Children of different nationalities eating together in the multicultural kindergarten of St Simeon in Berlin (photo: picture alliance)
Interview with Volker Jung

''We Promote Interfaith Skills''

Germany is changing. The reality of being an immigration society is gaining acceptance. The presence of millions of people with an immigrant background also poses a challenge for the Churches. Qantara.de spoke to Dr Volker Jung, the President of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, about this change and how his Church is dealing with it

Dr Jung, as the president of a large German regional Church and chairman of the Chamber of Migration and Integration of the Evangelical Church in Germany, you have to deal in many different ways with the fact that Germany increasingly sees itself as an immigration society. How is the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau and in Germany as a whole responding to this change?

Dr Volker Jung: We've certainly been in the process of becoming an immigration society for quite a while now. For a long time many people didn't register this. Some people still haven't. But many immigrants in Germany are now third-generation immigrants who speak perfect German, are extremely well integrated and not only play their part in society, but enrich it too.

There are also problem groups who don't manage to do this, or don't want to. We are still at square one with them. As a Church we have a role to play in this change. We contribute to the intercultural and interfaith skills in our own institutions and in society. We encourage social harmony wherever and in whatever way we can. We realize that we live in a culturally and religiously diverse environment. Many Christian groups from other countries are guests in our churches and parish halls.

At the moment we are considering whether we could also be more open in terms of our conditions for employment. Indeed, in special cases it is already possible for Muslims to be employed by us; take, for example, a Muslim teacher working in a day care centre. One very interesting question is whether in future we should make the Church's conditions for employment fundamentally more open. Until now the basic rule has been that anyone who wants to work for the Church must also be a member of a Church that is part of the Council of Christian Churches.

The brochure for a workshop run by the charitable organization (Diakonie) of the Protestant Church in Hesse-Nassau on the subject of openness and exchange between cultures mentions a number of key concepts with regard to these efforts. It says that the aim is to adopt an intercultural orientation and to open the Church in an intercultural manner. It also says that while opening up, the Church also aims to heighten its Evangelical profile. At first glance these two statements appear to contradict each other.

Dr Volker Jung (photo: private)
Dr Volker Jung, the president of the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau, welcomes the co-operation between his Church and the Green Crescent and says that it is part of the Evangelical understanding of the Christian faith that Protestants should be open to others

​​Jung: These are two sides of the same coin. Openness is part of the Evangelical profile. It is part of the Evangelical understanding of the Christian faith that we should be open to others, including foreigners. For institutions, such as a day care centre, it is important to present their Evangelical image not simply in formal terms, by the fact that the Church is running it and by having Protestants working there, but also in concrete terms, as part of its programme. Establishing the profile in this way, could even be fostered by the questions posed by employees of other religions.

I believe that in the future, intercultural and interfaith skills will be more than ever part of the Evangelical profile. Admittedly, we still have a long way to go before that is also fundamentally reflected in ecclesiastical employment practice. There are also, for example, tricky legal questions involved, such as the protection of the special interests of the Churches, which stand for particular aims and a particular world view and are therefore in a position to govern their own interests. What is clear is that intercultural opening in employment within the Church can only apply to people who also accept and support the fundamental aims of the Evangelical Church.

Won't most Muslims have similar values to Christians? Does this mean that there will be other selection criteria for employees?

Jung: I refer once again to the Muslim teacher. This teacher has to say, "Yes, I can accept the guiding principles of Christianity, also on the basis of my own faith." She won't be able to work in an Evangelical institution if she says, "This means nothing to me." In other words, she must fundamentally support the values and aims of our work.

Another key concept in your literature is intercultural teams, in which different faiths could work together. Which projects are representative of this path, this opening?

Jung: I can very well imagine having intercultural teams in certain fields of work. One example is advice centres, which are frequented by people of different faiths and different backgrounds. In advice centres like these there is a demand for intercultural and interfaith skills within the team, so as to complement each other for the benefit of the clients. But there are also other areas of the Church where that is not the case: the ministry, for example.

Taking your own regional Church as an example, the Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau has taken very concrete, courageous steps in co-operation with the Green Crescent. Its own instructors have been giving substantial assistance in training Muslims in hospital and emergency pastoral care. What is your assessment of these initial steps?

Jung: I think these are excellent projects. The enquiry as to whether they could use our skills in training Muslim pastoral workers came from the Muslim side. This was a model demonstration of how the spiritual, pastoral-psychological and theological skills of Christian workers can be combined with the theological skills of the imams.

A young Muslim volunteer working on the Muslim pastoral care hotline (photo: Lydia Leipert)
The Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau has been working with the Green Crescent, offering its own instructors to help train Muslims in hospital and emergency pastoral care

​​Our partners on the Muslim side could clearly see that we, as Christian Churches, possessed considerable and valuable experience in pastoral care, which we had in addition professionalized through meticulous training. They could also see that pastoral care is, quite simply, a good thing for all people.

You can also see this, for example, in emergency pastoral care. This is when pastors are there for people in extreme situations: after a serious accident, for example. And this applies to all people, regardless of the religious denomination or background of those affected. But people react differently depending on their background, culture or religion. It might be that a Muslim has different mourning rituals after an accident compared with those that would be applicable in a Christian context. It's important that those working in emergency pastoral care know about this and are able to respond well to it.

The Green Crescent is keen to acquire, in partnership with the Churches, the professional standards required by the state and by the professional association. This is one of the main underlying ideas of the project: that apart from the lesser aspect of theological differences there is a common specialist professional basis, and therefore one that is also appreciated by Muslims.

Jung: What we need to remember is that this was originally a grassroots project which was then backed by the Church's governing body. The governing body recently examined a report on the project and noted its approval of and great respect for the work. However, no fundamental decisions have yet been made on where it will go from here.

Some Muslims have criticized this co-operation. They say that it is premature, that there is no common understanding on what constitutes pastoral care, and that German Muslims are still a long way from developing a Muslim theology for pastoral care that is appropriate for Germany.

Jung: Muslims and Christians have different understandings of pastoral care. Muslims face the challenge of developing their own understanding of it. The Christian understanding, for example, doesn't place the emphasis on theological instruction or giving advice, but on empathetic, faith-based support in crisis situations. Co-operation in the fields of training and co-operation provides opportunities to develop further alongside one another.

What comes next? Pilot projects must eventually lead to the formation of a structure.

Jung: We'll see whether that's possible. At the moment the co-operation primarily takes the form of training support. In that sense a lot depends on whether this will be what people want in the future, and if so, how the co-operation develops in practice.

Interview: 

Qantara.de 2012

Translated from the German by Charlotte Collins

Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de

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