„Wittenberg Declaration of January 10, 2017“

Radicalizing Reformation Provoked by Today’s Systemic Crises

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24)

Justice is the cry of the majority of people around the world – a world subjected to the logic, spirit and practice of imperial capitalism for at least 500 years.

Justice is the golden thread throughout the Bible – the Hebrew Bible and the messianic scriptures of the Second Testament. “Liberation towards Justice“ was the title of the first of several volumes in the Radicalizing Reformation book series.

In the face of early capitalism, Martin Luther claimed: If the (bank and trading) corporations are to remain, right and honesty must go down. If right and honesty are to remain the corporations must go“ (“On Trade and Usury”).

The latest of many catastrophes produced by this capitalist culture are climate change and the millions who have been driven from their homes and made refugees. This civilization kills and is suicidal. In the long range, it has to be replaced by a culture that makes life possible in the future through just relations. In the midst of crises we must begin with concrete examples and transformation possibilities right now. This is what those from Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe brought when they met together in Wittenberg.

People of all faiths, specifically Christians in the tradition of the Reformation, urgently need to respond to these kairotic times and

  1. join the global ecumenical consensus to reject the increasingly totalitarian, multi-dimensional capitalist culture and work for just and life-enhancing alternatives,
  2. join the struggle of small farmers/peasants worldwide by rejecting agribusiness and land-grabbing and by supporting life-enhancing agriculture instead,
  3. bring justice to Palestinians and Israelis through interreligious solidarity by rejecting the state of Israel’s notorious violation of international law and human rights, and by rejecting how some Christian theologies, business and politics continue to provide support for Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land,
  4. reject all military, sexual, racist, structural and cultural violence and join non-violent action for life,
  5. develop participatory institutions and practices in faith communities, society and politics on the basis that “no human being is illegal but created in the image of God”.

I: Justice through Overcoming Capitalist Civilization

”You cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13)

We believe that Jesus calls us to make a definite choice between God and Mammon. All people have the inherent right to justice, freedom, dignity, and peace. On this basis, Martin Luther sharply criticized the evolving unjust and oppressive capitalist system. The hegemonic capitalistic model increasingly develops a totalitarian regime with its consequences. The huge increase of people who are forced to migrate is but one of its serious consequences today. This massive influx is the result of the sin of political economy and the export of arms and wars to peripheral countries. The forced migration of manual workers across the world is the result of concealed schemes of capitalist accumulation embedded in the neoliberal economic policy.

We confess being part of a “Babylonian captivity” that obstructs both the revolutionary spirit of the Reformation and also people’s and civil rights.

We reject all forms of systems and practices that deny freedom, democracy, and peoples’ participation.

We call upon people and communities of faith to reject the wisdom of greedy money and to embrace the wisdom of the cross, and to work for reconstructing the economic, political and social systems and religious institutions to ensure the dignity and worth of all humans. We especially call upon churches to develop and pursue ways of mission that aim to transform the political systems so that they become more humane. We also call upon the congregations, synods and mission agencies to draw action programs that promote peace and justice in society.

We commit ourselves to promote authentic Christian faith and Reformation spirituality that confronts the social and political powers causing violence, poverty, deprivation and worship of Mammon, and shares congregational resources for bringing about greater economic equity and justice.

II: Justice through ecologically-sensitive agriculture and land distribution

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now” (Romans 8:22)

We believe that God´s mission for life in its fullness obliges all Christians and churches to commit themselves to the ecumenical process of “Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation.” Hearing the radical voices of the Reformation we seek to get out of a world economic system that results in land-grabbing and destruction of nature. Within a biblical approach to land, relationships and values of subsistence are upheld, and people empowered for healthier relationships between land and people.

We confess that we stand in the tradition of Luther who legitimated the feudal order against the peasants in a way not consistent with the Bible. We confess that later Lutheran traditions drew the wrong conclusion that economics and politics follow autonomous laws, although Luther himself rejected the early capitalist system. We confess that churches adapted themselves to the modernization, industrialization and financialization of agriculture and that the “Protestant work ethic” and the spiritual interest in material success even provided ideological underpinnings for capitalism. Churches and theologians often have advocated an ideology and theology of development that supported this.

We reject the imperial hegemonic system of neoliberal policies, financial capitalism and it’s agribusiness models, which provokes deep inequalities in the relations of production and exchange. The ongoing land alienation, land confiscation and undercutting of subsistence economies, as well as the growing practice of mono-cultures, are economic abuses. Genetically modified seeds and the intensive application of pesticides are extractive production models that risk serious consequences for the people and the environment.

We call upon churches to address the challenges of socio-economic and environmental justice as key to their mission. Reflection, debate and alternative proposals from of a liberation perspective are necessary.

We commit ourselvesto struggle side by side with the movements seeking more healthy land-people relationships, to help develop land policy of our churches and societies, to integrate these issues in educational curricula considering the efforts to approve and implement the UN-Declaration on the Rights of Peasants.

III: Interreligious Solidarity for Justice in Palestine/Israel

“To be vessels of mercy God has called us – not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles” (Romans 9: 24)

We believe with the Apostle Paul that in the Messiah Jesus the ethnic, religious, class and gender binaries and power asymmetries are overcome (Gal 3: 28). We believe that the post-Constantinian anti-Judaism in Christianity, and especially Luther’s abominable and cruel pamphlets against Jews, used by Nazism as a basis for murdering millions of people, was a crime against humanity. But we strongly believe that Christians and churches cannot atone for this crime by failing to take a stand against the unacceptable violations of human rights and international law by the State of Israel in its colonization of historic Palestine beyond the UN-recognized borders and in its ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.

We confess being part of the long history of Christian anti-Judaism and also of the silence of Christian churches vis-à-vis the unbearable oppression of Palestinians.

We reject all forms of anti-Semitism and at the same time all theologies that support and justify the dispossession and continuing oppression of Palestinians. We reject as well the church theology that underlies the churches’ silence, preaching reconciliation and dialogue without justice.

We call upon the churches, including the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), to repudiate Luther’s writings against the Jews and at the same time to clearly and publicly side with our sister churches and people of all faiths in Palestine/Israel and worldwide in challenging their governments to condition all aid for and cooperation with the State of Israel on the liberation of Palestine according to UN resolutions and fundamental principles of human rights. This will also liberate the State of Israel from being an oppressor and open paths for a shared City of Jerusalem. We ask that all follow the example of many churches in the USA, South Africa, and Scotland, by supporting the non-violent measures of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) called for in 2005 by Palestinian civil society. This call was affirmed in 2009 by the churches of the region in the Kairos Palestine Document. It should be reinforced today after 50 years of the illegal colonization of the West Bank and the inhuman blockade of Gaza. We also ask the churches to set clear standards for all church-sponsored travel to Palestine/Israel.

We commit ourselves to pray for peace and justice in Palestine/Israel, to work at all levels to live up to these theological and political commitments ourselves. This includes the challenge of becoming confessing churches, engaging in non-violent civil disobedience, welcoming of refugees from the region and working together with people of all faiths for developing a culture of life for all.

IV: Justice through Non-violent Action

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27)

We believe that the gospel is essentially “the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15). This peace is not merely a peace between humanity and God but also peace among humans and with creation. The gospel is inherently nonviolent – promising, inviting, welcoming, witnessing – never coercive or forcing. In light of the contemporary crises this means peace with justice.

We confess that nonviolent action is a constitutive character of Christian witness to the world. Violence can never serve as a means for attaining any goal, for God has reconciled all things to Godself (Colossians 1:19-20). Practicing peace means participating in disciplined and organized direct nonviolent action to address specific contexts in need of social change.

We reject all forms of violence – whether structural, state, technological, military, physical or psychological – as well as the abuse of religion. Furthermore we reject the international arms trade that perpetuates violence across the globe. The universality of violence becomes evident in the endemic practice of constructing “others” as enemies, especially in making others into scapegoats. Jesus Christ died as the final scapegoat to put an end to the spirals of fear and violence that lead us to scapegoat others. This nonviolent understanding of the cross is urgently needed at this moment in human history.

We call upon churches to receive the blessing of God’s all-embracing peace (shalom/salaam) as life-giving relationships with God, other persons, and all creation. Practicing peace means living, speaking, and acting without violence. Practicing peace begins with how one speaks, exercising no rhetorical violence. Practicing peace means doing justice: listening, welcoming, forgiving, sharing, giving, healing, being merciful, and helping. All of these are works of resistance to violence. In this context we are called to build dialogue mutually and intentionally – especially with respect to diversity of race, gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, and including religion – to work against prejudices and stereotypes in order to solve the problem of humanity and to build harmonious life.

We commit ourselves to participate in the common life of all in a political community that is  characterized by peaceful practices and truth-telling. Furthermore we commit to empowering the next generation, children and youth, to reject violence. Practicing peace means continuing to sustain the effort of the decade to end violence, being realistic with regard to one’s own responsibility, because only by doing so will peace prevail in the world.

V: Justice through Nurturing Practices for Resistance and Transformation

For Christ is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2: 14)

We believe that theological insights raised through the Reformation liberate people from fear and systemic bondage and empower us to pursue justice and the common good for neighbors throughout the whole global community. Luther addressed the systemic challenges of his day; so must we today.

We confess that we too often treat those who do not believe, look or live like “us” as if they were not also created in the image of God. This “us” vs. “them” dualism is contrary to the heart of the gospel. We seek to be more effective communicators of the public implications of this, so that it might transform those who, out of anger and frustration, succumb instead to populist appeals that blame those who are different.

We reject expressions of nativism and xenophobia that are attracting many people today. We also reject religion being misused to distance or exploit others, rather than building bridges with those of other faiths or backgrounds.

We call upon churches and educational institutions to nurture liberating public theology that can effectively engage and transform the systemic economic, political and environmental injustices that are at the root of what people are experiencing and feeling, and to hold governments accountable for such.

We commit ourselves to live with and develop relationships with those who are migrants and our new neighbors as equal subjects, open to being transformed through these relationships.

We urge that in congregations and other settings, critical Bible studies engage the urgent systemic challenges in their contexts and globally, encourage people to think critically about the systems dominating their lives, and empower them for individual and collective resistance and transformation of these challenges for the sake of greater dignity and justice for all.

“The Fruit of Justice will be Peace” (Isaiah 32:17).