The Vital Lesson American Protestants Should Learn From the German Evangelical Church

Baden-Baden has been a spa town since Roman times, drawing tourists for its therapeutic waters, and more recently for a festival hall that features prominent classical artists. It also has a Faberge museum, which seems appropriate at this time of year: Christmas in Germany is like a brightly decorated eggshell with no egg inside. The forms of the holiday are merrily observed, but not the faith. To declare one’s belief in a personal God counts for proof of mental defect here as well as in most parts of Europe, especially among educated people. Nonetheless there is more faith left in Germany’s Protestant establishment than among America’s mainline Protestant churches, and it’s something for a visiting Jew to rejoice about here at Christmas time.

The Presbyterian Church USA, the flagship church of America’s fading Protestant mainline, voted to boycott the State of Israel earlier this year, and nearly voted to prohibit the use of the word “Israel” in its prayers. The new Marcionism of the mainline churches justifies its aid and comfort to Israel’s enemies by rejecting a link between the living Jewish people and the God of Abraham. By contrast, Pope John Paul II of blessed memory and Benedict XVI both emphasized that God’s covenant with the Jewish people never was revoked.

Martin Luther

That is also the firmly-stated view of the German Evangelical Church, the main body of German Protestantism, and it was front-page news in Die Welt, one of the country’s quality dailies, this morning. Its new chairman Heinrich Bedford-Strohm told the newspaper,

“We speak today of the continuing Election of Israel. The new covenant for which Jesus Christ stands does not in fact replace God’s old covenant with the people of Israel. On the contrary, Jesus Christ brings the so-called heathen into the covenant. For us Christians he is the person in whom we experience God. But that in no way diminishes God’s covenant with Israel.”

Dr. Bedford-Strohm emphasized that his church had moved beyond Luther, the founder of German Protestantism, because Luther’s Jew-hatred could not be dismissed as a “minor error.” He puts the American Protestant mainline to shame. There is Jew-hatred in Germany, to be sure, mainly among Muslim immigrants. But when it showed itself, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced it before a rally in Berlin, emphasizing that anti-Semitism could not hide behind attacks on the State of Israel.

Last October, Dr. Bedford-Strohm declared that Israel’s right to exist was the “absolute precondition” for reconciliation in the Middle East. I don’t know his politics — and I don’t much care — I take note that he is righteous with respect to the Jewish people, unlike some of his American peers.

It isn’t just Merkel, or the German Protestants. When German secularists tried to ban circumcision, the German Catholic Church backed the country’s tiny Jewish community. German attitudes towards the Jews are complex. “They will never forgive us for Auschwitz,” quipped an Israeli psychiatrist, and many Germans are tempted to equate Israel’s occupation of Judea and Samaria with the Nazi occupation of Europe. (When a German tells me this, I take out my leather wallet, wink, and say, “Human skin — just like the Nazis.” That ends the conversation). As post-nationalist liberals, Germans are horrified by any sort of national feeling, and feel more comfortable with the Israeli left (whose novelists sell here like Pfannekuechen) than with religious nationalists like me.

Nonetheless, there is still a mood of repentance that must be acknowledged–in contrast to the smug, narcissistic progressivism of the Presbyterian Church of America, for example. I’m no Christian, and I don’t love my enemies, but I respect the grandchildren of my enemies who strive to come to grips with the past.


image illustration via shutterstock / 

Cross-posted from Spengler