German theologian discusses challenges faced by Protestants

German theologian discusses challenges faced by Protestants

The Protestant church faces three main challenges as it gears up to celebrate the 500th anniversary in 2017 of Martin Luther’s Reformation, according to a leading theologian.

Margot Kassmann, former head of the Protestant Church of Germany (EKD) and ambassador for the anniversary, told ENInews that Protestants need to examine their role in an increasingly secular society.

“I think what Luther did to transform the Biblical message into popular context is also a challenge now for us as well,” she said.

A second challenge will be “how do we deal with the Reformation after 100 years of ecumenical movement. Who are we together?” Kassmann added.

A third and very important challenge, said Kassmann, is Luther’s legacy regarding Jews and their religion. “This is a terrible heritage because what he said about Jews certainly misled the Lutheran church to an anti-Judaism stance that in Nazi times created a situation where the church did not defend Jewish people in Germany,” she told ENInews. “That has to be critically reflected upon.”

A controversial figure in Germany, Kassmann was in Paris on April 20 to promote the French translation of her book In midlife: What Future After 50 Years of Age?

The book has sold more than 500,000 copies in Germany, apparently striking a chord with Protestants who identify with Kassmann’s unconventional views and life.

A mother of four, Kassmann was the first female bishop to have children, and the first to divorce while in office. In 2009, she was elected head of the EKD, a federation of regional church bodies representing 25 million members. She was the first woman to head the organisation and saw a wellspring of support as well as some opposition to her views.

But she resigned the following year following a drunk-driving incident in which she ran a red light and was found to have three times the legal limit of alcohol in her system when tested. Kassmann is also a cancer survivor and is seen to represent many women in the Protestant church.

“I must say that I had a long way to go,” Kassmann said about her role as a female religious leader. “It certainly was not easy. But in Germany today, 30 percent of Protestant pastors are women, and that changes the church because what you see is an image of who the church is.”

Women will play an integral part in the worldwide celebrations to mark the Reformation, and Kassmann believes their contribution has made a big difference to Protestantism.

“Luther would have said that anyone can be priest, anyone who has been baptised, and so that’s a theological conviction that’s now being seen in pastors in Germany and the world,” Kassmann told ENInews. “I think that’s a very good road we’re on.”

By A. D. McKenzie, Ecumenical News International


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