German Protestant gathering urges swift end to nuclear power

By Stephen Brown
6 Jun 2011

Germany’s biggest Protestant gathering, the Kirchentag, has ended in Dresden with a call for the country’s nuclear power plants to be phased out by 2017 and to be replaced by renewable sources of energy.

“The switch in energy production is coming. We have only just started,” the Kirchentag’s president, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, told 120,000 people gathered for an open air closing service on 5 June 2011 on the banks of the River Elbe.

The five-day Kirchentag (church convention) is once-every-two-years convention drawing tens of thousands of participants, including prominent decision-makers. The often controversial debates and discussions at the Kirchentag are widely seen as a barometer of public life in Germany.

In a week when the German government agreed to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022, Göring-Eckardt said there now needed to be a policy shift to ensure that 100 per cent of energy is generated from renewable sources. The Kirchentag had called in a resolution for a “complete and unconditional” end to nuclear energy by 2017.

The Kirchentag was founded in 1949 as a lay Protestant movement to rebuild a sense of civic and religious responsibility after the experience of Nazism and the Second World War.

Prominent participants in Dresden included President Christian Wulff and Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Göring-Eckardt said that decision-makers need to replace 'top down' politics with civic discussion on controversial issues. “Ask us what we think, take part in fair discussion, listen to objections before you take big decisions,” said Göring-Eckardt, a Green party politician who is a vice-president of the Bundestag, the lower house of the German parliament.

“We need another measure for growth, a new definition of success, and a new form of civic coexistence,” she stated.

Another issue for the Kirchentag was that of military policy, following a controversy in 2010 when the then senior leader of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), the Rev. Dr Margot Kässmann, questioned Germany’s armed involvement in Afghanistan.

At a panel discussion with the Rev Nikolaus Schneider, Kässmann’s successor at the head of the EKD, German defence minister Thomas de Maizière defended the action in Afghanistan. He said it was necessary to prevent the “export” of terrorism, but the aim is to transfer security responsibility to Afghanistan in the foreseeable future.

Rather than referring to a 'just war', de Maizière said that one could speak of a “justified” military action, with legitimacy provided by a United Nations resolution and a parliamentary decision.

During the Kirchentag, young Egyptians reported on their involvement in the protests at Tahrir Square in Cairo that led to the downfall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

The General Secretary of the Kirchentag, Dr Ellen Ueberschär, told journalists that the gathering had built bridges between activists in North Africa and the Arab world and those from the post-communist societies of central and eastern Europe, where democracy movements two decades ago led to the end of communism.

In 1988 and 1989, Dresden hosted the Ecumenical Assembly of Christians and Churches for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation. The assembly, with its demands for changes in East Germany, has been seen as a key event leading to the 'peaceful revolution' of late 1989.

In her sermon at the closing service, Frankfurt pastor the Rev. Ulrike Trautwein said that in today’s Germany, many people “are not able to have a part in society’s wealth, others are on a breathless treadmill”.

At the same time, she said, many people in the world suffer because they live in terrible conditions. “The way we run the economy and deal with international conflicts is not without alternatives,” Trautwein stated. “Life here and now is not without alternatives.”

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© Stephen Brown, an Ekklesia associate, is a Geneva-based journalist and the editor of a special issue of The Ecumenical Review to mark the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation. He is also 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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