Lutheran leader urges building `good society'

World federation official promotes tolerance in speech at city church

April 20, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

As tensions in the Middle East worsen, the Lutheran Church must do all it can to help foster a "good society," including becoming more tolerant of other religions, Ishmael Noko, the first African general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, said yesterday.

"We live in a society that has many tribulations and many things for us to lament," Noko, 58, told about 125 people at Christ Lutheran Church at the Inner Harbor.

"We have to have a responsibility toward reconstruction of a good society."

Noko's speech was sponsored by the Luther Institute, which is based in Washington and routinely brings in guest lecturers. People from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia listened via teleconference.

Noko asked whether a good society is feasible in a "rapidly changing world." He also questioned whether it's possible to have a good society that is good for everyone.

Democracy, valuing all human beings, equal treatment for women, effective conflict resolution, mutual trust and confidence, children's welfare and managing the environment are among key components of a good society, he said.

"In the good society, democracy must not only be the means of self-determination by the majority, but the protector of the rights of all minorities, including noncitizens," Noko said.

"In the good society, active citizenship rather than apathetic passivity is a shared value, for which all members of the society are educated and empowered."

Noko stressed human rights.

"Another feature of the good society is the recognition of the inherent God-given value of every human being," he said.

"Nobody should be valued on the basis of what they can produce or cannot produce. We are all valuable because Christ died on the cross. ... The church and the Christian community have to remind people that ... primacy must be placed on human life."

Born in Zimbabwe, Noko is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Zimbabwe. He has served in the Lutheran World Federation, considered the umbrella group of most Lutheran churches worldwide, since 1982 and became its leader in 1994.

To earn his doctorate at McGill University in Quebec, Noko wrote a thesis titled "The Concept of God in Black Theology: An Appreciation of God as Liberator and Reconciler."

As general secretary, Noko is the chief executive officer of the Lutheran World Federation, which has its headquarters in Geneva.

He was scheduled to return to Geneva yesterday, after spending three days in the Baltimore area and giving three lectures.

He attended an international conference on ending world hunger at Airlee House in Virginia, said the Rev. Michael T. Kuchinsky, vice president of the Luther Institute.

The Rev. John R. Sabatelli, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, said Noko's speech was well received.

"I thought the general secretary's remarks were very good and right on in terms of what's necessary to build a human community in which violence is at least minimized, if not eliminated," Sabatelli said.

"I think he was very honest about the church itself and some of the issues within the Lutheran Communion of Churches."

Lutheran officials thanked Noko with a photo of a young girl kneeling beside a dilapidated camp in Haiti.

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