In a clinch – even with themselves

In a clinch - even with themselves

AfD poster © Oliver Dietze

Non-denominationals are the largest ideological group among AfD voters. But religiously conservative Christians also have a say in the party's affairs. The party is in a permanent clash with the big churches.

The AfD sees itself as a defender of Christianity and the Occident. In a motion presented by her parliamentary group in the Bundestag this Thursday, she calls on the German government to cut development aid to countries where Christians are discriminated against and persecuted. At the same time, entry bans should be imposed on the political elites of these states or accounts frozen.

But the relationship between the right-wing populists and the churches is abysmal – and trending downward. Main point of contention is refugee policy. While the AfD speaks mainly of limitation, deportation and "criminal refugees," the churches and their charities focus on help and charity.

Tafel sends back AfD donation

In Thuringia, a Diakonie food bank recently returned a 100-euro donation to Anton Friesen. The member of the Bundestag of the AfD had informed before on its Internet side about its good act. The Diakoniewerk Sonneberg justified its rejection with the fact that the image of man of the welfare association of the Protestant churches is "not compatible" with that of the AfD. In Bavaria, two food banks rejected 600 ready-made soups that an AfD politician wanted to donate, according to media reports. The Tafel organizers feared that the local politician might exploit the campaign for party political reasons.

In March, the regional bishop of the Protestant Church in Central Germany, Ilse Junkermann, and the Catholic bishop of Magdeburg, Gerhard Feige, joined a civil-society alliance aimed "against a climate of fear and denunciation" in Saxony-Anhalt. There was a warning against attacks on "all who stand for a diverse and cosmopolitan society" and would be singled out as political opponents by the AfD.

The AfD parliamentary group leader in the state parliament of Saxony-Anhalt, Oliver Kirchner then accused representatives of the Protestant and Catholic churches of interfering too much in political matters. Churches disrupted AfD demonstrations by ringing bells and bad-mouthed AfD "as the main profiteers of the asylum crisis," he complained. His deputy Tobias Rausch publicly announced his resignation from the Protestant church.

Member of parliament calls for church resignation

AfD member of the Bundestag Armin Hampel called on his Christian party colleagues to leave the church at the federal party conference in Cologne a year ago. At the time, he was annoyed by the participation of church representatives in a protest action against the party conference – under the slogan "Our cross has no hooks.". This call earned Hampel a lot of criticism – even from within his own party.

Among the non-denominational, the AfD has the most voters. 17 percent of them voted for the AfD in the federal election in September. This is not surprising, since the party has a particularly large number of supporters in the area of the former GDR. According to a survey by Forschungsgruppe Wahlen, nine percent of Catholics and eleven percent of Protestant Christians voted for the AfD. Overall, the party had received 12.6 percent of the vote in the Bundestag election.

Since its founding in 2013, the AfD has been particularly strongly anchored in the religious-conservative milieu of the Protestant free churches. But here in particular, there has been a certain unease in the face of racist statements from the party's right-wing since the liberal-conservative wing around party founder Bernd Lucke split away.

Also Anette Schultner, is a member of a free church. As chairwoman of the Federal Association of Christians in the AfD, she took part in a debate at the Protestant Church Congress in Berlin in the summer of 2017. In October, shortly after the departure of AfD leader Frauke Petry, she resigned from the party. As a reason, Schultner cited the "radicalization" of the AfD.

Joachim Kuhs (61) regrets Schultner's resignation. The father of ten children is deputy chairman of Christians in the AfD and has been a member of the party's executive committee since December. Kuhs is a congregational elder of an Anglican congregation in Baden-Baden. He found his way to the AfD because he is against abortions and early sex education. His wife explains that primary school children in Baden-Wurttemberg are being introduced to sexual practices that she herself had never known existed.

ZdK in criticism

Her husband accuses the churches of "setting a moral imperative" on the refugee ie. Asylum seekers from Iran and Nigeria have also sat at his dinner table. However, he believes that defining the principle of Christian charity as a duty to all people in this world is wrong. He says: "The next one is not everyone."

Liane Bednarz sat on the podium with Schultner at the Kirchentag in Berlin. She has now published a book: "The Fear Preachers. How right-wing Christians infiltrate society and churches". Kuhs says: "It really hurts when people talk about us like that."

Similar to what happened at the Protestant Kirchentag, the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) is now also facing criticism for inviting an AfD politician. The church policy spokesman for the AfD parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Volker Munz, is to discuss the ie with representatives of the other Bundestag parties at the Catholic Day in Munster in May. Topic of the event: "Now tell me, how do you feel about religion??"

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Christina Cherry
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