Protestant Pastors and Theologians in the Society

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As the völkisch and Nazi movement grew in der Weimar Republic, the number of Protestant theologians actively involved in the Society for Defense rose as well.

The academic theologians Otto Baumgarten and Eduard König battled anti-Semites in publications and lectures. Protestant pastors were also members of the society’s board. Individual Protestant pastors founded local chapters and, in part, also became their presidents, as did Hans Tribukait in Dortmund, Ernst Moering in Breslau and Eduard Lamparter in Stuttgart. Most of the local chapters in the Weimar era were located in traditionally Protestant regions.

The majority of theologians active in the Society for Defense espoused a liberal theology and a system of cultural Protestant values. Individual pastors such as Emil Felden also belonged to the religious socialists. They supported the democratic Weimar Republic and were frequently politically active, mostly in der German Democratic Party. Emil Felden, a member of the SPD, was an exception here as well. Many of them were also committed to social issues.

The clergy active in the Society for Defense desired to protect the German nation from anti-Semitism with its hostility toward culture and education; they were unwilling to sacrifice the Christian commandment of charity and the values of the Enlightenment to the nationalistic ideals of the Volkstum; they hoped however that the Jews would assimilate in a German culture imbued with Protestantism. They acknowledged the Jews’ importance to Christianity in the history of salvation and defended the Old Testament against völkisch theology.

Although these positions ultimately led the theologians in the Society for Defense to defend their Jewish fellow citizens against anti-Semitic attacks, they also contained a Christian, derogatory view of the ethno-religious existence of German Judaism of their day.

The theologians active in the Society for Defense were lone warriors in their congregations and among the Protestant clergy. Working in the “Jewish defense force” demanded courage and brought little prestige.

In 1928, the Society for Defense sent an “Appeal to Protestant Clergy” undersigned by prominent Protestant academic theologians and pastors of various schools of thought. It called upon Protestant pastors to condemn the ostracism of a “race” or religious beliefs as sin against Christ in their sermons and congregational work. They regretted the absence of a clear position toward anti-Semitism on the part of the Protestant church.

This appeal was added as a preface to Eduard Lamparter’s treatise on the “Evangelische Kirche und Judentum” (Protestant Church and Judaism) published by the Society for Defense. 70,000 copies of the brochure had been distributed by 1930. According to Lamparter, the brochure largely met with opposition among Protestant clergy, however.

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