Protestants in the Weimar Republic

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The shock resulting from the loss of the war and revolution in 1918 had a long-lasting effect on German Protestants. Their deep bond with the Wilhelmine, monarchic national state survived its collapse. The majority of German Protestants therefore took a skeptical to negative view of the democratic, ideologically neutral Weimar Republic.

The Protestant churches were never able to entirely overcome the close alliance of throne and altar. Although they had received privileged status in the Weimar Constitution of 1919, they continued to fear threats, which had arisen during the revolution in the face of hostile advances against the church and Christianity.

Nonetheless, they also saw the opportunities provided the Protestant church after 1919, once it had divested itself of the territorial church episcopate and was able to make its own decisions. Unification efforts initiated in the 19th century led to the establishment of the German Evangelical Church Federation in 1922. Its political stance was however dictated entirely by the regional churches’ conservatism.

There were numerous new theological currents, which were sustained primarily by younger theologians. Proponents of the Luther renaissance rediscovered Luther as theologian; dialectical theologians stressed God’s radical otherness beyond human reach and broke with pre-war liberal theology deemed reverential toward culture.

Christianity’s absoluteness was emphasized. Instead of historical thinking, a theological approach came to dominate. While it stressed the importance of preaching the Gospel, its all-encompassing diagnosis of the crisis was closely entwined with the – largely – antidemocratic political discourses of the day in terms of its content and proponents.

Liberals molded in the prewar era partly entered a positive relationship with the Republic. Religious socialists, aspiring to reconcile the church, working classes and social democracy, remained a minority eyed critically by church governments.

Since the close of the 19th century, old religious anti-Judaism in German Protestantism had been overlain by a modern anti-Semitism, which was partly political and cultural and partly already defined by racism. The “Jewish Question” also preoccupied the church’s center in the Weimar era. The Society for Defense against Anti-Semitism, in which liberal pastors und theologians were active, combatted widespread accusations that Jews were responsible for the loss of the war, the Revolution and the “Weimar system”.

The republic’s political and economic crisis from 1930 onward coupled with blindness toward the political right-wing led many to discern alternatives to the battered republic in right-wing and even NSDAP propaganda with its pseudo-religious slogans. Ideological und theological convictions, widespread in the Protestant milieu, facilitated this positive response to the National Socialists.

National Socialism’s racial ideology provoked Protestant opposition: Blood dominated the Nazi's ideology unduly and their regard for the Christian idea of creation was too slight. Only a few Protestants, primarily liberal theologians and religious socialists, rejected National Socialism and its racial ideology out of hand.