A Body of Believers: Frankfurt Council of Religions
The statutes of the Frankfurt Council of Religions contain one sentence that is not easy to understand for those not especially well-versed in matters of faith: “Religious communities which attribute themselves to a religion yet are not recognized as a part of that religious family by the majority of this religion’s members are represented by a representative.” Clearly, this is about the status of outsiders.
A glance at the list of members of the Council, which has been up and running for three years now, reveals the problem: the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” is represented – that is to say the Mormon community which regards itself as Christian yet is viewed by the Christian churches as a new religion. The Ahmadiyya Mosque finds itself in much the same situation with the Moslem associations. Thus both groups are represented alongside the Christian churches, the Moslems, Jews, Hindus, Buddhist, Sikhs and Bahai – a compromise they all can live with.
“We respect the way members choose to view themselves”, says Ilona Klemens, a protestant priest and the Council’s director: “The Council cannot take any theological decisions for individual denominations.” When the Council was founded, she explains, no-one gave any thought to the Mormons – yet the Mormon community, which has its German headquarters in Frankfurt, approached the Council itself and has accepted its rules.
Outlawing the Führerprinzip and allergy to criticism
The Council has a previous history: since 2004, representatives of different denominations have been meeting at the initiative of Ilona Klemens, who is responsible for interfaith dialogue on behalf of her church. The Council is chaired by the Greek-Orthodox priest Athenagoras Ziliaskopoulos and Ünal Kaymakci from the Islamic Religious Community of Hesse (IRH). Ditib, the largest Islamic organization and one which is closely affiliated with the Turkish state, did not join the Council at first, but has since become a member.
The question of who is allowed to belong to the Council is defined in an addendum to the statues in an attempt to prevent fundamentalist groups and sects from insisting on their inclusion. The exclusion criteria outlined in the addendum are as follows: an authoritarian Führerprinzip; an absolute monopoly on the truth; an allergy to criticism; isolation; exploitation of members, and camouflaging of the organization. In addition, members must undertake to “refrain from ‘proselytizing’ in the sense of urging people to change their religion”. So far, these discriminatory rules have never needed to be applied. Extremists like Moslem Salafis, sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and organizations like Scientology do not even bother to come knocking at the Council’s door. “They know perfectly well that they would have no chance of being allowed in”, says Ilona Klemens: “In any case, extremists reject dialogue. Diversity is not something such groups are interested in.“
From hospital chaplaincy to right-wing terror
In its constitutional form, the Frankfurt Council is unique in Germany. A much more informal council – a kind of communication platform based on a joint declaration of tolerance – has also existed in Cologne since 2006, while a “Round Table of Religions” had already been established in Stuttgart back in 2003 on the basis of a similar manifesto. Neither of these two cities boasts the sort of structured and continuous work as in Frankfurt, however. The Council issues public declarations, it advises the city’s authorities and organizes interfaith events.
The issues that the Council is currently addressing range from hospital chaplaincy to right-wing terror. Because it is no longer only the Christian churches which provide chaplaincy services to the sick and to care home residents, the Council has drawn up quality standards for pastoral care. These provide hospitals and care homes with recommendations as to whom they should allow to have contact with their patients and residents.
Ever since the terrorist activities of the far-right “NSU” group were uncovered, right-wing extremism and xenophobia have become increasingly pressing issues for the Council. As Ilona Klemens reports, a number of Frankfurt organizations are to be found on the group’s “hit list”. What worries her even more, however, is the surreptitious and sinister spread of right-wing extremist ideas. “Even in a liberal city like Frankfurt, one can hear populist right-wing theories in the heart of society”, says Klemens.
is a theologian who works as an editor for German broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk and as a freelance author (specializing among other things in Christianity, Judaism and Islam) in Cologne.
Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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