At the same time that Church attendance in Germany has been declining, new congregation members are popping up from an unexpected source: Middle Eastern refugees.
However, many of these new congregants admit, in private, that they are converting only in order to remain in Europe, an Associated Press report revealed Friday. They believe that the label of Christian, or at least Muslim apostate, holds the key to gaining asylum.
In several Muslim countries, leaving Islam is grounds for imprisonment or even execution. The newly-converted hope that this will be grounds enough to allow them to remain in Europe.
Record numbers of asylum seekers have been coming to Germany over the past few years. In 2015 alone, experts predict that 800,000 new refugees will arrive. Once in the country, the migrants have to convince authorities to allow them to stay.
Those from Syria are almost guaranteed to be classified as refugees. However, those from countries that are considered more "stable," even including Afghanistan, are often turned away.
Governmental bodies say that they evaluate each candidate on an individual basis, and do not share how many are accepted on the basis of religious persecution. Converting solely for the purpose of not being deported is grounds for disqualification, so many aspirants are also reluctant to discuss the topic.
Within the refugee communities, though, information on "welcoming" churches and priests is frequently passed along. One in particular, Father Gottfried Martens of Berlin's evangelical Trinity Church, has a very strong reputation among those who need a quick conversion.
Many claim that he only requires people to study for three months and that he helps with asylum appeals. As a result, Trinity Church alone has converted hundreds of asylum seekers, most from Iran and Afghanistan.
Father Martens told Associated Press that he does not care why people convert, as long as it brings them to the Church. "I know there are — again and again — people coming here because they have some kind of hope regarding their asylum," he said. "I am inviting them to join us because I know that whoever comes here will not be left unchanged"