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Christ in the World of Work

"God calls working people to his service. God wants the goods of the earth and the production of industrial labor to serve people and not become their idols and masters. Jesus Christ is the Savior of all people even in the modern world of work. From a Christian perspective, the world of work cannot be conceded any "self-dynamic" or "self-lawfulness" since people are referred to God in all life." From the German
"Christ in the World of Work"

Theological Aspects of the KDA

by Harald Schrader

[This article is translated from the German on the World Wide Web. KDA is an abbreviation for church service in the world of work,]

1. Prehistory and Presuppositions - "The world of work as a foreign land"

"For many office holders and coworkers of the church, the world of work of industrial society is still a hostile foreign land where one hardly dares set foot because one knows so little what to say and do. People in the world of work are unsure about representatives of the church in this area. The deep uncertainty on both sides is the result of total secularization of the world of work. Still this isn't inevitable. Uncertainty has its foundation in historical decisions of the church and theology that still have effects today. These decisions include tragic partisanship against the proletariat and for the patriarchy in its different forms and the far more momentous refusal to leave the middle class house of the local community and set out with the proletariat into misery in the new world of work of early capitalism, to suffer with the victims and take the new masters to court. God's hut was not open in the social misery of the beginnings of our industrial society. This still has disastrous consequences today." (1)

The authors of the 1988 treatise "Theological Principles of the KDA" analyzed soberly and self-critically the tense relation between the church and the world of work. On account of an authoritarian state structure and a consciousness that regarded loyalty to the king alongside love of God and charity as cardinal Christian virtues, the evangelical church to the end of the monarchy didn't observe a social watchman's office or champion the social rights of the disadvantaged sectors of the population. Up to 1918, church diakonia remained largely inner mission (for example the Joh. H. Wicherns house and the Bodelschwingel institutes in Bethel) and thus individual relief for the victims of the Wilhelmian corporative state. The church lacked readiness and courage to ally with the system-critical, social-democratic unions in the "social question".

The evangelical-social congress also could not change this disastrous development. Since 1890 the elite of German social protestantism, theologians, economists, entrepreneurs, unionists and politicians met annually at a forum to discuss burning problems of social- and economic policy. Paul Gohre (1864-1928) coming from proletarian conditions worked in a factory as a pastor for three months and published a sensational book about his experience. He was o0ne of the spokespersons of the movement. According to his insight, the social situation of the working class must be "thoroughly improved" before the working class can be "tackled religiously".

It took a long time until the fifties before the evangelical church worked out its traditional alienation from the working class and drew structural conclusions. The famous 1955 world of work synod of the Evangelical church in Espelkamp, Germany marked the turning point. According to its declaration, "God calls working people to his service. God wants the goods of the earth and the production of industrial labor to serve people and not become their idols and masters. Jesus Christ is the Savior of all people, even in the modern world of work." From a Christian perspective, the world of work cannot be conceded any "self-dynamic" or "self-lawfulness" since people are referred to God in all life. Ethical orientations are ne4eded in industry and the economy to protect the dignity of individuals, promote their personal development through joint responsibility and joint determination and to meet their need for encounter and community. Church engagement and union engagement coincide here.

For good reason, the council of the EKD (Evangelical church in Germany) just after the Espelkamp synod recognized the united union and spoke out against the newly formed Christian unions. Since "Espelkamp", pastors, social workers and scholarly coworkers of both genders have worked under the name KDA and professionally structure the contact between the church and the economy. The work areas of the KDA have also changed with the transition from the industrial- to the information- and service society. However the basic question of KDA theology remains the biblical-anthropological insight formulated in Esp[elkamp that the person and performed work do not have their meaning in themselves.

2. Beyond full employment - Reconciliation of work and life

After the promising initiatives of the synod of Espelkamp, the EKD unfortunately failed to grapple theologically with the questions of the world of work. The mass unemployment growing constantly since the seventies was finally accepted by the church as a challenge. In its vehemently criticized proposals for the 1982 Spandauer EKD synod, the KDA described the end of the work society under the title "Beyond Full Employment" and termed a return to traditional full employment unrealistic. The authors tried to sketch the outlines of a new understanding of work that is no longer defined only by paid work but is complemented by equally important unpaid activities.

The Westphalian industrial pastor Wolfgang Belitz summarized the conflict around the true economy with the picture of the quarreling prophets. The severe prophets relied only on economic growth at any price and subjected all activities of human life to the economic laws of the market. (Alexander v. Hayek, economist and Nobel Prize winner, declared in 1981: "The term `social justice' doesn't belong in the category of error but in the category of nonsense like the term mor5al stone.") On the other hand, the gentle prophets knew that growth in the age of automation mostly destroys jobs without creating them. It is time for the vision of the reconciliation of work and life. It is technically possible to live better and work less and less assuming that the socially necessary labor and the social wealth produced by fewer and fewer persons are justly distributed. The "reconciled new work" could be organized cooperatively, in a brotherly-sisterly way and as nature-friendly artisan work integrated in the community:

"The new work assumes security of existence and helps the development of life, the powers of the spirit, of the body and the soul for one's own joy and foreign joy." (2)

What Belitz addressed in 1982 is the burning conflict between market radical, neoliberal economists (like A.v. Hayek) and representatives of an ecologically-oriented, globally responsible social market economy.

3. The Industrial Religion - Work Brings Happiness

Since the 18th century, the economic release of industrial workers led to the dissolution of the social order divided in estates and crafts and produced a free performance-oriented society that prescribed an "industrial religion". Industrial work was the royal way to happiness. The more work, the more economic growth. The greater the amount of enjoyable things, the happier the whole society. A self-image that raises an individual claim to worldly fulfillment of life and worldly happiness developed out of this economized and deeply internalized idea of work. The questions about meaning of life and happiness are raised again with the limits of economic growth and ecological sustainability. The church is challenged theologically and pastorally.

4. The Church before the Work Gates -Recognition and Esteem of Workers

The KDA works in a business-friendly way. The KDA initiates factory visits of different church groups, promotes and accompanies factory seminars of church coworkers, moderates forums and roundtables on current social- and economic questions and serves as mediator in situations of conflict and upheaval. The KDA helps employees threatened with dismissal in finding subsequent work. What employees expect from religion and the church is important in planning projects for the KDA and the evangelical church altogether... (3) Stabilizing and meaning-orienting functions of religion and the church and socially relaxing activities and actions in the areas of conservation, peace promotion and the ecumene were underlined. A need for church-pastoral "transition moderation" was identified, for example in accompanying the difficult re-employment of workers who finished their training or preparing the retirement of older employees. The enormous distance of 20-30 year olds to the organized church and the tendency to withdrawal complement a great (verbal) readiness for cooperating in projects. This is particularly true for trainees who are open to religious instruction and youth work (4). Individual and social problems of the concerned must be in the foreground. The goal of these and similar projects would be satisfying employees' expectations for the church. "Acknowledgment as a valuable and esteemed person" corresponds to the commission of the church to protect the burdened and heavy-laden.

5. The Joint Proclamation of the Churches - For a Future in Solidarity and Justice

With the publication of the Joint Proclamation in February 1997, the churches made "justice" and "solidarity" into central themes of the debate over a humanly just economic system. With the "option for the poor, weak and disadvantaged", the Evangelical church for the first time in its history denounced poverty as a structural deficit of our economic system and no longer reduced it to individual or fate-conditioned situations. With their plea for the primacy of politics in relation to the economy and the confession to redevelop the economic order into a "socially, ecologically and globally obligated market economy", the churches clearly challenged a "pure capitalism" of the neoliberal style. "The expectation that a market economy without these obligations, a pure market economy without adjective, could do more justice to the challenges is a delusion" (5). The churches decisively resist an economizing of all areas of life. Therefore their struggle is against the undermining of Sunday and holiday rest and their engagement for a week rhythm appropriate for people and community because "only weekdays are left without Sunday".

homepage: homepage: http://www.mbtranslations.com

Compost it 06.Jul.2003 10:50

Aaron John Shaver

'nuff said.

no, NOT 'nuff said. 06.Jul.2003 11:57


this article raises some good points.

care to explain WHAT YOU MEAN, "Aaron John Shaver"????

Oh, please 06.Jul.2003 21:11

Aaron John Shaver ashaver@pdx.edu

This is little more than Christian propaganda. It has nothing to do with the issues raised on this site.

You don't have to put my name in quotes. It's a real name. My name. I don't hide behind anonymity.

you MISSED the point 07.Jul.2003 17:19

just *one* example

"What Belitz addressed in 1982 is the burning conflict between market radical, neoliberal economists (like A.v. Hayek) and representatives of an ecologically-oriented, globally responsible social market economy."

--another reason you may have blindly missed some of the more subtle historical perspective in this article, Aaron,

is that it evaluates the Christian church from a European--and not American evangelical--point of view.

Get A Wife 08.Jul.2003 03:31


Get A Wife, stop thinking so much.