Church and Democracy

On 16 September 2019, the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland and the Commissioner for Human Rights and Partners organised a conference entitled “We make peace” at the conference centre of the Polin Museum.

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The date of the conference was linked to the celebration of the International Day of Democracy, but also referred to the events associated with the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and the destruction of the Evangelical-Augsburg Church of the Holy Trinity in Warsaw, as mentioned by Jerzy Samiec, leading bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, in his opening address.

"This conference is taking place on the anniversary of Nazi Germany's attack on Poland, on the anniversary of the burning down of an evangelical church in Warsaw, tomorrow will be the anniversary of the Soviet Union's attack on Poland".

Bishop Samiec recalled what Nazism and full state control over a citizen, the creation of a single-party state and the suppression of others meant. He also mentioned the efficient system of propaganda and internal security, as well as attempts to place the nation before individual people.

“After the Second World War, people wondered how to protect themselves from this danger. The answer was to build a democratic state of freedom based on respect for human dignity, and recognition of freedom and equality of citizens.”

The Commissioner for Human Rights, dr Adam Bodnar, also referred to the events of 80 years ago.

“Democracy is the prerequisite for peace. It is not without reason that today's German constitution makes reference to the inalienable dignity of man, and makes it the foundation of the German state. The Polish Constitution does the same in Article 30. Democracy - Rule of Law - Human rights - those three, are inseparable. Without them, peace cannot be achieved. Therefore, in times when these values are at stake, we cannot continue to believe that peace is given to us once and for all”.

According to the Commissioner, it is not right to undermine the concept of inalienable human dignity - for example by excluding certain groups of people from society - or to disregard the rule of law. Then the elements that should support each other are weakened and the foundations of peace can be damaged. Hence, we need to strive for peace ‑ This task also applies to churches and religious associations. It can be fulfilled in different ways, but it starts with words, so it is advisable to be careful in choosing one’s words and their meaning. At the end of his speech, dr Adam Bodnar recalled the figure of the first Prime Minister of the Third Republic of Poland, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, to whose efforts we owe the beautiful text of the preamble to the Polish Constitution, including everyone who makes up Poland today:

“We, the Polish Nation - all citizens of the Republic, both those who believe in God as the source of truth, justice, good and beauty, as well as those not sharing such faith but respecting those universal values as arising from other sources, equal in rights and obligations towards the common good - Poland, beholden to our ancestors for their labours, their struggle for independence achieved at great sacrifice, for our culture rooted in the Christian heritage of the Nation and in universal human values, recalling the best traditions of the First and the Second Republic, obliged to bequeath to future generations all that is valuable from our over one thousand years' heritage, bound in community with our compatriots dispersed throughout the world, aware of the need for cooperation with all countries for the good of the Human Family, mindful of the bitter experiences of the times when fundamental freedoms and human rights were violated in our Homeland, desiring to guarantee the rights of the citizens for all time, and to ensure diligence and efficiency in the work of public bodies, recognizing our responsibility before God or our own consciences, hereby establish this Constitution of the Republic of Poland as the basic law for the State, based on respect for freedom and justice, cooperation between the public powers, social dialogue as well as on the principle of subsidiarity in the strengthening the powers of citizens and their communities.”

The theme that inspired the organization of the conference was the Polish translation of thre documents: two of them were published by the Evangelical Church in Germany („Evangelische Kirche und freiheitliche Demokratie”, „Konsens und Konflikt: Politik braucht Auseinandersetzung. Zehm Impulse” and one was written by the Lutheran World Federation („The Church in the Public Space”). The published texts are the result of many years of reflection of the evangelical community and a treasure of Protestant theology. They reiterate the  question about Christians' obligations towards democracy, defending its values and peaceful, respectful conflict resolution.

In the morning, before the lectures and debates began, workshops for young people were held. They were attended by students from schools in Cieszyn, Krakow and Warsaw. During the workshops, the students talked about opposing hate speech and overcoming poverty. They tried to answer the question it we are truly able to each other, and how to distinguish between truth and falsehood. The workshops had been prepared by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Club of Catholic Intelligentsia.

In the lecture part of the conference participants listened to speeches by Lukas David Maier, Rev. Prof. Marcus Meckel and Rev. Prof. Bogusław Milerski. All speeches referred to the documents on Church and democracy, which had triggered the discussion. L. Maier noted that a good evangelical citizen should be a critical citizen, and Rev. Prof. Meckel stressed the need for another German memorandum, which would only deal with democracy and Europe. Rev. Prof. Milerski, referring to the document "Consensus and conflict" stated that a democratic community is a communication community, it is also a non-exclusive community. At the same time, according to Rev. Prof. Milerski, "democracy cannot be reduced to formal rules, according to the motto: the majority is always right. Democracy is more than that. Liberal democracy is linked to an ethical and educational challenge.

The next element of the conference involved two panel debates. The first one focused on the subject: "Church (religion) and democracy - dreams and reality. What should be and what it", and they featured: dr. Dominika Kozłowska ("Znak"), Aleksander Smolar (Batory Foundation), prof. Magdalena Środa (Warsaw University), dr hab. Jerzy Sojka (Christian Theological Academy), dr. Piotr Kładoczny (Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights). The debate was moderated by Adam Szostkiewicz (Polityka), who first asked the speakers why Poland was probably the only country in Europe that obsessively returned to the subject of religion and democracy?

Prof. Magdalena Środa pointed out that, in her opinion, there were three contentious areas between democracy and the activity of the Catholic Church: education, institutional issues and the appointment of clergy. Prof. Środa stated that despite 900 hours of religious education in the whole educational cycle (starting from kindergarten), the knowledge of the Bible among young Poles was non-existent. Meanwhile, as the speaker emphasized, the Scripture was an important foundation of humanities education in Europe. Moreover, religious instruction at school did not translate into moral or civic attitudes. Prof. Środa expressed her concern about the fact that one institution in the country, the Roman Catholic Church, had so much influence, that at times it was placed above democracy. That is why the transparency of the Church in social life was so important. Another significant issues are the attitudes of clergy and the question whether being a priest is treated in Poland today as a profession or a calling, and thus to what extent it is guided by personal responsibility for one’s actions.

Dr. Dominika Kozłowska noted that Catholicism in Poland was often considered a measure of Christianity. More important was the question of what does Christianity mean today in Poland and Europe? To what extent does Christianity connect the followers of Christ throughout the world? What do Christians have in common with other people? Dr Kozłowska said that "in an ideal political order, the democratic community and the community of the Church are inclusive, that is, they promote the involvement of people and build good citizenship".

According to prof. Aleksander Smolar, "in today's, religiously homogenous Poland, there are no foundations for pluralism, tolerance and positive attitude towards democracy. A certain monk, commonly referred to as ‘Father Director’, once said in the Sejm that he is not bound by democratic laws, but by divine laws. This is full disregard for the democratic community'.

Dr Piotr Kładoczny, pointed out the monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, which was best reflected, in his opinion, in close relations between representatives of the Church and some political groups.

The perspective of the Evangelical-Augsburg Church in Poland was represented by dr. Jerzy Sojka, who admitted that "as a Church, we live in a minority situation, the distribution of power in this arena is obvious, according to statistics. But we try to represent, to the best of our abilities, a vision that wants to educate towards democracy, and taking responsibility for the community". He also referred to Lutheran theology and the so-called "two kingdoms doctrine", which differentiates between the secular and state sphere, and the religious sphere: „This distinction should not lead to the disintegration of these two spheres, because, according to evangelical beliefs, God is active in both. On the other hand, it allows the Church to feel that it is an institution of the democratic order which wants to take an active part in shaping our common reality.”

The second debate addressed the subject "Freedom - a Gift or a Curse for Believers" and involved Bishop Jerzy Samiec (The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland), Archbishop Wojciech Polak (Roman Catholic Church in Poland), Bishop Karin Johannesson (Church of Sweden), Rabbi Małgorzata Kordowicz (Jewish Community), dr. Marek Moroń (Muslim Religious Community) and dr. Kishan Manocha (Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE). The discussion was moderated by dr. Hanna Machińska (Deputy Commissioner for Human Rights) and dr. Grzegorz Giemza (Polish Ecumenical Council).

Primate of Poland, Archbishop Wojciech Polak said that freedom was a gift and grace, and at the same time a task: "My freedom is a freedom of being created in the image and likeness of God, but it is also a freedom limited by the truth of my humanity, it cannot be absolute, and at the same time it should be realized in relation to other people".

For Bishop Jerzy Samiec, freedom had, above all, an internal, spiritual dimension: "We have freedom when we receive it from Christ. Freedom is when I have a relationship with Christ. In external freedom, however, I must remember to limit myself, that is to say, to obey the rules of society”. He emphasized that it was essential that freedom should be accompanied by concrete rules of conduct: responsibility for one’s decisions and their consequences, as well as diligence.

Bishop Karin Johannesson mentioned what, in her opinion, freedom was not. She mentioned the oppression of one man against another, poverty and hunger. In her opinion, freedom meant "to have enough, but not too much. It is also a good relationship with God when you free yourself from sin and can serve your neighbor, to whom you sometimes have specific responsibilities”.

Rabbi Małgorzata Kordowicz reminded that an important element of Jewish identity was the memory of the exodus from Egypt, where the people of Israel had lived in captivity. This liberation of the people by God had had a specific purpose - to serve God. Therefore, for religious Jews freedom was a state in which they could devote themselves completely and without any restrictions to the service of God.

According to Islam, as dr. Marek Moroń pointed out, freedom was a man's ability to do or not do something based on free will, and this was a gift from God. Free will was God's instrument for directing our lives in such a way as to "testify where we come from and unite with God at the end of our journey".

Dr. Kishan Manocha said that "experiencing freedom is a great gift, but if you experience it with strangers' eyes, such as those of humanitarian workers, and not in your own life, you do not fully recognise it.

The conference culminated in an evening concert at the Holy Trinity Church in Warsaw.

During the entire conference, an innovative method of recording the course of the session, i.e. large format sketch notes, was used. At the end of each debate, its graphic summary was presented to the audience. Their authors were Magda Arażny and Dorota Kostowska.

The conference had been jointly prepared by: the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland and the Commissioner for Human Rights. The project has received financial support from the Lutheran World Federation, the Evangelical Church in Germany, the Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation, the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Stefan Batory Foundation and the Embassy of Germany in Poland. Partners were also Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Christian Theological Academy in Warsaw, Evangelical-Augsburg Parish of the Holy Trinity in Warsaw, Polish Ecumenical Council and Club of Catholic Intelligentsia.

Media patrons of the conference were: Jednota, Polskie Radio RDC, Przewodnik Katolicki, Więź, Zwiastun Ewangelicki, deon.pl, ewangelicy.pl, luteranie.pl

Recordings from the conference are available on YouTube: luteranie


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