“For most, church is part of the culture”

Symbolic image of leaving the church © Elisabeth Rahe (KNA)

According to Bochum theologian Bjorn Szymanowski, church tax is not the main reason for leaving the church. It is not a cause, but becomes a trigger when the bond is poor anyway.

For example, when people receive their first paycheck, they realize that they are paying for something they don't even use, Szymanowski, an employee of the Center for Applied Pastoral Research at the Ruhr University in Bochum, told the Internet portal katholisch.de in Bonn. "So there is a cost-benefit calculation behind this".

The theologian is involved in a study by the Essen diocese on the subject of leaving the church and church loyalty. What is seen as positive about the church, she said, is its social charitable involvement and what it offers at certain points in life, such as grief counseling. The religious dimension is not in the foreground. For most, he said, the church "simply belongs to the culture – also on a moral level.". This is not about individual norms or sexual morals, which are perceived by many as unworldly. Rather, the fundamental Christian values such as love of one's neighbor or care for the poor are a life orientation for many people, he said.

According to Szymanowski, the negative points about the church are outdated role models and hierarchical and backward structures.

The congregation, which one knows from personal experience, is evaluated better than the world church mediated by the media. The cases of sexualized violence and the financial scandal in the Limburg diocese were major crisis events, she said. However, a comparison with study results from the 1970s shows that the reasons for criticizing the church have hardly changed in the past 40 years.

The theologian warned against the illusion that the church can end the problem of leaving overnight. As a priority, it would have to avoid scandals or process them transparently. On many levels there must be new and also much lower-threshold offers, perhaps also for the non-denominational. The "Nightly Christmas Praise" in the Erfurt diocese, for example, gives a secular and at the same time Christian perspective on Christmas. Modern faith communication such as the use of social media is also necessary, he said.

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Christina Cherry
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