The Cross over East Germany

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The increasing international acceptance of East Germany’s independence and socialist way of life does not appear to have jeopardized the spiritual vitality of the various Christian communions in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary this month.

To be sure, in response to official pressures the East German Lutherans and Baptists have severed all organizational ties with their fellow believers in West Germany. A similar situation is developing among the Roman Catholics, albeit more gradually. Polish diocesan borders now no longer encompass GDR territory, and West German episcopal jurisdiction in the East is rapidly eroding. Perhaps the GDR authorities have moved slowly on this because Roman Catholics make up a mere 8 per cent of the country’s population. More significant, from a political standpoint, is the fact that although the Cardinal of Berlin is a GDR citizen (his handsomely reconstructed cathedral is adjacent to the state opera house), he exercises authority over the West Berlin church as well. Thus his status gives the GDR a toehold in the western half of the divided German capital.

Despite pressures through the years to wean the people away from Christianity, the names of 10 million of the GDR’s 18 million citizens still remain on the rolls of parish churches. Few congregations have been forced to disband, and the religious instruction of children is permitted. Several state universities continue to support theological faculties, while Lutherans, Baptists, and Catholics maintain seminaries to train clergy. And among all denominations the dominant theological orientation today is that of the historic Christian faith based on the Bible.

One indicator of spiritual strength in ...

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