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Europe needs repentance - a European value from the Reformation?

Presentation by the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the Wider Outlook Works Festival in Halle, Germany.

06 May 2016

Presentation by the Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit at the Wider Outlook Works Festival in Halle, Germany.

Dear sisters and brothers, Christians and people of other faiths or other religions, German citizens, migrants and refugees from all continents!

We are here to celebrate life as One Humanity – we are all human beings made in the image of God and endowed with dignity!

We celebrate the Good News of Jesus Christ, calling us to live as free human beings, and to serve one another.

It makes a lot of sense to face the challenges in the One World today with the legacy from the Reformation.   I would like to emphasize one single dimension, referring to Luther’s first thesis on the door of the church in Wittenberg:

“When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’, he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” (Mt 4:17)

Repentance means change, going in another direction. Why is change necessary? Luther said: Because sin is a reality. Our time give us no reason to think otherwise. This is not a time to believe that humanity is done with sin. There is no way to get away with it through money, through ignorance, through pious practices, or by arguments of secularism – saying that we do not believe in it. Sin is a destructive reality in our own lives and our life together.

Repentance is an attitude open for change to what is good. It means alertness to the critical voice, understanding the dimension of tragedy, and willingness to name what is wrong. Repentance comes from hearing carefully the voice of God’s forgiveness. We can change to focus on the needs of the other; particularly those who need more attention for the sake of justice and peace.

I visited the USA some days ago and heard that some Americans discuss racism these days as “America’s original sin”. They face expressions of racism that permeate and divide their society. As Europeans, we should see ourselves in that mirror: What is our original sin? What do we really see when the borders to European countries are closed to refugees? The new expressions of xenophobia, exclusion, injustices, even racism are visible. These are not just matters of history but remain a reality for Europe and the world today.

We recall the refugee conventions that were established after World War II particularly to respond to the needs for protection of so many European refugees, Germans, Polish, Hungarians, Czechs – and many others. They were suffering from the brutal realities after the disaster of WWII and the later effects of the division of Europe and the Cold War. Now refugees from Asia, Middle East and Africa have exactly the same needs.

We are seeing today the greatest human mobility in recorded history right across the globe the refugees are coming from a context of atrocities, of war and other disasters.

Europe only takes a very small proportion of refugees: currently more than 85% of refugees continue to live in developing countries, about 12% in least-developed countries, which leaves only 3% for the so called developed nations.

Governments, UN agencies and others highlight now the necessity for collaborative action. None of us can handle this alone.

We know that you, refugees and migrants, make significant contributions to the societies in which you now find yourselves. This is contrary to widespread myths that you are an economic drain and only a burden for host country. Let us embrace the contributions of all!

Churches have a crucial role to play for a coordinated and constructive response to the situation. I have seen churches in Greece, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany and Hungary working hard to address urgent needs of refugees and migrants. The WCC has partnered with UN to facilitate better coordination.

In Germany, you have shown through your political decisions and your humanitarian actions that you remember your own history. As active participants in civil society, in churches and other communities, you have shown that this is about human and being Christian.

Such responses reflect a serious commitment to the idea of repentance.

All of us, Germans and other Europeans alike must ever be conscious of the temptation to be complicit with the reality of sin in all its forms, old and new. How could destructive notions of ”Übermensch” take hold in our past, and how can they continue to exist today - to the extent that even now as I speak, superiority is shown through racist and xenophobic rhetoric? It has even become common and accepted language in the public and political space not just in North America but right here in Europe.

How can we together deal with the fear and normal reaction of self-preservation? How can we avoid falling into the sins that destruct both those who need protection and our own humanity?

This is about making the best values of the Reformation a living reality today. Values are of no worth if they are solely about the past. We protect our values best by using them as basis for serving the lives of other human beings today. We need change and repentance that can shape a new vision of how we shall live together today in Europe as One World.

Those who want to protect Christian values by closing the borders to Europe do not know what Christian values are.

Hope requires change, even repentance. Europe can repent from superiority and exclusions to build hope for all. It is still possible.

Dear friends: We see that many eyes look with hope to Europe these days.

May the fact that we are gathered here today be a strong sign of hope. May God bless you all.

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