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 in January has led to an exodus from the Lutheran and Catholic churches. German media have reported lines of citizen waiting outside local government offices to have their request for removal from church rolls processed.

Like the rest of the country, churches are asking what the cost of reunification will be. For decades, Western churches have subsidized their Eastern counterparts with about $60 million per year. Western clergy often gave 5 percent of their salaries to support their East German counterparts. In spite of the church tax, the need for heavy subsidies, especially among historic state churches, remains. As much as $187 million could be needed next year. “A revival would be the only alternative to church taxes,” said Dresden Lutheran Hans-Dieter Hofmann.

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Numerically, charismatic groups appear to be faring best. A conference in East Berlin last July attracted 3,200. Yet their growth has come at the expense of the historic denominations, as new independent congregations are formed by recruits from existing churches.

German churches are also experiencing a bitter internal political struggle regarding the appropriate response to the recent communist past. Conservatives conclude that the masses have long forsaken all socialist ideals. Yet socialism seems to hold continued appeal among some in the church intelligentsia.

An outstanding issue very much a part of the present political struggle is military chaplainship. Instituted by West Germany’s “Bundeswehr” in 1957, it was long regarded as quiet proof of West German Lutheranism’s willingness to ally itself with Western power structures at the expense of the East German church. While the Evangelical Alliance strongly supports the institution of military chaplaincy on an all-German basis, Heino Falcke of Erfurt, a prominent church father of last year’s peaceful revolution, has threatened to leave his church if chaplaincy is ever installed in what was once East Germany.

By Bill Yoder in Germany.


‘Dirty dancing’ in Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up nude dancing—not as a hobby, but as a constitutional issue. The justices have accepted Barnes v. Glen Theatre, Inc., a case that examines an Indiana public indecency law banning public nudity. Two “adult” businesses and three “exotic” dancers are challenging the law in an effort to enable public bars to showcase nude dancing. A federal appeals court struck down the law, saying, “Non-obscene nude dancing performed as entertainment is expression and as such is entitled to limited protection under the First Amendment.”

The Court declined to take a case that looks at whether a private group may display a nativity scene in front of a government building. The high court’s decision leaves intact a lower-court ruling prohibiting the display in Charlottesville, Virginia.

No kidding

Traditional family advocates have gained new support from an unexpectedally, the Progressive Policy Institute, affiliated with “centrist Democrats.” The think tank has issued a new report saying that traditional families are the best institution to help children. “Public programs cannot substitute for healthy families and should not try,” the report says. “Given all the money in the world, government programs will not be able to instill self-esteem, good study habits, advanced language skills or sound moral values in children as effectively as can strong families.”

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The report, entitled “Putting Children First,” criticizes liberal politicians for failing “to acknowledge that intact two-parent families are the most effective units for raising children.” Conservatives were taken to task for largely relying on rhetoric and disregarding “new economic realities” facing families.

Around town

The Family Research Council gave its annual Marian Pfister Anschutz “Back to the Family” Awards last month to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp; Los Angeles teacher Jaime Escalante, who inspired the film Stand and Deliver; and Robert Woodson, the African-American who founded the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise.

United Methodist leaders from across the country gathered at Wesley Theological Seminary for a conference, Redeeming the City: The Church Organized Against Crack, which discussed theological and strategic implications of churches’ involvement in the war on drugs. The United Methodist Council of Bishops announced a $450,000 grant for the development of a church-based curriculum for adults and children that will include drug prevention and recovery tracts and materials to help churches become “centers of refuge” for recovering drug addicts.

The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council briefed a meeting of Christian church leaders and publication editors on the ongoing construction of the Holocaust Memorial museum near the Washington Monument. Council chair Frank Littell stressed that the musuem will relate to Christian concerns because the Holocaust “was something that happened to Christendom too.”

The Human Rights Campaign Fund, a gay-rights advocacy group, held a celebratory dinner in Washington to commemorate “the most successful year in the history of the modern lesbian and gay rights movement.” Among the successes highlighted by the group were two invitations to White House bill-signing ceremonies—invitations that were strongly opposed by evangelical groups.

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