During the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Germans are turning to Martin Luther for inspiration in welcoming as many migrants as they can, even illegally, according to an article in Christianity Today.
“Millions of Germans feel attached to Luther and, to many of them, his example urges their country to welcome refugees,” writes Jim Willis in an article titled “Germans Are Welcoming Refugees as a Way to Honor Luther’s Legacy.”
According to Willis, Luther “saw himself as a figurative refugee from the love of God” because of his obsessive fear that he was cast out from God’s grace, and later he became an “actual refugee” from his homeland for his rebellion against the Church.
In 2017, Lutherans and many other Christians are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, commemorating Luther’s legendary nailing of his 95 Theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517.
Five hundred years later, Martin Luther is “strikingly relevant” for the issues facing Germany today, Willis writes. According to Luther, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.”
And in 2017, “many Germans are interpreting Luther’s vision as a call to continue offering safe haven to refugees,” Willis claims, which is concrete way of “living Luther’s legacy.”
Since 2015, Germany has taken in some 1.4 million migrants. This summer, Reuters reported that the number of people with an immigrant background in Germany rose 8.5 percent to a record 18.6 million in 2016, according to recent data released by the Federal Statistics Office.
Some 22.5 percent—just over a fifth of the population—were first- or second-generation immigrants with at least one parent born without German citizenship, the office said.
In his article, Willis cites H. C. Volker Faigle, a Protestant and former chaplain to the German Parliament who sees direct ties between the Christian gospel and Europe’s migrant crisis.
“Luther reminds us of the verse in Matthew: ‘I was a stranger, and you invited me in.’ So we need to apply that message to welcoming refugees,” Faigle said. “Luther is very present in Germany today. He was the father of our democracy. He believed each of us to be a free person, subject only to the will of God, and that this is offered to everyone. And because of this, you will serve others.”
As Germany approaches its federal elections, to be held this weekend, Faigle has tied the “spirit of Luther” to Chancellor Angela Merkel, a champion of Germany’s open borders immigration policy.
Faigle says she has become “Mama Merkel” to Germany’s many migrants. “Here you can now see her Christian background,” Faigle said. “She said, ‘These people suffer, and we are a free society. We are going to help.’ The dignity of the human being is sacred. If a person is facing persecution, then the German thinking is we have to take them in.”
Faigle said that under Merkel, standard visa requirements “went out the window” as Merkel opened the doors wide.
“What she did was totally illegal,” he said. “But our church begged her to do it from the beginning,” he said.
Faigle appeals to Luther in encouraging churches to grant asylum to refugees, and pointing to a 1517 tract by the reformer where he writes about churches’ responsibility for those seeking sanctuary and protection.
Anniversary celebrations throughout the country highlight the migrant question as central to themes of justice, human rights and peace, Willis writes.
A Wittenberg exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation features seven “Gates of Freedom” installations around the city, including one with sculptures of refugee boats on the city’s Swan Pond.
Visitors can “stroll around the pond where the flimsy wooden frames of several boats float on the water in various states of disrepair,” Willis writes, and signs encourage visitors to reflect on a world full of injustice and violence, asking what our response should be.
Another gate is labeled simply: “Globalization and One-World Unity.”
In Berlin, pastor Stephan Kienberger leads the American Church, a historic Protestant church embracing both Lutheran and Reformed theology. According to Kienberger, who grew up in the United States, people’s fears of German culture being diluted by mass immigration are overstated.
“There is this myth in Germany,” Kienberger said, “that there is some sort of essential ‘Germanness.’ It is bunk. Germany has been a mixed bag for quite some time.”
“I have really been impressed with this church and its advocacy,” Kienberger said. “This congregation exemplifies the best of Protestant liberalism. It has always worked with those seeking asylum and immigrants.”
Kienberger is convinced that the national Reformation celebrations are helping to drive that mission. “It is affecting everything,” he said, especially attitudes toward immigration. “This openness to the world reflects a more progressive, outward-looking Protestantism. And it is an outgrowth of the Reformation theme.”
As Germans approach the ballot box on Sunday, immigration is one of the key issues that will influence which way they cast their votes. Asylum and migration policy have been a central election campaign topic in the run up to federal elections.
“Limiting immigration” consistently appears among the top five topics that voters care about, according to national polls.
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