Only a church that overcomes ethnic, racial and national hatreds can be a credible sign of freedom and reconciliation, the interim general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca has said in an address to mark the 75th anniversary of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt by German Protestant leaders after the Second World War.
In a presentation to an ecumenical forum in Stuttgart on 18 October, Sauca recalled how in October 1945 leaders of the newly founded Evangelical Church in Germany at a meeting with an international ecumenical delegation confessed their failings and shortcomings in opposing National Socialism and the Third Reich.
“What was at stake in 1945 was exactly the situation that the churches in Germany might remain disconnected from the ecumenical fellowship,” Sauca said in the address that was read on his behalf as he was unable to travel to Stuttgart because of restrictions linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Stuttgart in October 1945, the international delegation from the WCC in process of formation, with its general secretary, Willem Visser ’t Hooft, “requested a statement that would make it possible to stay together not despite the consequences of war, genocide, and holocaust, but precisely because of them,” Sauca said. “The Stuttgart Declaration was the response of the German churches to this request.”
The ecumenical forum followed a service earlier in the day to commemorate the Stuttgart Declaration.
Sauca recalled how the declaration was a result of a much longer process of discussion between the WCC in process of formation and representatives of the Confessing Church in Germany, which during National Socialism rejected discrimination against Jewish Christians by the official “Reichskirche.”
“The ‘Reichskirche’ was imposing the anti–Jewish law of the state on the churches. It was this action by the ‘Reichskirche’ that broke the unity of the church,” he said.
Nevertheless, added Sauca, “the declaration did not name explicitly the context of the suffering and murder of the Jews, and many people have seen this as the declaration’s weakest point.”
Sauca drew a parallel with the situation of apartheid in South Africa, where unity within and among churches was broken by “injustice and violence against Africans and the segregation at the Lord’s table.”
The conflict over apartheid challenged the WCC and its partners in the ecumenical movement to reflect more precisely about the ways in which grave injustices in the world impact the churches themselves and their relationship with each other, he continued.
Quoting from the message of the WCC’s 1993 World Conference on Faith and Order, Sauca said: “Only a Church itself being healed can convincingly proclaim healing to the world. Only a Church that overcomes ethnic, racial, and national hatreds in a common Christian and human identity can be a credible sign of freedom and reconciliation.”
The WCC’s goal of visible unity is clear, he continued. “We continue to learn on the way from each other what it entails to be this fellowship committed to unity in faith and common witness to the world, how Christian unity and the unity of humankind and all creation are intertwined.”
Looking to the WCC’s forthcoming 11th Assembly in Karlsruhe, Germany, in 2022, which will gather around the theme, “Christ’s love moves the world to reconciliation and unity,” Sauca described reconciliation and unity as “God’s final purpose for humankind and creation.”
The assembly, Sauca said, will need to address the challenges confronting the churches and the world today, where deep and radical changes are needed.
“As churches confront the divisions of this world, this fellowship will never be without tensions and conflicts,” he stated, “but it will always serve as a source of energy which is essential for the life of the churches together and for their discernment of the challenges they face in this world.”