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Top Bishop Stokes Up Afghanistan Debate

12/01/10January 12, 2010

The highest representative of the Protestant Church in Germany has criticised the Bundeswehr’s intervention in Afghanistan, provoking the wrath of several government members. On Monday night, Bishop Margot Käßmann met Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg in Berlin and stood by her words.

Bishop Margot Käßmann has headed the German Protestant Church since Oct. 2009
Bishop Margot Käßmann has headed the German Protestant Church since Oct. 2009Image: AP

For days, Germans have been asking themselves whether a bishop -- even the most important one in the Protestant Church -- has the right to criticise the army’s deployment in Afghanistan.

They have been reacting to Margot Käßmann’s opinion that the army has no reason to be there at all.

“Nothing is good in Afghanistan,” she recently said. “We’ve been using all sorts of strategies to kid ourselves. Weapons don’t make peace. We need more imagination for peace.“

Sermons call on Bundeswehr to pull out

In her Christmas and New Year sermons, Käßmann called repeatedly for the German Bundeswehr to pull out of Afghanistan. It was not the first time that she had criticised the army operation but it was the first time since becoming head of the German Protestant Church.

She sees it as a Lutheran’s duty to get involved in politics and the idea “that one is free, to think for oneself, to form one’s own opinion, to read the Bible oneself,” is important to her.

“Luther said that there should be schools for boys and girls -- that was revolutionary at the time. He translated the Bible into German so that they could read it themselves. To sharpen one’s conscience so that one can stand, as he did in Worms: 'Here I stand, I can do no other, God help me, Amen.' This attitude is very Protestant.”

Angry government members

But this attitude and her sermons have provoked the ire of the German government. She was rebuked by some for getting involved in government affairs; others criticised her for forgetting that Germany is part of a UN operation. But a few called for dialogue, for example Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, who met her on Monday.

“It is important to have a mutual understanding and to exchange key ideas so as to form a differentiated overall picture,” he said.

In the meeting, zu Guttenberg invited Käßmann to Afghanistan to judge the situation for herself and said it was important that the role of German soldiers there be acknowledged.

German public is divided

On the streets, some Germans disagree with the head of the Protestant Church. They think that the army is playing a positive role.

“I’m in favour of the Afghanistan project because it is necessary for the troops over there and society -- they need some stability to recover,” says one Bonn resident.

Another thinks it is “good that we are in Afghanistan because we are defending the freedom and security of our country -- education and peace there will help avoid terrorist attacks in the future.”

However, others are less prone to believing that the Bundeswehr’s strategy is working out.

“It’s not a democracy and it isn’t going to become one anytime soon,” fears one woman. “That’s why structures ought to be created in the country and we’re not doing that.” Her husband agrees, “I am against the war in Afghanistan -- it’s nonsense.”

The debate that Bishop Käßmann has stoked up looks set to continue.

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein