German Kirchentag hears church leaders' warnings on Libya

By Stephen Brown
3 Jun 2011

The former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Konrad Raiser, has described the United Nations resolution authorising military intervention in Libya as a "perilous" political decision.

"I know of no situation in which genuine peace has been created through military intervention," Raiser told a forum at the German Protestant Kirchentag, or church convention, meeting in Dresden from 1 to 5 June 2011.

In authorising intervention in Libya, the UN Security Council had invoked a country's "responsibility to protect" its civilian population, noted Raiser, a German Protestant theologian who headed the WCC from 1993 to 2003.

"Intervention should serve the protection of the civilian population," he said at the 2 June forum. "But what we are seeing is a clear policy aimed at regime change."

The once-every-two-years Kirchentag is Germany's biggest Protestant event, bringing tens of thousands of people together for debates, worship, music and cultural events. In the 1980s, the meetings of the Kirchentag were a central focus for the West German peace movement.

Speaking of the military intervention in Afghanistan and Libya, Raiser said, "Even if they have received legal legitimisation through the United Nations, they are not appropriate means to create peace."

He recalled how the WCC had twice discussed - in 2001 and 2006 - the "responsibility to protect" civilian populations in danger. It acknowledged such intervention could not be totally ruled out as a last resort in principle. Nevertheless, the churches had sought to place clear limits on such intervention, saying that the use of force to mitigate imminent threats should never be an attempt to find military solutions to social and political problems.

The Kirchentag forum had originally been intended to focus on Afghanistan after a controversial New Year sermon in 2010 by the Rev Dr Margot Kässmann. She faced a storm of criticism for questioning German military intervention there.

At the forum, she defended her comments, saying that the church has the duty to raise questions about issues of war and peace. "This is a task of the church, it is not politicisation," said Kässmann, the former Lutheran bishop of Hanover.

At an earlier Kirchentag event, Kässmann said when she first heard the calls for a "no fly zone" over Libya, she had though this might be a creative, non-violent means to promote peace.

"The UN resolution then stated that all necessary means apart from ground troops could be used to promote the protection of the civilian population," she said, "And then the bombing began, the direct targeting of Gaddafi, the very person with whom we had just been doing business."
Kässmann recalled how a parliamentary official responsible for the armed forces had tried to dismiss her comments on Afghanistan by saying she should sit in a tent and take part in candlelit prayers with the Taliban.

"Quite honestly," she said. "I think that is a much better idea than bombing fuel tankers."

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© Stephen Brown is writing from Dresden, Germany. An Ekklesia associate, he is a Geneva-based journalist and the author of From Disaffection to Dissent: The Conciliar Process for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation as a precursor of the peaceful revolution in the GDR, published in German in 2010 by the Verlag Otto Lembeck, Frankfurt/Main.

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