A Tale of Two Churches

Last week I watched a documentary about the Berlin Wall, and they mentioned the role of the Nicolaikirche in Leipzig in holding Monday prayer meetings that spread resistance to the East German regime peacefully and ultimately led to the fall of the government and the wall. According to the church’s website, “From 8 May 1989, the driveways to the church were blocked by the police.” But the crowds of people could not be stopped. Even “a hideous show of force by soldiers, industrial militia, police and plain-clothes officers” on October 7 failed. “On this day, for 10 long hours, uniformed police battered defenceless people who made no attempt to fight back and took them away in trucks. Hundreds of them were locked up in stables in Markkleeberg. In due course, an article was published in the press saying that it was high time to put an end to what they called ‘counter-revolution, if necessary by armed forces.'” A month later, the wall came down, and the miserable dictator who had built it, Erich Honecker, was relegated to the dustbin of history.

Watching this, I was reminded of a talk Thomas Monson gave in April, 1989, a month before the blockade of the church in Leipzig. Careful to refer to the country as “the German Democratic Republic, and which some erroneously term East Germany,” Monson outlined the LDS church’s history within that Soviet client state, culminating in an October, 1988 audience “with the head of the nation, even Chairman Erich Honecker. … We presented to him the statuette First Step, depicting a mother helping her child take its first step toward its father. He was highly pleased with the gift.”

Said Monson:

I began, “Chairman Honecker, at the dedication and open house for the temple in Freiberg, 89,890 of your countrymen stood in line, at times up to four hours, frequently in the rain, that they might see a house of God. In the city of Leipzig, at the dedication of the stake center, 12,000 people attended the open house. In the city of Dresden there were 29,000 visitors; in the city of Zwickau, 5,300. And every week of the year 1,500 to 1,800 people visit the temple grounds in the city of Freiberg. They want to know what we believe. We would like to tell them that we believe in honoring and obeying and sustaining the law of the land. We would like to explain our desire to achieve strong family units. These are but two of our beliefs. We cannot answer questions, and we cannot convey our feelings, because we have no missionary representatives here as we do in other countries. The young men and young women whom we would like to have come to your country as missionary representatives would love your nation and your people. More particularly, they would leave an influence with your people which would be ennobling. Then we would like to see young men and young women from your nation who are members of our Church serve as missionary representatives in many nations, such as in America, in Canada, and in a host of others. They will return better prepared to assume positions of responsibility in your land.”

Chairman Honecker then spoke for perhaps thirty minutes, describing his objectives and viewpoints and detailing the progress made by his nation. At length, he smiled and addressed me and the group, saying, “We know you. We trust you. We have had experience with you. Your missionary request is approved.”

My spirit literally soared out of the room. The meeting was concluded. As we left the beautiful government chambers, Elder Russell Nelson turned to me and said, “Notice how the sunshine is penetrating this hall. It’s almost as though our Heavenly Father is saying, ‘I am pleased.’ ”

The black darkness of night had ended. The bright light of day had dawned. The gospel of Jesus Christ would now be carried to the millions of people in that nation. Their questions concerning the Church will be answered, and the Kingdom of God will go forth.

As I reflect on these events, my thoughts turn to the Master’s words, “In nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things.” (D&C 59:21.) I confess the hand of God in the miraculous events pertaining to the Church in the German Democratic Republic.

I understand that the church believes in obeying the law, but where was the church when it was time to fight for freedom? It was giving gifts to Chairman Honecker and begging for missionaries. It’s well known that the church had a rather cozy relationship with the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, but it is a little surprising that they sucked up to the East Germans. And it’s highly ironic that they did so just before such a momentous triumph of freedom.

I guess I’m left to wonder with whom Heavenly Father was pleased: The men who praised the dictator, or the humble priest who wrote: “‘He dethrones the mighty ones and enthrones the weak ones.’ – ‘You will succeed, not by military power or by your own strength, but by my spirit, says the Lord,’ is what we experienced. There were thousands in the churches. Hundreds of thousands in the streets around the city centre. But: Not a single shattered shop window. This was the incredible experience of the power of non-violence.”

The church seems more interested in gaining access to potential converts than anything else, which is a pragmatic and understandable position. They couldn’t have known that within six months they would have had all the access they wanted without having to be friendly with Honecker and his cronies. It’s not like they had a special line of communication with a God who could have told them just to sit tight and stand on righteous principles for another six months.


7 Responses to A Tale of Two Churches

  1. id says:

    Ha, well. Another great case for the association principle, God, and conformation bias from a Mormon Apostle.

    I’ll just wait for someone to defend the idea of revelation in the Mormon church by devaluing the people who receive revelation in the church.

    I think that’s the current trend.

  2. The example of this that, in my mind, is even more egregious was the church’s stance during WWII. It still amazes me that the church encouraged German youth to fight for their country. If there is a God, which I highly doubt, I have a hard time believing that he wanted people to fight for Hitler.

  3. cinepro says:

    No, don’t you see? It was The Light of the Gospel that brought the Wall crashing down. Once Honecker opened the floodgates of light and truth, there was no stopping it.

    Had he said “no” to President Monson’s request, the Wall might still be standing to this day.

  4. runtu says:

    cinepro: Your words are obviously inspired, as Russell Nelson said pretty much the same thing in 1991:

    “The very careful leadership of President Monson, Elder Wirthlin, Elder Asay, Elder Ringger, and other General Authorities engendered a level of earned respect among governmental leaders. They found our members to be upright and honest citizens. Literally, the moral integrity and devout faith of these Saints brought them their temple in Freiberg….

    “A momentous event occurred in 1985. A temple was erected in the German Democratic Republic. It was dedicated 29 June 1985 by President Gordon B. Hinckley, whose prayer included this remarkable expression of hope: ‘May this day long be remembered in the annals of Thy Church. May it be recalled with gratitude and appreciation. May it mark the beginning of a new day of gladness for Thy people.’

    “The Lord surely honored that plea. This prayer became a prophetic promise. Now, in retrospect, it is evident that the influence of that temple has been immeasurably great. The spiritual radiation from that temple deserves much credit for the changes that have occurred. This house of the Lord was the pivot point around which all good things subsequently seemed to turn.”

  5. Odell says:

    I think that the LDS church has an institutional inferiority complex that causes its leaders to crave attention and acceptance. LDS church leaders aren’t zealots, revolutionaries, or martyrs. They are business leaders, medical professionals and lawyers who have left prominent positions and whose understanding of leadership have caused the LDS church to behave as a corporate/governmental agency than a spiritual beacon of hope or change.

    Monson, Hinckley et al desire to view themselves as equals to Honecker, Pinochet, government leaders, ambassadors, business CEOs.

  6. Allan says:

    Hmmm. The church’s actual position is a little more nuanced than that. Or at least it used to be. They had no problem breaking anti-bigamy laws, cohabitation laws before and after the manifesto. The only laws they truly feel obligated to follow are their own. The law of the land is a strong guideline that they follow until it conflicts with their own. They’re very pragmatic.

    • Odell says:

      Allan, I completely agree that the LDS church is pragmatic, usually though the pragmatism is about 30 years retarded.

      It was pragmatic about ending polygamy, again and again and again, but only when it had no other options.

      It was pragmatic in ending its rascist ban on blacks, in 1978, about twenty years behind others.

      It is being pragmatic about “undefining” Lamanite because it has no other choice.

      It will be pragmatic about allowing greater priesthood participation with women, when it has no other choice.

      It will be pragmatic about ending its homophobic anti-gay agenda, but only when it has not other choice but to do so.

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