Thoughts from Germany
Rosalind Gnatt serves with the Evangelical Church of Hesse-Nassau, Germany.
I am no expert in the political systems of Germany or the United States, though I have followed politics and faithfully voted since I was eighteen. I’ve been asked to share the concern I’m hearing, both in the news and also among friends and acquaintances, about the condition of the United States, both ethically and otherwise. One German friend of mine questioned the U.S.’s ability to be a positive force in the world. The fact that one man was able to open the pandora’s box of white extremism and its attending monsters with such ease was troubling for many Germans. The January assault on the Capitol recalled the ease with which Hitler came to power, lastly through a coup d’etat, which the January 6th event seems to have attempted. Twentieth-century history shows how a single person was able to bring all but a few into lock-step with his agenda – most of the churches collaborating as well.
Yet the initiation of the Marshall Plan after the end of WWII gave Germany a chance to restore and remake its society. The creation of a social safety net was a vital part of that restoration.
German election campaigns last for only six weeks. They are state-funded and cost a fraction of campaigns in the United States. Posters go up on lamp posts during the six-week period prior to the vote. There are no attack ads; each party makes a 90-second TV ad which they are allowed to run in proportion to the number of votes they garnered in the last election. Companies and individuals can make contributions, but any amount over $50,000 is put on public record. Post-election, the party with the most votes begins to negotiate with the other parties to form a coalition, if necessary. Negotiations can take time, but eventually, a coalition is formed. The chancellor is generally chosen from the winning party.
The morning after the September 27th election, the New York Times front-page article was a negative cry of doom: the steady hand of Merkel is gone, it said. The various parties are in disarray, and so forth. Hardly a word was said about the fact that the Green Party made its strongest showing, which is the result of Germans of all ages taking the climate crisis seriously. Hardly any analysis was made about just what the various parties’ agendas are. It might have been helpful.
The Evangelische (mainstream Protestant) churches in Hessen have been vocal in support of Green initiatives and have been involved with Fridays for Future – both adults and youth. The climate crisis came down hard on villages in North Rhein Westfallen – literally wiping out entire villages. Support for the victims of these floods has been impressive, though when all access routes are obliterated, the pace of rebuilding is next to impossible. A resource of the German churches and climate protection in English can be found here.
A question that my German contacts find deeply troubling is this: they ask if the U.S. mindset has become so adversarial, it can’t understand any other way of discourse except through the “us versus them” or “winner-take-all” lens. Even the New York Times can’t get out of the way of partisan negativity in order to consider another method of getting things done politically.
My friends ask if our system of governance has become too negative, too partisan, too broken to be allowed the status of world leadership that it has held for so long.
The world is in desperate need of cooperation and good guidance. The troubling machinations in the United States are causing our fellow travelers on this planet to question whether our nation will ever again be a source of stability in the world.
I don’t know what to tell them.
Rosalind Gnatt serves with the Evangelical Church of Hesse-Nassau, Germany. Her appointment is made possible by gifts to the Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, WOC, and your special gifts.