“This is not a purely eastern problem”

Even in the churches there are people "who think more populist than is desirable," says Bishop Gerhard Feige of Magdeburg. The problems of the people must be taken seriously, which requires the commitment of the whole community.

In the debate about populism and the AfD, the Bishop of Magdeburg, Gerhard Feige, promotes dialogue. It is important to talk about content and certain values, such as human dignity, which applies to everyone, Feige said on MDR's radio program "Kultur-Werkstatt," which airs this Tuesday at 10 p.m. "One cannot be interested in a division of society," the bishop said. Polarization should not be encouraged, hatred and incitement should not be spread. Democratic societies rather rely on compromises.

"Democracy is exhausting"

At the time of the political turnaround in 1989/90, Feige said, he did not think that the situation would change so much in the next 30 years. This worries him and also scares him. Feige emphasized: "Freedom challenges, you have to decide."And: "Democracy is exhausting, demands the commitment of the whole community."There are problems, fears and concerns among the people that must be taken seriously. With regard to populism, the bishop emphasized, "This is not a purely Eastern problem."Even in the churches, there are people, groups and circles "who think more populist than is desirable".

The Protestant state bishop Ilse Junkermann said in the same interview that the AfD works strongly with people's fears. One fear in East Germany is that of another great change: The first one, the Wende, brought a lot, but also took a lot away. There is still a feeling of disadvantage, which is reflected in lower wages and demographic developments, for example. She conceded: "The churches' power to provide a home is no longer so great."

Commitment also regarding changes in the church

In the face of changes in the church and declining membership, Bishop Feige relies on the commitment of individual believers. "More than ever, I think it's also up to the individuals," he said. "We are not just a service institution for religious needs."Every baptized and confirmed person is a member of the church with responsibility.

According to forecasts, the large churches in Germany will have only half as many members in 2060 as they have today. Its financial possibilities will also be roughly halved. This is the result of a study by the Research Center for Intergenerational Contracts (FZG) at the University of Freiburg.

Catholic church with fewer losses than Protestant church

According to the calculations, the number of members will decline from 44.8 million in 2017 to 34.8 million by 2035 (minus 22 percent) and to 22.7 million by 2060 (minus 49 percent). In this context, the Catholic Church (minus 48 percent) will lose slightly fewer members than the Protestant Church (minus 51 percent).

The "shape of the church" can and will change, Feige said. But what is decisive is "whether we do justice to our task". In the history of the church there have always been changes. "The shape of the church will change dramatically."But the church can remain alive. "We want to be a creative minority" in the ecumenical spirit," the bishop emphasized. A minority can be small, but can make a difference.

The chemistry with Bishop Junkermann is right

Bishop Gerhard Feige and the Protestant state bishop Ilse Junkermann expressed their mutual sympathy and appreciation. She said it was a "great gift" that Feige was able to celebrate her 60th birthday. I am grateful and glad that God has led you here from Baden-Wurttemberg," Junkermann said in the MDR radio program "Kultur-Werkstatt". The sympathy has grown reciprocally.

However, neither wanted to be called the "dream couple of ecumenism". "That is too fixed, that does not fit," said the bishop. "But I would say best friends, good partners." Feige expressed in the same interview: "The chemistry is right." Junkermann added: "And the concern."

The two church representatives also praised the ecumenical togetherness in their region. Christians are in the minority but live in a shared present, Junkermann said. At the national church and diocesan level, he said, people are on a path to learn from each other. This seems to her to be a good way: "no one-size-fits-all, but see what we can learn from each other and then do together".

Bishop Feige emphasized that dechurching and secularization "are bringing us closer together here". Like Junkermann, he praised the commemoration and learning from one another in the course of the past Reformation commemoration. The commemoration, he said, had overall "become a fruitful event for both sides".

Sensitive approach to abuse

Meanwhile, he said, the Catholic Church must deal seriously and sensitively with the ie of abuse. Cases must be intensively investigated, including in cooperation with prosecutors, Feige said on the MDR radio show. "An enormous amount" needs to be done in the area of prevention. "Only in this way, if we take it seriously, can it be that we regain trust."

Feige also referred to the MHG study, according to which in the church files of the years 1946 to 2014 indications of nationwide 3.677 victims of sexual assaults and about 1.670 accused priests, deacons and religious have been found. Scientists had said that neither celibacy nor homosexuality and the sexual morals of the church alone could be seen as causes. All three, however, were "enabling factors". Feige emphasized: "And we have to see what significance they have for the phenomenon and what needs to be changed."

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