Officials and Laity
A fundamental distinction must be made between resistance by church officials and by laity.
From the onset, church officials had to take a position toward the Nazi state and its claim to totality. Church officials’ work was subject to their particular regional churches’ terms of employment as well as a subjectively perceived obligation to the ordination vows they had taken. Thus, while pastoral conduct critical of the regime was always also based on one individual’s personal decision to take action, it was nevertheless outwardly perceived as an act of Church resistance tied to an institution.
This same held true of officials from other institutions such as universities, Christian hospitals or welfare and social service facilities. While their resistance chiefly hinged on individual decisions of conscience as well, their occupational ties could however also resituate their resistance in an institutional context – an effect that was certainly desired on occasion.
Individuals might also deliberately use their resistance to oppose their own institutions’ alignment or leadership. In such cases, internal sanctions were to be expected.
Laity essentially had to make decisions to take action without any of a pastor’s professional ties. That meant greater latitude in particular cases but ultimately also greater potential for danger because institutions also provided shelter on the other hand. An individual wound up fighting those in power on his or her own and was at the mercy of the despotism of the Nazi regime without any defense.