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This site went down in April 2005, so I have copied it here.


This document was written by and is therefore copyright Roland Blaich. is the website of the American Society of Church History, founded in 1888, a website devoted to 'the scholarly study of the history of Christianity and its relationship to surrounding cultures in all periods, locations and contexts'.


Studies in Christianity and Culture


A Tale of Two Leaders: German Methodists and The Nazi State

by Roland Blaich

Concerned about the effects of hostile public opinion toward Germany in Anglo-Saxon countries, Nazi officials approached German Methodist leaders with the request to use their overseas ties in Germany's behalf. This study examines the contrasting response of Bishop Nuelsen and that of his successor, Bishop Melle, to the Nazi bid for assistance. Both complied with the Nazi request, most notably by means of lecture tours of the United States. In their public statements they presented the positive achievements of the Nazi state, emphasizing that they enjoyed complete religious freedom in Germany. While on the surface their policy and cooperation with Nazi authorities appears to have been similar, there were fundamental differences between the two bishops not only in degree of collaboration, but also in terms of premise and intent. Bishop Nuelsen’s advocacy of German interests was borne of moral constraints and the hope that he might influence Nazi officials to moderate their policies. He saw it as the unique mission of Methodism to witness against nationalism that was rampant in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. Unlike most churchmen, he clearly perceived the perils of Nazism, and soon found himself caught in a dilemma, having to choose between personal integrity and his duties toward his church. Bishop Melle, on the other hand, seemed oblivious to the Nazi peril, and appeared to face no moral dilemma. He sought collaboration in order to advance the interests of his church, and because he saw it as a patriotic duty. Nazi authorities rewarded their service by granting their church special privileges. While thus supporting the Nazi state, German Methodists were silent on the crimes of the Nazi regime. German Methodist policy under Nazism parallels that of other small denominations. Their experience raises questions about inherent weaknesses in theology and piety.

Church History: Studies in Christianity & Culture. Vol. 70 No. 2, June 2001.