2012, Civil Society, Russia

Roman Catholic, Anglican and Russian Orthodox Views on Civil Society and Recent Church-Related Civil Society Developments in Russia

Roman Catholic, Anglican and Russian Orthodox Views on Civil Society and Recent Church-Related Civil Society Developments in Russia

Adrian Pabst

Contemporary Perceptions

There is a widespread view that the Russian Orthodox Church is subordinate to the state and that religious authority is complicit with the political authority of the ruling regime – whether the absolutism of the tsars, the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union or the authoritarianism of Putin’s postcommunist Russia. Linked to this charge of caesaro-papism is the claim that the Orthodox East as a whole has failed to overcome the legacy of Byzantium – above all, there is no clear, constitutionally enshrined separation of powers or a robust rule of law. Since 1993 it has also been suggested that church and state in Russia have sought to put in place a neo-Byzantine settlement where individuals and society are ruled by the twin forces of president and patriarch – the representatives of earthly and heavenly powers. Closely connected with this is the common assumption that the East has no or only a weak civil society. Or, to be less general, that only Central European Catholic countries such as Poland or Slovakia have a vibrant civic culture, while the Orthodox East is statist and lacks a constitutional tradition, which would favour the emergence of intermediary institutions.

Elements for an Alternative Theological and Historical Narrative

However, both the theology and the history of the Russian Orthodox Church are rather more complex than this contemporary caricature suggests. Theologically, there is a clear distinction between state and church. St John Chrysostom, a fifth-century Greek theologian, was opposed to the sacralisation of power – a critique that underpins the distinction by Pope Gelasius I of the two swords. For Chrysostom, and for St Augustine who followed and developed St Paul’s teaching, secular rule is confined to the temporal saeculum (destined to pass into God’s Kingdom) and falls inside the church insofar as it concerns justice and the orientation of human existence to the Good.

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2012, Civil Society

Civil Society and Christian Social Thought

Civil Society and Christian Social Thought

Jonathan Chaplin


The idea of civil society has been put firmly back at the centre of British political debate as a result of the coalition government’s commitment to the ‘Big Society’ agenda. The Big Society idea is contrasted with the supposedly Big State tendency of the previous Labour governments. As the government’s website puts it:

the Big Society is about helping people to come together to improve their own lives. It’s about putting more power in people’s hands-a massive transfer of power from Whitehall to local communities.

After eighteen months of the new government it remains somewhat unclear whether Big Society is just another word for civil society. Certainly the engine room of the Big Society is a unit in central government called the ‘Office of Civil Society’. Its site tells us that it

works across government departments to translate the Big Society agenda into practical policies, provides support to voluntary and community organisations and is responsible for delivering a number of key Big Society programmes.

These include the Big Society Bank, the National Citizenship Service Scheme, Community Organizers, and Community First.

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2012, Romania, Rural issues

Churches European Rural Network Visit to Romania, October 2011

Churches European Rural Network Visit to Romania, October 2011

Andrew Bowden

The Visit

We are extremely grateful to Rudi Job for masterminding our visit: without him it would not have been possible. Also, to a remarkable establishment, the Evangelical Academy at Sibiu, whose staff organised our programme. The Academy is very well equipped with excellent accommodation, and it is good to hear that it will host the next meeting of IRCA – Europe in 2012.

With the blessing of IRCA – Europe (International Rural Churches Association – Europe) – Rudi Job and I arranged for a small group to visit rural Romania between 20 and 25 October 2011.The visit was hosted by Dietrich Galter, President of the Academy of Neppendorf, Sibiu.

The programme included:

  • A journey to the ruins of the Cistercian monastery at Kerz (Carta) where we met the parish priest Michael Refer and a representative of the agricultural society.
  • A visit to the summer residence of Baron Samuel von Bruckenthal in Freck which is being restored as a tourist attraction.
  • A visit to Michelsberg to a visit to meet the entreprenneur Michael Henning. (Subject: My village before and now). Meal on a farm.
  • Journey to Mediasch, Pretai and Biertan to see various rural projects linked with local churches.
  • Visit to the old mill in Holzmengen (nice name: literally ‘loads of wood!’)
  • A meeting with Jochen Cotaru in respect of the development project at Harbachtal, the project Natura 2000, and certain individual projects in the village (for example restoration of the old village mill).
  • A visit to the service in a village parish (Grossau or Reussdoerfchen). After the service a conversation with representatives of the parish and their work with the Gipsy community.
  • A visit to the ‘shepherd-village’ Sibiel, the museum of icons ‘Zosim Oancea’.
  • A meeting with a representative of the regional agency for tourism, concentrating on possibilities for developing tourism in rural areas.
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2011, Belarus, Europe, Europe (general), Ukraine

Can Churches Contribute to Overcoming Divisions in Europe?

Can Churches Contribute to Overcoming Divisions in Europe?

Peter Pavlovic

The EU and its Neighbourhood Policy: Ukraine and Belarus

The EU Eastern Partnership

The EU Eastern Partnership (EaP) is a new dimension of the EU Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) towards the countries in the east. It was set up in 2008. The official EU statement states that “The EaP should bring a lasting political message of EU solidarity, alongside additional, tangible support for their democratic and market-oriented reforms and the consolidation of their statehood and territorial integrity.”

According to EU plans, the guiding principle of the EaP should be to offer the maximum possible, taking into account political and economic realities and the state of reforms of the partner concerned, bringing visible benefits for the citizens of each country. An essential component of the EaP will be, according to the EU statement, “a commitment to accompany more intensively partners’ individual reform efforts.”

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2010, Rights - Religious, Human

Religion in the Public Square: a Muslim Perspective

Religion in the Public Square: a Muslim Perspective

Shenaz Bunglawala

While much of the commentary preceding and subsequent to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK focused on the camps Christian and ‘aggressive secularist’, Muslim reactions to the speeches delivered during his stay have been probed less closely. It’s not that Muslims and the role of Islam in Britain’s public square is of lesser concern to the Catholic community. Dr Azzam of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts was invited by the Catholic Bishops Conference in England and Wales to follow the speech of Lord Jonathan Sacks with reflections of his own at the Pope’s meeting with faith leaders in the UK held at St Mary’s in Twickenham ahead of the Papal address in Westminster.

Interfaith dialogue and interfaith relations are often seen as little more than men in beards conversing with men in hats (and they are almost invariably men), but Pope Benedict’s ruminations on the necessary interaction and interpenetration of the ‘world of reason’ and the ‘world of faith’; on the ‘legitimate role of religion in the public square’; on the ‘ethical foundations’ that inform our political choices and our search for a moral consensus that animates our pluralist political society, and of course, of the right of the faithful to act in accordance with their conscience – in all of these the Pope will have found a willing Muslim audience lending an attentive ear.

Perhaps in no other section of society today has the Durkheimian instrumentalisation of religion in society been more pervasive than in relation to British Muslims in recent years. It often feels that Islam in Britain is treated and viewed less as a religion informing the spiritual yearnings of individuals submitting to One God and abiding by the prophetic example of Muhammad, the seal of the prophets, than as an instrument through which Governments might attain the desired level of social cohesion – whatever that may be and however it may be measured.

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2010, Latvia, Rural issues

Churches European Rural Network Visit to Latvia

Churches European Rural Network Visit to Latvia
5-9 May 2010

Andrew Bowden

Our visit was organised by Aris Adler of the Rural Forum for Latvia who did a wonderful job on our behalf. We are most grateful to him and his colleagues who gave so freely of their time. Also to Rudi Job who – once again – set up the initial contact and guided us through the programme.

In Riga we visited and heard about Rural Forum Latvia, the Diakonia Centre of the Latvian Lutheran Church and the Latvian YMCA/YWCA. In the area of Sigulda we were deep in the Latvian countryside, and here we met farmers, rural church members and a number of rurally-based voluntary organisations. It was a rich and varied experience. These are my major impressions.


The total population of Latvia is 2.3 million, of whom 850,000 live in Riga. Up to a half of the population is Russian-speaking. There are approx 1.2 children per family only.

A History of Suffering

The Latvian people have suffered throughout their history. Having been fought over and subjugated for centuries, they finally became an independent nation in 1918. There was an immediate flowering of culture – poetry, novels, dance and above all the sumptuous Art Nouveau architecture of Riga that is probably the finest in the world, along with Napier in New Zealand.

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2010, Climate Change

The Threat of Climate Change Demands a New Understanding of Development

The Threat of Climate Change Demands a New Understanding of Development

Ruth Conway

Sustainable Development?

Ever since the Club of Rome report on Limits to Growth in the 1970s, followed by the Brundtland Report in 1987 which defined sustainable development as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’, and the first Earth Summit on Environment and Development in Rio in 1992, there has been a recognition that ‘development’ and ‘environment’ are inextricably linked. Even so, organisations addressing development and social justice issues have tended to regard concern for the environment as an add-on for those with time and money, while environmental organisations have been slow to show interest in the problems facing the human community. So the question ‘What is development?’ has not been examined in an integrated way, allowing the term ‘sustainable development’ to be used without questioning whether this is a contradiction in terms.

The idea has persisted that development is linked primarily to economic growth and participation in the global market – a market that is linked to a consumer culture that keeps up the demand for more products. Furthermore, the production of more and more products has resulted in the increasing exploitation of the earth’s natural resources, including the use of fossil fuels, with little regard for the limits of those resources or the damage being caused to the finely balanced eco-systems that sustain life.

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2010, Economy

The Economic Crisis and Poor People in ‘the South’

The Economic Crisis and Poor People in ‘the South’

Rob van Drimmelen

I was born and raised in the Netherlands and studied monetary economics at the Free University in Amsterdam. In a previous professional incarnation, I worked in a bank in the USA, well before the present crisis… The mysterious ways of the Lord led me to the World Council of Churches where I worked, in different capacities, for almost 15 years. At present, I am serving as General Secretary of APRODEV, the association of 17 ecumenical development and humanitarian agencies in Europe.

Following what I learnt from the Reformed tradition about good sermons, I have divided my contribution into three parts:

  1. Why should we, as Christians and churches, be concerned about economic issues?
  2. What are the signs of the times? (Matt. 16:3)
  3. Interpreting the signs of the times (Romans 8:31)

In each part, I will try to focus on perspectives which pertain to realities in ‘the South’.

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2010, Economy

The Economic Crisis and the Prospects for the UK

The Economic Crisis and the Prospects for the UK

Simon Braid

I am an accountant, not an economist, but I have done research on the current crisis. I was recently ordained, and it was during my ordination training that the economic crisis gave me a chance for reflection on it and on the ethical issues involved. My presentation will be in four parts:

  1. What happened last year (background)
  2. Where we are today (main part)
  3. Where things might be heading
  4. Some ethical/ theological thoughts from a faith perspective

Background: What Happened

The background in the UK was 15 years of sustained economic expansion. Growth was particularly strong in the financial and housing sectors, which made up 60 per cent of the growth in GDP. But this growth was based on individual and corporate borrowing and easy (though not necessarily cheap) liquidity. It benefited from a benign global economy, and low-priced manufactured goods from countries such as China fed the consumer boom in the West. Commentators looking back now say this was unsustainable: that was not what they were saying at the time! We recall Gordon Brown’s famous statement about the ‘end of boom and bust’.

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2010, Europe, Europe (general)

‘Europe’ in an Era of Bureaucratisation and the Intensification of Identity

‘Europe’ in an Era of Bureaucratisation and the Intensification of Identity

Richard Roberts

Note: this is not the actual text of Richard Roberts’ presentation at the conference, but his own subsequent summary, partly in the light of the discussions at the conference.

The ideas and identities of ‘Europe’ are contested because of their intimate connection with a conflictual religious history1, and this contestation has been expressed in extraordinarily intense ways in the religious history of Scotland, a small nation struggling for centuries to assert itself against a more powerful neighbour. In the course of the past half century since the end of the Second World War what were largely intellectual and ideological issues about belief have become strongly politicised. The most recent manifestation of this transition can be detected in the paradoxical tension that has arisen between demands for fuller integration of the European Union and its ever greater expansion.

The underlying tensions between the integrative ideals of the founding figures in the movement that strove to build the successive associations that now culminate in the EU can be detected in the differences between the European Constitution of 2001 and the Lisbon Treaty of 2007 that is now on the verge of full ratification. The proposed Constitutional Treaty for the European Union of 2001 contained the following stirring declaration in its preamble:

Convinced that, while remaining proud of their own national identities and histories, the people of Europe are determined to transcend their ancient divisions and, united ever more closely, to forge a common destiny…. Convinced that, thus “united in its diversity”, Europe offers them the best chance of pursuing, with due regard for the rights of each individual and in awareness of their responsibilities towards future generations and the Earth, the great venture which makes of it a special area of human hope….   (Draft Constitutional Treaty for the European Union, Preamble (Draft Treaty 2003, p. 10)

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