Homily by Karen Siebert, KSG Berlin on June 25th 2023
Speaking fearlessly of God in an ungodly world. (Matthew 10,26–33)
How can we speak of God in Berlin – an urban atheist city? How can we gather our courage to stand up for our faith when we are met with ridicule, incomprehension or even hostility? And are the words of Jesus enough to make us unafraid?
Our place in time
who of you comes from an area where Christians are the majority?
And even more: Who comes from an area where Catholics are the majority compared to other Christian denominations?
Who comes from Berlin?
Then you are used to being a minority. It is estimated that only about 26% of Berlin’s population are Christians.
Only 8% are of Roman Catholic faith. Roughly as many as there a Muslims in Berlin.
It gets even more drastic, if you go to the countryside surrounding Berlin. Due to the communist’s anti-religious agenda of the past, only 5-8% of the population of East Germany is believing in God at all. Which makes it the least religious area of the whole world.
So this is where we find ourselves. If you come from a country or region with a very strong Christian tradition this might be very alien to you. Even for me, – I come from the west of Germany – this is a bit tough.
We sit here in Berlin – in the least religious area of the world and Jesus demands:
Acknowledge me before men.
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light.
What you hear whispered, shout it from the housetops!
Have you tried shouting your Christian faith from the roof tops of Berlin yet? Chances are that you will be either completely ignored as just another nutcase among many. Or you will get into a shouting match that will become more aggressive by the minute.
But seriously, what experiences have you made in Berlin talking about your Roman Catholic belief and your Christian faith? Or do you not talk about it all, if you are not sure that there are likeminded people around?
I myself am not the shouting type. The two occasions, I usually speak about my faith and my belief (I mean when I am not with fellow Christians) is either when I am being asked what I do for a living
Or when people ask me: Why do your kids participate in “religious education” in school? In Berlin religious education is a voluntary subject. Of the 450 kids in my sons’school, only 30 participate.
The reactions I get to my confession range from lack of interest to polite incomprehension to open dismissiveness.
Those who react highly negative usually doubt my sanity. Bbecause for them believing in God and even worse being a member of the Catholic Church stands for backward people believing in backward ideas, organised in a backward organisation.
My experiences go like this:
A guy abruptly turns away at a dinner party midway in our conversation, when he finds out that I am working for the Catholic Church.
My nine year old son has a class mate who tells him, that his mother spits at priests when she sees them and shoots stones at Christian statues with a slingshot.
Afraid – but why?
With none of these examples have I entered into a deeper conversation about my faith. Because there is no chance to convince them anyway? Maybe. But also because I feel afraid.
For the disciples back then there was a real danger. That is why Jesus says: And do not fear those who kill the body!
But unless I am meeting a real deranged person or a crazy fundamentalist of whatever faith, the chances of my body being killed for speaking out about God are not very high in Berlin.
So why am I afraid to speak of my faith?
Here are some reasons I found:
I am afraid of being rejected. More precisely, I am afraid of being rejected for something, I feel I am not.
I am afraid of people rejecting me, because they think that I am conservative irrational person who denies the findings of science. I am afraid people will think that I am taking the bible literally.
I am afraid that people will confuse me with an evangelist or fundamentalist Christian. E.g. denying evolution theory or standing in front of an abortion clinic shouting hell and damnation.
I am also afraid that I will come across as those people who vehemently seek to convince their dialogue partner. By speaking to them either by bombarding them with religious quotes or by overwhelming them with enthusiasm and proclamations of welcome like they are trying to sell you a fitness club membership.
This takes me to the matter of truth. I feel strange telling people what the truth is. Although my church stands for the truth.
Lastly, I sometimes am embarrassed by the Catholic Church.
I believe in the equality of men and women.
I do believe that homosexual and queer people are part of nature.
I believe that every person has a right to live, but I also believe that people and especially women need a choice. How can I represent a church that denies these claims?
My Christian – postmodern identity problem
Taking everything that I am afraid of, I come to the following conclusion:
I believe in God and Christ and (most) of the teachings of my church. But I have been brought up in Germany at the end of the 20th century. In a modern / post- modern society. In a country that has become increasingly secular over the last 70 years.
Due to my upbringing, I believe in reason, in science,
In equality of all people,
I believe in the freedom to choose your own faith – or none at all.
I doubt whether there is an absolute truth and believe in the right to resistance if a higher authority tells me what to do or believe but my conscience tells me otherwise.
Shouting my faith from the rooftops is not an option for me, because it would not be me.
Or would you like to hear me shout: I believe in God who sent his son to show us his love and to redeem us, but believe me, I am rational person!
Does that mean, that my post-modern identity has won? That I will show my Christian identity only amongst fellow believers?
The recipe for being heard
There have also been instances, where I spoke about my faith that have been successful.
There is my friend who lost her father and who openly says she envies me by believe in a life after death. And that she wishes to feel the same. And who asks me, to take her daughter to church with me.
There is the punk father of my son’s friend. Who really believes the world would be a better, less violent and oppressive place if there was no religion at all. We end up in a heated discussion, but it is a discussion of mutual respect and at the end we at least can agree that we are both happy to live in a land of religious freedom and of free speech. Where I can proclaim my faith and he can make jokes about it.
Two weeks ago, I was holding a workshop in the KSG about time- and self-management. During the lunch break one atheist participant wanted to know all about my faith and questioned me about my theology studies at university. She had always thought that studying theology meant learning the bible by heart and being taught how to use it convert people. She confessed that she is a strong opponent of the church tax system in Germany but that she is having second thoughts, now that she has participated in such a good workshop funded by church taxes.
In these three examples, the people have come to know me as a rational, competent, modern person first. Then they learned about my faith. What happened was, that they were open minded, even wanted find out more about my faith and my beliefs.
In these conversations, I have been unafraid.
I can tell them, how much my faith enriches my personal life.
And then they get a glimpse of how it is possible to be post-modern person and Christian at the same time.
Being normal while having more
So I chose a different way from the one Jesus demands. Because as a modern person, I am more afraid of rejection than of God’s damnation. Maybe Jesus will be dissatisfied. Or maybe he will understand.
Anyway, I will keep showing people that I am normal. Like (most) Christian are normal people. That we can live in this modern / or postmodern world without denying it.
But I will also show them, that we have more. And maybe they will get curious about what that more is.
Maybe for you, it is a whole different story. Because you grew up in different setting. Because you don’t feel uncomfortable proclaiming your faith directly and openly.
Then choose your own way. I think, the important thing is, that we proclaim our faith unafraid and in an authentic way. Because people can tell if we do not.