Values in Education in a Multi-Cultural Europe - The Berlin Statement

From 13 - 15 May, 1999, the European Educators’ Christian Association (EurECA) held a conference in Woltersdorf near Berlin on the theme of Values in Education in a multi-cultural Europe.

In a series of intensive workshops Christians from nine European countries tried to find fruitful ways of dealing with this theme from their very varied experiences and traditions. They also took as their point of reference the outcomes from the EurECA conference in Prague (16 - 19 May 1997) as expressed in the Prague Declaration 1997 on the theme of “Christian Belief and Education”.

The general starting point for the choice of the Conference topic was the widely stated lack of direction particularly evident in the younger generations, which arises from the uncertainty which lies behind the question: which values are still valid in our society and culture?

I

This process, which is also characterised by the term loss of values, has experienced an acceleration in the former Eastern block through the radical political changes since the end of the eighties. It has to do with the global influence of modernisation in economy, science and technology, which in turn lead to radical changes in the social conditions of our cultures. It has not proved easy to gain clarity with regard to this question of values faced with such a complex set of issues. In the following paragraphs we are setting before the public the results of our deliberations and are inviting your participation in working further on these guidelines via the Internet or other channels of communication. Thus we await your suggestions, comments or criticism and counter-arguments.

II The Christian Faith and Values

  1. According to Christian understanding the relationship between God and Man is fundamental to human life. He has spoken to mankind – from Him mankind receives his dignity and essential being. This basic orientation for human life is expressed in the Bible in the relationship between the Creator and the creature and in the creature as the image of God. (Genesis 1: 27; 2: 7)

    This means for any conception of the nature of man (anthropology), such as lies at the basis of all value statements, that man’s dignity does not arise from human relationships but from the prime relationship with God. This is therefore “inviolable” just as in the first article of the Declaration of Human Rights.
     
  2. In turning towards mankind, God has shown Himself to be the source of love, justice and mercy. This essential nature of God has been revealed in the story of His dealings with the people of Israel, in the life and work of His Son Jesus Christ and in the way of Christianity.

    For Christians, therefore, fundamental scales of values are inseparable from their definition through God’s action in history, as revealed in the writings of the Old and New Testament.
     
  3. From the very beginning, the story of God’s dealings with man involves man’s rebellion against Him and man's desire for autonomy. The Bible calls this state of affairs sin and sees the consequences of sin in hatred, envy, murder and death.

    God however does not simply hand man over to the consequences of sin. He preserves the dignity of man in calling him again and giving him the chance to turn around and start again. The love of God finds its highest expression of this patience and mercy in Jesus Christ who gave his life for the sins of the whole world and overcame death when brought back to life by God thus opening for mankind the path to eternal life.

    Because of what God has done, Christians have a realistic hope for life; for God’s love surrounds the failure and guilt of man.

    His patience and mercy cannot be represented in a scale of values which humanity could turn into a programme in its own strength. All human attempts to find the right answer to God’s message remain incomplete and rely on the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, but they carry within them the signs of hope.

    III Values in a political context
     
  4. God has not only brought man into a relationship with Himself, but He has also put him into a particular relationship with his fellow men and with the rest of creation. He gives him good rules, which enable him to live in justice, peace, freedom and love. Those who turn to Him are placed in a position of responsibility for their fellowmen. Love for God and love for your neighbour are inseparable. Thus all rules for living in community (norms, virtues) are for Christians tied to the relationship with God, and draw from it their binding character, their scope and their structure of hope. In contrast to other value systems, Christian values have a significance which transcends death because of the resurrection.
     
  5. That which for Christians has a clear connection with God is encountered in non-religious contexts in the form of concepts, the so-called values: freedom, equality, solidarity, philanthropy, justice, peace, for example, are used in quite different worldviews. They stood as key words for society in the constitutions of both atheistic-communist states and Western democracies.

    “Values” are therefore first of all empty expressions, whose content is derived from the ideologies and world views in the context of which they are put to work.
     
  6. Values are primarily political expressions and must be dealt with using political methods. By that we mean that the content and the purpose of any particular value must always be precisely defined: whom it serves (cui bono?), through what means it will be enforced, what its limits are (scope) and what is to occur in the case of conflict (punishment, restitution).

    This is the first form of service on the political level that Christians can offer society, when they participate in debates concerning values: namely this ideological clarification concerning the specific character of the “values”.

    A glance at history shows us only too precisely that the worst crimes Have always been carried out under the pretext of the “highest values”.

    IV The pedagogical challenge
     
  7. The same procedure also applies in relation to educational goals. In our states’ guidelines for education there is much talk of “high values”. 

    Yet clarification is needed: to whom are the values we seek to transmit applicable: only to students (diligent, honest, clean, obedient, communicative, socially committed …) or also to the teachers and parents or even to the politicians and educationists and representatives of the media?

    These questions really must be clarified, if we are not to remain at the level of unclear thinking about the “loss of values” and the rhetoric of “high values”.

    That means we need patient discussion with all the aforementioned partners. If understanding emerges, then new connective forces can come into being, which will carry the newly-achieved consensus on values.

    Indeed, this goal brings with it new tasks for schools, teachers and those in positions of responsibility, which will lead to decisive changes in initial training, professional development and practice in schools.

    Christian schools have a special opportunity to accept these challenges and act as a model in society.
     
  8. Christians, with their value systems tied to the word of God, encounter in discussions about what count as “values” in their society not only non-religious (secularists, humanists) discussion partners, but also increasingly representatives of other religions, with their faith convictions and claims to truth.

    In “seeking the peace and prosperity of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) and in shaping the common task in schools, testing value systems and putting them into practice are again the order of the day. In this process we must not keep silent about the ultimate relationships. Christians have no grounds for maintaining silence on this point in the discussion; our God is after all the one who seeks all men in love and mercy and patience. (John 3:16)
     
  9. In all of this we are to be modest; for the history of Christianity is itself not free from bad errors. In the name of justice and truth Christians have killed many fellow believers and others of God’s people. And then we must also not forget that in the wars and civil strife of this century up to this day Christians have stood and are standing on opposite sides in the battle. And let us not underestimate the effect of the cry of “God with us!” on the one side and “God with us!” on the other side in lending a hollow ring to so-called Christian values.

    We have no grounds for high-sounding words or for a new crusade mentality. In the best of our desiring and doing we remain dependent on the grace of our God - by which we live. (Romans 7:19)