In the evening of 14 April 2015, Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Peter Steinacker died after a long severe illness. During his office as Church President of EKHN from 1993 until 2008, he has done his utmost in various ways to promote the issues of ecumenicity and he has decisively furthered the content-wise profile of the Center for Ecumenical Work.
Regular visits in the African, Asian and European Partner Churches of EKHN have opened him for the concerns of the people in the partner regions and for the cultural wealth of the Christian faith. He was a most welcome visitor in the Partner Churches and he managed to find expression in his sermons and lectures for the theological modern questions from a Central European perspective within a strange cultural context. For long years he was a member in the German-Polish Contact Committee and maintained close relationships to the Polish Ecumenical Council as well as to the faculty of the Valdensian Church at Rome, Italy.
It was already very early that Mr. Steinacker stood up for a dialogue with the Islam and initiated various programs. Here, the religious and theological qualification of pastors was a great concern for him. He has sought the direct conversation with the Islamic associations in Hessen and has built up reliable relationships.
Church governments and persons in the Partner Churches of EKHN who are beholden to Peter Steinacker in friendship, representatives from ecumenical partner organizations and partners in the inter-religious dialogue, as well as the staff members of the Center for Ecumenical Work are mourning for the late and will keep his commitment for ecumenical affairs in grateful memory.
A detailed tribute to the life of Peter Steinacker is given in the following press release by EKHN.
Press release 29 / 2015
„He made his mark as a Protestant theologian in the open and controversial dialogue”
Former Church President Peter Steinacker deceased
Darmstadt, 15 April 2015. The former Church President of the Protestant Church in Hessen and Nassau (EKHN), Prof. Dr. Dr. hc. Peter Steinacker, has passed away. He died after a severe illness in the evening of 14 April 2015 at Frankfurt at the age of 71 years. Between 1993 and 2008 he had been the head of EKHN. Church President Dr. Volker Jung expressed his dismay over the death of his predecessor in the office. “With Peter Steinacker the Protestant church loses a distinguished theologian of the open and controversial dialogue. I personally lose with him a collegial counsellor and a good friend”, said Jung. Prof. Steinacker always “stood for an outward-looking, theologically demanding, socially committed church that was also ready for dialogue”. His special concern had been to bring the Church into contact with groups and areas in society that often are not or not enough present in the Church’s perspective. Upon Steinacker’s initiative “regular contacts to sports, to business, to policy, to the army, to the universities and to culture have been established”. Even after his retirement and until recently as the chairman of the board of trustees of the EKHN-Stiftung he has served this matter.
Strongly promoted the dialogue with the religions
According to Jung, Steinacker “has rendered outstanding services to the dialogue with Islam”. He himself had become, by the intensive studies of various works of Islamic theology and many discussions, a “profound expert and promoter of the Christian-Islamic dialogue”. Upon his initiative the EKHN has considerably extended its interreligious competence with projects in Cairo and in Beirut, and got in touch with many Muslim and other religious groups. Jung reminded us that Steinacker has been decorated for his great involvement in the interreligious dialogue – together with Karl Cardinal Lehman, Salomon Korn and Navid Kermani – with the Hessian Culture Prize in 2009.
Clearly noted changes in society
Church President Jung said: “It was in a very vigilant way that Peter Steinacker has noted the social and ecclesiastical changes and took up the challenges resulting thereof for the EKHN.” During his term of office one had to cope with the consequences of the newly gained freedom in Germany, and at first the country and then also the churches got into serious economic turbulences. On top of that novel international challenges by the phenomena of refugees, migrants and the globalisation of economy have moved thinking, and the German Army was for the first time actively involved in activities of war, said Jung. At the same time the scientific progress has raised many ethical questions of biology and medicine and the understanding of homosexuality was newly valuated in society. Mass media have dramatically changed by the Internet and other media innovations. And last but not least also the social issues have been brought to a head.
Clear argumentation for a Protestant perspective
“It was a turbulent time”, said Jung in his conclusion, “in which Peter Steinacker has again and again raised his Protestant voice in a courageous, difficult and contentious debate”. “A clear theological argumentation for a Protestant perspective was always important for him”. With his broadly posed pleasure in opinion-forming and dialogue, Steinacker “has consciously and actively opposed himself to the loss of acceptance of the churches in some parts of the society”. Part of this is also the fact that he favoured a modern translation of the Scripture and promoted the “Bibel in gerechter Sprache” (Bible in inclusive language) that appeared in 2006. But he also saw clearly that the Church urgently needed structural internal reforms to remain sustainable for the future. Together with his deputy church president, Hans Helmut Köke, and later on his deputy Cordelia Kopsch he initiated the creation of the Protestant Working Centres and the strengthening of the deaneries as the middle management level.
Leading the Church with theological concision
The president of the Church Synod of EKHN, Dr. Ulrich Oelschläger, designated Steinacker as a leading clergyman who “always directed his church with theological concision and socio-political relevance”. According to Oelschläger, the former Church President was not only “a highly estimated theologian but also a very well-educated intellectual thinker with a wide horizon”. This, for instance, showed in the “profound and expressly deep regular reports” of Steinacker before the Synod. He ever managed to “to take the members of the Synod on the way of an exciting theological search for traces to topical issues such as the inter-religious dialogue, globalization or freedom of humanity”. Oelschläger also paid tribute to Steinacker’s attitude in the debates of the church parliament. “He respected controversial decisions of the Synod that partly even were made against his convictions. For this attitude the Protestant Church is deeply indebted to him”, said Oelschläger.
Vita of Church president Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Peter Steinacker
Pastor and honorary professor
Peter Steinacker was born on the 12th of December 1943 at Frankfurt on the Main. From 1965 he studied theology and philosophy at Frankfurt, Marburg and Tübingen. In 1969 he passed the first theological exam and gained his doctoral degree at Marburg with a thesis on “The relations of Ernst Bloch’s philosophy to Mysticism”. In 1972 Steinacker completed his preparation for ministry as an assistant pastor at Marbach near Marburg, passed the second practical phase of pastoral training, and worked as an academic assistant of Carl Heinz Ratschow at the university of Marburg. From 1975 onwards Steinacker changed to the then comprehensive university at Wuppertal as a faculty assistant and taught there Old Testament and Systematic Theology. In 1980 he got his Habilitation with a study on “The characteristics of the church”. For many years, Steinacker remained bound to the University of Marburg as a honorary professor for Systematic theology, even during his office as Church President. In 1985 Prof. Steinacker accepted a pastoral ministry at Wuppertal-Unterbarmen.
Church president and honorary doctor
In December 1992 the Church Synod of EKHN elected Steinacker its fifth Church President. He took up this office on the 1st of March 1993. In the year 2000 the Synod confirmed him for another period of office of eight years. In this function he was the chairman of the Church Government, of the Leading Spiritual Board and of the Theological Examination Board of EKHN. Steinacker had retired at the end of 2008 after 16 years of service as a Church President. In June 2000 the university Johann Wolfgang Goethe at Frankfurt/Main conferred on him the honorary doctorate for his merits in the academic theology in the fields of academia and church. Steinacker was decisively involved in the Cooperation Agreement between the universities of Frankfurt and Gießen that assured the maintenance of the shared faculty of Evangelical Theology at both sites.
Great nation-wide commitment
Steinacker was also active in many fields in the whole country, for example in the German–Polish Contact Committee of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD), as chairman of the contact commission of the Council of EKD to the Evangelical Theological Faculties Conference, as a member of the Committee for Pastoral Ministry for Soldiers in the German Army, in the Board of the Evangelische Kirchentag, and in the field of development policy. He was also responsible for the EKD-surveys on church membership “Strange home the church” and “Church – horizon and frame of life” as a co-editor. In numerous talks he focused until the end on the local and ethical issues regarding economic and social problems, and to questions of the social and political culture. At the end of his office the dealing with Islam in various publications came to the foreground.
A connoisseur of Richard Wagner
Besides all that he had great interest in the works of composer Richard Wagner. At the festivals at Bayreuth he regularly gave lectures, within the scope of the Festival of Young Artists, on theological-philosophical motifs in Wager’s operas. Numerous publications have originated from that. The former church president was also known as an enthusiastic soccer player. He was member of the jury of the annually granted “Schlappekicker Prize” from the newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau with which, among others, social projects of soccer associations or of individual persons are being honored.
Steinacker lived until the end at Frankfurt am Main. He leaves behind his wife Inge Steinacker, a married daughter and two grandchildren.
A date for the funeral service has not yet been fixed.