Education towards violence free communication and conflict solution
Velten Wagner: The Implementation of the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence from the Top to the Grass Roots Level - the DOV in Bavaria
At the Eighth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Harare, Zimbabwe, delegates from more than 300 member churches committed themselves to a world wide Decade to Overcome Violence (2001-2010). The Decade continues the World Council of Churches' involvement in issues of justice, peace and the integrity of creation. Building on existing initiatives like the world wide “Peace to the City” campaign, it was designed to give new momentum to peace work, offer a forum for sharing experience and establish relationships as a tool of advancing ecumenical learning. It is also a declaration of the churches' readiness to work together with local communities, secular movements, and people of other faiths to build a culture of peace.
According to the understanding of the World Council of Churches, the call to overcome violence and create a culture of peace is not an invention of the General Assembly in Harare. Since Jesus Christ called his disciples to fight violence not with violence but with love, they see themselves challenged to overcome violence and to create a culture of peace and to realise how little of this programme has been put into practise both collectively and individually by Christians. So the decade is both a call to repentance as well as renewal. Thus the church wants to show in public that she is looking critically into the history and the effect of her theology and practise and that she is willing to learn from the mistakes of the past.
On 4 February 2001, the World Council of Churches officially launched the Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV) in Germany. A church service on the occasion was broadcast on nation wide German public TV. The launch day ended with a symbolic public action: a candle procession to the Brandenburg Gate - for many the symbol of the Cold War. The candles reminded of the 1989 non-violent candle revolution which brought about the end of the East German Communist regime and related to a quotation of East German theologian Friedrich Schorlemmer: “Those who carry a candle are unable to engage in violence: One hand holds the candle, the other one protects the flame.” In spite of impressive events, it always remains a task to bring great ideas down to the grassroots level. The first choice is to use existing infrastructure rather than establishing just another desk or organisation.
DOV Activities on a Church Level
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria has traditionally been involved both in the work with Church members and non-members serving in the military and in the work with conscientious objectors. Although civil service is an established alternative to military service today there is still a need for counselling. More recently two new distinctive groups of clients have emerged: members of the reserve who object to the recent policy shift of sending German troops into action outside of the former NATO deployment areas in Europe as well as young men of Turkish decent with a German passport facing the choice of either military or civil service.
Usually counselling is done on a regional level by pastors and volunteers, but in this context the Lutheran church finally established a central desk for non?violent conflict resolution in 1998 to promote methods of constructive conflict resolution as a way of respecting the human dignity. The tasks of this desk include:
- offering seminars, training courses and other ways of public information concerning conflict resolution, non?violence and peace
- supporting peace groups and initiatives within the church in their work
- continuous networking with church and non?church initiatives in the field of peace and non?violence
With regard to the Decade to Overcome Violence, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria has installed a working group with the following tasks:
- finding church members already involved in preventing violence, non-violent conflict resolution, peace?work, work for antiracism, women's and children's rights etc.
- building a network between these people and initiatives to enable co?operation among them and to make them recognised in the public (not only of the church)
- raising public awareness about violence in all its different forms and pointing out ways of preventing violence and overcoming violence
- pointing out special forms of violence in the church (theological and historical backgrounds, violence in institutions, mobbing) and demonstrating ways to overcome these.
- publishing teaching material.
In the years 2002-2004, special attention will be given to violence against women and girls. Organised in co-operation between the Women's Desk and the Desk for non-violent Conflict Resolution a public campaign entitled “Church in alliance ? recognise and overcome violence in families” aims to raise public awareness and to support those who cannot fight against this violence themselves. Media for this campaign are big posters, leaflets with information, supporting material for congregations, for pastors and teachers in religious education plus a number of central and local events within the church. For this the church is using her potential of service institutions which can also use the opportunity to make themselves known in a competitive market of counselling and social service.
Inspiring DOV Activities at the Congregational
Being one of the traditional main line churches in Germany, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria can build on a network of congregations reaching out all over the state of Bavaria country as well as on the fact that people in the society have a certain confidence in the institutions of the church. Nonetheless, this does not mean that programmes decided upon in the churches headquarters or in the case of the Decade to Overcome Violence mobilise people at the congregations and its surroundings.
Beside the usual calls and promotional materials, one special way of implementing the Decade in Bavaria is a curriculum for employees and volunteers so that they can help those suffering from violence. The institutions of the church for education and further training have been asked to develop this curriculum based on their experience with similar efforts of qualification programmes. Following a pilot course (1999-2001) with 16 participants, currently another 16 trainees are undergoing the two year course (October 2001 - May 2003). The Desk for non-violent Conflict Resolution could have filled another course but wanted to keep in line with its resources. The certificate that is to be gained will be accepted as additional qualification when people apply for a position in church institutions and wider recognition by secular employers is already sought. Thus the church is strengthening its network of qualified people and helping institutions, but there is still another effect. As part of the curriculum and qualification each participant has to plan, organise and evaluate an event on subjects relating to the Decade to Overcome Violence. This event has to take place in the context of his or her profession or congregation. In other courses, this has proven to be a very effective tool for bringing general ideas down to earth and relate it to a specific context which is not normally reached by central events or media campaigns.
Violence as a Topic of International and National Theological Formation
Another way of implementing the Decade is available through the Department of World Missions based in Neuendettelsau. For many years it has been involved in programmes of theological formation both on a national and international level.
The Lutheran Church for example sponsors South South dialogues overseas and summer schools for overseas theologians in Germany. So, “Overcoming violence in the framework of Lutheran Theology and Spirituality” was the topic of the July 2001 summer school for theologians from Latin America, Africa, Asia and Oceania. About 30 men and women from 20 countries joined in theological study, working groups on best practices, congregation visits as well as a sightseeing tour to the sites of the reformation. Each participant was expected to bring along a paper how his or her church rises to the challenge violence and conflict resolution bringing about both dialogue within each church and between people of different countries and continents. Lectures from outside included talks of Prof. Dr Dieter Becker (Neuendettelsau) on “Culture, religion and violence” and Dr Klaus Schäfer (Hamburg) on “Overcoming violence - a theological approach”, case studies on Bosnia, Liberia and mediation in Germany.
On a national level, students qualifying for service in the Bavarian Lutheran Church are required to participate in at least in one course on ecumenical matters or world religions and pass a test at the end of the course. So the Missions Department in co-operation with the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg for 2002 organised a course on the contribution of religions (plural!) overcoming violence. It should be noted that there was an inter-religious perspective in it, as Latin American indigenous religions, Islam and the “global ethos project” were also covered. At both events, the Peace Education Standing Commission was involved through commission co-ordinator Dr Hansjoerg Biener.
One has spoken of congregations as having the potential of being healing communities. The Decade to Overcome Violence wants this potential to come to life, but this can only happen if action against violence and for non-violent conflict resolution is not something additional but interwoven in the current infrastructure of churches and congregations.
Velten Wagner is a pastor of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Bavaria. After serving in congregations in Irmelshausen, Bayreuth and Erlangen, he now heads the central desk for non-violent conflict resolution of his church. Born in Breslau in 1940, he himself suffered the fate of many Germans being expelled from Silesia and so he has traditionally been involved with peace work and counselling for conscientious objectors.