Paying Members Should Get Pew Preference, Politicos Say | News and current affairs from Germany and around the world | DW | 22.12.2008
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Paying Members Should Get Pew Preference, Politicos Say

Brotherly love will only get you so far when it comes to finding a seat in a crowded church pew in Germany on Christmas Eve, if a pair of market-oriented German politicians get their way.


You may need to flash your church membership card this Christmas in Germany

In Germany, going to church on Christmas Eve can feel a lot like shopping for presents in a crowded shopping mall on December 24th.

Waiting to get in or out of a church on the Holy Night is akin to waiting in line at a store that's just put the Nintendo Wii on sale: People may not quite come to blows, but the whole affair doesn't go down without some elbowing and nudging.

Seats for paying customers

Amid all the cramping, personal-space-invading and crankiness, it can be easy to forget that the message behind the whole affair is supposed to be about loving thy neighbor.

One pair of German politicians appears to have completely lost sight of the True Meaning of Christmas, much to the shock of church officials.

Representatives from the right-wing CDU and economic-liberal FDP parties suggested German churches -- overflowing on December 24 but distressingly empty the rest of the year -- reserve space on Christmas Eve for paying members only.

A quick explanation: In Germany, church members pay a hefty percentage of their salaries directly to either the Catholic or Protestant churches. The only way to avoid paying that tax is by officially quitting the church -- something Germans have been doing in droves for the past few years.

"Members shouldn't be idiots"

Thomas Volk, a CDU politician in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, told Germany's Bild newspaper that reserving space for paying churchgoers seemed to be a fair way to avoid the crush associated with Christmas Eve masses, and would allow more space for older people. Anyone who doesn't pay the taxes would simply have to accept missing out on Christmas Eve mass, he said.

Martin Lindner, a representative of the FDP in Berlin, also spoke up on behalf of the paying membership.

"Those who pay church taxes shouldn't be like idiots locked out of their own churches during important services," he told Bild. "Congregation members should be allowed to reserve seats ahead of non-members."

Churches reject the proposal

Representatives of the Protestant and Catholic churches immediately rejected the proposal. Although churches will no doubt overflow again this year on Christmas Eve, "the suggestion of giving preference to members is not the right solution," a spokesman from the Protestant Church of Germany in Hanover told epd news service.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops told epd: "As a missionary Church we are happy about each and every soul who will hear our Christmas message. There will be no entrance controls."

Faced with rejection, the politicians may want to apply their market-oriented theories where they really belong, and look for a solution to overcrowded shopping malls instead.

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