THE Easter peace marches in cities in Germany have ignited a sharp debate in the Evangelical Church of Germany (EKD) about the place of pacifism in times of war.
As several thousand demonstrators gathered for the first time in two years, with placards and flags, in Hanover, Munich, Stuttgart, Leipzig, Hamburg, Berlin, and other cities, EKD bishops and theologians commented on the timing and merit of the marches. Some politicians criticised the marches as tone-deaf.
Some rallies were organised by church bodies such as the Evangelical Lutheran Mission of Lower Saxony, in Hermannsburg; at others, pastors spoke. Mostly, the action was directed against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the planned spending of billions on the Bundeswehr (armed forces).
Bishop Friedrich Kramer, of the Evangelical Church in Central Germany, and a peace envoy of the EKD, supported the marches. On ARD state television, he spoke out against the supplying of weapons to Ukraine, warning against an escalation of the war. He concluded: “We can now only create peace without weapons.”
Speaking on Thursday of last week, he acknowledged that there were different positions in the EKD, and said that it was “ethically a huge problem” to supply weapons for direct killing, and spoke of a moral dilemma about supplying arms. “If you don’t deliver, you fail to help. If you deliver, you deliver directly to kill.”
A retired Lutheran bishop, Dr Margot Kässmann, who formerly chaired the EKD, defended the Easter peace demonstrations. In a radio interview, she said that it was not fair to accuse people who had been working for peace for decades of being on Russia’s side. She also spoke out against arms deliveries to the Ukraine.
On Twitter, the Regional Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover, Dr Petra Bahr, disagreed. “The EKD’s memorandum on just peace provides detailed ethical justification for a law-abiding use of force,” she said.
“The categorical pacifism of religious minorities as an expression of distance from secular power and violence (Quakers, Walsenites, Hutterites, Mennonites) has cost them dearly. They were expelled, persecuted, pressurised by large churches.
“To simply imitate this attitude, without any follow-up consequences, without theological justification, without an ethical evaluation of one’s own relationship to the democratically legitimised state, disconcerts me. In view of the war crimes in Ukraine, this position makes it too easy for itself.”