(CNSNews.com) – President Obama looks set to return to global headlines in late May, four months after leaving the White House, when he takes part in a discussion on democracy alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a religious festival in Berlin.
On May 25 – the same day President Trump is expected to attend a NATO summit in Brussels – Obama and Merkel will hold a conversation at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate entitled, “Being Involved in Democracy: Taking on Responsibility Locally and Globally.”
The event is part of the four-day German Protestant Church Assembly (Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag), a biannual gathering first held in 1949, and which in recent years has drawn well over 100,000 participants.
The Obama Foundation, which is co-sponsoring the discussion, is inviting people to send in ideas about what topics they would like to see covered, and what it means to be both a local and global citizen.
Kirchentag president Christina Aus der Au voiced enthusiasm about the Obama-Merkel pairing.
“President Obama and Chancellor Merkel have said that their dedication as politicians is also an expression of their Christian faith,” she said. “The Kirchentag movement lives from people who work for justice and solidarity on the basis of their faith. It will be really interesting to hear what the two of them say to us Christians in Europe.”
Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohmm, who heads the council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, one of the world’s largest Protestant federations, invited Obama a year ago to visit Germany during this summer’s 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
“President Barack Obama’s attending the Kirchentag in Berlin, which will ring in the Reformation Summer, underlines the international character of our 500th anniversary celebrations,” Bedford-Strohmm said in a statement.
“The churches form a global civil society network of over two billion Christians. Together, as people of faith, we live from the firm hope for a better world. Anyone who is pious also has to be politically minded. I am looking forward to enthusiastic debates during the Reformation Summer 2017.”
Obama’s visit will take place four months before Germany holds a general election. Merkel faces a tough battle in her bid for a fourth term as chancellor. Her government’s liberal migration/refugee policies as well as terrorism/security are key campaign issues.
While the topics of debates, panel discussions and lectures that will feature during this year’s Kirchentag range widely, a strong pro-refugee theme is evident in the provisional program.
Participants will be invited to visit a center to “meet and talk with refugees, volunteers and staff. The focus will be on topics such as migration, church asylum, volunteer work, the future of the church and the future of the church with the contribution of refugees.”
The program will be interrupted at noon on the Friday for a minute’s silence in memory of the thousands of migrants and refugees who have died trying to make their way to Europe over the past three years.
Groups whose works is highlighted for support include organizations helping migrants who make the dangerous Mediterranean crossing, Greek churches helping refugees, and those involved in refugee integration efforts in a small town north of Berlin.
“Displacement, Migration, Integration” is among topics for discussion and study over the four-day event.
Others include religious freedom in the Middle East, “non-violence against war and terror,” reducing poverty, the consequences of climate-change, feminists in religions, and “Religious freedom or hate speech? Worldwide challenges for LGBT+”
Brandenburg Gate, close to where the wall dividing Berlin stood during the Cold War, was the location of President Reagan’s famous “Tear down this wall” speech in 1987.
It was also a venue then-Senator Obama hoped to use for a speech while running for the White House in 2008. Merkel’s government opposed its use by a campaigning candidate, and instead Obama delivered his speech to a large and fervent crowd from the Victory Column about half a mile away.
Obama did eventually get to deliver a speech from Brandenburg Gate as president in 2013, albeit to a significantly smaller crowd. That visit was somewhat overshadowed by revelations of National Security Agency surveillance of communications in Germany and other European nations.
Still, on his last visit to Germany as president, last November, Obama had effusive praise for Merkel, saying that he “could not have asked for a steadier, more reliable partner on the world stage.”
Obama praised Merkel for her “humanitarian response” to migrants and refugees – Germany admitted nearly 890,000 in 2015 – despite the difficult political challenge that entailed.
Asked whether he would like to see Merkel – who had then not yet announced – run again for chancellor in 2017, Obama said, “I try to make it a rule not to meddle in other people's politics.”
But, after endorsing her as “outstanding” leader, he added, “It’s up to her whether she wants to stand again, and then ultimately it will be up to the German people to decide what the future holds. If I were here and I were German, and I had a vote, I might support her.”