The Other Iranian Revolution
"Something significant is taking place here," says Max Klingberg, an official with the International Society of Human Rights (ISHR) in Frankfurt. But when questioned about a radio report that in Germany alone, at least 500 Persians become Christians every year, he cautions, "As a trained scientist, I prefer to be very careful with numbers." However, Schirrmacher suggests, "The real figure could well be a thousand, perhaps thousands."
Actual numbers are hard to determine because of the theologically liberal leadership of the regional Protestant bodies linked to the state. Their leaders tend to steer clear of mission, says Schirrmacher: "They worry that it might interfere with their interfaith dialogues." Götz agrees: "I suspect that this is why the parish pastor around here, a woman, has never visited our congregation."
Therefore, says Schirrmacher, only "free churches," such as the Baptists and independent Lutherans, and semi-autonomous congregations like Götz's, joyfully report conversions. "We know that faithful ministers of the state-related churches also baptize ex-Muslims, but we are left in the dark about the numbers." Albrecht Hauser, a former missionary and retired dean of the Lutheran Church of Württemberg, adds, "We are aware of faithful Catholic priests doing likewise." But, observes Schirrmacher, "The Catholics are just as hesitant to release statistics. They don't want to jeopardize interfaith dialogues."
However, the number of baptisms of Persians and, to a lesser degree, other Muslims in Germany outweighs the conversion of Christians to Islam. "According to a report by the central archive of Germany's Islamic organizations in Soest, approximately 500 Germans became Muslims in 2010," says Schirrmacher. "Yet those were either German girls marrying Muslim immigrants or nominal ex-Christians hoping for good business opportunities in other Islamic countries. The conversion of Persians is of a totally different quality, usually following long instruction in the Christian faith."
In Gottfried Martens's congregation, for instance, the catechumens from the Middle East spend four or more months studying the Bible, the church creeds, Martin Luther's Small Catechism, the significance of the liturgy, and the hymns. "They are very attracted by the liturgy, which was absent in their previous faith," Martens explains. Wilfried Kahla, an ex-missionary from Germany's state-related Lutheran church and a veteran in evangelizing Muslims, told the Protestant news magazine ideaSpektrum that he made his candidates study a 62-page brochure on Christian doctrine and administered a written exam to them. Then, at the baptismal font, he made them abjure Islam.
Martens, Venske, and Götz follow similar curricula; like Kahla, they carefully explain to converts the difference between the Allah of Islam and the God of Christianity. "Islam is like a rope ladder on which people try to reach God," Kahla likes to say. "They manage to climb a few rungs, but with each sin, fall off the ladder and must start all over again. Christians, by contrast, need no ladder because Jesus comes down to earth for them. Christians have salvation. Muslims don't."