German Protestant warns churches against being kidded by capitalism

By Ecumenical News International
July 4, 2007

An East German Protestant leader, who played a prominent role in the movement that led to the end of communism and the Berlin Wall in 1989, has warned against the church becoming seduced by the "friendly embrace" of capitalism - writes Stephen Brown of ENI.

"What are the dominant interests in the church: self-preservation, maintaining its position, increasing its profile or service for others?" the Rev Heino Falcke said at a conference at the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt in eastern Germany, where Martin Luther once trained as a Roman Catholic monk.

The gathering on 30 June 2007 was held to mark the 35th anniversary of a keynote speech by Falcke at a national Protestant church synod, where he spoke of the need for a "socialism that could be changed for the better".

To the East German authorities, Falcke's speech in 1972 sounded too much like the "socialism with a human face" in Czechoslovakia that Warsaw Pact tanks had suppressed four years earlier. Falcke himself was placed under observation by the Stasi, the East German secret police, and rows of files drawn up by the Stasi marked him out as "highly dangerous".

Falcke was the Protestant Provost of Erfurt for 21 years until his retirement in 1994. As the leader of Erfurt's Protestant church district, he became well known for his support for opposition peace, human rights and environmental groups in East Germany

He told the 30 June conference, however, he thought it was now more difficult for the church to withstand being exploited by the dominant powers than it had been under communism, when there was mutual suspicion on both sides.

The church now faced the "friendly embrace" of capitalism, he said.

"It was then a question of making socialism more human, now it's a question of making capitalism more human," said the 78-year-old Falcke. "Today, capital at the international level needs to be integrated within a social framework. That's not possible within the neo-liberal principles that are in force today."

See a comment on this from Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow.

[With grateful 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]

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