Photo Credit: Lambeth Palace
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the leader of the Evangelical Church in Germany, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, have issued an urgent appeal “to all politicians to find fair and sustainable solutions for the future coexistence of the UK and the EU.” The Church leaders made their plea in a joint statement at a time when the British government and the European Commission are finalising a deal to revoke the UK’s membership of the European Union”. In their statement, the two Church leaders point out that the relationship between the Church of England and the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland “goes back over many centuries – long before the European Union.”
Bishop Heinrich, Landesbischof of the Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Bayern (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria) was elected Chair of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) – the national umbrella body for the 20 regional Lutheran, Reformed and United regional churches in Germany – in November 2015. He visited Lambeth Palace, the London offices and official residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury, for two days last week, during which the Church leaders issued their joint statement.
“Europe is changing but the Church of God remains constant in its witness”, they said. “The deep commitment that we have to one another is not based on our common membership of the European Union but on our membership of the body of Christ.
“We witness the rise of populism and the emergence of extremist political parties which are being successful at the ballot box. Some of the old certainties are not so certain any more. European relationships are changing, not least as a result of Brexit [Britain’s decision to withdraw from the EU]. We do not know what will happen and what the relationship between the UK and EU will look like after 29 March 2019. However, what we do know is that the relationship between the Church of England and the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland goes back over many centuries – long before the European Union.
“As churches, we urgently appeal to all politicians to find fair and sustainable solutions for the future coexistence of the UK and the EU. United in Christ we are drawn together in hope, faith and love, and those things which divide us are of much lesser importance.”
In their statement, they point to recent commemorations including the centenary of the First World War Armistice and the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht as “historic events of immense importance pointing to the dangers of extremism, the peril of division and the disaster of conflict.” And they looked ahead, too, the Volkstrauertag, the annual commemoration in Germany of those who have died in armed conflicts, which took place yesterday (Sunday).
“Our two nations have a history of war between us but also a history of the search for lasting peace”, they said. “As some politicians and political forces seek to drive a wedge between people so it is all the more important that the churches continue to strive for reconciliation and to speak out prophetically for a Europe where the values of human rights and human dignity are central, based in the great Christian traditions of our two countries when at their best.
“As religious leaders, united in our commitment to see a flourishing Europe committed to the common good and respecting the dignity of every human being, of all faiths and none, made in the image of God and the object of God’s love in Jesus Christ, we call on our Governments not to lose sight of the urgent task of safeguarding our created world and its people.
“Our world requires a better future than one based in hatred and division. It is the task of the church to bear witness to the love of God, across borders as sisters and brothers in Christ.”
The Church of England and the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland have been working to strengthen their ties for a number of years, and in 1991 signed the Meissen Agreement to formalise their links. “Through parish and diocesan links, theological and educational exchanges we are able to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, united in our common baptism”, the Church leaders said. “If political and economic relationships are strained, it is the duty of Christians to work for unity and understanding and to build bridges between nations and cultures for the good of humanity, in the service of Jesus Christ.”