Federation of Evangelical Churches in the GDR
The Federation of Evangelical Churches in the GDR ( BEK , within the GDR churches often just called the Bund ) was an amalgamation of the eight Protestant regional churches existing in the GDR . It was founded in 1969 and was incorporated into the EKD after reunification in 1990 . Since 1970, the Evangelical Brothers Unity - Herrnhut district - has been affiliated with the federal government.
The eight Evangelical regional churches in the GDR ( Evangelical Church of Anhalt , Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg , Evangelical Church of the Görlitz Church Area , Evangelical Church of Greifswald , Evangelical Lutheran Church of Mecklenburg , Evangelical Church of the Church Province of Saxony , Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony , Evangelical Lutheran Church in Thuringia ) initially belonged to the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) together with the West German Protestant regional churches. Since the EKD signed the military chaplaincy contract in 1957, the GDR government has called on the East German churches to separate from the EKD. The work in this all-German union became more and more difficult , especially after the Wall was built in 1961. For example, the EKD committees could no longer meet together. With the refusal of the re-entry of the bishop of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg Kurt Scharf in August 1963, which in fact withdrew the bishop from the part of this church located in the GDR and later elected a successor limited to the eastern part ( Albrecht Schönherr ) Forced separation from the West Berlin part, the efforts of the GDR leadership to replace the regional churches in the GDR with those in West Germany reached a climax.
The idea of founding an independent church federation, however, developed only slowly and rather reluctantly. With the new constitution of the GDR of 1968, institutions going beyond the borders of the GDR were declared illegal, including the membership of the Protestant churches in the EKD. This meant that there was no longer a contact person at the GDR churches for the central institutions of the GDR, so negotiations that were valid for all churches and urgently needed appointments threatened to become impossible.
So this step had become inevitable. On June 5, 1968, the eastern half of the conference of church leaderships of the EKD set up a "structure commission", which worked out a set of rules for the new church federation, which came into force on June 10, 1969.
In addition to the urgent solution of organizational problems, the necessity, but also the opportunity, to develop a structure for the existence of the church that was appropriate to the situation in the GDR came to the fore. The prerequisites for church work in the parishes of the GDR differed markedly from those of the West German churches. While the people's church conditions continued to prevail there, the GDR found itself increasingly in a minority position, in addition to a state that understood itself as socialist and postulated the disappearance of religion .
From the beginning, the question of accentuating church existence in the GDR was the subject of internal church discussions between actors with very different motivations. For some, prominently represented by the Berlin-Brandenburg Bishop Albrecht Schönherr , it was important to consciously get involved with the social situation in the GDR and to ask about the specific position and role of Christians in a socialist society, after it had become clear that the division of Germany was not a temporary condition. Here they referred to the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer . Other actors, especially the Thuringian Bishop Moritz Mitzenheim , were much more interested in a separation from the West German churches and a closer proximity to the GDR, which critics saw as an opportunism to state demands.
As a result, from the beginning there was a need to continuously balance different directions, also in order to be able to develop joint effects on the state.
Even if the founding of the federation meant a separation from the EKD, the continuing community with the EKD was emphasized in Article 4, Paragraph 4 of the rules of the BEK: “The federation is committed to the special community of the whole of Protestant Christianity in Germany. “A corresponding article was also found in the constitution of the EKD.
Around 40 percent of the budget of the Protestant churches in the GDR was taken over by the West German regional churches. The vice-president of the Diakonisches Werk based in Stuttgart, Ludwig Geißel , played a role in this transfer.
The leading bodies of the Federation of Evangelical Churches were the Synod of the Federation (also Bundessynod), into which members of the regional synods of all regional churches were elected, and the conference of church administrations , which was composed of members of the church administrations of the individual regional churches. In contrast to the EKD, there was no leadership made up of representatives of these two bodies, but the chairman of the conference of church leaderships was also chairman of the Federation. In the structure of the covenant, there was a preponderance of the church-leading side over the synodal side.
The chairmen of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in the GDR were:
- 1969–1981: Albrecht Schönherr , Berlin-Brandenburg
- 1981–1982: Werner Krusche , Church Province of Saxony
- 1982–1986: Johannes Hempel , Saxony
- 1986–1990: Werner Leich , Thuringia
- 1990–1991: Christoph Demke , Church Province of Saxony
Analogous to the EKD, the Federation saw itself as a federal amalgamation of its member churches, which did not affect the legal independence of the individual churches. But there were also efforts to look for “ ways of deepening church fellowship by means of synodal work ” (“Eisenach Recommendations” of the Federal Synod 1979). In 1983, the Federal Synod passed an amending law that should lead to the formation of a "United Evangelical Church" in the GDR. However, this failed due to the will of the individual regional churches, which repeatedly delayed the process. The formal reason for the failure was ultimately the lack of approval by the regional synod of the Evangelical Church in Berlin-Brandenburg. The federal seat was at Auguststrasse 80 in the Mitte district .
Meetings of the Federal Synod
Meetings of the First Synod:
- 1969: Potsdam: Election of the upper church council of the Ev.-Luth. Church in Thuringia Ingo Braecklein as President of the Synod
- 1970: Potsdam-Hermannswerder
- 1971: Eisenach: Church for others - witness and service of the community
- 1972: Dresden: Christ set free - therefore church for others
- 1973: Schwerin: Chances of a new beginning - the first four years of the BEK
Second Synod Meetings:
- 1973: Elbingerode: Election of the Mecklenburg regional superintendent Otto Schröder as President of the Synod
- 1974: Potsdam: Church as a community of learners
- 1975: Eisenach: Concept for the training of church workers
- 1976: Züssow: Church Fellowship - Unity and Diversity
- 1977: Görlitz: The layman in church and community
Meetings of the Third Synod:
- 1977: Herrnhut: Election of the Wismar businessman Siegfried Wahrmann as President of the Synod
- 1978: Berlin: Basic Problems of Ecumenical Work , Testimony Today
- 1979: Eisenach: Assembly of delegates from BEK, EKU and VELKDDR : Cooperation at the church- wide level ("United Evangelical Church in the GDR")
- 1979: Dessau: Testimony today
- 1980: Leipzig: binding teaching of the church , binding community
- 1981: Güstrow: Probation as a community of testimony and service in the socialist society of the GDR , "Joint resolution on the gradual realization of a binding federal community"
Fourth Synod Meetings:
- 1982: Herrnhut: Election of the Wismar businessman Siegfried Wahrmann as President of the Synod
- 1982: Halle: Peace - promise and task
- 1983: Potsdam: Responsibility for Peace and "Status Confessionis"
- 1984: Greifswald: Christian responsibility for creation
- 1985: Dresden: Aims and content of church youth work , joint declaration on the theological foundations of the church and its mandate in witness and service
Sessions of the Fifth Synod:
- 1986: Berlin
- 1986: Erfurt: conscientious objector, ecumenical assembly, peace issues
- 1987: Görlitz: "Rejection of practice and the principle of demarcation", "Confession in the question of peace"
- 1988: Dessau: "Living as a community"
- 1989: Eisenach: Reforms, freedom of travel, right to demonstrations
Meetings of the Sixth Synod:
- 1990: Berlin
- 1990: Leipzig
- 1991: Berlin: parallel conference to the 8th conference of the VII Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany; joint meeting of both synods on February 24th
Self-image as "Church in Socialism"
The formula of the church in socialism was closely connected with the Federation of Evangelical Churches . In the course of its history, the Synod of the Federation has repeatedly dealt with the question of the position of the Church and Christians in a socialist state. Some church leaders such as Bishop Albrecht Schönherr or Provost Heino Falcke (Erfurt) have written important documents on this topic. However, the Federal Synod never reached a comprehensive resolution on this subject. Instead, various formulas were coined, which left room for interpretation and were always redesigned. Examples of this are “critical distance”, “critical solidarity”, “responsible cooperation in socialist society” or the formula of “better socialism”.
The best known of these formulas was highlighted in 1971 by the Federal Synod, which formulated: “ We do not want to be the church alongside, not against, but rather the church in socialism. “Here too, some of the protagonists were inspired by Bonhoeffer's vision of a“ church for others ”. However, this formula could be interpreted very differently, depending on whether it was purely a determination of the location, a description of the churches' field of action in the sense of getting involved in socialism in the GDR , as a commitment to a basic socialist conviction or even as a commitment to the GDR. It was therefore also a kind of lowest common denominator of the very different views within the Protestant churches. In the 1980s, the formula was increasingly criticized, but not abandoned until the end of the GDR.
During this time, peace groups emerged in many communities, later environmental and human rights groups, “open work” groups and finally groups of people wishing to leave the country. These groups, who deliberately stepped out of the church area with their claim but also with actions, led to further disputes within the congregations, between congregations and groups and between congregations and church leaders about the self-image of the church. The claim as a Christian and a church to speak publicly on the important questions of the time was countered by fears that this would make parish work more difficult or burden the relationship between the church and the state. There were intensified disputes over groups that were only looking for the roof of the church in order to be able to act, but did not feel connected to any church mandate.
State-Church conversation of March 6, 1978
The formation of the Federation of Evangelical Churches and the associated reorientation of the churches in the GDR formed the basis for the beginning of a dialogue between the state and the Evangelical Church. This became apparent in the spotlight with the conversation, which was completely surprising to most, between the then chairman of the Conference of Church Governments, Albrecht Schönherr, and the chairman of the Council of State Erich Honecker on March 6, 1978, about which the GDR press reported in detail. The conversation, which was prepared in secret, took place at a time of increasing ideological escalation in the GDR, such as the expatriation of Wolf Biermann in 1976 or the introduction of compulsory military education in schools in the GDR. Nevertheless, the state wanted to have a “regular relationship” with the churches.
So had the conversation immediate practical consequences, which facilitated the work of the churches or only allowed in some places, such as access for employees church to state retirement homes and prisons , religious broadcasts on East German television and the ability in development areas new churches to build . On the other hand, this brought the Protestant church closer to the GDR leadership in public, which was definitely wanted by the state and which became particularly evident in the Luther year 1983. While some church representatives accepted this or even looked for it, there was a lack of understanding and criticism in many congregations.
Content impulses from the federal government, peace work
In addition to the administrative function of the federal government, it also provided content-related impulses for the work in the parishes and at the synods. For this purpose, there was the theological study department at the federal government, which prepared working papers on internal church issues, but also on social issues. Particularly noteworthy here is the Peace Issues section of the Academic Department.
The synods of the Federation also repeatedly dealt with the question of peace. In 1982 she passed the resolution “Rejection of the spirit, logic and practice of deterrence” in which she publicly contradicted the prevailing military doctrine in East and West. This work was continued in the synodal resolution “Confessing in the Peace Question” of 1987.
Although there was no state administrative jurisdiction in the GDR until 1989 , there was also a church administrative jurisdiction in addition to the church's disciplinary jurisdiction . For the five united regional churches as well as the EKU-Ost a common administrative court order applied from 1975; Greifswald and Görlitz retained the designation "Legal Committee". Of the Lutheran regional churches, Mecklenburg had its own church court ; Saxony, Thuringia and VELK had court-like arbitration boards for pastoral disputes.
|Regional church||1st instance||2nd instance|
|Berlin-Brandenburg||Church court (also
administrative court of the EKU)
Court of the EKU
|Church Province of Saxony||Administrative court|
|Stop||Regional Church Court|
|State of Saxony||Arbitration Board||Constitutional and
Administrative Court of
|Mecklenburg||Court of law|
After reunification, the EKU and the smaller regional churches in Pomerania, Upper Lusatia and Anhalt temporarily formed a joint administrative court.
- Ordinance of the Federation of Evangelical Churches in the German Democratic Republic of June 10, 1969, Official Journal of the EKD 23 (1969), pp. 410–413.
- Anke Silomon: Claim and Reality of the “Special Community”: the East-West Dialogue of the German Protestant Churches; 1969-1991. Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, Göttingen 2006, ISBN 978-3-525-55747-1 , p. 29.
- Martin Richter: Canon Law in Socialism (2011), p. 135 (a total of approx. 40 to 60 decisions, p. 6 )
- Church law on ecclesiastical administrative jurisdiction (Administrative Court Code ) of May 11, 1974 (MBl. BEK p. 63); Ordinance on the procedure before ecclesiastical administrative courts and for the implementation of the church law on ecclesiastical administrative jurisdiction (administrative court procedure regulation) of December 4, 1974 (MBl. BEK 1975 p. 33)
- Church law regarding the establishment and composition of a court of law ( KABl. Mecklenburg 1957 p. 54 )
- Church law on the arbitration board of 9 June 1983 (MBl. BEK p. 43 = KABl. Mecklenburg 1984 p. 25 )
- Agreement on the formation of a joint administrative court ( ABl. EKD 1997 p. 431 , 2000 p. 6 )