Conservative Christians are flocking to support the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, to the horror of the church, and the establishment.
Each Wednesday members of the AfD rally in Erfurt, the capital city of the German state of Thuringia. Yet for the last few months they have done so in darkness, thanks to a decision by Dr Ulrich Neymeyr, the Catholic Bishop at Erfurt to turn off the lights of Erfurt Cathedral. The Bishop explained that he “did not want to offer a splendid scenery” to the protestors.
They responded by lighting up the cathedral using their smartphones.
It’s a decision which has seen battle lines drawn between the church and many of its congregants who are sympathetic to the aims of the AfD.
Björn Höcke, the leader of the AfD in Thuringia last month struck back, saying “It is not and never was the cathedral of the princes of the Church. It is the cathedral of our people; that is our cathedral.”
But the church, for its part, continues to insist that Höcke’s rhetoric, opposing open borders and mass immigration, is “non-Christian.”
Yet increasingly the church is looking out of step with its congregants in its attitudes towards AfD. Rather than shunning the party, Christians are flocking to it.
Many reacted angrily by the decision by Neymeyr to turn out the lights, reportedly threatening him as he left the building. Similarly the Archbishop of Cologne was heavily criticised when he decided to turn off the cathedral’s lights in response to a rally by PEGIDA, while the Archbishop of Bamburg received a flood of hate mail when he issued a public warning about PEGIDA.
AfD has always enjoyed some Christian support thanks to its positioning as a conservative liberal party. But the rise of PEGIDA, the gay marriage issue and the recent outcry against uncontrolled immigration has fuelled a rapid rise in Christian support for the party.
Worryingly for the establishment, the Christians are also showing a strong streak of rebellion against a democratic system which they increasingly see as a dictatorship. That rebellious streak is clearly of cause for concern, prompting the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in a critical piece, to warn “the call for “resistance” has now crept into the rhetorical arsenal of radical Christians.”
It highlights Catholic journalist and blogger Peter Winnemöller, who in May 2015 wrote that exercising the right of resistance in accordance with Article 20, paragraph 4 of the Basic Law (which states: “All Germans shall have the right to resist any person seeking to abolish this constitutional order, if no other remedy is available.”) is the “moral duty of all those who do not want to see the liberal democratic rule of law sacrificed on the altar of self-adjustment and political correctness.”
And it suggests that a new media supported by conservative Christians is also on the rise. Junge Freiheit, which has been lauded as the unofficial party newspaper of the AfD counts among its contributors a number of right wing Christian authors and bloggers.
Its proprietor André Lichtschlag also edits another publication, Eigentümlich Frei (which translates as ‘Peculiarly Free’), in which he often refers to democratic politicians as the “ruling caste”.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is clearly baffled by the contents of publications such as Lichtschlag’s, calling the copy an insight into a “parallel world”. It comments “no wonder the AfD, with their slogan ‘courage under fire’ acts as a magnet for radical Christians.”
But to most conservative Christians, the topics being discussed aren’t baffling at all: opposition to abortion; opposition to mass migration; opposition to gay marriage; and opposition to political correctness.
Chancellor Angela Merkel leads a party titled the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, which is ostensibly right wing. But with Merkel’s reluctance to embrace Christian values, and the AfD’s willingness to step in to fill the vacuum, it’s little wonder that Christians are flocking to the insurgent party.