s. White men in the WCC were replaced by increasing numbers of women and people of color. Collective human rights replaced the Western emphasis on individual human rights. The geographical locus began shifting from west to east and from north to south. Some conservatives in Europe and the United States viewed this as the end of Christianity in Christian ecumenism. Some churches withdrew their membership. Under the theme for this first day of the conference, “dreams, utopias and realities,” this stage reached by the WCC in the 1970s seemed to contain a little bit of each.

Morning sessions on the second day included papers on ecumenism in Finland presented by Aila Lauha and Mikko Ketola. Professor Lauha described the early years of the Reformation when Finland was a Swedish possession, with the Lutheran faith declared the one true faith and Catholics known primarily as opponents during times of war. Even during the nineteenth century, when Finland was a province of Russia, the legal role of the Russian Tsar did not impinge on the dominant place of Lutheranism within Finland. By the 1920s, 95 percent of Finns remained within the dominant Lutheran faith and an ecumenical group formed in 1917 primarily involved Lutherans talking with each other. With a very strong nationalism in 1920s Finland, newly granted autonomy in 1917, ecumenism was seen largely as a threat of foreign influence, and the very few Catholics in Finland were widely suspected of disloyalty. After World War II, Lutherans in Finland gradually moved toward an acceptance of ecumenism. This was based upon the development of cross-denominational theological conversations. Also, suspicions against Catholics diminished with the dramatic changes developed at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. A Joint Declaration on Justification in 1999 helped solidify the Finnish respect for Catholics, so that by the turn of the century a modern, multicultural acceptance of ecumenism became the norm in Finland. Mikko Ketola picked up on this story of rapprochement between Finnish Lutherans and the Catholic Church in his paper, “Finland—Ecumenical Wonderland?” He noted that a small conversation began in 1967, when representatives of the Roman Catholic and the Finnish Orthodox Churches were invited to the Finnish celebration of the 450th anniversary of the Reformation. More importantly, three Finnish Lutheran bishops made a first visit to Rome in 1985, during the papacy of John Paul II, and Finnish bishops have returned to Rome annually since. These past three decades have marked a period in which Finnish acceptance of and enthusiasm for ecumenism has increased dramatically.

Anders Jarlert began the afternoon session with “Nathan Söderblom and Nationalism—Riga, Uppsala, and Ruhr.” Many scholars view Söderblom as an internationalist, rather than a nationalist. Jarlert acknowledged that Söderblom worked for international cooperation and peace, especially in Europe, and that he was an important figure in the international ecumenical movement. However, Söderblom also had a very strong sense of his Swedish roots and a concern for the wellbeing of Sweden. Using numerous examples, Jarlert showed how these two realities can coexist in one person. Historians make a mistake when they try to find the right box into which to place a complex figure, he argued. Historical actors rarely fit so precisely into those boxes where we are tempted to place them.

The final session in this conference included three somewhat disparate topics. Aappo Laitinen spoke on “Religion and politics in Malta during the interwar years: between ‘Protestant’ Britain and the Holy See.” This story involves a complicated Catholic-Protestant clash, with a largely Catholic population on Malta, but British political control since the Napoleonic wars. Hanna-Maija Ketola spoke on “Strengthening the Alliance through Church Connections: The Church of England and the Russian Orthodox Church during WWII.” This involves a side story to the British-Soviet alliance during World War II, an unexpected alliance occasioned by Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR. A Church of England delegation visited their Russian Orthodox counterparts in 1943, hoping to use an ecumenical conversation as part of the connection that would solidify the political and military alliance of the two nations. This visit produced press reports that exaggerated the extent of religious freedom in the USSR, the sort of misunderstanding perhaps useful during the war itself, but part of the rapid separation between Russia and the West after Allied victory in 1945. Finally, Villa Jalovaara spoke on “Nordic bishops’ meetings during the Cold War.” Beginning in the 1920s, bishops from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden began meeting every third year. World War II interrupted this practice, as Danish and Norwegian bishops necessarily saw Germany as their enemy, but Finland most feared the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, these nations divided up between Norway, Denmark, and Iceland as members of NATO, with Sweden and Finland non-aligned, and with Finland maintaining a “friendly” relationship with the USSR. Although these differences of alignment made it difficult to produce joint statements, at least these bishops continued to meet regularly throughout the Cold War.

I would encourage readers interested in these topics to look for the fall edition of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte in 2017, when refined versions of these papers will be available in print.


Conference Report: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte Meeting, 2015

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 22, Number 1 (March 2016)

Conference Report: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte Meeting, 2015

By Robert Ericksen

“‘Ein neues Klima’: Rezeptionsgeschichte des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils in Ost- und Mitteleuropa”

A conference took place on December 3-4, 2015 at the Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in the premises of the Bundesinstitut für Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa. This meeting, organized and hosted by Professor Andrea Strübind and the Institut für Evangelische Theologie at Oldenburg, met in conjunction with the Editorial Board of the journal Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte. The papers from this conference are expected to appear in the Fall 2016 edition of that journal.

This meeting took place in honor of the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II. The main focus, as explained in introductory comments by Professor Strübind, involved the assumption that the Second Vatican Council opened a new spirit of religious freedom within the Catholic Church as it faced the very changed circumstances of the Post-WWII world. Pushed especially by Catholics from the United States, in Strübind’s view, Vatican II created important changes within Catholicism—the mass in the vernacular, for example—and also changed the Catholic point of view toward other religions. Most famously, perhaps, Vatican II by way of Nostra Aetate dramatically modified Catholic teaching about Jews. This Council also opened to Protestants and to Eastern Orthodox churches new ways to understand and anticipate ecumenism within the Christian community.

Stanislaw Krajewski, a professor of philosophy at Warsaw University with an interest in Jewish-Christian relations and a connection to the Jewish-Christian institute at Cambridge, opened the conference with a paper on Jewish-Christian relations in Poland. One of the very few Jews growing up in postwar Poland, he noted that about ten percent of Polish Jews—some 350,000—survived the Holocaust, but that most of them, often returning from the USSR, fled the country as quickly as possible. Krajewski then gave his assessment on steps leading toward Nostra Aetate and the impact of that statement over time. Precursors, such as a Christian statement from the Seelisberg Conference in 1947, were so controversial they were not accepted by either Protestants or Catholics, and the Seelisberg statement itself could not be published at the time. Krajewski also noted John Connolly’s recent book, From Enemy to Brother, with its argument that primarily Jewish (and some Protestant) converts to Catholicism were the ones able to push in the direction of Catholic-Jewish reconciliation. This points toward a more deep-seated antisemitism among those born into Catholicism. Krajewski also suggested that the Holocaust would seem to have provided a strong push toward Nostra Aetate, but he claims that 2,500 bishops who responded with comments and advice never mentioned the Holocaust as a precipitating factor in this doctrinal change. Then, noting that Abraham Heschel called conversion “spiritual fratricide,” he argued that most Jews,  even with Nostra Aetate,were suspicious of residual Christian hopes for conversion in the new Catholic stance. As for Polish reactions to Nostra Aetate, Krajewski pointed out the mono-ethnic nature of postwar Poland and suggested that most Poles were very pleased with this concentrated Roman Catholic Polish identity. Among other things it meant there were few Jewish partners for dialogue after Vatican II. In the 1970s, however, some young Poles, thinking their own culture somewhat insipid, began to look to the past and see pre-Holocaust Jewish culture as especially creative and exciting. Residual antisemitism lingered; yet now, Krajewski says, the atmosphere is very different. Since the 1990s, January 17 has been celebrated as a “Day of Judaism,” with clergy in some areas hosting inter-religious events. Jewish-Catholic dialogue takes place, though Krajewski thinks it still falls short of deep, doctrinal reconciliation, a situation he thinks true outside Poland as well. Finally, he says that antisemitism is unacceptable in today’s Poland, even though the depth of this change among the laity cannot be fully known.

Katarzyna Stoklosa gave a second paper on Poland, beginning with a description of the somewhat fraught relationship of Poland toward Vatican II. The Polish people seem to have been relatively unaware of and/or suspicious of this council. Some even considered any reconciliation with Judaism a “poisoning” of the Catholic faith. The government also was suspicious of Vatican II, fearing among other things, that any Polish priests who attended might not return. One bishop led a pilgrimage to Rome, which pushed the government into a limited cooperation. In the end, 250 Polish priests attended, rather than the higher figure of 1500 that once had been considered. Among the most important outcomes may have been the chance for Polish and German bishops to spend considerable time together and establish the basis for future contact.

Other papers included one on Switzerland by Franziska Metzger of Fribourg. She described the Swiss postwar circumstances as a time in which social questions grew in importance, both in terms of how the churches could nurture the holding on to moral values and how they could adjust to modernization. Vatican II represented a moment of change, so that by the 1970s churches in Switzerland began looking toward questions of equality, pluralism, social change and social justice, a direction that has continued since then.

Gerhard Besier, speaking about Vatican II and ecumenism, noted that Catholics had been resistant to ecumenical efforts in the late-1940s and 1950s. The World Council of Churches finally got Catholics to participate in the 1961 meeting in Delhi. He sees an ongoing difference, perhaps especially in Germany, in which Protestants see ecumenism as a willingness to live with differences, but Catholics see in ecumenism the goal of eventual unity. This has led to a certain amount of “phantom” discussion, according to Besier, and a discussion not accessible to the laity. As for the laity, Besier sees a Germany in which most people are less and less concerned with the arguments and goals of church leaders as they seek contentment in this life. One example? In Germany today the children of mixed marriages are supposed to divide by gender, with boys taking the religion of the father and girls that of the mother. In practice, according to Besier, fathers are likely not to press their “advantage,” nor are any in the family likely to attend church on a regular basis.

Mikko Ketola, speaking about the reception of Vatican II in Finland, similarly described a very broad change, in this case from the early to the late twentieth century. Starting with the recognition of the nearly universal dominance of the Lutheran church in Finland, Ketola noted a population of only 999 Catholics in 1940, a similar number to Jews. In the 1920s a Lutheran bishop had described Catholicism and Bolshevism as “the two greatest threats” to Finland. An analysis of Finnish attitudes toward Catholicism in 1959 described a “prejudice resting upon a firm foundation of ignorance.” Suspicion greeted Vatican II in the 1960s. However, the rapid modernization of Finland which began about that time, along with specific leadership on these issues, resulted by the 1980s with a Finland transformed, by then a “model of ecumenism.”

Hans Hermann Henrix reported on the impact of Nostra Aetate in three Eastern European nations: Russia, White Russia, and Ukraine. In all cases this reception was influenced by 1) the impact of Soviet policy through 1989, 2) the small number of surviving Jews after the Shoah, and 3) the small number of Catholics in relation to the dominance of Eastern Orthodoxy. Nostra Aetate was first translated into Ukrainian in 1996, into Russian in 1998, and first published in White Russia in 2009. In each case the Catholic Church is a small part of the population, as few as 600,000-800,000 among the 140 million Russians, for example. Also, the post-Shoah Jewish population is very small, although Ukrainian independence led to something of a Jewish “rebirth,” with a population today of 400,000. In all cases there have been efforts at Jewish-Christian dialogue and at developing Catholic respect for the Jewish faith in line with Nostra Aetate. These efforts are quite recent and often center around attempts to celebrate January 17 as a “Day of Judaism.” St. Petersburg, for example, has held such a festival in 2012, 2014, and 2015. A similar Ukrainian celebration took place in 2013 and 2014, although it failed to take place in 2015, due to the political crises that year. White Russia has been a place of Jewish-Christian dialogue since a large international conference in Minsk in November 2009.

Robert Ericksen moved outside the Middle and East European orbit of this conference to give a report on the North American discussion of Nostra Aetate. American bishops considered themselves natural leaders in the post-Vatican II discussion, especially because of the large number of Jews living in the United States by the 1960s, and also because of certain American ideas about respect for religious freedom. In March 1967, the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops published their “Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations,” taking very seriously the radical nature of Nostra Aetate with its insistence that Catholics could no longer teach Christian supersession in God’s eyes or Christian contempt for Jews and Judaism. Ericksen showed the assertive nature of Jewish voices in the Jewish-Christian dialogue, voices of individuals such as Rabbi Irving Greenberg and Emil Fackenheim. He also described the increasingly substantive trajectory of change within the Christian-Jewish relationship to be found in the recent work of Catholic figures such as Father John Pawlikowski.

Tobias Weger completed this conference with a presentation on new church architecture in Poland and Germany and its reflection of Vatican II. One aspect involves a greater emphasis on lay participation along with a less rigorous assertion of the priest’s authority as the voice of God. This can be seen in the placement and style of furnishings in relation to the altar. Another emphasis is upon local history and aesthetic preferences, so that there is no single style to which a Catholic church must conform. In all cases, the discussion of Vatican II at this conference involved a recognition that it pointed in the direction of significant change. Furthermore, these changes continue to mark the Catholic Church and the Christian world in our day.




Conference Report: “Resistance Revisited and Re-questioned: Church and Society in Scandinavia and Europe”

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 21, Number 1 (March 2015)

Conference Report: “Resistance Revisited and Re-questioned: Church and Society in Scandinavia and Europe”

By Robert P. Ericksen, Pacific Lutheran University

A conference hosted by the Royal Academy of Literature, History, and Antiquities met in Stockholm on September 18-19, 2014, focusing on the topic of church resistance to an unjust state. Professor Anders Jarlert of the University of Lund served as organizer and host. This conference also coincided with the annual meeting of the Board of Editors of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, with the papers expected to appear in that journal in the fall of 2015.

A total of nine presentations looked broadly at the question of church resistance, especially against the Nazi state, and then focused more narrowly on Scandinavian responses to that regime. The first paper, presented by Gerhard Besier of Dresden, described the difficulty of assuming that Christian morality and resistance to the Nazi regime were naturally congruent. Though this idea dominated early postwar church historiography, and though it remains a default position for some even today, scholarship in recent decades has complicated that picture. While some Christians in Germany resisted the Nazi state and considered this a natural outcome of their religious faith, others attributed support for the Nazi state to their Christian beliefs. Hitler’s frequent references to “Providence,” for example, were designed to nurture such a connection. Besier advised against attempting to ascribe resistance to entire confessional groups or theological stances. Rather, one must consider individual circumstances and motivations as locate and interpret actual examples of resistance. Robert Ericksen of Tacoma, WA, stressed the importance of recognizing the widespread postwar condemnation of Nazi crimes and the nearly total loss of respect for the Nazi state as we try to assess church resistance to that state. Christians in Germany and their co-religionists abroad were eager to separate Christian values from Nazi crimes, with the result that the complex story of Christian behavior in Nazi Germany tended to get distorted. As we now ponder the reality of Church responses to the Nazi state, we recognize that resistance was hardly widespread. Ericksen also stressed the importance of acknowledging national identity and national experience in our analyses. We should not expect to find a typical “Christian” response to Hitler across national borders. It was far easier for patriotic Christians in Scandinavia, for example, to question and oppose Nazi policies than for patriotic Germans to contemplate treason against their own national government.

Katarzyna Stoklosa of Sønderborg, DK, mirrored Ericksen’s concern about the importance of national borders and national perspectives. Studying churches in Eastern Europe under communism, she has found no simple relationship between Christian faith and political resistance. For example, when Germans started to flee the GDR toward Poland, the Polish Catholic Church provided shelter and assistance. By contrast, the Reformed Church of Hungary did not, almost certainly due to its greater willingness to support the communist views of the national government. Recent events in Ukraine, according to Stoklosa, show a similar divide. The Greek Orthodox Church has shown sympathy toward the demonstrators who eventually produced the present government in Kiev. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church, on the other hand, has tended to follow the Russian line, condemning the new government in Kiev. In none of these examples does one find a simple Christian stance in terms of values and politics. Andrea Varriale of Weimar presented the final paper within this broad focus on Christian resistance. Examining the Italian resistance during World War II, he described a postwar tendency to create an image of resistance unified in values and in class consciousness. A closer look, however, shows internal conflict within the Italian resistance and disagreements on the question of values. Varriale argued that popular culture, especially film, proved willing to acknowledge these internal conflicts more readily than professional historians.

The balance of this conference devoted itself to Christian responses to the Nazi presence in wartime Scandinavia. This too presented a varied picture. Palle Roslyng-Jensen of Copenhagen described a complicated response within Denmark, and a response that conflicts somewhat with Denmark’s positive reputation for its rescue of Jews in the fall of 1943. The complication began upon the German invasion, when the occupiers provided both the Danish government and the Danish Church a good deal of autonomy. This resulted, naturally, in a careful avoidance of harsh criticism toward German policies, for fear that the benefits of considerable normality in Danish life would be undercut by a clear critique of Nazi attitudes and policies. Beneath this official layer of Danish society, however, local pastors and laypeople grew increasingly critical of the Nazi occupation, based upon their pride in Danish attitudes and values and leading, among other things, to their defense of Danish Jews. In this case, a Danish population homogeneous in ethnicity and religion, still divided to a considerable extent on the question of cooperation with or resistance against Nazi Germans. Svante Lundgren of Lund described the case of Finland, allied with Germany for much of the war. The Lutheran Church in Finland worked to protect its flock and its prerogatives within this setting, including some resistance against the Nazi ideology. However, Lundgren described a small group of 150 Jewish refugees in Finland who failed to receive support or assistance from that church. Anders Jarlert of Lund also dealt with a nation never under direct German occupation. Swedish neutrality, however, did involve many connections with Germany that could prove complicated. Jarlert described how the Nuremberg Racial Laws of 1935 could create problems in cases of intermarriage between Swedes and Germans. The response of the Swedish Lutheran Church was marked more by bureaucratic muddling and uncertainty than by a moral defense of Swedish citizens of Jewish descent.

Roslyng-Jensen’s paper on Denmark had already identified the Norwegian example as a model to Danes of a more heroic way to respond to Nazi occupation. Torleiv Austad of Oslo then presented that story, a story much less marked by the ecclesiastical vacillation found in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. The Norwegian government, taken over by Vidkun Quisling with German backing, was of course a willing puppet of the Nazi occupation. The Norwegian Lutheran Church, however, resisted the Nazi hope that this official institution would become a counterpart to the sycophantic Quisling government. Bishop Berggrav and clergy throughout Norway risked their comfortable and safe positions by taking up resistance. This included a pastoral letter read in churches in early 1941 in support of justice and human rights. Then, in February 1942, seven bishops resigned, with 93 percent of the clergy following that example and resigning their positions on Easter that spring. Bishop Berggrav prepared the ground for these responses by taking on Romans 13 and the standard Lutheran belief in obedience to state authority. In a paper of 1941, “When the Driver is Out of His Mind: Luther on the Duty of Disobedience,” Berggrav established a theological basis for resistance. The Norwegian Lutheran Church then produced a document for Easter 1942, “The Foundation of the Church: A Confession and a Declaration,” clarifying a doctrine of the two kingdoms that could allow for resistance to state authority. This statement included these words: “As long as the above mentioned conditions exist … the church and its servants must live and act in accord with their pledge to God’s Word and their Confession and accept all the consequences that may follow from that.” That statement marked the day when Norwegian bishops and clergy resigned their positions rather than collaborate with the German occupation.

This conference concluded with a visit to the lovely Sigtuna Foundation buildings and grounds outside Stockholm, allowing those present to appreciate the setting where Dietrich Bonhoeffer met Bishop George Bell in his effort to secure British support for the German resistance as it attempted to overthrow Hitler.


Conference Report: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte Meeting, 2012

Contemporary Church History Quarterly

Volume 18, Number 4 (December 2012)

Conference Report: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte Meeting, Emden, Germany, November 8-10, 2012

By Robert P. Ericksen, Pacific Lutheran University

On November 8-10, 2012, a conference took place under the title, “‘Befreier der Deutschen Seele:’ Politische Inszenierung und Instrumentalisierung von Reformationsjubiläen im 20. Jahrhundert.” Several preliminaries are important. First of all, this conference served as the annual meeting of the journal, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, and the papers will be published next year in the journal. Andrea Strübind, a Protestant professor of church history at Oldenburg, served as a prime organizer and will edit the subsequent volume. Johanna Rahner, a professor at the Institute for Catholic Theology at the University of Kassel, co-hosted this event, bringing a strong Catholic presence to this very Protestant topic of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. Finally, this conference took place in a delightful setting of historical significance. Emden, a medieval town in the northwest corner of Germany, was home to a significant Reformed presence in the 16th century. Thus we were able to meet in the Johannes a Lasco Library, an institution of 160,000 volumes, including many books from Erasmus’s library, a Bible signed by Martin Luther as a gift to one of his sons, and a letter from Jean Calvin to the congregation in Emden.

The conference itself focused on celebrations of Martin Luther’s birthday and/or the Reformation. Three speakers looked back to the 19th century. Ralf Hennings and Hans-Georg Ulrichs compared anniversaries of the Reformation celebrated in 1817 and 1917, in Oldenburg and Heideberg respectively. Frederic Hartweg spoke on the 200th anniversary of the Edict of Nantes in 1885. It was celebrated quietly in France by small groups of Huguenots, frightened by the possibility of Catholic backlash, even though Michelet, for example, called Huguenots “the best French citizens.” Bismarck also praised Huguenots and Berlin celebrated the Edict of Nantes openly in 1885. By then a mythology of Huguenots gloriously escaping France to become good Prussians had veiled a harsher history of refugee status in previous times.

The rest of the conference focused on the 20th century, plus the 500th anniversary of the Reformation forthcoming in 2017. One theme emerged in the opening lecture, given by Professor Wolfgang Thönissen of Paderborn (just before he had to leave for Rome to fulfill his role as an ex officio member of the Vatican Council). Thönissen argued that Catholics in the twentieth century have begun to see the work of Martin Luther much less in terms of a “split” in the church and much more in terms of “reform.” Vatican II, for example, looked to Luther as it worked toward reforms of its own. John Paul II and Benedict XVI both studied Luther. Catholics began to focus on things like the Augsburg Confession and the doctrine of justification by faith. Thönissen argued that Catholics and Protestants can and should celebrate the “catholicity” they hold in common: 1) Salvation by faith, 2) a church standing under the Word of God, and 3) a church requiring a certain “Ordnung.” With these things in common, both Catholics and Protestants can celebrate Luther in 2017.

Additional Catholic speakers all followed variations on this theme. For example, Professor Barbara Henze from Freiburg spoke on “Die Katholische Entdeckung Luthers im Kontext des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils.” After Vatican II, in 1967, Freiburg hosted a conference on Luther. Speakers at this conference compared what Luther wanted with what Vatican II wanted. One participant even suggested that Luther finally achieved his goals at Vatican II, both in taking Scripture seriously and making the church accessible, as well as in certain reforms of monastic orders. Professor Johanna Rahner continued this theme, describing developments among Catholic theologians since Vatican II. In particular, she noted the Augsburg Confession as a statement now widely accepted among Catholics, and she pointed toward an increasingly ecumenical rather than a confessional hermeneutic of the Reformation. This approach stresses complementary rather than contradictory elements in the Catholic-Protestant relationship and it accepts a plural rather than a narrowly confessional ecclesiology.

This optimistic presentation on Catholics and the Reformation raised several questions during discussion. For example, each of the Catholic presenters mentioned the work of Joseph Lortz and his twentieth-century reassessment of Luther, though mostly in passing and without going into his Nazi enthusiasm. It was then acknowledged that his appreciation of Luther might have been rooted at least somewhat in his out-sized enthusiasm for the German Volk movement. One speaker also acknowledged that she does not assign Lortz, but has her students read Protestant studies of the Reformer instead. Another issue involved the present place of Vatican II and its advocates in today’s Catholic church. The optimistically ecumenical views presented here do come up against a conservative backlash against Vatican II, in Germany as elsewhere, so that the issues are not entirely decided. However, a broad stream of appreciation for Martin Luther certainly marked the Catholic Church in the twentieth century.

A second major theme at this conference involved attention paid to Luther celebrations outside Germany. Keith Robbins, speaking on British reactions to the Reformation Jubilee of 1917, noted that a warm and collegial reaction to German celebrations could hardly be expected in that fourth year of The Great War. In that sense, his assigned topic provided almost no content. He did describe, however, close ties and cordial relations in the decade preceding World War I. A delegation of 120 Germans visited England in 1908, for example. In 1909, a British group–funded by Quakers–visited Germany and was received by the Kaiser in Berlin. In June 1914, Oxford awarded seven honorary degrees, five of them to Germans. At that time, it would not have been difficult to imagine British participation in a great Reformation Jubilee in 1917. At the outbreak of war in August, however, theologians and historians began to sharpen their sense of difference rather than commonality. Soon they were making their own hard-edged contributions to the national sense of what was wrong with the other side.

Anders Jarlert also noted, as had Keith Robbins, that his look at Reformation jubilees in Sweden during the twentieth century produced little of note. Swedes simply did not celebrate anniversaries of 1483 or 1517, as did Germans. Rather, Jarlert described a “Swedish Sonderweg.” During the 19th century, religious celebrations became bound up with Swedish nationalism. By the 20th century, this meant, for example, a 1941 celebration of the 400th anniversary of the first Swedish Bible, or a 1943 celebration of the Uppsala Synod of 1543. In the overall cause of national unity, a presence of Baptists and of Catholics in Sweden also complicated matters, so that the Lutheran presence became downplayed and compartmentalized.

My responsibility at this conference was to report on American reactions to the German celebration of Luther’s 450th birthday in November 1933. I too discovered very little to report, although Lutherans in the United States organized celebrations of their own, in some cases with thousands of participants. I broadened my approach by analyzing the response of half a dozen church newspapers to events in Germany throughout 1933. Most Lutheran weeklies, whether German, Norwegian, or Swedish in their ethnic background, indicated some attraction to Adolf Hitler and support for the changes he introduced in Germany. They liked Hitler’s attack on Bolsheviks and his campaign against vice. They often criticized the “secular press” in the United States, for its alleged exaggeration of the harshness of Nazi mistreatment of Jews. One column in the Lutheran Herald of the Norwegian Lutheran Church even exhibited its antisemitism, trying to explain the difference between “Kikes,” which it described as undesirable East-European Jews likely to be Bolsheviks, and “white Jews,” seen as more acceptable. (This did draw some critical reader response.) All of these papers, however (with the frequent exception of the Lutheran Witness of the Missouri Synod), expressed concern about political interference in the churches and criticized the excesses of the Deutsche Christen. I also read the more center-left Christian Century. In this publication, skepticism and criticism were handed out in larger portions. For example, Reinhold Niebuhr, reporting in August 1933 on his recent visit to Germany, wrote, “Evidences multiply that the German nazi effort to extirpate the Jews in Germany is proceeding with unexampled and primitive ferocity” (see “The Germans Must Be Told,” Christian Century, 9 Aug. 1933, 1014-15). He then described in detail the mistreatment of Jews, including arrests, torture, and beatings to death, asserting that only a “national neurosis” in Germany could cause Germans to complain that such reports were merely Jewish “atrocity propaganda.”

A final theme at this conference dealt with anticipation of the forthcoming 500th anniversary of the Reformation to be celebrated in 2017. Gerhard Besier placed this in the larger context of the instrumentalization of Luther. This mythology involved both nationalism and anti-Catholicism in some of its nineteenth-century manifestations, a fierce nationalism during World War I, and then a search for a new Luther myth after 1989. Besier suggested that the 2017 celebration could allow for a significant reworking and search into this tradition. Instead, however, he noted that the “Luther Decade” is now treated in FAZ on the business page. It seems to be a time for the selling of souvenirs and the sort of economic opportunities associated with hosting the Olympic Games or a World Cup. He also noted that Luther statues now available in souvenir shops have printed on the bottom, “Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.” This is both an accurate physical statement for the object in question and. presumably, more of an ironic joke than a serious reflection on the Luther quotation.

Hartmut Lehmann also placed the present “Luther Decade” in historical context. He began by noting controversy over whether Luther actually nailed the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, or whether he merely sent them around to a few friends. We have the former story from Melanchthon, but no eyewitnesses or contemporary testimony. Luther with a hammer is a heroic figure and a builder of the Lutheran church. In the alternative image he is a reformer within the church. This works best for ecumenical purposes, including a friendlier conversation with Catholics. What about the full range of Luther, however, including his attacks on the Pope, on Erasmus, on peasants, and on Jews? Some see Luther leading to the Enlightenment, to democracy, and to pluralism. Lehmann is skeptical, arguing that we need to view him in his own time and in his full complications. If we focus instead on the Reformation rather than Luther, we still have difficult questions. Why did Luther’s followers quarrel right after his death? Why did they turn quickly toward orthodoxy, rather than a further exploration of reform? Why have Lutherans in Germany twice been ready to accept dictatorship? Why have Lutherans elsewhere, in the United States and Australia, for example, also quarreled with each other? A careful look at these issues could be a part of the Luther Decade, but it would fit less comfortably into the plans already in place. Finally, Lehmann in an afterword suggested that historians in 2017 may actually give little attention to the Luther Jubilee. In recent years, an interpretation has developed that gives the year 1517 merely one place among many in the fifteenth and sixteenth-century Renaissance that pointed toward the modern world.

This tightly-knit conference produced much to consider for those interested in contemporary church history.  It seems likely that the KZG volume which prints the papers in 2013 will be worthy of attention.


Journal Issue: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte

Contemporary Church History Quarterly 

Volume 18, Number 4 (December 2012)

Journal Issue: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Volume 25, no. 1 (2012) “Expellees and the Church–A New Debate?”

By John S. Conway, University of British Columbia

The latest issue of Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History, Volume 25, number 1, 2012, in which all the articles except one are in German, is entitled “Expellees and the Church – a new Debate?” In fact, the material covered deals only with one area, the territory of the re-constituted post-war Poland, and only one short time period, namely 1945-1949. At the Yalta Conference, Stalin insisted that the frontiers of Poland, both east and west, should be redrawn a hundred miles or more to the west. This settlement gave to Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine large areas formerly Polish, while in the west the border was fixed at the Oder-Neisse rivers, so that in turn most of Silesia and Pomerania became part of the new Poland. The inhabitants were not consulted. In the east, many Polish residents faced compulsory Russification, or feared living under continuing Stalinist dictatorship, so were expelled more or less involuntarily to central or western Poland.  In the west, the German residents, approximately two million in all, were expelled, and sent westwards to German-held territory, then still under Allied military occupation. They were to be joined by another approximately two million Sudentenlanders from the Czech Republic, which was a deliberate if harsh move to prevent the possibility of a repetition of the 1938 disruptions. In all these cases, the victims sought the help of the churches, particularly the Catholic Church, to relieve their sufferings, or if possible to reverse the political decisions imposed on them. How the churches, both Polish and German, responded to these appeals is the subject of the two major contributions to this issue, one by Piotr Madajczyk on the Polish Catholic Church and the expellees from eastern Poland, and the other by Robert Zurek on the German Catholic bishops’ declarations about the compulsory expulsions of the Germans and the fateful changes in the German-Polish frontier.

The only contribution in English is by Ainslie Hepburn, of Brighton, Sussex, who provides a heart-warming description of the work for peace and reconciliation of a German-Jewish refugee, Herbert Sulzbach. He had fled to England in the 1930s but was later employed as an Interpreter Officer at a PoW camp in north England after 1945, where senior German officers were given a re-education course before they could be repatriated. His services would seem to have been wholly beneficial and much appreciated. But the argument would have been strengthened if the author had made some comparisons to similar re-education efforts, as, for instance, those at Norton Camp in Nottinghamshire, about which Jurgen Moltmann wrote so positively in his autobiography, A Broad Place.



Conference Report: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte Conference, Kreisau, 15-17 September, 2011

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 17, No. 4, December 2011

Conference Report: Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte Conference, Kreisau, 15-17 September, 2011.

By Robert P. Ericksen, Pacific Lutheran University

The annual meeting of the journal, Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History, took place in Kreisau, now in Poland, where Helmuth James von Moltke led the “Kreisauer Kreis,” a group of resisters against the Nazi state. We met from September 15-17, 2011, on the Moltke estate, now renovated and serving as a retreat center. German and Polish presenters spoke on the topic, “Kirchliches Versöhnungshandeln im Interesse des deutsch-polnischen Verhältnisses (1962-1989).”

Underlying issues on this topic are obvious. German-Polish relations had not been good since the re-establishment of Poland after World War I and the German bitterness that ensued. German crimes against Poland during World War II then added huge grievances on the Polish side. In the early postwar period, West Germany was tempted to downplay German guilt and complain about things such as the Polish border on the Oder-Neisse line—a border that left Germany without a large portion of its 1937 boundaries—and the perceived injustice of Germans mistreated, dispossessed of property, and driven out of Eastern Europe. This conference, focusing upon church responses to German-Polish relations from 1962-1989, dealt with three main themes found in the churches: German attitudes toward Poland, Polish attitudes toward Germany, and the underlying role of Christian identity in individual nations as well as in Europe as a whole.

Andrea Strübind presented a paper on the “Tübingen Memorandum,” a foreign policy statement by Protestant intellectuals that appeared in Die Zeit on March 2, 1962. This statement was signed by eight prominent individuals: Carl-Friedrich von Weizsäcker, Ludwig Raiser, Klaus von Bismarck, Georg Picht, Günter Howe, Helmut Becker, Joachim Beckmann, and Werner Heisenberg. These men identified themselves as Protestants and spoke of the need for private citizens of conscience to speak out on public issues, but the EKD and its more conservative leadership quickly distanced itself from these Protestant voices. The Memorandum offended many West Germans, even though its ideas subsequently drove West German policy. The authors included a claim for the free status of Berlin, but coupled it with the right of self-determination for the GDR, a foundation of human rights in foreign policy questions, and the need for “Wiedergutmachung” and reconciliation—including acceptance of the Oder-Neisse line—in Germany’s relationship with Eastern Europe. This statement raised hackles, not least because of its claim to a foundation in Christian ethics. In Klaus von Bismarck’s earlier words in relation to his family’s estates in Pomerania, “We have no claim on lands that God has taken from us.” Not all Germans were so magnanimous.

Polish efforts toward reconciliation in the 1960s included a correspondence between Polish and German bishops, but they mostly talked past each other. Polish bishops were willing to speak of “forgiveness,” rather than “reconciliation.” Christians forgive each other, they wrote. But they also expect confession and changed behavior. In general during the 1960s, West Germans were far more interested in the GDR and eventual reunification, than they were in questions of confession and forgiveness between Germany and Poland. Two decades later, as described in a paper by Gerhard Besier, Helmut Kohl picked up on this idea of Christian unity, making a gesture that combined his own roots in the Catholic Church with the Catholicism of Poles. In November 1989, he met in Kreisau with the Polish leader, Mazowiecki. Kohl insisted that the meeting should include a Catholic mass. This led to a “Friedensgruss” and a hug at the end of the service. It proved a powerful symbol of German-Polish reconciliation, useful both to Kohl and Mazowiecki, whether or not the emotional moment was spontaneous or planned.

Katarzyna Stoklosa presented a paper interrogating the idea of Polish Catholicism and Polish identity as reflected on Radio Maryja. This radio station, quite popular among some portions of the Catholic demographic in Poland (and among some Poles in the U.S.), emphasizes Polish nationalism with strong components of Catholic piety, ethnocentrism, and antisemitism. Willfried Spohn then offered ecumenism as the one hope for harmonious relations between the religions and nations of Europe. He leads a project at Göttingen University focusing on the ongoing effort to create European identity out of disparate nations. Noting the former widespread belief that Europeanization and secularization represent parallel processes, he acknowledged the resurgence of the Orthodox Church in Russia and the Catholic Church in Poland, not to mention the place of Islam in today’s Europe, as elements in a counter-thesis that unbroken secularization is by no means a certainty in the 21st century.

Having discussed various ways in which Christian leaders tried to deal with the disharmonies of early postwar Europe, conference attendees then speculated on whether religious identity coupled with ecumenism might provide the right set of tools for a harmonious future.



Conference Report: Intellectual Freedom and the Church: A Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History Symposium, November 19-21, 2010, George Bell House, Chichester Cathedral

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 16, No. 4, December 2010

Conference Report: Intellectual Freedom and the Church: A Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte/Contemporary Church History Symposium, November 19-21, 2010, George Bell House, Chichester Cathedral.

By Andrew Chandler, George Bell Institute, University of Chichester

George Bell House was formally opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury in October 2008, on the fiftieth anniversary of Bell’s death. Set beside the cathedral, where Bell’s life and work is much commemorated, the house also stands outside the gate to the Bishop’s Palace, where visitors like Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, T.S. Eliot and Henry Moore came now and then across almost three decades. Today, George Bell House offers a valuable venue for small conferences. It certainly proved a very happy setting for this particular conference, held under the auspices of the journal Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte / Contemporary Church history. Speakers from a number of countries arrived on November 19 and throughout the following day they were joined by members of the University of Chichester, the cathedral, local people from Chichester itself and visitors from the breadth of the county.

The conference began with a paper on Ignaz von Döllinger, given by Dr. Charlotte Hansen, a Danish scholar now working with the George Bell Institute at the cathedral. The paper focussed attention on the confident character of Döllinger’s thought, his determination to rejuvenate Catholic theology and the response of the Vatican to what was increasingly viewed in those quarters as a challenge to its own theological authority. Yet Döllinger was a far from negligible figure: he won friends and admirers acrossEurope. Matters came to a head after the Vatican Council in 1870: from this point Döllinger’s fate was sealed. He was excommunicated, converged briefly with the Old Catholic Church, and soon retired from public life. Dr. Hansen concluded by drawing upon statements by Pope Benedict XVI and placing Döllinger’s ideas and experiences in a broader, unfolding context of Catholic theological life.

Professor Robert Ericksen of Pacific Lutheran University gave a paper on Emanuel Hirsch and “the turn towards Hitler.” Hirsch was a thinker who practiced and admired intellectual freedom in his own understanding of the Christian faith and message.  However, he also saw intellectual freedom in the modern world leading almost inevitably toward what Kierkegaard called the “all-encompassing debate about everything.” He feared this turn toward radical scepticism, both in religion and in democratic politics; so he turned toward the discipline and control promised by Hitler, accepting Hitler’s claims to represent the traditional values of the German Volk. Only an authoritarian, völkisch, unified Germany could prevent the threat of nihilism and chaos he saw threatening in the modern world, and especially in Weimar. The way was open for an accommodation with the Deutsche Christen movement and National Socialism. Professor Ericksen suggested that questions about intellectual freedom remain relevant and difficult for us in our multicultural world. They cannot easily be resolved, but at least we can recognize how disastrous Hirsch’s turn toward Hitler proved to be.

Professor Gerhard Besier of the Technische Universität Dresden examined the careers of two more German thinkers, this time drawn from the post-war period. Hans Küng is, of course, a well-known name; in the Protestant Gerd Lüdemann there was something of a counterpart. Much of the paper examined the character of their thought and the reasons why they had become controversial within their own confessions. Both had very different church authorities with which to contend, but in both cases the story was one of confrontation, a good deal of manoeuvring over academic positions, a certain amount of avoidance, censure and repudiation. Küng earned many supporters within his own church and across Protestantism too. Lüdemann ended up with a Chair in the United States, from which he continues to write freely. This paper produced an extended discussion on the place of church authorities in the selection of theological faculties in universities, and also began to point towards the distinction to be found between the perceived responsibilities of teaching ordinands on the one hand and those of teaching students from all backgrounds.

In his contribution Professor Torleiv Austad of the Norwegian School of Theology looked at these themes from a Norwegian perspective, but also as one at various times involved in them as a senior church leader and a scholar. He began with the promise to the ordaining bishop with which an ordained minister begins their career and examined the story of Helge Hognestad, ordained in 1965. Hognestad was first influenced by Marxism, but soon became drawn to ‘New Age’ ideas and also became increasingly critical of the theological traditions of his church. In 1984 he resigned from office and five years later asked to be released from his ordination promise. In 1998 he sought to be readmitted, claiming that his thought was now compatible with Evangelical-Lutheran doctrine. This provoked a new debate and deliberations of the bishop, the Doctrinal Commission of the church and, in time, the state itself. Professor Austad concluded, “Intellectual freedom is important. But it cannot be used to undermine an ordained minister’s obligations and to break his or her promises.”

In the final paper, Professor Gerhard Ringshausen of the Leuphana Universität Lüneburg presented a paper which did much to complement this, but also enhanced the discussion of the meaning and reality of “freedom” in the context of Christian theology at large. He showed how the expression of freedom involves a wide range of meanings: first, the Christian understanding of freedom, which is founded in Jesus Christ, who makes his believers free of their sins and free to love to him; second, the sense that freedom is also a basic value of political and social life; third, the problem of differentiating and connecting both these understandings of freedom. Here, for example, it had to be asked if academic freedom in the Church and in theology could be understood as part of Christian freedom or as a consequence of it. The paper proceeded to explore these ideas in the theology of Luther, Troeltsch, Harnack and, most recently, Wolfgang Huber.

The conference concluded with the evensong service at the cathedral and a brief tribute at the spot where Bell’s ashes are interred. It was the eve of the festival of Christ the King. As we left, the cathedral organist could be heard practicing Bell’s own hymn, written for that festival while he was bishop here.