“The price is too high”

The invitation of the AfD's spokesman on church policy to the Katholikentag in Munster next May is fatal, says Dr. Andreas Puttmann. A guest commentary.

Sometimes coincidences are particularly memorable and even embarrassing: On the same day that Saxony-Anhalt's AfD leader Poggenburg, amid the howls of his supporters, slobbered against Turks in Germany as "camel drivers" and "kummel traders" and against people with dual citizenship as "fatherless riffraff" ""that we no longer want here," it was announced that for the first time an AfD official – unlike at the Protestant Kirchentag, even a high-ranking one – has been invited to a Catholic Congress podium. The success of the right-wing populists has now also impressed organized Catholicism.

In 2017, the bishops of Regensburg and Passau, on whose line one would otherwise not expect the Central Committee of German Catholics, already stood out as harbingers. In an interview, Stefan Oster predicted a "relaxation" in the relationship between the church and the AfD – as if it were only a matter of atmospheric disturbances. Rudolf Voderholzer preached that "being a shepherd for everyone, even for those who have lost their way" means "trying to win them back" instead of "giving them another kick by condemning entire parties". Imagine this pastoral logic for the year 1930! The clear church positions so far are by no means about "kicking" Poggenburg's party and clientele. One is surprised that two former theology professors, of all people, talk in such an undercomplex manner.

"Erfurt resolution" signed

The ZdK justified the decision by saying that "one does not invite the party", but "always people who stand for an ie". It doesn't get any more threadbare than this, because Mr. Volker Munz from Uhingen, department head of a bank and Protestant district synod member, would certainly never have ended up on a Catholic Day podium if it hadn't been for his AfD role (church policy spokesman for the Bundestag parliamentary group). From "Christ und Welt" (15.2.) asked: "Did you and the ZdK inform yourselves in advance about his political vita??", admitted ZdK president Sternberg then also: "No, so far not yet". But a selection of persons would require thorough information – and not only since a momentous Vatican breakdown in 2009… Also the occupation of the podium with further religion-political speakers shows that it concerns here parties. So also about an invitation to the AfD. Incidentally, what the person Munz "stands for" can be seen in the "Erfurt Resolution" of the Pegida-affiliated "wing" of AfD right-wingers initiated by Hocke and Poggenburg in 2015. It was directed against the course of the party leader Lucke, who is striving for moderation. Munz has signed.

More serious is the second ZdK argument: the AfD should "not be given the opportunity to stage itself as a martyr". However, it does this all the time anyway, and be it on the occasion of a controversial or booed podium participant. Right-wing populists everywhere cultivate self-victimization, even where they are in power and in reality others become victims of their authoritarian policies. Appeasement by invitation also has other effects that must be weighed carefully. Because it gives the AfD representative, who knows how to adapt to his audience (that's why "populism") and rather "eats chalk" in front of church audiences, the opportunity to throw himself into the pose of the persecuted innocence and the Christian savior from "Islamization", "gender terror", "early sexualization", "destruction" of the family and abortion. Packaged in a demagogically clever way, this will draw in part of the audience, arouse or strengthen resentment and reduce reservations about the AfD, according to the motto: "It's not so bad", "Said something right". In the end, in the intention to avoid the "martyr", one has got the martyr – and the saint in addition: in the shape of the AfD "do-gooder".

Fatal denial

In any case, the price to avoid victimhood is high. It is precisely a church invitation that contributes to the normalization of the AfD, to its "salonability". A church congress is not just any talk show, but a dialogue based not necessarily on religion, but on ethics. With this weighty argument – of the basic consensus abandoned by the AfD – the party had been kept away from church speakers in 2015/16. But the fact that they are now invited after their radicalization is absurd. A fatal denial of the decision at the time.

Against this – according to the third ZdK argument – is objected: The AfD is now, unlike then, in the Bundestag. Against the backdrop of German parliamentary history, this is a dismayingly opportunistic, flatly power-positivist argument. It is not the task of a church to organize the conversation of all with all about everything, as far as they are elected only by a certain crowd. The "normative power of the factual" may find its way into politics. In a church, it must encounter barriers and dams that will not be cleared without revising the ethical analysis (which, according to a 2017 scientific opinion, is unequivocal). Podiums of major church events are also no opportunity to profile themselves as sparring partners of representatives of misanthropic groups in "disenchantment". It may be tempting to have a majority of the audience behind you and cameras in front of you. The damage, however, is done in silence, invisibly: to the gradually accumulating minority of the public, who are unsettled, seduced or encouraged out of naivete, frustration or their own fanaticism. This is how the right-wing populist poison slowly seeps into society.

Hour of the divorce of spirits

Trying to talk to populists, even extremists, is something churches and Christians can and must do: individually in everyday life anyway, and at the request of AfD mandate holders also in Catholic liaison offices to federal and state political institutions. But to open up new spaces of public agitation to such destructive forces as the AfD has become as a conservative-right joint project is misunderstood inclusion of those who exclude. The ZdK decision is at the expense of the victims of AfD agitators, incidentally also the victim of those who are committed against them and are not infrequently slandered, threatened and harassed for it. Towards them, Catholic organizations have to be crystal clear in solidarity, instead of disavowing them by worrying about exclusionary lawsuits from AfD politicians or ecclesiastically from a small but vocal right-wing populist Catholic scene. Their ideological forebears helped to bring down Weimar democracy, in part in a similar way as today.

A party whose basic program and rhetoric slander our democratic constitutional state as a quasi-dictatorship and, according to Cardinal Woelki, "spitefully pillories one of the world's great religions", has no place on Catholic Day podiums. Don't the upper pragmatic routinizers of the state-church-party arrangement understand the "signs of the times"? They continue in the old mode, although the situation has fundamentally changed both nationally and internationally? Do they think they can do justice to the dramatic papal warning against right-wing populism by holding church microphones under the noses of right-wing populists?? Or to the AfD explain: "I do not consider this party so important", as the ZdK President? Now is apparently not their hour, but that of the divorce of spirits. And this includes the clear announcement: For us not everything is debatable – and therefore not everyone. Not at a Christian event, anyway.

The Author

Andreas Puttmann is a political scientist and freelance journalist in Bonn.

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