The German political atmosphere has changed over the last years. Many people talk about a Rechtsruck – a sudden shift to the right. A new party appeared within some years: Alternative für Deutschland – An alternative for Germany (AfD). It was successful with slogans like those shown above. Yet, the members of the party resist to be classified as xenophobic and right wing. Surprisingly, the party also attracts Christians. Echter published a brochure with empty pages to answer the question for Christian content in AfD, claiming that there is none.1 However, Christians in the AfD (ChrAfD) have their understanding of the Christian message and a context in which they interpret the Bible. So I decided to search for theological ideas among Christians in the AfD (ChrAfD) and analyse them with Bevans‘ thoughts of contextual theology as a background.
For my research I mainly used texts and statements published by the ChrAfD. Besides, I had the chance to talk to one Christian in the AfD, and I had contact via e-mail with another one. The first part of this work often quotes ideas expressed by the AfD and terminology used by them, and does not reflect my own opinion. You find my evaluation of the ideas in the second part of the paper.
In my evaluation, I want to analyse whether the ChrAfD have their own contextual theology. Additionally, I want to investigate whether an atmosphere of fear is used to convince people to support these ideas. The extent of this paper does on the one hand not allow to go deep into the wider context of the developments of the society in Germany. On the other hand, I will not enter a theological discussion of the theological ideas I encountered.
I start with some thoughts of Bevans about contextual theology as a background in Section 2. In Section 3, I introduce the ChrAfD first from an outsider‘s perspective and then show how the group defines itself. In Section 3.3, I present the theological ideas I found among them. After analysing and discussing the theological ideas as contextual theology (Section 4), I give a personal answer to the ChrAfD (Section 5).
Background: Contextual theology
To locate the theological ideas of the ChrAfD, I introduce Bevans‘ thoughts on contextual theology as one possibility to understand different interpretations of the Bible.
Until the beginning of the 20th century, Western theology has shaped theology and theological training around the world. After the Second World War, many nations and churches became independent. The churches faced the challenge “to develop a theology rooted in their own context that could guide them in their lives and witness. (…) Both theology and theological training had to be attuned to the historical and cultural context of the church.“2 Shoki Coe came to the insight that “only a theology that emerged out of the life context of a particular church could be life giving and support that church in its witness to the world.“3
For some decades, all Non-Western theology was described as contextual theology. However, Bevans defines contextual theology more generally. For him contextual theology is mainly referring to “experience. It is the honoring or testing or critiquing of experience that makes theology contextual. What this means is that, for contextual theologians, anything can be a source of theology“4. Contextual theology refers on the one hand to the “experience of the past that is recorded in scriptures“5 and on the other hand to the present experiences of the theologian in his specific context. With this definition, most theology, including Western theology, can be defined as contextual. Even though in this new hermeneutical situation Europe is “surprised to see that she, too, is an object of interpretation today.”6
Bevans develops several models of contextual theology where he shows that these two viewpoints, the message and the experience today, have a different emphasis in each model. The countercultural model for example has the tendency to perceive the contemporary context and cultural developments as against the gospel. The emphasis is on the Scripture. However the anthropological model focuses on the experiences in the present and believes that one can find traces of God and the Gospel in these. In the analysis of the theological ideas of the ChrAfD, I will come back to Bevans‘ models, because this group is interpreting the Bible in its own context and situation. Thus one can analyse their ideas with contextual theology as a background.
Christians in the ‘Alternative für Deutschland‘ (ChrAfD)
In this chapter, I will at first define AfD and ChrAfD from an outsider‘s perspective. Secondly, I will show some definitions from inside the party. Finally, I will display the theological ideas of some Christians in the AfD I came across.
Definition from the outside
In 2013 the new party Alternative für Deutschland was founded in Germany. The first focus was on the European politics of Germany. However, the group also started to express a general dissatisfaction with several political issues. During the first elections the party failed to reach the necessary five percent of the votes, but in 2017 it achieved 12.6% of the votes and thus entered the Bundestag – the German parliament.
Many people were surprised by this fast growth of the party, because the language and the political demands were seen as rough and provocative. Posters like shown above did not promote sympathy in the majority of the society. In addition, the party seemed contradictory in calling for liberal politics and standing for conservative values simultaneously. Melanie Amann, a journalist watching the party from the beginning, explains the ambigous liberality of the group as a call for limitless tolerance for their intolerance. She explains that the AfD mainly focuses on touching the voters‘ emotions – in particular their fears.7 Franziska Schreiber, a former official of the party, agrees. She explains that the emotional is the only constant people in this party have in common with each other.8 According to her, the supporters of the party also support each others‘ fears, so they live like in a bubble of angst, “Blase der Angst“9, and the party‘s lifeblood is to keep this fear awake, even if the facts cannot support the alleged danger.10
Christen in der AfD (ChrAfD) was founded in 2013 as well. The group is not as well known in society as the AfD, but the Christian communities face difficulties with members who support the party. For example, Hartmut Beucker was member of a church council. When he became a candidate for the AfD, all the other members of the church council resigned from their positions in protest.11 Liane Bednarz, a journalist carefully watching the AfD, writes that nationalistic thoughts can also be found in the ChrAfD, albeit in a weakened form. She writes that the ChrAfD uses the same “enemy” terminology as the AfD, sometimes with neologisms: “islamization of the Occident“, “gender mania“, “mainstream media“, “political correctness“, and the “old parties“ including their politics. She emphasises that the churches have to be observant of this development.12 On April 21, 2017, the churches showed their opposition to the AfD and right wing ideas in a demonstration with the slogan Unser Kreuz hat keine Haken – Our cross does not have crooks. In German, this is a wordplay that differentiates the Christian cross from the Nazi swastika.
Protest of the churches in Cologne
Definition from the inside
The AfD summarizes its aims in the preamble of the party‘s program: “We are open to the world, but we want to be Germans and remain Germans. We want to preserve the dignity of man, families with children, our Occidental Christian culture, our language, and our tradition in a peaceful, democratic, and sovereign state of the German people.”14
The ChrAfD puts a special emphasis on preservation of human lives by fighting against abortion and euthanasia. They are also supporting politics in favour of families with children and have a focus on the persecution of Christians worldwide. This is the reason, according to them, why they try to stop the islamization of Germany.15
I interviewed Interviewee A, a former member of the ChrAfD. He refused to call the party hostile to foreigners or to stir up xenophobic fears. For him, the political program of the AfD is not in contrast with his Christian values. He thinks that Germany and the German social system has to be careful not to be overstrained by foreigners, and in this the party is simply German friendly, “deutschlandfreundlich“. He agrees that there are many people in the party who want to preserve their own country Germany like it is.16
Joachim Kuhs, another member of the ChrAfD, resolutely opposes that the AfD has only the topic of refusing refugees and that in this the party shows its non-Christian attitude. He explains that this is a generalized and unreflected condemnation.17 Volker Münz from the ChrAfd explains that the AfD cannot support some Christians‘ request of a limitless reception of refugees in Germany in the name of Christian charity. The AfD and so as well the ChrAfD call for an ethic of responsibility and answer the request with a clear Nein! No!18 Also Interviewee B, a member of the ChrAfD, with whom I had e-mail contact, explained that the politics of the AfD are not constructed out of an ethic of attitude (Gesinnungsethik), but out of an ethic of responsibility (Verantwortungsethik).19
Many Christians in the ChrAfD describe themselves as conservative, upright, and pious. This is also the self-description of Jürgen Bellers and Markus Porsche-Ludwig. They believe that interreligious dialogue and the modern faith of salvation for the whole world, Allweltversöhnung, are a threat to true Catholicism and are going to kill its center.20
Several members of the AfD and the ChrAfD mention hostilities, which they or their families are facing. Ingrid Kuhs enumerates assassinations, destroyed cars, smeared houses, and discrimination of the children in school.21 Reiner Osbild is surprised by the protest of the churches against the ChrAfD and calls for Christian love of enemies, if necessary.22 However, facing opposition can also have a positive effect on the group. Franziska Schreiber explains that the feeling of being permanently attacked from the outside, brings people closer together and strengthens bonds.23
Similar to the last section, this section directly displays voices from inside of the ChrAfD. However, in this I will not define a theology of the ChrAfD but only mention single theological ideas of individuals in the group, many of them laymen. The examples make no claim to completeness.
The central problems of our society
Bernd Laub sees spiritual causes for the problems in Germany. He writes that the Germans have turned into a godless people and God needs to heal the country as described in 2 Chr 7:14: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.“ According to Laub, the modern, godless lifestyle leads to poverty, disorientation (for example relating to sexuality), and murder of unborn babies. The healing of the hearts is the first step and he hopes to work toward this direction with his effort in the AfD.24
Maximilian Meurer exposes Islam and Islamization as the cause of negative changes in Germany. He calls all Christians to help preserving the Occidental Christian culture and thus a free and democratic society. One way to do this is to show the cross as the central Christian symbol publicly. According to him, a positive change is impossible in combination with Islam. He supports one of the famous slogans of the AfD: Der Islam gehört nicht zu Deutschland. Islam does not belong into Germany.25
The issue of German Zeitgeist
Bellers and Porsche-Ludwig argue for the modern Zeitgeist‘s negative influence on German society. They do not agree with the media, which only displays the positive effects of social developments. The emancipatory spirit, for example, is said to not really free people, but to take away clear roles from women. It encourages self-realization and thus discourages serving others. The German Zeitgeist, which includes ideas like marriage of homosexual people, acceptance of the life experiments of single parents, and patchwork families, contradicts the spirit of the Bible. The authors use the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 as an example. They explain that the story shows that people are different and that these differences should be accepted. Also by Paul‘s tolerance of slavery, Bellers and Porsche-Ludwig see that social differences do not necessarily have to be judged. In contrast to the Zeitgeist, Bellers and Porsche-Ludwig argue for a revival of the patriarchal systems with traditional families where people were satisfied and sheltered.26
The issue of refugees
Immigration is a controversial topic, especially after the peak of refugee numbers in Germany in 2015. Interviewee B is dissatified with theological discussions on migration. In his eyes, these discussions often misuse the sermon on the mount (Mt 5-7) and the parable of the good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37). Instead, Interviewee B suggests more use of Old Testament texts.27
In contrast, Beatrix Storch gives an interpretation of the good Samaritan, which suits the arguments of the AfD. According to her, the AfD argues for the Christian love of the neighbour in the sense that the party advocates a support for close people – the neigbours – and not for the strangers. While Germany should still help refugees, it should not help in Germany, but close to their home countries. She explains that the good Samaritan helped the attacked and injured person on the spot and did not take him to Samaria and did not let him bring his family to Samaria.28
A similar argument is brought up by Bellers and Porsche-Ludwig with regard to the story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 to whom Jesus says: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Bellers and Porsche-Ludwig explain Jesus‘ hierarchy of love: We shall love our neigbours the most, especially the close family, and therefore, we have the duty to care for them. A responsibility for strangers shall be a rare exception and is preferably provided in the distance at the place where people are living.29
Hostilities against AfD members
Martina Kempf, who herself experienced hostilities against members of the party, can identify herself with figures in the Bible. She is for example encouraged by words directed to warriors like in Jos 1:5-7: “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. (…) Do not turn from it [the law] to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.“ She is convinced that reading the Bible and searching for God‘s will in life is leading to success – the success of the AfD. Kempf names Matthew 5:10 to give comfort while this success is not accomplished and during times of persecution: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“30
Klaus Sydow also explains the hostilities as a reaction to the path of truth and love that Christians choose. If you are swimming against the tide and fight for the good, you will not be accepted and favoured by people. Sydow compares this situation also with a biblical figure. He compares this path with Jesus himself, who was killed in the end, even though Jesus only wanted to bring love into the world.