Bedford-Strohm: The Political Pious

Status: 07.11.2021 05:05

It was always clear to him: the Church has something to say to politics – and should do it. Bedford-Strohm is now resigning from his position as EKD council chairman. How much did he shape the church?

By Tilmann Kleinjung, BR

At that time there was no getting around the Bavarian regional bishop: In 2015 Heinrich Bedford-Strohm was elected as the new chairman of the council with 124 out of 125 votes. After Nikolaus Schneider’s surprising resignation, he had already taken over this post on a temporary basis a year earlier. Seven years later, the EKD Synod, which begins today, is looking for a successor.

It was not a quiet time when Bedford-Strohm took office. After the election, Bedford-Strohm spoke of a “huge tailwind in the even difficult subjects”. In 2015, hundreds of thousands of civil war refugees from Syria arrived in Germany. Munich Central Station is only a few hundred meters away from the official seat of the Bavarian regional bishop.

Bedford-Strohm experienced a wave of helpfulness. In retrospect, many speak today primarily of the “refugee crisis”. The political right even from an alleged “uncontrolled mass immigration”. Bedford-Strohm sees it differently. Of course you could say that everything was very euphoric. “But is that really our problem that we are too euphoric when we meet people with love?” It is proud that Germany reacted these days in such a way that people came out of their homes.

Another project that Bedford-Strohm adopted is also about helpfulness. With the help of the Evangelical Church, an additional rescue ship was sent into the Mediterranean to do something against the death of boat refugees. There was resistance to the project inside and outside the church.

Heinrich Bedford-Strohm in front of a rubber dinghy on the rescue ship Sea-Watch 4: “Those who are pious have to be political.”

Bild: picture alliance/dpa

Not without criticism

For example from Ulrich Körtner, Professor of Protestant Theology at the University of Vienna. “With its boat policy, the EKD has cut a path for a certain line”, he criticizes and speaks of a dilemma, “that even if you do not want to do so directly, you indirectly promote the business of tugs again.”

Bedford-Strohm, on the other hand, argues: “The alternative, if you don’t save, is that people drown.” It cannot be the case that the saving of human lives is prevented for reasons of deterrence.

A church that is committed to the world. That suits Bedford-Strohm. As a professor of systematic theology at the University of Bamberg, his specialty, his passion, was public theology. His credo: “If you are pious, you have to be political.” And that’s why the Church has something to say to politics.

“If people simply say we will continue like this, we will live at the expense of the next generation or at the expense of people in other parts of the world: all right. If politicians say that, then they need our critical objection.”

Own accent

In 2017 the Evangelical Church in Germany celebrated 500 years of the Reformation. When Bedford-Strohm was elected President of the Council, the plans for this anniversary were well advanced, and yet he managed to set his own accent in the festive year.

In 2017, no new confessional boundaries were drawn, the Catholic-Protestant ecumenism was given a new boost against all expectations, says Irmgard Schwaetzer, the long-time President of the EKD Synod: “This is really a great merit that he can ascribe to himself: trust aroused and then, of course, through his very close cooperation with Cardinal Marx, to have laid a basis for long-term cooperation. ”

Those affected by abuse report

The past of the church also catches up with Bedford-Strohm. Those affected by abuse reported not only to the Catholic Church, but also to the Protestant Church. The EKD systematically faced this scandal for the first time. Together with Council President Bedford-Strohm, she decided on preventive measures, set up a contact point and commissioned a scientific study.

But there are always tensions. Those affected accuse the EKD of only half-heartedly coming to terms with their history of abuse. Victims are not adequately compensated, and perpetrators are not consistently prosecuted. Bedford-Strohm justifies himself that thoroughness has to precede speed. “In any case, we don’t hide anything. We want, and I personally want, that everything that was there is on the table. And there are no limits at all except the legal limit, which must be observed.”

Service in the almost deserted St. Matthew’s Church: The corona pandemic also posed challenges for the church.

Bild: picture alliance/dpa

The “Facebook Bishop”

Finally, in spring 2020, the corona pandemic also presented the church with challenges. Public and church life largely stood still. Congregational services were forbidden. The bishop became an influencer and sent a video message every day via social media in the height of the corona crisis.

When he was elected, Bedford-Strohm was given the attribute “Facebook bishop”. He sees an opportunity for his church in social media. “I don’t live from fear, I really live from trust, because I trust in God, trust in Christ, who is stronger than anything that can bring us down or anything that can darken the future.” Bedford-Strohm will never join the chorus of those who lament the decline of the Church.

The EKD Council Chairman Heinrich Bedford-Strohm. A balance sheet

Tilmann Kleinjung, BR, 11/6/2021 10:30 p.m.

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