A NEWS RELEASE
From Lutheran World Information
HOOR, Sweden/GENEVA, 18 April 2007 (LWI) - "Fundamentalism provides an overarching narrative, in which people find meaning for their lives. Our challenge is to counter this with a compelling counter-narrative of how God is at work in the world, fostering justice, inclusivity and peace," urged Rev. Dr Barbara Rossing, who teaches New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, USA. She was speaking at a theological seminar in Hoor, Sweden, that was held prior to the March 2007 Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Council meeting and 60th anniversary celebrations in Lund.
Rossing chairs the Program Committee of the LWF Department for Theology and Studies (DTS), which organized the March 18-20 seminar in cooperation with the Church of Sweden Research Department.
The seminar brought together 27 participants, including LWF Council members, church leaders and teaching theologians, to discuss "Fundamentals for a Lutheran Communion in the Face of Fundamentalism." It was the third seminar in the ongoing LWF/DTS program, "Theology in the Life of the Church."
"Our hope is that we can clarify who we are and what we as Lutherans stand for in the face of militant expressions of the Christian faith that threaten peace," commented Rev. Dr Reinhard Boettcher, outgoing LWF/DTS Study Secretary for Theology and the Church, who coordinated the seminar.
What quickly became apparent was that perspectives and reactions to fundamentalism varied in different contexts. For some it was a threatening reality "out there," especially when associated with the dominance and militancy of other faiths, whereas for others it was to some degree present within Lutheran churches. Bishop Julius Paul of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malaysia observed, "the perception is that, in contrast to the Muslims in my country, Lutherans don't have a sense of urgency about any core convictions." The seminar provided an opportunity to lift up a number of Lutheran theological fundamentals against the backdrop of the increasing fundamentalism in many spheres of life.
Bishop Dr Nicholas Tai of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hong Kong, China, affirmed Chinese Christians' strong belief in the Bible. "We need to sit together with fundamentalists and dialogue with them how to read the Bible," suggested Rev. Dr Jubil Hutauruk, former bishop of the Protestant Christian Batak Church in Indonesia. Mr Girma Mohammed from Ethiopia, who is pursuing doctoral studies at the Free University of Amsterdam, Netherlands, cautioned that the "categories of fundamentalism against liberalism don’t fit in Africa. They take on a new meaning in the inculturation debate." Bishop Dr Stephen Munga of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania pleaded for more attention to African perspectives on fundamentalism.
Professor Guenter Thomas, who teaches ethics and fundamental theology and at Ruhr-University in Bochum, Germany, insisted that what was needed, were theological responses to Christian fundamentalism.
"Fundamentalist theology tends to keep God apart from the ambiguities and complexities inherent in human history. We are challenged to spell out what it means that God is incarnated in the history of a human being, including in suffering and death." Rev. Dr David Pfrimmer, dean of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, Canada, advocated the theology of the cross as the center of Lutheran theology. "It helps us to recognize God in the midst of suffering and guards against militant triumphalism," he said.
According to Rev. Dr Wanda Deifelt, Brazil, who teaches at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, USA, "Fundamentalism is not simply a matter of showing why and how one's own beliefs are correct, but primarily in proving that the others are wrong," with important power struggles at stake. She described significant differences between US and Latin American versions of fundamentalism, and deplored the fact that 90 percent of abused women in shelters in Brazil are from fundamentalist churches.
In an open letter to the Lutheran communion, the seminar participants state that as Lutherans "we engage with Scripture in the search for truth and meaning in our lives and in history, with openness to dialogue, criticism, correction, through the power of the Holy Spirit."
The LWF Council requested LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Ishmael Noko to forward the open letter adopted by the seminar participants, to the Federation's member churches and related theological institutions. The content identifies a number of theological fundamentals for a Lutheran communion and urges further discussion and action on these convictions. (730 words)
The letter is posted on the LWF Web site at: http://www.lutheranworld.org/What_We_Do/DTS/DTS-Fundamentalism-Letter-2007.pdf The papers presented at the seminar will soon be posted on the special DTS “Theology in the Life of the Church” Web site: http://www.luthersem.edu/lwfdiscuss
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The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF currently has 140 member churches in 78 countries all over the world, with a total membership of nearly 66.7 million. The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in areas of common interest such as ecumenical and interfaith relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communication, and the various aspects of mission and development work. Its secretariat is located in Geneva, Switzerland.
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