With the Edict of Potsdam in 1685, Frederick William
of Brandenburg introduced Berlin's tradition of tolerance
EVER SINCE FREDERICK WILLIAM, the Great Elector of Brandenburg, invited thousands of French Huguenots to settle in his territories following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, Berlin has enjoyed a global reputation as a place of asylum. Bohemian Protestants, Russian Jews, and hundreds of thousands of persecuted persons from places as diverse as Syria and Congo have made a home in one of the world’s most tolerant cities. Now Berlin’s Protestant church has granted religious and professional asylum to… a Christian from Württemberg in southwestern Germany.
The story is sad but all too typical of Germany’s Lutherans. Carmen Häcker, a twenty-eight year-old theology student from Weilimdorf near Stuttgart, had been working as an intern in the renowned Grameen Bank in Dacca, Bangladesh, when she fell in love with a local translator called Monir Khan. They returned to Germany and lived together for a few months while Häcker proceeded to continue her training for the Lutheran clergy. With Monir's visa about to run out, they married in Denmark in August .
Bad religion?: The couple on their wedding day
(Source: Frankfurter Rundschau)
But this Swabian pastor’s daughter can forget any dreams she might have had of taking up residence in a southwestern parsonage: the Württemberg state church prohibits its clergy from marrying non-Christians. And while exceptions are sometimes possible, specifically for non-believing spouses, Häcker made the error of forgetting to ask the church leadership for permission before tying the knot in Denmark. Perhaps she had other matters on her mind?
The result: Häcker was fired from church service and evicted from the parsonage in Crailsheim where she had been completing her traineeship for the Lutheran ministry. “A minister's spouse must be a member of the Lutheran Church,” the state church’s speaker, Oliver Hoesch, explained. “The clergy is a holistic profession. Tensions from fundamental religious differences within the parsonage can be carried into the congregation.”
Häcker, a graduate of the world-famous Protestant seminary in Tübingen who had dreamed of becoming a pastor since high school, doesn't understand. "Isn't God a God of love?" she asks. Actually, this happens rather a lot in some of Germany's less evolved Protestant state churches. If it isn't Muslim interlopers like Monir, then it's those pesky Jews gumming up the works.
Now if readers of my blog think I hold a grudge against the Catholic Church because I go after its perennial abuse scandals, that’s only because they’ve never asked me about Protestants! In fact, the Catholics have left me entirely to my own devices. Lutherans are something else again. Elsewhere in this blog I have told about the experience of getting married in communist East Germany. I also could have discussed what it was like submitting to a full church wedding in East Berlin with a woman who, like Häcker, was also in training for the Lutheran clergy.
In order to marry my fiancée, I actually had to scrounge up a baptismal certificate that had been issued by a Catholic priest during the Kennedy Administration. As a matter of fact, her pastor father had been slated to baptise our twins, but after I categorically refused to recite the “confession of faith” in front of him rather than perjure myself, he declined the honor. At least the officials at the communist registry office didn’t demand that I recite an oath to Lenin!
And so it goes. But Häcker and her husband are receiving an early Christmas present this year: In the spirit of the Great Elector, the more enlightened Berlin-Brandenburg Protestant church has invited her to complete her training at a local parish with a chance at assuming a vacant slot as a fully qualified pastor once she has finished. Häcker greeted the decision with the words: “I am delighted to be given the chance to proclaim the gospel on behalf of the Church with my Muslim husband by my side.” While many things have changed since 1685, Berlin's spirit of tolerance isn't one of them.
So Merry Christmas, Carmen and Monir. And may god bless us, everyone.
Christ und Welt