The 22 participants from 12 countries look back on the conference in Vienna with much praise and fresh momentum. The date for a follow-up conference has already been set for 19-22 April 2023 in Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania. Further activities are planned until then.
„All those who were present in Vienna are also very welcome in Sibiu to continue working on the topics of nationalism and cosmopolitanism,“ says Volkmar Ortmann from the Evangelical Federation of Hesse. Of course, new participants are also welcome. A large number of the evaluation forms from the Vienna conference have already arrived and show „how much impetus the participants bring new ideas back to their churches and countries“.
In addition to the idea of founding a network, a song on the topic is already in the works. Teaching material is almost ready and there is already a list of Bible passages that are suitable for sermons on nationalism and cosmopolitanism. Before the Sibiu conference, they want to meet in a webinar. The Protestant Federation has made a cloud available to the participants where they can collect and process their results.
The next conference will also be organised by Evangelischer Bund Hesse together with the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) and the centre for Protestant Theology in eastern Europe in Sibiu (ZETO in Transylvania). The Austrian Broadcasting Corporation visited the conference and will report on 18 May. Information on the Young Theology project can be found on the website www.young-theology.eu.
At the Young Theology in Europe Forum conference ending in Vienna on 14 May 2022, participants dictated the idea of a network to continue after the conference. The young people want to deepen the connection between their churches on a practical level. In the end, a book is to be produced. The spokespersons of the 24-member group from twelve European countries are Vittorio Secco from Italy and Frederik Grüneberg from Germany.
Initially, the participants have connected in a WhatsApp group. As early as summer 2022, there is to be a first online meeting. Then, in autumn, an online lecture of the Forum for Young Theology Europe (FYTE) will start. In spring, they want to use the conference in Sibiu/Hermannstadt already planned by the Evangelical Federation of Hesse for their new network. And starting in 2024, there will be an annual meeting of the newly founded network.
The annual meeting will be held every year in a different country, that will be the host of the others. The meeting is to allow the participants to visit the host church in its context, giving the opportunity to attend a worship in that tradition, but also to give a space for academical research, that can deepen the links and the relationship the history and experience of every church involved. This should lead the participant to collect all this researches in a publication for next generations.
Theses about Nationalism, Identities and Christian Churches
Everyone has local and/or regional roots and is living in such a context. A cosmopolitan way of life tends to deny these roots and contexts. Identifying with a „nation“ seems to overcame this tension.
Nationalism can turn toxic, when it becomes exclusive (working with in- and out-groups) and can be used to manipulate a people. Nationalism (inclusive or exclusive) offers an identity, which a free global environment can’t provide.
The positive alternative – we call it bottom-up communitarism – tries to build open and inclusive communities and nations.
Any identity has two sides – it is a social construct, which can be experienced in context, and it may be a strong feeling. Institutions (churches, states) always highlight a certain identity. For a non-beliefing politician, who is using religion in politics, religion will be only a social construct, while for the believer religion has an additional transcendent aspect.
The core of churches‘ identity is Jesus Christ. Belonging to church does not mean to leave behind national, regional, sexual or any other identity. (refer to Gal 3,28 and/or Romans 3,29-31).
As Churches we cannot stay for ourselves, but need to be ready to serve society (diaconia) and to build up relationships with other Christians/churches (mission and ecumenism) – Math. 28, 19-20.
Inspired by Martin Buber and Emanuel Levinas we see, that the encounter with Christians from other traditions has a transformative power – this is Gods work in people.
Nobody and no institution is alone an executor of Gods will. God is acting in the world through the hands of different people.
The message is higher than the language. National languages and cultures are a vehicle for the Gospel (inculturation). Experiencing different languages and cultures leads us to the catholicity (one undivided christian) of church. Speaking different languages is often weakening the national identity, in Christianity the opposite is happening.
My Name is Alexander, i am 24 years old and I am studying Protestant Theology. My Church is the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Bavaria. During my studies in Neuendettelsau, Tübingen, Ecumenical Institute of Bossey and Leipzig I raised a lot of different experiences about being a Christian in this world and having different contexts. Currently I am preparing for my final exams in autumn and after them I want to become a pastor in my church. Trough all crisis of society and churches I am convinced that the message of the gospel leads us to live our faith out in a joyful way. In my free time I appreciated to play football, meet friends and helping at my family’s vinery.
What I think about the topic?
The ambiguity of nationalism and cosmopolitanism is an ongoing question in the different countries in our world. Some people and states emphasis (strongly) their national identity connected to language, culture etc., while others shape their identity more open and cosmopolite to everyone. Thinking about this two terms is urgently needed in our times, while the nationalist/national movements increase in the different countries of their and are risking the way to stay in a worldwide community. Personally its important for me to come from Franconia/Bavaria, especially in comparison to the rest of Germany, and I am a Christian with Lutheran confession. But it’s my context and does not prevent me to meet other people from different contexts and to celebrate services and build up Christian community. Being a Christian is more essential for me than other things. My Question’s to the conference are, how different churches, Christians and theologians are acting between the points of nationalism and cosmopolitanism. And also: How we as Christians can contribute to this topic.
What I take home?
As Christians, who are living in different contexts and have different identities more or less shaped by national/cosmopolite ideas, we are challenged every time when we work ecumenical and meet our brothers and sisters. There is our national origin we cannot deny, but when we are together in community with Jesus Christ, our identity, which is also Christian, we have to learn to overcome everything, which is us separating from our community with god. Because our Churches more or less focus on this national identity, young theologians like us have to work on it and try to provide a way of reconciliation towards a Christian identity, where national/cosmopolite contexts play a role, but not are dominating our christian hearts. Essential for this is the experience of community like in this conference, which is dismounting stereotypes and exclusive narratives between us as Europeans and Christians. Through the conference I developed my understanding of the European Protestant Churches and it opened for me another way of having ecumenical relations to my brothers and sister with their specific (national/cosmopolite) contexts/identities.
An identity is not the individual “art project” of the ego. A person’s identity – and thus also my identity – is formed through relations. Being a person is not the dialectical becoming of a thinking substance surrounded by material substance, but rather being is both individual and one as consciousness unfolding in and through relations. Identity is found in mutual love, respect, empowerment and encouragement and is perverted through the lack of these. Apart from truth, goodness, beauty and love one cannot find one’s identity. We learn this through the mirror of trinitarian relations.
National identity is an abstraction of the common features of certain relations individuals appreciate. However, my concern with nationalism is that it is a rigid concept, which extrapolates a Freudian ego-project to a larger scale and neglects a certain fluidity and dynamic plurality of identity. The second issue I have with the concept is that the idea of pure self-determination or self- governance of a nation (and an individual for that matter) is an illusion of the ideal of Kantian autonomy and a problematic concept of freedom as simple freedom of choice. Not only is nationalism in tension with the trinitarian idea of personhood, but when fused with Christianity, it creates a community uncapable of communications, cooperation, mission and true relation of reciprocal love with anyone outside the group. It is the uncertainty of one’s identity and the fear of losing one’s self that fuels nationalism. Any talk of national virtue or a “nations’ sin” distorts the core Christian doctrines of original sin and the efficacy of Christ’s salvation for the whole creation. Through the example of the Lutheran Churches in Myanmar I have seen that these nationalist Churches have no future. I strongly believe this same applies to a community of people as a “nation”.
My name is Vittorio Secco, I am 29 years old and I am a member of the Evangelical Waldensian Church in Italy. I graduated in History, Classical Philology and Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Genoa. Following the vocation to the pastoral ministry I started studying Protestant Theology at the Valdese Faculty of Rome.
I am currently a student for the master’s degree in theology at the same faculty. I like very much ancient languages and translation. I am very grateful to be able to participate in this conference, because I believe that to some extent phenomena such as nationalism and populism do not concern strictly only the political sphere, but involve us as believers and citizens, in Europe and in the world. Meeting and listening to different voices can only be useful for each of us.
My identity I am a Danish theology student, who is proud of being Danish citizen but also a EU citizen. I am currently writeing my bachelor, in the field of New Testament, Pauls letter to the Galatians. Why Nationalism concerns me
Nationalism is a concern for me within the church, because it is easy for a majority church to isolate itself and thereby make an isolated theology, where its easy to forget that the church is a part of a bigger narrative, a bigger picture. The same goes for politics. I think we have to define us together and remember that more perspectives can fill out a bigger picture. My studies of Paul has led me to a greater understanding of the ecumenical work. Reading his letters has left me with the feeling of the work he had to do to keep the early congregations together. I see a potential danger in churches only defining themselves without other churches in other countries who identify as the same church, ie. Lutherans or Calvinist. Therefore im looking forward for this conference, to actually meet people representing other protestant churches from other EU contries. I find it so important that the churches keep the conversations alive, and keep getting a better understanding of eachother.
Born in the freshly united Berlin and grown up and educated for ONE half of my life in progressist and liberal cities of Germany (in Baden, Württemberg and Franken), but shaped and impregnated mainly through the OTHER half of my life in the home region of my parents and hole family, romanian Transsylvania, I feel myself as a wanderer between the worlds and a sensible knower of their slight differences. As lutheran Saxon, earning a lot from local community´s cultural and spiritual richness, I early began to feel resistance against the defamation of home („Heimat“) and heritage, which I was learned to in German schools. On the other hand my inner conviction converges to Paul´s „All things are lawful for me; but not all things are expedient“ and to a justification of any lifestyle which offers love to the neighbour.
Being on the path from a freelancer musician to a church pastor, I´m continously looking for ways of communication between the multifaceted beauty of our world and our understanding of God´s will. I try to tolerate all, also extreme, postions (of different friends I have) concerning the relation between identity and society, national (/ethnical/familiar…) belonging and foreign attractions and I try to look always for their good motives. A big curiosity for opinions and perspectives fulfills the meaning of our existence.