“There were also untruths”

What is behind the resignation of regional bishop Carsten Rentzing?? Is it about "youth sins" or a right-wing national attitude? Willi Wild, editor-in-chief of the Mitteldeutsche Kirchenzeitung "Glaube + Heimat", on the backgrounds.

Interviewer: In first statements of EKD council president Bedford-Strohm was first of all spoken of regret. This then intensified over the weekend. The background was probably unclear at first. But this resignation apparently didn't come out of nowhere, did it??

Willi Wild (editor-in-chief of the Central German church newspaper "Glaube + Heimat"): On Sunday came at 15.2 p.m. an e-mail with a statement from the regional church office in Saxony on the resignation and the findings of the last few days. In it, it becomes clear that the church leadership already on 10. October learned of these texts. That is, one day before Renzing's resignation.

"Fragments," this conservative cultural magazine, as it called itself, had a circulation of 100 copies and was published from 1989 to 1992. Rentzing was a co-editor of this magazine as a law and philosophy student – incidentally, together with the current director of the Library of Conservatism, theologian Wolfgang Fenske. This library is now also assigned to the New Right.

Interviewer: Now everywhere these texts are mentioned, what does it say there?

Wild: The texts are now classified by the church leadership as "elitist, nationalistic and anti-democratic", interestingly only yesterday afternoon, although it was known so early on. Let me give you an example. There it says: The author Rentzing thought it absurd to directly follow today's equation of democracy and freedom. There should be no thinking taboos in this context. And one should spare the mistakes of the democratic system to the peoples striving for true freedom.

But you also have to see: Rentzing was 22 to 25 years old at the time, as a student, when he edited this magazine. He himself also said that he no longer shares the positions he held 30 years ago. But he did not say which positions he no longer shares today.

Interviewer: The whole thing is a convoluted story. Among other things, it is about the membership in a beating fraternity, which has already attracted attention before.

Wild: He had commented on this in the current ie of the Saxon church newspaper "Der Sonntag". He said that the accusations were all completely unjustified.

But perhaps one has to go back a bit further. Renzing, a candidate for bishop, was considered an outsider in 2015 and at the time had a one-vote majority over his competitor after the sixth ballot – the longest in the history of the state church. And he had said at the time that people were trying to describe him as conservative, but that he was only so in theological positions. There it was about the question whether homosexual couples are allowed to live together in parsonages or about the blessing of homosexual couples. Rejecting that, he said, was not antithetical to modernity.

Already in 2015, some left-liberal pastors refused to follow him. The group of critics had not become smaller since then. That may have had something to do with the fact that he had fallen short of his own claims. He wanted one, wanted to bring together the left-liberal direction and the pietist-evangelical conservatives. That did not succeed to him. Especially since he has simply left the large group in the middle perplexed, because he has remained silent, where one would actually have expected clarity, orientation and direction from a bishop: In connection with Pegida, AfD and the election results in Saxony.

Wild: Especially after the state elections, he was criticized for not taking a concrete stand against the AfD. Can this really be interpreted in this right-wing nationalist direction, or is it all just too much scrutiny now?

Wild: I would not want to call him right-wing extremist or put him in the right-wing national corner. There is no clear evidence of this and he has contradicted this himself. But he used these salami tactics and only admitted what was presented to him as evidence. Then he got entangled in contradictions and there were also untruths that he uttered.

The serious mistakes were, in my opinion, that on the day when the petition of pastors with a request for a statement and dissociation from the new rightists came out, he had his spokesman say that he now wanted to celebrate his birthday and then comment at some point afterwards. And after the resignation announcement on Friday, he went on vacation and the announced discussion with the critics remained an announcement. He has not sought the real conversation.

Interviewer: How will it now continue in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony?

Wild: Church leaders announced they would vote on 21. October to decide how to proceed. By then, the procedure will probably crystallize as well. In November, the national church parliament, the EKD Synod, will meet in Dresden, where they will probably also deal with the Causa Rentzing and how to deal with conservatives and the New Right in the church.

The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmich.

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