Paris Peace Conf. 185.1/188

The President of the German Delegation (Brockdorff-Rantzau) to the President of the Peace Conference (Clemenceau)


Mr. President: With respect to the provisions of article 438 of the draft of the Conditions of Peace, the German Delegation feels obliged to present to the Governments of the Allied and Associated States the following declaration concerning the treatment of the question of Christian religious missions.

For more than 200 years German missionaries of both Christian confessions have devoted themselves in all parts of the world to the religious, moral, and economic improvement of the populations. Their work has been crowned with such success because they have confined themselves to the task of education, and thus, in addition to the confidence of the governments, they have earned the gratitude of the populations in their fields of endeavor. This very promising development is to be abruptly stopped. In fact, if article 438 should be put into effect, the German missions would be forcibly ejected from all their fields of endeavor, with the exception of the colonial empire of the Netherlands. They would be deprived of their justly acquired rights by the seizure of their property, which has been acquired through the charitable gifts to mission work subscribed by the Christian community at home and entrusted to their administration. The missionaries would be driven out of the work for which they have been especially prepared and trained.

However, there is more at stake than the property and professional work of the German missionaries. More than one and a half million converts, catechumens, and pupils of all races would lose their spiritual guides and would run the risk of relapsing into their primitive state. The persons who would eventually be sent by the mission societies of other nations to take charge of the deserted spheres of activity, would surely not therefore serve the purpose because they could not be found immediately in sufficient numbers. Furthermore, they would not know the language of the natives nor their country, [Page 780] nor would they possess their confidence. Those advantages can be acquired only after many years of devoted toil such as has been performed by the German missionaries.

The expulsion of German mission work, as a last measure of the World War, would have an especially heinous character. At the present time, which has been authoritatively termed the critical hour for Christian missions, the army of the Christian missions would be deprived of an indispensable auxiliary force, Christianity would be hindered in the fulfillment of its high task, and the advancement of peoples would be retarded. A comparison of article 438 of the peace draft with the provisions of the Congo Act which guarantee the protection and freedom of mission work,2 shows in a startling light to what extent the legal position of Christian missions would be impaired and the confidence in their activity would be diminished if their supranational character is encroached upon for political reasons. If this course should be carried out, not only the German missions but also Christian missions in general would be reduced to a state of dependence upon political power, which is contrary to their nature and their methods.

The missions of the nations represented by the Allied and Associated Governments have, as the German Delegation readily acknowledges, done admirable and exemplary work. The German Delegation cannot, therefore, believe that these Governments are conscious of the depraving consequences which article 438 would bring about. In any case, the German Government looks upon the demand for acceptance of article 438 as incompatible with its dignity. By giving assent, it would act contrary to the principles of liberty which the German people have entrusted to it for safekeeping. It would, moreover, deeply offend the most solemn convictions of all German Christians.

In the peace draft there are a number of provisions which might give the impression that they are designed to retard rather than to initiate the reconciliation of nations. Among these is article 438, the disastrous consequences of which would be felt for many years to come. To avoid this, the German Delegation recommends that a mixed committee of experts be appointed which would be authorized to discuss in what manner the effects of the World War upon Christian mission work could be adjusted most favorably.

Accept [etc.]

  1. File translation revised.
  2. Art. 6 of the General Act of the Conference of Berlin, signed February 26, 1885, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. lxxvi, p. 10.