Refusal to Swear Allegiance to Hitler
The regional churches governed by German Christians took advantage of the opportune general national euphoria after the Austrian “Anschluss” and ordered their pastors to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler. Such directives also appeared in nearly all other regional churches shortly thereafter.
The oath was administered in most of the churches without incident, but not a few pastors experienced moral conflicts between civic loyalty and Christian identity. Discussion and debate were particularly intense in the Evangelical Church of the Old Prussian Union.
In May of 1938, Karl Barth cautioned the Confessing Church in a “Consilium on the Issue of the Oath of Allegiance” that the oath must be understood in the spirit of Nazism and in the spirit of total loyalty. This was confirmed by an “address” from the Evangelical High Consistory in Berlin that appeared that same month, in which loyalty to nation, state and “Führer” gained precedence over other ties.
2000 Old Prussian pastors initially refused to take the oath. The Confessing Church’s governing bodies also declared its opposition against taking the oath at first. The Confessing Church Synod in the Rhineland declared at its conference in Essen at the end of May of 1938 that the interpretation of the oath contained in the Evangelical High Consistory’s “address” went beyond the duty of subordination to authority impressed upon Christians by the New Testament and brought pastors into conflict with their ordination vows.
Nevertheless, the Confessing Church did not dare to reject the Hitler oath in principle. It justified its objection with the absence of any government requirement of the oath and with the fear that the German Christian church governments would interpret the oath as recognition of their church government, which was contrary to the Confessions.
When, in July of 1938, they reached the conclusion that the state expected the oath, the Confessing Church’s governing bodies approved of the oath for its pastors. Most pastors swore the oath then. In an open letter of August 6, 1938, Karl Barth consequently accused the Confessing Church of betraying its faith because the Hitler oath violated the first commandment under any circumstance.
A letter of 13, July 1938 from Reichsleiter Martin Bormann, which stated that significance is attached to the oath merely within the church since the church had issued the directive on the oath on its own of its own accord, became known on August 8, 1938. This disgraced the entire Protestant clergy – from the Confessing Church to the German Christians.
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- ©Archiv der Ev. Kirche im Rheinland, Düsseldorf, 6 HA 004 (Kirchenkampfakten Joachim Beckmann), B 34