Photo: The 2018 demolition of the Immerath church (Henning Kaiser/dpa)

German Christians have denounced the “inhuman… violence” of the mining industry and climate change.

– Services on site of church destroyed in 2018 to make way for a mine

This past Saturday, the members of the “Leave the church(es) in the village” campaign held a memorial service and Mass in the old village of Immerath, in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, where the Catholic Church of St. Lambertus was demolished in January 2018 to make way for the Garzweiler surface mine.

As the group explained in an invitation, the Christians first of all held prayers at the local cemetery to remember those who are buried there and also “the victims of climate destruction and injustice worldwide”.

The group then processed to the site of the demolished church, to share in a Eucharist and also “to erect a permanent cross of hope”.

– Local villages and their churches being “sacrificed to the profit interests” of energy multinational, state government

It might be too late for the Immerath church and indeed for the village itself, which was bulldozed in its entirety throughout the 2010s to make way for the mine.

But the “Leave the church(es) in the village” campaign alerted that other towns in the region, along with their churches, can still be saved from destruction, and called on the state government to abandon its “hostile and climate-destroying policy” which they said is leading to “catastrophic consequences” not only locally but “worldwide” as well.

Local villages are in danger of being “sacrificed to the profit interests of RWE”, the energy multinational responsible for the mine, decried the campaign. Its members said they meant Saturday’s services as a sign of “protest”, “resistance” and “hope” against the “inhuman” policy of the RWE and the North Rhine-Westphalian government.

– The erection of the cross of hope, a symbol of the ‘new Jerusalem’

“Leave the church(es) in the village” explained that the demolished Immerath church – which dated back to 1891, and was on a local heritage register – was a “double symbol” of the tragedy of climate change.

Not only was its demolition “an experience of powerlessness and helplessness” for local residents – who had been accustomed to a church on-site since at least the 12th century – in the face of the “seemingly unstoppable violence” of the mining industry. But also in the way the images of the church’s destruction went around the world in 2018 they became a metaphor for the “full, inconceivable extent of the violence” of the extractivist industry, the campaign explained.

“Leave the church(es) in the village” added that the meaning of the “permanent cross of hope” placed on the rubble of the demolished church Saturday was as “a symbol for the construction of a new temple, the building of a ‘new Jerusalem'”.

“For the people of Israel too have experienced violent expulsion and the hopelessness of exile throughout their history. With the destruction of the temple – the place where their God dwells – they were stripped of their identity, which is based primarily on religion. They lived in dispersion, many lost their cultural roots”, the German Christians recalled, comparing their experience of the damage done by mining with the biblical Babylonian captivity.

– About the “Leave the church(es) in the village” campaign

On its website, “Leave the church(es) in the village” explains that its members are committed to saving churches in the Rhenish mining district “for many different reasons: for some, they are a symbol of traditional village community; others regard them as a cultural asset worthy of protection. And many protect the churches out of religious conviction”.

“Beyond our concrete commitment to the threatened churches, we see ourselves as part of the worldwide movement for global climate justice”, “Leave the church(es) in the village” further explains, adding “we do this for ecological, globalisation-critical and religious reasons”.

“For the Christians among us, destruction of nature has an additional religious aspect: it is not only the destruction of the ‘environment’, of the chances for life of later generations or people in other parts of the world. It is also the destruction of God’s creation, the rejection of his care, the breaking of the covenant – and so it touches the centre of Christian faith”.

“Leave the church(es) in the village” also has an explicitly ecumenical character. Quoting from the conclusions of a grassroots “synod” on the climate held in the local town of Düren in 2019, the campaign stresses:

“We want to stand up for a new understanding of ecumenism: the community of all those, Christians and non-Christians, who work to ensure that this earth remains habitable, who want to fight for a good life for everyone. For this, organised resistance through social movements ‘from below’ is important, in the Rhineland, in Europe, worldwide”.

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Catholic theologians sue police for being detained in protest over new German coal plant Datteln 4

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.