FaithWorld

Thundering sermons produce surprising results in Germany’s Afghanistan debate

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Bishop Margot Kässmann

Thundering sermons can produce some surprising results in Germany these days.

Bishop Margot Kässmann, the new head of Germay’s main association of Protestant churches (EKD — Evangelical Church in Germany), reaped a tirade of criticism from politicians after she denounced Germany’s military mission in a New Year’s sermon at the Berlin Cathedral, the city’s huge monument to Prussian Protestantism. A church leader calls for peace — that’s not news. Politicians supporting soldiers at the front — that’s not a headline either.

But then came a few interesting twists.  Instead of simply fueling the polemics, Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg — surprise #1 — invited her to meet and exchange views. At the meeting in Berlin on Monday, he  — surprise #2 — invited Kässmann to visit the troops in Afghanistan soon. According to the Rheinische Post newspaper, they — surprise #3 — agreed to set up a “regular dialogue between the churches and the Bundeswehr (armed forces).” Anyone who has been following Kässmann, the 51-year-old Lutheran bishop of Hannover elected last October as Germany’s top Protestant leader (and the first woman to hold the post), would say the only non-surprise in all this was that she accepted the invitation to Afghanistan. She is not someone to run away from challenges. guttenberg

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg visits German troops in Kunduz, 13 Nov 2009/Michael Kappeler

This could get very interesting. Guttenberg, a dashing rising star from Bavaria’s conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) party, is a Roman Catholic. One of the striking aspects of Kässmann’s criticism is her use of the “just war” theory, a doctrine allowing defensive fighting but limiting aggressive military actions that is associated with  Saint Thomas Aquinas and was cited by the Vatican when it opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. We don’t know much about Guttenberg’s personal views, but a discussion of the just war theory between a Bavarian Catholic and a northern Lutheran could be an interesting fly-on-the-wall moment. The sparse Defence Ministry communique after the meeting hinted this debate might go public: “Both sides agreed that the ethical dimension of the Bundeswehr mission in Afghanistan is suited for further critical discussion in the public sphere.”

Kässmann, who has cited the just war theory to challenge earlier military exploits such as the 1991 Gulf War, did not wait until New Year’s to express her doubts about Afghanistan. She was quoted in a couple of German papers in December as saying “There is no just war,” adding she could not legitimise the German mission in Afghanistan from a Christian point of view. Germany has about 4,300 soldiers deployed in Afghanistan and the government is considering whether to send more.

GUESTVIEW: No king, no bishop? American Anglicans revolt

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Reenactment of the Boston Tea Party, 13 Dec 1998/Brian Snyder

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a U.S. freelance journalist living in Glenmoore, PA who writes about religion.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

After King George III lowered the boom on Boston in the wake of the 1773 Tea Party rebellion, Virginian Theodore Bland wrote “The question is, whether the rights and liberties of America shall be contended for, or given up to arbitrary powers.” It didn’t take long at all for J. Jon Bruno, Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Los Angeles, to launch another, quintessentially American challenge towards Canterbury and other Anglican points anxious or angry about the election of the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop on December 5.

“I would remind the Episcopal Church and the House of Bishops they need to be conscientious about respecting the canons of the church and the baptismal covenant to respect the dignity of every human being,” Bruno said.  “To not consent in this country out of fear of the reaction elsewhere in the Anglican Communion is to capitulate to titular heads.”

Catholic schools form rare oasis amid Bosnia’s ethnic strife

daria1I was caught by surprise recently when a Western diplomat told me that Serb students were in majority in the Catholic high school in Banja Luka,  a town that had become predominantly Serb after persecution of other ethnic groups during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Banja Luka is the largest town of the Serb Republic, which along with the Muslim-Croat federation makes up postwar Bosnia . (Photo: A Catholic school in Sarajevo, 25 Nov 2009/Danilo Krstanovic)

Then I learned that Bosnian Muslims account for 80 percent of students in the Catholic school in the western town of Bihac, where Muslims are in majority. It turned out that the situation is similar in all seven Catholic centres opened across Bosnia during and after the war. These schools paradoxically became rare multi-ethnic oases in the country where public schools are largely dominated by a majority ethnic group.

This got me wondering why the Catholic Church wanted to open school in Banja Luka, for example, the town in which only seven percent of 44,000 Croat Catholics that had lived  before the war remained to live today.  The result is a feature that just ran on our newswire. That tells the story, but let me tell you a bit more about the background.

German Protestants pick first woman to head church

Bishop Margot KässmannGerman Protestants on Wednesday elected Margot Kässmann, a divorcee and the Lutheran bishop of Hanover, to lead their Church, the first woman to take the post and only the third woman to head a major Christian church.

Kässmann, 51, a regular on television talk shows and known in the media as the “pop bishop,” was considered something of a controversial candidate to lead Germany’s roughly 25 million Protestants because she is divorced. But she won 132 of 142 votes at a synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), an umbrella group for 22 Lutheran, Reformed and United Churches, in the vote to replace the retiring Berlin Bishop Wolfgang Huber, 67, as EKD chairman.

“The election sends a signal to the Church worldwide that God calls us to leadership without consideration of gender, color or descent,” Rev. Ishmael Noko, general-secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, told the Ecumenical News International news agency at the synod in Ulm.

Pope opening to Anglicans may help married priesthood

bishop-family (Photo: Anglican Bishop of London Richard Chartres with wife and children, 5 Sept 1995/Russell Boyce. Under the Vatican offer, bishops could not be married and Anglican bishops who join the Catholic Church must give up their episcopal rank.)

Pope Benedict’s decision to fling open Catholicism’s doors to disaffected Anglicans could challenge centuries of Catholic opposition to married priests and may bring the Church closer to married priesthood.

The opening announced last week could lead to as many as half a million Anglican faithful, some 50 of their bishops and thousands of married Anglican priests converting to Catholicism.

The conservative Anglicans, who oppose female priesthood and gay bishops, now have an exit strategy. They will have their own niche within the Catholic Church and will be allowed to convert as individuals, parishes or even as whole dioceses.

Swedish Lutheran church to allow gay marriages from Nov. 1

gay-cake-ornamentSweden’s Lutheran church, the Church of Sweden, has decided to conduct gay weddings in the Nordic country from Nov. 1. “We are the first major church to do this,” said Kristina Grenholm, the church’s director of theology. The decision came after the Swedish parliament earlier this year passed legislation allowing homosexuals to legally marry, changing a previous law permitting legal unions but not formal marriage.

“For my part, the right decision was taken, but I can empathise with the many who believe this has gone too fast,” Archbishop of Sweden Anders Wejryd told a news conference.

Sweden’s Lutheran church, which split from the state in 2000 but remains the country’s largest religious community, had previously said it was open to registering same-sex unions but wanted to reserve the term matrimony for heterosexual marriages.

from The Great Debate UK:

GUESTVIEW: Proposed legislation on women bishops falls short

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- Reverend Dr. Miranda Threlfall-Holmes is Chaplain and Solway Fellow of University College, Durham. The opinions expressed are her own. -

A controversial decision by a committee drawing up legislation to allow women bishops has been met with criticism from women who are seeking equal representation at the highest levels in the Church of England.

Women have been ordained as priests in the Church of England since 1994, but cannot currently become bishops.

“Return to past” is SSPX motto for doctrinal talks with Vatican

fellay-alps1As planned negotiations between the Vatican and the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) near, the group’s Swiss leader, Bishop Bernard Fellay, has spelled out his view of what the Roman Catholic Church must do to resolve the crisis he believes it is in. “The solution to the crisis is a return to the past,” he has told a magazine published by the SSPX in South Africa. (Photo: Bishop Fellay in Ecône, Switzerland, 29 June 2009/Denis Balibouse)

Fellay said Pope Benedict agrees with the SSPX on the need to maintain the Church’s links to the past, but still wants to keep some reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). “This is one of the most sensitive problems,” he said. “We hope the discussions will allow us to dispel the grave ambiguities that have spread through the Catholic Church since (the Council), as John Paul II himself recognised.”

Benedict has, in fact, listed SSPX acceptance of Vatican II reforms was a Vatican conditions in the talks.

Anglicans, in row, may cut women bishops’ powers

schoriThe Church of England could restrict the powers of some women bishops under a plan designed to end a rift between traditionalists who want to keep the all-male senior clergy and liberals demanding equality.  The proposal has reignited the long-running debate over a supposed ecclesiastical “stained-glass ceiling” that stops women from attaining the most senior roles in the church.

The Church of England body reviewing the law on women bishops, the Revision Committee, has voted to change the rules to remove certain powers from female bishops in dioceses where they face opposition from traditionalists. Specially-appointed male bishops would assume those powers and the new system would be written into British law, the committee said in a statement. (Photo: Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the U.S. Episcopal Church, 4 Nov 2006/Jonathan Ernst)

While Anglicans in the United States, Canada and Australia already have women bishops, conservatives in many other parts of the Communion strongly oppose them. They say there is nothing in the Bible or church history to support women bishops. Liberals, who argue that women should be treated equally, said the latest proposals to allow women bishops, albeit with reduced powers in some areas, risked creating a two-tier church.

Bishops see more selfish Europe 20 years after Berlin Wall fell

referendum Photo; Irish “Yes” campaigners celebrate in Dublin, 3 Oct 2009/Cathal McNaughton)

Europe has become increasingly selfish and materialistic in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the heads of the Roman Catholic bishops’ conferences across Europe said at the end of their three-day annual meeting at the weekend.  “The crisis sweeping Europe today is serious,” they said in a statement after the session in Paris. They cited materialism, individualism and relativism as major challenges facing European society.

The bishops’ sober assessment contrasted with the upbeat mood that the overwhelming “Yes” vote in Ireland’s Lisbon Treaty referendum created.  It must be noted they drew up their statement before they’d heard the news from Dublin on Saturday. And their statement ended with a note of Christian hopefulness. Still, their diagnosis is so fundamental it’s hard to imagine they would have changed much in the text.

Here’s the way they put it:

“All that has happened since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been a great stepping stone in the European adventure… (but) twenty years later, we now see that the incredible European project, with a strong ethical basis, has greatly weakened… The hopes placed on building Europe have not so far been fulfilled. Here we take note of the influence of several factors: