Politics, Culture and Integration
By Del & Jeannie Penner
The Political system in Germany
Saying you are an American used to be perceived very positively in Germany. People looked up to the US and our blue passport was good about anywhere. Unfortunately, that has changed. Germans observe what is happening in the US, the strong polarization between the Republicans and Democrats, and shake their heads in disbelief.
In many ways, the German political system is similar to the US. Contrary however to the two-party American system, there are currently six political parties represented in the national parliament. This means that parties must come together to form a majority coalition government in order to lead the country. As a result, the German government is much more compromise- and consensus-oriented. There are obviously strong differences between the governing parties, but a deadlock like the one we are seeing in America would be very unlikely here.
Covid-19 in the US and Germany
One recent example for us has been to observe the differences in how Covid-19 is being handled in the US and Germany. Because of the compromise and consensus mentality, there has been a greater willingness among all parties across the political spectrum to work together to fight Covid-19 and its consequences. Chancellor Merkel’s approval ratings have actually gone up significantly because of how she has handled the crisis. In addition, the national, state, and local players have worked together fairly well.
We have also observed an overall difference in the way Germans and Americans have responded to Corona-regulations limiting their personal freedoms. Germany is more of a social welfare state. This means Germans are generally more concerned with the overall welfare of the population. With regard to the Coronavirus, this means the typical German will accept the limitations more readily. Naturally, there will always be exceptions, but for many, it would be anti-social not to wear a mask or not to practice social distancing. It is their obligation as a citizen to watch out for the others. In contrast, Americans tend to be more individualistic in their thinking, putting much more of a focus on personal freedom and responsibility. To many, the restrictions are an imposition on their liberty and individual rights. Both systems obviously have their advantages and disadvantages. This is not meant to be a judgment as to which is better, just an observation.
Our involvement in local politics Our work with refugees in Germany has deepened our interest in how different cultures respond to similar situations and how deeply imbedded our culture is in the way we act and react. How can we bring these different cultures together, living not just in peace and harmony, but benefiting from each other’s strengths and complementing each other’s weaknesses? Integration is our passion and we want our city to be a prototype of where integration actually works! Whether it is between different nationalities, different races, or even different political parties, understanding what motivates or drives a person to do what they do helps us to be better people. After pastoring a church for over 20 years, we concluded we could be more effective outside the four walls of the church. As a result, we transferred the church into the hands of our German colleagues and have gotten more involved in the social and political arena in our city. One way has been through getting involved in the city integration council. Del has been a member for 16 years and Jeannie for the last six years. In this term, Del was again elected chairperson of the 21-member council. All seven political parties from the city council are represented as well as eleven different nationalities and cultures. We are able to use our Christian values of love, respect and honor to influence those around us, including those who are making the decisions for our city and our county. We’ve gotten to know our mayor, city council members and different city administration officials. They respect our opinions and ask for our help when it comes to the dealing with refugees and integrating non-Germans. It has been a wonderful opportunity to let our Christian light shine and attempt to bring something of heaven to our city.