Putting Old Wine into New Bottles: The East German Protestant Church's Desire to Reform State Socialism, 1989-90
Kellogg, Michael, Journal of Church and State
The most striking image of state socialism's collapse throughout Eastern Europe remains the sight of East and West Berliners triumphantly scaling the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall proved to be the most dramatic event of the Wende, or "the turn": the rising up of the East German people and the collapse of the dictatorship exercised by the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED)1 that is hailed as Germany's first successful peaceful revolution.2 Many have argued that the East German Protestant Church, to which approximately six million of East Germany's seventeen million citizens nominally belonged,3 played a crucial role in bringing about the Wende.
German historian Rudolf Mau, for instance, emphasizes in his research that the church and the SED strongly opposed each other, with the regime regarding the church as a bastion of the capitalist West and the "strongest legal position of imperialism" within the German Democratic Republic (DDR).4 Theologian John P. Burgess has asserted that the church "consistently represented the major ideological and political
alternative to the Communist party and the socialist state"5 and has emphasized the considerable degree to which the church "helped organize and direct the non-violent Wende."6 Finally, Reinhard Henkys, the former leader of the (West) Berlin Protestant Publishing Center, has written of a "Protestant Revolution" where the church represented an "enzyme of the revolutionary renewal" of East Germany.7
In his work on the relations between the SED regime and the East German Protestant Church from 1983 onwards, however, German historian Gerhard Besier posits that "most of the church's ideas of a reform of the DDR were based upon a socialist conception of state.8 An analysis of the East German Protestant Church's primary publication, Die Kirche (The Church), demonstrates that the majority of leading church figures in 1989-90 desired not a revolution, but a gradual reformation of East German socialism. Mainstream church opinion during this time rejected both unification under West Germany's "social market economy" and the existing East German order in favor of a bland mixture of socialism with greater political pluralism. Revelation 3:16 warns against excessive moderation in critical circumstances: "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth." Not surprisingly, the church's stance failed to engender sufficient popular support in the polarized political conditions of the time.
The church leadership's desire for only moderate societal change as expressed in Die Kirche in 1989-90 developed in the context of the earlier ambiguous church-state relations characteristic of the DDR. While large segments of the church and the SED regime strongly opposed each other in East Germany's early years, especially in 1953 and 1958 when the government held show trials against important church leaders,9 church-state relations improved throughout the 1960s.(10) To conciliate the SED regime, the East German Landeskirchen (district churches) separated from the umbrella organization of the EKD (Protestant Church in Germany)-encompassing congregations in both East
and West Germany and formed the strictly East German Kirchenbund (Church League) in 1969.(11) In the early 1970s, the Kirchenbund further accommodated the East German state by adopting the formula "Kirche im Sozialismus" (Church in socialism-In other words, linking the Christian gospel with the socialist policies of the state).12
At an important 1978 summit meeting between the leader of the DDR, SED General Secretary Erich Honecker, and the executive board of the Kirchenbund, the state granted the church important concessions, such as access to state television and permission to build more churches.13 …
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Publication information: Article title: Putting Old Wine into New Bottles: The East German Protestant Church's Desire to Reform State Socialism, 1989-90. Contributors: Kellogg, Michael - Author. Journal title: Journal of Church and State. Volume: 43. Issue: 4 Publication date: Autumn 2001. Page number: 747+. © 1999 J.M. Dawson Studies in Church and State. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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