In 2015, Carsten Rentzing was elected the protestant Bishop of Saxony in a close election. As a representative of arch-conservative views, he was explicitly criticized back then (also by us) – not least because of his homophobic views. At the time, we expressed our concern that right-wing positions would receive additional support through the election of a reactionary theologian to the church leadership. In recent years, Rentzing has proven that he repeatedly uses his power, his possibilities and his networks for this purpose precisely.
During his term in office, the criticism did not diminish, even if Rentzing tried to label and prevent inner-church debates about the political orientation of the protestant Landeskirche (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony) as conniving attempts of schism.
Unfortunately, there were unpleasant occasions for it, which led to a number of smaller and larger scandals, which, in many cases, did not even reach the public.
We can only give a very small excerpt here, but it is revealing and frightening enough:
On a regular basis, he supported the anti-feminist “March for Life” of anti-choice activists in Berlin with greetings and called for participation in the “Silent March for Life” in Annaberg-Buchholz in 2018.
Although in the election campaign Rentzing did not allow himself to take the support of right-wing positions, he called for a “fear-free and reasonable contact” with the AfD and wished for a dialogue with its voters. In addition, there was a lecture given by the Bishop at the “Library of Conservatism”, a known think tank of the New Right.
With the announcement of the country bishop’s membership in the duelling fraternity Hercynia, the end of the road seemed to have been reached (although historically men’s alliances and weapons affinity did not necessarily have to collide with church institutions, but also formed very close alliances in some cases ). Hence, the recently discovered anti-democratic, elitist and nationalist articles, which where published in an extremely right-wing magazine in the 90ies, made it impossible for Rentzing’s post and influence to be safeguarded by concealment tactics and sitting out criticism. In the end, the power political move of reactionary forces in the church – the pushing through of Rentzing at the 2015 synod – proved to be a boomerang.
What might also be noteworthy: even then, Rentzing’s supporters presented every criticism of his reactionary attitudes and the active discrimination of homosexuals as the actual aspect of exclusion and division. Additionally, Evangelical circles have now started to spread stab-in-the-back-legends about alleged left-oriented christians and keep on defending Rentzing via the evangelical news agency idea.
Helmut Matthies, chairman of the board of idea and friend of the outgoing state bishop, goes to the limit in his defence writing: he plays down Rentzing’s extremely right-wing failures as being merely “politically incorrect” youth sins, twists the membership in the duelling fraternity Hercynia with a remarkable chutzpah to be of the service of democracy (“In the 19th century, fraternities have done more for democracy than all churches together”) he then chooses the classic means of distraction from the reactionary rhetoric playbook, pointing the finger at the evil left-wing extremists, who now apparently diligently infiltrate the church and bully away the “bearer of hope of the base” with nasty petitions.
But why this zeal after the resignation had already been sealed? Well, on the one hand, the self-proclaimed “theologically conservative” religious fundamentalists see their last stronghold in the protestant church in Germany in danger. On the other hand, Rentzing had provided his mouthpiece idea in 2018 with a subsidy of 15.000 € after the flow of money from the EKD synod came to a stop. In essence, what can be seen here is a classic “one hand washes the other” situation.
For us, it remains the same: the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony has to think about how it can face the realities of life of its non-heterosexual members with respect instead of devaluation. Also, the idealistic and logistic support of fundamentalist anti-abortionists must finally come to an end, antifeminist positions must be outlawed instead of being tolerated.
A first step towards this would be a clear confession that the discussions about a modernization of church positions on sexual ethics were to be continued progressively. Even if Rentzing has now taken his hat off, evangelical and pietist forces in the church, above all the homophobic “Saxon Confession Initiative” supported by him, will want to turn back the wheel further, even if this means that the final split between “liberal” and “conservative” Christians is inevitable.
The internal church discussions and debates of the last weeks may be regarded as a reflection of the current socio-political situation in Saxony as a whole, as can be seen from the result of the federal state election as well. Accordingly, clear edge must be shown against the shift towards right-wing positions. Moreover, one must stand up for an open and free society instead of pursuing appeasement politics. The Landeskirche would do well to follow the proclaimed demarcation from right-wing extremist, anti-human and anti-democratic tendencies with appropriate action.
This step is important because church practice also has an effect beyond its sheep. Thus, we cannot simply dismiss the inner-church disputes as irrelevant. The church is involved in social discourse through public speeches, but also through the manifold interrelationships with political institutions such as political parties, posts on radio and supervisory boards, etc. The church is involved in the social discourse. If the saxon church is not in a position to influence it with progressive positions, the emancipatory demand can only be to completely ban its work into the private sphere in order to at least minimize the damage for non-believers or those of other faiths.