Germans celebrated the reunification of their country on October 3 with parties, prayers, fireworks, and ringing bells. But the fact that not all church bells rang on the historic day illustrates the uncertainty and lack of unity still faced by the “united” nation, and by its churches.
The suggestion by a government official that churches sound their bells on the inaugural national holiday was criticized by some Protestants who saw the action as political interference in church affairs. The willingness of Roman Catholics to cooperate with the suggestion prompted fears especially among East German Protestant leaders of a new realignment of church and state, according to the German evangelical news service, Idea.
Protestant churches in East and West, which did maintain relatively close ties through cold-war times, are nevertheless struggling to reunify themselves. Most church institutions and offices are being combined into all-German institutions located in the West, which should be completed by 1992. But lack of coordination and consultation has caused hard feelings on both sides. For example, East Berlin’s Johannes Schmidt, president of the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches, claims that West German publishing houses “unloaded their book and pamphlet surpluses in the GDR,” thereby undercutting a publishing network “created under trying socialist conditions.”
Though all legal doors have been opened to the gospel, ears are apparently less open than before. Evangelist Theo Lehmann concludes that churches are now just as empty as before the political upheaval. And the announcement that church taxes collected by the state (equal to about 9 percent of the income tax) will be instituted ...1
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