Reformation is a catalyst to stand against oppressive systems in Asia

A group discussion on religion and the public space during the Asian Lutheran Identity Seminar in Hong Kong. Photo: LWF/S. Lawrence

Lutheran identity seminar on the church in the public space

(LWI) - Stand up against oppressive systems in church and society – the “Goliaths in our midst” – Asian church leaders were urged as they gathered in Hong Kong to consider the question of Lutheran identity in the region.

The call came from Rev. John Kalaimuthu of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malaysia during a seminar focusing on “Lutheran Perspectives on the Church in the Public Space.”

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) publication, The Church in the Public Space guided discussions by the 30 church leaders from seven countries, who also reflected on the 500 years of the Reformation being marked in 2017.  

“The Reformation was a catalyst for change, both in the church and society, therefore we in Asia need to look at what our role is in church and society today,” explained Rev. Dr Philip Lok, LWF area secretary for Asia. He noted that “Luther's pastoral call and his diaconal concerns compelled him to go public.”

Ms Lydia Latha, representing the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India said inequality and injustice in society have created a gap between the rich and the poor, which in turn leads to a variety of adverse social and economic outcomes.

In his presentation, Rev. Dr Philip Baker, professor emeritus at the Southern Seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, argued that remaining silent in the public space means the church was turning its back on its Lutheran heritage and its theology of the cross.

There is a need to understand the times and speak accordingly as citizens of heaven and earth, to be the “salt and light” to the world around us, added Rev. Alberto B. Callo Jr, Lutheran Church in the Philippines.

Participants in the seminar on Lutheran identity take part in the closing worship. Photo: LWF/J. C. Valeriano

A safe space for the vulnerable

Participants in the seminar raised concerns about the increase in physical and emotional violence against children, women and those who are vulnerable in the church and society.

“While many genuine efforts are being made, there are still areas that the present church leadership needs to address in order to make our churches safe spaces for children and women without taking advantage of their vulnerability,” said Ms Ranjita Christie Borgoary, an LWF Council member from the Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church in India.

Rev. Basa Hutabarat, executive secretary of the LWF National Committee in Indonesia, said it was important for the church to be a safe space itself before it can reach out to the poor and needy outside its walls.

Indonesian Bishop Elson Lingga of the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church, expressed concern over congregations discriminating against or rejecting female pastors because they might become pregnant.

However, women have also encountered opposition because of health-related conditions, including physical disability, said LWF Vice-President for Asia Ms Desri Maria Sumbayak. “I'm saddened by a story that an ordained female pastor was discriminated against by her congregational members because she is differently-abled,” she added.

The seminar was a continuation of the process launched in 2012 to come to a better understanding of the factors that relate to Lutheran identity in the region. Recommendations from the meeting will be presented to the Asia Church Leadership Consultation in Manila this November.

Rev. Abraham Fong (right), Vice-Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hong Kong, serves Holy Communion to Ms Maggie Ho from the Chinese Rhenish Church Hong Kong Synod. Photo: LWF/J. C. Valeriano


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By Steven Lawrence, LWF regional officer for the Expression of Communion in Asia.