Ausführliche Projektskizze (Englisch)

 

“The American Dream” – for updating

The Influence on Lutheran theology of German emigrants and the Breklum missionaries who supported them in the 19th and 20th Century, and the influence this has had on present-day German-American relations in church and society

Logo des Projekts

1. The Relevance of the Subject

 The myth of a free, prosperous wide-open world is unbroken even today. The longing for the “Promised Land”, for heaven on earth makes it appear that migration movements are unstoppable. For many it is - still - the „American Dream“. Even here in Central Europe today many academics, adventurers and „dreamers“ follow the call to „Go West!“ It is a flamboyant, multifaceted and ambivalent slogan for such a dream journey to a supposedly earthly paradise. Have the Kennedys and the Kings and now also the Obamas succeeded in “making earthly life so rich and varied, that … (we) no longer need eternity “ (Schleiermacher.) As Germans we also have an American dream: of “God’s Own country”.

The „Maritime Cabaret“ on Sylt, a successful well-known and cultural institution presents „American Dreams“ throughout the summer season with Ursli Pfister, The European Academy Schleswig-Holstein in Sankelmark in the German-Danish border region invites people to a weekend seminar, “Discovering America!  – exclamation mark!” The church conference center Haus am Schüberg in Hamburg is advertising a seminar on German-US-American encounters ,”Let’s talk about the USA!” Its counterpart in Breklum, the Christian Jensen Kolleg, offers a seminar, with critical undertones, “USA - the Land of (un)limited wealth”.

All these cultural events can be attended just around Husum in the “Land between the Seas”. The spirit of new departures goes way back to the beginnings of the boom of emigration movements in the 19th Century. The study starts there with the many millions of German-speaking people who are part of it. Since the discovery of the „New World“ in our more recent history we have experienced the real suction effect of an emigration drive overseas, particularly to the United States of America and to Canada.  In the last wave but one and at the beginning of the last century droves of emigrants left the German-speaking regions. Relevant sources estimate their number at over seven million. The American census today counts 60 million people, a quarter of its population, as being of German descent. - How strange that our school text books and history books hardly mention this drain of resources and the drama of such migration at all, let alone discuss the reasons for it. If I interpret the signs correctly, it seems that in the field of education a historical perspective is only gradually forming that takes into account the émigrés own points of view. This study hopes to make a contribution in this direction, and to bring the subject conclusively to the attention of the general public.

 When we speak of the many people who left, we are speaking of a “lost generation” with its own special characteristics. Those responsible for the existing emigration museums in Hamburg and in Bremerhaven deserve our thanks. For our northern region the ‘Emigrants Archive’ of the Nordfriisk Institut in Bredstedt with scientific and academic support from the University of Flensburg is particularly important. At the time neither state nor church reacted responsibly to bring people and information together. It was more or less left up to the „NGOs“ -to use a modern term - to take up the subject of emigration. This includes the church mission institutions in Breklum and Kropp, registered organizations of the present Northelbian Evangelical-Lutheran Church.

There is need for action, at least from the churches’ point of view, to take a look at this unprecedented mass exodus in recent European (Danish) and German history, to describe it in detail and to analyze academically what role the churches played in it. Two special anniversary dates demand formal answers to the many open questions: in 2014 we commemorate the beginning of the First World War, and in 2017 the United States commemorate 100 years since their entry into the war - with its devastating consequences for all German-Americans in North America and the resulting ruptures in transatlantic family histories. On the other hand we will also be celebrating „500 years Reformation“ in 2017. But here we must face up to the intellectual question as to the ability of the German -Americans to leave their mark in new situations - denominationally speaking “Has Martin Luther reached us in the process of social change in North America?” And what about the ability of Lutheranism to make itself felt in the context of cross-cultural theology in the concert of religions? This is a real question about the future of the persuasive power of Christianity in face of the claim of a clash of cultures or rather civilizations.

The goal of this research work, planned for a period of five years, aims - as far as that is possible - to cover just the region and the history of the Northelbian Evangelical-Lutheran Church and the two Federal states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein.  Other regional churches and federal states face similar questions depending on their local situations, when considering their own massive losses and the ruptures in their relations to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. The extent of emigration was dramatic, particularly here in the north, and especially Nordfriesland and the West Coast. Some rural districts here lost up to 15% of their population.  It is not just by chance that throughout Germany Breklum and Kropp are well-known names on account of the teachers, deacons and pastors that they sent out to the emigrant colonists and German emigrants. The research work of this study will begin with the persons and biographies of these “culture-bearers” from the two pastors’ seminaries.

A practical application with relevance for today could be, in cooperation with the families and relatives, villages and towns here in the country where they emigrated from, to consider setting up a „history workshop„ to enable people to talk about how they have been affected and what they have experienced, and in doing so to help them to identify with their “common history”. The Christian Jensen Kolleg in Breklum would seem a good place for this, as it already has experience in dealing with historical subjects in this way.

As far as the present state of research is concerned, it must be stated that both the implications and effects of German culture in North America and the evaluation of the whole phenomenon are still in the early stages. The significance of the services stemming from Germany and from individual German states for America and for the relations between the old mother country and the New World, and their impact on the spiritual and social life in America, not to mention the cultural and church life, has so far not been analyzed at all. In other words: the preachers and teachers, deacons and other such assistants to the German emigrant or rather immigrant communities filled gaps caused by the states of origin when they hindered the application of national and international law for the emigrants. The men of the church and their wives had a double role, both as servants of the church and servants of the state on the spot, and they accompanied the emigrants, who having been released from their tributary alliance were “stateless” once they sailed from their European or German ports, and were from then on at the mercy of foreign laws, customs, religions and denominations, and a culture and language they were unaccustomed to.

The proposed research project outlined here, (which will be supported academically in particular by the „Institute for Systematic Theology and the Center for Ethics of the Christian-Albrecht-University Kiel, Prof Dr Hartmut Rosenau) will approach the complex material from a biographical perspective, hoping to start discussion on the subject and open a dialogue that can lead to deeper public awareness of the historical implications and the relevance for today (symposiums, conferences to share experience on both sides, invitations for encounters). Besides special research in the archives of the North American churches which have so far mainly lain dormant, a more thorough search in the archives of the relevant institutions in Germany is also required, especially in Schleswig-Holstein.

The Northelbian Evangelical-Lutheran Church welcomes the research project in its decision-making bodies (Bishops’ Council, Church Council, NEC-Church Office) – and has made funds available for personnel for a start (Propst a.D.(retired Dean) Dr Helmut Edelmann). To co-ordinate research activities, to set up and maintain an internet-forum and a relevant reference library a research student at the Institute for Systematic Theology of the Christian-Albrecht-University Kiel should be financed for five years to assist this,together with the required costs for materials and equipment.

A short summary of the thematic approaches for the next five years research work follows, starting with archive work on the emigrant church workers and their role in shaping culture -“culture-bearers” - in Breklum and Kropp, and also in Flensburg and Kiel and consequently in the North American church archives.

That this study does not just aim to describe historical perspectives, but rather seeks to use the interpretation of historical facts to show ways of interpreting the present, will hopefully have become clear from the description of the project so far.

2.  Historical Perspectives

 

1. The first task will be to establish and present the facts of the migration movements from Schleswig-Holstein and from Hamburg to America in the 19th and 20th centuries. Here some previous research material is available. The co-operation with the person in charge of the Emigrant Archives in the Nordfriisk Instituut in Bredstedt, Dr Pauseback, has already been agreed upon. Prof Dr Steensen from the University of Flensburg, Director of the institution in Nordfriesland has also promised his support. A first evaluation will therefore be carried out with the question in mimd: „What is missing in our history books?“ The factors must be described that led to mobilization and to so many people leaving the country. Among them are ‘push factors’ such as economic difficulties, escape and adventure, and ‘pull factors’ such as securing a livelihood, realizing a dream/ gold rush and striving for freedom. These push and pull factors must be included when describing social history of the industrial revolution and the political opposition following the Prussian takeover of the Northern provinces.

The movements of the streams of emigrants, or rather immigrants into the USA and Canada must be noted and focused more closely in the settlement areas, the settlements, villages and even towns. Special support will be hoped for and expected here on the side of the churches in the USA and Canada. This will then lead to the target group “Pastors for America” and the German and American training institutions involved.

2. Comprehensive research must be carried out on the curricula for training “those sent out” from the Breklum and Kropp preachers’ seminaries, and how and where they were sent out to do what work. There is mention of up to 500 trained persons who were sent out from there - in a context of around 5000 from all of the German-speaking countries. Individual groups are known. But a register of names is required, with short biographies, the places they were sent out from and where they served, a description of what was achieved and classification from a present-day point of view. In addition the description has to be added of what public servant’s tasks and functions they carried out for the state. In this way the presentation of the history of the “Breklum Mission” and the Kropp training institutions set up to care for the streams of migrants in the 19th and 20th centuries also opens the way for an exchange of information with the Lutheran Churches in America and the beginnings of discussions on an evaluation of North American Protestantism in those days - and in consequence today. Appropriate steps have already been agreed on between the church leadership of the ELCA in Chicago and the church leadership of the NEC. It will be possible to research some points closer by in the US-American Wittenberg Center in the German Luther town of Wittenberg. First contacts have also been made to the LC-MS, the more conservative Lutheran Missouri Synod with its headquarters in St Louis/Missouri.

3. As already mentioned, the study will take a biographical approach as its academic method. It will start with the life story of individuals, following what has happened in their lives and determining characteristic situations, which could later lead to more general statements. In what kinds of situations did the emigrants find themselves upon arrival? What was waiting for them? How were they received?

These questions lead to the history of the USA and Canada. In the key data with relevance for the immigrants it will be important to describe the situations of the churches and the facts that had an impact on them. This will require a short description of the churches and of the Lutheran-Protestant traditions in which the immigrants found themselves. In this context it will be of great interest to look at the question of the formative influence of the "German" understanding and practice of church and its traditions of belief, as well as the theology that they brought with them. There is an indication that this might lead to a revision of American written history in part. Marc A. Noll, a respected historian in academic circles in the States, describes the effect of what the German churches brought into the USA through the immigrants as being merely a marginal phenomenon of “Outsiders” (in: A History of Christanity in the United States and Canada, 1992).

4. In this context it is necessary to take a look at the American relations between church and state, politics and belief in their history. According to a large amount of literature on this subject, (that can be listed but does not need to be repeated here) it is a question of assigning Luther’s Two Kingdoms or Two Regiments Doctrine a relavent place when looking at the similarities and differences between social politics and the task of the church. - The interpretation of the Reformer’s Justification message must also be opened for discussion in the context of a so-called mainstream faith. For in contrast to Europe and Germany, religion in the USA is expressly a pillar of support for politics -  in definite contrast to what is stated in the constitution. Contact to the Society for German-American Studies, an American institution, can be made for this purpose.

For the discourse it will also be helpful to include the German-American Heritage Society. There are contacts through the Low German language via family connections of historical depth and dimensions (cf: Stuart Gorman/Joachim Reppmann, Low German Platt in Amerika (2004) with examples of relations to Iowa and other places in the Mid-West of the USA. See also the bi-annual meetings in Husum and Viöl.)

5. Writers and students of literature also illustrate historical facts and contemporary history by describing certain milieus in former times and present-day sensitivities. These sources can help us to gain a broader understanding of German-American partnership and the expectations we have of each other.

For descriptions of the mass migrant movement I would name for example: Johannes Gillhoff, “Jörnjakob Swehn, der Amerikafahrer” (re-published in 2001), and also Annie Proulx, Das grüne Akkordeon (1996) [The Green Accordeon]. In “Dichtung und Wahrheit” even Goethe wrote pictures of longing for America and Kafka wrote a whole novel with the title “America” (1924).

To the scene „Emigration to North America“ we must also add the more recent scene “Germany". Have we become the 51st province in the meantime, an additional State of the USA? In this context publications by M Rutschky, “How we became Americans” (2004) and by Eric T. Hansen, “The Nibelungen Journey” (2004) must be considered.

This leads to a further main concern of this study. It is the question of a perspective for transatlantic relations today after centuries of an enculturation characterized by massive ruptures; a question of meeting up again in a relationship that has lost touch, of reviving a neglected transatlantic partnership.


3. Present day perspective for writing a common history and sharing a community of values

 

The research project focuses on the perspective of the Christian church as a bridge for good neighborly relations and as a solid social-ethical community of responsibility.

1. Reviving transatlantic (church) partnerships after the Second World War: the contemporary reactions particularly from North America must first be considered here. In 1946 an infomal Flensburg Congress was held, where an American envoy made a significant speech.  In it he referred already at that time to a future common community of responsibility, without any reserve or accusation of guilt.

2. American church policy initiated and strengthened international ecumenical relations - and thereby even if only for a limited time also bilateral relations. Thus the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) was founded in Lund /Sweden in 1947 with the aim of furthering reconciliation work among the spiritual sisters and brothers under the Augsburg Confession. One year later, in 1948 the World Council of Churches (WCC) was founded in Amsterdam in order to create a global network of Christian churches so as to prevent wars (“War is contrary to the will of God”).

Parallel to the Marshall Plan the German-American Carl Mau also organized material care services within the churches.

3. After a long phase of having little to do with each other and merely working alongside each other, since the turn of the century there have been new attempts on the part of the Americans to come closer together with ‘Old Europe’ and work together on the history of the Reformation that started in Germany.  In this context an American “Wittenberg Center” was set up in the Luther town of Wittenberg in May 1999 with assistance from German Lutherans, whose aim is to enable encounters to take place again aiming towards discovering our common roots.

This striving to come closer together has been supported by a whole host of individual inquiries into people's own historical and genealogical roots made to the Church District Archives. However even today there is still no noticeable real relationship between the churches at a church leadership level between the bishops and church bodies. There are isolated contacts through the universities and church training institutions and also in the field of town partnerships. However, structured guidelines for invitations and visits, for discussions on church topics and political topics that could express our common responsibility and representation are still lacking. One declared aim of the theoretical side of the research project proposed here is to revive relations, re-discover them and build new ones.

At a university level contact should be made to the IMIS-Initiative of the University of Osnabrück, formerly under the direction of Prof Dr Bade – now Prof Dr Oltmer, and with the Goethe-University in Frankfurt / Main and the Institute for Systematic Theology and Religious Philosophy, under the direction of Prof Deuser, who have been examining intensely the developments of North American theology and religious philosophy for quite a while now.

The contacts to the seminaries and universities in America and Canada are equally important, for example to the various branches of the University Campus in Chicago. Contacts so far are primarily the professors Martin Marty and Richard Bliese, and also Prof Reinhardt Hütter. Furthermore it will be important to establish relations with the University in Dubuque/Iowa to Prof. Craigh, in St. Louis to Dr. Siemon-Netto, and to others, especially to the Society for German-American Studies/USA.

4. Networking with the Ecumenical Research Institute of the LWF in Strasburg will also be important, not least with regard to the effects of the Reformation on the North American continent. The ”Pastors for America” were very clearly confessionally bound and the majority of them were Lutherans, which will make it important to take into account the relationship between Lutheranism and Calvinism in North America.

In addition to looking for clues to the preaching of the Gospel and the theology of the "Pastors for America", it will also be important to follow the traces left by German theologians in the 20th Century in North America, and those existing now since the turn of the century.  What influence can be established in the churches, the mainstream churches and among university students and church leaders? This stage of the study serves to prepare a necessary inter-continental debate with representative intellectuals against the background of what we have in common.

5. The contemporary influence of German theologians in North American academic institutions and churches and in society.

The contemporary influence of German theologians in North America can primarily be established in the transfer of academic personnel within the Lutheran theological seminaries and universities and beyond. The encounter between European and (authentic) American theology and the resulting Christian culture will be the most interesting point here. In turn it will be necessary to consider the question of the influence of American science and theology/ philosophy on European and German thinking (and action): here Prof. Martin Marty and Richard Bliese in Chicago must be named and Prof. Michael Root in Columbus/Ohio - together with Reinhold Niebuhr. That brings us to the function of German theologians as bridge-builders in North America in the Thirties and after the Second World War right up to today. Several important theologians should be named here.

Paul Tillich, with his ability to think beyond limits, who lived in the USA from 1933 until his death in 1965: Paul Tillich was so famous in the USA that the television program was interrupted to inform people of his death. Many people considered him to be the most eloquent thinker of his time.

He introduced his „thinking in relationships“ and fittingly emphasized that theology is a “function of the church”. - His shattering experiences during the First World War as a chaplain on the battlefield led Tillich to a completely new orientation of his understanding of the world. When remembering the 100 years anniversary of the First World War many important aspects can undoubtedly be found in his writings. His 19th Century idealistic belief in progress ended for him on the Verdun battlefields. Process theology in the USA was stimulated by Tillich’s ideas and took over some of them. (see below).

As a representative of religious socialism he had to emigrate from Germany together with his wife in 1933. He taught from 1933 to 1955 in New York, then in Harvard until 1962 and finally in Chicago until his death there.  In the USA he soon became one of the leading thinkers and scholars - in spite of his permanent difficulties with the English language.

In the „Paul Tillich Park“ in New Harmony in the State of Indiana today there is a bust of the German theologian in memory of him. This was the place where at the beginning of the 19th Century Georg Rapp from Wurttemberg and the Englishman Robert Owen tried out forms of co-operative living and working together in search of a Christian-Utopian Socialism.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his dialogue with America. Bonhoeffer visited the States several times as a guest, the first time in 1931/32, the last time as a short-term refugee under threat of persecution by the Nazis. His passionate dialogue with the North American Protestants and Lutherans found expression in his book “No rusty sword”, Munich 1947, translated and published in English in 1965.

 

The biography by Mary Bosanquet, “The Life and Death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer”, New York 1968, is impressive and demonstrates the effect of his theology and his Christian discipleship. In the meantime all of Bonhoeffer’s works have been translated into English.

Even today Bonhoeffer’s thinking and action continues to have implications in American groups and congregations. As an example of this culture, the debate on the topic in the Christ the King Lutheran Church in the center of Houston/Texas will be described. Many book stores also bear witness to the continued interest in Bonhoeffer’s contemporary theology showing what a wide-ranging influence he has had.

Wolfhart Pannenberg and his ‚interaction’ with American theologians: Since the middle of the Sixties his program „Revelation as History“ has been part of an intensive dialogue with the US-American process theology and more pointedly with the “God-is-dead-theology”. On the American side with names such as V. Braaten, John B. Cobb (jr), James Robinson and also Harvey Cox. For almost twenty years Pannenberg was an important German dialogue partner for leading American theologians. Some literature in this context: „Theologie im Umbruch.  Der Beitrag Amerikas zur gegenwärtigen Theologie", ed by Dean Peermann and John B. Cobb (jr), published in German Munich 1968, further “Neuland in der Theologie”, 3rd. Volume; Zürich /Stuttgart 1967.

In addition Dorothee Sölle taught at Union College in New York; and Jürgen Moltmann achieved quite a broad impact through his committed theological journalism. For more recent and newer developments cf: “Systematische Theologie in den USA“, in the series “Verkündigung und Forschung, 38th Series, 1-93, Kaiser-Verlag, Munich (1993).

It will be especially important to look carefully at the different hermeneutics of understanding. We can find a sort of ‘Eurocentrism’ versus the American feeling of superiority. It is a matter of inter-cultural differentiation to mark the different contexts ranging between Anglo-Saxon realism and central European idealism.


4. First steps to implementation

 

This proposed research project covers a huge area. But as the study is intended for five years work the individual steps should be realistic and prove to be achievable.

The historical approach attains profitable dynamics in the question of its relevance for today. On the other hand we can only reflect and present the contemporary approaches to the topic via our own history.

The next steps: putting together a catalogue of short biographies and historical evidence for the approximately 500 Pastors for America from Breklum and Kropp - in the context of the history of emigration throughout the German-speaking countries particularly in the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. This requires first of all an appreciation of the pastors Christian Jensen and Johannes Paulsen and their staff, who were responsible for this “mission work”.   The historical influence and effect of the emigrants and the German-Americans they became shall be accorded a separate presentation. But both these parts are closely connected to each other.

Furthermore the question must be raised of the relevance of German-American or American-German relations today. The thesis of the rediscovery of a common history thought to be lost, as motivation to stimulate a new lasting partnership, must be examined carefully.

 

 

Dr. Helmut Edelmann, September 2008