Wolfgang Huber

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Huber

Wolfgang Huber (born 12 August 1942 in Strasbourg, Germany) is a prominent German theologian and ethicist.[1] Huber served as bishop of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia until November 2009. Huber succeeded Manfred Kock as Chairperson of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) in November 2003[2] and was succeeded by Bishop Margot Käßmann, the first woman in that position, in October 2009.


Huber is the youngest of five brothers and grew up in Falkau in the Black Forest and later in Freiburg im Breisgau. He married the primary school teacher and author Kara Huber in 1966 and they have three children and two grandchildren. His father was Ernst Rudolf Huber, a well-known lawyer and German constitutional scholar. Huber’s mother was the attorney Tula Huber-Simons.

Huber studied Protestant theology from 1960 to 1966 at the University of Heidelberg, University of Göttingen and at the University of Tübingen where he received his doctorate in 1966. He finished his Habilitation at the University of Heidelberg in 1972.

After working in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Württemberg from 1966 to 1968 Huber was appointed as researcher and later director of the Protestant Institute for Interdisciplinary Research in Heidelberg[3] from 1968 until 1980. He served as member of a number of church organizations and committees: From 1973 to 1984 as member of the EKD’s Chamber for Public Responsibility, from 1975 to 1980 as member of the Evangelical Church of the Union’s Board, from 1980 to 1994 as member of the Deutscher Evangelischer Kirchentag’s executive committee from 1983 to 1985 as its president. He was appointed as Professor of Social Ethics at the University of Marburg in 1980, and Professor of Systematic Theology (with a focus on ethics) at the University of Heidelberg in 1984. In 1989 he was also Lilly Visiting Professor at Emory University. In 1993 he was chosen as Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg-Silesian Upper Lusatia, in 1997 as member of the Council of the EKD and in 2003 as Chairperson of the Council. From 1998 to 2001 Huber served as member of the Central and Executive Committees of the World Council of Churches.

Huber retired in November 2009. Markus Dröge succeeded him as Bishop and Margot Käßmann succeeded him as Chairperson of the EKD’s Council. Since retiring Huber has resumed many of his honorary and voluntary positions, amongst others his position as Chairperson of the Stiftung Garnisonkirche Potsdam and Dean of the Domstift Brandenburg. He continues to be engaged in public ethical debates and was chosen by the German Cabinet to serve on Germany’s Ethics Council in 2010.[4] His research on ethics currently concerns the mediation of values in business and society.

Since choosing the position of Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg above a seat in the German Bundestag for the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1993 Huber has not associated himself with any political party publicly. His was consequently considered as potential neutral candidate to replace the then President of Germany Horst Köhler after his resignation in 2010.[5]


Huber has worked on a wide variety and great number of ethical and theological themes. With his father Huber edited five volumes of documents on German church-state relations.[6] His other publications include Kirche und Öffentlichkeit (1973), Menschenrechte. Perspektiven einer menschlichen Welt (1977, with Heinz Eduard Tödt), Kirche (1979), Folgen christlicher Freiheit. Ethik und Theorie der Kirche im Horizont der Barmer Theologischen Erklärung (1983), Konflikt und Konsens. Studien zur Ethik der Verantwortung (1990), Friedensethik (1990, with Hans-Richard Reuter), Die tägliche Gewalt. Gegen den Ausverkauf der Menschenwürde (1993), Gerechtigkeit und Recht. Grundlinien christlicher Rechtsethik (1996), Kirche in der Zeitenwende. Gesellschaftlicher Wandel und Erneuerung der Kirche (1998), Vertrauen erneuern. Eine Reform um der Menschen willen (2005), Im Geist der Freiheit. Für eine Ökumene der Profile (2007), Der christliche Glaube. Eine evangelische Orientierung (2008). As respected religious figure, academic and public intellectual Huber continues to initiate and contribute to a wide range of themes, amongst others by means of a large number of public lectures,[7] sermons[8] and public discussions.

Research on Huber’s thought emphasizes the centrality of the concept “communicative freedom” in his work.[9] His theology and public engagement is characterized by the fact that Christianity is the religion of life-enabling freedom. He understands communicative freedom as a rearticulation of the Reformation’s rediscovery of freedom, as is clear in his use of Martin Luther’s theology to substantiate his understanding of freedom.[10] Huber aims to reconcile individuality and sociality, by developing an understanding of freedom that transcends mere self-realisation. In his recent work he makes use of the term "responsible freedom" to denote this comprehensive understanding of freedom.[11]

Following the sociologist Max Weber, the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the philosopher Hans Jonas, Huber develops an ethics of responsibility for life in the context of modernity.[12] This forms the starting point for Huber’s contributions to present-day ethical questions, as can be seen in his contributions to business ethics,[13] political ethics[14] and bio-ethics.[15]

Huber is known for his opposition to embryology research. He understands human dignity as conferred by God, and expressed by the Christian conviction that the human person is created in the “image of God”.[16] Human dignity cannot be equated with either the biological development or genetic characteristics as this contradicts the human person as subject of freedom.[17] In Huber's view a human being is always a person and never simply an object.

He advocates a form of nonviolence he calls "reasonable pacifism".[18]

Church reform

As bishop and chairperson of the EKD’s Council Huber initiated and supported numerous reform programs. In the context of the challenges mainline Protestantism face, especially in the eastern parts of Germany, Huber advocated for a missionary reorientation of the church. For him church reform is closely connected to the rediscovery of the church’s evangelical essence and requires openness to those who have distanced themselves from the Christian faith. These impulses characterize the large-scale reform process, subsumed under the theme “Church of freedom”, which Huber headed.[19] The document Kirche der Freiheit describes how the church can set its profile in society, whilst respecting societal plurality. This document formulates four goals for the reform of the Protestant church in Germany, namely (a) spiritual profiling instead of indistinct activity, (b) prioritising instead of aiming for completeness, (c) structural mobility and (d) shifting the focus of the activities of the church to the outside instead of self-contentment.[20] In his own regional church Huber also oversaw a reform process, “Salt of the earth”.[21] Huber’s tenure as chairperson of the EKD’s Council also saw the incorporation of the Vereinigte Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche Deutschlands and the Union Evangelischer Kirchen with the EKD, the streamlining of regional churches from 23 to 21, and the initiation of further reform processes.

Ecumenical and inter-religious engagement

Huber continuously engages in ecumenical and inter-religious discussions.[22] He was the hosting bishop of the first Ecumenical Church Conference in Berlin in 2003, and during his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Cologne in 2005 Huber expressed the wish that ecumenical relations may develop to a phase of “profiled ecumenism”.[23] This position also characterized his reaction to the Vatican’s declaration in 2007 that Protestant churches cannot be regarded as churches in the true sense of the word. The Archbishop of Canterbury invited Huber to address the Nikaean Club of Archbishops in 2009, where Huber identified “ecumenism of the indicative” – namely borne from the conferred unity in Christ, of faith and of baptism – as the basis for all ecumenical relations.[24]

Huber regards religious pluralism as a defining characteristic of contemporary society. He understands the growing influence of Muslim minorities in western Europe (and particularly in his native Germany) as a legitimate example of growing religious pluralism. As chairperson of the EKD Huber campaigned for an open and regular dialogue between Christian and Muslim religious leaders. His insistence on clarity (“Klarheit”) and being good neighbours (“gute Nachbarschaft) – following a document published by the EKD [25] – led to controversies within the EKD and between Protestants and Muslim conversation partners.[26] Especially his warning not to engage in “interreligious cheating” (a formulation which he articulated for the first time in 2001) gave rise to a number of public discussions.[27] A prominent German Muslim organisation reacted to the document published by the EKD by saying that it reinforces and legitimates existing prejudices against Islam.[28] Huber reacted by stating the continued need for honest dialogue – including controversial themes such as freedom of religion and of the change of religion in Muslim countries.

Awards and honorary memberships

Recent publications



  1. Website Wolfgang Huber
  2. EKD: Rat Wahlergebnisse
  3. Protestant Institute for Interdisciplinary Research
  4. Morgenpost.de: Huber kehrt in den Ethikrat zurück
  5. "Die Welt": Favoriten für das Bundespräsidentenamt, 1. Juni 2010
  6. Staat und Kirche im 19. und 20. Jahrhundert, 1973-1995
  7. "EKD: Bischof Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Huber". Ekd.de. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  8. "EKD: Bischof Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Huber". Ekd.de. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  9. Willem Fourie, Communicative freedom? Wolfgang Huber's critical engagement of modernity. Doctoral dissertation: University of Stellenbosch (South Africa) 2009.
  10. See e.g. Wolfgang Huber, Kirche in der Zeitenwende (Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1999), and the published version of his inaugural lecture at the Humboldt University in Berlin, “Christliche Freiheit in der freiheitlichen Gesellschaft” (Evangelische Theologie 56 (2): 99-116
  11. Fourie, 2009:76ff
  12. Wolfgang Huber, Sozialethik als Verantwortungsethik, in Konflikt und Konsens (1990), 136-157
  13. Huber: Wenn ihr umkehrt, wird euch geholfen. Oder: Anmerkungen zur globalen Finanzmarkt- und Wirtschaftskrise, Frankfurt/Main 2010
  14. Verfassung ohne Gottesbezug? Zu einer aktuellen europäischen Kontroverse. Gemeinsam mit Helmut Goerlich und Karl Kardinal Lehmann, Leipzig 2004
  15. Der gemachte Mensch. Christlicher Glaube und Biotechnik, Berlin 2002
  16. Huber: Nicht Sache, sondern Person; in: ders.: Der gemachte Mensch; Berlin 2002; S. 19
  17. Huber: Nicht Sache, sondern Person; in: ders.: Der gemachte Mensch; Berlin 2002; S. 21
  18. "University of Virginia News Story". Virginia.edu. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  19. "Inhalt Perspektiven 2006.indd" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  20. EKD 2006, Kirche der Freiheit, 7ff
  21. http://www.ekbo.de/Dateien/EKBO_Perspektivprogramm.pdf
  22. Klarheit und gute Nachbarschaft. Christen und Muslime in Deutschland. Eine Handreichung des Rates der EKD (EKD-Texte 86), Hannover 2006.
  23. "EKD: „Was bedeutet Ökumene der Profile?" - Vortrag beim Symposion „Ökumene der Profile" der Evangelischen Kirche im Rheinland in Düsseldorf". Ekd.de. 2006-05-29. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  24. "EKD: „Φkumenische Aufgaben am Beginn des 21. Jahrhunderts“ - Nikaean Club des Erzbischofs von Canterbury, Lambeth Palace, London". Ekd.de. 2009-09-10. Retrieved 2016-09-02. C1 control character in |title= at position 6 (help)
  25. See e.g. www.versoehnungsbund.de/archiv/.../StellungnahmeEKDpapier.pdf or islam.de/8443.php.
  26. Der Spiegel, 17. Dezember 2001, S. 44 - 56
  27. Evangelischer Pressedienst, 24. Mai 2007
  28. ZEIT ONLINE GmbH, Hamburg, Germany (2009-04-23). "Protestanten: Der tadellose Protestant | ZEIT ONLINE". Zeit.de. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  29. 25.10.2009 00:00 Uhr (2009-10-25). "Würdigung: Kardinal Lehmann über Bischof Huber: Konflikt und Konsens - Andere Meinung - Meinung - Tagesspiegel" (in (German)). Tagesspiegel.de. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  30. ZEIT ONLINE GmbH, Hamburg, Germany (2009-10-22). "Evangelische Kirche: Aus dem Kirchenschlaf gerissen | ZEIT ONLINE". Zeit.de. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
  31. Christian Bartels (2016-08-18). "Themen A...Z" (in (German)). evangelisch.de. Retrieved 2016-09-02.
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