Ecumenical News International

Protestant church criticises resistance and violence against refugees

November 09, 2014

Dresden (epd). The Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) opened its annual synod in Dresden on Thursday with some sharp criticism of the government's refugee policy. EKD Council Chair Nikolaus Schneider said that the conditions in many reception facilities were cause for shame. In his greeting, federal interior minister Thomas de Maizière (CDU) defended European and German asylum policy. The main theme of the opening service was commemorating the fall of the Berlin Wall 25 years ago.

In his last report to Synod, Schneider stated: "The fear that an unbridled influx of refugees will endanger our own well-being is spreading with rejection, resistance and violence against refugees and migrants." After four years at the head of the EKD, Schneider on Monday laid down his office one year early, for personal reasons. Interior minister de Maizière warned against over-emphasizing the readiness of Germans to accept refugees. Preserving basic consensus on asylum law is "in itself a high value in our society".

Speaking at the opening service in Dresden's Church of the Cross, Jochen Bohl, Lutheran bishop of Saxony, called on Germany to take responsibility in view of the conflicts in the world. It is no long possible, he said, to lean back and distance ourselves from what is happening elsewhere. As examples Bohl named the terror of the "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria and Iraq, the Ukraine conflict and the way Germany deals with refugees. "There is no niche into which our country can withdraw, with so many waiting expectantly for us to use our potential for action," asserted Bohl, who is also deputy chair of the EKD Council.

The opening service centred on recalling the peaceful revolution in the GDR and the fall of the Berlin Wall. "It was a peaceful and also a Protestant Revolution, as a good part of it was brought about by Protestant Christians," said Bohl.

Shortly before the federal parliamentary debate on assisted dying, Council Chair Schneider underscored the negative attitude of the Protestant church to a right to medically assisted suicide. "Out of respect and humility before God's power over life we as a church in principle reject suicide and assisted suicide," he declared. At the same time, he proposed advocating for a legal right to accompanied dying through palliative medicine and hospice work.

Schneider had announced his resignation as Council Chair in summer 2014 in order to stand by his wife Anne, who has cancer. In interviews back then Anne and Nikolaus Schneider set out their differing views on whether a person may end their own life, in a case of what seems like hopeless suffering. Nikolaus Schneider admitted to the press that he would stand by his wife - against his theological beliefs - if she decided to resort to assistance in dying.

The General Synod of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD) has been meeting since Thursday, along with the plenary conference of the Union of Evangelical Churches (UEK). The associations of constituent regional churches approved a continuation of the "liaison model" with the EKD. The current decision is mainly about the question of whether the EKD itself is to be regarded as a church. The goal is greater Protestant profiling, without confusing the confessional differences between Lutheran, Reformed and United Christians. At the UEK conference Martin Hein, bishop of Kurhessen-Waldeck, declared that declaring the EKD to be a church could only be a "first step" and an "interim" arrangement: "We want more EKD, while preserving the particular features of the member churches."

Information on the EKD Synod



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