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Ecumenical body consults on a new vision for Europe

Posted on: June 21, 2016 9:06 AM
Flags of the 28 European Union nations fly outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. The Conference of European Churches warns that the EU has no future unless it listens carefully to “the concerns and grievances that many people have about the EU.”
Photo Credit: Gavin Drake

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The Conference of European Churches (CEC) has launched a consultation on the future shape of the continent and the role played in it by the churches. The CEC brings together 114 Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, and Old Catholic churches from across the European Continent, including the Church of England, Church of Ireland, Church in Wales and the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church.

In an open letter to Europe’s churches ahead of the UK’s referendum on continuing membership of the European Union (EU) on Thursday, the CEC’s governing board set out its view of the current situation in Europe.

Explaining the thinking behind the letter, they say that Thursday’s EU referendum in the UK “is just one sign of the difficulties facing the continent. Developments in Europe toward more unity and cooperation, so much appreciated some decades ago, are now increasingly put into doubt.

“Churches in many parts of the continent have been contributing to the European project at different stages by raising their voice, highlighting the role of churches in society, emphasising the role of churches and ethics and values, reaching beyond economic wellbeing.

“With the particular moment of the UK EU referendum in mind, we address this letter to all CEC member churches, organisations in partnership and national councils of churches. Although the EU has a special role and responsibility for the continent, we are aware that Europe is much more than the EU. We welcome reactions from all CEC Member Churches, within and beyond EU Member States. All of us have a word to say on the future of the continent, shaping Europe as our common home.”

In their letter, the CEC governing board recognise the mixed impact that churches have played in the history of the continent. “In discussing which values should underpin society at large in Europe, churches should apply a certain degree of modesty, being mindful of the ambiguous role religion has played in Europe during the past 2000 years,” they say.

“This role cannot be discussed in any detail here but some keywords to keep in mind are: crusades, wars over and between religions, inquisition, patriarchal structures, persecutions of witches, colonisation, slave trade and slavery, racism and fascism.

“At the same time, it should not be forgotten that churches, in the course of history, have also played a positive role in European society, for example through their pastoral and diaconal work, setting up and running healthcare systems, hospitals, schools and universities. At times, churches and Christians have also played a prophetic role, such as in the case of issuing the Barmen Confession in 1934 against the Nazi regime and its attempt to implement the Führerprinzip (leader principle) in the protestant church in Germany.

Churches have also often been in the forefront of the fight against racism and militarism, in caring for refugees and asylum seekers, the struggle against poverty and exclusion and more recently, in the quest for ecological sustainability. The intrinsic value of each individual human being is of fundamental importance for the churches. This reflects the understanding of the human being as made in the image of God and as a counterpart to God (Genesis 1:27).”

And they also warn that the institutions of the EU are at a cross-roads and in need of reform. “Kairos moments and crises present dangers but also offer possibilities for choosing new ways forward,” they said. “The present situation in the EU is serious but also offers an opportunity to re-imagine the Union. In this context, it is very important to listen carefully to the concerns and grievances that many people have about the EU.

“There is no future for the EU if no account is taken of the growing perception that developing common policies in the EU is hard to reconcile with the wish for national sovereignty. If people cannot be convinced that giving up some sovereignty can lead to more effective policies in confronting global issues, the EU will not survive. If people cannot be convinced that in an increasingly globalising world even the big European states are too small to be able to influence developments regarding the economy, social, and ecological sustainability and effectively stand up for human rights and human dignity, the EU as we presently know it has no future. If it cannot be clearly demonstrated that, on the whole, people are better off, materially and immaterially, in a body like the EU, the Union will lose its raison d'être.

“If the EU does not manage to enhance transparency in its decision making processes, the Union will continue to be vulnerable to accusations of being undemocratic. If people in the EU do not feel consulted or empowered by common EU policies, the Union will continue to lack the necessary appeal for its citizens. If people do not feel enough ownership of the EU, they will ultimately disown the Union.”

  • Click here to read the full letter from the CEC to European churches (PDF)