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Committed to Resistance

Right-wing Extremism as a Challenge for Christians


From: Herder Korrespondenz, 9/2009, P. 477-480.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    Are Christians in general and Christian MPs in particular obliged not only to distance themselves from any form of right-wing extremism but also to offer resistance? A position paper of the Berlin Institute for Christian Ethics and Policy (ICEP) attends to this issue.


Although in Germany in the seven local elections on 7 June 2009 the previously feared increases of votes for the right-wing extremist parties largely failed to materialise - for Timo Reinfrank, coordinator of the Amadeu-Antonio Foundation, the results confirm the embodiment of right-wing extremism in rural areas of Eastern Germany. Double-digit percentages for the NPD are no isolated phenomenon there, and in four municipalities the party attained even more than 20 per cent of the votes. Moreover, the decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of 13 February 2008 (see BVerfG, 2 BvK 1/07) allowed right-wing extremist politicians even with election results of less than five per cent the entry into a number of county, city and municipal councils.

The result of the simultaneously conducted election to the European Parliament was a total of 39 seats for extreme and populist right-wing parties, mainly from Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. Right-wing extremism is therefore not only a German, but also a European issue. In any case, it is an issue for the Christian churches.



Right-wing Extremism Denies the Fundamental Equality of all People

"Resistance to Right-wing Extremism - a Christian Duty" [Widerstand gegen Rechtsextremismus - eine Christenpflicht] is the title of a recently published working paper in which the Berlin Institute for Christian Ethics and Policy (ICEP) presents clarifications and arguments on this controversial topic. The perspective of the nearly 20-page treatise is that of Christian theological ethics. The ICEP that was founded in September 2004 is a research institute of the Catholic University for Applied Sciences Berlin and sees itself as an agency for political idea (see HK, February 2006, 79ff.)

The opinion was caused by a much-noticed interview. Armin Jäger, who was until February 2009 Chairman of the CDU faction in the parliament of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and is now its media affairs spokesman, said last year to Zeit-online that the "fight against right-wing extremism (...) was actually a Christian duty." Shaped by experiences in his federal state and with the NPD deputies in the parliament the lawyer and Catholic who comes from Berlin once again emphasized the threat proceeding from the NPD. There must be no acceptance of extremist parties. But Jäger also self-critically stated that the awareness of the problem has "still to be promoted in our own ranks."

The head of the Catholic Office of Schwerin, the nun Cornelia Bührle (Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, RSCJ) after that suggested to put the issue of right-wing extremism on the agenda of the Spring Meeting of the Catholic Offices in Germany. Basis of the discussion, which took place from 23 to 24 April 2009 in Schwerin, was the working paper of the ICEP commissioned by sister Bührle. "Right-wing extremism denies in various overt and covert ways the fundamental equality of all people. Christians must then not remain passive," was sister Bührle's résumé at the final press conference in the Schwerin Castle. Almost a month after the publication of the study the problem of "right-wing extremism" was on 18 May 2009 according to schedule also subject of the talks between the government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, with the participation of Prime Minister Erwin Sellering, Archbishop Werner Thissen, Georg Cardinal Sterzinsky and other church representatives.

The ICEP study focuses on the question whether Christians in general and Christian MPs of the various democratic parties in particular were, on the basics of their faith, not only obliged to distance themselves from any form of right-wing extremism but also to commit themselves to resisting it.

One reason why Bührle requested such a study of the ICEP was also that up to now in the Catholic Church and the Christian social ethics hardly any specific opinions on "right-wing extremism" are available. Statements of the Christian Churches in Germany, but also contributions of Christian social ethics on the problematic issues of right-wing extremism are almost non-existent in the German-speaking area. Admittedly, the two major churches have repeatedly stood up for the migrants' and refugees' protection and effectively spoken for them, and a number of individual social-studies were presented on the topics of migration and asylum. But there are hardly to find explicit official ecclesiastical or theological examinations of right-wing extremist tendencies or of the threat to the political common weal coming from neo-Nazi groups.

This can be exemplified by means of the "Encyclopedia of Theology and Church" (3rd edition, 1993 ff.) in which an article on the subject of extremism, right-wing extremism or neo-Nazism is missing. There are no corresponding entries in the general index, too. The article on "National Socialism" ends with the year 1945 and the contribution to the theme of "fascism" contains apart from dealing with the Mussolini regime only a polemic against a wider use of the term. The two articles "nationalism" and "racism" at least provide points of contact, but without mentioning the term. Also in the "Theologische Realenzyklopädie" or the lexicon "Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart" one is looking in vain for relevant articles.

Church statements on the issue of anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism, which is in its political and racist expression inherent part of the right-wing extremist ideology, are an exception. In the appeal of the first plenary session of the World Council of Churches of 1948 as well as in the Second Vatican Council's declaration "Nostra Aetate" of 1965 anti-Semitism is seen as utterly incompatible with the Christian faith. In the Guidelines for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" (n. 4) of 1975, written by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, it says that "the spiritual bonds and historical links binding the Church to Judaism condemn (as opposed to the very spirit of Christianity) all forms of anti-Semitism and discrimination, which in any case the dignity of the human person alone would suffice to condemn" (in: Klemens Richter [editor], Die katholische Kirche und das Judentum, Freiburg 1982, 81).



Not before June 2007 a brief Common Word on right-wing extremism came about with Catholic participation. Gerhard Feige, bishop of the Diocese of Magdeburg and from the Protestant side Helge Klassohn, president of the Evangelical Church of Anhalt, Axel Noack, bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Province of Saxony, and Friedrich Weber, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Brunswick were the responsible authors. Just one year after the burning of the "Diary of Anne Frank" on a "Midsummer Festival" in Pretzien the text was read in church services and should encourage the believers not unresistingly to put up with the activities of right-wing extremist groups but to meet them with determination (

One reason for the lack of an explicit examination of right-wing extremism may be that the churches (with their educational work and pastoral care in the parishes have no (longer) the strength to attract people and come therefore hardly into contact with the partly dramatic loss of confidence in democracy and the fact that right-wing extremist attitudes creepingly become the usual ones in regions with a high proportion of right-wing activities, but on the other hand, widespread acceptance of right-wing attitudes and accordingly motivated attacks, too, are still provable in supposedly Christian-oriented states such as Bavaria.

Another reason for the conspicuous restraint might be the fact that there is admittedly a strong and long tradition of ecclesiastical defenses against left-wing orientated parties and people (see Antisozialismus aus Tradition? Memorandum des Bensberger Kreises, Reinbek 1976), whereas a similar history of rejection of the right-wing extremism is missing in theology and in the church. That has certainly also to do with the fact that above all Catholic church circles come politically from the bourgeois-conservative camp. The dangers of left-wing extremism are therefore usually noticed and pointed out much clearer than those of right-wing extremism.

It is therefore not atypical that in two epistolary responses to the ICEP paper the expectation is uttered that the authors might just as intensely concern themselves with the resistance against left-wing extremism - as though there was a lack of church dissociation on this side of the spectrum.

Moreover, a latent and sometimes even open right-wing extremist attitude, up to hostility towards Jews has never really disappeared. The repeated anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic and anti-democratic utterances from the ranks of the controversial "Fraternity of St. Pius X" are evidence of the fact that there is in parts of the Catholic Church a right-wing extremist mindset that should not be underestimated. But forms of a sometimes aggressive anti-communism, anti-feminism and anti-Semitism are also found in the most important association of Protestant fundamentalism, the Deutsche Evangelische Allianz (DEA). A significant number of Evangelical Free Church youth associations feel associated with such groupings in which elements of right-wing extremist ideology can be cultivated (see Stefan von Hoyningen-Huene, Religiosität bei rechtsextrem orientierten Jugendlichen, Berlin et al. 2003, 71 f.).


The Kingdom of God is not Indifferent to Specific Systems

Against this background, the Working Paper of ICEP wants on the one hand to encourage to overcome the church's considerable theological speechlessness concerning right-wing extremism, and on the other hand to point out to the inner-Christian pioneers and supporters of right-wing extremist ideas that they by their attitude become entangled in principled inconsistencies with the foundations of Christianity. In the centre of the text is the theological and ethical foundation of a critique of right-wing extremism and the Christian committed stand against it. Based on the principle of fundamental equality of all people the biblical option for the poor and marginalized primarily draws the Christians' attention to the victims of contempt, hatred, violence and abuse of power. In the case of right-wing extremism these are above all strange, persecuted, suffering, homeless or impaired people. God' loving attention is especially devoted to them. The special responsibility of the Christians, too, is owed to them.

The biblical message and the self-understanding of the Churches, there's no doubt about that, categorically exclude indifference or even - no matter how slight - sympathy with right-wing extremist positions. More than that: The opposition to right-wing extremism is a Christian duty! This does not only but in a specific way apply to those who as Christian deputies or representatives of various democratic parties bear special political responsibility.

The Second Vatican Council has admittedly recognized that there can be legitimately different views in many political issues (cf. Gaudium et Spes 43). It affirms thus the democratic conception of political plurality. However, such legitimate diversity reaches its limit, and that definitely, where political opinions or practices violate the respect for the human person or the essential equality of all people, and want to infringe or even to annihilate social justice (cf. Gaudium et Spes 27f).



With it at the same time any indifferent attitude of Christians towards right-wing extremism is unambiguously rejected. They are like the Church as a whole called upon to shoulder global responsibility that also necessarily includes the field of politics in the sense of actively forming the public area; a policy by which they express their hope also "in the ordinary surroundings of the world" (Lumen Gentium 35). The Würzburg Synod members say in their resolution "Our Hope" that the kingdom of God is not indifferent to the concrete social, political and economic systems (see 1.6), least of all to the political ideologies and practices that want to call the foundations of living together in human dignity into question and to destroy them.

In so far as Christians assume political responsibility they link their political actions to the biblical foundation and the normative implications of their faith. As such, they are not only as particularly politically responsible citizens, but already as Christians obliged to oppose right-wing extremism.


Every Crime against a Human Being is a Crime against All People

But can this duty to put up resistance also be interpreted as obligation of resistance, since the concept seems to be reserved for actions against (repressive) owners of the authority of the state? On the other hand, the Basic Law provides in Article 20, paragraph 4 that all Germans were entitled to put up resistance against anyone who undertakes it to eliminate the liberal-democratic system, if no other remedy was possible.

Beyond this, the Würzburg Synod had in its in 1975 passed resolution "The Contribution of the Catholic Church in the Federal Republic of Germany to Development and Peace" pointed to the importance of the ability "to resist the conditions and causes of discord" (Section 2.2.3.). It is unnecessary to stress the fact that right-wing extremism, which endangers the social and international peace, belongs to those causes.

Even more clearly than the synod the German bishops' document "A Just Peace" of the year 2000 calls for an, in the strict sense non-conformist church that does not say yes and amen to everything but contradicts and objects if need be. "The resistance to discord and the powers of death in this world is therefore not an incidental addition to church's life but has radically to form it. Otherwise, the Church simply adapts to the world, gets uniform with it instead with Jesus Christ and his message of the Kingdom of God." (No. 164)

In the summer semester 1987 in his Munster lecture on the Christian creed Johann Baptist Metz, professor of fundamental theology and father of the new political theology reminded of Erich Kästner's word formulated by him on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Nazi's book burning, to which his own writings had also fallen victim: According to the writer, who was on 10 May 1933 at the Berlin Opera Square an eyewitness, resistance was "a matter of the appointments book, not of heroism." That meant, so Metz, one had to begin early enough with it.

The underground memorial of the Israeli artist Micha Ullman at today's Bebel Platz, a stylized library without books, is flanked by two bronze plaques embedded in the ground. On it there is the much-quoted dictum of Heinrich Heine, "That it was only a prelude, where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people." That the current right-wing extremism does not shrink from both is proved by the examples of the "Diary of Anne Frank" burnt in Pretzien, and the murder of Amadeu Antonio Kiowa, after whom the above-mentioned foundation is named, committed in 1990 by right-wing extremist youths in Eberswalde - even if he was killed not by burning but by blows, for the sole reason that he was black.

All people, the ICEP text says finally, are closely connected by a moral relation, as Leo Baeck had pointedly stated already in 1914. "There is no longer anything that concerned and affected only individuals: no injustice that was done to him alone and no need that he had to suffer alone. Every iniquity against an individual is a crime against all mankind, and every need of the individual is a challenge to all." (Die Schöpfung des Mitmenschen, in: Verband der deutschen Juden [editor], Soziale Ethik im Judentum, 2nd edition, Frankfurt/M. 1914, 13)

Not least, it should be pointed to a guideline edited by the Protestant Church Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia under the title "Hinsehen - Wahrnehmen - Ansprechen" at the beginning of 2008 ( It shows what congregations can do in dealing with right-wing extremism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Just as the aforementioned Common Words from Saxony-Anhalt this opinion, too, shows paradigmatically that in church circles definitely something like resistance is growing.

Wherever people are met with hate, resistance, or indifference, this is to be countered by the creative and prophetic-critical potential of Christianity, and thus it "gives an account of the hope that is in us" (1 Peter 3:15) says one of conclusions of the ICEP study that invites "all people of good will" to continue working on the subject.


    {*} Andreas Lienkamp (born in 1962) is Professor of Theological Ethics at the Catholic University for Applied Sciences Berlin (KHSB), founding member of the Berlin Institute for Christian Ethics and Policy (ICEP), and lecturer in Christian Social Ethics at the University of Bamberg. The ICEP study is available online:


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