Beliefs

American Christians could take a lesson from Angela Merkel (COMMENTARY)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on December 1, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MERKEL-FAITH, originally transmitted on Dec. 10, 2015.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on December 1, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MERKEL-FAITH, originally transmitted on Dec. 10, 2015.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin on Dec. 1, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-MERKEL-FAITH, originally transmitted on Dec. 10, 2015.

(RNS) Time magazine’s 2015 “Person of the Year” is a self-identified conservative Christian, but not one of the many running for president of the United States. While the dynamics of faith and politics are different in Europe, German leader Angela Merkel is an example of a conservative Christian living out her faith in the public square quite differently than we see in the U.S.

Time, which calls her “Chancellor of the Free World,”  characterizes her strong leadership of economic and political crises in Europe as “no flair, no flourishes, no charisma, just a survivor’s sharp sense of power and a scientist’s devotion to data.” She may be a quantum chemist, but she’s also an Evangelical Lutheran preacher’s kid with an unwavering faith.


READ: Americans fear terrorism, mass shootings — and often Muslims as well


The chancellor has described her personal faith in several interviews. “The structure of the world relating to belief is a framework for my life that I consider very important,” she said in one. “I believe in God, and religion is also my constant companion, and has been for the whole of my life,” she told a theology student during a video interview in 2012. She kept her faith mostly quiet up until that point, which is understandable given the rising secularization of Germany.

She has held firm to her socially conservative belief that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman. (She has also voted against abortion rights.) But unlike conservative Christians in America, she has strongly favored anti-discrimination legislation. “Wherever we still find discrimination, we will continue to dismantle it,” she told influential YouTube star Florian Mundt.

Merkel’s faith-based leadership stands in stark contrast to her Christian conservative cousins in the United States.


READ: ‘Defend Christmas Freedom Hotline’


Her shift on social issues has upset the more extremist faction within her Christian Democratic Union party, according to the New Republic. She angered right-wing Catholics on issues such as gay rights, abortion, stem cell research and the family. And in the process, she “opened up the prim party to other kinds of conservatives, even ones who happened to be single mothers, gay, or from another country.”

But she wasn’t named Time’s Person of the Year for her stances on domestic social issues. She received the honor, according to Time editor Nancy Gibbs, because “Merkel brandished a different set of values — humanity, generosity, tolerance — to demonstrate how Germany’s great strength could be used to save, rather than destroy.” That’s been on display nowhere more than her advocacy for religious tolerance in light of terrorism and the Syrian refugee crisis.

That advocacy is rooted in her own faith. “We all have the opportunity and the freedom to have our religion, to practice it and to believe in it,” she has said. “I would like to see more people who have the courage to say ‘I am a Christian believer,’ and more people who have the courage to enter into a dialogue.”

Religious intolerance can’t be the overwhelming guide to public policy. “Fear was never a good adviser,” she said. “Cultures that are marked by fear will not conquer their future.”

And her stance is unequivocal. “Every exclusion of Muslims in Germany, every general suspicion is forbidden,” she said recently. “We will not let ourselves be divided.” That faith sets her apart from Christian conservative politicians in the United States, where fear dominates and the worst parts of the American psyche are stoked.


READ: 3 women of Muslim heritage to receive human rights prize


She has good advice for defensive and fearful Germans who are engaging this topic: Go back to church. She suggests that in light of the debate about Islam, people return to the “tradition of attending a church service now and then, and having some biblical foundations.” She says this debate “could lead us (to) deal again with our own roots and to know them better.” That’s good advice for American Christians as well. For Americans, both constitutional and Christian foundations call for religious freedom. Going back to church would, in no uncertain terms, undermine the calls for religious vetting of immigrants.

Time has named a conservative Christian as Person of the Year, perhaps just the type that the United States and the world needs.

(Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons writes about faith and public policy. From 2011 to 2015, he worked at the National Immigration Forum mobilizing Christians to advocate for the value of immigrants and immigration to America. Follow him at @guthriegf)

About the author

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons writes at the intersection of faith and public policy. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

38 Comments

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  • Ms. Merkel must not know that the Muslims she is welcoming with an open-mind and open-heart, have not and will not share her wonderful (and of course Christian) actions of inclusion. She must have never been to or heard of an “Islamic Country” where no one but Muslims are welcomed to practice and spread their religion freely.

    As time goes on, Ms. Merkel will understand what she has unleashed on her Germany. And it will not be the building of new Churches.

  • No, not new churches. The reign of God. That’s what she is helping to unleash. A world envisioned by Jesus himself. And Gandhi. And the Buddha. And the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And so many other religious women and men over the centuries.

  • Very good article. It is very interesting for me as a German to see how our chancellor is viewed from abroad.
    Just one correction: I doubt Angela Merkel would really identify as “evangelical”. She belongs to the “Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland”, but “evangelisch” means protestant, not evangelical. This “Evangelische Kirche” is predominately lutheran with some reformed influences and is definitely mainline protestant and partly quite liberal (ordaining gays etc.). And Merkel is a mainline protestant too, maybe a center-right mainline protestant, but not an evangelical. She never speaks about a personal conversion, about evangelising non-Christians, about the inerrancy of the bible. She doesn’t champion creationism (being a scientist) and is following her christian conscience and not a literal interpretation of the Bible in her political conscience. Her way of connecting faith and politics seems to be much closer to Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton than to Ted Cruz.

  • As a Christian, why should I look to Angela Merkel for a lesson in insanity which invites friends, family and countrymen to harbor folks that want to kill em?

    American Christians would do better to listen to their hearts and exercise the good sense God promises those who seek wisdom instead of listening to the social pundits who drop the name of Christ only in order to shove an agenda.

  • Jesus preached exclusivism, not inclusivism. You are using Churchian/Cuckservative rhetoric that distorts Christianity for you own “diversity” gospel.

  • Now I understand why some have referred to religion as “the opiate of the masses”. Case in point here.

  • Just by winning a Time magazine front page does not make Merkel a benchmark for any Christian in the world. What lessons do you want the Americans to learn from her? It is too early to say that she has done a great job by becoming liberal towards Muslim immigrants. The results are obvious. Not only she put the lives of her own nation at risk but also the majority of the Europeans. The Paris attack is just the beginning. Who is responsible for those loves now? The media can play a lot of hide and seek games from the common public but when it cannot hide the truth for long. Europe is on the verge of collapse and the only people who are responsible are the likes of Merkel, Hollande and Cameron. They thought that they are the only humans on earth but forgot that we are not fools to alllow death into our house in the name of humanity. Sorry we don’t want to learn from Merkel. Let her get more such awards.

  • The opiate of the people is opium. As well as many other drugs. Call a local police station, hospital, mental health organization, juvenile hall, or morgue and see.

    Merkel is extending unfettered care and concern to a religion that is designed not to allow its adherent’s to do the same in return.

  • “As a Christian, why should I look to Angela Merkel for a lesson in insanity which invites friends, family and countrymen to harbor folks that want to kill em?”

    After all there is no precedence in Christianity for taking in people seeking refuge from oppression. Allowing people to use your spare space while they whether tough conditions at all. Nope. Never happens ever. 🙂

    http://images.dailykos.com/images/179494/story_image/nativity_scene.jpg?1448049863

    “American Christians would do better to listen to their hearts and exercise the good sense God promises those who seek wisdom instead of listening to the social pundits who drop the name of Christ only in order to shove an agenda.”

    I wish that as well. If such things happened there would be no more “social conservatives”. Christians would stop trying to give their sectarian beliefs color of law. Religious freedom would be respected here by all.

  • Which makes your version of Christianity fairly useless. Not any different from the ISIS take on the Koran. Believe as we do or face imminent peril.

    Also that sort of thing exactly what Jesus railed against when he took on priests and various other official speakers of the Word of God.

    Christians spend so much of their efforts trying to work around the words of Jesus because they are so inconvenient. Actually expecting people to act good towards each other, extolling peace and humility. Those are tough. Far too tough for most Christians.

  • Christoph, thanks for your clarifying comment! Words are contextual!

    As Christoph points out (12/11/15, 2:10 AM), “evangelisch” is part of the state church name of those identifying with the Lutheran Reformation (BTW, celebrating its 500th Anniversary in 2017). “Evangelisch” literally means “of the Gospel”–of God’s grace and love for ALL. Period. As a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Merkel’s “evangelical” faith-stances in favor of gay rights, abortion, science’s support for stem-cell research, welcoming refugees, etc. seem quite like ours in the ELCA.

    Sadly, “evangelical” (inclusive, compassionate, empathetic, etc. as God revealed in Jesus) has been hi-jacked and redefined narrowly as exclusive, condemnatory, punitive. . .except for those who agree with them.

  • Apologies. I put the happy face at the end to indicate sarcasm. A “Poe’s Law” fail on my part. (i.e. Sarcasm is indistinguishable from an extreme position online without some signifier)

  • Bravo! I’m sick of the assumption in the media, and by much of the general public, that non-Catholic Christianity is identical to the conservative Evangelicalism of the Religious Right. American-style Fundamentalism is a local phenomenon, recently exported to the Global South, that doesn’t figure prominently in European countries.

    I’m glad that Time has featured a MAINLINE PROTESTANT for a change, a species many assume has gone extinct—or never existed in the first place. General Public should get the message that most of us share the social and political views of progressive secularists, and will always side with them on these issues against conservative Evangelicals.

  • You must understand the Love of God we have in us is because of an intimate,personnel relationship we have been given through Jesus,and all religeon that is based on man is false,know Jesus,know peace,no Jesus no peace/.Look at the past Dictatorships and you can see there is no love in them.Love God love people.

  • It’s not the religion, it’s what you do with it.

    Some people of a given faith think it’s a religious virtue to mistreat other-believers. Other people of that same faith are appalled by the very idea. Still others think such abuse is permitted but not blessed. Many, maybe most, view religious cruelty as an ancient, primitive value that belongs in the past and is unthinkable today — despite what their ancient scriptures still say. A few merciful believers may even believe that certain parts of their ancient scriptures — such as the rarely discussed (and generally ignored) exhortations to cruelty traditionally attributed to the Judeo-Christian God in Bible passages such as Joshua 6-8, Matthew 7 & 10, Luke 10, and Revelation 20 — should be edited/updated for the sake of human decency.

    Now that humans can finally communicate with each other all over the world, isn’t it about time we discussed how we treat each other?

  • Entirely consistent for a Christian to be inconsistent. Be kind only when it suits your agenda seems to be their standard.

  • Greece was helped, much as other people who make stupid financial decisions are helped. Help does not consist in saying that here’s more money to flush down the toilet.

  • “know Jesus,know peace,no Jesus no peace.

    That makes a nice bumper sticker, but it is hardly true at all.

    As a gay man, I can assure you that too many people who know Jesus– or at least claim to– are more than willing to harm me, my family, and community in the name of Jesus.

  • “She suggests…people return to the “tradition of attending a church service now and then, and having some biblical foundations.”

    That is horrible advice. Hitler’s first peace treaty was with the Vatican in 1933. And we know how that ended.

    “My savior Jesus Christ is soldier… against Jews” – Hitler, Mein Kampf

    The last thing a German should be doing is rekindling that nonsense. Nobody gets morality from churches. The Atheist nations like Denmark, Netherlands, Holland, Lithuania (including Germany) are stepping up to the plate and inviting Syrian refugees.

    None of this is happening because of Jesus (a primitive tribalist).
    It is because Atheist Humanism is simply a superior basis for morality. The health and wellness of people is the only thing which should be considered.
    Not superstitious nonsense.

  • You and most of the general public thoroughly misunderstand what mainline Protestantism is. You fail to understand that when it comes to social and political issues we are on the side of liberal atheists, secularists and humanists, and are thoroughly opposed to the agenda of conservative Evangelicals. Your people are not my people; your god is not my God.

  • But it’s okay for Catholics and chrsitians to spread their religion? How would you feel if someone told you that you didn’t have the freedom and right to choose the religion you follow?

  • You don’t know that. Are you aware of the significant numbers of Muslims turning to Christ in the hostile Middle East? Don’t underestimate the power of love that Merkel is displaying here.

  • I maintain that for consistency of the Gospel we preach it is very important to live with “One Law” for the stranger and for the home-born. A slack attitude towards the rule of law – and for the upholding and defense of the Constitution – are signs of a compromise of the faith of our fathers; allowance of police-proof “no-go zones” and the failure of German, French, Swedish or American Evangelicals so to participate in the growth of a healthy National culture, that aliens cannot happily assimilate and learn quickly to aspire to participate themselves in the encompassing, welcoming society are all a form of the grossest lèse-majesté against the Sovereign of our otherworldy Kingdom. Exchanging liberty and responsibility for license and licentiousness has earned us the encroachment of false religion, promising a fake “return to” ethics of a bygone era, an ethics incapable of bringing either social order or eternal salvation, by the culture that in isolated Dar al-Islam fosters…

  • Is it the metaphor that threw you off? Or is it the rage you feel at a religion that you see as horribly intolerant of others in a way that Christendom has never been? Certainly not like the passages in Deuteronomy 13: 6-10 or 17: 1-5.

    Merkel is just doing what all good Christians do: taking the good from her bible and junking the rest. Also, her job.

  • “in a way that Christendom has never been?”

    That’s an assertion based more on wishful thinking than history or even a current view of a good number of believers. You will dislocate your shoulder trying to pat yourself on the back so hard.

    The whole “Christianity is a calmer religion than Islam” argument is laughable considering centuries of violence done in the name of the faith towards those outside of it and between different sects within. As with Islam, Christianity spread on the backs of armies wiping out other faiths. Christian appeals to genocide underlie a good deal of the fundamentalist rhetoric towards other faiths.

    One cannot even use scripture to mark the differences between extremism of both faiths. Both fundamentalist Christians and Islamicists can easily cite to the parts of their holy books which somehow justify atrocious behavior. There is nothing inherent to any faith which precludes sectarian violence.

  • Be Brave: Muslims have been living in Germany for decades. She knows whom she is welcoming. But remember: The refugees are those who are fleeing both the tyranny of Syria’s leadership, and the ISIL groups that want to destroy them. Their young men are faced with a choice: serve in Assad’s army or ISIL’s army. What a choice. Merkel grew up in a totally different society. Read up about the Stassi. She knows what life was like in the USSR…she lived in it. Muslims who are fleeing and who are welcomed are going to be assets for Germany and the other nations that do welcome them. Just as those who ultimately come here are going to be, like the Muslims who have come before them, assets to our nation. Muslim does not equal terrorist. And why do you assume that Jihadis are Muslims in good standing? They are revolutionaries who have hijacked the religion. Muslims don’t have the equivalent of a Pope, someone who is the ultimate authority. No one can throw them out.

    Pr…

  • Christoph: As a Lutheran Pastor who has lived in Germany for two years, I understand the context of the “evangelische Kirche” from which she comes. I am very happy to claim her as a Lutheran PK (Preacher’s kid), and glad to see that she is doing so much to live out her faith. She is probably one who ascribes to a quote attributed to St. Francis “preach the gospel constantly. If necessary, use words.” That, to me, seems to be at the heart of what Chancellor Merkel sees as her life calling.

    Pr chris

  • Pr Hodgson: Glad to encounter another ELCA pastor reading this blog. I find Jana’s writing worth following regularly. I am in SoCalSynod in sunny (very dry) California.

    Having lived in Germany for a couple of years, I know that Evangelische carried a specific meaning…very different than the biblicist, literalist groups in the US who have claimed that label, but do not understand its history in Christianity. ELCA’s role in the US as a bridge denomination has been a key denomination within the Christian variety of denominations. The Lutheran –Catholic document “On the Way”, celebrates much of the progress made in dialogue over 50+ years to understand the roots of the Reformation and the healing of our divisions. I’m excited about it. It will do much to clear a history of the church that many believe was not necessary. And at the same time, it celebrates the history of western Christianity, which goes back 2000 years, in a line back to Jesus.

    Pr Chris

  • Scott: Whom do you trust? Do you trust yourself, or God? I wonder if many “christians” in the US really don’t believe truly in God, but in their weapons, and in their fear. The response to Muslims should not be based on fear, which is what Donald Trump is fostering in the US. It should be based on the love of God who tells us to love our neighbor. Jesus did not specify borders. He didn’t base a limit on how far we could go to consider them our neighbor. Every human being is our neighbor. That means not to discriminate against anyone. Too many fundamentalist christians seem to have forgotten that direction of Jesus. Too many fundamentalists reject Muslims as people to whom they owe the same love and kindness as anyone else. I don’t believe one can be a Christian with that attitude.

    Pr Chris

  • “If they do not abide in me…they shall be gathered and burned” – JESUS (John 15:6)

    The lesson Christians need to learn is right there. You follow a monster.

  • Just wait until the Muslims rise here after there are more & see if you agree with what you have said in this article. The Muslim plan is take over the world & they are destroying her country as we speak. Causing chaos & raping people. Aren’t they not allowed to have relations in that way, outside of their own religion (cult)? They would like us Christians to believe that they worship the same God as us, but, indeed, they don’t. My God sent Jesus to live among His people & teach while He was here. He also died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. How can they believe in our God if they don’t believe that He died on the cross, but instead, when Judas showed the Romans where He was, he ran away? This, I suppose would explain why they don’t believe in the Holy Trinity, which would also mean that they don’t believe that the way to get to Heaven is to become saved. To ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins & ask Him to become your personal Savior & live inside of you. Which would also mean that they are calling Jesus a liar when He says that He is Light & the Way & that no one can enter the Kingdom of God through Him. No where in the Bible does it say that we need to pray 5x/day & that that we need to wash up in a certain order. Christians aren’t allowed to kill or lie without having it be called sin & having to ask forgiveness. But in their Quaran, they are told to kill infidels, which is anyone who is not a Muslim. By just the few examples I have given, how can we worship the same God, ours being El Shaddai, Emmanuel or the many other names He has. For them to try to get Christians to believe that they believe as we do is a lie. Just another trickery of Satan. But, the Bible does say that many will be deceived! To be a true Christian is to die to one’s self, & live by God’s rules, as in, not our own, not to kill anyone who doesn’t believe what you do. Our God loves us Through our faith we receive His grace. Our God does not tell us that we will never be worthy of Him & that we must be submissive to Him. If you love God, you will follow what the Bible says, not any other book, uphold His commandments & repent when you commit a sin, which is to lessen & eventually stop committing it. He knows we aren’t perfect, as none of us are were except Jesus, His only begotten Son. I understand that they are human also & we all deserve human rights, but don’t believe that God wants us to turn from His ways & bring gays into our churches & marry them & tell them that God loves them the way they are. God is never changing & we should stand for & represent His ways. Not tell people that something that is clearly an abomination to God is okay with Him.

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