Liaisons Internationales
International Intercommunications

Centre (Ecumenique de Liaisons Internationales)

Offprint from Nr 79, Autumn 1996

Reconciliation in the Midst of Global Division and Destruction.

Towards the Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz (Austria) in 1997 on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation (1)

Ulrich Duchrow (Kairos Europe)

When the World Council of Churches (WCC) at its 6th Assembly in Vancouver 1983 called for a "Conciliar process of mutual commitment towards justice, peace and the integrity of creation" (JPIC) the context seemed clear: apartheid in South Africa and rising socio-economic injustices in the REAGAN / THATCHER era, the threats of nuclear disaster and the growing ecological degradation. So the first European assembly in Basel in 1989 and the world convocation in Seoul in 1990 on JPIC produced clear statements against the powers of death and affirmed new structures and life-giving ways forward. Then came the historic change. GORBACHEV offered peace and democracy for the former Soviet empire. Many people (and churches) in Europe believed that an era of more justice and peace had been ushered in. Even the Gulf War, clinically purified by the media, was seen as a defence of democracy against dictatorship. It also revived the age-old antagonism between "Christian civilization" and Islam. The integration of the European Single Market in 1992 was thought of as strengthening competitiveness in the world market and offering a chance for employment and a better standard of living. However, the unbelievable war developing in Yugoslavia was to be countered by helplessness.

It was in this situation between hope and disorientation that the Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of Catholic Episcopal Conferences in Europe (CECE) decided to call a second European Ecumenical Assembly and give it the theme "Reconciliation - Gift of God and Source of New Life". They were consciously avoiding the language of JPIC in order to indicate there was a new situation characterized by the quest for reconciliation with God and with one another. But in what sense? The South African KAIROS document had warned of the language of reconciliation as characterizing conciliatory "church theology" and neglecting the question of justice ("prophetic theology"). So the question is: do we have to reject that language altogether? Or can there be an understanding of God and reconciliation which goes to the heart of the world's problems today?

I. What or who rules as god in our societies?
Answer: The "masterless powers"

"The World Bank is the visible hand of the programme of unrestrained, free market capitalism... The Bank's priesthood specifically denies limits to growth and promises an ersatz eternity in the here and now" (Susan GEORGE) (2).

If there is one universal and absolute law governing societies globally it is the obligation to pay back debts, not just the principal but also with interest. And there are fewer and fewer people not in debt - directly or indirectly - (3). The Companies need to increase their profits and reduce costs in order to pay back loans plus interest. They do it by excluding people from work, putting pressure on wages, raising prices and dumping ecological standards. Moreover all public budgets are in debt. Transnational capital has created "free markets" beyond national control or taxation. The goverments of the rich countries have tolerated, even promoted this deregulation. At the G7 summit in Lyon, in June 1996, they were surprised about the tax evasion of capital. At the same time, through their instruments - the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) -, they are pushing the over-indebted states of the South and the East into Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) with the one goal of enabling economies to produce the money for debt servicing. In Europe the convergence criteria for the Economic and Monetary Union are creating the same austerity policies. The price for debt servicing is structural unemployment (exclusion), social cutbacks and ecological degradation. The overarching goal is capital accumulation - regardless of human and environmental costs -.

S. George and F. SABELLI have shown that this is done in the name of economics which, however, is being used as an absolute faith for legitimating the fact of the idol of capital asking for sacrifices. Theologically, Karl Barth reflected on this mechanism in the ethical part of his doctrine of reconciliation (4). He picked up the statement of Max WEBER that the capitalist markets function like "masterless slavery" (5). Human beings turn away from the service of the God of love because they want to be without masters. So the gifts and powers they have been given by the creator become autonomous and turn against human beings like absolute laws. The most prominent of those absolute "masterless powers" is Mammon. Once allowed to rule there is no forgiveness of debts any more. They do not allow for reconciliation.

Besides Mammon, Barth also identifies other modern "masterless powers": the state, if and when it presents itself as absolute (fascist state, national security state, etc.): ideologies and the power of propaganda: "chtonic" (earthly) powers like technology. I would add: imperialistic powers advancing and defending their own identity with violence.

Le Monde Diplomatique published a series of articles on what they call "The new masters of this world" (6). These are global finance, global business (transnational corporations) and media. Their power cannot be matched by any trade union or any national government. Indeed, they function without any resposibility according to the laws of the market. So the modern gods are not just phenomena of consciousness. They have incarnated themselves in pseudoobjective structures claiming to be absolute.

However, I suggest that it is by political decesion that they can function this way. Otherwise we would agree that they are fatal. The international agencies like the IMF, World Bank and the World Trade Organization (WTO) not only let them function as masterless powers, but arrange everything so that they can function as they do. Our democratically elected governments, the heads of state and the ministers of finance and the economy decide together that the global markets may function dictatorially, create economic, social, cultural, psychological splits and divisions (apartheid!), violence and ecological destruction. So it is the political economy of transnational capitalism which contradicts reconciliation diametrically. Therefore, Jews and Christians can never reconcile with these masterless power. They are the opposite to the biblical God. If this God could help in overturning them this would be good news for people and the earth.

II. The biblical God of reconciliation

1. The First Testament

Biblical history has one key message throughout its different phases: God has liberated one people from bondage and idols to create an alternative of solidarity (love) among the kingship systems of the Ancient Near East characterized by slavery, tribute and imperial conquest in order to win over these peoples to this alternative of justice and peace (shalom) (7). The motive of reconciliation appears in one particular period of this history, namely after the breadkdown of the monarchy in Israel (722 BC) AND IN jUDAH (586 BC). In contradicition to its liberation from Egypt Israel had adopted this system from its neighbors (cf. 1 Sam. 8) with all the structural sins of injustice and idolatry. After the catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the exile of the upper classes, all groups in society started to reflect on one key issue: how can we make a new start and prevent sin from becoming routine and structural again?

l. The first answer to this question comes from a group of former temple prophets already in exile. They gather around a "master" re-evaluating the book of Isaiah. This is why their texts were put as chapters 40-55 into the book of Isaiah and the author(s) called the second Isaiah. As former officials of the state temple they must have been nationalist monarchist. But suffering completely changes their understanding of God's action in histrory.

First of all, they do away with the ideology of God's particular relationship to the kings of Israel and Judah. God's action becomes global. God calls the king of the Medes, Cyrus, to break the arrogant power of the Babylonian empire (Is. 41,2 ff. and 45,4). Secondly, they cut the relationship between the divine and the royal power altogether. God does not legitimate the kingship system of power and wealth. Rather God identifies with the suffering people in history and creates salvation through them. We find the climax of this insight in the songs about the suffering servant (Is. 52, 13-53, 12) - a key text for the later interpretation of the role of Jesus in God's reconciling acton -:

"He was despised, he shrank from the sight of men, tormented and humbled by suffering... Yet on himself he bore our sufferings, our torments he endured... The chastisement he bore is health for us and by his scourging we are healed" (53, 3-5).

The monarchy, legitamated through the idols of power and wealth (Baal) breaks up the community of people - internally through classes, externally through conquest and tribut - God reveals the devine power in different ways (53,1). Yahweh's main actors in history are those who transform the suffering - the consequence of the sinful usurpation of power - into a power healing the community. The seemingly total loss of power for Israel in exile introduces a completely new understanding of power into human history. God does not work through the triumphant violence of the victors but through the weakness of the victims, liberating them to be actors healing the broken community. This experience of the people of God becomes a hope for all peoples.

2. Another prophet of this time comes from priestly circles, Ezekiel. He is struggling with the problem of how the seemingly fatal connection between sin and disastrous consequences can be broken. His message is: sin is no fate. God offers every person, every generation a new chance of making a new start - to do what is just and consequently to live -.

"These were the words of the Lord to me: What do all mean by repeating this proverb in the land of Istrael: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge"? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall never again be used in Israel. Every living soul belongs to me: father and son are alike mine. The soul that sins shall die. Consider the man who is righteous and does what is just and right... he shall live, says the Lord God"
(Ez. 19,1 ff.: cf. chapter 33).

The new start includes personal and structural justice. This is why the prophet also drafts a new constitution including clear limitations on the posessions and powers of leaders (cf. 40 ff.).

3. The key texts in the First Testament on reconciliation are found in the priestly book of Leviticus. During the time of the kings the priests had been part and parcel of the system, rejecting the prophets of justice (cf. e.g. Amos 7, 10 ff.). After the catastrophe they too repented. Their contribution to the new thinking is very realistic. They start from the consideration of what happens when sin again becomes routine. This is realistic because after the return from exile the Judaic people was only allowed to be semi-autonomous within the Persian empire. So externally they were linked into the tributary system which could lead towards impoverishment, debt and slavery (cf. Neh. 5, 1 ff.). How were they to overcome the sinful breaking of community with ever more disastrous consequences by healing and corrective action? The priestly answer is God's offer of periodical events of reconciliation: an annual day of reconciliation (Yom Kippur), a sabbatical every seventh year and a year of jubilee (jobel) every seven-times-seventh (plus one) year (the 50th).

Lev. 1-16 offers rituals dealing with the issue of what to do when the people and especially the leaders have sinned. After an interim chapter on life and blood (17) the second part offers concrete laws. On the one hand they indicate what sin is (like a checklist for the confession of sins), on the other hand they show what the structures should look like for a people liberated from the slavery of Egypt (the kingship system). The climax is the day of atonement, reconciliation - not cheaply, but throught the vicarious blood of a goat -. The sins of the people are confessed on the head of a second goat which is then driven out into the wilderness. In this way sins and their dire consequences are expelled from the community. A new beginging is possible on the basis of the life-giving laws of God.

These laws and regulations are encapsulated in the so-called "holiness law" (Lev. 18-26). The introductory verses (1-5) show that the distinctiveness of Israel vis-a-vis "Egypt" and "Canaan" is not meant in a racist way but to ensure the avoidance of a class society with slavery, tribute and debt legitimated by the gods of power and wealth. Yahweh is the God of life and wants life for his people and the peoples.

The key chapter for our purposes is Lev 25. It starts with the seventh year, the Sabbath. The land shall rest after six years of being worked by humans and with it also the working people, including slaves. This shows that the land is the Lord's, given by God. If therefore has its own right and cannot just be instrumentalized by human beings - a powerful witness against the ruthless exploitation of nature by modern men under capitalist conditions and a witness to ecological awareness and practices in the context of reconciliation.

Lev. 25,8-31 gives the rules of the year of jubilee, proclaimed on the day of atonement of the forty-ninth year. The key is that the sin of inequality is overcome by liberating all slaves from slavery, all indebted people from debt and by giving back the family land to each family. And land in an agrarian society means the means of production. Land must not be sold or bought "for ever". No one is the absolute owner because God is the owner of the land - people only use it -. Also prices for land are controlled by counting the harvests up to the year of jubilee, not allowing market powers to dictate them.

The following laws show that the criterion for justice is to demonstrate solidarity whenever a family is having a hard time for socio-economic reasons. To enable them to live is the goal, and to avoid actions impoverishing them (like charging interest) is the way. These are not just "ethical" questions. But the socio-economic state of the community reveals who rules as god: the idols of power and wealth or God the liberator, the God of solidarity through reconciliation.

2. The messianic scriptures of the Second Testament

Jesus in his self-introduction in Nazareth summarizes his mission as fulfilment of the jubilee year (Luke 4, 18 ff., quoting Is. 61. 1 ff.):

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me: he has sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind: to let the broken victims go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

This means that Jesus sees himself fully in the tradition of the Jewish "contrast society" as an attractive model and therefore hope of all peoples of the earth (8). The basis for this hope is that God again becomes king of his people (kingdom of God), overcoming the empires compared with wild beasts (cf. Dan. 2 and 4). In what way? Jesus summarizes his approach in Mk. 10, 42 ff.:

"You know that in the world those regarded as rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men misuse their power (violently) over people. That is not the way with you: among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be the willing slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many."

The word "serve" at that time related to the service at the table only conducted by women and slaves - the "least ones" - (L. SCHOTTROFF). So as in Leviticus Jesus builds the alternative society "from below". He himself follows this path of humbling himself and serving the healing of the community to that extent that he vicariously gives his life as a "ransom" for the many. This relates to the suffering servant of Is. 53 as much as to LEV. 25. "Ransom" there means liberating someone from debt, which destroys the life of the debtor and breaks the community - an expression of structural sin -. In the messianic community of Jesus the structural debt mechanism and the patriarchal-imperialistic domination over slaves and women is overcome.

The characteristics and consequences of the new community are best unfolded in Jesus' "Sermon on the mount" (Mt. 5-7). He sees it as the fulfilment of Is. 2, as the salt of the earth, light for the peoples, city on the mountain (Mt. 5,13 ff.). In a nutshell we see this on the occasion of his last supper. John the evangelist portrays it starting with Jesus washing the feet of his disciples - again something done by slaves -. He recommends his disciples to do the same. The last supper is a "passah" meal remembering the night before the Hebrew slaves were liberated from Egyptian bondage. So the last supper evokes the tounding event of Israel: liberation from a society in which there are slaves and lords. The contrast is a community around a table where everybody is satisfied and serves each other - the image of the kingdom of God - (cf. Lk. 14,15 ff.). Also here "the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame" are hosted first. In Is. 25,6-8 we have the vision of a meal of all peoples in Zion.

Offering one's life is the basis of this new community:

"During supper he took bread, and having said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them, with the words: "Take this: this is my body." Then he took a cup, and having offered thanks to God he gave it to them: and they all drank from it. And he said, "This my blood, the blood of the covenant, shed for many" (Mk 14,22 ff.).

The "covenant" refers to the scene at Sinai when after liberation from Egypt God had given the rules for the alternative society of the liberated slaves and the elders had a meal before God after the commitment of the people (Ex. 24). All the elements of the alternative are present in Jesus' last supper. There is the death of the just one, caused by the sins of the people and executed by the empire fearing the resistance of those struggling for the alternative. This death is the ultimate consequence of vicarious service healing the community. The alternative itself is a meal for all, starting with the least in society. So the Jesus way of reconciliation may be summarized in these catchwords: building a new community from below in mutual service through vicarious love as alternative and in resistance to the enslaving and indebting violent imperial power systems in the spirit of the kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul picks up on this Jesus tradition with the following concept: "God through reconciliation in the Messiah (Christos) Jesus creates himself a messianic community in justice and peace as cooperator for liberating the whole creation.

The background is his insight that people individually and collectively prefer to worship themselves and the makings of their hands and thus are sold to the (masterless) powers of sin in their own greed with the consequence of injustice (Rom. 1,18 ff.). In this situation of enmity against God and God's justice God has taken the initiative in the Messiah Jesus, making an unconditional offer of peace and a new beginning. So sin is no fate! Those people from Jewish and non-Jewish origin who accept this offer ("believing" in the sense of "trusting" it) receive God's spirit of love and hope to build the new humanity in justice and fullness of life (Rom. 5 ff.), including the liberation of the whole creation (Rom. 8) in contrast to the patterns of the present system (Rom. 12.1 ff.) (9).

The second main text we find in 2 Cor. 5, 14-21:

"God has reconciled us humans to himself through the Messiah, and he has enlisted us in this service of reconciliation. What I mean is, that God was in the Messiah reconciling the world to himself, no longer holding people's misdeeds against them, and that he has entrusted us with the message of reconciliation. We come therefore as Christ's ambassadors. It is as if God were appealing to you through us: in Christ's name, we implore you, be reconciled to God! The Messiah was innocent of sin, and yet for our sake God made him one with the sinfulness of the humans, so that in him we might be made one with the justice of God himself!"

This text shows very clearly - as particularly feminist critique has brought out - that reconciliation through Christ's cross does not mean acquiescing in the suffering and injustice in the world. On the contrary, the vicarious cross as a result of the resistance against the Roman empire and all structures of sin empowers people to become co-workers of God's justice. What this means in concrete terms Paul unfolds in Gal 3,26-28:

"For through faith you are all sons (and daughters) of God in union with the Messiah Jesus. Baptized into union with him, you have all put on Christ as a garment. There is no such thing as Jew or Greek, slave and freeman, male and female: for you are all one person in the Messiah Jesus."

The new community between Jews and non-Jews is the key theme of Paul's life and mission. The Jews in Palestine represented the uncompromising resistance of a subjugated people to the absolute Roman empire. Therefore (and because of their "otherness") their compatriots throughout the empire were the most hated people. Creating reconciliation between them was at the same time a sign of the power of the gospel and also an expression of an alternative and resistance to the structures of the system. This is clear from the second and third characteristic of the new community reconciled in justice: no slavery, no patriarchy.

The same may be shown from the letter to the Ephesians. New research has shown that the whole letter unfolds an alternative to the Roman system (10). It is not the emperor with his violent oppressive "peace" who is the head of the body of humankind, but Jesus the Messiah. In his body no group is alien. Jews and others are co-citizens in justice and peace.

III. Reconciliation Today

1. The issue of reconciliation confronts us with the question: whom or what are we allowing to rule as absolute god in our lives and societies? The merciless systems of debt, violence and destruction of nature, born out of the greed to increase power and wealth? Or the merciful God who cancels the debts of his creature created out of love, reconciles, breaks the lethal powers of sin and injustice making us co-workers to liberate the whole creation towards life in its fulness?

In Europe and the Western culture the god-question is hidden behind the masterless powers (11). These hide behind the ideology of rational science and natural laws. In the modern history of church and theology this has hardly been recognized. It is only through the recent emergence of liberation theology and its rediscovery of the biblical "option for the poor" that the god-question has been identified in the midst of concrete socio-economic, political and cultural developments. The conciliar process of mutual commitment for justice, peace and the integrity of creation is a fruit of this, yet only if the theological character of these issues is realized and not reduced to so-called "social ethics" within the dominant system.

2. The liberating message of the biblical reconciling God, overcoming all paralysis, is: sin, including structural sin with its consequences of injustice, violence and destruction, is no fate! God offers the chance to break through seemingly absolute, disastrous developments by also overcoming the modern irresponsible structures of "masterless powers".

This message is very necessary. But is it also understandable, creditable? It is understandable, because many people have an unclear feeling that something is going very wrong. But because of complexity and because of disinformation through the new masters of this world, finance, business and media, people are not sure of what it is exactly that is going wrong and why. It would be credible if the churches did not shy away from conflict with the new masters. Ask somebody who seems to them more credible - Greenpeace, Amnesty International or the churches -. Most would not say the churches. Why? Because most of the churches shy away from conflict. This is what the South African Kairos document calls the church theology cheap reconciliation. The churches can only proclaim the liberating message of "sin is no fate" if they do it in the spirit of truth which is ready to face conflict. This leads to:

3. God's offer to break the chain between sin and dire consequences through reconciliation in unconditional but not cheap. The concrete sins and actors have to be named and unmasked (Wink), even our own sin as churches as we prepare for the second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz. The structural sins in Europe today include: the introduction of brutal laissez-faire-capitalism in the Central and Eastern European countries followed by impoverishment of growing numbers of people: the failure to establish common security structures and policies and to channel the peace dividend into social and ecological transformation: the Schengen wall against refuges: the anti-Islam mood and the upsurge of anti-Semitism and racism: the recolonization and exclusion of the South (except the growing markets in Asia): the participation of West European goverments in deregulating the global capital mechanisms with the consequence of further social cutbacks and ecological dumping.

Our first task in trying to make credible the biblical message of reconciliation in Europe today is therefore to clearly analyse the social, economic, political and ecological situation and our involvement in it as Christians and churches. This is not an expression of negativism or masochism. Yet confessing sins concretely is breaking the power of them and is the first step towards expelling them from the community as in the goat liturgy of the Israelite day of reconciliation.

Since 1989, the year of the first European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel, the time of the breakdown of "really existing socialism", a lot has happened which needs attention in a true confession of concrete sins. Let me pick out just a few examples. The schock therapy in Central and Eastern Europe and particularly in the former Soviet Union, pushed by the IMF and the western governments, and cleverly used by the old guard communists, has abondoned these countries to a merciless Manchester capitalism. Together with small national elites the winners are the TNCs again, gaining control of the vast resources, using cheap labor and dumping waste. This is the reason why ELSTIN recently got USD 10.000 million from the IMF for his election campaigh, giving up in turn the rights to impose customs on oil and other raw materials. This means adding to Russia's debt servicing and selling out an annual income for the country of 2.000 to 3.000 million US dollars. In the last few years the TNCs have also bought large portions of the north coast of Asia because of the gigantic reserves of raw materials and oil. Who listens to the voices fo the indigenous people there, who protest against losing their livelihoods like the Sami people at the Russian-Finnish border (12)?

In 1992, indigenous people from the Americas and many NGOs around the world remembered the 500 years of European colonialism and oppression, and the resistance of the victims. In that same year the European Union (EU) introduced the Single Market in Europe. All we predicted in that year has become more than true: growing destruction of over-indebted, dependent societies in the South and growing injustice in Europe itself including Fortress Europe with the Schengen wall around it, growing structural unemployment and destruction of sustainable agriculture and the dismantling of social welfare (13). There is still time for the European churches in Graz to make up for those 500 years by the confession of sins.

In terms of the EU itself the key issue at the moment is the convergence criteria for monetary union. They are the Structural Adjustment Programmes for our states and populations. Losing taxes because of structural unemployment, picking up the costs for the unemployed, and losing taxes on capital gains through the deregulated global markets, the governments use the budget deficits to cut down on social, educational and health expenditure while profits for capital owners soar. Here, the European churches in Graz can confess their sin of not noticing the drametic shifts in the global economic and financial system. At he same time they can join the NGO campaigns to regain control on capital for social and ecological purposes (14).

4. In order to make the new beginning through reconciliation, starting with the confession of sins, the churches and congregations clearly have to get in touch with and identify with the victims struggling against their victimization. This can include other created beings. At the same time new efforts have to be made to win over the middle classes, which are the main constituency of the European churches.

Lev. 25 and Gal. 3, 26-28 are crystal clear in putting the last first in the process of reconciliation and change towards justice. However, today we have to add our fellow creatures to the victims of the system. S. BERGMANN proposes the development of an ecological liberation theology in Europe (15). The key issue here is to contextualize the local congregations. After all, it is at the local level that the victims gather and living conditions are poisoned and destroyed.

This, however, includes a very difficult issue for the European churches. Their constituency is mainly made up of middle class people. How can they join the process of reconciliation? The first answer is to distinguish persons from structures. Jesus rejects the structures of Roman oppression and tribute including the collaboration of the Jewish elites, but he accepts the tax collector Zacchaeus. And Zacchaeus changes his socio-economic practices in joy over the new quality of life and relations in the community of Jesus (Lk. 19,1 ff.). But of course this is not enough. The destructive system does not change when a few individuals change. A collective change is necessary.

Looking at this problem, G. MÜLLER-FAHRENHOLZ has proposed a new ecumenical pastoral approach (16). He starts from the observation that the global threats to humankind are of such magnitude that they cause a "psychic numbing". This again crates cynicism among the powerful, fundamentalism among the powerless and "violentism" turning the world back to chaos. What we need is a new spiritual paradigm. We can find it in the experiences of early Christianity with God's spirit as the power of truth, the power of solidarity and the power of endurance.

In our present situation people are victims of diffuse anxieties. The spirit can help the churches to clearly identify what has to be feared and therefore changed. This would create the political will to concretely change what has been identified as sin in confession. As the next step the spirit as comforter would heal the Christian communities enabling them to share in solidarity and join with others in the struggle for solidarity in society. Finally, the spirit of endurance would strengthen the struggling communities when they experience resistance and defeat.

All this would include middle class people and minorities in the elites, since the present neoliberal system is victimizing societies and nature as a whole. So the message and practice of liberation can be grasped in principle by all. This does not alter the main biblical perspective that in the kingdom of God and its justice the last shall be first. It only concretely shows how the first can and should also enter as the last.

5. The praxis of reconciliation has two basic strategic elements:

- Overcoming the fears of the "masterless powers" by saying a firm "No" to their absolutism while starting small-scale alternatives.

- Joining alliances for political intervention towards justice, peace and the integrity of creation at all levels.

This is what Kairos Europe calls the "double strategy" (17). It contains a rejection of the present global neoliberal capitalist system coupled with credible small-scale boycotts as well as constructive alternatives in dealing with money, production, trade, consumption, non-violence and ecological behavior. The second element is forming alliances at the local, national, European and global levels. Haw can this be done?

III. Practical examples of reconciliation

1. The European Ecumenical Coalition for Graz 1997

In 1989, at the first European Ecumenical Assembly in Basel, about thirty groups and networks decided to develop a grass roots network at the European level. "Kairos Europe - Towards a Europe for Justice" was formed in Monteforte (Italy) in 1990. The purpose of this network was twofold: (1) To follow up the JPIC process after the big assemblies: (2) to liberate this process from its churchcenteredness and start from the victims, whoever they are, in the tradition of the biblical approach.

When the CEC and CCEE called for the second European Assembly in Graz, Kairos Europe invited all European groups and networks working on JPIC issues to form a coalition for Graz. This was done in October 1995 in Frankfurt (Germany). We formulated a statement of self-understanding, developed concrete plans leading up to Graz, June 1997 and sent out a letter of invitation to all congregations and groups in Europe (attached). About 80 groups and networks have responded positively. The following concrete patterns of action are emerging:

(1) Local groups and congregations are identifying the most burning issue and conflict in the context of poverty, exclusion, war, ecological destruction, and religious and cultural diversity in their own situation.

They are making or intensifying their contact to the victims of this conflict and trying to develop concrete models of reconciliation. In the justice dimension these include sanctuary for asylum seekers, anti-racism campaigns, initiatives of unemployed and homeless people, inviting middle class people to live on minimum social benefits experimentally, opposing trade with women by supporting the victims while fighting the root causes of this modern slavery, developing and strengthening local North-South and East-West partnerships, and small-scale alternatives when dealing with money and the social economy. In the peace work one of the emphases is on developing "Shalom diakona" and civilian service for peace. Peace networks have already started training programmes and concrete models of reconciliation in former Yugoslavia. Another element is fighting arms production and trade, especially concerning land mines. Praxis models for reconciling with creation include urban-rural partnerships and cooperatives, local ecological projects, school partnerships with the children of Chernobyl and participation in Local Agendas 21 (the follow-up of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development).

(2) Kairos Europe has identified three areas in the field of justice where alliances are being built to address the European level of decision making: migration in relation to Fortress Europe, communal alliances against social and ecological degradation, the Monetary Union.

The present Intergovernmental Conference on the revision of the Maastricht Treaty is perhaps the last chance to influence the inhuman legal situation for migrants and refugees in Europe. Coordinated by London based David FORBES, Kairos Europe is inviting active groups to come together in London in November 1996 and in Brussels in April 1997 to strategize and publicly protest against the present European laws and practices (18). The communal alliances against social degradation and the groups working on local agendas 21 are being invited to join a sharing conference at the European level in Frankfurt, also in November 1996 (19). The campaign "For a Just Monetary Union - Including a common policy for employment and social cohesion -, regaining control of transnational capital" is organizing a Hearing in the European Parliament and a strategy meeting in Brussels on October 17, 1996.

(3) In some cases there have been, or will be national preparatory conferences.

The German grassroots groups had an assembly in March 1996 identifying as the key theme: The present world economic system against God's spirit. They produced a basic analysis, papers of experts and a resolution (20). The German national delegates met in Erfurt in June 1996 and also produced a message and working group reports (21).

(4) All participating groups and networks will have a plenary of exchange and planning in Graz October 4-6, 1996.

Here, the concrete steps towards and in Graz will be discussed and decided, particularly the pilgrimages towards Graz, the "Ecumenical Village" and the forums during the Assembly itself.

(5) The pilgrimages towards Graz shall make the Graz Assembly public in every country of Europe.

The idea is that we select symbolic places where non-reconciliation is being produced, or particularly visible, as well as models of reconciliation. Just to give a few examples: factories producing land mines can be visited with victims, and publicly denounced. We shall join the marches of the unemployed, organized during the first part of 1997 and culminating in a big event in Amsterdam in June right before the Graz Assembly. Communities like "La Poudiere" in Brussels provide a convincing example of integrating poor people of all kinds, nationalities and religions into a hope-creating alternative (22).

(6) In Graz we shall organize an "Ecumenical Village" and participate in the discussions of the delegates in the forums.

The participating groups, networks and congregations have the right to send delegates to the "Ecumentical village" organized by the coalition during the Assembly, June 22-29, 1997 in Graz. We ewpect 500-1000 people. Here the first purpose is to make the voice of the victims heard. This will be done by sharing among each other but also in meeting with the delegates. The official preparatory group has decided to offer forums for this encounter every day. This is a big step beyond Basel, where the programmes of the groups could only take place in parallel to the official Assembly.

All in all we do have a new chance to involve the churches and congregations in the struggles of civil society against a death-bringing system and for life, the gift of our reconciling God. Reconciliation is not something abstract but very concrete. It is the invitation to draw new hope, to act with faith and to become co-workers in God's creative and liberating love.


BARTH, K, 1979, Das christliche Leben. Die Kirchliche Dogmatik IV/4, in: ders., Gesamtausgabe II,7, Zürich.

BERGMANN, S., 1995, Geist, der Natur befreit. Die trinitarische Kosmologie Gregors von Nazianz im Hoizont einer ökologischen Theologie der Befreiung, Mainz.

DUCHROW, U. 1992, Europe in the World System 1492-1992: Is Justice Possible?, Geneve.

DUCHROW, U. 1995, Alternatives to Global Capitalism: Drawn from Biblical History, Designed for Political Action, Utrecht.

DUCHROW, U. 1996, Versöhnung im Kontext von Nicht-Versöhnung. Bibelarbeiten, Analysen und praktische Beispiele zur II. Europaischen Ökumenischen Versammlung im konziliaren Prozess für Gerechtigkeit, Frieden und Befreiung der Schöpfung (Graz 1997), Beilage zu "Junge Kirche" H. 3. Bremen.

DUCHROW, U., LIEDKE, G., 1989, Shalom: Biblical Perspectives on Creation, Justice and Peace, Geneva.

FAUST, E., 1993 Pax Christi et Pax Caesaris. Religionsgeschichtliche, traditonsgeschichtliche und sozialgeschichtliche Studien zum Epheserbrief, (Novum Testamentarum et Orbis Antiquus (NTOA), Bd. 24), Fribourg / Göttingen.

GEORGE, S., SABELLI, F., 1994, Faith and Credit: The Wold Bank's Secular Empire, London.

MÜLLER-FAHRENHOLZ, G., 1995, Versöhnung - Gottes Gabe, Quelle des Lebens, in: Ökumenische Rundschau H. 3, Frankfurt.


(1) This article contains the essence of my German pamphlet on reconciliation, 1996.

(2) S. GEORGE and F. SABELLI, 1994, pp. 248 and 250.

(3) You will find a detailed analysis of the following in U. DUCHROW, 1995.

(4) K.BARTH, 1979 - in his last lectrures on the struggle for human justice and the prayer "Your kingdom come" -, pp. 363 ff.

(5) Cf. U. DUCHROW, 1995. p. 122.

(6) May 1995, cf. also Maniere de voir, 28 (Les nouveaux maitres du monde).

(7) Cf. in detail U. DUCHROW, 1995. pp. 121 ff.

(8) Cf. in detail Ibid., pp. 175 ff.

(9) Cf. U. DUCHROW / G. LIEDKE, 1989.

(10) Dv. E. FAUST, 1993.

(11) Cf. U. DUCHROW, 1992.

(12) More information can be obtained from Sigurd Bergmann, Institute for Contextual Theology, University of Lund / Sweden.

(13) Cf. U. DUCHROW, 1992, in relation to the "People's Parliament" organized by the grassroots movement Kairos Europe in Strassbourg.

(14) Cf. the Kairos Europe campaign "For a just Monetary Union - including a common social and employment policy, regaining control on transnational capital", Heidelberg, Hegenichstr. 22.

(15) Cf. S. BERGMANN, 1995.

(16) G. MÜLLER-FAHRENHOLZ, 1995, pp. 59 ff.

(17) Cf. U. DUHROW, 1995, pp. 229 ff.

(18) Contact address: Praxis, Pott Street, GB-London E2 OEF.

(19) Contact address: Jutta Wenz, Nietzschestrasse8, D-68165 Mannheim.

(20) The documentation can be obtained from "Ökumenisher Informationsdienst", Laurentiushof Wethen, D-34474 Diemelstadt.

(21) Available at the same address.

(22) Cf. U. DUCHROW, 1995. pp. 246 ff.


October 16, 1995

Letter of invitation to groups and congregations on the way to Graz

"Reconciliation - gift of God and source of new life" is the theme of the 2nd European Ecumenical Assembly, to take place in June 1997 in Graz, Austria. Reconciliation is difficult to talk about, let alone to practise, in a world of division and non-reconciliation. Reconciliation can only succeed when the cries are heard of people suffering from poverty, exclusion, war and ecological degradation, when they are treated justly and when they can rejoice in empowerment.

We are a coalition of groups committed to justice, peace and the integrity of creation:

- which act side by side with poor and outcast persons
- which practise non-violence in their dealings with others, in order to overcome war and violence
- which want to preserve God's good creation.

At our first meeting we began to formulate our understanding of reconciliation, in order to contribute this to the preparations for Graz and the event itself.

We see Graz, and the road leading up to it, as an opportunity for action.

- Congregations and groups can ask themselves, what are the worst examples of lack of reconciliation near us - in the form of injustice, racism, violence against people and against creation - ? They can make contact with the victims of unreconciled situations - in their neighborhood, within their country or state, in Europe, in the East and in the South - and work on identifying and overcoming the causes of unreconciled relationships.

- We want to make pilgrimages together to Graz and to stop at places in Europe, where the scandals which prevent genuine reconciliation are especially visible and where signs of hope can be found.

- In Graz we want to collect together all our experiences and to present them to the Assembly. We hope that the Assembly in Graz will be an occasion for meeting and sharing, and for conflict and celebration. We have therefore developed the vision of an ecumenical village, in which we can not only talk and discuss with each other and with the delegates to the Assembly but also rest, meditate, eat, pray, celebrate, sing, drink and also practise reconciliation. We hope that a great many people will come ready to share their experiences. We are already working on materials which will be of help on the way to Graz.

We invite you to join us now on this path. Whoever wishes to take part should contact our Coordinating Committee as soon as possible and return the completed response form to: Christa SPRINGE, c/o Frauen-Netzwerk der ECG, Am Gonsenheimer Spiess 6, D - 55122 Mainz.

Our next planning meeting for all groups, networks and interested people will take place in Graz, October 4-6, 1966. You will find enclosed documents outlining our current thoughts and ideas in relation to the ecumenical village and the organization and funding of our joint activities.

On behalf of those groups and networks so far involved in the preparation process.

and Ulrich DUCHROW


Reconciliation in Europe in the context of poverty, exclusion, war and ecological destruction and religious and cultural diversity

The Conference of European Churches (CEC) and the Council of Catholic Bishops Conference in Europe (CCEE) have invited Christians and Churches throughout Europe to prepare for a second European Ecumenical Assembly on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation in 1997. The theme is "Reconciliation - God's gift and source of new life".

As representatives of groups and networks affected by and struggling against poverty, social exclusion, war and ecological destruction.

- We welcome this invitation. Our response comes from a biblical perspective. We are convinced that all parties to the process have to be present when Churches seek reconciliaton.

- We commit ourselves to working with our groups and networks over the next two years in preparation for the Graz Assembly and in engaging in advocacy in relation to public and political institutions.

- We anticipate a gathering in Graz, 22-29 June 1997, which will involve not only official delegates to the Assembly but also representatives of groups and communities which are engaged in the process of reconciliation, including representatives of all faiths.

In this statement we set forth our beliefs, expectations and hopes as we approach the Assembly in Graz. We draw upon both biblical tradition and knowledge of our society as we explore the importance of reconciliation. We invite others to join in this process.

In the biblical traditions reconciliation is never cheap but a matter of life and death.

When sins become structural in a society, they break up community and cause destruction. Sinful social, economic and political structures and personal attitudes are not a matter of fate. God breaks through these structures of sin with the offer of liberating reconciliation. This enables us to name life-denying forces and structures and to recognize our own role in them. This indicates the following paths towards justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

- Firstly, within faith communities: resisting the forces of evil: developing real social and economic alternatives: and recognizing the preference God has given to the impoverished and excluded.

- Secondly, in society: cooperating with those who are trying to establish a just political and economic framework which can correct unjust processes and structures.

Reconciliation can come about as we commit ourselves to a nonviolent struggle for justice. The preferential option for the poor and the preferential option for non-violence must be combined in this struggle. Reconciliation in this full and concrete sense is a source of joy and a cause for celebration.

Reflection on today's context leads us to recognize the life-denying forces and structures which exist on a global scale.

This is a time when community has disintegrated: once again there is war in Europe. A suffering world cries out for reconciliation.

We look back on a history of more than 500 years of colonialism which has resulted in the impoversishment of other parts of the world. At the same time there is growing injustice, division and marginalization within Europe.

- More and more people are excluded from work, housing, health, social services, education and freedom of movement. At the same time an ever smaller group of about 20 % of the world's population increases its wealth and control of resources. This comes about through the globalization and deregulation of capital markets in order to maximize profits.

- Many of our communities suffer pain, division and tension as a result of social and economic degradation and racial and cultural discrimination. This tension often leads to violence and war. Those engaged in business and financial transactions which create social and economic degradation often also profit from the production and sale of armaments. This perpetuates the suffering, mutilation and death of women, men and children and nature itself.

- The state of our environment shows that our relationship with the earth and with future generations is being broken. Unqualified economic growth benefits the few whilst the basis of our present and future life is being destroyed. The richest 20 % not only devour more than 80 % of the earth's resources but also produce more that 80 % of the waste.

- Suspicion and enmity have caused and continue to cause divisions between faith communities, e.g. between Muslims and Christians and between Jews and Christians. Our fear of those who are different and our reluctance to accept our own responsibility for destructive processes cause us to demonize others.

We confess our guilt as members of Churches:

- which have been much more concerned about their own survival than the conversion announced by the Gospel,

- which have often sought to avoid conflict by making general statements instead of tackling practical issues and taking sides with the victims struggling for justice and peace,

- which have contributed to unjust structures, violence and the destruction of the environment and thus become collaborators with those powers that break up communities and violate the earth,

- which have exported the divisions between our denominations to countries of the South and condoned oppression and expolitation by colonial powers.

Our participation in the process of reconciliation enables us top build alternatives which challenge sinful structures and forces.

We have experienced the gift of reconciliation in the community of those who are involved in the conciliar process for justice, peace and the integrity of creation.

As we approach the Second European Ecumenical Assembly in Graz

- We should give priority to those of us who are excluded by clutural, social and economic degradation - e.g. the poor, the unemployed, migrants, ethic minorities, lesbians and gay men, and especially women in these categories. These people are often invisible and find no place within our Churches.

- We are challenged by the realization that reconciliation means answering God's call to address the root causes of divisions.

- We recognize that we will be more effective in our fight against unjust structures and in developing life-enhancing alternatives if we work together with those of us who are disadvantaged by these structures. We are learning to listen to the excluded so that we can understand our common situation from a new perspective.

- We affirm the value of links with other groups, organizations and institutions, which enable us to work more effectively for social change. We have experienced God's power working through our small groups and we now seek to work from a broader base.

- We resist moves towards a fortress Europe and look for opportunities for just relationships with the people of the South. We commit ourselves to working for a Europe which is characterized by openness, just realtionships and sustainablity. We seek to strengthen the spiritual, ethical and cultural dimensions of European integration and to challenge a vision which is predominantly economic, monetary and political.

- We commit ourselves to ensuring that there will be time and space in Graz for sharing experiences of exclusion and destruction and of practical examples of reconciliation.

We aim to:

- enable victims to speak for themselves,
- express fundamental criticism of social and economic structures,
- start transforming processes by establishing cells of an alternative society,
- remind Churches of their past commitments,
- celebrate the joys of reconciled communities.

We invite Churches and congregations to join us on this difficult path of reconciliation. We know that such resistance and renewal involves conflict. But this is part of the process. We offer ourselves as a resource at local, national an European levels.

Frankfurt am Main,
8 October 1995.

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