“We need a debate on peace ethics”

Schwaetzer talks to EKD Synod about peace ethics, confronting rightwing populist tendencies and the future of the church

In her annual report on the first day of synod, Irmgard Schwaetzer, president of the synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), referred to the new dimension of peace ethics. The current issues are only partially comparable with those facing us at the time of the Cold War, said Schwaetzer. “We need a debate on peace ethics. It is our responsibility as a Protestant church to speak up for peace with a prophetic voice, and yet to remain accessible for policy-makers with what we say.”

With its focal theme “Towards a church of justice and peace” synod is deliberately focusing on the commitment of the Protestant church, Schwaetzer stated. She added that this synod would also concern itself with the situation regarding peace and justice within the church itself. Schwaetzer then enlarged on three thematic areas: the participation of young people, clear opposition to anti-Semitism and rightwing extremism, and the future of the church.

Regarding the participation of young people in church decision-making processes, Schwaetzer commented, “Youth delegates have attended the EKD Synod for a long time.” She added: “We are glad to see the lively, constructive and critical way they contribute to Synod and give us new insights. For the last three years they have had their own right to propose motions. And now we intend to take the decisive step to finally guarantee the full participation of young people in our discussions in keeping with the numbers they represent.”

Schwaetzer then enlarged at length on the church’s attitude to anti-Semitism and rightwing populism. The shooting attack on the Halle synagogue made it very clear, she said, “that we must be clearer and more vocal in our work for democracy and its fundamental values than we have been for a long time. We must make it very clear that we oppose hate speech, smear campaigns and exclusion. That is our duty as Christians. Each and every one of us is called to act on this matter.” The concern of synod to take a closer look at rightwing populist tendencies in its own ranks had made good progress in the last few months, Schwaetzer reported that the structures of prejudice and its expression in daily life, including in parishes and with church members, needed to be scrutinized. In fact, she added, a three-part research project had been initiated to implement this synod mandate. Schwaetzer underlined, however, that church staff needed support right now as they confront rightwing populist tendencies and slogans. A collection of materials containing experiences and practical suggestions was available for that purpose, she announced.

In conclusion, Schwaetzer commented on the on-going processes to shape the future in the Protestant church: “Our church is meant to be a church of new departures. That is how it was designed by a God who first set out to find us. And God’s own self was changed by becoming human. That is precisely how God crosses our paths in life, as one who accompanies us and sends us out with a clear mission: ‘Go into the world and talk about me.’ Since then we have been on the move – though we sometimes tend to settle back comfortably in our lovely church buildings, with the familiar forms of worship and historically grown administrative structures. It is time that we set off towards the people we want to reach and who are open to our message.”

Approaches and scenarios for this outreach will be dealt with in the reports on Tuesday afternoon. With an eye to the upcoming debate, Schwaetzer emphasised: “In 20 or 40 years our church will look very different. It will certainly not be just a smaller version of the church of today. And we have the opportunity to shape this change. It is important to set the tracks for the future now – and we can certainly ask critical questions. We will need lively discussions in order to come to good decisions.”

The full text of EKD Synod President Irmgard Schwaetzer is available at www.ekd.de/praesidiumsbericht2019.

Dresden, 10 November 2019

EKD Press Office
Katharina Ratschko

About the EKD Synod:  The EKD Synod, with the Council and Church Conference, is one of the three governing bodies of the EKD. It is convening from 10 to 13 November in Dresden. In accordance with the EKD’s constitution, the 12th Synod has 120 members. The assignments of Synod include drafting declarations and decisions on contemporary questions and accompanying the work of the EKD Council by issuing guidelines. Synod also discusses and adopts the budget and church laws. Synod is chaired by a body of moderators (presidium), under its president Irmgard Schwaetzer. She is also a member of the 15-person EKD Council. Chair of the EKD Council is the Lutheran Bishop of Bavaria, Heinrich Bedford-Strohm. The EKD is a community of 20 Lutheran, Reformed and United regional churches in Germany. 21.1 million Protestants belong to one of the approx. 14,000 congregations.