The German Churches after Reunification

By Wydmusch, Solange | Contemporary Review, December 2000 | Go to article overview

The German Churches after Reunification


Wydmusch, Solange, Contemporary Review


AS German Christians make their way to Christmas services, they may well reflect on recent history. The current decade, which is about to end, caused major upheavals in Germany. In 1989 the fall of the Berlin Wall, along with its celebrations and fears, produced such a veritable wave of shock that one cannot yet measure its effects. In this way, the unexpected implosion of the German Democratic Republic and the hurried reunification of the two states in October 1990 offer grounds for some of the most passionate studies concerning the transformations taking place in Central and Eastern Europe. It is a case of a specific genre, since it deals with one country and its particular experiences, which was absorbed by another state structure. Far from establishing an outcome of actual reunification, one can do nothing in this 'experimental country' but analyse the current transformations. Certainly, more than a decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall there is some harmonisation of values and lifestyles. However, imp ortant gaps still remain. One of the most remarkable differences between East and West Germany concerns the attitudes and behaviour toward religion and the Churches.

GERMANY

Population: 81,912,000 (1995 UN estimate)

Protestants: 28,197,000

Catholics: 27,909,797

Numerous studies have been dedicated to the analysis of German life. Strangely, not a single study handles religious institutions, although they play a pivotal role in contemporary German society. The Catholic and Protestant Churches offer an original setting for analysis. First, they existed under the same organisational system in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRO). In the East the Churches survived the transformation and now constitute one of the most stable organisations, along with sports clubs. Secondly, the contacts between the East German and West German structures were numerous and intense before the construction of the Berlin Wall (1961) as well after. Thirdly, the Catholic and Protestant Churches justify a comparative study because of their different organisational systems -- the first being centralised and hierarchical, the second being regional.

The analysis of the reunification process, particularly the discourse of the religious authorities, reveals reciprocal misunderstandings, non-recognition, and ambiguities. Even the use of the expression 'two Germanies', ten years after the reunification, is still heard. Is that not alone a sign of current and actual difficulties? Even though the reunification can be considered achieved, according to the judicial plan, it is not rare to read, particularly in the press, that divisions have increased between the East and the West. In Germany, one speaks of the Mauer im Kopf -- 'wall in the head'. This wall is still being constructed in the heads of Easterners and Westerners although the last concrete pieces of the wall have disappeared from the capital of Germany. Finally, to comprehend the effects of the reunification on the religious situation, we must analyse the situation before the fall of the wall, the reunification of ecclesiastic structures, and lastly the effects of the reunification.

The Religious Situation before the Reunification In the West (FRG)

After the Second World War, the Protestant and the Catholic Churches were recognized as having a certain moral authority, and they actively participated in the German reconstruction. The Allies entrusted them with the role of mediator. Considered to be guardians in legitimising the new social and state order, they were called in the West to participate in the moral reconstruction and charged with guaranteeing the public good alongside the State. This mission allowed them to consolidate their social position. 'State and Church, which consider themselves to bear responsibility for the same people in one and the same society, are thus obliged to strive for intelligent cooperation' (The Challenge of Pluralism. …

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