“Separating politics and religion is neither wise nor desirable”

(LWI) – Speaking at the Martin Luther Forum Ruhr in Gladbeck (Germany), LWF President Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan called for commitment to peace and justice in the Middle East and opposed an artificial separation of politics and theology. The Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) said that separating both areas was neither wise nor desirable, as he knew from his home region, the Middle East. Politics must leave room for religions and the churches must critically accompany the governments, he declared.

Younan was visiting Germany on the invitation of the Martin Luther Forum Ruhr. On the afternoon of 26 June he met with the mayor of Gladbeck, Ulrich Roland. They conversed on questions of integration and peaceful coexistence of religions, and then Younan signed the Golden Book of the city. Afterwards the bishop joined in the traditional summer festival of the Martin Luther Forum that had attracted 200 people. OKR Detlef Mucks-Büker, the chair of the board of trustees of the Martin Luther Foundation Ruhr, was the host for the program. This included greetings by Prof. Dr. Reinhard Klenke, the chief administrative officer of the district, and the OKR Norbert Denecke, executive secretary of the German National Committee of the Lutheran World Federation.

The role of religion in the public arena

Younan began his lecture by asking to what extent political and theological systems could harmonize with one another. Often he as bishop was advised to completely separate them, he noted. However, he could not accept this. “I come from a context in which religion and politics cannot be separated […] Separating politics and religion is neither wise nor desirable.” In addition, this approach did not correspond to his Lutheran theological tradition, Younan stated. He explained this with reference to Luther’s doctrine of the two kingdoms and the way it had been taken up again in the 1930s, among others by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Against this background, the bishop of the ELCJHL gave an analysis of the situation of religion and politics in the Middle East. A series of failures had led to the present crisis situation in the region, he stated, even to the curtailing of religious freedom. “The suppression of religious impulses led to unprecedented waves of religious fanaticism once dictatorial controls were removed,” Younan explained. He therefore rejected all demands to remove religion completely from public life. This would lead precisely to the disastrous events mentioned, he said.

Bishop Younan linked this with the political commitment of the churches. The Middle East was continuing to look for models of good governance. The churches could not be silent on this matter: “The crisis of government […] demands that local churches revisit their approaches to political engagement.” On the tension between religion and politics he stressed: “We do not want to ‘Christianize’ politics, we seek to improve society through political engagement.” At the same time Younan rejected constitutions that had the holy texts of one religion as their main source of authority: “Before the law, all religions are equal; we therefore seek freedom of religion and freedom of religious expression.”

The LWF President underlined that the Lutheran churches share this concern with many religious communities. On the question of what role religion can play in the public arena, the LWF launched a three-year program on this issue in January 2014 consisting of four conferences in different parts of the world, co-organized with partners from other religions. Two of the conferences have already been held: the first in January 2014 in Münster (Germany) in cooperation with the Centre for Islamic Theology and one in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) with 60 religious and civil society leaders from Africa.

On the situation in Israel-Palestine, the LWF president highlighted the engagement of Lutherans in Palestine and worldwide for a two-state solution with a shared city of Jerusalem.

“Heavenly cross” for Luther Garden

After his keynote lecture, the organizers had a surprise ready for Bishop Younan. They presented him with a model of the sculpture “Himmelskreuz” (heavenly cross) by artist Thomas Schönauer. The cross of the Luther Rose – the central place in the Luther Garden in Wittenberg – is to be designed on this model in the next few years. The initiator of the Luther Garden, landscape architect Andreas Kipar, recalled that the Martin Luther Forum Ruhr had planted a trumpet tree (catalpa) in Wittenberg in 2010. With its partner tree, he said, Gladbeck was linked to the Luther Garden in Wittenberg and also to the many other places all over the world where partner trees with those in the Luther Garden were now growing.

By: The Lutheran World Fedration