"New Vision and Challenges to Ecumenism in the 21st century" - Vortrag am 23. August zum 80jährigen Bestehen des Nationalen Kirchenrates in Südkorea (NCCK) in Seoul

Rolf Koppe

23. August 2004

Dear brothers and sisters,

especially to all Koreans I meet here again after many years of bilateral dialogues between the NCCK and the EKD.

it is a great honor for me to be asked from the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea, Rev. Paik. So-woong, to give a responsive reflection to the presentation of the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Dr. Samuel Kobia, on the occasion of the 80th anniversary celebrations of the NCCK.

My first experience with people from countries outside Germany goes back to my student time at the university of Heidelberg from 1961 to 1963 where I shared a room with a student from South Korea, who is now a retired professor for germanistics here in Seoul, Prof. Dr. San Kun Chung. After a 40 years break we have met again in the year 2001 and we renewed our friendship. We lived together on the so called Asian floor in a new built student home which was meant to be a meeting place between students of different nations, cultures, religions and languages. This idea was launched by the rector of the university of that time, Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Hahn, a theologian for practical theology who later became minister for culture in the country of Baden-Württemberg in Stuttgart. I mention this basic experience because it shows how important the personal contacts are in the international relationships. Not only the realm of university education but also the ecumenical relations through persons are elementary for the understanding and acting together of institutions like states, universities, companies or churches. So my first vision for ecumenism in the 21st century is to strengthen the exchange of students and especially to support the ecumenical institute in Bossey/Switzerland which has been wonderful restored in the last years and provides the opportunity for shorter and longer courses including the upgrading of examinations. We need a new elite of ecumenical trained leaders all over the world. From the beginning of Christianity and especially from the time of reformation education is the profile of Christian faith. It is the source for the understanding of God's revelation and what he wants to achieve with his church in his creation.

In the 21st century we will face new efforts to individual prosperity and spiritual fulfillment. The competition between religions will increase and I am not so sure if we are prepared for that. So we have to help each other in the ecumenical movement more intensely than ever before. More than in the time of catastrophies after the first and second world war and even more than in the period of the cold war which - as I know - has not come to an end in Korea. What I see in front of us is the struggle of faiths which give sense in a globalized world.

In some aspects there is a parallel to the late roman empire and the spreading of Christianity first in the near east and later in Europe. Today we face different regional challenges in Asia, America, Africa and Europe, but the main question is everywhere how Christians, laypeople and clergy, give a joyful and intelligent witness of their faith in Jesus Christ and of their belonging to the universal church, how they are equipped for a dialogue with believers of other faiths and secular living people. So my first answer is in accordance with Dr. Sam Kobia who has stressed in his book "the courage to hope" and even recently during his visit in Germany the spiritual grounded Christian movement, which we call ecumenical.

My second vision has to do with the new possibilities of global communication. As some of you may know I was working for 9 years as an information officer first for my home church, the lutheran church of Hannover, and then for the EKD on the national level in the eighties of the last century. In the last ten years a revolution took place through the invention and introduction of the internet and very effective mass media broadcast stations like CNN and BBC-World. My impression is that the use of the medias is concentrated on entertainment and political information, but not on education. Only if there is a conflict or a war which includes religions there are some background information about the history or the presence of religions.

The ecumenical movement has to make much more efforts to train journalists and to elaborate an active press- and information system. Only the roman-catholic church is able to be present in the medias through her head of the church, the pope. And more regional some fundamentalistic movements with their own radio and television stations. The mainline churches depend in some countries on the public radio like in Great Britain or in Germany or publish some newspapers mostly for their own members. But the great challenge is how to reach people who are not insiders and should know about what the churches are and what they want to communicate.

I am fully aware that this problem is the most difficult to cope with because of the character of the media itself and the divided protestant and orthodox churches themselves. My hope is that we can act together as churches on some special issues like the beginning and ending of life, the opposition to wars, caring for refugees, overcoming extreme poverty, violence and fundamentalism. I plea for a greater awareness of the public dimension of the Christian faith and what the churches are doing together in a world which is growing together and is separating itself at the same time.

My third and last vision is to reconfigurate the ecumenical movement from the basis of a Christian philosophy of mutual responsibility. From the lessons the Germans have learned in and after the Nazi time no Christian person or church can survive if there are no brothers and sisters, who feel with you and who think with you. Recently we remembered the 60th anniversary of the 20th of July in the year 1944 when the resistance movement against Adolf Hitler became public. Dietrich Bonhoeffer for example belonged to it. In his person he ensembled a brilliant ecumenical experienced theologian and a political actor with an international network through the churches and access to the diplomatic services. The first general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Willem A. Visser't Hooft, was acting in Geneva since 1938, ten years before the WCC was officially founded in Amsterdam, gathering church leaders and politicians to overcome dictatorship and to think about a new world order where the human rights should be established and violence between nations should be avoided through negotiations in the framework of the new established United Nations.

Since over 50 years we are still working to achieve these goals. We failed often in the Cold War, we succeeded to combat racism in South Africa and helped to fight against military systems in Latin America or in Korea. The last example are the peace efforts in Sudan. But there is so much left for a solution and reconciliation like the reunion of Korea or the suffering states in Africa. Recently a WCC-delegation visited the German Foreign Office in Berlin to discuss the Non-Proliferation-Treaty on nuclear arms. A necessary action, because the threats are growing and the negotiations are not proceeding. The WCC is not directly a parallel to the United Nations, but it wants to give a contribution in this horizon. Therefore I call this challenge a Christian philosophy of mutual responsibility. It includes "faith and order" as well as "life and work" - the two streams of the ecumenical movement from the beginning.

My strong hope for the future is that the churches in a national or regional context will use the worldwide network based in Geneva which give space for mutual responsibility. The Commission of International Affairs is an important instrument for interventions in the diplomatic fields, acting as a mediator, as the conscience for the forgotten aims and as a global player, which should not be underestimated. At the same time we need the global prayer, the chain of believers which embraces God's creation.

To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the NCCK is an occasion for a thankful rememberance. At the same time it is an obligation for a new commitment in the ecumenical movement.

Thank you very much