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Baptist leaders’ ‘Berlin Declaration’ challenges ‘racial and ethnic hatred’

BERLIN (BP)–Christians should work prayerfully and biblically toward the truth that all human beings are created by God, and Christians belong to a community “characterized by a radical equality in Jesus Christ, which supercedes nationality, culture and all other divisions,” according to a “Berlin Declaration” issued by international Baptist leaders who met in the German capital for a seminar on “Baptist Identity and National Culture.”

The May 26-29 seminar was sponsored by the Baptist World Alliance, the European Baptist Federation and the Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany. Denton Lotz, general secretary of the BWA, and Kim Strubind, pastor of a Baptist church in Munich, co-chaired the meeting.

The declaration acknowledges “with sadness that many of our societies and communities are marred by an intolerant nationalism, racial and ethnic hatred, suspicion of foreigners and discrimination on the grounds of race, culture and religion.”

“We confess,” the declaration states, “that as Baptist Christians and Churches, we have often been complicit in this” and have failed to “love the stranger, to speak and act decisively and to be peacemakers and reconcilers. We have shrunk back from confronting evil and taking a prophetic stance with governments and institutions.”

Said Lotz, “When the Berlin Wall fell, we were going to have a new world order, but this dream failed and the world has exploded with many wars of ethnic and religious origin.”

Andrea Strubind, Baptist professor of church history in Heidelberg who spoke on the subject of “German Baptists and National Socialism,” described how German Baptists increasingly gave up the Baptist principle of the separation of church and state during the Nazi period and ultimately many supported Adolf Hitler.

Because of the German Baptist involvement, delegates who attended the Fifth Baptist World Congress in Berlin in 1934 were indirectly involved in the support of the Third Reich, Strubind said, recounting that when the German Baptists wanted to cancel the congress to avoid this very thing, the German government put pressure on them to hold the congress as a sign of support for Germany. Strubind noted, though, that the BWA Congress Report of 1934 shows a strong resolution opposed to nationalism and racism.

Serbian pastor Zarko Djordjevic described the dilemma Baptist churches faced during the recent war between Serbia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) over Albanian refugees.

“Why were we expected as loudly and publicly as possible to condemn the politics of my country,” Djordjevic asked, “yet the same was not expected of our brothers from Croatia because of the politics of their country?”

After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and subsequently the fall of communism, Yugoslavia no longer was held together by the military rule of the communist leader Tito, consequently breaking up mostly along ethnic groups. “With varying degrees of enthusiasm, the Baptists of the former Yugoslav republics accepted this,” Djhordjevic said. “Political definitions strongly influenced spiritual thought.”

“We all confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” said Thorwald Lorenzen, former chair of the BWA Human Rights Commission and pastor of the Canberra (Australia) Baptist Church, “but when it comes deep down, I suspect we all face a challenge.”

Lorenzen also noted, “Culture is extremely powerful, but it can be transformed or changed.”

“All human beings are created to experience unashamed fellowship with God and each other,” said Gerald Borchert, professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago, “and all separation of people is not the original intention of God for the world.”

A Christian is “a displaced person who works for the betterment of this world but looks for another and critiques this world,” Borchert said. “We must challenge the world with the model of Jesus.”

Nigel Wright, principal of Spurgeons College, Bristol, England, speaking about early Baptist history and how it relates to the questions of identity, culture, church and state, recounted, “We have come a long way in our accommodation with the state. … The history of Baptists began in the Dissenting Movement of England when they were endangered from both church and state. They believed Jesus Christ was risen from the dead and was Lord, transcending every loyalty and allegiance.”

This supremacy of the Christian’s commitment to Jesus Christ and his kingdom values is affirmed in the Berlin Declaration. “Nationalism or adherence to a national ideology which exalt one nation over others are forms of idolatry and not compatible with Christian beliefs,” the declaration states.

Baptists are asked “to work for justice and peace for all, and to actively oppose war and violence as a means of settling national disputes and ethnic conflicts.”

While culture is understood to be extremely important to both personal and national identity, “the mission of the Churches is to witness to cultures in the name of Christ, and to work for transformation according to the values of the kingdom of God,” the declaration states.

The declaration also urges Baptists “to uphold the Baptist concern for religious freedom,” especially for “minority groups, which often feel themselves to be powerless.”

The full text of the Berlin Declaration is posted on the BWA Internet site, www.bwanet.org.

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  • Wendy Ryan