Why should the churches contemplate making a contribution?
The subject of this important symposium is the contribution of the Churches to the development of spiritual and human values in Europe. It is important to recognise from the start that not every citizen of modern Europe would feel that this was an appropriate or relevant topic for discussion. There would be a large number of good, upright and moral individuals, who would ask a prior question: Why should the Church contribute to the development of Europe? This is a question that demands an answer before we begin to consider what that contribution might be. It is a question that demands an serious answer, given that many people, knowing their history, will know how the churches have, in the past, failed in the expression of her fundamental values, such as during the time of the Crusades, or during periods of the churches’ complicity with fascism. The churches’ contribution to Europe has not always been a blessing. Sometimes churches have brought suffering, war, guilt and disunity.
Nevertheless, Christians attempt to answer this question “why?” from our belief that there is not a religious world out there that is separate from the secular. We do not fall into a kind of dualism in which we believe that there are two independent spheres of reality in the world, the spiritual and the temporal. It is fundamental to our understanding that in Christ all things are reconciled to God, that all belong to God (Cf. 2 Cor 5.18-20). God, who is the creator of “all things, visible and invisible”, as we recite in the Niceno-constantinopolitan Creed. The Gospels and the New Testament in general even make the point that secular authority, the authority of governments and states comes, in fact, from God. Paul underlines this in the great hymn of faith in his letter to the Colossians (1.16) “for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers of powers – all things have been created through him and for him”. But perhaps the most poignant reminder of this comes during the passion of Christ when Pilate is questioning Jesus before his crucifixion. “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” says Pilate. To which Jesus answers “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above”. (John 19.10-11). Jesus makes very clear that Pilate’s authority, the authority of secular governments, comes from above. Liturgically, for Anglicans at their confirmation, one of the commitments made underlines this teaching. The candidate is asked, “will you acknowledge Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak, and by seeking peace and justice?”
Christians may believe this. It is a harder task, however, to convince secular rulers and governments that it is the Church’s calling, as agent of Christ’s mission, to work with them! We are struggling against a widespread modern notion, shared by many in authority in the nations, that even if individuals are sympathetic to religion, it is part of the private sphere, not something that is of public concern. We have privatised religion today, so that it is quite acceptable to speak of God and religion being redundant to our world, and only important to individuals.
Yet we are living in a time when people also seem to be losing faith in purely secular political processes. The results of the recent EU parliamentary elections are telling: Turnout in those elections reached a record low, with just 45.3% of EU voters casting ballots. Even more surprising was that in the 10 new member states, a mere 26.4% of voters turned out. And this in countries whose populations have not had much time to become so nonchalant about democratic rights!
It is because Christians believe that all authority is ultimately “God ordained”, and because we believe that religion is not something that is purely a private matter, and because we observe that the time may have come for some inspiration in our public life, as people appear indifferent to political involvement, that the churches must find engage with secular authorities, with rulers, with governments and with nations.
How should the church contribute?
But if we must contribute, what should be the manner of our interaction?
It will not go unnoticed by Europeans that in the one of the countries of the world which constitutionally demarcates a firm separation between Church and State, namely the USA, that some of the most strident and, sometimes, narrow of religious messages are proclaimed by the leaders of her government. The rhetoric of a US president makes most Church of England folk, (who happen to believe that Church and state should not be constitutionally separate), blush intensely. Unfortunately, the religious voice heard with great frequency in the US is not usually a prophetic and critical voice. It is more often a voice that mixes, in dangerous doses, patriotism, nationalism, and triumphalism, baptised with a veneer of Christianity.
But it was the President of that great nation, Abraham Lincoln who, I believe, stated correctly, “Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming God’s blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices - saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God’s side”.
The voice of Christians in society should not uncritically proclaim that God is on our side, as this is profoundly bad theology. This sort of attitude got the ancient people of Israel into trouble, if you read the Old Testament, and will inevitably lead to self-righteousness and to more dangerous triumphalism. We have observed that it can lead to dangers in foreign policy. The better way is to be the critical voice, asking always if we are on God’s side. This will open the door to a much healthier theological approach, where there may be a chance of humility and repentance when necessary, and a permanent vigil of accountability before God. But it is not only because it is good theology this should this be our mode of interaction as churches: it is precisely the values of humility and penitence and accountability that are sacrificed on the altar of modern political life.
What can the Churches contribute?
So if it is incumbent on Christian disciples to contribute a voice to society, and if we agree that there are helpful and unhelpful ways to make such interventions, what, then will be elements of a substantive contribution that the churches should make, in our European context? I would like to explore just four areas, although there are obviously many more. These are the areas of
Fundamental to being Christian is holding to a clear moral vision. We believe that human beings are created in the image of God, and that we are called to grow into that likeness. We call that growth our life in Christ, who, we acknowledge to be “the way, the truth and the life”. As the writer of 1 John (3.2,3) says, “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure”. Christ is the vision set before us and at the same time the one into whose very life we are grafted – so that this vision is no longer an impossibility for us. So for Christians, the moral questions about what we should do, how we should behave, what sort of persons and community we should be, are rooted in this fundamental belief that we are remade in the image of Christ and that we are to grow into his likeness. When Christians approach new and challenging contextual problems of a moral nature, we first turn to prayer, scripture and sacrament so that the Holy Spirit can speak to us, and speak within us, revealing to us the mind of Christ. So St Paul can state confidently in his letter to the Romans (12.2), “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect”.
In the Anglican tradition this growth into Christ, growth in the life of grace, the life in the Holy Spirit, is made particularly explicit in the confirmation service where we pray over the candidates “defend O Lord these your servants with your heavenly grace, that they may continue yours for ever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more until they come to your everlasting kingdom.
This optimistic vision is not to ignore the presence of sin in the life of the Church, in the lives of individual Christians. We know that this is a broken and imperfect world and we human beings are part of that fall and brokenness, and of course, a little later on, I will touch upon the grave matter of sin and repentance. Nevertheless, it is essentially positive moral vision we embrace: a vision based on the establishment of a kingdom of justice, love and peace, built on the values of the Beatitudes, summed up on the two great commandments: to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.
Such a positive moral vision, the vision of the reign of God, might even be inspiring enough for people once again to become connected to political life, if the promises of the kingdom are discernable in the direction that politicians lay before us. Going back to the poor results in the June elections, perhaps such a positive moral vision in our governmental representatives might serve to inspire people and address the unprecedented apathy that seems to have set in, at least in the 25 nations of the EU. Jim Wallis, the founder and leader of the Sojourners community, utters this challenge, admittedly to his own country, the USA, but equally applicable to Europe: “prophetic politics rooted in moral principles could again spark people’s imagination and involvement”.
Many of you will know that in the UK today, in England and in Scotland, there are established Churches. I am a bishop of the established Church of England. It is a limited kind of establishment: the crown has a role to play (through the Prime Minister) in the selection of senior leaders, bishops and deans. A certain number of bishops sit in the upper house of parliament, the House of Lords etc. For the majority of Anglicans in England, there is still an appreciation of both the responsibilities and the opportunities that establishment offers: the Church has an automatic right to be heard in issues of public debate, and indeed, the Archbishop of Canterbury is often sought out to give considered reflection on many matters of importance or controversy in national and international affairs. There are others, even some bishops, who argue that the Church should be disestablished, that the remnants of state control in effect make the Church less free for her prophetic witness and voice. But it is ironic that it is a prominent British Muslim leader, Dr Zaki Badawi (who some think should have the title “Grand Mufti of Britain” and the Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, who are among the most vocal supporters of continued establishment of the Church of England! Why? Because, they say, establishment of the Church of England bears witness to and recognises that religion in general is an important dimension to human society! Their support for establishment bears witness to the fact that the people of Britain, diverse in the faith allegiance, are still more united as people of faith, any faith, than divided. That there is an essential core of shared beliefs and moral values that can and must be upheld in the public forum. And ironically it is a Muslim and a Jew that maintain that the fact that one particular expression of belief has a recognised and official place in public life, will help to secure a place in the nation for the moral values shared by all faiths.
European institutions – the EU and the Council of Europe were founded on strong moral values
It should be no surprise that the churches feel they can contribute something of a moral vision to our evolving European identity. After all, we must not forget, nor allow our European politicians and policy makers to forget, that the EU and the Council of Europe were founded on strong moral values. It is useful to recall some of these which are foundational to our community of states:
§ Adherence to rule of law
§ Participatory democracy
§ Acceptance of basic human rights
§ Promotion of peace and security
Although these are not specifically or exclusively Christian values, nevertheless the churches can relate to them in general as being consonant with the overarching ethic of love of neighbour. Indeed, it may be argued that such values draw on the deep roots of Christian witness on this continent. So there is, at the heart of the European project, a large co-incidence with what we as churches would wish up uphold in a moral framework.
Some European leaders have urged the churches in Europe to be more active in injecting their moral vision into our communal life on the continent. It was a former British Foreign Secretary, George Brown, in a message he sent to a 1967 conference being held at Coventry Cathedral in England entitled, “A Vision for Europe” who said: “Our vision of Europe includes Eastern as well as Western Europe: it embraces not just political and economic activity, but all fields of endeavour. And to this vision the Church, with her message of peace, reconciliation and understanding, has her own special contribution to make”.
25 years later, Jacques Delors, the French statesman who was President of the European Commission for 10 years, in 1992 even challenged the Churches to contribute to the debate on the new Europe: “If in the next ten years we haven’t managed to give a soul to Europe, to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up. This is why I want to revive the intellectual and spiritual debate on Europe. I invite the Churches to participate actively in it”.
Despite such voices among European political leaders, we still arrived at a moment when, in the drafting of a new constitution for Europe which is before the member states now for endorsement, some struggle ensued about the mention of Christianity and her historic contribution to the development Europe, in the preamble. The move to exclude such a reference was led by the French, not surprisingly, with their own political philosophy of laïcité. However, the struggle was not lost, and perhaps more significant than a passing and historic reference in a preamble, the draft constitution now has, in article 51, section 3, this reference: “The Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue with these churches and organisations”. So we have avoided a historical (and static) reference and instead have before us the opportunity, written into the constitution to engage, permanently and dynamically, as churches in contributing to the life of the EU. No one is sure as yet, how such a contribution will be enabled, but churches do now have an opportunity to make a contribution from our own moral tradition.
New model of unity
The EU describes itself, in its title, as a union – the European Union. This does raise the question of what sort of unity we believe we have in Europe, and what sort of unity is, indeed, possible. Once again, the Church has, I believe, a model of unity which will be valuable for us to share. From our ecclesiology we can learn something about what is possible in a diverse entity we call Europe.
What is Europe?
It is not easy to reach a definition of Europe and her unity. It depends which set of lenses you are looking through. Defined geographically, economically, politically, culturally, religiously, you end up with different configurations. I am acutely aware of it, since I am a bishop in an ecclesial body known as the diocese in Europe, yet it extends from Casablanca to Oulu, and the Canary Islands to Vladivostok! Even the dominance of Christianity did not give Europe a united identity. It was common for many years to consider the real Europe as the Europe of Western Catholic and Reformation Churches – Dublin to Lublin, as some have said. The area of the Eastern Orthodox Churches was considered something quite foreign. And George W. Bush has not helped our sense of identity and unity by recently confusing the world by drawing lines between “old Europe” and “new Europe”! It is common in the British press, and I suppose among many British politicians to refer to the 25 members of the EU as Europe: the countries of the economic union. But what of the others? What of Romania, not to mention Turkey? Are Zagreb and St Petersburg not as European as Ljubljana and Tallinn? Then some geographers remind us that Europe is not a continent at all. It is only a peninsula on the western fringe of a continent called Asia!
In the midst of the search for our unity in Europe, the Churches may provide a way forward. The Church of England Board of Social Responsibility produced a report in 1990 entitled, The Church of England and the Challenge of Europe. The report stated: “It has been suggested that what the churches need to offer to the nations of Europe is a model of unity – one which is not monolithic rather sustaining and nurturing proper diversity, yet one which offers a possibility of transformation and wholeness, and one which points to growing interdependence and mutual responsibility”.
The theological understanding of diversity within unity is a key concept from the churches which can help us understand how Europe might evolve. The key in this statement from the Church of England is, in my opinion, the phrase “not monolithic”. The Bible does not speak of the peoples of the world in terms of a monochrome mass. Instead, the Bible speaks of “the nations”. There is a richness in the God-given diversity. The twelve tribes of Israel and the eschatological sign the twelve apostles again signal a diversity within the people of God. But St Paul teaches us that our distinctions of race and tradition are no longer barriers to our unity: there are no longer circumcised and uncircumcised. However, the nations and the peoples are not autonomous. They are interdependent and brought together in a common purpose. Diversity may be part of God’s gracious purpose for the human family, but on the other hand, separation and mutual rejection is not part of that divine plan. In the Church, unity within diversity is preserved through common scriptures, Tradition, the ministry and the sacramental life.
Naturally these features cannot be transcribed into the secular world easily. However, there is another bond of unity in the diversity of the Christian Church: common mission – the extension of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the whole Church in each place, distinct in its context and history, yet walking together with every other part, to herald and build the kingdom of God. Here we may draw a parallel to the emerging Europe. Different languages, legal traditions, views of history, cultural mix, economic bases, even different religious heritage: these need not serve to divide, if there is a commitment to move together, to share a common purpose or goal: what we, in Christian terms would call a common mission.
Dialogue and interdependence
Linked to the concept of unity in diversity and of interdependence, is another contribution which the churches can make to the Europe of today: an understanding of the nature and importance of dialogue. The churches are well experienced in the matter of dialogue. It is something that we have had to exercise internally in order to foster and maintain communion. It is even used between churches to build bridges where communion has been broken or impaired. The Church understands dialogue as essential to unity and communion. A process of dialogue at every level, not, of course, on matters of theology, but on matters pertaining to common life, is needed if Europe is to move together.
The Church of England, for instance, has been able to hold together, at least until this point in time, in one Communion, people with very different convictions and religious sentiments. For example, Anglicans in dialogue with the Church of Rome have come to agreement in areas that were once thought to be Church dividing: the nature of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or the place of universal primacy in the Church, for instance. Similarly Roman Catholics and Lutherans, through dialogue, were able to come to sign a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification wherein they affirm that condemnations pronounced during the Reformation period in the Lutheran Confessions and the Council of Trent do not apply today. Dialogue provides hope, builds bridges, can point the way to restored communion. Dialogue in society can restore broken relationships, and provide a vehicle for nations and peoples to begin to share a common vision and goal.
Dialogue as pilgrimage
Dialogue as Christians understand it entails walking with the dialogue partner. “Pilgrimage together”, is a phrase often used by churches in dialogue with each other. Can we not envision that European nations can be understood to be on a common pilgrimage, a common journey, through this world which we share. And just as pilgrims on the Road to Santiago de Compostela, share with each other: a crust of bread, a flagon of wine, a hunk of nutty manchego cheese, each nation in Europe comes with a set of gifts, a raft of resources, a wealth of experiences which are there to share and exchange.
In order to foster such dialogue leading to greater unity among nations, again, from the churches’ experience of dialogue we learn some principles: Dialogue assumes an equality of the participants. Nothing derails dialogue faster than one party acting superior to the other. There must be genuine and mutual respect for points of view and for historical and cultural perspectives. No trying to win others over to “our side”.
We know also that it is possible for churches to engage in dialogue not only with other churches but with other religion altogether. The goal of such dialogue is not to create one united religion, as it were, but to enable collaboration among religions in fostering common spiritual values to contribute to harmony in society, and to help to build world peace. Once again the lessons from the experience of such dialogue, in which the churches are well versed, may help Europe come to terms with expansion that will include, one day, countries where other religions are dominant, such as Islam in Turkey. But of course, whether or not Turkey enters the EU one day, we already live with the multi-religious reality and sizable religious minorities in most of our countries today. The churches experience of interreligious dialogue, therefore already needs to be heard.
Dialogue and the healing of memories
Dialogue has also been one of the churches’ major instruments in her work of peace and reconciliation. Nation states within Europe and even beyond may benefit from observing how efforts of the churches have often been key in the healing of old wounds between nations, wounds which have needed to heal, for if they fester, there would never be a coming together, and hostilities, like infection will flare up time and time again.
One good example of the efforts of churches to heal old wounds is the fruit of the Meissen Agreement. This agreement between the Church of England and the Lutheran, Reformed and United Churches which form the EKD in Germany, signed in 1988, has proved to be a landmark in the developing relationships between these churches, but, also, has led to a number of twinnings between English dioceses and German churches which have been significant in the healing of memories between these two nations which fought two world wars against each other in the 20th century. My wife, Colleen, is Canadian, and in Canada, because of German immigration, as well as British, it is easy to find both steak and kidney pudding and sauerkraut, sometimes in the same delicatessen. When she moved to London, Colleen, found it odd that she could not find sauerkraut anywhere! German specialties are a rarity in England – I maintain, perhaps because the two countries have been bitter enemies not so long ago. I am not sure that Meissen is encouraging the sale of sauerkraut in England, but it is providing a framework for church people, whose parents died fighting each other, to begin to reconnect. Examples of the twinnings show the Holy Spirit creatively at work: London and Berlin, the old enemy capitals, are twinned, for example. Also Coventry and Dresden, which were both flattened by the opposite side’s bombs.
There are wounds, some of them still festering and open, in Europe. Chechnya is an example that comes quickly to mind due to recent events, but it has been raging for over 100 years. But also we have the experience of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, and Turkey and Greece. The churches are in the reconciliation business and have a wealth of experience of bringing communities, once separated by each other’s killing machines, together. This wisdom in the area of reconciliation, as part of dialogue, the healing of memories, needs to be shared by the churches in Europe today.
Dialogue and repentance
Closely related to reconciliation, in fact, inseparable from it is repentance. The churches have discovered that dialogue, if it is to be fruitful, must always be done in the context of repentance and penitence. The churches are, or should be, experts in penitence, since we are in the reconciliation business, and penitence is an essential part of reconciliation. But sadly, there is precious little spirit of penitence in our modern world and among our modern world leaders and nations.
Do not the Christian churches have a role, then, to remind secular society of something that it prefers not to think about: the place and reality of sin? Events in Madrid earlier this year, and in Breslan just a few weeks ago, are understood by Christians only in so far as we can understand the nature of the fall and the nature of sin. Without reference to our sinfulness, and to the goodness of God, there is a danger of confusion. We begin to become self-righteous; people lose hope; we engage in retaliation which is somewhat short of justice. Our language becomes more and more bellicose and combative, when it should be penitent and forgiving. For we are all fallen – yet redemption is offered to all. Surely this must be among the most challenging of tasks that nations and people must engage in. How can we learn to say to each other, “sorry, I was wrong”. The British Prime Minister is facing this challenge right now: the UK became involved in a war that world opinion, and now the United Nations, have concluded was wrong. Some are demanding an apology from the Prime Minister. We wait and see, but as we wait the crisis in Iraq seems to deepen and British lives and interests are more and more endangered.
But to be fair, it has not been easy for churches themselves to adopt the attitude of contrition for past wrongs. Look at the scandals that have swirled around our churches because of the abuse of minors, an abuse that has been covered up for too long, because the churches could not bring themselves to say they were wrong, and to apologise to victims. I think one of the most heroic actions of Christians was in 1945 when the protestant church leaders in Germany confessed that Christians had been implicated in the crimes committed by the National Socialist Government before and during the second world war. It is possible for churches to be penitent. As we have learnt this as Christian bodies, we must help peoples who have wronged each other to attempt the same. After all, the self-righteousness which predominates the relations between countries in conflict does not seem to be making for peace and security. We would do well to return to the spirit of the Lord’s prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
Dialogue and exploration
Another aspect of dialogue which can be part of the churches’ gift to Europe is in the little exploited area of being a forum for informal dialogue and exploration. People today can feel rather removed from the centres of power and decision-making. There are few places where proposals can be discussed informally, where education concerning initiatives can be undertaken. The churches are underused as a venue or forum for such exchange, yet they are natural centres.
There was a time, for instance, where the living room in the Church of England chaplaincy vicarage in Strasbourg was a place where MEPs and others could gather informally to exchange ideas, in a non-threatening, but supportive environment. It was an environment free from the competitive ambience of the legislative assembly. This is just one example of the church providing a forum for dialogue that will help to strengthen and build civil society. Would it not be exciting if all across Europe, the churches could be places where the people could meet to hear opinions, to seek information, to engage in discussion and reflection, on matters that will affect their lives and the lives of their children. Churches are effective and ideal grassroots instruments for informal reflection and dialogue. In most churches across Europe there is a cross section of civil society represented – and without any particular partisan political or economic agenda. But nevertheless the members of the churches hold to a commonly held, Gospel-based set of values and norms against which to test, evaluate, and discuss developments within our European homeland. If we return to the challenge laid out in Article 51.3 of the new constitution for Europe, the “open, transparent and regular dialogue” with churches will require us to begin at the grassroots.
Social justice at the heart
Social justice is at heart of our mission
We cannot read the Gospels and not come to the realisation that Christians are called to seek God’s justice. “Strive first for the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. (Matthew 6.33). It goes, then, without saying, that any contribution that the churches might make to the building of a moral and spiritual values in Europe, must take account of the centrality of social justice to our mission as Church.
This calling of the people of God to seek God’s justice, is based on a profound understanding of the dignity of the human person, and the dignity of the human race in the eyes of the creator God.
The eighth psalm phrases so poetically the question of human dignity: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? (Ps 8.3,4)
The mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God further dignified the human race as God manifests himself visibly in the humanity of Christ, irreversibly committed to dwelling in human history and society. Since God has become human in Christ, humanity, every human being becomes a living temple of God, as our likeness to the Divine is restored through Christ, the God-Man. So, St Paul can state so boldly to the Corinthians “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3.16,17).
The churches have a great responsibility to hold this anthropological truth before the institutions and governments of our Europe. We are more than flesh and blood. There is a transcendent dimension to human existence. Flesh, blood and mind, but to that we would add soul. And the evidence of this holistic and Christian anthropological understanding, which takes into account the spiritual dimension of human existence, is all around us in Europe. It has resulted in the great artistic achievements of this continent – the great architecture, art, music and literature of our nations. So as our nation states and our European community rightly sets about to safeguard and strengthen human life and existence, part of that project will be to respond to human spiritual yearning, that we may be fed, not only our bodies, but our spirits. So there must be built into the heart of our societies, space and resources for expression of this transcendence, in music, drama, art, and, of course, in worship. So the churches have this task, to hold before our governments this truth that there is a transcendental meaning and purpose to our life
Compassion and solidarity
One of the most consistent messages of the Bible, running through the Prophets of the Old Testament to the Song of the Virgin Mary, the Magnificat in the New, to the teaching of our Lord himself, is that God has a special care for those at the margin of society. In the words of Isaiah “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them…if you satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness”. (Is 58.6ff). And Mary sings, as she expects the Messiah, that the salvation of God has to do with justice to the poor (cf Luke 1. 52-53). The message of the scriptures is that our calling as the people of God is to solidarity and compassion with those who are at the periphery: the poor, the oppressed, the homeless. Here is a message that the churches need to keep before policy makers in Europe, for this is a Europe with asylum seekers, with economic migrants, with the unemployed as jobs move to cheaper labour markets in Asia, with traffic in young people led into prostitution, with oppression continuing against the Roma and Gypsy and against immigrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Care for the earth – environment
Moving beyond care for our human brothers and sisters, our churches, in seeking and proclaiming God’s justice in the world, take account of the ways in which God’s beloved and redeemed creation is being destroyed by human sinfulness. Europe is not doing very well in terms of ecology and care for our homeland. Europe is still the place, in global terms, which has seen the greatest ever ecological disaster: Chernobyl in 1986. In that nuclear accident 40,000 square kilometres of land have been permanently polluted. Of course many tens of thousands of people have been affected, and, alarmingly, future generations may be affected genetically. Europe still produces 1/3 of the total global greenhouse gases.
Already the churches are raising their voices and taking leadership in calling for a new relationship with our environment. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople has had a notable ministry in this field. Commenting on Europe’s and indeed the world’s ecological problems the Patriarch said it “requires radical revision of our sense of the universe, a different interpretation of matter and the world and attitude toward nature by people, a different interpretation of the concept and use of material goods”.
But leadership can come from many different levels. In travelling around Europe I have noticed how many traditional rhythms of communities actually have potential to raise awareness of our dependence on the land and the water and the air around us, and cause us to re-evaluate our abuse and waste of creation. Our countries all have popular cultural and religious festivals – although in many places these struggle to continue, with pressures of urban living, or they become mere tourist occasions and a chance for some to make economic gain. But the churches can encourage our peoples to recover and revive these traditional feasts to do with the cycles of nature: planting, harvest, the blessing of the seas. Such popular liturgies and religiosity, far from being merely superstitious, can bring us once again in touch with our need to live in harmony with our natural surroundings and care for God’s created order.
New understanding of Globalisation
The final area in the sphere of social justice that I would like to mention has to do with what is termed “globalisation”. We hear much of this word today. To most people it means that we can get the same McDonald’s Big Mac in Madrid and Moscow. We can always be connected to our home by our mobile telephone networks across the continent. We are never far from an automatic teller, so that no matter what country we are in, we have ready cash.
This is what economists understand by globalisation: the way people around the globe are more connected to each other than ever before. Information and money flow more quickly than ever. Goods and services produced in one part of the world are increasingly available in all parts of the world. International travel is more frequent. International communication is commonplace. It also includes the way that businesses can now operate as if national borders did not exist: the world is a global stage for international commerce.
Europe’s role in a globalised world
But the churches have another view of globalisation. We can see it from another level. As the major confessions, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, all are truly global and extend well beyond Europe (indeed with many of them having the majority of their populations in Africa and Asia), these international communions can play a role to remind Europe of her due role and responsibility globally. Europe has obligations in the wider world – in terms of trade, aid, use of resources, the way our European businesses operate in the developing world. Churches can be the conscience of Europe in this way.
There is an advocacy role then. Our African brothers and sisters and Asian and Latin American, generally speaking, are not at the tables of decision-making in economic or political life in Europe, even when the decisions may affect their lives. But we, who are their brothers and sisters in Christ, and the churches’ leadership, can play a role in advocacy here in Europe, on their behalf. We can be a reminder to European policy makers that the Gospel teaches we are to be servants of our neighbour and serve them – including those in the wider human community. They are not merely people who can be used to make Europeans more rich and our companies more profitable. We have a duty not to let mere economics and politics define the development of globalisation. It can be globalisation with a conscience.
The Christian churches are like no other organisations in Europe. We have played a major role in shaping our societies for the best part of 2 millennia. We have moved from the centre of power, however, in our continent, to the margins – yet, our true authority comes, not from our position in society, but from Christ himself. The Christ who came to inaugurate a kingdom based on the values of love which God, in Christ has taught us. A kingdom which would be united in itself, yet rejoicing in the diversity of individuals and nations. A kingdom where there is communion and dialogue between peoples, and a commitment to forgive and heal broken relationships. A kingdom where human dignity, the sanctity of God’s creation and the well being of the everyone on this globe we call earth is assured. A moral framework, a model of unity, an experience of dialogue and communion, and a passion for justice. Clearly we have a contribution to make. Let us marshal every effort, ecumenically, at all levels of the Church, to embrace this challenge.
The Feast of St Matthew, 2004