Christians Don’t Isolate Themselves
Regarding the Work of the Theologian Carl-Jürgen Kaltenborn in the GDR
L a d u s h k i n -- The Baptist pastor and theological lecturer Carl-Jürgen Kaltenborn triggered a storm of indignation when, in approx. 1963, he suggested in a sermon that parents should not oppose admission of their offspring in communist youth organizations such as the “Free German Youth” (FDJ). That occurred in the well-known Baptist church in (East) Berlin-Weissensee and would have far-reaching consequences for his service as a Baptist clergyman in the German Democratic Republic
Virtually unheard-of at that time in the GDR, he as a pastor soon thereafter became FDJ-Academic Secretary for the theological faculty at Humboldt-University. Kaltenborn completed his post-doctorate degree (habilitation) in 1976 and was named Professor of Ecumenics at this faculty seven years later. During those years he participated in some Young Pioneer gatherings of his children, reporting on Indians and other distant foreign cultures. "That was really popular," he reports.
In interviews given at his residence in Bernau near Berlin in 2019, Kaltenborn (born 1936) described his reasoning in Weissensee as follows: “Why should our children not attend? They should not do so for opportunistic reasons, but rather to show that we do not see ourselves as better or worse than others. We attempt to live out our Christian faith on as many levels as possible. Why should we unnecessarily isolate our children?"
With the establishment of an FDJ group at the theological faculty, he hoped to send a clear signal to the state and party: “We do not turn away from you; we possess a common cause." Today, he describes that cooperation with local FDJ leadership as fruitful.
Professor Kaltenborn himself describes it as "grotesque" that he resigned from the FDJ as an 18-year-old stonemasonry apprentice. His explanation at the time: "The FDJ is built on the foundations of atheism - and I am a Christian." This had no consequences for him personally. Growing up in Wernigerode/Saxony-Anhalt (East Germany), both his father and grandfather were former Nazi party members. This was not insignificant for the further development of the young Baptist.
As with virtually all left-wing theologians in the GDR, Kaltenborn was accused of complicity with state security after reunification. The German-language “Wikipedia” claims for ex. that his election as International Secretary of Prague’s “Christian Peace Conference” (CPC) was "controlled by the Department of the Ministry of State Security (“Stasi”) and the political department of the KGB".
In the aforementioned conversations from 2019, Kaltenborn referred to his friend Peter Franz (born 1941) regarding the Stasi. Until his removal from office in 1997, Franz had served as a pastor in Kapellendorf near Weimar for 30 years. Back then, Franz had approached the Stasi on his own initiative. Kaltenborn quoted his compatriot as follows: "Before the security forces hear something around three corners, . . . they can have the news directly from me. I'm the original source. I invite the gentlemen; they may come see me. "
Kaltenborn concedes that he was involved with security offices when preparing CPC-conferences or inviting foreign guests. "I knew of course that things were happening over and beyond all security divides." People saw it as their task “to ensure that the GDR remains secure and none of the wrong people sneak in. So I thought it weird that this should be problematic. I still find it weird today, because this was no peculiarity of the GDR. All states have been doing this as long as there have been states." He rejects the accusation that he denounced people entrusted to him to government authorities.
Following reunification, Peter Franz “fled toward enemy lines” by documenting in a white paper his own traffic with state security. Kaltenborn added: "I went a different route than Peter Franz. He was allowed to remain a pastor only until his dear colleagues (and a television team) brought him down." The pastor of Kapellendorf was shot down using revelations that he himself had provided.
The Baptist professor behaved less generously. Although supposedly burdensome files exist, he proceeded according to the motto: "He who defends himself before two others, accuses himself. For me (these conversations) were so matter-of-fact - and they still are." Since the Western half of these negotiations are still off-limits, not only Kaltenborn believes that investigations exclusively on the basis of Stasi-documents are of extremely questionable value. They represent at best no more than half of a complicated, overall reality.
Not only Franz needed to suffer: In 1993 at the age of 57, Carl-Jürgen Kaltenborn lost his professor’s chair at Humboldt.
Equal moral distance – a commentary
The pensioner Kaltenborn still tears out his hair when someone is accused of “stabilising” the GDR during the period of its existence. His position is understandable if one assumes that “real-existing socialism" and its western counterpart were equally far removed from moral absolutes. Then it is justified to measure both systems with the same measuring stick.
Of course, the political West was in a position to offer individual freedoms to a degree that people in the Eastern bloc could only dream. Yet on the other hand, the primary Western superpower has millions of post-1945 war casualties weighing on its conscience. Who wants to play God here and make an overall judgment in the name of morality? Should mere mortals with their limited knowledge even have the gall to judge? Should one not instead simply tell the believers: “Blossom where you have been planted. Seek the welfare of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7)? Yes, fascist governments are the exception here. May God grant us the wisdom to discern when such an emergency occurs - and not only in retrospect!
Let us return to the FDJ: How should one behave towards prickly, cactus-like unbelievers? Who enjoys embracing a porcupine - the GDR - for example? But is self-isolation ever justified? Getting to know each other in person achieves more than shutdowns or sanctions. Much can be gained from leaving one’s own comfort zone.
How could one best have broken up the atheism of the GDR’s communist party (SED) – or was it simply a lost cause? Most of us chose to influence the party by punishing it with our absence.
Should I prematurely remove myself from office as a sign of excessive obedience? Should I instead wait until others expel me? That’s the path Franz and Kaltenborn chose in the 1990’s.
Kaltenborn tried to work with as many bodies and associations as possible. In those matters in which agreement existed, they cooperated. He is doing the same now with Germany’s free-thinker organisations. We are free to combat our fears of contact. As a rule, contact will only enrich both sides.
A note: The detailed interviews with Kaltenborn from 2019 are kept under wraps until further notice in the archives of the heavily-Baptist “Federation of Ev.-Free Churches” in Elstal near Berlin. Access is granted only with the consent of the archives and Professor Kaltenborn. These archives should be considered the source of this article.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Ladushkin, Kaliningrad region, Russia, 17 February 2021
A journalistic release for which only the author is responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #21-06, 1.145 words.