These are the sessions we attended- a small selection of the many available in the Kirchentag (Church Congress). These Protestant meetings happen every two years, alternating with Catholic Congresses, with joint ecumenical meetings every few years.
ACT OF REMEMBRANCE, Wednesday 14.00 to 15.00 at the Charterhouse Tower
Ten murders were committed between September 2000 and April 2007 by the National Socialist Underground, the victims were mainly Turkish-origin shopkeepers:
Enver Simsek, Florist, September 9th, 2000, Nürnberg
Abdurraham Ozoduglu, Alterations shop, June 13th, 2001, Nürnberg
Suleyman Taskopru, Fruit and Vegetable seller, June 27th 2001, Hamburg
Habil Kilic, Grocer, August 29th 2001, Munich
Mehmet Turgut, Doner Kebab Restaurant, February 25th 2004, Rostock (visitor from Hamburg)
Ismail Yasar, Doner Kebab Restaurant, June 8th 2005, Nürnberg
Theodoros Bouggarides, Lock and Key Shop, June 15th 2005, Munich
Mehmet Kubasik, Convenience Store, April 4th 2006, Dortmund
Halit Yozgat, Internet Café, April 6th 2006, Kassel
Michele Kiesewetter, Policewoman, April 25th 2007
At first the police did not imagine that a German Neo-Nazi group was involved, and assumed that family feuds or Turkish mafia gangs were responsible for the murders- but eventually suspicion fell on two men, Uwe Börnhardt, and Uwe Mundlos, and a woman, Beata Zschäpe. In November 2011 the two men died in a caravan fire, and Zschäpe gave herself up to the police and received a life sentence. The three had been supported and hidden by other members, who received lesser sentences.
JEWISH-CHRISTIAN BIBLE STUDY THURSDAY MORNING, 9.30 to 10.30, Exhibition Centre East: “My time has not yet come”, John 2:1 to 12
Led by Professor Wolfgang Kraus, Protestant New Testament Studies, Saarbrücken; and Dr Amy-Jill Levine, Jewish New Testament Studies, Hartford, USA (who described herself as a feminist). Since 2017 they have been working together on the “Jewish Perspective on the NT”, a commentary on the whole New Testament, now published price 63 Euros.
Six 600-litre water jars would have provided a lot of wine- this is the Jesus who eats and drinks, who is called a “glutton and a drunkard” (Matthew 11:19), in contrast to John the Baptist’s asceticism.
“Woman” (verse 4)- is Jesus being rude to his mother, or is he distancing himself from his family and their concerns? (Compare Luke 2:49; Mark 3:21 and 31 to 35). At first he claims that the lack of wine is “nothing to do with us”- but Mary persists: “Do what he tells you”- verse 5. (Just like the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7:24 to 30. So when you meet a block, do not give up, or respond by escalating the situation until it becomes violent, but look for a “third way”, to use Walter Wink’s phrase). John’s Gospel does not mention Mary by name- she is important not for who she is, but for what she does in remaining faithful to her son. In John 19:25 to 27, she is entrusted to the “beloved” disciple, not to members of her family (brothers of Jesus).
When Jesus goes to Jerusalem for the Passover “the hour has come” (John 12:23 to 33), in contrast to “My hour has not yet come” (v4). [And compare 2:13 to 25- looking forward to the end from the beginning?] Did the water turn itself into wine (John is silent about any action or word of Jesus for that effect)? “On the third day” (v.1) reminds us of the Resurrection, but also of Exodus 19:11 (at Sinai), and Hosea 6:2 “On the third day he will raise us up”.
A wealthy family would probably have slaves (douloi), but here they are called servants (diakonoi), and regarded with honour (they are “in the know”- verse 9). Compare John 12:26 and the “deacons” in the New Testament Church. Weddings were big events (see also Matthew 25:1 to 13), and this story is a practical endorsement of marriage. In the Hebrew Scriptures God is regarded as the bridegroom (eg Isaiah 62:5; Hosea)- and here Jesus takes responsibility, as if he is the bridegroom. To be with Jesus is to be feasting at a wedding, which is what our churches should always be like. An abundance of wine is an image of God’s reign- compare Isaiah 25:6 to 9. This is “the first of his signs” (verse 11)- a sign of the coming Kingdom (Reign) of God, just as the other signs in the Gospel (True Wine, True Bread, Living Water etc) are indications of God’s presence and kingdom in the life of the world.
This story is not a criticism of Jewish rituals (“rites of purification”, verse 6), as has often been claimed, as if Judaism can only give water and not wine (the traditional idea that in “law-bound” Judaism the word of God is buried under legalism). Jesus fits organically into Judaism, he reinforces the prophets- in Mark 12:28 to 34 a scribe agrees with him that the 2 great commandments sum up Jewish law. But John always says “the Jews” (Ioudaioi) when he describes the opponents of Jesus- and Jesus himself denies the validity of their claimed ancestry (John 8:39 to 44). Explanations that try to soften this (eg suggesting a contrast between Judaeans and Galileans; or that the “the Jews” only means the Jewish leaders) are not satisfactory. We cannot be sure precisely what John intended, and even more we cannot control how his hearers understood it, or what use has been made of it since. But it is the responsibility of present-day leaders and teachers to ensure that it does not lead to Jew-hatred. Knowing one another better, and learning how to disagree but still to maintain relationships is vital. The fact that a German Kirchentag has invited an English-speaking Jewish woman onto its programme is a sign that the Kingdom of God is at work.
LIMITING THE CLIMATE CRISIS: Thursday 11.00 to 12.30- Exhibition Centre
Moderator: Arndt Henze (Cologne Journalist): The damage from the July 2022 flooding in Aar Valley has not yet been repaired- and such floods, droughts and storms caused by climate change are growing in number world-wide.
Dr Kira Vinke, Centre for Climate and Foreign Policy, East Berlin: Climate change is affecting everywhere, and the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that even at a rise of 1.5o C some areas become less habitable, with a major impact on food resources. Some can adapt, but already 30 million are displaced by disasters, plus 10 million by conflict, and the frequency is growing. Migration is mainly within countries- for example, in Bangladesh hurricanes and the encroachment of salt water have forced migration from the south into more urban areas. The window of opportunity to limit this is rapidly closing- numbers of displaced are predicted to be 78 to 170 million by 2050, and 1 to 3 billion by 2100 if 40 C warming is reached, (with thermo-regulatory limits to life on more than 300 days per year in many areas). The main responsibility lies with the richest and the world’s 26 richest own as much as the poorest half. Decisions taken now will impact life for thousands of years. “Now is the time” (Mark 1:15)
James Baghwan, Suva, Fiji, General Secretary, Pacific Council of Churches: The small numbers of Pacific islanders can be lost among the world’s millions- for low-lying islands climate change often has a 100% impact, with drought (dependence on rainwater for drink), cyclones and salt water encroachment. Women are at the forefront of dealing with the consequences of climate change. Traditionally a coconut tree was planted at the birth of a child to celebrate being part of creation, but now the ocean is becoming a threat. The resulting mass international migration is a spiritual and cultural crisis. The humanitarian response of wealthier nations is kind, but where is the justice? Without an end to the use of fossil fuels this is 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 27:3). Micah 6:8 is our model, but usually statements about fossil fuels are then watered down in COPs- from “phasing out” to “phasing down”. Pacific delegates return “with tears, because we failed again”. Fossil fuels need to be dealt with now, and also measures against the growing debt burden incurred dealing with the consequences of climate change.
Vanessa Nakate, Kampala, Uganda, climate activist: The Horn of Africa region has suffered growing drought now for over 40 years. 20 million are on the brink of starvation, asking “Is it too late for us?”- and for many communities it is. Fossil fuels are the key- there must be no new investments. The business models of fossil fuel companies and human survival are incompatible. This is moral and economic madness.
Dagmar Pruin, President “Bread for the World” and “Diaconal Aid for Catastrophes”, Berlin: 55 billion Euros are needed- there is plenty in the rich world’s wealth, but it cannot be dependent on charitable donations. Emergency relief is vital, but also development, which is a matter of justice, and recently Ukraine has grabbed attention from these global issues.
Frank Schwabe, Minister for Development, SPD rep. for North Rhine-Westphalia: There is a parallel universe going on, with Interior Ministers meeting to discuss how to fight off migration. Anything we can do now will limit the impact of change.
AH: We need a change in our lifestyle- Russian gas became dominant in Germany, and we are now trading to find new energy sources- Liquid National Gas etc.
FS: But there is a need for democratic legitimation- people want to know how to heat their apartments next winter. People support Renewables, but fossil fuel agreements are needed to avoid a collapse of willingness to take climate mitigation measures.
AH: But the agreements with Senegal and Qatar are long-term, lasting to 2045.
VN: Gas is a dangerous distraction. There is energy poverty in Africa, with 600 million having no access to electricity, despite fossil fuel company promises (or lies). If gas development in Africa becomes obsolete in 20 years’ time the resulting debt will be destructive. Renewable energy distribution is the only answer. Hungary and Poland are against any migration agreement, and preventing migration means death for many people. Climate negotiations being conducted by an oil boss (Sultan Ahmed al Jaber of the United Arab Emirates to Chair COP28) is a mockery.
JB: The European growth of far-right and fascist governments is not happening in the Pacific, which is 90% Christian, with a culture of hospitality and abundance (not of scarcity), learned from the missionaries. Bigger islands are welcoming migrants from smaller. Do we have to wait for everyone to agree before we can take the measures needed?
DP: “Bread for the World” works with “Diakonie” in Germany to support the needs of poorer people at home, and works with civil society against the right-wing shift in politics.
FS: The energy supply in Germany cannot be reconstructed very quickly. We have to work with democracy (compare the debate over eg speed limits). To have policy dictated by scientists is not acceptable.
AH: But a democracy where only the powerful have a say is no democracy.
A Resolution from the Jubilee Year Group for cancellation of debt was debated: 90% of countries are indebted, while Africa is responsible for less than 4 percent of global emissions, but it also struggling to recover from centuries of slavery and colonisation. This is a spiritual and sacred issue: is a German life worth more than a Ugandan, a Pacific Islander, a Bangladeshi? A need for truth in a time of fake news, with the Church involved in hope, asserting a need for change in our lifestyles as a crisis of justice- carbon neutrality in Germany can be achieved before 2045. We need to fund the change, rather than rely on market prices. Global responsibilities should determine budgets. If military expenditure is at 2 percent there is a need also for similar for global protection. The resolution was passed Nem Con with 10 abstentions (about 700 present in the meeting) with a question from the floor whether debt cancellation risks a declining willingness to make loans in the future.
VOICES FROM EAST EUROPE: Thursday 15.00 to 17.00- A Call for the Future: In the Frankenhalle, Nuremberg Exhibition Centre
Introduction- Dr Herfried Münkler, political scientist, Humboldt University, Berlin. German politics had travelled far since February 2012, from a refusal to give support to Ukraine to now. The change has been because of Ukraine’s resistance since February 2022. Economic power (ie sanctions) did not suffice- they assumed Putin did a “cost-benefit” analysis, and underestimated his resentment at Russian loss of power, and desire for it to become an Empire again to reverse the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Learning from history does not mean that you learn the right things, especially if you think you already know the truth. The 1938-9 policy of Appeasement (the Sudentenland had only been Czech since 1919) did not end Hitler’s demands. But it did buy time. The Minsk Agreement did not pacify Putin, but it gave Ukraine time to prepare. This is a war of attrition which Russia cannot win, despite its far greater resources. Sanctions can weaken Russia’s economy and disillusion its people- and negotiations can be part of this. Ukraine and West cannot attack Russian territory because of the nuclear threat. A collapse of Ukraine through abandonment by the West could lead to further Russian expansion in the Baltic and Central Asia. A cease-fire is possible, but permanent peace is an illusion for some time because neither side is willing to accept the sacrifices already made. Ukraine’s boundaries could be redrawn with Western guarantees, but Ukraine has already had a bad experience of this- eg the 1994 Budapest Agreement when Ukraine agreed to give up its nuclear weapons to Russia in return for Russia’s agreement to respect its sovereignty. There are other sources of instability, eg Hungary and former Yugoslavia. The desire for a quick peace could open the door to other wars.
Mykola Borovik, Ukrainian Historian, working in Munich since 2015: There have been no experts on Ukraine in Germany, so it has been seen through Russian eyes. Western governments are supported by their own people, even by the anti-imperialists among them. Countries like Poland and Ukraine have not had a right to decide their own future- other countries have decided what should happen. We cannot solve a problem by using the same methods which caused the problem in the first place. Why does only Russia have the right to security?
Malgorzata Lawrewska von Thadden, Warsaw: Russia’s war is one of colonisation in which culture is important with an attempt to destroy the national identity of Ukraine. (Eg the bombing of a museum near Kyiv important in national identity). Poland, Baltic and Belorus have experienced this so react more strongly than Germany. Western arrogance that those countries should stay quiet- compare the Taliban destroying Afghan culture. Putin refuses to recognise Ukraine as a separate country- (eg his use of a 17th century French map).
Georgy Roi, Belorussian Orthodox priest, now exiled in Vilnius, Lithuania: The Byelorussian archbishop was expelled in 2020 (allowed to return for Christmas but later retires). Belorussian protest against Timoshenko, speaking for those who want an independent, democratic country, has been crushed- Belorus lost the battle in 2020. Prayer in Belorussian language was prohibited. The Russian Orthodox Church sees a conflict between Russian civilisation and the corrupt West. This is a spirit of Anti-Christ- many priests and believers are loyal to Christ, but official position is this (GR had transferred from the Moscow Patriarchate to the Constantinople Ecumenical Patriarchate). “I have confidence in God and hope in the Ukrainian soldiers.”
General discussion: What about China? Is Taiwan as important for China as Ukraine to Russia? Depression in Europe could bring parties to power who wish to be friendly to Putin. Ukrainians know what it means to be under Russian occupation. The survival of Ukraine would be seen as a defeat by Russia, but the failure of Ukraine implies the possibility of other wars and the strengthening of anti-democratic forces in eg Germany, taking notice that Putin has won. The Ukrainians are not fighting for territory but for dignity and freedom. There could be a domino effect of colonisation for Moldova (with its strong pro-Russian movement in Trans-Nistria) and in Eastern Europe. Serbia and Kosovo are also problematic- instability in the region is not confined to the Donbass. The appeal from Maidan Square had gone westwards. It is important for Europe to stand on its own feet, and not be dependent on the USA. The future of the region will be decided on the Ukrainian battlefields. If Ukraine wins Russians have a chance for democracy- and also Byelorussia. Europe needs to recognise its own democratic values- Europe must be Europe.
Extracts from the World Socialist Website article, 22nd June 2023, by Kevin Jordan and Marianne Arens “It’s also time for weapons”
The 38th German Evangelical Church Assembly which took place in Nuremberg from 7 to 11 June, was clearly defined by war propaganda. The biennial event was hosted by the Evangelical Church in Germany which boasts nearly 20 million adherents. High-ranking representatives of the state, the government and the Bundeswehr (armed forces) were all given a platform in Nuremberg… The theologian Margot Kässmann, who was previously the figurehead of the Christian peace movement, cancelled her participation after her proposals were rejected. In her place, the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr, Carsten Breuer, was invited as a speaker….. The conservative daily FAZ commented: “The alliance [of the Church congress] with the old peace movement is over.”
Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz….. was also a prominent speaker……. The slogan of the assembly was based on a Bible citation from the Gospel of Mark: “Now is the time.” [Federal President Frank-Walter] Steinmeier took up the motto right at the beginning with the sentence: “It is also time for weapons.” He continued: “Even I could not have imagined that I would say one day, It is also time for weapons!”
A (peace) demonstration on Saturday was accompanied by banners that read: “Win the peace, not the war,” “No arms deliveries to Ukraine,” “There is no just war,” or simply, “Swords to plowshares.” However, such initiatives were sidelined at the Kirchentag… On the first day, Olaf Scholz received a special platform for his militaristic appeals, but his appearance….. was repeatedly interrupted by booing. … At the central panel discussion on “What peace do we want?” one participant asked, “How many more deaths are our ‘values’ worth?” …But the Church Congress’ speakers did not respond to this horrendous bloodbath, let alone to the question of how it can be ended. The Bundeswehr representative’s answer was particularly revealing… “Bravery for us soldiers also means the commitment of our lives.”…. On the podium there was no one who opposed him. The connection of the Protestant Church with the peace movement—in the east and west of Germany —goes back…to the 1980s….Today, the Church is returning to its original role.
BETWEEN CRISIS AND CATASTROPHE: Friday 11.00 am to 1.00 pm St Jakob’s Church.
Moderator: Martina Aras, Syrian-Orthodox theologian, Paderborn- With the COVID pandemic, Climate Change, War in Ukraine, and many personal crises, Crisis now seems the “new normal”. So where is the role of the Church in all this? We have a problem if theologians work only in a church context, without dealing with the “external” challenges.
Heike Springhart, Bishop of Baden, Karlsruhe. – We must add to that list a crisis of sexual violence, of democracy, and in the Church. The role of theology is first of all to recognise the vulnerability of the world, of people, of the Church. We must name the complexities, because there are no easy answers. These crises are often at the border of life and death, of power and shame, of guilt and healing. There is today a fully justified scepticism about “truth claims” and certainties. Because theology is involved with the Cross, it is always vulnerable. Paul said: “We always carry in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible”. But this is always in “fragile vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7 and 10). There is a transformative power of vulnerability, capable of being affected- touchable, like God. That openness is itself a relationship with God. So hope need not be a sedative, but a stubborn hope, focusing our expectations and disappointments into an openness to what is happening and for what is to come (and that where we least expect it). Even at the tomb, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that what exists now does not have to be what always is. This may be a tentative faith, but it always is so: “When the blind see….” etc- Isaiah 42:7; Matthew 17:20, but also 13:24 to 30.
Roger Mielke, Military Dean, Koblenz – If everything is seen as a crisis, then nothing is critical. Changing political realities since 2012 have demanded new theological resources- we have to recognise that humans are prone to violence. Germans have lived under a security that others have provided for a long time, and the 2007 Protestant Peace Ethic now seems outdated in a time of renewed post-colonial debates, Black Lives Matter, and the rise of the Right, when justice means “give me what I deserve”. 3 months spent in Kosovo with 70 German soldiers- many from former East Germany, having had no contact with churches. Initial suspicions (“Is he a friend of the officers?”). But soon 40 come to the Sunday service, ages 23 to 28. What they said in conversation found its way into the service. The images of Scripture were more valuable than definitions. Eg Psalm 73:21 to 23; John 6:68.
Traci Blackmon, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, USA – Black Lives Matter does not have a central leadership, but is a “leaderful” movement- this is both its benefit and its burden. Crises are intense difficulties or challenges which demanding ad decision- many people live constantly with crisis- eg Climate forcing Global Migration- and is the gate open? There is no planned housing, and racialisation is growing. But no-one leaves home unless home has become the mouth of a shark. Poverty is a crisis- in the USA 11.6% live in poverty, there are 600,000 more in Germany than before Covid. The war in Ukraine is a crisis. Crises can suddenly become catastrophes. Most are the result of neglected imbalances. So what does the Church have to say between the crisis and the catastrophe?
The story of Exodus began in Genesis with a free people- Joseph, deserted by his family, brings his family to Goshen for bread, water, and possession of land. But then land was taken from the people for Pharaoh in times of famine (Genesis 47:13 to 26)- a warning of the consequences of political power. The people’s voice and power must always be a part of politics. Unchecked political power never benefits the masses. There is a time to speak and time to work in silence, because, as Moses found (Exodus chapters 5 to 10)- some actions do not secure the desired response. Finally Moses makes secret preparation for action (Exodus chapter 12)- those who wanted to leave could do so. This was more important than battling over position and resources where they were. The story of the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1 to 12) is almost more a call to God than to Moses- because God hears the cry of the people (verse 7). Burning bushes were perhaps common in the desert, and many people might have seen them- Moses “turns aside” (verse 3) and so hears God’s call. There are bushes burning all around us and we do not notice them- instead we attend to crises far-away. But God is waiting for any of us to turn aside and notice. Life with God cannot be without hope- we are in this together, we cannot hold ourselves separate. This hope most be communicated to those outside the Church, but it is not a plan handed down from church offices- God is the sanctuary before the Church can be. The fact that God was enfleshed enables us to listen to one another.
Peter Emorinken-Donatus, journalist, Cologne – Came to Germany from Nigeria after parents had been imprisoned for 9 months- not a theologian, but a Christian fighting for justice. In this hope is crucial. The situation of Africa is not new, but was not always well-known- Africa had over 500 years experience with white vandalism and violence against its way of life and its biodiversity. What is a crisis in Europe is a catastrophe elsewhere. The definition of a white male reality was imposed, forcing Africans to give up their identity and faith, with everything regarded as irrelevant. It now suffers the loss of 80% of the biodiversity of a people who were told “your systems are primitive- the white man said so”- I now tell the churches they must deal with my tribe in Africa. There is no need for development aid because Germany is poor, with its machine-based “development”. This needs reversal- in fact “You depend on us”. By 2030 if Climate Change goes on as it is now there will be an uninhabitable death zone of 2000 km on both sides of the Equator. Many will die, and this will be the biggest genocide in history. Europe says “You cannot come to us”- but however high the wall is built they will still come, because our livelihood was destroyed for your wealth. Churches say “We don’t like this”, but we need authentic relationships, not as in the past. Churches profited from the destruction of Africa- so where does the Church put its money today?
BLACK LIVES STILL MATTER: Friday 15.00 to 16.00 at the Nuremberg Protestant/Evangelische Hochschule(*)
Led by Traci Blackmon, United Churches of Christ, USA and Adeke Halliday, UCC, Canada; Moderator- Elga Zachau, pastor Bochum.
Black Lives Matter is a major focus of the UCC in the United States, Canada and Germany- (the first joint workshop was held at the 2019 Dortmund Kirchentag). “White Privilege” is part of the UCC’s agenda in the US, where racism underlies the thinking of the political Right. If “black” means “of African descent”, then everyone in the world is black- but some left Africa many generations ago- today 1.2 billion people identify as black.
The BLM “hashtag” developed after the killing of Trayvon Martin (and George Zommerman’s acquittal) and Michael Brown (whose body was left in the street for 4 hours in 950F heat). Then the Mantra became a movement. Some say “All Lives Matter”, but there is a theological question of racial justice- does this matter to the Church, and to God? James Cone says that God was identifies with the oppressed- enfleshed in an Afro-Semitic person, born into an economically distressed community. So does God matter to the Church?
The Washington DC Bible exhibit shows the Bible used by British missionaries to convert slaves. It excludes any hint of rebellion: 90% of the First Testament and 50% of the Second, leaving only 232 chapters. We craft stories that reveal our perspectives. 15th century Papal Bulls put forward the “Doctrine of Discovery”, giving religious authority to Christian Empires to invade non-Christian lands, inaugurating a time of colonialism, justifying taking lands from indigenous peoples: if they were not Christian, they had no soul, and without a soul there is nothing about a person to respect- lives are not in the image of God, so kill and steal. The issue faced today is the fruit of rotten trees in the Church- and its uprooting must also come from the Church. (Pope Francis has denounced the Doctrine of Discovery).
The United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015 to 2024) as a distinct group whose rights must be promoted. But this was questioned by the church: why is it necessary, aren’t other issues more important? But injustices go unnamed and undocumented: black people are among the poorest, this is rooted in enslavement and its consequences- there are many exceptions, but the structure means a disproportionately lower access to education, health etc. If racism is normalised or invisible, it becomes deniable. Are tolerant and diverse societies not racist? How do we know that black lives matter to people in the Church?
There is no biological basis for race- it is a social construct, created to enable subjugation- a created narrative of “less than” (eg intelligence, culture morality) was to satisfy greed and a desire for more. The Church is not immune from this. Eliminating racism makes room for a theology of sufficiency, rather than one of shortage.
Discussion: In strategies for working with white churches, seeing racism as theological is important. Stories of experienced racism can be moving, though can be traumatic for the tellers. Or should we focus on the healing of those who have suffered, and let the white Church take care of itself? There is a need to engage white churches on the cost giving up “white heritage”- otherwise the offer is of charity rather than transformation. When the numbers get scary society creates more “white” people who were once excluded: Irish, Jews, Italians. We need to create rare spaces for listening, and to be able to cope when anger breaks out, through the fear of being called “racist”. When white people talk about racism it is heard differently (although black people do not need to be spoken for). Racism is a crisis to be dealt with, not a condition to be endured (with medication that is only intended to deal with symptoms, not the real trouble).
Note: (*) In Germany a “Hochschule” (literally a “High School”) is a University which confers degrees, but not doctorates (only a Universität is able to confer doctorates).
BIBLE STUDY SATURDAY MORNING, 9.30 TO 10.30, St Jakob’s Church
“Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God was coming, and he answered ‘The Kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say Look, here it is! or There it is! For in fact the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20 and 21)
Led by Dr Susan Durber, minister of the United Reformed Church, UK, elected September 2022 as President of the European Region of the World Council of Churches.
This is a mystery, but not a fairy-tale. Most of the Parables of Jesus say “the Kingdom of God is like…..”, drawing analogies, but not identities. It cannot be predicted, located or measured, but it overturns the world, and is “at the door”. In their impatience, because the kingdoms of this world need so much to be changed, some identify the Kingdom with specific systems, but we must be cautious of any easy interpretations. If the Kingdom is “among you” (Luke 17:21) does that mean that it is present in the person of Christ, or “when two or three meet together” (Matthew 18:20)? But this shows a dislike of the future emphasis in the following verses from 22 onwards: “the days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it….. for as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day”.
Luke’s phrase “entos humon”, literally means “inside/within you”. Leo Tolstoy suggested that meant the growth of non-violence and love within people, but for the Gospel of Thomas it is “spread out upon the earth, but people do not see it” (verse 113). It is “Inside you and outside you”, “not in heaven, or the birds proceed you, not in the sea, or the fishes go before you” (verse 3). There is no map for the Kingdom of God- it is neither only interior spirituality, nor only political action. But it is born from suffering, with a king who wears a crown of thorns, and a God who is beyond our control.
The US writer Frank Buechner said: “People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in that field rich enough to buy Texas. They are prepared for a God who strikes hard bargains but not for a God who gives as much for an hour’s work as for a day’s. They are prepared for a mustard-seed kingdom of God no bigger than the eye of a newt but not for the great banyan it becomes with birds in its branches singing Mozart. They are prepared for the potluck supper at First Presbyterian but not for the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale). For different people “the Kingdom” could mean many things: the Romans leaving; a heavenly home; an ascetic sect; a force to build a new world; or prayers. What is certain is that will not be found by own our efforts, but can be given to us if we are able to receive it.
Many of the Parables contain surprises: mustard seeds usually produce weedy mustard plant bushes [though some can be bigger]- instead a great tree results; leaven and women were both despised- Jesus starts with rejected things and ending up with a feast for the whole community; the sower parable is about the abundant harvest, far more than could ever be expected. Jesus a stand-up comedian- you never know what he will say next. The Pharisees’ genuine question is- when will the world become what God wants it to be? The kingdom cannot be tamed- a new world not of our creating, but in God’s hands.
It’s a long way off, but inside it / There are quite different things going on; / Festivals at which the poor man / Is king and the consumptive is / Healed; mirrors in which the blind look / At themselves and love looks at them / Back; and industry is for mending / The bent bones and the minds fractured / By life. It’s a long way off but to get / There takes no time at all, and admission / Is free if you purge yourself / Of desire, and present yourself with / Your need only and the simple offering / Of your faith, green as a leaf. R.S. Thomas “The Kingdom”.
RACISM AND THE POST-COLONIAL LEGACY IN THE CHURCH: Saturday, 15.00 to 16.30 – Nuremberg Exhibition Centre
Participants: Austen Peter Brandt, pastor Duisburg; Lorenz Narku Laing, racism researcher, Essen; Fidon Mwombeke, General Secretary, All Africa Council of Churches, Nairobi (native of Tanzania); Benedicta Savoy, art historian, Berlin; Sarah Vecera, Global Education on Racism and Church, Essen. Moderator: Hadija Haruna-Oelker, journalist, Frankfurt.
In his 1930 Nobel Lecture Nathan Söderblom said “Peace can be reached only through fighting against the ancient Adam in ourselves and in others”. Since the 2020 killing of George Floyd the racism debate has found a new urgency- we need to face this in the Church, working on our past and our present mission.
Sarah Vecera- “How did Jesus become white”- Anti-racism is a pastoral task, structural, emotional and pastoral. The racial diversity of outside pedestrian areas in German cities is not reflected inside our churches. The New Testament Pauline communities were struggling to be united, but in the racist construction of colonialism there is still a sense that black people are the ones who need saving- this is still an emotional thing for us.
Peter Brandt- Nigerian father and German mother. 40 years’ experience dealing with racism from the age of 5- “Don’t call Ossie a nigger, it’s not his fault that’s how he is.”- but develops a sense of sympathy for whites, who are brainwashed that “white is better”. In 1983 set up an Anti-racist team, after work with Sybil Phoenix in London from 1979. In 1986 asked by Churches’ Committee for Migrants in Europe to set up training for German Federal Republic, but this meets with opposition from church leaders, who abandoned the project, so congregations were left to struggle on their own. Three options: making people feel bad about racism, leaving it alone, or dealing with it.
Fidon Mwombeke- All Africa Council has 173 churches from 40 countries, with 120 million Christians. In Tanzania, through the United Evamngelical Mission, looking at Mission and Colonialism through time, the people who you would expect to be critical about colonialism are in fact less critical than are Germans. They were messengers of the Gospel, and the Gospel is not European- we can distinguish between missionaries and colonialists, and we were not stupid to accept missionaries despite their mistakes, which have been taken seriously- this was a transition with many mistakes. The issue is more complex issue than just about European colonialism. At the Karlsruhe WCC meeting there was a proposal from the African Diaspora that European Churches should repent of colonialism (from the 1878 Treaty of Berlin that divided Africa up), but the African churches refused, saying we can no longer blame all of Africa’s problems on colonialism. There are dangers in a constant reminder of the past history of domination and past victimisation. We need to tackle racism now and the domination which causes poverty now. Swedish history, with no record of colonialism, can be a better basis of partnership.
Lorenz Laing: 30% of Protestant Christians say that Muslims tend to be criminals. The rights of refugees are crucial- this is part of the imbalance in the world. History is full of contradictions: Protestant pastors blessed slave ships, said black people are apes, but they also opposed racism.
Benedicta Savoy: works with Macron in France, and in Berlin, on the restitution of artifacts, also the bones of Herera and Namaqua massacres in 1904. We need a new ethics of relationships. Her experience as a French person in Berlin accompanying with a black person, but alone being spoken to. Mission and colonialism cannot be separated, eg in Cameroon. Switzerland (Basel Mission), Berlin and France all bought pieces for their museums, with many objects are held in hidden storage. We need to get away from the images of helpless people. Missionaries prepared the way for the genocide of Herera and Namaqua 1904. Language can create problems- for example translation into German or French reverses subjects and objects- we need a colonial perspective on facts.
Discussion (summary of topics mentioned): Recognition that ideas of “primitive” is untrue, and there is no biological basis for race, but still there is no real “safe space” for discussion of these questions- sense of Christians being more in touch with the truth (true or false??). 45% of primary school children in Germany are from a migration background. Importance of anti-racist policy for a diverse Church. In Germany there are refugees with Bibles and colourful clothes, but they are not yet in the Church. Need for churches to be multi-lingual. Do African churches see the images of Africa used in fund-raising? What are the main problems of racism? Reparations for damages caused by German missionaries. Fundraise on structural issues, not for charity. Is race the issue or theology? African congregations are joining white churches but differences in liturgy create problems. Christians belonging to the right-wing AfD, opposed to migration. Separate experiences- we need time to deal with the personal trauma. Importance of forgiveness- no need to be perfect (applies eg to “racist” statements). Restitution: Hard work needed on restitution of objects. And on restitution of knowledge.