It is easy to lose democracy but difficult to get it back, says the incoming General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, the Rev Martin Junge - writes Peter Kenny.
Junge, a Chilean, who assumes his post on 1 November, was speaking from first hand experience on 26 July 2010 during an eight-day meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, of the LWF's assembly, its highest governing body.
"As with many people in my country of my own generation, I was profoundly shaped by the period of great political difficulties. We suffered the loss of democracy and freedoms, and lived under the rule of military dictatorship," said Junge.
In 1973, General Augusto Pinochet seized power in Chile in a bloody coup. He remained as the Latin American country's ruler until 1990, when he stepped down after losing a national referendum on whether he could continue as president until 1997.
"During that period of time, I learned how little it takes to lose democracy, and how much it takes to regain it," said Junge. He added that he had also learned the, "tremendous value of participatory democracy".
The new LWF General Secretary comes from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile, of which he was president from 1996 to 2000. It is one of the smallest of the LWF's 145 member churches.
"I grew up in a church which will soon have more female than male pastors. I am neither nervous nor concerned about it. I am simply grateful for these developments," Junge said.
He noted that he had been mentored during an internship with his church by a female pastor, the Rev Gloria Rojas, "who is sitting in the assembly representing my church as it first female president".
Junge will succeed the Rev Ishmael Noko, a Zimbabwean, who is retiring after 16 years as LWF General Secretary.
The Chilean pastor, whose mother was a Roman Catholic and father a Lutheran, said he had learned an important sentence from his predecessor, "To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]