Is Huckabee not the only preacher running for president?

March 4, 2008

Bishop Wolfgang Huber visits Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, 11 April 2007/Ronen ZvulunCould there be another preacher running for president? Not in the United States — it’s too late in the primary cycle for that and Mike Huckabee is already in the race there anyway. No, the talk is about a new candidate in Germany. The vote isn’t due until May 2009 but the country’s top Lutheran bishop is being tipped as a possible next head of state.

Bishop Wolfgang Huber, 65, has what it takes for the figurehead post (the real power lies with the chancellor in Germany’s parliamentary system). The Bundespräsident (Federal President) should be a distinguished personality who can represent the country well and give suitably serious speeches on the appropriate occasions. Huber, who is bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg, is equally at ease giving a long lecture at a university (he’s a former theology professor) or a few quick soundbites for television. He also has leadership experience, being the head of the umbrella group of Protestant churches called the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) since 2003 and one of the most prominent Protestant leaders in Europe. In EKD, by the way, it’s evangelical in the German sense, meaning mainline Protestant, not evangelical as many Huckabee voters would understand it.

The Catholic weekly Rheinischer Merkur first mentioned Huber as a possible successor to President Horst Köhler, the former International Monetary Fund (IMF) head, if he chooses not to seek reelection. Huber once considered running for parliament as a Social Democrat, but didn’t. He would need support from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party, which is closer to the Catholic Church and whose members tend to see Huber as a bit of a trendy lefty cleric.

Bishop Wolfgang Huber (right) and President Horst Koehler, 5 Nov 2006/Alex GrimmProtestant church sources say Bishop Wolfgang Huber is very interested in the job,” the weekly reported. “The EKD chairman could only survive the switch from church to state without damage to his image if he were elected by a broad consensus. But Huber is not especially popular with the Christian Democratic Union. But he does fulfil an unofficial qualification — except for Heinrich Lübke, all German presidents have been Protestants.”

Asked about the report, EKD spokesman Hans-Christof Vetter told the Protestant news service idea.de: “We aren’t saying anything about this at the moment. All I can say is that we will congratulate the president on his election, whether he is the old one or a new one.”

3 comments

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Interesting report. It’s true the CDU may have been closer to the Catholic Church (though this shouldn’t be overstated, it’s not a Catholic party like the DC in Italy was), though what’s interesting is that Merkel comes from a Protestant background and in recent years there have been several high profile disagreements between Merkel’s administration and Catholic leaders (the expansion of creche and Kindergarten places for example). In recent years though Huber has been toning down the “trendy lefty” rhetoric and taking positions (on Islam and Muslims in Germany for example) that could fit very easily with CDU policies.

Posted by Stephen | Report as abusive

Good points, Stephen. This is a situation where some people might respond by saying “you’re not wrong” or “I don’t disagree,” but I don’t want to sound reluctant. I was writing pretty broadbush stuff in a quick post, just to make it clear for readers without any knowledge of the German situation. Having been chief correspondent in Germany for eight years (1989-1997), I try to fight my natural tendency to write at length about politics there — and may have oversimplified it. A longer piece on this would have brought out the Protestant vs Catholic elements in the CDU and mentioned positions where Huber is liberal and where he’s turned more conservative. We’d also have to look at the other names being mentioned. But that would be a different post, and probably a full wire story that our Berlin bureau could write if the Huber candidacy gets beyond the speculative stage. That will take a while, but we’ll be watching for it.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

The translator in me wants to know whether Huber as president would still talk about “profile-based” politics or whether unity becomes more important when you’re everyone’s Bundespresident. Could be quite interesting for ecumenism. I still feel that Oekumene der Profile is not ecumenism but would a Politik der Profile make for a more united Federal Germany … sorry this is rather esoteric!