Congregational life is at the center of the Christian community, which is where Joachim Gaucklaunched his long and influential career by preparing to be a pastor. After the study of theology he took a church, the Protestant Church in Mecklenburg, in what was then East Germany.
“I studied theology,” he later wrote, “because it was the only avenue into philosophy not corrupted by communist ideology.”
Gauck has witnessed the fall of the Iron Curtain and the reunification of Germany. Throughout it all, he has been a public theologian and public preacher, advocating for freedom, democracy, and human rights. Earlier this year, he published Freedom: a Plea.
This past Sunday, March 18, 2012, Gauck was elected President of Germany. In this regard he joins such luminaries as Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel as leaders of modern Europe whose education and early formation occurred in communist-occupied territories. He is also compared to the Polish Pope John Paul II and the current German Pope Benedict XVI.
It is true the president of Germany is, in many respects, a ceremonial post; but like the Queen of England and heads of state in other parliamentary democracies, the president of Germany has a platform to articulate the values of our Christian heritage, to appeal to our nobler selves, to tout the potential of our higher aspirations.
Not all young people who study theology and receive ordination to the Gospel ministry end up president of their country; but all have the opportunity to be public advocates of Gospel values: life, freedom, justice, peace, and beauty. The next time somebody asks you, “What can you do with a degree in theology?“ Answer: “Well, in Germany, you can become the president of the country, and maybe so in the United States.”
Not bad for a Gospel preacher.