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FAITH NEEDED IN E. GERMANS’ EFFORTS TO PROSPER AND BE FREE, OFFICIAL SAYS

SHARE FAITH NEEDED IN E. GERMANS’ EFFORTS TO PROSPER AND BE FREE, OFFICIAL SAYS

Only those people with a strong faith will be able to survive and withstand the struggles facing East Germany as it looks to a future of hope and freedom, according to an official with the Office for Religious Affairs in the German Democratic Republic.

Gunther Behncke, department head for law and policies at the religious affairs office, said, "I'm very pleased that the LDS Church exists and that there will soon be 100 missionaries working there.""I hope that a unified Germany will be accepted and taken into a concept of unified Europe and that it will be together with the American people and stand for worldwide freedom and disarmament."

Behncke, a resident of Berlin for the past 38 years, was recently recognized for his help in developing friendly relations between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the East German government. Thomas S. Monson, second counselor in the First Presidency, acknowledged Behncke's assistance at the 160th Annual LDS General Conference.

The church dedicated a temple in Freiberg in the German Democratic Republic in 1985.

Cold war's over

The German official spoke to Brigham Young University students and faculty Wednesday through an interpreter. His lecture, "Inside the German Democratic Republic," was sponsored by the BYU David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies and the BYU Law School.

Behncke presented BYU officials with a piece of the Berlin Wall and a certificate of its authenticity during his speech on campus. "This is a symbol to the American people that the Cold War is over and freedom is now free," he said.

The piece was chiseled from the wall near the Brandenburg Gate, which is also a significant symbol for the people of East and West Germany - a symbol of German unity.

Troops marched through the gate and victory parties and celebrations were held until the last great battle when the Soviet flag was raised and the gate became a symbol of separation and the division of the Germanies, he said.

The people could not contemplate any other feelings "but that Germany should be one people, a glorious people. But now these feelings were lost," Behncke said.

"Now I can add that we have great enthusiasm and dedication to building a new state. We have accomplished a good deal, not just materialistically, but idealistically."

Churches become forum for discontent

East Germany now has a law guaranteeing the complete equality of men and women, has legalized abortion for women and freedom of speech.

Earlier, many Germans could not speak out about their discontent without being condemned unjustly, so churches became the place to air such feelings, Behncke said.

"The churches assumed the role of allowing them to do within the churches what they couldn't do in the streets," he said. The movement started by groups of unsatisfied citizens quickly grew and led up to Nov. 9 when the borders were opened.

There are more than 35 churches and religious associations in the German Democratic Republic which have been allowed to practice religion without interference from the state, he said.

"In spite of all the problems and difficulties, churches had and maintained their freedom of action and movement."

Behncke said 35 percent of all East Germans belong to a church. "How could you expect it to be any different in the motherland of reformation and the homeland of Martin Luther?"

The largest church is the Lutheran church with 4 to 5 million members. Approximately 1.1 million belong to the New Apostolic church with the remaining 300,000 belonging to some 30 denominations.

The churches administer and have control over a large portion of property in the country as well as operate hospitals, institutions for the disabled and educational institutions, he said.

Can't do it alone

German citizens "know what freedom and democracy mean, but we must learn to apply and take advantage. Freedom cannot just be freedom of the strong, but freedom must also be freedom of the poor and weak."

The euphoria that was in the land when the wall came down is now gone and "we have questions and fears. Behind our hopes is still a question mark. We should be united with the Federal Republic of Germany, but we want to bring our own fundamental values into the union and as far as possible we don't want to carry the burdens of unification alone."