Luther Decade starts into its theme year “Reformation and Tolerance”

Festive opening with Margot Käßmann and Hans-Peter Friedrich

Bundesinnenminister Hans-Peter Friedrich (CDU)Photo: epd-bild/Hanno GutmannFederal Minister of the Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CDU) during his address at the opening of the theme year 2013 in Worms.

The theme year “Reformation and Tolerance” in preparation for the Reformation anniversary in 2017 has been opened with a festive church service on Reformation Day and a ceremony in the Dreifaltigkeitskirche in Worms. The sermon during the service was held by Margot Käßmann, Ambassador of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) for the Reformation anniversary. Federal Minister of the Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (Christian Social Union, CSU) gave an address at the opening of the theme year 2013.

In her sermon, Käßmann said that the Evangelical Church was often blamed for not taking a clear enough stance in ethical matters. However, she claimed that this were exactly the strength of the faith of the Reformation. There exists no dogma for what the individual Protestanc Christian ought to believe.

Margot Käßmann: “I am to think for myself”

“The individual conscience shall be sharpened”, said Käßmann: “I am to think for myself.” This includes that one must endure different positions and arguments about the truth. “This is part of the Protestant doctrine.” Variety is a greater venture than standardisation, said the former Bishop of Hannover, who now promotes the 500th Reformation anniversary in 2017 as the Ambassador of the EKD.

Reformationsbotschafterin Margot KäßmannPhoto: epd-bild/Hanno Gutmann The Reformation Ambassador of the EKD, Margot Käßmann, held the sermon during the festive church service. The former Chairwoman of the Council of the EKD reminded of the fact that freedom in the Protestant sense of the word is never “the kind of libertinism that nowadays is all too often mistaken for freedom.” Freedom is not the same as “banalisation and trivialisation of values and standpoints”. Instead it is always related to the community. Martin Luther's notion of freedom can also be found behind the keywords of the French Revolution, freedom, equality and fraternity. However, Käßmann admitted that the freedom of opinion, speech and conscience often had to be achieved “during struggles against the institution of the church”.

Furthermore, Luther and the other Reformers can not be claimed for having supported a position of tolerance. In a “manner that is unbearable for us today”, Luther has ranted against Jews, Turks and “Papists”. “But the church of the Reformation shall continue to reform itself”, Käßmann said. Today, the church has learned “that an overly stubborn insistence does not lead towards peace.”

Hans-Peter Friedrich: “Tolerance means wanting to understand the other”

During the ceremony after the church service, Federal Minister of the Interior Hans-Peter Friedrich (CSU) talked about the “development of identity and tolerance as a permanent cultural challenge”. Friedrich said that true tolerance is an active attitude and means wanting to understand the other. Tolerance rests on two pillars, one being openness and curiosity, the other the clarity about one's own identity. “Only those who know their own position and are at peace with themselves are able to make durable compromises”, Friedrich stressed. The churches could give valuable impulses towards this. The state could not make it happen by decree, the Minister said.

During the ceremony, the deputy Chairman of the EKD and Bishop of Saxony Jochen Bohl opened the theme year 2013 “Reformation and Tolerance” of the Luther Decade. The last theme year has been dedicated to church music. Since 2008, the Luther Decade prepares for the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of his theses in 1517. The city of Worms and the Evangelical Church in Hesse and Nassau will organise the “Wormser Religionsgespräche” (“Worms Colloquy”), during which, amongst other participants, Norbert Lammert (Christian Democratic Union, CDU) will talk about the relationship between politics and religion.

The sermon of the Ambassador of the Council of the EKD for the Reformation anniversary 2017, Professor Margot Käßmann, is available for download here (PDF).