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by Margot Kassmann
Saturday, May. 05, 2007 at 1:43 AM
In the Bible, justice is always measured in the well-being of the weakest. Freedom could be understood as bond to community, not egomania. People are not commodities or a mass. There are no superfluous persons or superfluous continents. Ms Kassmann is a Lutheran bishop.
GLOBALIZATION – CHRISTIAN LIFE IN THE ONE WORLD
By Margot Kassmann
[This address on February 1, 2006 at the Evangelical student community of Clausthal in the “Science, Technology and Ethics” series is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. Margot Kassmann is a Lutheran bishop in Hamburg.]
1. A clear distancing of many people from the Christian churches is occurring in Europe
The matter-of-factness with which people belonged to the church, were raised in the Christian faith and practiced Christian rituals seems lost. In this, Europe is different from Africa, Asia and Latin America where Christian communities are growing and from the US where religion is part of normality. In discussions, the president of the German republic says: God bless our country. In Europe, lay persons argue whether the preamble of the European Union constitution should include a reference to God or to the Jewish-Christian roots.
In no case will I join in a lament. The churches must take up this situation constructively and offensively to find a new balance between innovation and tradition and speak clearly about what they believe. From my perspective, the situation is now changing. Unlike several years ago, many people in Germany seek orientation and earnestly ask about the church.
According to survey researcher Prof. Elizabeth Nolle at the Allensbach Public Opinion Institute, the flood disaster in Southeast Asia raised doubts in the German population. The percentage of persons who rated faith as important rose from 45 to 52% between December 2004 and January 2005, the opinion researcher said. At the same time, the share of those who regarded faith as antiquated fell from 34 to 28%. In the new Germany, agreement that faith is still important today jumped within a month from 27% to 35%. This amount is greater than the share of church members in central Germany (26%). Germans are apparently reevaluating the future of religion. 21% of Germans are convinced faith and conscious engagement with Christian traditions are becoming more important, not 14% as in December 2004. Whoever looks at the Christmas editions of the large weekly papers sees a renaissance of religion.
This faith is not always Christian or religious. A Wurzburg study on world youth showed that the majority of youth in Germany believe in God but refuse involvement with the institution church. In the age of individuality of consumer society, many people prefer to configure their own religion rather than rely on community and the search for consensus. A little Buddhism is dashing. A little Islam has a strong effect. A little Kabulah-, Madonna shows how this is done. Sinead O’Conner once insulted the pope and sees herself today as a catholic priest. Religion is in; everyone configures his or her part. Cat Stevens is now Jusuf Islam and Cassius Clay was Muhammad Ali. The marketing of religion, patchwork religion, is respectable in the world. Those who buy everything and configure themselves are the true heroes. In relation to individualist patchwork religion, Christianity must now insist on the biblical basis that has community as its foundation. Meaning arises through concrete religion, not through diffuse religiosity. Christian faith is bound to the Bible.
Therefore Christianity in the future must be resistant, show courage and bring orientation in the globalized world. Our community is based on reading and proclaiming the same texts of the Bible and inculturalizing them in our context. These basic stories of humanity from Paradise to revelation give meaning to community. Christianity should insist on this and not give up. Which texts will be shared around the whole globe? Christianity fascinates me in that biblical texts have proven their relevance for 2000 years in the most different cultures of this earth from Indonesia to Brazil and from Sudan to Malta. The ecumene – the whole inhabited globe – was the first globalization movement of the world. Our church is always a local actor and a global player at once.
Martin Luther emphasized again and again that the Bible is the standard for our religion. That must be repeated in Germany.
At the end of 2004, a television team ZDF was presenting “Our Best,” this time the best books. Since the Bible was among the top ten, I would be asked questions as a defender of the Bible. After I agreed, the journalist raised three questions: Can you summarize this book in one sentence? Would you recommend this book as vacation reading? Is this book world literature” The answers were not easy and yet had to be very brief. Whoever is not a Christian must know something about the Bible. This is a matter of education. You cannot understand European history, culture or architecture without knowing the Bible. Think of our everyday language: wolf in sheep’s clothing, complete chaos, putting one’s light under the bushel. All this comes from the Bible! “Very cool!” he said.
2. Christianity was the first globalization movement
Like no other, the Apostle Paul urged the spread of the new faith. Untiringly he journeyed to areas in present-day Israel and Syria and present-day Turkey and Cyprus. In chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles, you can read how he learned of his call to Macedonia.
With his journeys to Crete, Malta, Sicily and Rome, Christianity spread from the South to all Europe and then from Europe to the whole world. First, Christianity was an oppressed minority that endured cruel persecutions until Emperor Constantine with the Tolerance edict of Mailand in 313 made Christianity the official religion in the Roman Empire. This was called the Constantinian turn. Christianity was not the state religion in the Roman Empire; that first happened under Emperor Theodosius I. Constantine laid the foundation by promoting Christianity, strengthening the bishops’ position, bringing his sons in the Christian faith, eliminating non-Christian emblems and preferring Christian officials. With the council of Nicene in 325, Constantine convened the first ecumenical council. European culture, history, architecture and literature cannot be understood today without Christianity.
The division of Christendom also started from Europe, not only the worldwide expansion of faith. In 1054, the great division between the Eastern Church and the western church reached its peak and still marks Christendom today. The new EU border astonishingly corresponds to that division. Then the age of the Reformation followed, a great upheaval situation in the western church anticipated by Jan Hus and other reform movements. Luther, supported by the invention of printing and several princes with their interests was the trailblazer. In Europe, the genesis of the Anglican Church occurred as well as the division between the Roman Catholic and the Old Catholic church, the Lutheran and Reformed churches and later the great historical peace churches.
The whole abundance of the life of faith was displayed in impressive creativity where the Christian churches remained faithful to their Lord. I think of the monasteries, the marvelous altars, the music and language that developed in the course of the Reformation in individual nations through the translation of the Bible in the vernacular. Where Christian churches seduce to power, domination thinking and ideology, they contribute to destruction and contempt for human beings. I think of the persecution of witches, the holocaust and the blessing of weapons. The Christian churches argue stubbornly over their church and its claim to truth. Dreadful wars wer4e fought in the cause of Christian truth. We think only of the 30-year war, the unspeakable suffering of people and conflicts in Northern Ireland up to today waged under the evangelical-catholic label. A creative dialogue arises where the churches converse with science. The churches lose persuasiveness when they imagine they can restrict thinking.
With mission, Europe brought the schism of Christendom into the whole world. A pacifist bishop once told me: When all is said and done, we are a great community on our island until Sunday morning. At ten o’clock, one part of us go to the Roman Catholic Church, another group to the Baptist church and another to the Lutheran church. No one understands the differences.
The 20th century witnessed an enormous ecumenical breakthrough. Christian churches are moving closer to one another for the first time since the centuries of schism. Two elements were the motivating forces here: the missionary challenge and the catastrophe of the Second World War. In 1910 mission experts met in Edinburgh because they saw the credibility of the Christian churches endangered in the field of mission by divisions in denominations and confessions. The ecumenical movement originated here. The movement for practical Christianity arose that sees the unity of the church in common service and the movement for faith and church order that seeks unity of the church through agreements in doctrine. Friendships and community developed beyond the trenches of the First World War. Personal encounter is vital for the ecumene! Personal encounter may be a kind of theology of friendship. The nascent ecumenical community maintained itself in the 1930s and 1940s across the trenches of the Second World War. That was a miracle for which we should be thankful to God. The German churches have many reasons to be thankful. Belonging to the founding churches of the World Council of Churches was a sign of reconciliation that is still effective today. Delegates from Holland, Switzerland and France visited the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany in its first session after the war. The confession of guilt occurred that was urged by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and W8ilhelm Visser’t Hooft.
The World Council of Churches set great signs of hope in the first decades of its existence. The unity of the churches was envisioned in the sense of a didactic conversation. The work of Faith and Church Order reached its climax in the 1982 Baptism, Eucharist and Office document in Lima. Signs were set for the unity of the church that strives for the unity of humankind and the community of people from all races and nations. Those were sometimes arduous learning processes for European churches! The churches from the so-called third world vigorously made themselves heard. The Program for Combating Racism energetically questioned the doctrine and practice of the churches. For me personally, the high point was the 1990 World Assembly for Justice, Peace and Preservation of Creation in Seoul, Korea.
In the 20th century, Europe’s churches learned: the Christian church confessed every Sunday in the Apostles’ Creed is the one, holy Christian church. This church given in Jesus Christ is manifest in many churches worldwide. The Una Sancta, the one holy Christian church, exists in a diversity of contexts and denominations. Every church is only one province of world Christendom (E. Lange).
In the meantime there are churches that are completely free from the dogmatic differences of the European mother churches. The church of the evangelist Simon Kimbangue in Zaire, one of Africa’s largest churches, is a member of the World Council of Churches. According to estimates, nearly half of all Christians in the world belong to one of the great free Christian movements in the Pentecostal realm and no longer to one of the traditional confessional churches – Roman Catholic, Reformation or Orthodox. This is especially true for Africa and Latin America. A Chinese pastoress recently said to me: We are post-confessional. Do we see this? How do we relate to this? In the big cities of Germany, there are countless foreign Christian communities that exist and celebrate church service seemingly outside our field of vision. Or think of the nice Lower Saxony city Gifhorn with 24 religious communities and 40,000 residents. In short, the traditional churches with their basic confessional convictions face tremendous challenges together.
3. Christian life means worldwide responsibility
In 1991, I flew to a meeting of the World Council of Churches in Australia. While I always rejoice about new experiences in life, the situation seemed threatening to me this time. The Gulf War began. Europe felt threatened by Saddam Hussein’s missiles. I had left my family behind. I was pregnant with my fourth child. Rather exhausted I arrived Saturday night in Sydney, a big city with no one I knew…
The next morning I went to the church, a Methodist community. In a far-away foreign country, I felt at home: Kyrie, Gloria and psalm, creed, sermon and intercessory prayer. I knew the melodies of most hymns and was familiar with the order: altar with cross, pulpit and community. Following the church service, there was tea and coffee in the parish hall. The people gave me a warm welcome, brothers and sisters, part of a great family.
People build churches to come together, sing, hear God’s word and pray. This has fascinated me again and again. Igloos or Gothic or Barock palaces could be churches. Christianity is a community religion. Since Jesus wandered through Palestine with his disciples, community is characteristic for those who follow him. They stayed together after his death. Together they experienced that this death was a beginning, not the end. At the first Pentecost feast, they discovered that this faith in the resurrected Christ was universal. Suddenly everyone spoke as a witness. I think of this sometimes when I pray in a church service with people of many nations. According to the invitation, we say the Our Father each and every one in his or her native language. People are confident in the language of their origin. This is basically a Pentecost miracle every time. Unity becomes manifest in the midst of our nations and cultures instead of the language confusion in building the Tower of Babel.
The Lord’s Supper is the mark of this community, so to speak. Communio sanctorum arises, community of the saints and participation in the holy. The saints are people who trust God entirely. When I celebrate the Lord’s Supper, I celebrate with the people around us and in community with those sharing bread and wine in many different places all over the world. Because they are signs of community, many are depressed that all Christians in the world cannot celebrate together. Christ is the inviting one. Therefore everyone is invited who belongs to the family of Christians worldwide. When I serve the Lord’s Supper, I am often moved at this community arising between foreign persons. Their foreign faith created this community since trust is possible at home between persons who do not know each other. Truth is promoted. Whoever shares bread and wine should also share the goods of the world. Some call this the one eucharistic life style.
When we look at the churches, their differences constantly impress me. When I preached once in Korea, the church director led me to the altar area. He asked me to put on a pair of plush slippers that I could hardly feel. At the pulpit there was a telephone. I wondered what I would do if it rang during the sermon. In Chile I sat in a service of a Pentecostal church in a rather rundown wood barracks. During the hymn before the sermon, someone came to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said: Sister, interpret God’s word for us today! In other countries with other customs, I had enough time through the translation to reflect on the next part. In the chapel at the Frankfurt airport, a Christian woman from Indonesia asked me to bless her because she was afraid to return home. In a poor village in Russia, I was astonished how much gold was incorporated in the little church. People had given the best they had to give honor to God and build a place of beauty for themselves and their faith amid their harsh everyday life.
In the Christian religion, freedom is understood as bond to community, not egomania. The goal of globalization is not value creation of capital but social justice in a worldwide dimension. Globalization should be organized in dialogue (e.g. WEF 2002, WSF 2003), not demonized. When globalization is emphasized, the reality in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe is usually faded out. In the Bible, justice is always measured by the well-being of the weakest. For the 24,000 children who die daily of hunger and malnutrition, we can only speak of unfathomable all-consuming injustice.
Christians understand people in other countries as God’s image like themselves. They are our sisters and brothers. We belong to the one family of humanity created by God. Therefore Christians see refugees as ambassadors of worldwide misery, not as parasites. Our church supports an immigration law that allows for hardship cases. Individual communities grant church asylum in cases where the conviction of faith helping strangers in distress in the midst of secular society leads to protecting people from a likely danger to body and life in deportation to their homelands by accommodating them in church areas. Protecting the stranger is a biblical command. Our partner churches worldwide should be supported in the struggle against AIDS in South Africa, against genital mutilation in Ethiopia, in engagement for the landless in Brazil or in the battle against prostitution in Europe. Globalization can only make sense when food, shelter, medical provision, freedom and education for everybody are the goals, not the profit of a few. Discussions are often not simple. Respect for cultural differences must be safeguarded. McDonaldization is a loss. Allowing the stranger to be foreign and not forced into my categories is important (e.g. Lutheran bishops/AIDS).
In our mobile and technicized world, there are infinitely many exhausted and wounded souls who long for meaning. They need support and people who listen and treat souls carefully. They also need society. Common basic values must be accepted. I do not arrogantly declare Christian values to be the only possible solution. Other cultures and values must be taken seriously. The Ten Commandments, the command of charity and the dignity of every person derived from likeness to God are momentous possibilities. Christianity has long stressed rights and rules are equally valid for all persons, for women and men and for people of all origins and skin colors. All people are equally God’s image; these rules are in effect for everybody.
We could bring these values into the global dialogue. In the world ethos of Hans Kung, these values existing in all religions can be communicated. We need a globalization of ethics as well as a globalization of the economy and politics. The economy also needs values. Responsibility is a great asset in the Christian tradition. One of the deepest crises of the German economy, in my opinion, is the growth of mistrust. News reports of exorbitant leaps in profit and reported job cuts damage the credibility of the economy. Public interest and self-interest must be in a proper relation. The victory sign of Mr. Ackermann may have harmed Deutsche bank more than the sudden fall in prices. The discrepancy between millions in severance pay and mass dismissals is a symbol of that danger. The credibility of individuals plays a role in the economy. The anonymity arising through global enterprises cannot ultimately bring any value creation. Value creation occurs through esteem.
Questions are posed to the economy: Does everything really have a price? Is everything negotiable? Is there an ethos that encourages me to reject a contract? Creativity can first begin where people develop their personality and are ready to assume personal responsibility. Models are sought worldwide (example Nelson Mandela).
4. Christian life has consequences
First of all, Christians must know what they believe. On this foundation, they could make the marvelous experience that others also believe even if very differently (example of Rome). In any case, my view of the world changes. I see the other. People are not commodities or a mass. There are no superfluous persons or superfluous continents (Hinkelammert). Perhaps I will be engaged in the clean-clothes campaign or ask whether energy consumption must increase or whether there isn’t an ethic of limits and an ethic of enough. I take joint responsibility for this world (example: 1983 Vancouver conciliar process!).
The 9th plenary assembly of the World Council of Churches will begin next week in Porto Alegre. The churches from Africa, Asia and Latin America will show drastically how their poverty increases. Solidarity may not stop at Europe’s border. For example, poverty in the countries of the South is feminine. Two-thirds of the 1.3 billion people worldwide who must survive with less than one dollar a day are young girls and women. They bring 52% of the output but only receive 10% of world income and own only 1% of the property. Unequal economic and political treatment and structural discrimination determined by tradition, culture and religion contributed. The value of unpaid women’s work is estimated at around eleven trillion dollars by the UNDP. World Hunger Relief has calculated that women provide 80% of the food in Africa but less than 10% own their fields. This is reflected in the massive women’s work in the informal sector, the large share of unpaid housework and the patriarchal systems of ownership and inheritance. Women are in greater dependences and yet more than every third woman manages without male help in feeding and educating the children. Churches could act here. Men and women are created equal by God (Gal 3,28).
Our engagement in development assistance follows the millennium goal of cutting in half poverty in the world. We should not allow development partnership to be misused by dictators or terrorists or by business elites and politics. The Evangelical and Catholic Development Service, Bread for the World and Misereor built excellent networks to bring assistance directly to the needy. Help was brought to tsunami victims. People may not become objects of our actions. Distress can only be reduced together. The advantage of the churches is that they are always local.
Another global theme challenging Christians today is the dialogue of the religions. In Porto Alegre, the ecumenical decade to overcome violence will be emphasized. Religions may no longer be seduced to pour oil on the fire of political conflicts. Blessed are the peacemakers, we read in the Bible. To the disciple who wanted to defend him in Gethsemane, Jesus said: Put away your sword. Converting this in a world of wars and armament exports, terror and violence is certainly one of the greatest challenges for Christians in our time. The dialogue with Islam is urgently necessary today.
Ladies and gentlemen, I can only intimate how much Christian values give orientation today for our land and worldwide and what challenges we face worldwide as Christians. Our church must take responsibility for our country and our world. Our church cannot sneak away to a pious corner. We can do this by strengthening people who take responsibility as Christians, whether in the family or the business, whether in politics, science or in schools all over the world. We do this by regarding people all over the world as sisters and brothers, not as cheap workers or markets. Freedom and responsibility before god and humanity are central along with organization and ethics.
The title of the BILD magazine “We are the Pope” is certainly Lutheran. Each and every individual is called to live his or her faith in everyday life, not to depend on bishops or pastors. Luther emphasized the maid swinging her broom and the prince. We say the teacher or the businessman. If everyone would do this, there would certainly be more future confidence for mastering the problems facing us,
Thanks for your attention.
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