Lutherans seek open dialogue with wider society

By Stephen Brown
November 30, 2010

Lutherans worldwide need to avoid isolation and to open themselves to people in other churches and of other faiths, the Rev Martin Junge has said at his installation as the new General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation.

"Our faith in the triune God grants us the spiritual resources to resist the tendency to withdraw to self-isolation and self-centred monologue," said Junge in a sermon at the 25 November 2010 ceremony at Geneva's Ecumenical Centre where the LWF has its headquarters.

Latin American music heralded the installation of Junge, who succeeds the Rev Ishmael Noko, a Zimbabwean theologian who became General Secretary of the Lutheran grouping in 1994, and was re-elected for a second term in 2004.

"Our calling is to be in dialogue - with society, within and among churches, and with people of other faiths," said Junge, a Chilean theologian who is the first Latin American to head the LWF as its general secretary.

Such an attitude of dialogue is at the root of the LWF's "prophetic voice" in supporting people's struggles for social justice, noted Junge, who grew up under Chile's General Augusto Pinochet, the dictator who seized power in 1973 in a bloody coup.

Dialogue is also the source of the Lutheran grouping's ecumenical commitment, said Junge, "seeking to create relationships and understanding in the body of Christ so painfully fragmented in different churches and denominations".

Junge highlighted the importance of dialogue in engaging with people of other faiths, to counter, "some worrying tendencies to use faith as an instrument in situations of conflicts over communities, territories, collective identities and commonly owned values".

At the installation, the LWF president, Jerusalem Bishop Munib Younan offered a blessing in Arabic over Junge.

He then presented the new LWF General Secretary with a cross made out of munitions from Liberia's civil war. "This is a sign that through the cross, the church can be prophetic," said Younan. "A sign that we are called to make peace and that peace is possible … and that healing is possible in our broken, globalised world."

Members of the LWF's executive committee were at the installation service as well as representatives of other organisations, including the Rev Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, which is also based in the Ecumenical Centre.

The ceremony included a hymn with words by Martin Luther, the 16th century German theologian whose 95 Theses of 1517 set in motion his breach with the papacy in Rome during the Christian Reformation era.

The LWF was founded in 1947 and now groups more than 70 million Protestant Christians in 145 churches in 79 countries.

"Dialogue belongs to its core foundational values," said Junge, who was elected to the post in October 2009 and took office on 1 November 2010.

"Throughout the LWF's journey over the years it has seen as its mission to build and continue building bridges in a world ravaged by conflicts, iron curtains, glass ceilings, and all the visible walls that separate, exclude, confine and curtail the human race," he said.

Junge 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.

After schooling in Chile, Junge studied theology at Germany's Georg-August University in Göttingen. He also holds an advanced studies diploma in the management of not-for-profit organisations from Switzerland's University of Fribourg.

Junge has been based since 2000 at the LWF's Geneva headquarters, where before becoming General Secretary, he was responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean in the Department of Mission and Development.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]


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