Diverging Protestant Responses: German Christians

Already in 1933, a division had emerged within the Protestant Church around the question of Christianity’s compatibility with Nazism. German Christians and opposing Protestant groups not yet united by the Barmen Declaration actively campaigned alongside each other on church steps leading up to the election. The ballot for the state church election, which demonstrated the division between German Christians and “Gospel and Church” platform, emphasized the importance of the July 23, 1933 election. The German Christians’ victory over their “Gospel and Church” (Evangelium und Kirche) opponents gave rise to German Christianity’s relationship with the Third Reich through the new unified German Protestant Church (Deutsche Evangelische Kirche, DEK) or Reich Church. 

Ballot for Church Elections in Berlin (July 1933)

The July 23, 1933 church elections represented the depth of the political influence in matters of faith. The German Christians' (Deutsche Christen) victory led to the united relationship between the German Christian state church and the Nazi regime (German History in Documents and Images).

Church elections in Berlin (1933)

The opposing German Christian and "Gospel and Church" campaigners positioned on the church steps exemplify the publicity and significance of the 1933 church election (German History in Documents and Images).

Pastor Ludwig Müller, founder and leader of the German Christian movement (Glaubensbewegung Deutsche Christen) that was based on the “Führer principle” or idea of Hitler as the “anointed one,” a Biblical characterization of Jesus Christ, united German Christians with the Nazis through his September 27, 1933 appointment as Reich Bishop. A member of the National Socialist party since 1931, Müller worked alongside the party to initiate coordinative policies between the German Christian Church and the Reich. These coordination (gleichschaltung) techniques included the introduction of racial theories in German Christian sermons. Racial claims went as far as to allege that Jesus was in fact from "Nordic" descent. The relationship between Nazism and the German Christian Church was not limited to racial theories. Just as the Third Reich has become infamous for their extreme branding of the swastika flag, the German Christians’ cross and swastika yielding flag became a symbol of both Nazi affiliation and German nationalism. However, Müller’s clear unification of Christianity and Nazism was openly rejected by oppositional Protestant groups, many of whom joined together in the Barmen Declaration that denounced the German Christian movement.

Reich Bishop Ludwig Müller

On Sept. 23, 1934, the founder and leader of the German Christians, Ludwig Müller was officially inaugurated as Reich bishop. This marked the official starting point for the relationship between the Third Reich and German Christians (German History in Documents and Images). 

German Christian Flags

Much like the importance of official Reich flags, the German Christian flag became a symbol of the unification of the German Christian Church and the Nazi state (German History in Documents and Images).

Diverging Protestant Responses: German Christians