Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
I greet you in this New Year with these wise and profound words that the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christian community in Rome. The verse suggests that the Apostle needed to affirm the community in its baptismal vocation within a context of evil. He urges Christians to resist the temptation to adopt language, attitudes and actions stemming from evil, and instead to overcome evil with the good.
The Apostle’s letter also identifies the source from which such good can flow, even in the contexts where evil may be prevailing: it is the understanding and the experience that justification comes from God’s grace alone. Such insight opens wide spaces of freedom. Justification and freedom—these are actually sisters and they belong closely together! Justification frees human beings from the obsession of fearful self-justification, or of violent self-imposition over and against others. The freedom resulting from justification is a responsible, accountable freedom.
I believe that as a communion of churches we were able to grasp this liberating power of justification by grace during the Eleventh Assembly of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), when we asked God and our Mennonite brothers and sisters for forgiveness for the evil that they suffered at the hands of us Lutherans. This action strengthened our conviction that religion and violence, faith and oppression do not belong together, but are a contradiction in itself.
The vocation for nonviolence and peace building has found a strong expression in the World Council of Churches’ Decade to Overcome Violence, which will be coming to an end with the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in May 2011. Recent events in our world remind us again how urgently needed is this resistance to violence, even in the name of religion. I pray that this New Year will find us deeply engaged locally, regionally and globally in all possible efforts to overcome violence, hatred and persecution, and to resist manipulation of religion as a fuel to violence motivated by other interests.
At the same time, I pray that we remain sensitive to expressions of violence that are not seen in the news, but are deeply hurting human beings. This is particularly true with regard to violence against women. The LWF Eleventh Assembly both reaffirmed our commitment to overcome this evil, and underlined how much work is still due also within our own communion in this respect.
Despite all pending work, it is important to appraise the beautiful signs that member churches around the globe are planting within their own contexts as an expression of their rootedness in the message of justification. It is encouraging to see how churches are standing up in advocacy in order to overcome corruption, injustice and violence. They often do so in ecumenical and interfaith cooperation, which makes their witness even stronger. This is also true for the heartening examples of diakonia, both at the level of our member churches and at the level of the LWF communion. Evil realities are transformed into places where life in abundance is accessible. The proclamation of churches all over the world pointing at Jesus Christ as our Redeemer, and thus unveiling the full dimensions of our so complex humanity is another example to be highlighted. In all these cases the good becomes the focal point of the church’s witness that overcomes patterns of evil. With a perspective on the 500 anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 we can affirm: through this witness the Reformation has indeed become a global citizen in our world!
As we move into this New Year that God is laying before us, I invite you all to continue focusing on the good as a way of expressing who we are: a communion that lives faith from the perspective of justification and that enjoys the wonderful freedom to accept and serve the neighbor.
Rev. Martin Junge
The Lutheran World Federation
4 January 2011