Germany's Christian Democrats
Germans re-elected Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday, keeping the Christian Democratic Union in power. But the name of her party might be confusing to some Americans: it's not a party limited to Christians and is not particularly devout. The party's documents say its "policies are based on the Christian view of Man and his responsibility before God," but it rarely articulates that basis in political debate.
If that name is confusing, however, consider the Evangelical Church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland), which is not a church—it's a federation of Lutheran, Reformed, and United churches—and is generally what in the U.S. would be considered a mainline denomination rather than an evangelical one. (As in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the use of evangelical is more a reference to the Reformation than more recent evangelical developments.)
German Christians who share American evangelical emphases—the authority of Scripture, a commitment to evangelism, and a focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus and the need for personal conversion—are increasingly wary of the word evangelical. Hermann Gröhe, a minister of state in Merkel's administration, explained why in an interview in his office on Monday.
What can German evangelicals teach American evangelicals about the interplay between faith and politics?
I don't know if there is a specific evangelical approach to politics in Germany today. For a long time, German evangelicals made the mistake of keeping a distance from politics. They believed that social and political activities were typical for a church dominated by liberal theology, so they thought purifying the gospel meant to stay away from public life. That is not typically true, because if you look to Great Britain, a lot of social changes were pushed forward by evangelicals. In previous years, we have had more and more Christians become involved in community activities and take up many issues politically. Fighting abortion has always been a specific issue for Christians, but there has been a broad spectrum of issues, such as promoting global justice, fighting poverty, and climate protection. We have never seen an organized link between evangelical groups and organizations belonging to a specific party.
The state church was abolished in 1919, but after World War I, the country decided not to have a strict separation of church and state but a cooperation between the two in many areas. For example, we have theological faculties in state universities. That kind of cooperation keeps religious communities involved in civic life. Christian involvement hasn't included culture wars because of these cooperations and a more pragmatic attitude of most Germans.
Do you think that's healthier for the society or for Christians?
It can be healthy for both. Christians should be clear about their positions, but Germans tend to look also for common ground. Because of our history, our conservative and liberal parties have never been as conservative or liberal as other European parties. We look for common ground even in very controversial issues. For example, you can find strong differences about the role of criminal law to protect unborn children. But you can find common ground in finding concrete ways to help families or mothers, especially helping young pregnant women accept their unborn child.
I'm happy to see that evangelicals have a voice in America with a broader agenda than in the past. People need to see an inner-evangelical pluralism. Germans don't want to be called evangelical because they are labeled by an image dominated by American evangelicals. That's often done as a caricature, portraying them as ultra-conservative TV preachers. I see evangelical Christianity as more global than that.