Austria: Pax Christi Austria’s workshop with Bishop Michael Bünker


(translated from German)
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“Freedom as justice” as an ecumenical task

Pax Christi Austria’s workshop with Bishop Michael Bünker

The “500 years Reformation” jubilee is celebrated ecumenical for the first time with the Roman Catholic Church. As a contribution to 2017, the year of the Reformation, Pax Christi Austria devoted the workshop of its annual meeting on March 3 in the “Franz Jägerstätter” students’ house in Linz to the theme of peace and justice, as well as to the Church and Christians’ ecumenical commitment to freedom. The introductory speech was held by the Bishop of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, Michael Bünker. Pax Christi Austria’s (PCÖ) new permanent secretary, Maria Dammayr, and Adalbert Krims summarised the speech.

Bishop Michael Bünker spoke about the last 500 years in his lecture and drew rather sober conclusions with regard to the wish for peace and justice that was this gathering’s theme: according to the bishop, one could, without exaggeration, describe the Reformation’s history as a history of continuous violence that lasted over two hundred years. The 16th century did not know one single decade of peace and in the 17th century only some of the first years were without military violence. The religious conflicts as part of the Reformation and Counter Reformation, which involved border realignments and territorial claims, led to mass deportations and even many years later, a lot of people had to leave their country because of their religion. [...]

Bishop Bünker observed that today as well, we are confronted with many warlike conflicts that, in addition, are accompanied by a new arms race, especially within the atomic context. The disarmament agreements that were made in the 1980s are being questioned more and more and are being violated. [...]

Bünker mentioned that the NATO members decided in 2014 that they would increase their expenses concerning armament to two percent of the GDP within ten years. […] Taken together, the NATO members already spend 900 million euros on armament, Russia “only” 66 million. Disarmament is therefore out of the question. To the contrary: everything seems to point towards those countries increasingly betting on military security; the Austrian army as well may be “pleased” with a significant increase of their budget, according to Bünker. Not just the forced armament threatens peace, but the development of completely new weapon- and killing systems, like drones, do so as well. They are a weapon-technical mistake, since they stimulate a deregulation of war and open up a grey area where no one any longer is certain of when a war begins and of how it can be ended. [...]

The ‘just war’ doctrine, in which ethical criteria should legitimise so-called humanitarian interventions, experiences a renaissance within this context. This holds especially true for Western intervention wars (like Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan). In the end, the “responsibility to protect”-concept of the United Nations serves as a renewal of the ‘just war’ doctrine; only now it carries a different name.

When churches today follow the road of just peace with oecumenical intention than this road is radically different from the old ‘just war’ doctrine. Moreover, a just peace means more than protecting people from the illegitimate use of weaponry and violence. “It is necessary that weapons remain silent, but this is not enough, since peace involves social justice, respect for human rights and security for all. Just peace has an ecological and social, a political and oecumenical dimension. Condemning war alone is not enough”, said Bishop Michael Bünker. Historically, the ‘just war’ doctrine, according to its criteria, has never prevented unjust wars or diminished war violence. Furthermore, it does not meet political, societal and military developments, like the weapons of mass destruction. On the contrary, it provides wars with the illusion of morally acceptable warfare, although peace and justice are never the product of wars. It leads to an unjustified moralising of international politics. Every party claims the just cause for themselves, thereby creating a spiral of violence, the course of which justifies any kind of escalation.

The in 1948 in Amsterdam founded World Council of Churches (ÖRK) has undermined the, until then unchallenged, ‘just war’ doctrine both on an oecumenical and theological basis, because – as was emphasised – “war is not God’s will”. Accordingly, it is now argued in the ecumenicity that the crime against humanity does not begin with the deployment of atomic weapons, but already with their production, their testing or their deterrent effect (World Council of Churches’ global conference in Vancouver, 1983). Atomic deterrence cannot be morally legitimised, since its credibility is based on the notion that the use of atomic weapons is in fact intended; this possibility contradicts a belief in Jesus Christ.

When Churches consider the use of atomic weapons necessary as a last a resort and a means to protect endangered populations, then the “use of force of arms is [seen] both as a considerable failure for and an extra impediment to just peace” (ÖRK 2011). In this way, Churches underline that humanitarian interventions are also an expression of culpability and therefore never can be pursued with a clear conscience. The primary task for the Church is therefore to provide helpful humanitarian aid for the victims of violence and to strengthen those powers of political reason that are dedicated to conflict solutions free of violence and to a future of justice and peace.

This purpose is reinforced by Pope Francis and the President of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Munin A. Younan, in their communal statement at the Catholic-Lutheran commemoration of the Reformation on 31 October 2016 at Lund’s cathedral in Sweden: “We ask God for inspiration, encouragement and power, so that we can stand united in service and in this way stand up for people’s values and rights, especially those of the poor, that we work for justice and that we condemn all forms of violence. God demands it of us to be close to all those that seek dignity, justice, peace and reconciliation. In a special way, we raises our voices today for an end to violence and extremism, which affect so many countries and communites, as well as countless sisters and brothers of Christ. We demand cooperation to take up and help strangers that are forced to flee and ask for help due to war and persecution, and to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.”

Thus, according the Bishop Michael Bünker, the central points have been named, in which Catholics and Evangelicals today stand united, even when they were not united five hundred years ago.


Austria, Pax Christi Austria, Bishop Michael Bünker