IN A JOINT ecumenical paper, the Protestant Churches in Germany (EKD) and the German Catholic Bishops’ Conference have warned against populists, and made a strong plea for a “democratic morality”. They warned of a decline in confidence in democracy, and argued that there were no simple solutions for the conflicts that have arisen in the wake of globalisation.
Laws alone were not enough to protect democracy: “We therefore need to respect the unwritten requirements of democracy in the form, as we call it in this paper, of a democratic morality,” one of the authors, the Bishop of Essen, Dr Franz-Josef Overbeck, said.
The 51-page common ecumenical statement Strengthening Confidence in Democracy was released on Thursday of last week in a joint press conference in Berlin, after a 20-member ecumenical working group had spent two years drawing it up. They see it as the task of the Churches to engage themselves in society. The paper is directed against the strengthening of populists and anti-democratic forces that is taking place not only in Germany but across Europe.
“It is true that we do see critics of democracy, and unlike in the past, this criticism is often disguised as a form of radical democracy, by saying: ‘We are the ones who represent the actual will of the people,’ whereas, at the levers of power, there are some dark powers, or, above all, corrupt elites,” said a co-author of the paper, Professor Reiner Anselm, who chairs the Chamber for Public Responsibility in the EKD.
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The paper called for a strengthening of multilaterism in the European model. “We, the Churches in Germany, stand for a multilateral, subsidiarily organised Europe which works in solidarity to balance the various interests,” Dr Overbeck said. “We understand Europe not only as a union of states or as an economic co-operation of companies: rather, the European peace project is, for us, a union of citizens who take responsibility for our common European home.”
The EKD representative, Reiner Anselm, said that the Churches had for a long time been sceptical about democracy, or had even rejected it in the past. Not all European Protestant Churches had given a clear carte blanche commitment to a European model, he said. “Some of our neighbouring Churches are by no means all in the same way convinced of the European concept as we are.”
Although Brexit is not mentioned in the paper, Dr Overbeck said that, as vice-president of the Commission of the Bishop’s Conferences of the European Community, he felt it in Brussels when the UK Bishops’ Conferences had to leave the body and were given guest status.
“At our meetings in Brussels, we realised that it is highly regrettable that such an important nation, especially in view of the history of the democratisation of Europe and their idea of democracy itself, intends to withdraw from this project in this form. We are doing all we can to strengthen our ties,” Dr Overbeck said.