Germany's AfD says it represents Christian values – churches disagree
The staunchly anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) has established itself as Germany's largest opposition party and now sits in all 16 state legislatures.
Despite the party's rising fortunes, top-ranking representatives of the country's churches are strongly voicing their opposition. Thomas Sternberg, head of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK), recently labelled the AfD as right-wing radical and urged people not to vote for it.
And Reinhard Marx, chairman of the Catholic Bishops Conference, did not mention the AfD by name, but declared: "You cannot be a nationalist and a Catholic."
Meanwhile the organisers of the Protestant Kirchentag (Church Congress) for 2019 in Dortmund have sidestepped inviting AfD politicians, saying that the party had shown "a smooth transition towards right-wing extremism." The increasing gap between important figures in the Lutheran and Catholic churches and the AfD has become more pronounced in recent weeks.
It's a development experts say is down to the AfD's continued slide to the political right. The relationship is suffering due to the "increasing radicalisation of the party," says political scientist Andreas Puettmann.
Particular bones of contentions are provocative nationalist statements from figures such as Bjoern Hoecke, head of the AfD in the state of Thuringia. In 2017, he called for a "180-degree" turnaround on Germany's World War II remembrance culture.
Another sticking point is the AfD's involvement in organising a string of anti-migrant demonstrations in the eastern city of Chemnitz this summer. Germany's churches appear to have had their fill of the party's provocations.
Yet some within the party, which often professes to identify with Christian values and to defend Germany against "Islamification", yearn for a better relationship with the churches.
In September, a group calling itself "Christians in the AfD north-east" said they wanted to "enter an open dialogue with representatives of the churches" and that they expected "that such a dialogue, as with other social groups, will be granted to us." The group added it wanted to counter the "media-created AfD bogeyman image" being spread by laymen and lay groups who "claim to be acting on the foundation of Christian values."
The most prominent signature on the statement was that of Beatrix von Storch, the AfD's deputy parliamentary group leader. But Puettmann disagrees that the churches' rejection of the AfD is the result of media-fuelled hostility. He believes their stance is based on analyses of the party's policy platform and many public remarks by AfD functionaries.
Some churches in Germany feel a special historical obligation given the country's Nazi past. For example, the Kirchentag was founded for the purpose of "learning from the calamity of Nazi rule and from the widespread failure of the churches and to develop a forum for resistance."
AfD functionaries like to maintain that they speak for the people, but they won't be a loud voice at the 2019 Kirchentag, a mega-event with more than 100,000 visitors expected. Organisers said they needed further clarity from the AfD, but they have made their own stance unequivocal. They said that those who make racist remarks and spread hostility against certain groups of people will not be invited.
This stance has drawn accusations from the AfD that it is the church that is excluding people.
"If church functionaries are no longer in a position or no longer willing to shoulder their non-partisan mission and assure a dialogue on equal terms, then they are the ones dividing society and making themselves and their message untrustworthy," AfD politician Volker Muenz said. No rapprochement is in sight.
Puettmann says the AfD must own up to this. He believes a meeting between church and party leaders is inconceivable as long as "the AfD does not resolutely part ways with right-wing radical members, office-holders and employees and does not correct its fundamental programme, which is anti-Islam and which distorts our democratic rule of law into a dictatorship." (dpa)