Growing up, I never had strong sentiments towards religion, spirituality or any kind of “God”. The only times I went to church was on Christmas Eve, and I only ever set foot in mosques when I visited relatives in Istanbul with my family. Not to pray, but to admire the stunning insides of the Sultan Ahmet and Süleymaniye Mosques. That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy religion though. After all, it was Baby Jesus who brought us presents on Christmas Eve, and I always knew the gifts I received on Kurban Bayram (observed as Eid al-Fitr in other parts of the world) had something to do with Mohammed.
Christianity, Islam, and I did not have beef, ever.
I began learning more about religion, Christianity specifically, at the age of 13 as I was attending a weekly class to prepare for my Lutheran confirmation. In this class, our pastor taught us that Christianity is the faith of compassion and love. I began appreciating the Christian values of inclusivity and forgiveness, especially as we applied the lessons learned from the New Testament to situations in our everyday life. Yet, when I asked why the church does not extend the christian Nächstenliebe to queer people, the only answer I got was a disheartening “I personally do not feel comfortable with it” from my pastor, who I looked up to as someone who exudes pure wisdom.
Later, as an angry tumblr teen still exploring his sexuality, I began to hate all religion. I learned that in Germany, marriage equality did not pass because the churches were heavily lobbying against it, and I watched our conservative “Christan Democratic” chancellor Angela Merkel state in a TV debate that “she just does not feel good” about gay people getting married. I thought, “what kind of cruel force allows for the most powerful person in a country to reject those at the fringes of society their equal rights just because she is not feeling it?”
I began asking more serious questions, not taking no for an answer. My religion teacher in school soon got fed up with me, but my parents explained to me that it is not just christianity that oppresses minorities. My dad alluded to the hijab as a symbol of the oppression of women in Islam. Obviously, the logical next step for teenage me was to conclude that all religion is bad, as it encourages the oppression of marginalized groups in society. I unlocked a new level of being annoying, as I really thought I figured it all out and pretentiously quoted Nietzsche’s “God Is Dead” in essays for school now.
Not much later, my views on the matter changed once again. In 2015, as more and more refugees entered Germany in hopes of a better life, I, alongside thousands of others, began volunteering in a refugee camp, helping people out by teaching German, hosting cultural events, and trying to aid them in their process of integrating themselves into the homogenous German society. I realized that most people are pretty much okay with people being queer, and that the real injustices worth fighting against are xenophobia and racism.
Suddenly, I found myself on the same side as the Christian churches in Germany. When the government began cracking down on asylum-seekers more rigidly, it was Lutheran and Catholic congregations all over the country that took in refugees to protect them from the government through Kirchenasyl, church asylum. The Christian churches and I, fighting on the same side for basic human rights against the conservative government cracking down on them? Teenage me would not believe his eyes.
It was at that time that I realized that the way I had previously thought about religion was wrong. Individual congregations, not guided by macro-political interests but by what is important to their communities, managed to collectively organize around their core value, compassion. I realized that the power of faith does not lie with the large, federal or even international organizations, but it lies with every single congregation of Christians.
The community aspect in particular can and should serve as a powerful source of support and power-building for queer people of all backgrounds. Not having enough spaces to come together, socialize and build a community is a major obstacle the LGBT community faces. Confidently asserting ourselves and tapping into resources offered by Christian congregations might just be one of the most effective ways of strengthening our community, and the solution is right ahead of us.
The real enemy to the LGBT community has always been reactionary forces in society, politics, and religion, but never religion itself. Christianity specifically was founded as a religion of freaks and outsiders, based on lifting up the marginalized fringes of society. Now that some LGBT identities are more acceptable to the mainstream, it is of particular importance for the LGBT community to reclaim Christianity and use it as a tool in our fight for equal rights for all.