Church-state issues continue to divide East and West German Protestants. Overturning its own decision from the Communist era, the church has given a green light for the restoration of Dresden's "Frauenkirche" (Church of Our Lady). It has lain in ruins since World War II. Dietrich Mendt, a retired Lutheran superintendent, concludes: "The public, not our congregation, needs this church. People are not interested in the services which will be held there, but rather in the silhouette of Dresden. We are again doing something we should never have done in the past: bowing to pressure."
East Berlin's colossal "Dom" (Cathedral), conceived as the Kaiser's response to Rome's St. Peter's Cathedral, was rebuilt with state funding and reconsecrated last year. "Let's hope God only winks at this one," Mendt comments. "I could have accepted the Dom's reconstruction if we had paid for it ourselves."
The cash-strapped Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) has paid $30 million for new Berlin headquarters nearby to house its representative to the national government. East Berliners responded with street demonstrations and a protest service.
Feuds regarding the degree of church collaboration with the East German secret police also hamper relations. The Rev. Rainer Eppelmann, a former dissident turned Christian-Democratic politician, asks: How could a once heroic East German church be transformed overnight into "a society of opportunists, traitors, spies and puppets?"
Manfred Stolpe, long-time East German church diplomat and present governor of the state of Brandenburg, remains under media attack. Günter Krusche, the retired General Superintendent of East Berlin, believes the "victory of one's own political party, not the police contacts of Manfred Stolpe, is at stake." Another observer concludes that East German "police documents are now being used as arrows. To insure that the rival gets finished off, the arrows are dipped into poison." The Rev. Friedrich Schorlemmer of Wittenberg, a prominent former dissident, has proposed that a "festive fire" be held to destroy all remaining secret police documents.
Joining, not merging
Many Protestants have not accepted the fact that their own East German electorate chose joining the existing Western system over modifying it. A recent study by the "Evangelical Academy" maintains that "two states have not needed to bade their past structures and order farewell in order to form a new union. Rather, the one side needed to give itself up and join the other." It only follows that, as Volker Kress, the new Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Saxony complains, "The critical evaluation of our past, which is being demanded of us, has barely been applied to the West." Non-involved Western outsiders are sitting in judgement of the East German church's past.
Both the strong and weak aspects of the Western system have been transferred to Eastern soil. Though the East German church saw itself as an alternative to the bureaucratic, centralized and state-supported West German church, it never produced a new, financially viable model. Up to half its funding stemmed from Western sources. Consequently, Easterners are being forced to accept a system which was financially practical in the West. Accustomed to Western generosity in the past, economics are now destroying dreams which Communism never could.
Pastoral placement issues are reaching crisis proportions. Western scales for determining the number of church members per salaried pastor have been applied to the East. But the Western system is based upon an army of paying, non-attending church members. While 96% of West German Protestants do not attend church regularly, most "fringe" members left the Eastern church in the 1950s. Therefore Eastern congregations are on paper much smaller than their Western counterparts.
In agreement with the Western standard, numerous congregations have been merged into one and large rural areas are now without pastors. East Berlin's Marzahn-Nord high-rise district, which has 135,000 residents, will be allowed only a single pastor. Provost Heino Falcke of Erfurt laments that two of his church districts will need to reduce their number of pastors by one-third. He's counting on "a new lay movement" to fill in the gaps.
Rev. Krusche adds: "Mission is no longer possible under such circumstances." A pastor will only have time for burials and marriages. These new standards "are not the evil tricks" of Westerners, he assures. "But demanding uniformity in this instance creates new inequalities."
One result of the loss of dreams is a return to old Eastern patterns. Rev. Krusche maintains: "On the organizational level, unity is functioning. But below that, on the local level, people are returning to their former, more familiar patterns. The curiosity phase is over."
Protestant leaders are horrified that "Jugendweihe" (Youth Dedication), a humanistic alternative to confirmation used by the communist state to combat Christianity, is booming. In East Berlin alone, 9,800 youths, over half of all 14-year-olds, participated in Jugendweihe this year, up 1,500 from last year. Roughly 1,000 East Berliners will be confirmed during 1994.
Jugendweihe is cherished in the East as an additional Christmas. The second half of the old description of Jugendweihe participants, "With Marx on their lips and mopeds in their hearts," still holds true.
A shimmer of hope remains that in one instance unification will lead to something new. In April, 90% of the unified synod of Berlin-Brandenburg voted for a renegotiation of the military chaplaincy agreement. It insisted that chaplaincy work be detached from the Ministry of Defense and final responsibility returned to the church. Eastern resistance to the military chaplaincy treaty of 1957 with the Bonn government remains massive. Long used as a propaganda tool by the East German government, many Protestants still regard it as proof of an intimate alliance between their church and Bonn.
Evanston/USA, June 27, 1994
Written for “The Lutheran” in Chicago, 931 words
Note from September 2021: Dietrich Mendt lived from 1926 to 2006, Manfred Stolpe from 1936 to 2019. Günter Krusche, who lived from 1931 to 2016, experienced a particularly sad tragedy. After being accused of cooperation with East German state security in 1992 and thereafter hounded by the sensationalist, “yellow” press, his unmarried 33-year-old daughter, Anne-Kathrin, committed suicide. (See our article in this same category from 5 Dec. 1992.) In a similar instance, Friedrich Schorlemmer (born 1944) had demanded at the funeral of the deceased in November 1993 that all state-security (Stasi) files on individuals be destroyed in a “celebratory fire”. Eppelmann, Schorlemmer, Kress and Falcke (born 1929) are all still living.