Evangelisch and Evangelical: The German Bishops’ American Tour

In 1936, three leading German Protestants embarked on a grand tour of the United States as representatives of German Lutheranism. August Marahrens, Hans Meiser, and Hanns Lilje traveled to the United States from September 21 to October 20 to participate in the Lutheran World Convention (LWC) executive committee meetings and to visit key American Lutheran groups. In the course of the trip these German Lutherans cemented German Lutheranism’s primacy in transnational Lutheranism, strengthened trans-Atlantic Lutheran relations, and won the trust and admiration of the German diplomatic corps. They accomplished all this through their positive portrayal of life in Germany in the press, in mass meetings, and in conversations with private citizens and public figures (including Franklin Delano Roosevelt). Although they endeavored to represent themselves, their churches, and their country well in the United States, these German Protestants were not mere pawns for German propaganda. They won the trust of the German diplomatic corps and sought to use this relational capital to gain further freedoms in Germany like those enjoyed by American Lutherans.

This paper will examine this American tour of German Lutherans and its impacts both on transatlantic Protestant relations and the German Protestant Kirchenkampf (Church Struggle). German Protestants were able to leverage their international connections in order to win accommodations from the National Socialist regime. Most interactions between German Protestants and Americans in the Third Reich arose from American interventions in Germany. This tour flipped that script. It was an important moment in the final months before the Nazi regime’s church policies took a radical shift in 1937.