Without God’s help: what Scholz’s renunciation says about the relationship between state and church

After Gerhard Schröder (SPD), Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the second Chancellor who, when he was sworn in by the Bundestag, referred to the addition in Article 56 of the Constitution so help me God ”- and with him seven of the 16 ministers (the five ministers from Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen and two ministers from the SPD). Lamentations about a “godless” federal government have already begun, especially in conservative-reactionary churches. Does this mean that the relationship between church and state will now change markedly?

Yes, but in light of the multi-religious reality of our secular society, this has long been in a process of change: on the one hand, the state recognizes an important social force in the religious communities, on the other hand the state payments to the churches, which go back to the Reichsdeputationshauptschluss in 1803, is put to the test. This is stated in the coalition agreement.

The rule of law does not have to guarantee the churches any privileges

This means that some things that the Christian churches take for granted will no longer apply. At the same time, mutual independence is strengthened. For the task of the bodies of the democratic rule of law is not to secure privileges for a denomination like the churches. The task is to ensure freedom of religion and thus the public activities of religious communities based on the rule of law. But what speaks now for the apostasy of the “religious affirmation” (Article 56 GG)?

  • On the one hand, it is an expression of honesty. Olaf Scholz was baptized but left the Protestant Church years ago. Other priests grew up without religion from birth. What to do “religious confirmation”?
  • In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raised the greatest objections to the oath as such and in particular to invoking the name of God when taking an oath. “Ye have also heard that it was said of the ancients (Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 30: 3): ‘Thou shalt not swear falsely, neither shalt thou swear to the Lord.’ But I say unto you, that ye shall not swear at all, neither by heaven, for it is the throne of God:… Let your speech be Yes Yes, No No. Everything beyond that is bad. ” says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Bible: Matthew 5: 33ff) The former chairman of the Synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Jürgen Schmude (SPD), therefore renounced the religious oath formula when he was sworn in as federal minister of justice for theological reasons .
  • Those who chose not to add it would like to express the following: What we promise to do politically, we must answer solely to the voters, Parliament and ourselves. We consciously do not claim a higher authority – especially since we know how often God was shamefully abused.

However: Eden is taken on the basis of the Constitution. The President of the Bundestag keeps this open in his hands when he takes the oath in his original version. It says in the preamble that the German people have given themselves the constitution “accountable to God and people”. God’s name is not claimed for future political decisions, which – as we know from history – is extremely problematic. Rather, every politically active person should be held accountable for his actions toward God and man … and that is the crucial thing!

Reverence for God and human dignity go hand in hand

Why? We humans are always in danger of elevating ourselves, of ideologizing social life, of rising up to God. We see today how even in Europe leaders and their stirrups are on this wrong path, where man becomes God – like a Victor Orbán in Hungary or a Jaroslaw Kazcynzki in Poland, not to mention Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro or Vladimir Putin. It is therefore essential that as many citizens as possible and their political representatives – regardless of their religious orientation – leave no doubt about this responsibility to God and people. For there is an inseparable connection between reverence for God and respect for human dignity.

For the churches, however, this means that they must independently and in relation to the well – being of the population regulate their affairs. The best way to do this is by performing their very own task: to give glory to God, to serve the near and far, and in this sense to move freely and fearlessly in the public space of secular society. In trust in God, they should voluntarily relinquish privileges in order to gain the freedom to justify their mission. Among other things, they see themselves as part of the public and take social policy responsibility for life in town and country. It would be desirable for the major churches to say goodbye to their state-like form of organization. There is always the danger that they see themselves as a state within a state. On the contrary, the church should be governed by the incarnation of God and act as a motor, motivator, moderator of the concerns of the local people to achieve what is the mission of the church: that the life of every human being is blessed with rights and dignity.

Appendix: Regardless of the discussion on the oath formula, on this evening of this historic day, I remain in deep gratitude for how democratically, decently and undramatically this change of government has taken place.

The text first appeared on the author’s blog.

Leave a Comment