The first female chancellor of Germany has stepped down after serving her country since 2005. To put Angela Merkel’s longevity into perspective, America has had presidents Bush, Obama, Trump and …
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The first female chancellor of Germany has stepped down after serving her country since 2005. To put Angela Merkel’s longevity into perspective, America has had presidents Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden in the same time frame. For further reflection on her legacy, think of the global economic, refugee and public health crises in the past years. I want to reflect on her responses through the lens of Merkel’s Christian faith.
Merkel served as the leader of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, one of a dozen political parties in the nation. She built a coalition of political leaders which included the more liberal Social Democratic Party. For Merkel, “compromise” was not a dirty word or sign of weakness.
While she did not speak often in public about her Christian faith, Merkel summoned her religious beliefs in times of crisis. In the aftermath of the bloody civil war in Syria, Merkel opened the borders of Germany to more than half a million refugees fleeing the terror of President Bashar al-Assad. By comparison, the U.S. welcomed fewer than 10,000 people.
Though opening Germany’s borders to refugees was popular among many of her fellow citizens, Merkel justified the decision through her Christian faith. Specifically, the words of Jesus: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
Germany also aided European Union nations like Greece and Spain after the worldwide financial crisis of 2008. More recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Merkel advocated for bonds backed by the European Union as a whole which allowed millions of Europeans to weather the economic crisis.
And speaking of weather, Merkel has repeatedly called for action on climate change. As Germany’s environment minister, Merkel presided over the first United Nations climate conference in Berlin that led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol negotiations, the first international climate-protection treaty. As chancellor, she persuaded heads of the leading industrial nations in 2007 to pledge to cut global carbon emissions in half by 2050.
The daughter of a Lutheran pastor, Merkel initially pursued a career in science, earning a doctorate in quantum chemistry. She is no intellectual slouch. Unlike many politicians, she did not need convincing of the truth that humans were dangerously warming the planet. Neither did Merkel falsely claim science is intrinsically pitted against faith.
It is true that Merkel could have done more to put the world on the path to neutral carbon emissions. She called for a bolder vision this past July after the horrendous floods in Germany. Critics say this was too little, too late.
It is true that Merkel will be remembered for her restraint. She has chosen her words judiciously and her political agendas even more carefully. I see a fundamental Christian tenant behind Merkel’s approach to governance.
“Fahren auf Sicht” — literally “driving on sight” — was Merkel’s characteristic terse formulation to describe her leadership. The saying is akin to taking it one step at a time. I also hear an echo of scripture: “Walk by faith, not sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).
No one knows the future. We cannot see far down the road.
Yet, the most faithful among us lead with all of our God-given intellect and abilities and make decisions for the moral good, even if unpopular.
Auf Wiedersehen, Angela Merkel. Gott sei mit Dir.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”
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