Swiss politician seeks 'new reformation' to tackle world crises

By Stephen Brown
June 17, 2009

The 16th-century teaching of John Calvin can inspire a "reformation of values" in the face of the economic and ecological crises that confront the world, a Swiss politician has said at a ceremony to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformer's birth.

"We have forgotten how to respect nature, we are no longer in solidarity with the poorest," Swiss federal cabinet minister Moritz Leuenberger told the 14 June 2009 ceremony in Geneva organized by the Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches.

"We have pushed back the limits of liberty and we have lost our sense of orientation," said Leuenberger, delivering the keynote address at the event to honour Calvin, known for his role in Geneva's Protestant Reformation.

Calvin once wrote, "if we have to live, we also have to make use of the means necessary for our lives … We therefore have to respect some measure, both for our needs and for our enjoyment," recalled Leuenberger, who heads the federal department of the environment, transport, energy and communications.

"Today we burn fossil fuels, destroy the atmosphere, we plunder the forests and the oceans," noted Leuenberger, the son of a Protestant pastor. "We do not have the right to deplete the earth is this way," said the Swiss politician, who was president of the Swiss Confederation in 2001 and in 2006. "Instead we have the obligation to take into account the limits of our planet. Otherwise we will destroy the foundations of life, hinder all social and political development and impede economic activities."

The 14 June gathering brought together civic and church leaders from Switzerland and beyond. It was one of a series of events to mark the anniversary of the birth of Calvin, who was born on 10 July 1509 in Noyon, northern France.

German theologian Klaas Huizing noted another aspect of the heritage of the Protestant Reformer. "What appears most strongly in the thought of Calvin is the idea of transparency. If we had applied this concept to the financial sector, we would not have let things get out of control in this financial crisis," said Huizing.

Leuenberger described Calvinism as an example of how a democratic state could be organized on the basis of a separation of powers and said that Calvin had demonstrated how commerce and ethics might be reconciled.

"In a world void of benchmarks, the values that the Reformation brought back to life have been swept aside with a sweep of the hand. The praise goes to the states that are economically efficient, whether or not their structures are only partially or not at all democratic, even if they violate human rights or neglect the protection of the environment," said Leuenberger.

"A world in which all human beings can live in peace requires work, commitment and solidarity. It is in our interest as human beings and citizens to put these values back at the centre of our action. This need to return to the essentials was made 500 years ago and today we need to renew this call," he noted.

[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.]

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