THE new Chair of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), Dr Annette Kurschus, has warned of rising xenophobia and anti-Semitism, and has urged Christians in Germany to “stand firmly with Jewish people”.
“Right-wing extremism and anti-Semitism are extremely dangerous — both led to unspeakable destruction and annihilation, and cannot be allowed to regain ground in Germany,” Dr Kurschus, a theologian and the President of the Evangelical Church of Westphalia, said.
“The Christian faith has roots in Judaism, and draws clear red lines here. Wherever such tones are heard, we stand firmly on the side of the Jewish people, since destructive words quickly become destructive deeds.”
She was speaking six weeks after being elected to succeed Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm for a six-year term as chair of the EKD’s 15-member governing council (News, 12 November).
In a New Year interview with the Hanover-based RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland, she said that the gap between rich and poor had reached alarming proportions: more than 16 per cent of Germany’s 83 million citizens now lived in poverty, at a time when “vocal minorities” deliberately sought to “divide society”.
“In this fragile, emotionally heated situation, I think it’s particularly important to create trust, through information, clarification, and discussion, in which churches have a special task and opportunity,” said Dr Kurschus, who also chairs the EKD’s Evangelical Press Association and supervisory board of the German Bible Society.
“Wherever necessary through our Christian faith, we shouldn’t just accompany and support changes in future, but also initiate them and place ourselves at the forefront of any movement.”
The German Interior Ministry has reported rising numbers of xenophobic attacks annually: 2351 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in 2020, mostly by right-wing groups.
In October 2019, a neo-Nazi shot two people dead outside a synagogue in Halle; in September, four Muslims were arrested over alleged plans to attack a synagogue at Hagen.
In a 2017 appeal, the EKD said that Christian faith and hostility towards Jews were “mutually exclusive”, but warned that hate speech and anti-Semitic feeling were fuelled by social media, as well as by “a view of history that relativises Nazi crimes”.
In 2020, the German RC Bishops’ Conference also vowed to resist anti-Semitism as an “attack on democracy and coexistence” in an anniversary message to Germany’s Jewish Central Council, which was founded in 1950.
In her interview, Dr Kurschus said that she was optimistic about Germany’s new three-party coalition government, sworn in on 8 December under a Social Democrat Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, but warned that her country also needed to “work permanently on democracy” against “types of leadership which disregard it”.
She said that constant “alarmism” during the pandemic should be replaced by “calmer and more prudent behaviour”, and said that her Church’s key strength, despite declining numbers, lay in committed congregations.
“The Evangelical Church wants to provide orientation in a world that’s become aware of its vulnerability in a way never known before. It makes a key difference whether people act from fear, or from confidence,” Dr Kurschus said.
“We need clear attitudes, but also noticeable respect for those who think differently. This doesn’t mean softening one’s own attitude, but nor does it mean considering it the only correct way of thinking.”