After five days of whooping at the thirteenth annual German Protestant “Church Day,” I made a solemn vow over my Wienerschnilzel: never would I attend another ecumenical clambake (to change the gastronomic figure). Naturally this was a precipitous vow, and as the effect of the Kirchentag wears off in a few months, I shall doubtless find myself panting at a registration booth for the next extravaganza.
For the time being, however, the Kirchentag has given me more than I can take. During the multitudinous sessions in Hannover from June 21 to 25 (for news coverage, see the July 21 issue), I kept recalling Alice’s experience with the Cheshire cat who gave her advice and then faded away except for a smile. “I have often seen a cat without a grin,” mused Alice, “but a grin without a cat! That’s surely the strangest thing I’ve ever seen!” The Kirchentag was precisely such a phenomenon, and it well represented the German theological scene: a reassuring smile of piety and churchiness without any substantive biblical or theological foundations.
My negative response was not based on externals, though these certainly helped. Participants were engulfed by an appalling circus-like atmosphere in which venders hawked badges, buttons, souvenirs, books by the speakers, and food. Everywhere there were banners, flags, and uniforms (members of youth organizations directed the human traffic—some 30,000 people in attendance each day), uncomfortably suggesting the mass rallies of the National Socialist era and the classic line in the film version of Is Paris Burning?: “Les allemands aiment beaucoup les uniformes.” And there was the lack of foresight that put Friday evening’s boring “Social World Peace” session (with Niemöller and Visser’t Hooft) ...1
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