Protestants in Germany are recalling the life of George K. A. Bell, a Church of England bishop who opposed the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler but also sharply criticised indiscriminate bombing of German cities during the Second World War.
"He was a fighter for peace and for the truth, and never shied away from using the authority of his office and person to uphold his beliefs, even in the political arena," said Bishop Wolfgang Huber, who heads the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), in a statement to mark the 50th anniversary of the Anglican bishop's death on 3 October 1958.
A commemorative event to remember Bell as an "ecumenist, bridge builder and reconciler" is to be held in Berlin on 14 October 2008.
Bell was the first moderator of the World Council of Churches, when it was founded in 1948, and was a close friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Protestant theologian executed for his role in the resistance to Hitler.
In 1929, Bell became bishop of Chichester in England. Four years later, soon after Hitler came to power in Germany, Bell publicly expressed concern about the beginning of Jewish persecution.
Already in the autumn of 1931, Bell had met Dietrich Bonhoeffer at an ecumenical meeting in Sofia. When Bonhoeffer came to London in 1933 as a German pastor, a close relationship of trust developed between the two clerics.
During the Second World War, in 1941, Bell met Bonhoeffer in neutral Sweden, and Bonhoeffer requested the bishop to encourage the British government to support the resistance inside Germany to Hitler.
At the same time, Bell spoke out publicly against the tactics of indiscriminate bombing of German cities, a position that earned him much criticism within the church and from public opinion, Huber noted in his statement.
After the war, Bell was one of the first foreign church leaders to visit defeated Germany.
"In an emotional service, he preached in the heavily damaged St Mary's Church in Berlin, and was himself deeply moved by the plight of refugees," Huber said, noting that this experience led Bell to work for humanitarian assistance to war-ravaged Europe.
"His commitment to peace, his willingness for a new beginning, and his unshakeable friendship to the Christians in Germany, even in the darkest times, deserve respect and gratitude," added Huber.
Born in 1883, Bell supported an interdenominational effort for war orphans during the First World War, and together with Swedish Lutheran Archbishop Nathan Söderblom worked for the exchange of prisoners of war, the EKD noted in an article about Bell on its Web site.
After that conflict, Bell joined the Life and Work movement that Söderblom founded in 1925 to promote common action by churches on social and political issues. Life and Work was one of the groups that went on to form the World Council of Churches in 1948.
[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.]