By Uwe Siemon-Netto
Rev. Dr. Margot Kässmann, 48, bishop of Hannover, the largest Lutheran diocese in the world with 3 million members, is filing for divorce, her office announced Thursday. She will join another divorcee in the German episcopacy, Rev. Dr. Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter of Lübeck.
According to Martin Luther, marriage is a vocation in the left-hand kingdom and as such is a cross Christians have to bear in critical as in good times. The same applies to motherhood. The bishop and her husband, the Rev. Eckhard Kässmann, have four daughters. Of these, one is only 15 and therefore of a particularly vulnerable age.
Confessional Lutherans will question whether Dr. Kässmann’s ministry as bishop represents a divine calling. On the other hand, her 26-year marriage fits this description beyond doubt.
It is not for us to judge Mrs. Kässmann for her fallibility. In these times of anguish, which is compounded by the fact that she had just undergone surgery for breast cancer, she is as entitled as any other sinner to her fellow-Christians’ prayers.
But as bishop, Dr. Kässmann is the overseer of her huge church; she is pastor to its 2,000 pastors. In this position, she is paid as handsomely as a major-general in the military. In other words, she is well remunerated for her task of leading her flock first and foremost by setting a good example.
If a bishop finds it too heavy a cross to bear to live up to her marriage vows, and provide a loving and harmonious home to her children, who then will inspire subordinate clergy and the laity to maintain their matrimony, which according to Lutheran theology is an order of creation?
The senate of the territorial church of Hannover – in other words, its supervisory board – voted to stand by its bishop. That’s nice but in reality amounts to none other than an affirmation of the state of decline of this and so many other Lutheran churches.
The days when the Lutheran parsonage, meaning especially the nurturing role the pastor’s wife, shaped culture in Germany, northern Europe and parts of North America, are but a melancholy memory.
Would it that in this instance Mrs. Kässmann really did act like a bishop with a sense of calling to serve her three million faithful lovingly! How would she do this? By resigning remorsefully, asking her flock to carry their crosses much more faithfully than she.
Sadly, given the state of the Church in the Western world, this seems too much to hope for. Once again one can only bemoan its steep decline 500 years after Luther’s Reformation.