The Christians and Europe
Vicepresident of EKD Church Office on challenges and tasks for Christians in today's Europe
"As far as the situation today is concerned, many things seem to point to the fact that Europe has lost its former position as the political, cultural and religious centre of the world. The fact need not mean the end of the whole world; yet it would seem to mean the end of that little world which was governed and determined by the Europe we know, and the end of the heyday of the European. Europe was once ..., founded by the classical age and by Christianity, to be a great, vigorous and shining unity, political, cultural and religious ..., in the possession of this inheritance, Europe achieved world importance, and for centuries the European was left to believe ... that his idea of might and right, science and education, religion and the moral code must necessarily be the right one as we perceive it in Europe ... This idea seems to have lost its power today ... Where has the European initiative, the European lead gone? We have turned into a sphere which is these days determined by outside influences ...
And now there are in spite of this deterioration in Europe Christian Churches, having the task of Christian evangelism ... We shall have to see and realise one thing with clarity: The Christian message cannot and may not rely upon the fact that it is surrounded and sustained by the glory and the pathos of the culture and the politics of a Europe rapidly rising to prominence and power ... The Church will have to learn afresh to walk towards its Lord as Peter did, not along smooth paths and up fine staircases with handsome balustrades, but on the water. The Church will have to learn to live on the edge of a precipice, as it did of necessitiy in its beginnings. For all that, the Church must learn again how to fulfil its duty: simply in the impetus and magnetism of its own beginning and its own aim ... The Christian message in Europe today must once more be free and independent - not blown about by each prevailing wind, not dependent on the alternatives of 'Revolution or Tradition?' 'Optimism or Pessimism?' 'West or East?' The Christian message can be free because its source is the freely-given grace of God. The Christian message must derive from this source. It should speak of the grace of God, freely given to all sinners and to all in misery, whom God has remembered and will always remember, and then only will it be the right message for Europe today."
These sentences sound topical. Yet, they were written fifty years ago. The author is Karl Barth ("The Christian Message In Europe Today", German version: Theologische Existenz heute, Neue Folge Nr. 1/1946, p. 11ff; English edition: Against the Stream, SCM Press Ltd, p. 167 ff).
The theme in this report goes further. It is not only to deal with the contents and form of the Christian message in today's Europe, but with the challenges and tasks which arise for Christians in today's Europe. I shall consider ten questions:
- Which Europe should it be?
- Which legal and political structures does Europe need?
- Which social standards are going to be valid in Europe?
- How does Europe fulfil its global responsibility?
- How pluralistic will Europe be?
- How much room will there be in Europe for regional and local characteristics?
- How Christian should Europe be?
- What are the opportunities and dangers which Christians and Churches face in the shaping of Europe?
- Which structures do the Churches in Europe need?
- What message do the Christians have to offer?
1. Which Europe should it be?
Even in former times it was not undisputed how Europe was to be described and where its borders were to be. At any rate different parts and regions in Europe were of varying degrees of interest. This is no different today. If I, as part of an experiment, were to ask the inhabitants of Europe to name the European countries, then most likely or perhaps even without exception the member states of the EU would be named. Switzerland is a special case. But who would name Rumania? Or the Ukraine? Or - a particularly critical point - Russia? Or even Turkey? However, it is by no means so that the larger Europe is solely a distant thought. The larger Europe has political institutions in the Council of Europe and in the OSCE. They, however, are weak. There are also good reasons to concentrate one's efforts on the strengthening and further development of an effective, political institution like the EU. For it becomes more and more evident in the world that the new centres of power, predominantly in Asia, are being established. Europe will be pushed hopelessly into the background if it does not concentrate its resources. But one has to guard against false alternatives. Both are necessary: the decisive extension of the EU to an effective and successful political power and the perspective of a larger Europe.
There are two reasons above all which make it necessary to keep the larger Europe in mind, over and above the EU: solidarity and self-interest. The Christians' duty to love their neighbour calls upon them to be concerned for people in distress. Therefore they cannot be indifferent to the situation in, for example, the East European countries or the South-East European countries. Solidarity must certainly not end at the European borders, help for East Europe or South-East Europe should not be given to the detriment of countries in Africa or Latin America; but on the other hand, global responsibility must not lead to a situation where the distress of people on one's own doorstep is overlooked. That would be contrary to one's own interest. When countries in Africa are being destabilised or are thrown into civil war, then it is terrible for the people concerned, but we in Europe are on the whole not affected by it. Similar conflicts at our own front door are different. If only out of self-interest, we must care for the Balkan States and the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Solidarity does not come without cost. Germany has experienced in the last six years the financial costs which are connected with the integration of the former GDR. The resistance against an extension of the EU with Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are not without foundation. The costs are going to be enormous, but once again, it would be ethically unacceptable and politically short-sighted if the EU-Europe were to be satisfied with itself as it is.
2. Which legal and political structures does Europe need?
The fundamental thought is: There is no stability and durability without legal and political structures. Ideas have been most effective in world history, but they must in the end materialise in legal and political structures. This is no different in the case of Europe.
Europe will only become an entity of substance, if it, within certain limits, develops common legal structures and with that creates a common European constitutional community. That is important for the securing of peace: The strength of the law must take the place of the law of the strongest one. It is just as important for the protection of the environment, the self-guarding of bio-ethical standards or health protection at the place of work. As long as restrictive conditions in one country can be circumnavigated by movement into another country, progress in the named areas will remain fragile.
The present political structures - in the EU, the Council of Europe and the OSCE - have already been mentioned. The EU is already taking on certain functions of State. It is essential that the citizen can take part to a greater extent than up to now in the decision-making processes of the EU, for example through the strengthening of the European Parliament. By now 37 European states belong to the Council of Europe which was founded in 1949. It is its efforts regarding the protection and development of human rights as well as the minimum standard of economic, social and cultural rights which has been of crucial importance for the further development of Europe. The OSCE is presently still a loose confederation of states; it can, however, gain more importance in future as a model. The severe crisis in the former Yugoslavia has confronted the states of Europe with the painful fact that they were not able to take the appropriate robust peace-keeping measures on their own. Without the USA the present IFOR mission would not be possible. The European states must decide whether they want to remain dependent on the USA's decision-making processes.
The extension of legal and political structures in Europe is being obstructed by the fact that many people fear the loss of their national identity and also fear a multicultural society will undermine their right to self-determination. These feelings must be taken seriously. Federal models are best suited to preserve the identity of the different regions and peoples. But it is also clear: The times of unlimited national sovereignty are over. Without being prepared for partial renunciation of sovereignty, there will be no new international order.
3. Which social standards are going to be valid in Europe?
The EU has in the course of time made significant progress in the socio-political and socio-cultural sphere. This can be demonstrated, for example, in improvements in safety at work, the position of women in the workplace, in the numerous development programs for areas of poverty such as the European Social Fund, the Regional Fund and the Common Charter of basic rights for employees (the European Social Charter), which was accepted by the member states, except Britain, in 1989, and in the agreement of 1992 about Social Politics. Of considerable influence is the progressive and social jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
The problems, however, must not be overlooked. The high rate of unemployment in even the richest countries of Europe, the increasing poverty and homelessness which are becoming ever more visible in the streets of European cities, the continued noticeable discrimination of people in especially difficult life situations and that of foreigners, the large discrepancies of living standards in Europe and the European countries - so far all this points to an unsolved task of the realisation of a true community. Social conflicts threaten solidarity and the progress achieved so far. The anger and the unhappiness of the many disadvantaged who know themselves to be so are a burden for Europe's future. Economic intregration is progressing faster than social integration. The globalisation of the markets intensifies competition and has problematic consequences such as "social dumping" and the division of the labour market (e.g. the movement of places of production into low wage areas, the lowering of one's own level of wages by pointing to the countries with low wages, foreign competition with low wage earners in one's own country). The co-operation of the worker's representatives is by no means as advanced as the co-operation on the side of the employers. The EU has a high rate of competence in economic questions. In contrast to that, the socio-political responsibility lies mainly with the member states. The EU makes only hesitant use of the social possibilities which the Maastricht Treaty offers. The social standards in the member states of the EU have for several years been under pressure to conform. The companies in the individual countries demand equal conditions for competition with their competitors in the neighbouring countries, and press for the dismantling of anomalies such as the protection of Sundays, the shop closing times or the continuation of payment of wages in case of sickness. A truly common European social policy has not yet been achieved. The social security systems in the individual countries are too different. Considerable efforts are needed, so that Europe may continue to develop not only on an economic and monetary basis, but above all on a social basis.
The task is even more enormous if one looks further than the EU. When striving for social justice, the total European perspective must not be missing - and neither the thought of corporate responsibility for the developments in the rest of the world.
4. How does Europe fulfil its global responsibility?
Europe or the EU share a responsibility for the developments in the rest of the world. They cannot see themselves as a "closed society" or turn themselves into a "fortress". The reasons are the same as those which applied to the relationship between the EU and the larger Europe: It is a question of solidarity to also be concerned about the distress of the distant neighbour, and it is in one's own interest to overcome this distress.
Nowhere does this become more apparent than by looking at global migration and refugee movements. The number of people who have left their home country for fear of persecution, violence and material needs has increased world-wide to over 27 million. Every 100th person is a refugee with regard to the world population. Every second refugee these days is younger than 18 years old. It is a basic human duty to open one's heart to these people. Therefore the protection of those who are persecuted for political reasons has found its way into the Human Rights Conventions. For Christians there are special motives to be sympathetic to the fate of refugees. The Bible tells many stories about people who are fleeing from their country. Jesus himself was forced to flee with his parents from the persecution of Herod. Many tales of Jesus in the Gospels are a witness to the power of compassion. Whenever Jesus saw people in distress, then - as it is regularly told - he was overcome with pity and he showed them compassion. For Christians compassion is the decisive motive for helping people in distress. But compassion must not be confused with a fleeting and arbitrary feeling. To the most significant achievements of human history belongs the fact that in a constitutional state compassion has become the basis of legal norms and expectations. People in distress - and that includes refugees - no longer have to rely on a chance of meeting people with a good heart. Solidarity has been firmly established in Human Rights and in Legislation. It is acknowledged, however, that there is from time to time resistance to the demands of solidarity. Therefore it is particularly meaningful when the aid to refugees and asylum seekers is not only motivated by Christian charity and compassion, but also by self-interest. Self-interest is a strong motivator of people's actions. It must be made clear to the population of the European states that the migration and refugee movements are not happening in a distant galaxy, but in their own world of which they are also a part. No region in the world is in a position to totally shield itself from others. One can, indeed one must, control and limit the immigration of refugees and asylum seekers. Even a wealthy country cannot cope with unlimited immigration in the long term. Social peace would be endangered, and consequently hostility towards refugees and asylum seekers would be exacerbated. In recent years Germany has experienced this. But controlling and limiting is one thing, thwarting and barring is another, and no country in the world is able to close its borders to such an extent that the streams of refugees and asylum seekers cannot enter. What we need in Europe is two things: a political effort to share the load related to the taking in of refugees and asylum seekers and a decisive co-operation in the fight against the causes which lead to the need to flee from one's country. Whoever neglects today the fight against these causes and does not try to overcome them as far as is possible will tomorrow be faced with even greater migrations, and will either have to turn to means which are in conflict with his own moral values and legal norms, or risk social conflict in his own country, which may endanger its internal peace.
Dealing with migration and refugee movements is obviously only one example relating to how Europe fulfils its global responsibility. This question is also about the ordering of the economic relationships between the different regions of the world, about the rights and limits of protectionist measures or the establishment and enforcement of human rights, to name but a few examples.
5. How pluralistic will Europe be?
Europe was at one time the Holy Roman Empire, an organisation of a relatively large cultural unitiy. Instead of just one Christian Church, these days we are living with numerous Christian creeds and denominations; other Religions have established themselves in growing numbers alongside these, and the number of those, who are estranged from Religion and who hold different positions and philosophies of life is growing larger all the time. The development of Europe into a pluralistic society is seen with regret in certain Christian circles. They long for the renewing of a common Christian Europe. Such longings for the "Christian Occident" are traditional. "They were good times, when Europe was a Christian country, when one Christendom lived in this part of the world" - so reads the first sentence from the famous writings of the German romanticist Novalis, to which he gave the title "Christendom or Europe". He dared to proclaim "that blood will flow over Europe, as long as Christendom does not once again become 'lively and effective'". "Only religion will be able to re-awaken Europe and secure its people ... The other parts of the world are waiting for Europe's reconciliation and rising in order to join them and to also become members of Heaven". Yet Christian belief calls for a sobriety born out of the Gospel which puts its hope not into a restored past, but alone into the mercy of God. A new beginning which is being guided by mercy will by no means by merely a return which is led by a longing for that which at one time existed. The objective for the return lies ahead us, not behind us.
Europe will remain the pluralistic Europe, into which it has developed during the past centuries. Christians need not regard this as a fact which is unfortunately irreversible and only has to be accepted because of that. In fact, they can rather consent to it. For pluralism does not stand in contrast to the Christian view of the world, but has to be understood as an expression of God's creativity. Pluralism liberates: It breaks open a tightly knit world in which people are fixed into a single or limited number of possible thoughts and actions. Pluralism enriches: It uncovers to mankind the multiplicity of chances and possibilities for development. Also pluralism creates conditions under which belonging to the Christian Church is again a true reflection of faith: As long as people live in a world characterised by one culture and are members and followers of the Christian faith, one is not necessarily dealing with a decision of faith. Christendom has originated and grown in its first decades and centuries in a pluralistic environment. Antioch, Corinth, Athens or Rome were places of the most liveley competition of lifestyles and philosophies of life. Therefore Christians do not have to be afraid of a pluralistic situation. It all depends on making use of its qualities and chances.
6. How much room will there be in Europe for regional and local characteristics?
It will be of utmost importance for the further development of Europe whether one will succeed in finding the correct balance between the extension of common structures and the preservation of local and regional characteristics. To achieve more conformitiy in areas like foreign economic and social policies is a necessity. But the process of conformity has no value in itself. The lives of people and those of communities suffer under a process of excessive conformity. Many people fear uniformity. Quite rightly they want to preserve regional and local characteristics. Many years ago, when European unification was still in its beginnings, an English friend said: "You'll see, one day they are going to introduce a Euro-loaf". A Euro-loaf was for him the embodiment of an unnecessary, painful, impoverishing unifomity. European policy will do well to stick to the maxim: as much conformity as is necessary, but also as much preservation of regional and local characteristics as possible.
In the EU the balance between the preservation of the regional and local characteristics and the creation of uniform structures is presently accommodated by the principle of subsidiarity. This principle also has its roots in Christian tradition and is a guiding principle for the relationship of responsible actions towards social and political organisations. A higher institution must not act if a lower faction can reach its aims satisfactorily. A higher institution is obliged to act if a lower faction cannot achieve its aims on its own. These actions should also serve the strengthening of the weaker faction. The Maastricht Treaty from 1992 strives to "take decisions as closely to the citizens as possible" and rules that the EU respects "the national identity" of its member states. The treaty on the EU from the 7th February 1992 declares furthermore: "In areas which do not fall within its exclusive competence, the Community shall take action, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, only if and in so far as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effects of the proposed action, be better achieved by the Community". (Article 3b)
The respect for regional and local characteristics also has political aspects regarding peace. The conflict in the former Yugoslavia has shown how much depends on the balance between differing religious and cultural characteristics. Federal structures are more suitable than centralised systems to maintain the internal peace of a country. Innovative processes for the creation of legal structures, which grant federal rights of self-determination and guarantee autonomy below the threshold of state sovereignty, are needed in a number of areas of conflict.
7. How Christian should Europe be?
Pluralism in Europe and giving consent to it has already been discussed. Europe is - and should remain - a continent in which members of Christian Churches, followers of other religions and people with no religious conviction live side by side, together and in mutual enrichment. Consent to pluralism has its parallel in the consent to secularisation. Secularisation in a cultural sphere is not an opposite concept to Christendom. Many acquirements of the modern constitutional state are secularised treasures of the Church: the high esteem for the freedom of conscience, the affirmation of the inviolability of the individual's dignity, the duty to protect injured life, compulsory schooling and much more.
But consent to pluralism and secularisation must not be confused with an indifference towards the cultural and intellectual character of Europe. More than a few Christians consider the question, 'how Christian should Europe be', as misplaced. They see in that a return to the ideas of the "Christian Occident". This is not what it is about. It is more about the question which traditions will remain or become characteristics for the European culture, such as the political system, legislation and social-security or the relationship between men and women. Pluralism does not at all mean that everything will remain binding in the same form and with that become indifferent. Rather, pluralism itself lives of the fact that traditions which want and make pluralism and its tolerance possible are determining factors. The former President of the European Commission, Jacques Delors once formulated it thus: "Europe must have a soul". It is a wrongly understood generosity and toleration if Christians think that all traditions should culturally have an equal impact. Christians should rather stand up for the European culture to continue to be characterised by the Christian Spirit, for example, the respect for the inviolability of the individual's dignity, the protection of decisions of conscience, love and compassion for one's neighbour and the search for social justice. A political unit lives culturally from provisions which it cannot create via political and legal structures alone.
The notion of a multi-cultural society concerns the same problem. It cannot be denied that today many different cultures live side by side and with one another in Europe and in the individual European countries, and that everything possible has to be done to promote respect for one another and to recognise the wealth other cultures have to offer. But the idea of a multi-cultural society must not lead to the false conclusion that to stand up for the prevalence of a certain cultural characteristic is a detestable form of cultural imperialism. There are alternatives which simply cannot stand peacefully side by side, but between which a choice has to be made.
8. What are the opportunities and dangers which Christians and Churches face in the shaping of Europe?
The Church is by nature supra-national. It is a world-wide Community, which goes beyond the national boundaries. No other movement has at its disposal such favourable pre-requisites in the realm of ideas and structures to overcome national narrow mindedness and to promote thinking on a larger scale. Christians are motivated through their beliefs to take on responsibility for humanity beyond national borders.
But we also know that in the past and in the present Christians and Churches have not always made the most of these possibilities; indeed, they have even betrayed their mission. Some Churches have entered into such a close association with their own people that they have had a very narrow nationalistic view, and they have given up on the community of their brothers and sisters of the world-wide body of Christ. Every Church has of course its place in the life of its people, just as every Christian gains his own identity as a member of his Church and concurrently as a citizen of his country. But the bond to the Gospel also encompassess the task to look for and to cultivate the association with other Churches beyond one's own national borders, and to oppose the danger of provincialism and nationalism.
With this in mind the dialogue with the Orthodox Churches of the East is of particular importance. In Eastern Europe they lived to a large extent as national Churches which strongly moulded the culture of their countries and vice versa. In the years of communist oppression open critical dialogue was hardly possible. Now many of these Churches are again able to develop freely. They urgently need our solidarity and help, which also includes the following: to frankly talk about burning issues, which were often ignored in the past. Included within that is the relationship between Church and Nation, but also the supposed proselytism, in other words, the poaching of members by other Christian Churches. Rights of possession to hereditary confessional areas should not exist anymore. Religious freedom permits different Creeds and Religions to address people with their message. But for Christian Churches it must hold good to be considerate of one another, to strive to view mission as a common task and to stick to ecumenical agreements.
9. Which structures do the Churches in Europe need?
The (non-Catholic) Churches in Europe do have common structures and organisations. To these belong in particular the Conference of European Churches, the Leuenberg Church Fellowship, the European Ecumenical Committee for Church and Society and a number of networks of mutual help.
But the existence of all these structures and organisations cannot hide the fact that, in terms of the capacity to act, the Churches lag far behind political and economic institutions. The renunciation of sovereignty is being discussed in the political field while in the Churches there is little readiness to overcome denominational boundaries and traditional structures. Whoever looks at the money the Churches spend in their own sector and the money spent on the common structures and organisations in Europe will realise a striking disparity. Without doubt, the local Church must remain the centre of action and investment. But it is also obvious that the Churches in their work cannot stick to the structures of the past when political and economic structures change. Being faced with diminishing financial resources in all European Churches and at the same time an increasing common European responsibility, solutions must be looked for and found by means of a dialogue between the Churches.
10. What message do the Christians have to offer?
Fifty years ago Karl Barth said: 'The Christian message in Europe today must once more be free and independent - not blown about by each prevailing wind ... The Christian message can be free, because its source is the freely-given grace of God'.
In his lecture "The Gospel and the Protestant Churches in Europe", Eberhard Jüngel, one of the present leading German theologians, took up and expanded upon these sentences of his teacher Karl Barth, at the European Protestant Convention in Budapest in March 1992. He explained in four points what the Christian message is for Europe, and I shall close with these.
- The Gospel of the justification of the godless delivers from the delusion that people have to be products of themselves. The worst of all delusions is the self-deception that man is nothing else but the sum of his deeds. But where achievement threatens to become the sole purpose of life, life loses its meaning. The Gospel bestows upon every person the dignity of being fully acknowledged by God, and this is a form of dignity that cannot be surpassed by any human deed or destroyed by any humen wrongdoing.
- The Gospel delivers from the delusion of the ability to renew oneself. If man wants to create the new man, he must keep him under full control. This is the origin of the totalitarian systems of the twentieth century. But when I believe in God my dependence on him means that like he himself I shall be a free master of everything. In this way the dependence on God and human freedom grow to the same degree.
- From the Gospel comes a love of truth which has political consequences. The Gospel gives the freedom to be honest to the truth that God alone is to be worshipped, in the state, on the other hand, there is nothing and no-one to be worshipped.
- The Gospel leads to the development of a conscience, not to a moral fixation of guilt. By preaching a liberating truth the Church differs from all moralists who only accuse and consider the guilt of the accused.