Sunday, 14 June 2009

Moritz Leuenberger on John Calvin and Calvin Klein

Moritz Leuenberger was the main speaker at this afternoon's Calvin event in the Temple de la Fusterie in Geneva. Leuenberger currently heads the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications and has been president of the Swiss confederation. He's a member of the Swiss Social Democratic Party.
The son of a Reformed pastor, from Zwingli's home town of Zurich where a play has been put on to mark the 500th anniversary called "Calvinism Klein" - yes it's all about religion and underwear! Germanophone rather than Francophone Leuenberger claimed to feel rather daunted at being asked to make such an address in Geneva on Calvin, epsecially after discovering in one reference book he consulted that Calvin is considered to be the father of classical French, he nevertheless gave his speech in extremely elegant French. He managed to be self-deprecating, funny and show real understanding of Calvin.
He also made four key points based on his understanding of Calvin and of reformation:
We need to reform our lifestyle with regard to nature
We need to reform the chain of solidarity
We need to reform the market economy
We need to reform our values

He also played with the image of two US presidents standing in Berlin - Kennedy denouncing the moral bankruptcy of communism and then decades later Clinton standing on the same spot and saying "everything is possible". In our current financial crisis we know that the anything goes model of unregulated markets has not been helpful. "Immoderation and greed have come to figure as driving forces of our financial activities ... bankers have been found to be bandits ... it is in our interests to marry ethics and market."

Leuenberger's full speech will be available tomorrow in Le Temps and in the NZZ, in French and German respectively,

Throughout the afternoon I was struck by how often different speakers underlined the fact that Calvin was not a killjoy but passionately believed that justice was the expression of love. As a second generation Reformer he structured the church, set limits but also transformed society insisting on the importance of education, work and the economy. The other key idea that was underlined was how Calvin insisted on the sharing of power between several people and on transparency and good governance:
"Given the imperfection of human beings, the kind of government which is most acceptable is a model where several persons share power, supporting and admonishing one another." (Calvin, Institutes Vol. IV ch XX)


Hansuli John Gerber said...

I just read Leuenberger's speech and love it. Obviously he does not address the question whether Calvin was essentially friendly with people. He was not, although he did seek justice. Insisting that people go right back to work as soon as mass is over on major holidays is an indication that discipline was high on his agenda and tenderness was not one of Calvin's strength.

Jane said...

Interestingly yesterday at the meeting two or three of the speakers underlined how Calvin encouraged gentleness - I'll have to look at my papers again to see what the context was - when you're interpreting it's difficult to remember much of what it is that is actually being said! Dr B may be able to remember the context better than I can - I think actually it was in the context of the unity of the church and the way in which we speak to one another - interesting.