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Mission and Church during Colonialism
A testimony to colonial history can be found in the „Universitätskirche“ in Rostock. Inside above the entrance is a portrait of Johann Albrecht zu Mecklenburg-Schwerin. He became known as the “most influential man of the German colonial movement” (Jan Böttger) in the height of German colonialism. Johann Albrecht propagated an expansionist policy and an expansion of the colonial empire. From 1895 until his death in 1920 he was the leader of the German Colonial Society and was involved in almost every colonial political decision and initiatives. At the same time, when the genocide fell over the Herero and Nama.
But beyond that, it is also worth taking a closer look at the relationship between church and colonialism: With their missions, the churches were an important actor in the colonies.
Christian missions have existed since the beginning of Christianity with the aim of spreading it. In the 19th century, the missionaries increasingly focused on the newly emerging colonies in African and Asian countries. The work of the missions and their relationship to colonialism are ambivalent: While the missions often worked together with the colonial administrations and benefited from their repressive actions, missionaries also performed humanitarian services and sometimes resisted the brutal crackdown on the local population.
Nevertheless, the missionary work was also characterized by racial superiority and unequal power relations. Believing in the superiority of their own way of life, “European values” were imposed on the local population. For example, the local population should be taught a “Christian work ethic” – through often exploitative work on the mission’s plantations. They destroyed local structures and local knowledge and thereby paved the way for subsequent settlers and colonial officials.
Many of the missionary associations which were active back than still exist today.
The mission in Rostock
A protestant missionary association was founded in Rostock the 25th of June 1830. However it remained relatively small and insignificant. Nevertheless, it can be assumed that missionaries were also trained in Rostock.
In 1839 the Rostock “Missionsverein” became a member of the North German “Missionsverein”. They maintained missions in the settlement area of the Ewe in the area of today’s states Ghana and Togo.
Today the Spiritans (the Mission Society of the Holy Spirit and the Immaculate Heart of Mary) maintain a mission house at Reutershäger Weg 4 in Rostock. The Spiritans are a Catholic order that was founded in 1703. It played a major role in the missionary work and colonization of German East Africa.
The North German Mission Association also still exists today, with its headquarters based in Bremen. The North German „Missionsbund“ as well as the Order of the Spiritans are still active in Germany and in those areas in which they maintained missions during the colonial times. While the North German Mission deals quite extensively with the colonial times on its website, there are hardly any texts in which the Spiritans seriously deal with their past. They only speak about establishing a “community for pastoral care among the natives in the colonies”.
Due to their history the missionary associations are and will remain inextricably linked to colonial rule. In order to distance from these colonial structures, at least a critical examination of one’s own history is necessary.
Sources and for reading
Monatsblatt der Norddeutschen Missionsgesellschaft, Januar bis März 1840; S. 241, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=7EVBAAAAcAAJ&hl=de&pg=GBS.PP5 (Zugriff 17.04.2020)
https://www.spiritaner.de/gemeinschaft/ (Zugriff 22.04.2020)
https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritaner und Wir Herrenmenschen: Unser rassistisches Erbe: Eine Reise in die deutsche Kolonialgeschichte von Bartholomäus Grill
https://www.spiritaner.de/gemeinschaft/ (Zugriff 23.04.2020)