Martin Luther’s protest

Photos: Philip Lee

WACC Deputy General Secretary Philip Lee is facilitating a summer school for graduate students marking the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

 I have arrived in Lutherstadt-Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther famously – or perhaps infamously – nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church. The reason for my visit is a Summer School on “Communication rights in the digitised global society” taking place in cooperation with WACC, the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg, and the German Academic Exchange Service.

In the countryside around this rather pristine medieval town stand ranks of windmills of the kind that produce electricity. At first they to seem clash with the churches, squares, and buildings that Luther might have recognised. And yet the shift from windmills for grinding grain to windmills that produce electricity might to him have seemed natural and obvious - revolutionary in all senses. (Of course, the windmills he tilted at were also very real.)

In the year of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Lutherstadt-Wittenburg and its cult of Luther resembles Salzburg and its cult of Mozart. Everywhere there are shops selling Luther chocolates, Luther cake, Luther beer, and even Luther burgers (the kind of indulgence best avoided). There are also exhibitions on every conceivable aspect of Luther the man as well as Luther the priest who upset the theological applecart.

Luther may only have had an inkling (at least at the beginning) of the revolution he was unleashing, in the same way that few of us really understand what is being brought about by today’s digital revolution – which partly explains the theme of this year’s Summer School.

The door where Luther nailed his 95 theses is long gone, replaced by a bronze replica, but the symbolism of the door remains present. It is evident in the idea of inclusion and exclusion – a fundamental aspect of communication rights: which doors are open or closed and to whom. It is also apparent in an exhibition outside St Mary’s Church, where Luther preached some of his sermons, where there are doors bearing messages calling for openness and reconciliation for those excluded in today’s society. That, too, lay at the heart of Luther’s protest.

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