peeking in on the Men’s Breakfast talk…Church and State


John is the speaker for the Men’s breakfast this morning. Here’s what he’s talking about…
In UK today is Guy Fawkes Day when kids all over the country light bonfires and set off fireworks to “Remember, remember the 5th of November” when in 1605 Guy Fawkes was arrested, tortured and executed for attempting to blow up King James I and all of Parliament in an act religious terrorism.
This led me to think on the subject of the “Separation of Church & State”, a foundational principle of the Constitution. Yet today we hear more and more about politicians and their religious viewpoints.
Recently I have heard media reports about “Do not support X. He will take his religion into the White House.”
At the same time I have also heard “Do support Y. He will take his religion into the White House.”
The subject has cropped up before but usually in isolated cases (Lieberman and JFK). Now it seems to be required of every candidate to showcase their faith values.
I find this fascinating and disturbing at the same time. While I can see that it is important to know a candidate’s values…are we now being asked to vote depending on religious affiliation as opposed to (or as well as) policy and strategy positions?
As a history fan I have for a while now been interested in the culture, politics, and church in Germany in the 1930’s .Particularly in the various churches response to Hitler and Nazi beliefs. Many of the books I have read suggest that there are similarities between the situation then and now, i.e. high unemployment, global financial crisis, collapse of economies, wide spread unrest with “ the present situation”.
Can we learn anything from that time? How did the churches react?
Two short opposite examples.

“Stay out of it”–The Roman Catholic Church

According to new internal Vatican documents, released in 2005/6, the key issues for the church were:

1) Germany was the only nation in which the Pope did not have sole and exclusive power to appoint bishops. Since the Reformation the German RC’s had the right to choose their own short list of candidates. This list was send to Rome for “agreement“ or “alteration” and then there was an open vote. This situation was intolerable to Rome and there had been numerous attempts and schemes to end it.

2) This had caused political friction between Rome, the German church and the government. In certain regions, during 1870-80, the government banned the appointment of new priests and bishops resulting in thousands of parishes and numerous bishoprics lying vacant for years. This meant generations of Catholics had lived and died without ever having had priests, sacraments or instruction. Theologically this meant they were all damned with no hope of salvation. The Vatican was determined to avoid a repeat of that situation.

3) Pope Pius XII took the position that he was “vicar of all Catholics world wide” and support or criticism of one nation over another was not possible as his primary duty was international pastoral care of his flock.

By the end of WW 2 absolute Papal authority had been established and the Vatican had taken minimal political participation.

“Complete Immersion”–The German Christian Movement
The German Christians were an inter-denominational pressure group of 600,000 Protestant pastors, bishops, professors and teachers of religion and laity with the stated aim of proving that “National Socialism and Christianity were not only reconcilable but mutually reinforcing.” The movement was based in the “Institute for the Study and Eradication of Jewish Influence on German Church” at the University of Jena.

Their main teachings were:

1) Church should be based on race and ethnicity.
2) Universal in that it was open to all Germans, exclusive in that it was only legally defined Germans.
3) Christianity is “universal” in the next world but “national” in this world.
4) Jesus was a descendant of Aryan invaders, not a Jew.
5) Paul was chiefly responsible for Judaizing Christianity.
6) Absolutely anti-Semitic and attempted to de-judiase Scripture and all aspects of religious life (even Christians descended from Jews should be purged from the church, no matter how long ago that ancestor lived).
7) Abandoned Old Testament and re-wrote the New.
8) Christianity/Jesus was the final rejection and destruction of Jewish faith NOT the culmination of it.
9) Church had to be anti-doctrinal and anti-creedal. Therefore anti-denominational and anti-ecumenical.
10) Church had to be “manly” a place for “warriors and soldiers “and all emotional “softness and femininity” was Jewish influence which had to be routed out and destroyed.

Although not technically supported by the Nazis, and sometimes even attacked by them, the German Christian movement was very influential throughout the War. It collapsed in 1944/45 and after the war all its members were re-absorbed back into German church life with no official penalties or correction of its teachings.

A third way: the Confessing Churches

We’ve been talking on the blog about this history, and the (relatively) small group of pastors, congregations, teachers, and Christians that stood against both these options and sought a third way–a way faithful to the gospel, not to a political ideology or an institutional religion. To learn more about that, follow our series on The Theological Declaration of Barmen, posted every Monday. The historical background, info about the people involved, and the way they worked is here, and the first installment of our study of the statement of faith they wrote is here. Check back each Monday for the next month as we continue to explore the faith they clung to and even died for, and what they have to teach us 70 years later.


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