Anna Klein is excited to vote for change. The 27-year-old evangelical German schoolteacher supported Angela Merkel for chancellor in the last two national elections, but this year, as the long-serving Merkel steps off the political stage, Klein is going to support the Green Party’s Annalena Baerbock.
Klein, who lives in the central state of Thuringia, says the September 26 election is historic. And she likes the idea of supporting a woman who could in some ways build on Merkel’s legacy of responsible leadership and in other ways “move in an even more transformational direction.”
Her vote, at its base, is informed by her faith.
“I’m not a conservative person politically, because I am not a conservative person when it comes to religion and its role in my life,” Klein said. “My understanding of faith is always one of a welcoming, yes-saying approach to change.”
Baerbock is seen as an advocate for more dialogue and someone who will provide leadership on environmental issues, refugees, women’s rights, and education. Klein resonates with these priorities because of evangelical teachings about loving your neighbor and welcoming the stranger, Jesus’ respect for women, and the biblical mandates to care for creation.
With the support of younger evangelicals like Klein, the Green Party seems to be pulling ahead in polls. It may garner enough votes to form a coalition government with the conservative bloc, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU).
The idea of progressive Greens and center-right CDU-CSU governing together, hand in hand, might sound strange. But the environmental protest party has shifted to the mainstream, with a focus on being problem solvers, and many Germans like the idea of leaders working together to find practical solutions.
This was, in fact, part of Merkel’s broad appeal through four terms in office. When she was first elected as the CDU candidate in 2005, she formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party, bringing together the major parties of the left and the right in a “grand coalition.” In the three elections since then, she has often co-opted her rivals’ most popular ideas, avoided extremes, and personified a politics of reasonableness.
Many German evangelicals supported Merkel, who is the daughter of a Lutheran pastor and a defender of Christian humanism. But then, most people in Germany did.
When Merkel was elected the second time in 2009, 56 percent of the country said they trusted her to solve the nation’s problems. When she announced her retirement in 2019, 67 percent said they wanted her to stay until the end of her term in 2021.
There isn’t an evangelical voting bloc in Germany, according to Uwe Heimowski, a Baptist pastor and policy director for the German Evangelical Alliance.
“We represent a range of positions and political perspectives,” Heimowski said. “We do not have a single voice.”
The Alliance is a “big tent” organization—pulling in evangelicals from the state-privileged German Protestant Church and the many independent “free churches,” including Baptist, Methodist, and Pentecostal and charismatic denominations. The diverse group of Christians are unified on some issues but don’t align with any one party. Heimowski lobbies the government on religious freedom, protection of life, human trafficking, hate speech, and environmental issues.
At the heart of German political compromise, one can find evangelicals. They will work across lines, according to Heimowski, if the Greens and CDU form a coalition.
“On the one hand, on issues like migration politics, that’s good news. On other issues, like marriage, less so,” he said. “We can work with the Greens on climate issues, but not so much on life issues.”
In the past, the Alliance has published voting guides for evangelicals, but recently it has shifted strategies. Now, it puts out a brochure with a series of questions to prompt discussion.
Harald Sommerfeld, an evangelical pastor and the chair of the ecumenical initiative Together for Berlin, said the point of political discussions isn’t to tell Christians who to vote for, but to help people search out common ground and constructive paths forward. Instead of control, he wants Christians to look to be part of the conversation.
“In my own congregation, I do not know whether people are part of a party or what they are voting for,” he said. “In the elections, there is hardly any possibility for evangelical Christians to help special Christian concerns gain a political majority.”
German evangelicals tended to align with Merkel’s center-right politics, but that’s changing a bit now, said Rainer Schacke, who teaches theology at the Rhineland Theological Seminary and the Berlin Institute for Urban Transformation.
Some have shifted to the far right, supporting what Schacke describes as the conspiracy theory–apocalyptic positions of Alternative for Germany. This party is critical of multiculturalism and immigration and wants to reclaim what it describes as Germany’s essential national identity, flirting with Nazi-era rhetoric about the volk and Vaterland.
While a few evangelicals have moved rightward, more younger evangelicals have shifted to the left, said Schacke, and like Klein are supporting the Greens. They “focus on issues of climate, social justice, and inclusion,” he said, and want to “exercise their cultural mandate in a constructive way and in dialogue with politicians and other Christians.”
Julia Kopp, a 32-year-old campus minister at the University of Tübingen, said many younger Christians feel a sense of social responsibility. They don’t want to vote for their own interests or be part of a special interest group.
“They are interested in issues with worldwide impact, like refugees and the environment,” Kopp said. “They feel a sense of responsibility to change the world for good.”
That motivates some people to support change and back Baerbock and the Green Party. But on other hand, Kopp said, it reminds some of the value of stability. For people born after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany, Merkel has been a consistent presence, a steady hand, and a reassuring figure.
“With Merkel, there was a sense of normalcy,” she said, “and with the change, there’s always the danger or risk of more populist, or far-right, sentiment emerging, which is something I am worried about.”
One thing evangelicals know they can do, as they discuss the upcoming election, consider their choices, and talk about how to apply their faith to the ballot, is pray. Heimowski said German evangelicals know that prayer does not just provide peace and comfort, but can also ignite political renewal.
“We saw it before with the Friedensgebete (peace prayer) movement in Leipzig that helped spark the fall of the Berlin Wall,” he said. “We know God has the situation in his hands.”
Ken Chitwood is a writer and scholar of global religion living in Germany.
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