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Be brave in shaping the future of secularised Europe, Churches told

23 June 2023

Albin Hillert/CEC

A presentation at the CEC’s 2023 General Assembly, in Estonia

A presentation at the CEC’s 2023 General Assembly, in Estonia

CHURCHES in Europe have urged members to be assertive in helping to guide the Continent’s future, while embracing the challenge of “an increasingly secularised political discourse”.

They also “unreservedly condemned” Russia’s “illegal and brutal” invasion of Ukraine, and called for “sacrificial action” on climate change and mass migration.

“Churches engaged in shaping the future of Europe must be imaginative and brave, confident not arrogant, listening not just speaking, trusting not anxious, hopeful and not merely optimistic”, the Conference of European Churches (CEC) said.

“CEC was originally set up to create a space in which Europeans of diverse history, polity and ethnicity could meet together despite differences of perspective and experience. That vocation continues to apply today — especially given current real and violent divisions.”

The appeal was published at the end of the Conference’s 2023 General Assembly, in Estonia, which ended on Tuesday. It was attended by more than 300 delegates from the CEC’s 114 Anglican, Orthodox, and Protestant member-denominations.

It said that current challenges, from the climate crisis and loss of biodiversity to human-rights violations and rising nationalism, were interlinked, while religious freedom also faced a “serious threat” within Europe as Christian minorities came under attack.

“Christians are inevitably united in Christ, enriched by diversity and called to witness unity in expressing concern for those without power,” the CEC statement said.

“This also means holding to account all who inflict injustice on others, as some of the political movements of our age continue to withdraw behind the securities of borders and a narrowly-defined identity”.

The week-long assembly, held in Tallinn, was addressed by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, as well as by the exiled Belarus opposition leader, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who urged Churches to pray for her country’s “liberation from tyranny”, while demanding the release of political prisoners and Christian access to worship sites.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya said that committed Christians were “extremely dangerous for dictatorships and extremely needed in democracies”; but she also warned that repressive regimes sought “to control people of faith”, sometimes “through privilege — buying the loyalty of church leaders”.

The assembly elected Archbishop Nikitas (Loulias) of Thyateira and Great Britain, who chairs the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery, as the CEC’s new president; and a German Protestant, the Revd Frank Kopania, was chosen as vice-president, along with the Bishop of Huntingdon, Dr Dagmar Winter.

In separate statements on Monday, the CEC said that the world’s eco-crisis was becoming “immediate and urgent”, and urged Churches to help “dethrone the idol of consumerist growth”.

It said that the past two decades had witnessed the greatest human displacement since the Second World War, driven by conflicts from Afghanistan to Sudan, requiring Europe to “respond with hospitality” and reject “language that categorises or dehumanises people on the move”.

It deplored Russia’s stationing of nuclear weapons in Belarus, where “democracy and non-violent resistance” had been suppressed, and also the “injustice and suffering” caused by Azerbaijan’s blockade of Nagorno-Karabakh.

The CEC said that Churches in Europe “unequivocally condemned” the “violent breakdown of the post-war settlement” inflicted by Russia’s assault on Ukraine, whose territorial integrity must be “recognised globally”, and were concerned at how certain denominations had “promoted this appalling conflict”.

The final statement said: “There is no pretext on which the invasion of an independent country can be justified politically, legally or morally — CEC stands with the people of Ukraine as they seek to protect their own people and territory.

“The threat of nuclear weapons is to be condemned, while human rights abuses, even in the context of war, cannot be excused. Those who launched this war, propagandise with lies and misinformation, and celebrate violence and domination must be held to account.

“CEC calls on churches, governments and civil society to support Ukraine’s resistance to Russia’s aggression.”

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