Church and State in East Germany*

Whether “the character of coming generations shall receive the stamp of atheistic materialism, or whether those values which came into the world with the Christian faith shall be the foundation of human society” is being decided in East Germany today. Thus Otto Dibelius. Evangelical Bishop of Berlin, judges in the FOREWORD of God and Caesar in East Germany.

Dr. Solberg, the author, who is chairman of the department of history at Augustana College, begins the book by presenting the daily encounter between the Christian faith and atheistic materialism. Hansi Wendler is unacceptable as teacher in the public educational system of the German Democratic republic because she insists on her constitutional rights which state that “admission to the public service is not dependent upon one’s religious beliefs” (p. 2). Although the authorities granted her the right to maintain her personal religion for herself, yet “if you want to become a teacher you cannot be bound by outworn superstitions and unscientific ideas. Make your decision. Either recant your Christian faith or leave the school. We shall be waiting your answer” (Quoted on p. 2).

The author further prOvides evidence that no confirmed Christian may retain a State position. At the same time active church membership on the part of a wife was given as the cause of inner separation of a couple and therefore sufficient legal ground for divorce. But all the while the State professes profusely its sincere desire for a peaceful coexistence with the Church in the German Democratic Republic (p. 5).

That the temporary division of Germany into four occupation zones by the Yalta and Potsdam agreements has now hardened into a permanent partition, the author ascribes “to the failure of the western Allies to realize soon enough the serious political intentions of the Soviet Union regarding its own zone of occupation, and indeed, for the whole of Germany and western Europe” (p. 25). In the fourth chapter a reference is made to the dreams of empire of Attila and Genghis Khan to indicate the basic imperialism of Old Russia, which is in line with Lenin’s ambitious observation: “Whoever controls Germany possesses Europe” (p. 43). One basic reason for the tragic blunders of Yalta and Potsdam (Cf. The Banner, “The Potsdam Tragedy,” June 9, 1961) was the failure of the western world to realize that the Russians are operating under the dual drive of the old Russian imperialism and of establishing world communism in our time. And as the author points out in a later chapter, “whatever serves the cause of Socialism is right.”

In view of such long-range grandiose dreams of the Soviet planners a short concession is often made to soften up the opposition, as in the case of cooperation with the concentration camp pastors (p. 30). But the basic hatred of Communism for the Church is unabated and mostly undisguised. But the strategy alternates between that of laizzer mourir and faire mourir, i.e., of letting the church die of its own accord, through a bad political and psychological climate; and, causing it to die by taking vigorous methods to liquidate it. The study of Dr. Solberg is a documentation of these two methods employed by the Communists in Eastern Germany for the last fifteen years. The book also illustrates the words of the Lord of the Church that he came not to bring peace upon the earth but the sword (Matt. 10:34).

The boldness of faith is beautifully illustrated in the demand of Bishop Dibelius that the State abolish its atheistic propaganda. Gradually the truth begins to dawn on the people of God “that the Soviet pattern for East Germany had no room for the Church, except as a willing tool for the furtherance of government policies” (p. 74). Alas, lackeys of Caesar wcrc not wanting when the fires of martyrdom became hot, and a number of pastors organized themselves as willing tools of the State. Over against these we have the bold, always d ear testimony of Bishop Dibelius and the refusal of the majority of the churches of Eastern Germany to obey man instead of God. Listen to part of the testimony of the churches against the Government’s program of education.

“The materialistic world view is not a theoretical matter, but has a very practical effect upon the lives of individuals and of society. Because it recognizes not God, it raises material things to the level of the highest good and the greatest value, and thereby comes into direct conflict with the moral responsibilities of the Christian, which have their eternal foundation in the laws of God…When in a constitution it is resoundingly declared that no person shall suffer any subsequent disadvantage if he speaks his opinion freely and openly, and then in practice exactly the opposite becomes a daily experience, this is for the Christian conscience a violation of trust and confidence. The leadership of the Christian Church cannot simply stand and watch, while its members are subjected to such pressures that they gradually become accustomed to living a split existence, which can end only in general deceit and untruthfulness. Nor can tho church simply disregard the pleas for help which are directed to it every day by conscience-burdened Christian people” (p. 95).

The great service of Dr. Solberg’s presentation is the fact that it becomes crystal clear that, although the original school law was not openly hostile to the Christian faith and to the Church, the great battle for the elimination of the Church and of the Christian faith is fought on the level of education. Here the State had a monopoly over the mind of tile youth of the nation, and it went to work step by step to inoculate the mind of its youth against the faith of the fathers. Day by day the poison of atheistic materialism continues to drip into the soul of the child. Day after day the great god of Stale absolutism holds sway before the imagination of plastic youth. Here again it was Bishop Dibelius who pointed out the fact that secular education was not neutral, but constituted a confessional of materialistic atheism (p. 39). By 1951 this became very apparent. “This was the year in which the first Five-Year Plan went into operation, and both educational and cultural life had an important role to play in it….The first task in school improvement would therefore be a serious assault on opposing ideologies and a strengthening of the ideological foundations of the teaching staff. Every teacher must be well schooled in Marxism-Leninism and in the basic principles of progressive Soviet education and must understand his role as an exemplary German patriot and a leader in the fight for world peace” (p. 119).

Tn view of the above the real issue in East Germany that the churches had to face was “government-sponsored atheistic ideology in education” (p. 253). The government on its part saw clearly that the belief in a supernatural being “‘prevents people from putting all their strength into the building of a Communist world society.’ In all general instruction outlines, priority was to be given to subject Number One: ‘Atheism, the determining factor in dialectical determinism’” (p. 253).

Dr. Solberg shows that although the Soviets may for the moment seem to perform a complete about face, as was the case early in 1953, due to the alarming rise in the number of refugees and the fact that it “had pressed its program of sovietization beyond the point of safety,” yet, in the long run, the incompatibility of Christianity and Marxism, as Marx and Lenin had always recognized, is openly avowed and Communist party members arc not allowed to hold Church membership at the same time. Gradually the totalitarian State in East Germany made it abundantly clear that there was no room for the Gospel (p. 223).

However, the Communists realized very well that they had to provide some cultic substitutes since ninety percent of the people were nominal members of the Lutheran Church in East Germany. In the place of baptism, confirmation, marriage and church burial, the cultural ideologists of Communism furnished a series of public ceremonies to substitute for the loss of the Church ceremonies. The penalties for not participating in the Youth Dedication ceremonies were such that only true believers were willing to take their stand for the fait h of the fathers. And by the end of 1956 “the legend of the compatibility of the Youth Dedication with Confirmation had been completely scrapped by official party sources” (p. 200). It had become clear “despite initial professions of liberality and tolerance by the sponsors of Youth Dedication” that those “who accepted that pledge were taking the first entangling step into the mesh of Communist commitments intended to lead eventually to a full commitment to atheistic materialism” (p. 200). Enough has been said about the content of this significant Macmillan publication. It should be read by every churchman in America! It ought to rouse us out of our materialistic lethargy and our mental inertia concerning the spiritual values of our heritage. Communism is an ideology. It cannot successfully be opposed by material means, by supplying people with food for their bellies or clothes for their bodies. It is a dynamic faith in man as the creator of his own future paradise of glory. Let us fight for Christ and his Kingdom! Let us overcome evil with good! Let us deflate the lies of Satan with the truth of the Gospel!

*God and Caesar in East Germany by R.W. Solberg. The Macmillan Company, New York, 1961. 294 pages. $4.95.